The theme of World Earth Day this year is ‘invest in our planet’, so now is a good time to think about how we connect with our Earth and what pledges we might be able to make ahead of this summer. We might have plans for a busy few months ahead meeting friends and spending time outdoors…
But something we always see as the weather improves is that the bins in the parks and beauty spots are soon overflowing with waste, often drinks bottles, plastic packaging, and disposable coffee cups. The waste attracts insects and animals and can often harm them, either because they become trapped or they eat food that is unsuitable for them. Then there is the environmental impact of the rubbish going to landfills.
Here at the Hub we are looking forward to summer days out over the coming months. We know it’s so easy to head out without bags, drink bottles, or coffee cups and then end up buying disposables, and worse, binning them because we are out and there is no recycling bin available. So, our pledge this year is that we are going to invest in some gorgeous eco-friendly reusable picnicware, cups, and bottles that we won’t ever want to leave at home!
Then we can get out and explore our beautiful world, and literally leave no trace.
We’ve been in Wales this week and I thought it a perfect time to write about why being by the coast is seen by so many people as a healing place to be. I have to admit that I’m not a natural lover of the seaside, I don’t like crowds and I think it smells a bit, well, seaweedy! But in the name of research I’ve been putting my preconceptions aside and taking some time to really appreciate the unique qualities of the coast.
Luckily for me, the beaches and shorelines were very quiet when we visited the West coast of Wales. The sea was glistening and the air was clean and fresh.
One day was really breezy and the sea was foaming as the waves broke on the shore. Hardly anyone was about and I could really feel the sense of space. Being able to look at the horizon with nothing interrupting the view is a really special thing – it makes the mind clear and focussed.
This is where I could see the difference between my favoured outdoorsy space which is woodland, and the coast. Out in the woods, the benefit comes from becoming still, focussing on small things such as lichen on a branch, or a bird or insect, listening hard in the quiet for tiny sounds. Your mind naturally quietens and stills, and you can become very relaxed, peaceful, and calm.
Conversely, I found a different effect by the sea. The sheer expanse makes the mind open up, the breeze makes you alert and fresh. Rather than feeling relaxed I felt refreshed and invigorated. The empty horizon gives the mind the chance to expand and gives a little perspective to anything we are perhaps dwelling on or working out.
The power of the sea is used in many cultures and traditions to help people harness power for themselves, making affirmations and bringing power to intentions. The element of wind has long been known to symbolise strength, and tuning in with this can help fortify us internally. The fresh sea air also helps us sleep well and we tend to exercise more by the sea which makes us feel healthier.
I find it fascinating that there is a whole world of creatures living in the sea which we know very little about in reality. This also helps us put ourselves and our own problems into a better perspective, remembering we are only one among many, many others.
If you can get to the coast, let it work its magic on you! I’m definitely a fan of going out of season, the beaches are nice and quiet, and dog friendly! Ok, there was no chance of taking my jumper off let alone getting into a swimming costume but I’d much rather have the peace and quiet outside of peak times.
So, take a flask, snacks, and a blanket and enjoy the wild and beautiful coast this year if you can!
Living an eco-friendly lifestyle used to mean we recycled and reduced waste, but does that take it far enough now? Today, the answer is no, we need to be working towards circular living. But what does that mean?
We can work towards achieving circular living on both a personal level and as a society, nation, or even globally. To engage in circular living, we need a circular economy, which is:
“A model of production and consumption which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials as long as possible” (Source: Wikipedia)
It sounds great, and we most probably engage in some of this already, but wouldn’t it be great if we could live collectively like this? So many of the world’s problems would be addressed, from climate change to poverty.
To make a move towards more circular living we need to delve further into sustainability…..
Starting with social sustainability
What is this? a good question, as there are plenty of different definitions floating about on the web. The definitions vary according to whether the social sustainability is being discussed in relation to the environment, economics, or society in particular.
In a nutshell, though, social sustainability is a reference to the social ‘well-being’ of people, and it is impossible to see that as a separate thing to economic and environmental factors. They are intertwined. A key aspect of social sustainability is that any decisions have to consider future impacts as well as the present. A good example are the various national parks and beauty spots around the world which are often closed to the public for some of the year. We may feel we would benefit from having full access to them but the impact of human visitors would be detrimental to the flora and fauna in the future. You may have seen reports of wildflower fields in Siberia being destroyed by Instagrammers taking pictures, and Dutch flower farmers have had to fence off their tulips to stop them from being crushed by visitors.
It’s interesting to think about what makes us have a feeling of social well-being. For me, it’s feeling like I live in a safe and healthy environment, with access to clean water and fresh food, green spaces, people I know nearby, and availability of work and facilities. Further down the list comes luxuries such as nice places to eat and drink, interesting shops, opportunities to do activities and explore. Thinking about it makes me realise that where I live does, on the whole, give me a sense of social wellbeing. And it also makes me consider how many people in the world are sadly not anywhere close to this.
How do we live in a more socially sustainable world?
Essentially it’s about us making the needs of today and tomorrow equally important.
The infrastructure of the systems, organisations, and processes people need and use have to balance with the needs of the environment
Replenishing the resources we consume is vital because this helps lead to a circular economy, where we conserve resources mindfully by keeping them in circulation as long as possible – this means we make more resources available for others, protect the environment and reduce waste. For example, if we had towels we no longer wanted or needed but which weren’t good enough for the charity shop we could take them to the tip, where they would likely end up in landfill, or we could donate them to animal shelters, or use them for crafting or cut them up for cleaning cloths. Social sustainability makes us feel good, and when we feel good about something we want to extend that to all parts of our lives, our business, the manufacturers we buy from, and the environment we live in. This leads us naturally onto circular ecology.
To get a truly circular ecology, there has to be balance and harmony between three types of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental.
Environmental Sustainability: means that we are living within the means of our natural resources. To live in true environmental sustainability, we need to ensure that we are consuming our natural resources, such as materials, energy fuels, land, water…etc, at a sustainable rate. Some resources are more abundant than others and therefore we need to consider material scarcity, the damage to the environment from the extraction of these materials, and if the resource can be kept within Circular Economy principles. We need to aspire to net-zero carbon and then move beyond it, to ultimately achieve climate-positive principles. Environmental sustainability should not be confused with full sustainability, which also need to balance economic and social factors.
Economic Sustainability:Economic sustainability requires that a business or country uses its resources efficiently and responsibly so that it can operate in a sustainable manner to consistently produce an operational profit. Without an operational profit, a business cannot sustain its activities. Without acting responsibly and using its resources efficiently a company will not be able to sustain its activities in the long term.
Social Sustainability:Social sustainability is the ability of society, or any social system, to persistently achieve a good social well-being. Achieving social sustainability ensures that the social well-being of a country, an organisation, or a community can be maintained in the long term.
There’s so much to think about here, and so much that is outside the scope of this short blog, but it’s clear to see that we need a harmonious balance of social, economic, and environmental sustainability for truly circular living. This is a great aspiration to live our daily lives by, both personally and in business, and as a member of society.
The Circular Ecology webpage lists some great day-to-day tips for living a more circular life, check it out and see what changes you can make!
Can you imagine life without plastic? Always marketed as cheap and useful, as I sit writing this I’m tapping away on a plastic-cased laptop, next to me is a plastic pen, my phone with its multiple plastic components, and an in-progress covid test which I do regularly for my work.
Casting my eye further around the room I can see CD cases, a lamp, a photo frame, and a plant pot to name just a few of the plastic products around our living area: I expect yours is much the same, and then moving into the kitchen there are many, many more. Plastic is an inextricable part of our lives.
There is no need for me to say that we need to reduce our plastic waste, particularly single-use plastic. We all know that. However, I think because we know we need to reduce our plastic waste there is an element of resignation about the effect on the environment, the sense of shock at what is actually happening to the planet has been tempered by the sheer scale of the problem. It can get to the point where because we know the problem is so big, it’s hard to bring that thought down to the level of the single piece of plastic wrapper we are putting in the bin.
So, how do we get motivated to really do our bit? It’s worth revisiting the situation we are in at the moment with global plastic waste.
A truckload of plastic enters the ocean every single minute and UK supermarkets produce 800,000 tonnes every year.* The reality of this is really hard to absorb. The plastic harms wildlife, the ecosystem, and people, especially those who live nearby – the UK sends great amounts of plastic waste abroad, with a seeming disregard for how those countries are equipped to process it. Investigators from Greenpeace discovered plastic waste from Britain being dumped and burned in Turkey among other countries.*
Recycling and Bioplastics have been hailed as solutions to plastic pollution. Recycling is of course a good thing, but there are limitations. Plastic can only be recycled a finite number of times and any recycling takes energy. Many types of plastic cannot be recycled, such as bioplastics, blister packaging, and cling film. Bioplastics themselves, (plastics that biodegrade or that are made of organic biomass sources such as vegetable oils) are an improvement on single-use plastics, but as mentioned above, cannot be recycled and can still end up in the seas or in landfills because they can not be composted at home, instead needing industrial composting conditions.
Sustainable means we can do something now, and continue to do it for generations to come. A long-term answer. Clearly, a sustainable solution to the plastic problem needs to be achievable for everyone in their own unique lives. Sometimes packaging is necessary. Pre-chopped fruit and veg are vital for people who are unable to chop or prepare them themselves. But if we are using it just for convenience, then it is not necessary. The vast majority of plastic isn’tnecessary.
If we produce less plastic it will mean that there’s less of it in circulation. We collectively need to think of plastic in a different way – not a cheap commodity but one which we use very carefully, and only dispose of when we really have to. We need to change the way we view plastics and the place they have in our world.
On an individual level what we can do before we put a plastic item in the bin is think if it can be refilled or repurposed. There are refill shops and stations springing up around the country, almost every household cleaning product, toiletries, and many dry food containers can be refilled time and time again. Not only is this better for the environment but usually cheaper too as we are not paying for a new container each time.
The less plastic we buy, the less demand there is for manufacturers to make new plastic. So, although the manufacturers seem to hold the power, in reality, it is us, the consumer. But we need to be working on this as a collective. Single-use plastics can be available for those who need them, and for essentials such as PPE and medical needs, but if we are in a position where we don’t need to use single-use plastic, then we should really try not to.
Easy Plastic Swaps
Use a reusable coffee cup
Use a reusable water bottle
Carry shopping bags
Refill toiletries, cleaning products, and loose dry foods
Choose pet food in tins or bags rather than pouches, which are difficult to recycle
Buy a large bag of crisps and decant rather than multipacks
Buy a large tub of yoghurt and decant as needed
Refill glass milk bottles – either through the milk delivery or at a refill station
Try to buy loose fruit and veg, and loose tea
Swap chewing gum for plastic-free confectionery
Swap cling film for paper bags, beeswax wraps, or foil
If you need a straw, use paper ones. Avoid plastic stirrers and plastic cutlery, use bamboo or metal instead.
Swap to solid soap, shampoo, and conditioner bars
Try toothpaste tabs or powder rather than tubes, and swap to a bamboo toothbrush
Swap washing up sponges for bamboo handled brushes or coconut husk scrubby
Avoid glitter for craft activities, use paper confetti, hole punch leaves or buy biodegradable sparkles for those artistic projects.
Re-purpose wherever you can too! There are some fabulous ideas to be found online, from soda bottle greenhouses to bird feeders. Every change we make, however small it seems, is one less piece of plastic potentially ending up in the ocean or in a landfill. Saving lives and helping the planet.
Every little piece of plastic can be treated thoughtfully and just by making just a few small changes we can have a big impact on the amount of plastic we use on a day-to-day basis.
What changes can you make today?
Check out some fabulous sustainable bamboo cups, soap bars, and other plastic-free goodies at the Harmonious Hub.
Did you find yourself going out for more walks during the lockdown? Many of us did and we found we enjoyed a renewed connection with the natural world.
Now the lockdown is over, at least for now… and facilities such as shops, cafes, and bars are all back open again. So especially given the winter weather, it’s easy for us to spend our leisure time sitting indoors instead of getting out there on our walks just like we did before.
However, there is a lot to be said for rekindling our love for walking. It’s healthy, has a low covid risk and it’s free. Walking on a crisp chilly day is one of the nicest wintertime activities.
Often it’s enough to simply enjoy your time outdoors but to add to the experience try taking a nature ID booklet with you and discover what fungi, trees, and shrubs are in your local area.
Take it at your own pace, and reconnect. You will definitely feel the benefit!
The UK is hosting the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on 31 October-12 November 2021.
There will be some super important decisions made during this conference to bring in changes to tackle climate change and to build on the agreements made in the Paris Climate Accords back in 2015. There is universal agreement that how we behave during the next decade is absolutely crucial to the future of our planet.
Sometimes it’s hard to feel we can make a difference on a personal level, with limited influence and resources, but it’s good to remember that although the politicians and leaders can make policies, the real power of change does depend on every individual putting the effort in and making changes for the sake of the environment.
So what can we all do as individuals? There are a wealth of resources out there for inspiration and help, it’s a case of doing what we can in a way that’s sustainable for us. It’s a gradual process when the cleaning products start to run down, refill rather than buy more plastic bottles, or make the swap to natural cleaners like bicarb and vinegar. Make the swap to plastic-free toiletries and unwrapped food. We can all think about our individual carbon footprint.
What else can one person or family do? Well, we can decide how to reduce the use of our car, insulate our homes better, buy local to minimise shipping, eat more plant-based foods. We can refill, reuse, and if we can’t do either of those things, recycle. We can upcycle, gift or recycle to avoid landfill. Really consider what we are flushing/washing away and whether the chemicals will harm the environment.
In our family, toys are a big consideration, there are so many bits of plastic (dare I say tat?!), especially in kids magazines, which can be replaced with more sustainable versions. Pet food pouches can be swapped for recyclable tins. Even little swaps can make a difference, and add a bit of mindfulness, like remembering the shopping bags so there is no need to buy a carrier bag.
And let’s not forget about campaigning to encourage our governments to commit to taking more action than they already are! They need to know that we are engaged and want more from them.
Really most of us already know all this, don’t we! We just have to personally commit to change today, and we can soon get into better habits. Every little thing we do WILL make a difference if millions of us are doing it. Let’s make this next decade count!
When I was at University I really, really wanted an allotment. I put my name down on the council waiting list where it remained for the full three years I was studying there. In the end I finished my course and moved away to take a job before I got to the top of the list! In hindsight this was probably just as well, as I now have a small allotment and I realise that I probably wouldn’t have put the work in that an allotment needs when I was a student – I was far too busy with my social life.
Now my allotment itself is a fair chunk of my social life, I go there and see my neighbouring plot holders and there are plenty of events organised through the year. However the main benefit for me is physical, I don’t have the motivation to exercise for the sake of getting fit, but I love it that keeping the allotment tidy, planting and harvesting not only provides us with some food but also gives me a good cardiovascular workout, keeps me supple and gets me out in the fresh air with all the benefits that brings. Bring on the summer!
Being in nature is naturally positive, it creates space in the mind and has many physical benefits as well.
Many people found that getting out into nature helped them hugely during the lockdown periods, tending gardens, growing veg. Lots of people discovered that they had time to really connect with nature, perhaps for the first time in many years. This gave them a sense of space and perspective.
Some people also took on personal projects to care for a green space, a garden or area, and as a result saw a corresponding improvement in their mental wellbeing. During the pandemic we have been very aware of our impact as humans on the natural world, and so by caring for nature on a personal level it feels like a way to give back rather than take, and to reconnect or start to make some amends.
Taking care of our natural world and the beings we share it with gives us something positive to do and something to care for. Especially at a time when our freedoms have been restricted, when we could not see or spend time with the people we would like to, the energy and desire to nurture and commune needs to be expressed somewhere to avoid feeling sad, lonely, or angry.
Today is actually Love A Tree day, and so to mark that here is a personal account from my very dear Mum who lives many miles away from me down in Devon. She writes about how taking care of a struggling sapling that she found in her local park has helped her to keep positive during the lonely months of the lockdown.
The Lockdown Tree
I call it The Lockdown Tree because I got to know it during the first Lockdown. It helped me survive the isolation from family and friends. It needed help and I could help it – and so we helped each other.
It had been planted by volunteers at the edge of a row of nut trees but unlike its peers, it was neglected and almost overwhelmed by creepers, nettles, and brambles. But it was determined and had managed to push a branch out with a few leaves visible.
Walking for exercise one day I noticed it, and realised I could help. So the next months – armed with scissors and gloves – were spent clearing all around the little tree and pulling up the nettles that separated it from its nearest neighbour tree.
It grew and grew and then one day I saw a bird resting on one of its branches. Wonderful. It gave me hope.
So to the end of the story so far. Two days ago (14months from the start of of the lockdowns) I went to visit the tree and saw that the man who cuts the grass in the park had carefully cut the grass all around the thickening trunk and between it and its neighbour! It belonged at last. It was happy, I could tell.
I will continue to walk there and talk to the tree as I did all those bleak months. I say Thank You to the tree.
Earth Day is marked every year on April 22nd, and the theme this year is ‘Restore our Earth’. The intention behind this theme is to encourage us all to consider whether we can really go back to the ‘old normal’ once the coronavirus restrictions are lifted, with respect to our consumer habits and lifestyle choices.
Every living being has the right to live in a clean and healthy environment, and it is up to us, as humans, to make this happen. We know humans have plundered the earth and its natural resources for so long now and there needs to be a turning point. Earth Day this year is a challenge to us to not only stop harming the earth but to proactively help restore it. If we don’t want to return to the ‘old normal’ of single-use plastics, tonnes of waste going to landfill, food waste, and pollution, we can make personal resolutions for positive change by being more thoughtful in what we buy, think about if we really need it, where we buy it from and how we will dispose of it.
We can also find ways to “give back” to the Earth, such as planting trees and pollinating flowers, providing homes for the animals who share the space with us, perhaps leaving part of our garden wild, making bug hotels, nesting boxes for birds and bats. Maybe we can litter pick or help rewild areas near our home.
Let’s make 2021 the year we didn’t return to normal habits and really start to restore our beautiful planet.
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