'I discovered I am not as powerless as I thought' - Woman Alive Skip to content

'I discovered I am not as powerless as I thought'

Ellie Philpott is an author and runs her own natural soap and cosmetic company. She lives in the Elham Valley with her husband, a crazy poodle and several hives of honeybees

For many of us, the tipping point in terms of our environmental awareness came with the screening of the BBC series Blue Planet 2. I looked aghast at miles of floating plastic in the sea, discovered the impact of rising sea levels, and realised that I had been counting on politicians to do the job of saving our planet.

It dawned on me that unless we all acted, it wasn’t going to be good enough. What bothered me even more was that as a Christian I have a responsibility to look after the beautiful planet God has given us.

I was already keeping bees, growing my own vegetables and making my own soaps and cosmetics, but I wanted to do more and discovered that I am not as powerless as I thought. Surprisingly, a journey to a low (or even zero) waste lifestyle can be enormous fun.

One of my biggest misconceptions was that it was going to cost my pocket to help the planet. For those who are struggling to make ends meet, that feels like an impossible choice. But, whilst it’s true that items such as recycled toilet paper and eco-friendly cleaning and washing products may be pricier, this can be offset by buying them in bulk or in some cases using simple substitutes such as baking soda, vinegar or citric acid. The great news is, there is plenty we can do to help our environment that will also save us money – and even bring health benefits too.

Here are some of the simple changes I have discovered that can make a real difference to our impact on the environment.

Grow your own – Cook your own – Make your own

Buying local produce and purchasing fruit and vegetables in season is good, but growing your own fruit and vegetables has an even bigger impact – and it’s fun, healthy and will save you money. If you have limited outdoor space, you can plant a vertical vegetable garden, but I would highly recommend signing up for a local allotment. Many offer different plot sizes, so you can start small if it feels a bit daunting and we’ve found that other plot holders are happy to give advice. It’s also a great way of getting to know your community.

We love the unusual vegetables we grow on our allotment: purple carrots, round courgettes, striped tomatoes, rainbow chard, multicoloured beetroot and purple beans brightened up our dinner plates last year, and we were left with a huge abundance that was frozen and added to casseroles through the winter.

We also enjoy foraging for food and our annual blackberry picking trips have become a family tradition. It’s free and a great way of getting exercise and spending time outdoors.

Cooking at home is a fantastic way of saving money and eating healthily. It might be an effort, but you can save time, money and energy by batch cooking favourite meals and freezing them for use later.

Cut down on plastic packaging by making your own yoghurt, snacks, bread, cordials, cheese, stock and jams. There are plenty of ‘how to’ videos online and it’s often easier than you think.

My best discovery this year is oat milk. I wanted to cut down on dairy (livestock use a huge percentage of farmland and contribute to greenhouse emissions), but I really hated the milk substitutes (soy, almond rice…) I found in the supermarket. Then I came across this recipe to make my own: Whizz one cup of oats and four cups of water in a blender for a minute, strain through muslin and add a pinch of salt. It tastes great on cereal, and is also good with tea and coffee.

There are plenty of other homemade items you can try. I’ve had a few disasters – a homemade deodorant that not only didn’t work, but also left me with a very itchy rash; body butter that wouldn’t set (it’s great as a liquid moisturiser); and a sewing project that ended up as more of a sack than a dress (I wear it for gardening), but I’ve had some great successes too.

Reuse and recycle

One of the best things we can do is to avoid waste. Charity shops sell all sorts of unwanted household items as well as clothes. I found some gorgeous egg cups and a vase in a British Heart Foundation shop. I love the fact that I’m not just saving waste, the charity benefits and I’m spending far less than I would otherwise.

We have a local initiative run by a charity that gives jobs to ex-convicts. They collect any unwanted items of furniture and take them to a large warehouse to be resold. It was ideal for us when my granny died, and we needed a new home for some of her furniture. I’ve bought some shelving units and a very smart television cabinet from them too.

One of the biggest surprises has been learning more about recycling. We have a weekly food waste collection and a fortnightly recycling collection. With a compost pile eating up our vegetable waste too, I thought I’d been doing okay, but a quick check on the council website revealed that I was throwing an awful lot of items into my ‘green’ bin that couldn’t be recycled by that method.

However, there was some good news. I discovered that leftover carrier bags can be placed in bag collection points in many supermarkets. They will also often accept cereal box liners, shrink wrap, frozen food bags, dry cleaning bags, magazine and newspaper wrappers, bags for fruit and veg, bubble wrap and many other types of plastic bags.

I was also delighted to find Terracycle (www.terracycle.com ), which offers free waste recycling for items that can’t be taken by your local bin collection. You can look up an item you’d like to recycle and then check the map showing your local collection points. I searched on ‘crisp packets’ and discovered there is a collection point in our next-door village. Alternatively, you can post your waste to them. Many of Terracycle’s schemes also have reward points which can be used to donate cash to schools and charities.

Green clean your home

This is a winner if we’re looking at reducing plastic packaging and damaging chemicals. Bicarbonate of soda is a hero product and perfect for many cleaning jobs. I use it on our kitchen worktops when they get grungy or for cleaning the oven.

For a great all-purpose cleaner simply pour equal parts of white vinegar and water into an old (clean) spray bottle. White vinegar will also clean kettles and act as a fabric conditioner for clothes washing too. Citric acid is also great for treating limescale. And if you want to avoid plastic bottles, Wilko currently sell bicarb and citric acid in cardboard boxes, or you can purchase both in bulk online.

These are just a few simple starting points. There’s an endless source of information online via blogs, forums and articles. Let’s encourage each other and make a real difference.

7 simple swaps

• Hankies instead of tissues
• Metal water bottle instead of plastic
• Soap bars instead of liquid soap
• Beeswax wraps or a bowl with plate over top instead of cling film
• Eco egg (or conkers) instead of soap liquid/powder (see Ellie’s website for how to use).
• Loose tea instead of tea bags (the flavour is better too)
• Choose recycled loo roll and kitchen roll (EcoLeaf paper products are made from 100% recycled fibre sourced exclusively within the UK)

Take it further

• Use Green Christian’s helpful leaflet – Nine Ways of Living Gently on the Earth – to prayerfully consider what changes you could make to help make a difference. Visit www.greenchristian.org.uk or call 0345 459 8460 for more details, advice and ideas.
• Hope for the Future is a relatively new organisation, based in Sheffield, which began with a small group of churches who struggled to engage their MPs on climate change issues. They now advise churches and individuals on how to build a relationship with their local MP and how to make their voices heard on climate change. Find out more at www.hftf.org.uk or call 0114 312 2619.

Find more zero waste ideas and connect with Ellie at www.elliephilpott.com

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