Ten simple changes for a cleaner, greener home
Did you see the amazing scenes of rainforests, waterfalls and wildlife being projected onto Buckingham Palace as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations?
Did it make you wonder whether you could be doing more to help prevent climate change?
Would it surprise you to know that in the UK 40% of carbon emissions actually come from our homes?
Now we don’t all have the spare cash to buy an electric car or install a ground source heat pump overnight but there are plenty of simple changes we can all make in our day to day lives that will make a difference. And if we all make small changes, collectively they become significant.
Here are 10 ideas that will help your home run more efficiently. Some can be made today. Some you can switch up as something needs replacing. Others require a longer-term commitment to develop new habits.
And the best bit…most of them are either free or will save you money.
1. REDUCE YOUR ‘PHANTOM LOAD’.
Think of all the gadgets and appliances you have plugged in, humming away on standby just waiting to be used. We’re talking computers, TVs, games consoles, radios, printers, microwaves, kettles, toasters, electric heaters and adaptors, not to mention chargers for phones, laptops, smart watches, cordless vacuums…the list goes on. It’s estimated that we each have around 40 of these in our homes, all using energy even when they’re idling. Known as phantom load or vampire energy, this can account for up to 23% of our monthly household power consumption and potentially 1% of global emissions. To put this in perspective aviation counts for 5%. As energy prices rocket, you could be saving anywhere between £140 and £450 a year simply by switching things off at the plug.
2. LEARN TO COUNT FROM 1 – 10, IN PLASTIC.
The world of plastic recycling is a confusing one that isn’t helped by different councils collecting different things, symbols on packaging that no one understands and the fact that a lot of our groceries are packaged in ‘Not Yet Recyclable’ film. It’s surprising that currently less than 10% of all plastics are recycled. Here are a couple of pointers that might help:
- Many plastic items have a number between 1 and 7 stamped on them. This is a Plastic Resin Code that identifies what it’s made of and lets you know how to recycle it. Generally it’s numbers 1 and 2, things like bottles, tubs and pots, that we’re able to put out for the bin collection.
- Over 4,000 UK supermarkets now offer a service where you can drop soft packaging off at in-store recycling points to stop it ending up in landfill or contaminating your recycling bin. This includes cereal liners, multi-pack wrapping, pasta and rice packs, frozen food bags, bread bags, crisp packets, chocolate wrappers and flexible plastic lids. You can find your nearest Recycle Now point via their Recycle Locator.
- It’s not a cheap option but if you’re looking to go zero-waste Terracycle will send you a Zero Waste Box which you can fill with anything from packaging, eyewear and art supplies to clothing and kitchen utensils. Once filled you send it back to them to process.
- If you’re still not sure and also want to be part of the solution download the free recycling app Scrapp. You scan the bar code on any item from plastic to electronics and it lets you know what to do with it based on your local recycling rules. Scrapp launched in 2021 and is growing based on a crowd-sourced approach, so if your item isn’t loaded yet you can input the details into their library to help others.
3. GET AERATED.
Are you guilty of leaving the tap on while you brush your teeth? You can cut the amount of water you’re using throughout your home by up to 60% by installing aerators in your taps. As the name suggests this simple fixture controls the amount of water that flows by mixing it with air – think of it as a tiny sieve separating the water into tiny jets and restricting the flow without compromising the water pressure. Estimates suggest it can save up to 1,274L of water a month. Different flow rates are available so you can tailor these to tap function.
4. WHO GIVES A CRAP?
Now let’s talk paper, and more specifically toilet paper. We each use about 127 rolls per year and every day 27,000 trees are cut down around the world to make something we literally flush down the drain. Have you considered an eco-alternative? There are two main options that you can weigh up based on your sustainability priorities. 100% bamboo roll produces 35% less carbon emissions than recycled roll but bamboo requires farming and transportation from China. 100% recycled roll is made more locally without using any new materials but isn’t quite as soft. So if you’re not in the market for a TOTO toilet or a bidet toilet seat (sales of which increased eleven times in 2021) consider buying from a company like Naked Sprout, Cheeky Panda or Who Gives a Crap who all support projects to ensure global access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.
5. GET YOUR HEAD IN THE CLOUD.
While we can all pat ourselves on the back for opting out of a paper bank statement, our reliance on storing everything from photographs, music and videos to emails and bills and has created a colossal digital footprint. It’s great for us, they disappear into this virtual space but have you ever considered what the cloud actually is? In reality your data is being transferred via miles of fibre optic cables to and from one of millions of data centres worldwide (some nearly 200 acres big). These are filled with thousands of hard drives that operate 24/7 and are cooled by intensive air conditioners to stop them overheating. Greenpeace reports that globally cloud computing consumes more electricity than all of Germany. It’s time for a digital spring clean – here are some tips to get you started:
- Declutter your inbox – mass delete any emails over 5 years old, this is the length of time you need to keep records for HMRC. Sort through what’s left and only keep what’s important as well as deleting anything with large attachments (that you’ve probably already saved somewhere else!).
- Manage your subscriptions – in 2022 the average person receives 100 emails each day and every email releases between 3g and 50g of CO2 into the atmosphere. If you’re not interested, unsubscribe.
- Check for duplicates – do you have documents and presentations stored on your desktop and in the cloud, as well as on a file sharing site? If you don’t need on-to-go access save it onto an external hard drive which you only hook up when you need it.
- Stop hoarding photos – around the world 54,400 photos are being taken every second with the average Brit storing between 3,000 and 5,000 rarely looked at images on their phones. Would you look at them more if you printed them out into books, or at least organised them – you’ll be amazed at how many versions of the same photo you have!
- Cleanse your smartphone – According to Three there are more than 400 million unused apps, 300 million unopened messages and 600 million uncontacted phone numbers on UK smartphones.
- Delete your deleted items – there’s no point doing all this if it then just sits in a digital bin!
6. PICK A GREEN SEARCH ENGINE.
Once you’ve completed your digital detox, consider switching to a green search engine. Here are some options:
- Ekoru’s survers are powered by hydroelectric power and ad revenue is put towards supporting their ocean conservation partners.
- OceanHero recovers one ocean-bound plastic bottle for every 5 searches you do. In the first week of June they recovered 266,827 bottles.
- Ecosia uses its profit to plant trees. According to their website every search removes about 0.5kg of CO2 from the atmosphere which means that if it the size of Google, it could absorb 15% of all global CO2 emissions.
7. ARE YOU LED?
Halogen lightbulbs were banned from sale in the UK last year and currently two thirds of lightbulb sales are LED. The average household has approximately 34 lightbulbs taking up 15% of their annual energy bills. If you haven’t already made the switch this is a really simple way to use 80% less energy, and save around £232 per year. Plus, they last about five times longer.
8. TURN YOUR THERMOSTAT DOWN 1°
The average UK thermostat is set to 20°C with one in five of us admitting to setting it to 22°C or higher. The Committee on Climate Change recommends a temperature of 19°C. For every degree you reduce it you will save around 10% on your bill and reduce your carbon emission by 300kg per year.
9. SWITCH TO RENEWABLE ENERGY.
It’s not really the time to talk about looking for a new energy tariff is it, but making sure that you’re on a renewable one when the time does come to change provider is one of the simplest and most significant ways you can lower the carbon footprint of your home. 9 million British households are now on green tariffs but the definition of ‘green’ is still open to interpretation so if it’s not 100% renewable check that they have the required REGO (Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin) certificates to back it up.
10. USE CARBON NEUTRAL SERVICES.
You’ve already taken a step in the right direction by visiting the Willow Alexander website and reading this. Did you know that we’re the UK’s first carbon neutral service provider? What started with gardens we’re now expanding across other trade services like cleaning and handymen so you know that any tradespeople that visit your home won’t leave any footprint behind (dirty or carbon that is!).