If I asked you to tell me what a cigarette, a liver in a bottle and some washing up liquid (dish detergent) had in common, could you tell me? Go on, have a good think. It isn’t obvious. Want me to tell you? Ok, it’s formaldehyde. A common ingredient in cigarettes, pickled body parts and also washing-up liquid. I kid you not. You didn’t see that one coming, did you? But it’s there, in black and white on most bottles (bottles which have good labelling, some just put ‘preservative’) of washing up liquid. It occurs naturally, as most gasses do, and when taken in small levels throughout a lifetime it’s unlikely to do anything to us. But when it’s found in cigarettes, many wood products, and washing up liquid, something we put on our hands at least once daily, the risk becomes more palpable. I don’t want to be alarmist here, this is not what I’m getting at, but I do believe that this knowledge should be out in the public domain.
This might seem like a long post, but please stick with it.
In May 2002 (I think), 4 years ago, I read an article in a Which magazine that had uncovered information relating to so-called hazardous plastics. Apparently these plastics, containing chemicals like bisphenol A, which are known hormone disrupters, can be routinely found in tinned vegetables (not all but some) and also in plastic bottles of all sorts, including baby bottles. This is just one example, and upon reading this story I was not only shocked, but actually quite worried. Why, when this infomation was openly available, were baby bottles still containing these chemicals which could have a marked effect on them when they were older? This got me interested, so running to the bathroom I grabbed the nearest shampoo bottle I could find, and googled the ingredients. What I found made my heart skip a beat, and then come down with a thud. Ignoring all of the very extreme sites, proclaiming that everything chemical was bad, I went onto the fact-based sites, and read.
It made me take a good long look at all of the things we take for granted, like shampoo, toothpaste and shower gel (more information and links will be available at the end of this post). So, I made a vow. The chemicals that were in those products, would no longer touch my skin. No more sodium laurel sulfate or bisphenol, triclosan or parabens. But it’s not as easy as that. Finding products without those chemicals is no easy task, in England at the time very few companies stocked the shampoos and toothpastes without these nasties in them. But I found a shop selling a small selection of Urtekram shampoos and bought them. I loved them immediately. They contain a cleanser made from cocnut and/ or palm oil, which is not nearly as nasty. It makes a difference because I found we don’t need to use chemicals on our body, chemicals that in the end are doing us harm. Simply switching from SLS-based washes/toothpastes and handwashes to soap and a non-sls toothpaste can make such a difference.
Around that time I was also becoming interested in the eco movement. Growing food organically, sustainably and naturally. Sourcing locally, eating healthily and reaping the benefits of it. But not just food, my interest went further, what about sustainable power? Electricity, water, heat, light and using less energy? If everyone made those kind of changes the world would be a profoundly different place! Isn’t that a wonderful thought? That if everyone remembered to turn off their telly rather than leaving it on standby, turned off lights when they left a room, filled their dishwasher to the brim before they used it, and filled their kettles only to the amount they needed – the change in the world would be quite amazing. Before you dismiss me as a hippy with a bee in her bonnet, think about it. Most of the readers of this blog will either have children, know children, or want children. What sort of world are we leaving them? That was my most sobering thought, the thought that this world might not be the semi-utopia it is now, that one day we might destroy it to the point of no return.
From that point on, life wasn’t just about my comfort, it was about a feeling of needing to do something better, something more. I am a member of the human race, a member of society, and as such I had to pull my weight. But all around me I saw people in their petrol-guzzling cars, using every last resource with gleeful abandon, not thinking of the future generations who will have to pay the price. Nor listening to the world, herself, this self-regulating being that we live on, or Gaia as some call her.
So I looked at my life, and decided to change. Nothing happened much at first, at the time I was but 16, and not living on my own. I had some support, but I also remember friends laughing at me when I mentioned what I believed in. Which was dispiriting, because all I wanted to do was make a difference. But I carried on, and kept that little bit of knowledge and information inside, knowing that one day I’d have the chance to use it. And use it I can. When we moved here in May 2005 (a year ago now!) we were already aware of green issues. We had visited the hallowed Eden Project and I knew quite a bit about gardening and ethnomedica (using native plants to heal), but I made a conscious decision to learn as much as I could.
We knew that the garden would be used primarily for the growing of our own produce, vegetables, herbs and ‘useful’ plants. It would also be a place where we’d keep chickens – something that we’re planning for later this year. A way of having our own eggs daily, and a way to implement the three Rs (not those three Rs…) reduce, reuse and recycle, something we take deadly seriously here.
Why am I writing this post? If you’re still reading to this far, I commend you, because honestly many people would’ve stopped reading a while ago, but I had to say something on the matter, because it’s something that I believe in. Just as I believe in being kind, smiling lots at anyone and everyone, and in the human capacity to do good. Idealistic, yes, but true nonetheless. So, I’m going to make some ‘green promises’ monthly, and as well as keep those promises, I’m going to post about how and why we are becoming more green. Just as I detail what’s going on in the garden. I hope that you might feel inspired to do something to follow the three Rs yourself. I’ll be posting about ways you too can do simple things, to get your whole family proactive in doing good for themselves and for the rest of the world.
That was the original aim of this blog, to give ‘green’ household tips, having seen firsthand how many people use really harmful chemicals in their homes, and don’t seem to care about the consequences. I’m also going to post ‘green’ recipes too and feel free to ask advice – I’ll help if I can (although I freely admit to not being an expert)!
Urtekram friendly cosmetics
perusing the crossroads of style and sustainability (a very good blog)
a few effects of formaldehyde
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage
The 100-mile Diet
National Association of Farmers Markets
The Big Barn – find your local producer (no registration required)
Olives Et Al – their habas mojado is just too moreish!
Organic VOC-free paint
Allotments4all – a lively discussion forum
Energy Savings Trust
National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners
Become Carbon Neutral!
How do you live a carbon neutral lifestyle?
The Healthy House Ltd.