Being Ethical (or not)

Being ethical can be hard, hard work. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been struggling with it all recently. The key to an ethical lifestyle is routine, organisation and your very own A-Z of local ethical suppliers (or if you’re ultra amazing, the skills, motivation and time for making and growing your own). Big companies are only just waking up to their customers’ ethical wishes and some have started to take baby steps in the ethical lifestyle stakes. This is only a very, very new trend for a handful of large, mainstream supermarkets and shops. So, in the current climate you really do have to get down and dirty with the metaphorical elbow grease and look to small and alternative companies and shops plus use a good old fashioned dollop of creativity to “do” ethical.

And we’ve not been in our usual pattern of family life over the last month with lots of end of term activities, big birthday celebrations, Easter, a holiday, a night away and everything in between. Organisation has not been our strong point; headspace and time have not been available luxuries. It’s been 5 steps back in the ethical stakes and relying on a lot of convenience products to muddle through. Rather than seeing this period as out and out failure though, I’ve tried to use this time to reflect, refocus and to give myself a break. And actually a step back can really refresh your perspective. Practically ethical, not perfectly ethical after all, eh.

Putting a child-free morning to good use after the Easter holiday today by getting on top of “lifemin” and catching up on some ethical reading.

So, where have we gone wrong and where did we get it right?

The Good.

Now we’re settled into our new home, we’ve done a few things to make our home more eco.

  • We’ve switched energy provider to Ecotricity and we’re in the process of registering our solar panels. Soon we’ll be micro generators, making our very own green contribution to the grid.
  • Another project underway is the replacement of several large and ill fitting u-PVC windows that have been letting wind and rain in all through the winter. Hopefully properly designed and bespoke timber windows with double glazing will make a big difference next winter.
  • We’ve replaced horrible old carpets with engineered oak flooring. Not particularly eco on the face of it but actually, they’ll last far longer than new carpets and they’re so much easier to clean – no nasty chemicals for spills and stains.
  • We’re finally composting and this has really reduced our black bin waste. We’ve had a food caddy in our main bin for a loooong time, which uses compostable cornstarch bags, so it’s just a case of remembering what can and can’t go in there and then remembering to take the full bag out to the composter rather than the black bin.

On another virtuous note, I’ve invested in a glass JoCo take-away cup and I’ve been very impressed so far. The convenience of a take out drink with none of the disposable cup guilt. And money off too. What’s not to love? I’ve found Pret-A-Manger to be the best deal so far, organic coffee (with your choice of organic milk / mylks) with 50p off when you use your own cup.

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The perfect reusable durable glass take out cup. What’s not to love?

The Bad.

Big celebrations always seem to generate so much waste in our household. From Easter egg packaging to non-recyclable birthday wrapping paper; party food trays and toy packaging, we had all of the above and many bags worth of each in a very short space of time. We’re not very good at saying no; we’re not good refusers. It’s the zero wasting R we need to work on most. Especially where the children are concerned.

We started out with good intentions and here are a few of the things we did do to try and entertain in a less wasteful way. 

  • Glass glasses over disposable cups and glasses. We bought cheap glasses from Asda, you can also hire glasses for free from Waitrose, if you’re organised. We were not very organised and missed the boat on that one.
  • A cotton table cloth over a disposable one (at least for the grown-up birthday party). Not as expensive as you may imagine. We picked up a huge and lovely organic cotton Ferm Living table cloth from Home Sense for £15.
  • Jugs of squash and water with reusable plastic beakers instead of fruit shoots or cartons for children. We didn’t use any paper or plastic cups and didn’t offer straws either. And as I write this post, I’ve just had an email from Pretty Little Party Shop about reusable bamboo tablewareThese would have been much better than the beakers I picked up in Asda.
  • We only served vegan wines and beers.  All of the soft drinks for adults came in big glass bottles. All drink packaging except corks and lids could be recycled.
  • We used paper and felt decorations. All of the paper decorations will be recycled; the felt banner will be used for birthday celebrations in the future.
  • We used disposable bamboo cutlery from Eco Tableware (bought on Amazon. Guilty as charged! But isn’t Prime just too convenient sometimes? And given the alternative of plastic cutlery from the supermarket – I felt this was the lesser of two evils). The pack arrived beautifully wrapped in brown paper.
  • Everything that could be recycled from the parties we held at home was recycled.

Things we didn’t do very well and I wish we’d done differently in hindsight.

  • More wholesome children’s party bags. I set out with great intentions and found some really lovely paper party bags. Yet, in a panic bought all of the usual party bag tat to fill them with: haribo, chocolate buttons, bubbles etc etc
  • Making more of the children’s party food from scratch. I so easily could have delegated making sandwiches instead of buying platters. I definitely wouldn’t buy pre-prepared fruit again (it wasn’t eaten) and I’ll forget the shop bought jellies in plastic cups next time (they didn’t even make it out of the fridge for the party but fed desert greedy girls for several days’ puddings!).
  • Invested in china platters and plastic or enamel plates and bowls rather than using single use paper plates, bowls and cake boards. I’ll be on the look out in vintage and charity shops as I reckon we could create a nice selection of sustainable party tableware quite quickly.
  • Freezing leftovers sooner. We had a fair bit of food waste after The Husband’s party. A shame as we could have made some delicious dinners. Food waste is one of my biggest bug bears but it’s also one of the things I struggle with most in our everyday life as well as at bigger occasions.
  • Used local shops for buying food rather than relying on supermarkets and Ocado. I’m sure it would’ve been much easier to opt for zero waste or at least less plastic packaged goods.

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The rainbows and unicorn themed desert table at the Little One’s birthday party. Some good, some ugly. We’ll try better next year.

How do you keep it ethical? Are there any tricks or ethical hacks I’m missing? Have you found a diplomatic way of refusing “stuff”? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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