50 ways to live a greener life in Cambridgeshire - Part II
In the concluding part of our guide to living more sustainably in Cambridgeshire, editor Paul Brackley offers practical tips surrounding waste and plastic pollution, advice for businesses and schools and suggests organisations you can join to make a difference.
From Blue Planet to War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita, TV shows have helped to awaken the public to the plastic pollution crisis.
Infesting our oceans, it is being consumed by marine life - which in turn is consumed by us. And plastic production also requires huge amounts of energy, adding to carbon emissions. Meanwhile, we continue to send enormous amount of plastic abroad on giant ships because we simply can’t process the waste. Here’s what you can do:
26 Reduce, reuse, recycle
The three Rs are in order of priority - it’s better not to use a resource if we can. If we do need it, make sure it is reused - trying finding a Repair Cafe if something needs fixing. If we have to dispose of it, then recycle it. With plastic, cutting back on the amount you use is clearly the best response - get the whole family involved by asking them to think carefully every time they buy.
26 Shun single-use plastic
Select fruit and veg in the supermarket that is loose (why are some bananas sold in bags?).
Use shops and market stalls that enable you to buy food in your own containers wherever you can. Tell store managers you don’t want plastic packaging. And don’t use plastic bags for life - they’re still plastic. Use cloth bags instead. Refuse plastic straws.
27 Give plastic products a new home
Before recycling or disposing of items, ask if they have another use around the house. There are hundreds of ideas online for plastic containers like yoghurt pots, bowls and bottles - from storage users to bird feeders to art and crafts ideas. For other plastic items, like toys, ask if someone else could make use of them. Could you take items to a charity shop, give them away, or sell them? Doing so may help another family avoid buying a new plastic product.
28 Check your packaging labels as you buy - and know what can be recycled locally
Avoid products that can’t be recycled locally. Very often there’s an alternative alongside it in the aisle that can be. Avoid products that come in black plastic trays, for example, which are typically not recyclable because their colour can’t be detected by optical sorting equipment. Be aware of the recycling abilities of your local council. The 'not currently recycled' label is used on packaging which more than 80 per cent of councils do not collect, such as plastic film. Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire are in the 20 per cent which can recycle it. Remember that hard plastics, like many toys, buckets and storage containers, typically can’t be recycled at the doorstep and, if they can’t be reused, have to go to household waste centres.
29 Check out Terracycle to recycle crisp packets, beauty products, pet food pouches, contact lenses and more
Terracycle helps to deal with hard to recycle waste. Sign up at terracycle.com to earn points for the collection point, which can use them to help fund charities and schools. Many of the schemes are open to more collection points.
Crisp packets, for example, are made from plastic with a foil lining, so can’t be recycled at the doorstep.Working with Walkers, a Terracycle scheme enables you to drop off any brand of crisp packet at any of nearly 250 collection points nationwide, including Shire Hall in Cambridge, Cambridge Science Centre and Dry Drayton Primary School. Likewise, a scheme with Garnier enabled the containers of personal care and beauty products to be recycled at SofieGeorgia Beauty Lounge in Stapleford, while many opticians are signed up to a scheme with Acuvue enabling contact lenses and blister packs to be recycled, including at 600 Boots stores such as the one in Lion Yard and at D H Thomas Optometrist in Hills Road.
Be an activist
It’s not enough just to get your house in order. We also need to demand systemic change. A generation of political leaders has been asleep at the wheel: let’s wake them up.
30 Join an activist group
Activists are helping to put environmental and climate issues at the forefront of political minds. Groups like Extinction Rebellion Cambridge (https://xrcambridge.org/), which is taking non-violent direct action to demand action on climate change, and Greenpeace Cambridge (https://greenwire.greenpeace.org/uk/en-gb/groups/cambridge-greenpeace), which has called on companies to divest from fossil fuels and drop single use plastic, would welcome your support. Another is Cambridge Friends of the Earth (http://www.cambridgefriendsoftheearth.co.uk/), which challenges environmentally damaging activities and policies by promoting sustainable alternatives.
31 Tell supermarkets to make a dramatic change
UK supermarkets produce more than 800,000 tonnes of single use plastic a year - a third of all our plastic packaging. Tell supermarkets what you think of plastic packaging using #ourplasticfeedback on Twitter. Write to them, email them and leave comments in store, suggesting they cut back on plastic and enable you to use your own containers - as one Waitrose store has been trialling. Then contact the companies who make the products in store asking them to find biodegradable options for their packaging.
32 Demand that fast food companies and confectionery makers drop the plastic toys
Who is the world’s biggest toy distributor? It’s McDonald’s, with about 20 per cent of all means coming with a plastic toy: typically one that is played with a few minutes and then becomes pointless waste. Sign the petition by Ella, 9, and Caitlin, 7, demanding fast food companies like McDonald’s drop the plastic toys at https://www.change.org/p/burger-king-mcd-s-save-the-environment-stop-giving-plastic-toys-with-fast-food-kids-meals. And, of course, avoid buying any meals or confectionery that comes with such toys.
33 Lobby politicians
Environmental issues need to be raised in Parliament and council chambers as often as possible in order to effect a change. Cambridge’s MP, Daniel Zeichner, led a debate on plastic packaging on Monday. Why not write to your MP asking him or her to raise an issue you care about, from protecting biodiversity to improving public transport or reducing our carbon footprint? Look out for petitions on matters you believe in at change.org, and lobby local politicians at the city council, district councils and county council and Combined Authority to take action on air pollution, climate and biodiversity.
Support conservation work
34 Join the RSPB
The RSPB is helping to protect nature. The country’s largest conservation charity, with more than one million members, it looks after a spectacular network of nature reserves, that are free to enter for members and which provide homes for many under-threat species. The charity also conducts world-leading conservation science, helping us to understand how to save wildlife, and it has a significant voice when lobbying politicians. It aims to double its land-holding by 2030 - which means it needs all the help it can get from new members. Visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/.
35 Join the Wildlife Trust
The Wildlife Trust in Cambridgeshire specialises in conservation to ensure that the next generation will enjoy the wildlife-rich landscapes. Along with management of 43 nature reserves across the county - wildflower meadows, ancient woodlands and restoration of fenland habitats - the trust works with landowners, with local framers advising on farming for wildlife, with water authorities, run conservation research projects (helping dormice in Brampton Wood, for example), has education programmes, runs events like bat punting on the river Cam, and holds training workshops. An enormous undertaking, and every membership contributes directly to safeguarding vulnerable local wildlife. As Sir David Attenborough, president emeritus of the Wildlife Trusts, says: "Joining your local trust is one of the most important things you can do to make sure the species and habitats we love will be there for future generations to enjoy."
36 Join the WWT
Wetlands are among the valuable - and threatened - habitats on Earth. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) operates nine Wetland Centres in the UK, welcoming one million visitors a year, including one at Welney. It also undertakes vital research and conservation projects around the world. Visit https://www.wwt.org.uk/
37 Join the National Trust
As well as protecting the nation’s heritage, the National Trust plays a key role in preserving the natural environment and coastal habitats. Anglesey Abbey, Wimpole Hall and Wicken Fen are among its Cambridgeshire sites. Wicken Fen is one of the most biodiverse places in the country, with more than 9,000 species recorded. Visit
38 Support FFI and BirdLife International
There are many other great conservation charities worthy of your support, such as WWF, Buglife and Butterfly Conservation. Two that are based at the David Attenborough Building in Cambridge that would welcome your support are Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Birdlife International.
FFI has more than 140 conservation projects around the world, helping to save species from gorillas to migrating raptors, while working while local populations to big business to supporting sustainable local livelihoods. It played a key role in securing the UK’s microplastic beads ban.
Birdlife International has nine global programmes, protecting species, empowering local populations and delivering climate change research.
39 Get volunteering
Many conservation charities need volunteers to run events, get involved in working parties, welcome visitors, or engage children in the natural world. If you can spare a little time, get involved!
39 Remember a good cause in your will
Wills are an important source of income for conservation charities. Remember one in your will and ensure your legacy is a positive one.
Take action at work or school
40 Draw up a travel plan
Does your business, school or organisation have a travel plan? A package of measures designed to encourage people to use sustainable modes of transport, a travel plan can help cut costs and congestion and reduce an organisation’s carbon footprint. A travel plan can encourage the use of public transport or cycling through incentives, for example, while highlighting opportunities for car sharing.
41 Draw up a waste plan
People often think differently about waste at work or school than they might at home. Put a system in place for recycling - make sure paper, plastic, cans and more are easy to recycle. Consider the waste you produce internally and, if you are producing a product, take action to ensure it is reusable or recyclable.
42 Encourage energy-saving - and make a pledge
Do the lights really need to be left on in your offices all night? Are employees or students leaving computer screens on standby? Encourage energy saving measures among those around you. Could your company or school go further and prove what’s really possible by becoming carbon neutral? Get your organisation assessed and see what you can do. Carbon Neutral Cambridge - https://carbonneutralcambridge.org - will welcome your efforts.
44 Apply for an energy efficiency grant
Using funding from the European Regional Development Fund, Business Energy Efficiency (BEE) offers a free audit service to help small and medium-sized enterprises identify energy saving opportunities. Businesses who look to invest in capital projects to improve energy efficiency can access a grant scheme offering up to £20,000 in financial support. Grant funding is available for measures including LED lighting, heating and cooling, insulation; solar PV and battery storage and electric vehicles. Cambridgeshire based Bridgeway Security Solutions recently received a grant of £2,645 to help with more energy efficient air conditioning, which will save five tonnes of carbon, not to mention £1,800, a year.
45 Make a home away from home for wildlife
Just as you can improve your home and garden for wildlife, so you can make your workplace or school more welcoming for nature. Put up nestboxes, put out bird food and regularly clean feeders, plant some wildflower seeds and create a bug hotel. Get everyone involved at your school or workplace by keeping a wildlife sightings list.
46 Encourage your suppliers to take action
Do you select your suppliers based on their green credentials? Encourage your whole supply chain to be environmentally responsible. For example, there’s no reason for anyone to get plastic cups delivered for their water - use glasses. Then tell them how you’ve taken action over travel, waste and energy efficiency.
Back at home
49 Create a recycling system
Where you can’t reuse, recycle - but ensure the whole household gets involved by putting in place a system that everyone can follow. Rinse out jars and food containers with used dishwater so they don’t contaminate other items. Remember to put used batteries aside for recycling - they can be collected in a small bag attached to your blue bin at the kerbside in South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge. Follow the guides at https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/bins-rubbish-and-recycling and https://www.scambs.gov.uk/bins/what-goes-in-which-bin/.
48 Ditch the chemicals
Take a look at what’s in your cleaning products. You’ll be amazed by the amount of hazardous chemicals. Many household cleaners and products can be made using simple homemade alternatives, like baking soda or vinegar. There are many guides to ‘natural cleaning’ online and in book stores - try them, and you’ll find you can also reduce your use of plastic by using refillable containers with your own green cleaners.
49 Your clothes are polluters
The clothing industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters, using huge amounts of energy, water and chemicals. Synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon release microplastics into the water system. Nylon manufacture releases nitrous oxide. And cotton is a highly water intensive plant, which takes massive amounts of agrichemicals and pesticides to grow. Then there are the toxic chemicals used to dye clothes. The slow fashion movement encourages people to buy fewer clothes - so many garments are only worn once - and ensure clothes are reused. Look out for fashion ecolabels and follow the Fashion4Climate movement.
Meanwhile, instead of a tumble dryer, hang your clothes on a washing line. And in the winter, hang clothes on radiators if they are already on.
50 Spread the word
Actions you take are important. You can magnify your impact by sharing what you do with others: family, friends, colleagues. Then encourage them to do the same.
More by this authorPaul Brackley
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