We’re in – are you? make the changes that matter in the #Countdown To COP

We're in! - are you?  Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.
We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

#CountdownToCOP will show you how you can take steps in your life to make a big difference to our planet. Join us over the next 16 weeks as we encourage St Albans District to make the changes that matter and protect what you love.


It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Visit the St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.


In November this year, the UK will host COP26, the international conference where countries will agree the next steps on tackling climate change.  Sustainable St Albans is linking with environmental groups and volunteers across the district to encourage ordinary residents like YOU to take your own steps too. It’s called #CountdownToCOP.


In the build up to the COP26 conference, we are encouraging people across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages to take your own steps to reduce your carbon pollution using the Count Us In framework.  These 16 steps have been selected based on what is most effective at reducing your personal carbon pollution, their power to influence leaders and their ability to involve everyone. 

Wearing clothes that will last or speaking up at work are just two of the 16 most effective things you can do to reduce carbon pollution and encourage others to do the same. These are both Count Us In steps. From now till November, in the #CountdownToCOP, we will feature one of these steps each week. We will share resources to help you take each step, and inspiration from others who have.  Watch out for our blogs and social media posts with more information each week.

The 16 highest impact steps, to cut your carbon and inspire others to do the same.

“Wearing clothes that will last or speaking up at work are two of the 16 most effective things you can do to reduce carbon pollution.”

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

You can choose whether to appear on the St Albans District Count Us In page with your full name, your first name or anonymously.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 


Which of the 16 highest impact steps will you commit to do?

Choose something you know is realistic, that you can do in the next few weeks:

  • Food
    • Cut food waste – Reduce the amount of food that is wasted or thrown away in your home.
    • Eat more plants – Reduce the amount of meat in your weekly diet.
    • Eat seasonal – Eat food produced at its natural time of the year.
  • Travel
    • Fly less – Reduce your plane travel to dramatically cut your carbon pollution.
    • Walk and cycle more – Travel by bike or foot wherever you can.
    • Drive Electric – Make your next car purchase an electric vehicle.
  • Home
    • Insulate Your Home – Install or enhance the loft insulation in your home.
    • Switch your energy – Move your home to a green energy supplier.
    • Get some solar – Install solar panels to generate energy for your home.
    • Dial it down – Turn down the heating in your home by a degree or more.
  • Lifestyle
    • Wear Clothes to last Buy fewer new clothes and wear them for longer.
    • Green your money – Choose financial institutions and funds that invest responsibly.
    • Repair and reuse – Repair your belongings rather than buying new.
  • Voice
    • Tell your politicians – Ask politicians to act or invest in infrastructure to support a step.
    • Speak up at work – Come together with colleagues to make change at a bigger scale.
    • Talk to friends – Start a conversation about Count Us In and encourage others to take a step.

“… all we need to do is pick a step, and give it a try.”


Sustainable St Albans will help you take your first step

For example, week one is all about “Talking to Friends” and you can find resources to help you here, including our free Climate Conversation pack.

The mission of Count Us In is to inspire one billion citizens to take a step.  Which step will you take? Explore the St Albans District Count Us In page now and take part in the #CountdownToCOP.

Saving the Planet from the Laundry Room

Or the art of sustainable clothes washing

There are so many inter-woven consequences to the way I live my life. Just one task that I carry out each and every week could have repeated harmful effects on the environment without me realising it. I discovered that washing my clothes is one such task.


This blog from local resident Terry Over looks at the environmental impact of this everyday task, and the simple changes we can make to have clean washing that doesn’t cost the earth.


The Office of National Statistics estimates that each UK household carries out 260 laundry wash loads per year on average. Nearly all of them, some 7 billion wash loads, use a washing machine. The washing machine is an amazing labour-saving device that changed our households dramatically but there are a variety of things that need to combine for each load of successful laundry washing.

The Issues

Firstly there is the electricity required to operate the washing machine, then there is the water for the clothes to wash in, the energy to heat the water, the detergent to remove the dirt and finally the draining of the waste water and its contents. Well, not quite finally because here in the UK, 58% of households have a tumble drier which needs electricity to dry that washing.

Just like modern life in general, there are so many choices to make when loading a washing machine!

Just like modern life in general there are so many settings choices to make when loading a washing machine – temperature, fabric, spin speed, time and other options – and depending on our choice the environmental consequence can vary tremendously. 

  • Clean water use could be 60 litres per wash load which is 15,600 litres per year and approximately £50 worth of our household water bill. Water is a precious resource and requires energy to pump it to our homes which affect its carbon footprint.
  • Electricity use on average in the UK is 0.6 kWh per wash which is 156 kWh/year and approximately £25 worth of our utility bill. The UK electricity grid is still circa 50% reliant on fossil fuel.
  • Detergent is generally overused and a quick investigation of the ingredients in our laundry detergents will reveal that it is not the most environmentally friendly of products that we are releasing into our rivers and seas. Waste water treatment plants will filter some but not all synthetic chemicals and endocrine disruptors are a real issue for our marine biodiversity.  

“Each of us can make a difference just by changing how we do that one chore – that we repeat 260 times every year”

  • Some washes can be carried out at 20 degree C whilst some manufacturers have a 90 degree C wash. The higher the temperature the more electricity is required.
  • The 60 litres of waste water will cost us approximately another £50 per year and use water treatment plant energy, but of more concern is that it deposits vast quantities of plastic microfibres in our seas and rivers; plastic that will be around for ever and get consumed by sea life that will work its way up the food chain until more and more of us will be eating plastic.

But the great thing is that each of us can make a difference by just changing how we do that one chore that we currently do 260 times per year.

 The solutions

  • The best solution is simply to do less washes
  • Wear clothes more times before putting them in the wash.
  • Hang worn clothes to simply “air” rather than put them in the washing basket.
  • “Spot wash” instead of machine wash items that have small smudges rather than general dirt.
  • Only do full load washes.

Temperature

  • Wash on the lowest temperature possible as heating the water is the most energy-intensive part of the process. Using 20°C instead of 40°C could reduce running costs by 62%. Most washing powders and liquids are designed to be effective at low temperatures. In this current Covid19 situation households may want to consider the likelihood of clothing needing to be washed at 60°C.

Ensure your electricity tariff is 100% green

  • Use the shortest cycle. Shorter cycles use less water and less energy. The added bonus is that a short cycle causes less damage to your clothes over time so helps them last longer.
  • Ensure your electricity tariff is a 100% green tariff meaning all your electricity use is from a renewable energy source.
  • Switch from using everyday brands of laundry products to environmentally friendly detergent that contain ingredients that do not harm the environment, through their production or disposal. You can find a guide here.

In our household we have stopped using laundry powder, liquid or tablets altogether. We stopped using fabric conditioner. We stopped using stain remover. We investigated using more eco-friendly liquids from SESI or Ecoleaf but in the end we started using Soapnuts. (Soapnuts or Soapberries are dried fruit shells which contain real natural soap called saponin, which is released when they come into contact with water). So, the key is saponins.

“It may sound strange but it works; our clothes are just as clean as before, but with no synthetic chemicals used”

But soapnuts have to be transported from India and our western desire could cause supply issues there, so now we use conkers (with a few drops of pure essential oils).

Yes, the glossy brown seeds of the horse chestnut tree, collected in bulk in the autumn, brown skins removed, white seed diced in to small pieces, dried for storage and re-hydrated for laundry liquid to enable low temperature washing when we need some. It may sound strange but it works; our clothes are now just as clean as before, but we know no damaging synthetic chemicals have been used.

Water Use

Reduce your water waste by recycling it on to the garden. In the summer we collect the grey wastewater and use it to water the garden. The fact that our water now contains hardly any harmful synthetic chemicals means it is a perfect use of 60 litres of water each wash, especially as climate change means our summers will get drier. 

Currently we just temporarily remove the flexible outflow waste water pipe at the back of the washing machine from the outlet and place it in to buckets and watering cans but long term we may install a diverter valve to make it easier.


Microfibres

  • The hardest issue to address are the plastic microfibres that are in the wastewater, but solutions do exist:
  • Buy less synthetic fibre clothes (polyester, acrylic, nylon) and more organic fibre clothes (wool, organic cotton, linen, silk).
  • Install a microfibre filter to the washing machine outlet pipe.
  • Use other forms of microfibre capture such as Coraball or GuppyFriend.
  • And finally, if possible, use the tumble drier less as this will save on energy use and damage to the clothes thereby reducing microfibre loss in the next wash.

Washing Machine Energy Rating

When purchasing a new washing machine aim for the highest standard possible i.e. A+++ energy rating for improved efficiency, the best in-built microfibre filter possible and good water efficiency usage. 

But if you are not intending to buy a new washing machine – and it is best to make our appliances last as long as possible, with repair if necessary – then I encourage you to adopt all or a selection of the above tips to address the inter woven consequence that the weekly, or quintuple weekly, wash will place on the environment. Your next washday will be even more rewarding!


Office of National Statistics – volume of UK household laundry

  National Grid – renewable versus fossil fuel electricity

Marine drugs – endocrine disruption

Clothes washing and ocean plastic pollution

Washing machine temperature guide

Which magazine – Normal versus Quick wash testing

  What are soapnuts and how to use them

How to use conkers to wash your clothes

7 ways to reduce microfibre pollution

Microfibre filter by Lint

Types of Microfiber Filters To Help Stop Microplastic Pollution

Ethical Consumer – laundry detergents guide

Save The Planet In Your Lunchbreak

Eat less meat, go vegan, don’t eat avocados, Seaspiracy, Cowspiracy, too much plastic, which milk to get… agh there is so much NOISE around food and the environment! It can feel overwhelming to try and decide what to buy and what to eat. Where do we start? Well how about at lunch?


Becky Alexander is the food columnist for The Herts Advertiser and author of Packed and a new book The Green Lunch Book, out in January 2022.

Also see Becky’s short #SustFest21 video – Love Your Lunch! Watch this short video to get shopping tips and creative ideas for making veggie/vegan lunches.
Venue Online via becky-alexander.com


cover-credit-Sally-Caulwell

So, you’ve got the message that as a planet we need to eat less meat, fish and dairy. Now, how do you do that, and it fit into family life (with all their requirements), without having to prep different meals each day? We all know we also need to cut back on the amount of single-use packaging we buy.

One idea is to start with lunch. Here’s why:

  1. Switching to plant-based might feel easier at lunch. You can make that swap without impacting on evening meals (if that is a barrier to you).
  2. There are so many options – salads, soups, wraps, dips, things on toast, nut butters, falafel, chickpeas, hummus, butterbeans, black beans, lentils… there are so many ways to get protein into your lunch without meat and fish. 
  3. Ham, chicken pieces, honey-roasted salmon flakes etc all come wrapped in plastic. Switching to pulses and beans for your lunch protein can mean you cut back on plastic – you can buy ready-cooked beans and pulses in cans and jars. You could also prep your own and buy dried from a refill shop/stall if you have time.
  4. Britain’s “lunch on the go” habit is generating 10 BILLION items of packaging waste a year (2019). Little tubs of salad, sandwich boxes with see-through windows, snack pots, crisp packets, dressing pots, sachets of sauce etc…  A lot of this is not recycled and goes in black bin bags. Even if you put it in the right collection, the UK recycles only 10% of its own plastic waste, shipping the rest. By making your own lunch you can cut back on that by reusing a lunchbox, wax wrap, jam jar etc. 
  5. Some easy options are: beans on toast; tomato and butterbean soup; scrambled tofu with pesto (very TikTok); black beans mashed into wraps with tomato and pepper; roast vegetables with lentils. You only need 5 new lunch ideas and that’s midweek sorted!

So, why not try a few more plant-based lunches this week?

Dig out an old lunch box if going to work, and give it a go!

For more plant-based lunch ideas go to becky-alexander.com for free recipes. The Green Roasting Tin and One Pot, Pan, Planet are great books for creative vegan and vegetarian lunches.

Chemicals Down The Drain

Chemicals Down The Drain – easy swaps that help nature and health

I remember a light bulb moment a few years ago when my children were younger; “Keep out of reach of children” was the warning on the laundry detergent. So, if it is not great for our children, why are we using it to wash their clothes and then sending the rinsed water down the drain to the rivers and the sea? 


“This guest blog has been written by local resident Terry Over, who is a keen amateur passionately interested in climate change mitigation. Terry has travelled the “more sustainable” journey for several years now, and enjoys researching across the whole spectrum of sustainability issues.


I remembered being challenged by my ignorance; for decades we had simply washed our clothes without consciously thinking about the ethics of the process. I set aside an hour and internet searched. It was definitely time well spent, a revelation even, and set me off on a journey of completely changing our habits with regards to the use of all synthetic chemicals in our home.

The more I researched the better I understood that:

•    When we wash an unwanted substance down our drains it does not mean that it goes “away”; it just goes somewhere else. 

•    When chemicals are poured down the drain, they enter the waste water system, which usually filters into a local wastewater treatment plant. However, these chemicals persist through the water treatment process and end up discharged from the water treatment works back into rivers, seas and ground water. 

•    We may think these chemicals are diluted and spread throughout such a huge body of water and think they will not cause any harm. However, we need to remember that everyone else is doing the same. Our washing capsule will have “bioaccumulated” over time as billions of people around the world pollute our watercourses every day. 

..billions of people around the world pollute our watercourses every day.

•    These chemicals, and the cocktail of mixed chemicals, can cause disruption to the endocrine systems in the biodiverse life in our waters including tiny creatures such as microbials and fish. This can lead to reproductive and behavioural disorders, a compromised immune system, neurological problems, and even cancer in marine life with growing evidence suggesting in humans too.

•    As other animals consume water borne creatures that are poisoned with these chemicals, they bioaccumulate up the food chain and increase in toxicity. This can damage an entire ecosystem, and if humans eat these fish directly then there may be consequences for us as well.

Check out the Ingredients

I decided to check out all the ingredients written on the back of a laundry detergent bottle:

  • How are they made?
  • Where do they come from?
  • What harm could they have on the environment?
  • What harm can they have on me?

Once again it was eye opening and I challenge you to do the same research on the ingredients of just one household cleaning product that you use. For example just internet search “What are the effects of sodium lauryl sulphate?” and cross check a few scientific and blog based websites to get a general understanding.

We understood we had been enslaved for years to the advertising, marketing and synthetic aromas of our favourite brands..


One by one we ceased to use, or replaced, each product with a natural organic or more sustainable alternative. It took time.

So, we decided to try and stop putting synthetic chemicals down the drain ever! One by one we ceased to use or replaced each product we used with a natural organic or more sustainable alternative. It took time. We understood we had been enslaved for years to the advertising, marketing and synthetic aromas of our favourite brands so there needed to be an acceptance of “different” in all replacements but we persevered and I am pleased to confess that all swaps have been successful swaps. This is what we did:

Successful Swaps

Kitchen

  1. Washing up liquid – we replaced our supermarket brand with an eco-friendly version SESI we buy from The Refill Pantry – in our own ex-supermarket containers – not perfect but getting closer. It may not lather or smell as much but persist for a while and you will appreciate that everything is just as clean.
  2. Dishwasher tablets – we replaced with bicarbonate of soda plus a couple drops of washing up liquid. We have had no issues with scale but if the dishes are left a long time before cleansing there can be occasional food stains so a compromise may be to use a natural dishwasher tablet every third wash or so.

Bathroom

  1. Hand soap
  • We have replaced all liquid pump soap with an eco-friendly version from Eco Leaf
  • And all soap bars with bars from Friendly Soap. Check out their “Our Story” page.
  1. Shampoo  
  • A bit of a mix, for some in the household have replaced shampoo in a bottle with eco-friendly shampoo bars 
  • Whilst others have opted for a liquid shampoo from Eco Leaf
  1. Hair conditioners – ditto shampoo above
  2. Body wash – ditto Hand soap above
  3. Shaving foam – replaced gel or spray foam with a shaving bar 
  4. Bath soak – Baths are a rarity in our drive for water conservation but when we do indulge gone is the aromatic coloured stuff and instead good old Epsom Salts soothes the aches and pains.
  5. Bubble bath – just gone.
  6. Bleach and Toilet cleaner – this was the first to go. If you want to be put off completely then researching the ingredients of bleach is pretty depressing. We have replaced it with a blend of bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar (circa 5%/95% ratio).
  7. Toothpaste – this is currently our stumbling block and we are yet to make the change so any advice would be appreciated.

Laundry 

  1. We stopped using laundry powder, liquid or tablets. We stopped using fabric conditioner. We stopped using stain remover. We investigated using more eco-friendly liquids from SESI or Ecoleaf but in the end we started using Soapnuts. (Soapnuts or Soapberries are actually dried fruit shells which contain real natural soap called saponin, which is released when they come into contact with water). So the key is saponins. 

But soapnuts have to be transported from India and our western desire could cause supply issues there, so now we use conkers (with a few drops of pure essential oils). Yes, the glossy brown seeds of the horse chestnut tree, collected in bulk in the autumn, brown skins removed, white seed diced in to small pieces, dried for storage and re-hydrated for laundry liquid to enable low temperature washing when we need some. 

  1. Exchanged shop bought stain remover with a range of ingredients that my grandma probably used.

It is great to think we are putting less harmful stuff down our drains and whilst we all have to decide our own views on what is and what is not acceptable to flush down our drains, I would encourage you to make a start and replace at least one harmful product with something more natural.  

The unexpected added bonus which I really appreciate is that gone are the scents of ammonia and unhealthy synthetic chemicals – of which I had grown accustomed to and no longer noticed – that pervaded throughout the house; they have been replaced by neutral or natural aromas and the ambience seems healthier for it. 

Another upside is much less plastic packaging with all its environmental harm.

After we had challenged ourselves on what chemicals we put down the drain next it was time to tackle all those other synthetic chemicals we clean our surfaces, air and garden with, but that story is for another day.

Marine Drugs – endocrine disruption

What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and is it safe?

Dangers of Laundry Detergent Ingredients

Ethical Product contents from Sesi

Ecoleaf at Suma

8 Reasons to Make the Switch to Solid Shampoo Bars

https://www.peacewiththewild.co.uk/what-are-soapnuts-and-how-to-use-them/

12 Natural Stain Remover Tips For All Your Laundry Woes

https://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants/cleaning-supplies-household-chem

COVID won’t stop SustFest21

Negotiating a COVID ‘diversion’ on the path to sustainability: the road to SustFest21

As you can imagine, when COVID first hit the headlines in March 2020, we had the terrible sinking feeling that the Sustainability Festival would have to be cancelled. When the situation escalated to widespread social distancing restrictions, the festival organising group soon made the decision to postpone until 2021. It was a terrible time for us as a group, mainly because the 2020 was the biggest SustFest to date.


This week’s guest blog is from Jill Watson – Jill runs the Phase Out Plastic stall at St Albans market, looks after a young family and is the chair of #SustFest21. Jill we be at the SustFest21 Creative Ideas for organisers event on 25th Feb and 2nd March – all welcome see Eventbrite for more info and booking


Global awareness of climate and ecological emergency

..we were in a time of change and wanted to step out onto a new more sustainable road

On a worldwide scale, awareness around climate change and ecological emergency was becoming general knowledge instead of the ‘theories’ and extreme views that had kept it low on governments’ agendas for many years. We wanted this tide of positive impact to continue; we were in a time of change and wanted to step out onto a new more sustainable road, but we had hit a ‘COVID’ diversion sign.

We all know what the past year has done to us, individually, as a family, as a business, as a community, as a nation and globally. We will feel the effects for years to come. As this disruption has forced us to change in directions we couldn’t anticipate, do we really need a SustFest this year and what can we achieve?

We will feel the effects for years to come…

The pandemic actually changed some things for the good of the environment making significant differences in a short space of time: less commuting (less international business travel), switching to using local businesses/producers, increased community support for the vulnerable and even decreased worldwide oil production. Within homes it changed our awareness of personal actions like how our consumer habits drive industry and made us face up to what we really need to buy.

Now is the perfect time to make changes we’ve been meaning to do for so long…

The health of our loves ones is at stake, and will always be our priority, but the Climate and Ecological Emergency is also a danger to our health and welfare.  You can help by bringing along your ideas and deciding to join in with an event or activity for SustFest21.

Do you feel that some of your sustainable habits have been forgotten during the pandemic? …or did you have time to start some new sustainable projects?

The social/wellbeing aspect of our lives has suffered with strict social restrictions As human nature is sociable, with care for one another, this has been hard, and potentially damaging to us all.

By building an inclusive Sustainabilty Festival for 2021 we can re-emerge from our houses and reconnect with our friends and local community through nature and sustainability. We can use this platform to join with like-minded groups and individuals -whether online, or in socially distanced ways. We can find new initiatives to support and most importantly know that we can support each other.

..We can re-emerge from our houses and reconnect with our friends and local community through nature and sustainability…

Right from the beginning the festival has been community-based; it highlighted sustainability in existing groups and promoted better eco-friendly habits – swap shops, repair shops, gardening clubs, youth groups reducing plastic waste, cookery groups reducing food waste, cycle to work schemes – to name a few.

Even in lockdown these activities can still continue. Maybe not with large gatherings, or face to face events that we all love, but we can still act individually and share experiences through the vast amount of media we have available to us.

Love it or hate it – we’re all online experts now!

Love it or hate it, in the past year, we have all become experts in video calls, live streams, online chats and social media. Alongside traditional long phone calls, writing a letter, sending a gift or flowers, the ability to keep in touch is still important, and vital to remember this year. Your toddler group, your church group, your running club?

Can you adapt one of your ongoing activities to be part of SustFest?

Festival events can be private or public… maybe you can adapt a few habits or have a discussion, make your own energy bars, share news of locally produced food? Try out some ‘eco swaps’ and feedback at your next zoom coffee morning? All of our actions make a difference.

On a global level COVID has highlighted inequality and unfairness. In turn this revealed unsustainable industry practices previously quietly accepted in our consumer driven lifestyle. Often the global south has suffered the fallout from practices driven by richer economies. Climate change impacts many nations that do not themselves drive pollution and carbon levels.

Many have friends, family and colleagues impacted in different ways around the world. Hopefully this year’s COP26 Global Climate Change conference will pull nations together to legislate for better practices so that countries we impact directly do not have to suffer because of our nation’s’ industrial practices. SustFest21 will include events that oversee what’s happening in other parts of the world and will highlight the work of COP26.

  • Illustration of person washing in shower

Roller coaster

On a personal level, this pandemic has been a rollercoaster: fighting the instinct to panic buy when people stripped the shelves of stock, wondering how to ensure routine and stability for my family, what can I do to replace school lessons, and of course lockdown!? I became angry that our ‘eco-better practices’ were thrown out the window with no perceivable end to when things would ‘get better’.  The increased plastic, no use of public transport, limitations on exercise, all in all it was very hard to bear.

As people emerged from the shock of lockdown, I realised that some of the answers were in reintroducing more sustainable habits.

Buying from local shops or direct from suppliers you can limit waste packaging and reduce transportation/carbon footprint. By cooking from scratch, we can reduce food waste. We found ways of repurposing household items when the shops were closed. We’ve done more in the garden and allotment – great for wellbeing and for stocking up the fridge!

We need to use SustFest21 to share our experiences, our learning and our new ideas from this time….

The festival takes place from Sunday 23 May to Sunday 6th June. We are asking groups to register an event on the website www.sustfest.org from now until 4th April.

Or come along to the Creative Ideas event – repeated on Thurs 24 Feb and Tuesday 2nd March – to get inspiration for your #SustFest21 activity

I know there is a huge amount of enthusiasm out there to share and I encourage everyone to think about getting involved however big or small – we are all in this together. Let’s ride on this wave and support each other in our sustainable changes.

We do need a SustFest this year, and I know we can all make it a great success and a fantastic resource for our communities going forward. I’m looking forward to seeing you at a SustFest21 activity or event in whatever format we are allowed! #StaySafe