New Column: Zero-Waste Eco Mum Kate Hughes – Starting our Journey

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Kate Hughes

Welcome to our new Kate Hughes column, who has “greened” every aspect of her family’s life for the past five years. Each month, she’ll be telling us about her journey to becoming zero-waste and how you can become that little bit more eco-friendly.

Five years ago, at about this time of year, I did something a bit… stupid. Horrified after a split beanbag sent millions of tiny polystyrene plastic balls into our little garden to pollute it for thousands of years, and with a newborn under one arm and a three year old under the other, I decided our family would go ‘zero waste’.

We would ditch all single-use plastic, we would do everything we could not to bring any plastic into our house. We didn’t know then that there was a term for it, or even that by doing so we would quickly get to the stage that we didn’t need a bin because we don’t produce anything to put in it.

If you think about it, though, something that sounds pretty simple – no more plastic – is remarkably difficult to pull off. And not just temporarily either – everyday for the rest of our lives.

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Kate and her family

Food was a tricky one for starters, and then there were the products the kids needed, household cleaners, cosmetics and toiletries, even synthetic fabrics. Plastic is so widespread we hardly register it’s there anymore. Going plastic free was overwhelming. And yes, even maybe a bit stupid in hindsight.

But it was also the first of a cascade of decisions we made as a family determined to do better for the planet, for our local environment, for our own health. In just a couple of years our family life has changed beyond recognition. It has been tough, sure. Often a bit mad, regularly hilarious. But contrary to popular myth, the last five years have shown us that a greener life, with a more considered use of resources, is also often cheaper, sometimes completely free.

Above all it has been – it continues to be – hugely empowering. Especially in the face of every new report on just what our everyday, automatic decisions are doing to the planet – each one scarier than the last it seems.

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Kate and her family

The truth is though, if we hadn’t started in the summer, I’m not sure our eco lifestyle change would have ever got off the ground. Everything seems easier in the summer. Or maybe it’s just the lack of the mad-dash school run… Either way, whenever friends and family ask for tips on going green, we suggest they start right around now.

For starters, it’s the middle of the UK’s growing season. That means we can get our hands on a wide range of delicious food that is at its best and hasn’t travelled halfway around the world, for grown in heated greenhouses to end up on our plates alongside huge carbon footprints. It’s less likely to be heavily packaged in plastic thanks to that short journey too, so we’re already onto a winner.

The most sustainable and often the most nutritious food is local, seasonal food. And yes, I’m mostly talking about veggies and fruit here. We all know about the United Nations’ advice that to save the world we should eat less meat and dairy.

That’s not just, as my now eight year old has great fun reporting in a very, very loud voice, because of farty cows. Or grazing land created by burning the Amazon. It’s also because the vast majority of the meat and dairy sold in UK supermarkets is produced using soybeans – usually grown on far more of that cleared forest land. It’s an ecological disaster playing out in the supermarket aisles we all know so well.

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Credit: Inigo de la Maza via Unsplash

So how about a veggie feast on the barbie this summer? Or even just bumping up the non-meat options while cutting back on a couple of burgers?

We know that when it’s in season, local veg is far cheaper than meat and dairy, as well as being seriously good for us and the kids. In fact veggies are remarkably protein-heavy (a big fear for many parents pondering a more veggie focused future despite UK children regularly getting three times as much protein as they need according to some studies).

It’s bang on trend of course, and you’re free to involve the same chargrilled or marinated action as meat. Just don’t forget the foodie posers points for basting your veggie skewers or grilled lettuce with an oil-dipped herb bundle. Masterchef eat your heart out.

But I don’t love the summer just for the food choices it brings. Warmer weather made the switch to reusable nappies so much easier too, for example. Line drying is a no brainer – laundry smells fresher so we use less harmful detergent and we’re not wasting energy on tumble drying.

Bambino Mio’s Miosolo range

We loved Bambino Mio’s Miosolo range. Their all-in-one fun designs appealed to our littlies, clever integrated absorption pads with optional extras definitely appealed to our desperate need to get at least some sleep at night, and the ingenious use of poppers meant one design took us from newborn to toddler, and there are pull ups and swim nappies too.

The second hand market for these nappies is strong, so there are bargains to be had when buying and selling on. Win win!

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Miosolo Classic All-in-one Reusable Nappy in Lemon Drop, £10.19, available from bambinomio.co.uk/collections/miosolo/

And, if your kids are anything like my little dirt magnets, you’ll be delighted that the sun has a remarkable natural bleaching effect on tough stains without the need to resort to strong chemicals that not only irritate children’s delicate skin, but are also catastrophic for the streams and rivers our waste water gets pumped into.

The other thing though, is that babies and children don’t need to be bundled up in 25 layers, so there’s less washing in the first place – a well known bonus for those who manage to time a bit of au naturel potty training just right.

Elsewhere though, the season does throw up a challenge or two. Suncream is an absolute must for families of course, but it has long been a tricky one in our house. And not just because of the plastic tubes or sometimes tricky-to-recycle spray cans. Sunscreen works by physically or chemically blocking out harmful UV rays from the sun.

Peace with the Wild Suncream

On sunscreen, we wanted a zero plastic container as well as a natural cover and a high SPF, so our current picks are Amazinc and Shade. Pricey though!

I love Peace with the Wild for this kind of product and their sun skincare page has plenty of options for sun protection and aftercare.

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Peace with the Wild sunblock, £21, available at peacewiththewild.co.uk

Traditional, chemical suncreams are a minefield of long-worded ingredients like octinoxate and oxybenzone, that are toxic to both humans and the environment. When we talk about reef-safe suncream, that’s the coral bleaching stuff (now outlawed in places like Hawaii) we’re trying to avoid.

We steer well clear and seek out physical sunblocks instead… even if the thicker consistency makes the already tortuous application on small children a bit longer. And they end up with those white streaks made famous by 80s cricketers.

My tip is to warm it in your hand first, which shouldn’t be hard in the balmy British summer we’re surely all set to enjoy without a cloud in the sky…?

kate-eco-columnBuy Kate’s book Going Zero: One Family’s Journey to Zero Waste and a Greener Lifestyle now.