Want to change the world? Embrace the circular economy!

What on earth is the circular economy and why should you care?

Well, I’m glad you asked…

Today, the vast majority of products we all use every day are made in a linear way. In other words, they are created from some sort of raw materials, used by us (often very briefly) and then thrown away.

When you pause to think about it, this is a pretty wasteful and unsustainable approach. It requires lots of new materials and results in a large amount of lost value and waste.

landfill

Landfill – where most of our stuff ends up in the linear economy

The good news is that there is a quiet revolution underway to change this. Step forward, the circular economy. Increasingly, products are being designed to be circular – that is, to be reused, repaired, remade or recycled into something else. 

Old and new businesses are challenging the linear approach at every stage of the product lifecycle – i.e. how products are sourced, produced, consumed and disposed of. If you want a fuller explanation of the circular economy, then here’s a great one from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

It’s all the rage – with everything from a “Circular Economy Week” in the Netherlands (we have one in London in June) to BlackRock launching a new circular economy fund. 

In this blog I’ve collected together some of my favourite examples of circular products, including clothes, phones and toys, to inspire you to give it a try…

System_diagram_cropped

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s depiction  of the circular economy

 

Re-use

Why own something when you can hire it? From Michelin tyres to Rolls Royce jet engines and Philips lighting, some big companies are transforming their business models to offer goods as a service. Unless you own a plane or fleet of trucks, here are some great examples of things that you and I can now hire too…

Hirestreet – a clothes rental service for premium brands. For £9 to £100+ you can rent an outfit for 4 to 16 days, breaking the habit of needing to buy something new. You get to try out different styles, pay less and do better for the environment. According to their website, no clothes end up in landfill.

Unpackaged – have worked with the organic veg box company Able & Cole to launch the first refill delivery service for kitchen staples and cleaning products based around VIPs (Very Important Pots). In an interesting twist, they have deliberately designed the VIPs to be ugly, so that customers decant and return them rather than making them a permanent part of their kitchens!

a-c-club-zero-lifestyle-1582286452

Able & Cole’s VIPs – Very Important Pots

And a couple for all the parents out there…

Whirli – a subscription toy box for children aged 0 to 7 years old. From £9.99 a month, you get a box full of toys of your choosing. When your baby gets bored of one, you post it back and get another in its place. Not only can the toy then be used by someone else but your home doesn’t fill up with toys you no longer need. Another perk is that if your baby loves a toy enough to keep it for 9 months, then you can decide to keep it for free.

Bundlee – for £24 a month you can rent baby clothes and swap up for the next size whenever you like. Given your baby will need 7 different sizes of clothes in their first 2 years, this makes a lot of sense. Renting them avoids you having piles of old clothes around the house, saves money and is good for the environment. Bundlee claim that their model extends the lifespan of clothes by up to 400%.

 

Repair

Whatever happened to repairing things? We live in a culture where even if you want to repair something, it can be extremely difficult and prohibitively expensive to do so. A number of businesses are seeking to change that…

fairphone-3-exploded-view-1340x754

The modular Fairphone 3 – designed to be easy to repair

Fairphone – Mobile phones are packed with valuable materials such as gold, silver and rare earth metals, yet many are just thrown in the bin when contracts come to an end. By contrast, Fairphones are ethically sourced and designed to be modular, so if one part breaks then it can be replaced without needing a whole new phone. If this is too big a step for you and you remain attached to your iPhone like me, then it’s good to know that for £49 you can get the battery changed in an Apple shop and it will feel as good as new.

MUD jeans – a Dutch company innovating a “Hire A Jean” model that takes sustainable jeans to the next level. You pay a monthly fee and they will repair your jeans if they get damaged and take them back to repurpose them into a new pair when you are done with them. I’ve tried them out and they are great – see my previous blog.

 

Remake

One person’s waste is another’s treasure. That’s certainly the case for these start-ups who are making amazing products from what others are throwing away. Even Meghan Markle was recently spotted enjoying the height of “trashion”, wearing a pair of plastic-bottle shoes and carrying a recycled ocean waste bag…

fire hoses

The discarded fire hoses that inspired Kresse Wesling

Elvis & Kresse – it began with Kresse Wesling’s penchant for visiting rubbish dumps – “I would sit and stare at the piles of waste and I couldn’t help but think that some of it was beautiful”. They started with a £25 belt made out of old fire hose (I have one and it’s brilliant) and now make accessories from 15 materials including parachute silk, shoe boxes and leather off-cuts.

Pinatex – ever wonder what you could do with all the pineapple husks you throw away? Well, this clever company turns the leaf fibre that is usually discarded from the harvest into a leather substitute, providing a new income for farming communities and removing the need for animal products. It’s now being used by a range of designers to make clothes and accessories.

Sundried – offer two ranges of activewear, one made from 100% recycled plastic and the other from 100% old coffee grounds. The former have a carbon footprint just 80% lower than using new polyester and 65% lower than cotton.

And returning to where we started, Rothy’s, the maker of Meghan’s high-end shoes, has recycled almost 50 million plastic bottles since its launch in 2016.

 

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg – there are plenty more out there. I hope you feel inspired to “think circular” the next time you’re about to buy something that will soon be thrown away.

11 ideas for environmental New Year’s resolutions that matter

What are your New Year’s resolutions? Lots of my friends and family have asked me about what they could do in 2020 to reduce their environmental impact. 2019 has put climate change and plastic pollution firmly on their radar and they want to do something about it.

Personally, I’ve found that a good resolution can be a great place to start.

But how do you ensure your time and energy is spent making a change that actually matters and is not just a feel-good distraction?

01smarter-resolutions-superJumbo

For me, a good environmental resolution should tackle a big issue (even if only a small part of it to begin with), rather than making a big deal about something pretty small. If you would like to know where your footprint is biggest, then I’d recommend this 5-minute calculator from WWF.

I also think that a good resolution should seek to alter a habit rather than just be a short-term change. That said, it needn’t happen all at once; resolutions can also be a great stepping stone, or a trial period, for a bigger lifestyle change.

So here are a few ideas for resolutions that I think strike the right balance between ambition and impact, collected from the conversations I’ve had with people over the last few weeks. I’d love to know what you think of them and any great ones that I have missed…

 

Eat less meat & dairy

The environmental impact of meat and the health benefits of a plant-based diet have both hit the headlines this year – see this BBC documentary or Game Changers on Netflix if you want to know more. And Jamie’s new veg book has some amazing recipes for replacing traditional meat faves.

veg-cottage-pie-bb959c1b-2dab-43c3-9ffd-78d81008dd33_s1200x630_c2269x1325_l0x476Jamie Oliver’s vegetarian cottage pie is one of my favourites

The good news is that it’s an area ripe for a resolution…

1. Go vegetarian at lunchtimes. I did this in 2019 and it was a revelation, so long as you venture beyond the Pret avocado baguette. 

2. Be more strict about when you do (and don’t) eat meat. There’s a spectrum here – you could give up meat for a few days a week, all weeknights, or go completely vegetarian. Or you could start by limiting your intake of the worst offenders, lamb and beef. For 2020, we’ve decided to only eat meat when we really want to, when it can’t be substituted and when we know exactly where it has come from.

3. Replace dairy. Dairy is often overlooked but it is carbon intensive too. You could try switching to one of the many milk alternatives (with varying footprints) that are now available – my preference is Oat Milk.

 

Waste less

Whether it is fashion, food or coffee cups, we live in a throwaway world. That is something we as individuals can change.

NINTCHDBPICT000542990028This is Pretty Little Thing’s warehouse in Sheffield

4. Opt out of fast fashion. I’m not trendy enough for this but my wife Sarah is. So this year, her resolution is to buy no new clothes at all – she’ll make use of what she’s already got and go second-hand for anything else. It’s a pretty A-list resolution but amazing if she can stick to it!

5. See food waste as a sin. Channel your grandparents and start seeing throwing away food for what it is: a sinful waste. If you want to double-down, then why not start by using food that was destined for the bin anyway by signing up to Oddbox (if you live in London) or using OLIO or Too Good To Go for leftovers or surplus food.

6. Make takeaway cups expensive. If you want something a little easier, then I really like this “latte levy” campaign by the Marine Conservation Society to encourage people to actually use their reusable cups. It’s a simple pledge: each time you use a takeaway coffee cup you donate £3 to the oceans.

 

Go renewable

7. Go 100% renewable. If you haven’t done it already, here is an easy win for January. There are now scores of renewable-only energy companies that cost the same as (and often less than) traditional fossil fuel tariffs. You can read my blog all about Bulb Energy here and search all providers here.

 

Reduce the amount you fly

I can hear you groaning – not this one again. I covered why reducing flights is important (and how off-setting is a second rate solution) in a previous blog, so won’t repeat that here. 

Just to add that a much-quoted government survey from 2014 found that 70% of all flights in Great Britain were taken by just 15% of adults. If you are one of the 15% then your flying footprint will be in a different league to the other areas above. So…

irishrailThe good news is that there are lots of train in Europe – here’s on from Ireland!

8. Save long-haul for long trips. If you do want to go on an adventure to a far-flung land, then why not pledge to savour it? Going on one long-haul trip for 2-3 weeks, rather than two or more separate trips, will greatly reduce your footprint (and probably give you a better break, too).

9. Embrace the train for city breaks. It’s only in the last decade or two that it has become so normal to hop on a plane for a weekend break. Why not use this site to explore the UK and Europe by train – it’s amazing where you can get to in not much time at all…

10. Make 2020 a no fly zone. I can hear your gasps, but why not? This really would be a statement and you may discover adventures closer to home that you never even knew existed. Join others making a 2020 “Flight Free” pledge here.

 

Advocate for climate action

images

11. Be noisy about climate change. One thing that we can all do in 2020 is devote some of our time to raising climate change even further up the national agenda. You could resolve to write to your local MP about issues in your local area, or join Extinction Rebellion (you can choose whether or not you are willing to be arrested for the cause!), or give some time or money to great campaigning organisation like Global Action Plan or Possible.

5ddec5e42500005827d2e6f7

I for one, pledge to post on this blog every month in 2020 – with plenty more ideas for how we can all make a meaningful different in tackling the climate crisis.

Reusable nappies and baby wipes – the verdict

You may have noticed that this blog has been quiet for a while. Well that’s what having your first child does to you! The sleepless nights did allow me to catch-up on all eight series of Game Of Thrones though, so it’s not all bad.

Anyway, little Charlie is now 12 weeks old and it felt like the right time to report back on how our reusable nappy and baby wipe missions are going (see previous blog for context).

I’m sorry to say that it has all been a miserable failure.

Nah, only joking. Both have actually been a great success. Let’s take the wipes first.

Reusable baby wipes

91ME4STbzxL._SL1500_

A Washable Wipes Kit

The Cheeky Wipes (other brands are available) – essentially small squares of material with a before and after box – are a no-brainer. One wipe goes way further than a baby wipe, they are softer on the baby’s skin and they can be washed and reused over and over. By my calculations we’ve already saved over 2,500 wipes from going in the bin / down the loo in 12 weeks (4 per nappy change and 8 nappy changes a day). By the time he is two and a half years old, we’ll have saved over 20,000 wipes.

One recommendation though, go for the colourful microfibre wipes not the white, cotton ones. The former dry fast on a drying rack and retain their bright colours. The latter turn yellow once they have encountered baby poo and become a bit abrasive if not tumble-dried (undermining the energy-saving benefits).


Reusable nappies

The reusable nappies have also been a success.

IMG_1036

Charlie rocking his super cool reusable nappy

Before Charlie was born, we used the questionnaire on the The Nappy Lady website and advice from a few of our friends to identify a couple of nappy types that might work for us. We started by buying two of each of these and giving them a go once he arrived. This turned out to be a good idea, as we – and Charlie – much preferred one type to the other.

12 weeks on and we have gradually been buying more and more – we now have ten in circulation. They are just as simple to put on as disposable nappies and on the whole do a better job at containing the regular poo explosions than their throw-away cousins (sorry, newborn parents just love to talk about poo).

Having more of them has actually reduced both the chores and the environmental impact. We now have a nappy bucket, which takes about 48 hours fill up and then we do one 60-degree wash overnight with all the dirty nappies and wipes. Both have mesh bags, so you don’t need to touch any of the contents. They are dry and ready to use again by mid afternoon the following day.

7m4HdLw3QtyBK4BI6LQtWQ

Reusable nappies drying quickly overnight

One of the things that has helped us to embrace reusables is not being too militant about it. We do also have biodegradable Kit and Kin nappies (the brainchild of former Spice Girl Emma Bunton!) and biodegradable nappy bags that we use as well (though see previous blog for issues with biodegradable nappies). We’ve found these particularly useful for holidays and when we are out and about. 

So long as you are using your reusables enough to make the environmental and financial investment worthwhile, then every single time you are doing so you are keeping a nappy out of landfill. Doing the sums, we have already saved around 450 nappies (assuming 8 nappies a day for 8 weeks to account for using the biodegradable ones too). At this rate, we’ll avoid using over 4,000 disposable nappies over the next two and a half years.

One word of warning, we had a big baby (8lb, 13oz – Sarah you are amazing!) so the reusables just about fitted him from the start. For a smaller baby it may make sense to wait a few weeks until they have grown a bit and the number of nappy changes has reduced. Buying lots of reusable nappies that will only fit for a few months is not good for the environment (unless you plan to use them again for other children or sell them on).

These successes got me thinking about what other ways there are to embrace the circular economy and be more sustainable with a baby. More on that to come next month…

The unfortunate truth about “eco” nappies (and what you can do about it)

The biodegradable nappy myth

With my wife and I expecting our first baby in the coming weeks, two things made me think it was important to look into reusable nappies.

1. By the time they are potty trained, a baby will have used 4,000 to 6,000 disposable nappies.

2. A “biodegradable” nappy – one that’s not made from plastic – that ends up in landfill is worse for climate change than a disposable nappy.

The first point is unsurprising and even more startling at a national level. An estimated 3 billion nappies are thrown away each year in the UK, accounting for 2-3% of all household waste.

The second point is counter-intuitive and probably requires more explanation. A biodegradable nappy will only biodegrade as intended if it ends up in either a large, well-managed personal compost heap or a council food / garden waste commercial composter. Less than 50% of UK households have such a collection and many simply do not have the space for their own compost heap. So for the majority of babies in the UK their biodegradable nappies will end up in landfill or being burnt. 

And here’s the crux: in a covered and compressed landfill site, biodegradable nappies (and their contents) will decompose anaerobically, releasing methane – which is around 34 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. A normal disposable nappy made out of plastic will actually produce fewer harmful emissions.

As for reusable nappies – made to wash and use again – it’s true that it does take more energy to put them through the washing machine than to throw disposables in the bin. However, there are a number of ways to minimise this. The days of boil-washing are gone, as modern reusables can be washed at 60 or even 40 degrees. If drying space is an issue for you, then there are many brands which dry fast without a tumble-dryer. And to top it all off, you can sign-up for 100% renewable electricity for your home, meaning that the energy you are using will be coming from green sources in any case.

The reusable nappy revolution

So, that set me off on a journey to discover if there was a realistic alternative to disposables. What I found was actually pretty encouraging. 

This blog is not meant to be preachy or naive and I’m acutely aware that it is written before the realities of having a newborn baby have hit. It is simply intended to help those who, like I did, feel uncomfortable about throwing away 1000s of nappies and want to explore what alternatives are out there…

Oh, and one other word of warning. If you are the eco-warrior in the household then please be sensitive to your partner in any nappy discussions, particularly if they are going to be the one at home with the baby and thus doing the majority of the changing. Whatever solution you come up with, it needs to work for you both.

Now, be honest, when you think of a reusable nappy does your mind conjure up something that looks a bit like this…?

4ED5990000000578-6027153-New_parents_should_be_given_taxpayer_funded_vouchers_to_buy_reus-m-14_1533416006009

It certainly did for me. But the good news is that a modern reusable nappy actually looks like this…

bumgenius-neil-print-elemental

Indeed, they are now so snazzy that there is now a “cloth bumming” trend (yes, that is really what it’s called…) taking Instagram by storm!

So, now that you can see how reusable nappies will make your baby the envy of the creche, how do you go about finding the right ones?

There’s no right answer, but here’s what worked well for us…

Firstly, we used this excellent questionnaire on The Nappy Lady website. It asks you a wide range of questions and then gives you two recommendations. For us, ensuring that they would be simple to use and dry quickly in our small flat (with very limited outdoor space) were the two biggest priorities. 

Secondly, some of your friends and family with babies will already be using reusable nappies. Ask them which have worked best for them.  This gave us a shortlist of half a dozen reusable nappies and – using the The Nappy Lady’s reviews – we picked those that might be best for us. 

“Might” is an important word here. There are wise warnings about reusables not working for all newborns, so you will want to make sure that the brand you have chosen is a good fit. What you don’t want to do is buy loads in advance and then not be able to use them (though I hear there is a thriving second-hand market in reusable nappies too…). This is easy to get around: many brands have trial packs, or you can buy a few and use them alongside disposable nappies in the first few weeks until you are confident they are a good match for your baby.

Why not throw in some cheeky wipes?

A quick note on baby wipes. While not such a big issue from a climate change perspective, the UK has woken up to the damage that wet wipes are doing to our sewers and our seas. There’s even a suggestion that the UK Government could ban them.

Lucky enough, this is an easy one to do something about.

One option is flushable wipes, with businesses scrambling to make their offerings better for the world. 

A more sustainable option still are Cheeky Wipes, the worst kept secret in baby class circles where I have been spending a lot of time recently. Parents across the UK swear by them, as being better for your baby and cheaper in the long run.

91ME4STbzxL._SL1500_

I hope this has given you a good head start in your quest to throw away fewer nappies. I’ll report back on how we are getting on in a few months…

Why I am giving up food waste for Lent

This month we have a guest blog from journalist and cookbook author Sarah Rainey on why she is giving up food waste for Lent.

On Tuesday night, along with millions of others up and down the country, I ate pancakes for dinner. This year, I didn’t even bother with the token savoury course… I went straight to a stack of big, fluffy American-style pancakes, slathered with gooey Nutella and topped with berries. Basically the dream dinner (although I’m not sure my arteries would agree).

But Pancake Day – or Shrove Tuesday as it’s properly known – is about more than stuffing our faces. Traditionally, the aim was to have a massive feast to use up the indulgent foods in the house – eggs, butter, sugar – before the 40 days of Lent began.

Sure, it has religious origins, but if you strip it back to its basics, it’s all about food waste. Crazy to think that thousands of years ago we were thinking about using up leftover foodstuffs so they didn’t end up in the bin.

Several millennia may have passed, but sadly those early intentions seem to have fallen flat. In 2019, food waste in the UK is worse than ever. According to waste reduction charity WRAP, the average British family throws away £810 worth of food a year, amounting to £20 billion – or 7.3 million tonnes – of household waste a year.

Globally, the scale is even more astonishing. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, this equates to 1.3 billion tonnes of food worldwide – equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereal crop.

At the same time, 795 million people in the world are suffering from chronic malnutrition and undernourishment. In the UK alone, 8.4 million people struggle to afford a meal. What we’re doing is not only shameful, but it has an enormous and cruel human cost, too.

So what can we do about it? As someone who works a lot with food – I’m a freelance journalist and cookbook author – it’s something that particularly concerns me, and I’m becoming more and more aware of the sheer amount of perfectly-good food that gets thrown out after articles and photoshoots.

IMG_2929

Food left over after a recent shoot – all saved by using the OLIO app.

Some of the worst instances I can remember in recent years include: two entire Christmas dinners (one involving a goose; the other a turkey) being chucked in black bin bags after a festive photoshoot; the remnants of a dinner party – including canapes, crisps, wine, champagne and a pie – ending up being dumped because nobody wanted to take them away; three perfect replicas of cakes from the Great British Bake Off being left in the corner of an office to go mouldy; and countless examples of free press samples of biscuits, crisps, fresh and frozen meals, vegetables and soft drinks simply being binned because nobody could be bothered to find them a home.

Listed like that, it’s a horrifying indictment – and that’s just what I’ve witnessed in my own work. Recently, however, I’ve started taking a stand against food waste, thanks to a clever initiative called OLIO. Set up by two food-lovers in 2015, OLIO is a community-based sharing platform for surplus food, enabling users to advertise food they’re looking to give away – and connecting them with others nearby who have a use for it.

I downloaded the app on my phone six months ago and I’ve never looked back. Items I’ve donated on the platform to date include: a selection of festive cheeses (don’t ask… one was Wensleydale and gin-flavoured), a random selection of alcohol minis (including Dubonnet – the Queen’s favourite drink), and – most recently – a haul of leftover food from a shoot comparing M&S to Waitrose, including ready meals, crisps, two whole chickens, burgers, sausages and veggie lasagne.

You can also give away non-food items on the app. I’ve recently found happy homes for an old (but perfectly functioning) trouser press, and a set of four slightly-rickety kitchen chairs.

Not only is it a chance to get rid of surplus produce without throwing it in the bin, but it gives you the opportunity to meet other, like-minded people in the community – and make a connection in the process. The lovely woman who came to collect my most recent OLIO offering told me she shares food with her neighbours, and messaged again after distributing it to say how delighted they all were with it – and how they were planning a huge communal feast.

The great thing about OLIO is the convenience: you don’t have to go anywhere, as it only connects you to people nearby, so chances are someone will come and collect leftover food directly from your door. There are, of course, lots of other options out there: most big supermarkets have food donation points near the tills, and you can give directly to a food bank, of which there are 1,200 throughout the UK.

On an individual level, the solutions are relatively straightforward. It’s just a case of knowing what’s out there – and making a conscious effort not to take the easy option and throw food you no longer want, or that’s on the cusp of going off, in the bin. On that note, the government’s Love Food Hate Waste website has a whole host of recipe ideas for using up leftovers – from hasselback potatoes to spiced dahl.

The bigger picture is a little trickier. It’s all well and good donating a few bits here and there – but what about the national food waste issue; how do we solve that? FareShare is one of the initiatives at the forefront of this problem. Its army of volunteers redistribute surplus food from the catering and hospitality industry to almost 10,000 frontline charities and community groups in 1,500 towns and cities, where it’s needed most. Last year alone, they handled enough food for 36.7 million meals.

Big supermarkets have a key role to play in all this, with many partnering up with FareShare and similar charities (especially around Christmas time) to encourage shoppers to donate. But many have gone a step further and set up food waste initiatives of their own.

I recently attended an event at a community centre in North London, where Tesco is joining forces with Jamie Oliver to launch a landmark Community Kitchen. The aim is to train 1,000 community cooks – both in London and across the country – on how best to use the surplus food that’s donated to them on a daily basis by neighbouring supermarkets, giving them the skills and confidence they need to feed those in need.

IMG_1916

Jamie Oliver in full flow at the Community Kitchen event

While many of them are experienced in the kitchen, the problem, Jamie explained, is that surplus food is so unpredictable – 100 sweet potatoes one day, 10kg lentils the next – that it can be difficult to know how to turn it into nutritionally-balanced meals. As an example, he whipped up a dish in under ten minutes: minestrone soup, made with tomatoes that were past their best, crushed bits of leftover pasta, and some parmesan cheese that was heading for the bin. And I tell you what, it tasted AMAZING. Proper proof that ‘food waste’ doesn’t have to be wasted at all.

IMG_1922

Jamie’s food waste minestrone

So, next time you find yourself clearing out the fridge, or hovering over the bin about to throw something perfectly edible away, STOP RIGHT THERE. Could you turn it into something tasty? Or could you give it away to someone who could? The answer, I’ve found, is pretty much always yes.

Join me, for the next 40 days, in giving up food waste for Lent. It could be the start of a lifetime habit – and it’s definitely a better option than depriving yourself of chocolate or crisps.

Valentine’s Day Flowers Don’t Need To Cost The Earth

When did importing 8m roses in the middle of winter become so unremarkable?

All over the country (and indeed the world) millions of us plan to declare our love for each other on 14th February by giving flowers. And not just any flower, a flower that cannot be grown naturally anywhere near us. All the roses given in the UK this Valentine’s Day will either have been grown somewhere near the equator (Kenya, Colombia, India, Tanzania, Ecuador) and transported thousands of miles in air-conditioned planes and trucks, or they will have been grown in artificially-heated greenhouses, mostly likely in The Netherlands. Believe it or not, hothouses are even worse in carbon terms than flying them in.

To find out if there’s a more earth-conscious way to keep the love alive this Valentine’s Day, I asked Camila Klich, co-founder of the Wolves Lane Flower Company, for her top tips.

Red_roses

Above: red roses, 8m of which were imported into the UK for Valentine’s Day in 2017

Q. Where do most of the flowers we buy in the UK come from?

There’s a lot of talk among florists about them only using seasonal / fresh / hand-picked blooms. However if your supplier or florist cannot guarantee that the flowers are British-grown then they’ll most likely have been brought in from The Netherlands. Ninety per cent of the flowers bought in the UK are imported from the Dutch who run the international auction for flowers being traded across Europe. 

This isn’t to say that the Dutch grow all those flowers. They are expert growers and distributors but huge amounts of flowers are flown to Holland before being sold at the auction and then sent on to the UK. There are major flower growing operations in Israel, Italy, Colombia, Ecuador, South Africa and Kenya, to name a few. So, before reaching the UK, it’s a carbon footprint double whammy with flowers being flown in from their country of origin to The Netherlands and then being sent on. That’s why we use the hachtag #grownnotflown to show where our flowers come from!

Q. Where can we buy more sustainable flowers?

If customers really want to source sustainable flowers then the key is to try to buy from a florist that works with seasonal British flowers only and, even better, with local growers. Flowers From the Farm is a UK network of flower growers all committed to producing locally-grown blooms across the UK. There are over 600 members, so most people will be able to find a grower on their website near them. 

Moreover most of these growers are small-scale farmers committed to sustainable, organic practices. We know this because we are members of this network – we go to their meet ups, conferences and use their forums all the time and the vast majority are chemical free. Some members like Organic Blooms in the West Country are also Soil Association certified organic.

Q. Aren’t lots of supermarkets now selling British flowers?

Yes, the supermarkets tend to sell British blooms, which is great. However they will have sourced these flowers from industrial UK farmers who won’t be pesticide-free and they will probably also be growing in heated glasshouses. 

In addition, flowers in the supermarket are loss leaders. This means that the supermarket sells the flowers at below market value prices to attract customers into the shop, which then facilitates them doing the rest of their shopping in store (they do a similar thing with petrol). So while it’s great that the flowers are British and haven’t been flown in, it’s quite damaging to small-scale artisan growers like ourselves because it confuses the consumer as to the real market value of British stems.

Q. Are locally grown, organic flowers much more expensive?

Growing organically is more expensive. We’re talking about a unique, scented, truly seasonal product versus mass-produced homogenous stems. It’s a bit like going to your local organic veg box scheme or farmers’ market instead of your supermarket to get your fresh produce. 

It’s also about economies of scale. Except for a few big growers in Lincolnshire and Cornwall, most of the UK flower farmers are small-scale growers operating on a few acres of land or less. However we didn’t get into this business to offer a cheap product but rather a premium one, so we charge fairly and accordingly. 

That said, there are lots of wonderful flowers that are relatively inexpensive and not widely known by customers. We grow them by the bucket load because they’re absolutely beautiful even though they’re not a David Austin garden rose. So if you know your flowers and what a British garden can offer (or have a good florist who can advise you), buying sustainable stems doesn’t need to be much more expensive.

Q. What flowers are sustainable alternatives to roses for Valentine’s Day?

Hellebores! Our favourite winter flower is rife at the moment and they’re absolutely gorgeous, coming in all shades of white, pink, purple, red and green (see picture below). If you’re a flower lover you’ll see them all over Instagram. 

Alternatively, there are absolutely wonderful things that people can do with dried flowers, rose hips, seed pods and foliage. 

If that’s not enough, the early spring bulbs all start popping up over Valentine’s Day – snowdrops and paper whites. 

At WLFC we’re always talking about the seasonal offer. Yes, this time of year is pretty low on British blooms, but really there’s a lot to admire and enjoy if you look for it.

38f33d9e-bbd1-4b2f-b2f0-e6220be33af0

Above: Hellebores, Camila’s favourite Valentine’s Day alternative.

Q. What motivates you to run the Wolves Lane Flower Company?

Our absolute love and obsession with flowers and a real commitment to the environment.

We love the diversity that growing flowers offers us and our customers. We can trial a new variety and just stick 10 plants in the ground and see how they do and that’s exciting to us.

We are total dorks. Neither of us studied horticulture formally so everyday we learn something new which suits our personalities. We make mistakes all the time which can be very demoralising, but when there are lessons to be learnt the ambition for getting it right next time round can be quite infectious.

We’re very lucky to be part of the Flowers From The Farm network, which is a constant source of information on all things flower farming – it’s a very inspiring community that constantly motivates us to try harder.

Do you think people are becoming more aware of sustainable flowers?

We hope so! There’s a lot interest from florists and brides in using seasonal British flowers partly because a more naturalistic style has developed across the industry and local growers produce stems that are perfect for this kind of floristry. We get queries from some people who find us on social media and just love our flowers and the WLFC story of growing a flower farm from scratch; and from others who are really committed to more a more sustainable lifestyle. 

That said, the industry has a way to go. While people are invested in knowing where their fruit and veg come from, provenance isn’t always at the forefront of their minds when buying flowers. We’re probably about 10 years behind the food industry in this respect but as the conversation around climate change grows, we hope consumers will be encouraged to source their flowers from ethical suppliers.

Why not start by buying your loved one some locally-grown Hellebores this Valentine’s Day?

Lo-3307

Above: Camila (R) and Marianne (L), founders of WLFC

 

About the Wolves Lane Flower Company

WLFC is a micro urban flower farm with an organic and sustainable approach. Founded by two flower obsessives (Camilla and Marianne), they are committed to the belief that the beauty and diversity of their product doesn’t have to be compromised at the expense of the environment. Their flowers are London-grown, seasonal and never treated with chemicals or pesticides in both their unheated glasshouse or cutting garden. While they can’t compete with their Dutch counterparts on volume or price, their flowers are scented, unusual and unique. As consumer awareness of provenance and sustainability grows, they are excited to be part of a new wave of growers committed to offering an ethical alternative.

New Jeans – You’re Hired

“I like your new jeans.”

“Thanks Mum,” I said, “but they aren’t actually mine…”

old-jeans-3589262_960_720

The fast fashion industry has come under the spotlight in recent months, as people have realised just how much water, chemicals and energy are needed to make a simple t-shirt. And globally it is estimated that we are now producing 100 billion garments and 20 billion shoes every year. The Chair of a Select Committee put it well, when announcing Parliament’s first ever inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry: “Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth. But the way we design, make and discard clothes has a huge environmental impact.”

One of the worst offenders is something that most of us have quite a few pairs of – jeans. In fact, 70m new pairs are sold in the UK each year. Recent reports have shown that it takes 2,000 gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans – half of this is to grow the cotton and the rest to turn it into jeans. That’s equivalent to 20 baths. Then there’s all the energy, pesticides and chemicals required to process the cotton into denim and make them look “sand-blasted” or vintage. 

I was shocked to find out how bad a typical pair of fast-fashion jeans were for the world, so I set out to find an alternative…

They broadly fall into three categories…

Organic

Ethical Consumer lists a range of different jeans that are sustainably produced and organically sourced. These include Monkee Genes priced at £60 and Kuyichi at £100. The European Fashion Retailer C&A have also recently produced the world’s first Cradle to Cradle certified jeans, costing only £25.

However, this feels to me much like switching from intensively-farmed beef to organic beef. If you can afford it then it’s undeniably a good thing to do for the welfare of the animals and the quality of the product but you are ultimately still eating beef, which has a big environmental impact.

Circular Economy

A couple of European manufacturers are taking a more interesting approach and embracing the circular economy.

Nudie make sustainable jeans like the others but then they offer you free repairs for life! They repaired nearly 50,000 pairs of jeans in 2017, saving 40,000kg of clothes from being thrown away and over 300m litres of water. The bad news is that they are a luxury item, costing £120 and to take advantage of the free repairs you will need to go to Hipster London (Shoreditch or Soho) or wait for their periodic repair roadshow to appear somewhere nearer you.

Another unusual option is the “Lease a Jean” model from MUD, which is proving popular in other parts of Europe. You pay a one-off signing-on fee (£26), a delivery fee (£7.50) and then a rolling £6.30 a month to lease a pair of jeans. MUD retain ownership of the jeans and will repair them for free or pay for someone local to do so. After a year, you can choose to keep paying and lease a second pair, or stop and keep the jeans as long as you wish. Whenever you decide you are done with them, MUD will take them back and turn them into something else. It’s not cheap (I make it £109 for the first year and £80 thereafter) but there is something quite alluring about the concept. 

Denim innovation

Finally, of course, there is the option of ditching the denim. There is a scramble underway to come up with a sustainable alternative. 

These guys claim to have developed compostible denim, that biodegrades in a couple of months. 

Levis have been making jeans out of 20% waste plastic bottles for a few years now. 

And others are using old jeans as insulation.

All interesting and exciting ideas but no one has found a silver bullet just yet.

 

So what did I choose? I went for the MUD leasing idea, so I am now the proud owner of a lovely pair of jeans that I don’t actually own! 

Cue a number of very strange conversations with my friends and family…