Guidance on Living a Normal Life

So, you’ve woken up, what now? 

It’s that moment. Every eco aware person has had that moment. It’s always in a different location, but you always have the same chilling feeling.  

I was in a store of the UK biggest supermarket (I’m sure you can guess). In the centre aisle, I did a 360 degree turn. Every shelf, every trolley, every basket, in every person’s hands, every aisle space all I saw… plastic. It’s terrifying. Opening my bathroom cupboard after seeing clips of Blue Planet (no, I’ve never seen a full episode – I know I couldn’t cope). Yes, that moment of panic.  

For others, it’s watching the ‘majestic’ event (yes, this is exactly how the national news article described the event) of an orangutan being beaten to death by a man in a digger whilst destroying it’s home to make way for the palm trees for oil (now, look at the ingredients in that bar of chocolate you are eating- it doesn’t taste as good any more does it? Google the words ‘Nutella palm oil’ and go to images – you’ll never eat the stuff again). Maybe, its pictures of starving polar bears invading towns in Siberia, because we have spent 30 years warming the planet and melting the ice caps, destroying their homes. 

For 20 years, I’ve been a directionless eco activist with no idea how to change my lifestyle or what to do. So, I decided that enough was enough. I was going to practice what I preach, and I was going to live the life that I wanted.  

If you don’t know where to start. Here is some guidance: 

  • Give up beef and lamb. If you can’t, then only buy it from a farmer’s market where it has been made on an eco-farm (yes, they are rare, but they do exist). There is more livestock on Earth than people, and the journey of birth to plate of cows and sheep has the biggest carbon footprint of any other food source. The Amazon rainforest is being destroyed at a rate of 4 football pitches a day, just so you can go to your local steak house and grab a beef burger. Seriously people, just stop eating it or if you can’t, buy it from a UK eco farm; they do amazing work (tip – you won’t find it in any supermarket or butchers. You will only find it at a farmers market with the word organic written in big letters).  
  • Embrace plant-based diets. If you don’t know how, put vegetarian recipes into google and a countless amount come up. The BBC’s Eat Well for Less programme and Bootstrap Jack Monroe have some fantastic guidance. 
Compare beef with beans to see which one is better for you and the environment
  • I’ve saved an average of £4 per week by moving to an organic veg box scheme. I had always assumed they would be more expensive so avoided them for years. Now, on hindsight, I realised that I’d been buying out of season worldwide veg and not only is there a massive carbon footprint, it’s also really expensive too. That said, I have had carrots in every single box every week for a year. My life does seem to be represented by ‘100 things to do with a carrot’ (have a tub of grated carrot in the fridge and add it to everything). I will never buy shop bought coleslaw again, my homemade coleslaw is way better, and I can’t cook…. 
  • Embrace UK and EU based food. Do you really need strawberries in December? If the packaging was substantial enough to come on a boat, then this isn’t as bad as you might think. Never buy any food that would have come via air freight, ie. Flimsy packaging from outside of the EU. Wine bottled in the UK has a lower carbon footprint than if it was bottled a source in the land down under.  
  • Never, under any circumstances, throw food away. Learn to love your left overs and embrace your freezer. If food waste was a country, in it’s own right, it would have the 3rd largest carbon emissions.  
  • Bring your own – take your own bags for the loose fruit and veg. If you do need to buy meat, bakery products or a take away; take your own containers. Absolutely loving my local curry house’s reactions to my Tiffin and Tupperware. A shout out to Merlin’s and Mem Saab in Northampton for being so open minded.  
  • Research your own carbon footprint through questionnaires on the net. Use these to work out where there are the biggest polluters in your life. I know that I create 75% of my allotted carbon footprint, made worst by the fact that my local council has cut public transport meaning I can’t work if I don’t own a car. As an eco-activist, I now spend my time lobbying my local council to stop building new roads and putting the money into public transport instead.  
  • Consider everything you buy? Do you really need it? Yes, I know you want it, but do you really need it? If you ask yourself this question 3 times at the point of sale, if any of the answers is no, don’t buy it and consider this a bargain (don’t we all love a bargain?). It’s amazing how much money you can save. I was completely debt free age 36, just by taking this approach to shopping. Consider that new skirt you want to buy was made by slaves in the Far East (don’t kid yourself), put on a truck to the docks, put on a boat, to come into a dock, to be loaded onto another truck, to go in a warehouse, to be put on another truck, to go in a shop, to go in your car. All funded by fossil fuels. At most of these stages, it gets re-wrapped in fresh industrial shrink wrap (life length – 150 years). Yes, that new top might look wonderful, but do you really need it? (and don’t get me started on online shopping, that’s even worse). 30,000 pairs of Ugg boots can be shipped across Europe in 1 day; this is the power of modern logistics. Seriously people, do you really need it? I still own and wear a dress that I bought for my 6th form leaving do. I’m now 41 (with a lot more wrinkles) and I still get compliments on the dress. 
  • Together we are strong – only by joining together can we make a difference. Join the social media pages of your local Extinction Rebellion or Greenpeace page and if you are comfortable, go along to a meeting and find out what it’s all about. 
Ruth is a founding member of Extinction Rebellion Wellingborough
  • Research the facts. The NASA website is a good source. If you are like me, and have the attention span of a gnat, then just put ‘Heading to Extinction’ into You Tube.  Talk to everyone you know about your findings. If I can talk the guy trying to sell me a charity direct debit subscription, into being an eco-activist, then you can talk to all of your friends and family. 
  • Reduce your flying and never fly for business any more – this is what skype is for. If you can’t reduce your flying, carbon off set it.  
  • Stop buying plastic – rather than focus on what you throw away, consider not buying plastic. Yes, leave that fossil fuel in the ground. There is actually a lot of advice on how to reduce your plastic, more than you think. I’ve informed my local council that their compulsory bin bag, creates me more plastic than I create. It now takes me 1 full month to fill 1 compulsory bin bag. It can be done.  
  • Stop buying new clothes without investigating all your local charity shops first – it’s amazing how much money you save by being environmental. I’ve actually done this most of my adult life (mainly because I’m stingy). At least 70% of my whole wardrobe is made up of second-hand clothes and people at work are surprised by this when they praise me on my work wear. My go to ‘interview dress’ was £4, 15 years ago.  
  • Read ‘This is not a Drill’ or ‘Greta Thunberg’s book’ and join the movement. 
  • Increase the habitats in your garden and research micro ponds on the RSPB website. Re-wild as much of your garden as possible and never use plastic grass (the slug trails look wonderful over this anyway). Put in a hedgehog house and hole and persuade your neighbours to do the same. Avoid block paving and paving slabs, which increases localised flooding and embrace stones and grass.  

Some things didn’t go so well… 

Composting is this just a weird complex science that seems completely beyond me. My compost bin looks amazing from the outside (it looks like a beach hut, yes I actually have a mini beach hut in my garden) however it doesn’t seem to do anything.

I’m not even going to attempt a wormery, it’s hard enough keeping the plants in my garden alive. I doubt the worms would fair very well around me.  

Trying to go vegan and being plastic free – ‘the computer says no’ 

I forgot to postpone the delivery date of my ‘Who Gives a Crap?’ loo rolls and now I have a year’s worth of loo rolls in the house. Every cupboard in my bathroom and spare room are full of loo rolls and I have a pile waist high in the bathroom. You live and learn…

So, are you up to the challenge? Give it a go! 


Written by Ruth Hemmingway for Wellingborough Eco Group