Go the extra green mile

Do you want to protect the planet by living a more eco-friendly life? Or have you already made some changes to your lifestyle and feel ready to take it a step further? Catherine Francis shows  you how…

Reuse and recycle

Recycling paper, glass and tin is so easy these  days, there’s really no excuse not to do it. Many local councils run kerbside recycling schemes, and if they don’t, there are recycling banks outside  most supermarkets. To find your nearest one, visit www.recyclenow.com.

Go greener:   Recycling doesn’t stop with glass and paper. Even furniture and white goods can be recycled through local schemes  and reuse/recycle charities. And if you’ve got to grips with recycling at home, find out whether  your workplace recycles paper and other waste  – and if not, encourage them to start.

Action plan

* To find a good home  for any unwanted items (or to acquire someone  else’s unwanted items for free) visit www.freecycle.org – there are over 3 million members.
* Charities that pick up unwanted furniture and redistribute them to people living in hardship include the London Furniture Reuse Network (www.lcrn.org.uk/projects/london_frn ) and ReStore (www.restorecommunityprojects.org  ) .
* Contact www.networkrecycling.co.uk for help and advice on workplace recycling schemes, and read Change The World 9 To 5  (Short Books, £8.99). To recycle printer cartridges, visit www.actionaidrecycling.org.uk .

Eat organic

Organic food isn’t just healthier for you, it’s also better for the environment. Non-organic crops are produced using chemical pesticides and fertilisers, which enter the soil and the atmosphere, poisoning the local ecosystem and adding to the pollution of the planet.

Go greener:  Seventy  per cent of the organic food we buy in supermarkets has been imported from abroad, and has clocked up thousands of ‘food miles’ on the way. So even though  it’s better for your health, the carbon dioxide produced by planes and lorries cancels out many of the benefits to the environment. Start buying as much British organic food as possible – and the more locally-produced, the better.

Action plan

* Check labels at the supermarket for country of origin.
* Eat as seasonally as possible. If you’re buying strawberries in December, it’s unlikely they were grown in Britain!
* Buy from local farmers markets  – visit www.farmersmarkets.net for your nearest one.
* Sign up for a local organic vegetable  box scheme – visit www.vegboxschemes.co.uk   to find your local services.
* Visit www.100milediet.org,  which promotes food produced within 100 miles of your area.
* Start growing some of your own organic fruit and veg. Check out Grow Your Own Veg by Carol Klein (Mitchell Beazley, £16.99). The Organic Gardening Catalogue (www.organiccatalog.com) can provide everything you need, from organic seeds to chemical-free pest controllers.

Be energy efficient

Switching to low-energy light bulbs, turning off electrical appliances instead of leaving them on standby, not leaving chargers plugged in when not in use, and turning down your thermostat  a couple of degrees, are all easy ways to cut back on energy consumption  – and therefore the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

Go greener: Some more fundamental changes to your home can make a radical difference to your energy consumption  – and will pay for themselves  in the long run. If you’re replacing appliances or doing structural work, include measures  for a more energy-efficient home, from double glazing to solar panels. And switch to a green tariff or green energy supplier so the electricity you use is from renewable sources.

Action plan

* Install larger windows and skylights to increase natural light; invest in double glazing and insulation to save heat.
* A simple solar panel system costs from about £800 to install and can harness enough power for over half your heating and hot water. Simple wind turbines are also available. Contact the Centre for Alternative Technology (www.cat.org.uk) or Renewable Devices (www.renewabledevices.com) for advice.
* When you buy a new washing machine or fridge freezer, choose  a model with an A+ energy rating. In the meanwhile,  use a Savaplug (£24.99 from www.savawatt.com)   to adjust electricity flow to your appliances’ requirements.
*  Find a comparison of green tariffs for major energy supplies at www.greenelectricity.org. Or switch to a company that gets all its energy from renewable sources, such as Green Energy UK (01920 486156) or Ecotricity (0800 032 6100, www.ecotricity.co.uk). Visit www.uswitch.com for advice.

Take a walk

Pollution from cars is a major cause of global warming, so whenever possible,  you should walk or cycle. Using public transport and car-shares also helps to dramatically cut down on carbon emissions. Visit www.carbonneutral.com  to calculate how much carbon you emit on your journeys. www.liftshare.com can put people together for car-shares.

Go greener: When travelling abroad, planes are the quickest and often cheapest way to get around. However, planes burn huge quantities of fossil fuel and are the fastest growing contributor to global warming  – plus planes emit carbon dioxide directly into the upper atmosphere,  where  it does more than twice the damage of CO2 emitted at ground level. Eco-friendly travellers should consider going  by train or sea instead. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, though  you do have to be prepared for a more leisurely journey. And for the  eco-friendly driver, new technology means electric cars are now a reality.

Action plan

* The website www.seat61.com will let you devise train and sea journeys all over the world, crossing borders and combining different countries’ public transport systems.
* Planning a holiday? Read The Ethical Travel Guide by Polly Pattullo (Earthscan Publications, £12.99), and visit www.tourismconcern.org.uk .
* A carbon-neutral electric car, such as the G-Wiz (www.goingreen.co.uk) , is suitable for short trips. It needs to be charged for eight hours for a 40 mile trip, and you need a carport with mains electricity.

Go ‘wild’ in the garden

Chemical weed-killers, pesticides, fertilisers and plant foods may make the garden look gorgeous, but they’re poisonous for the environment  – and for us – and wreak havoc on local wildlife. Birds, butterflies and bugs will thank you for switching to organic gardening methods. And don’t forget to install a compost heap or wormery (try www.wigglywigglers.co.uk ) to turn kitchen waste into rich, fertile compost.

Go greener: British wildlife is in crisis, so make your garden a haven for it. That means not installing acres of decking – a trend which has dented the British wildlife population by leaving much of it homeless and hungry. By encouraging wild birds, mammals and creepy-crawlies, you’re benefiting the entire local ecosystem.

Action plan

* Leave a section of your garden ‘wild’. Visit www.bbc.co.uk/nature/animals/wildbritain/gardenwildlife for ideas on how to make it attractive to wildlife.
* Install a pond to encourage frogs and newts to breed, and to give birds somewhere  to drink and bath.
* Install bird boxes on high, sheltered walls. Butterfly boxes, bee boxes and even bat boxes are also good for encouraging wildlife to make its home  on your patch.
* For a list of plants that attract different insects and butterflies, contact Garden Organic (02476 303517,  www.gardenorganic.org.uk ) and request factsheet number GG44.

Clean the old fashioned  way

If we all switched to eco-friendly washing powders such as Ecover and Earth Friendly,  we’d eliminate the  equivalent of 700,000 tonnes of detergent  – complete with phosphates, optical brighteners  and other harmful chemicals  – from the UK’s waterways each year. There are eco-friendly versions of all household cleaning products, so there’s no excuse!

Go greener: Some  green householders  are moving away from commercial  cleaning products altogether and back to the old-fashioned methods. So ditch the products and go really natural!

Action plan

* Old-fashioned cleaning methods  with the likes of lemon, vinegar and bicarbonate of soda are perfectly adequate for the job and better for the environment. For advice, read Imperfectly Natural Woman by Janey Lee Grace (Crown House, £12.99).
* Use a laundry ball instead of detergent. These  use ionised oxygen to clean clothes and are completely eco-friendly. They cost around £15 a pair from www.aquaball.com .

Save water

Water shortages  are set to become a major global problem, so cutting back on water usage is important. Take showers  instead of baths. Don’t leave taps running or flush the loo more than necessary. And a Hippo water saver in your toilet cistern will save around 3 litres of water being wasted each time you flush (buy three for £6.99 from www.hippo-the-watersaver.co.uk ).

Go greener: In the UK, hose pipes spill 600 litres of water an hour from the water supply; and as reservoirs  become depleted, hose pipe bans are likely to increase. So use a watering can instead of a hose, and install a water butt in your garden to collect rainwater from roofs to use on the garden. You can even harvest water for use in the house.

Action plan

* Water butts collect rainwater from downpipes on gutters, sheds  and garages to use on the garden, and are widely available from garden centres. Visit www.smithsofthedean.co.uk  for a water butt made of recycled plastic.
* Greywater (water from baths and sinks) and rainwater harvesting systems  can store water in large underground tanks, to be used in washing machines  and to flush loos. Visit www.freewateruk.co.uk for more information.
* Start putting Mediterranean plants in your garden, which don’t need so much water to thrive.

Make your money count 

It’s all very well trying your best to live an eco-friendly life – but what about your money? Many banks, building societies,  mortgage  companies and investment schemes invest your cash in companies   and countries that are damaging the environment – not to mention other nasties such as oppressive regimes, arms and animal cruelty. If you only want your money used to fund eco-friendly businesses and projects, move to an ethical bank or building society, such as:
* The Co-operative Bank: 08457 212212, www.co-operativebank.co.uk
* Triodos: 0117 973 9339, www.triodos.co.uk
* Ecology Building Society: 0845 674 5566, www.ecology.co.uk