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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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…?

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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…”

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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…

“Messy and disappointing”: a journey into positive investment

Friends of the Earth have been running an innovation challenge focused on how to make it simpler for people to align their savings with their values and put their money to work tackling climate change. As part of the challenge, I was interviewed by Mary Stevens, the Programme Manager, about my experience of positive investment. I wanted to invest to be part of the solution, not the problem. But despite a relatively high level of awareness of the issues and opportunities the journey was far from simple…

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Tell me a bit about your personal situation. What were your aims?

I was looking to put away £5000 as a medium-term investment. I was happy to take a bit more of a financial risk, and was also looking for a bigger return than if I just put it in an ISA. But above all I was looking to put it in a fund that would build the world we want. I know a lot of ethical funds just do negative screening — no arms or tobacco for example — and I wanted something different. I wanted my money to be actively doing good.

Where did you start your research?

I started where a lot of people do, on moneysavingexpert.com. This was great for general investment advice but I only found two paragraphs on sustainable or ethical investment and nothing that could help me. I also talked to family and friends about my options — but again, no one was able to offer specific advice on positive investment.

So where did you go to try to find out about ethical funds?

One of the first things I found was the Ethical Consumer index. But the detail of the index is only available to subscribers. And I couldn’t tell exactly what they’d based the ratings on, and whether their priorities were aligned with mine.

I also looked at the opportunities for investment and savings accounts with the providers I was already familiar with: Triodos, Charity Bank, Nationwide, Ecology Building Society. The options were OK — but there was very little in the higher risk, positive investment space. Nothing felt exciting or pioneering. The fees also felt high and I was concerned about the way Triodos uses RBS as its clearing bank. It felt like their hands were tied. [ed. Triodos is explicit about this issue on its website, explaining how limited the options are for them].

I did ask Nationwide whether they could provide any financial advice, as I have a current account with them, but the next available appointment was in six weeks, and even then the advisor did not have ‘specialist’ expertise.

What did you do once you’d ruled out investments with mainstream savings providers?

I started to investigate individual funds. For example, I knew about Generation Investment Management, because of the Al Gore connection [ed. GIM LLP was founded by Al Gore in 2004, who is still the chair of the advisory board]. But I couldn’t figure out how to actually put any of my money into it. I also looked at WHEB Asset Management as I’d come across them in a professional context previously. I had the same issue here — and wherever I looked. I also came across Impax Asset Management, via a tip-off from a relative (they hadn’t appeared in web searches). I liked their Environmental Leaders Fund, but again, I couldn’t figure out how to get into it.

At this stage I started to try to figure out whether I could work backwards. Could I find the platforms that could help me place an investment? I went back to Moneysavingexpert.com. There were about five different platforms they recommended — Cavendish online, Aviva, AK Bell, a couple of others. They were all charging different amounts and the website really came into its own here. In the end I did work out how to place the investment with Impax via one of these.

I also looked at the newer app-based platforms (Nutmeg, Wealthify, Evestor) but all of these are just passive funds (i.e. index funds, that track the overall performance of e.g. the FTSE 250) and they don’t have any model to do the due diligence on the underlying funds.

What surprised you the most on this journey?

Just how difficult it was. And how complicated it was to put money in a fund, even if you found one you wanted. I can’t believe there isn’t a good specialist website that has a good ranking system and simple guidance for how to do it. Ethical Consumer didn’t feel expert enough, it didn’t seem appropriate to apply the same methodology to investments as to a toaster or a pair of jeans.

There are some rankings, and some specialist platforms out there such as Ethex, or the Good Egg mark. Did you come across any of these?

No. I did come across 3dinvesting, but I found the website tricky to use.

What would have helped you?

I didn’t want a financial advisor conversation. That would just have been another load of fees. But it would have been great if there was an organisation with some credibility putting something out there — some signposting. A detailed moneysavingexpert.com section on sustainable investment, for example. Doing for positive investment what it does for insurance, or savings or pensions.

What advice would you give someone wanting to do the same?

It’s hard to know. Obviously I can’t give financial advice. Starting at the end point didn’t really help; even if it did provide a solution in the end I don’t know if it was the best one. Some peer networking might have helped; blogs or friends who’d done the same thing. But overall the whole process felt messy and disappointing.

Was there anything else you learned from this experience?

It’s important to know the difference between the sustainable funds the big providers offer, and real positive investment. In most cases “sustainable” just means a few exclusions of guns, alcohol, tobacco — often not even fossil fuels! I’m also concerned about the growing dominance of passive funds, especially in the newer app-based services; it removes any leverage that individual investors may have. [ed. a point this FT article also makes].

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Michael Hilton, author of this blog!

The UK’s First Plastic-Free Coffee Packaging – The Inside Story

Last week, Percol announced they were launching the UK’s first plastic-free coffee packaging, aiming to stop 1.3 million pieces of plastic ending up in landfill each year. Was it difficult to achieve? Is it good for business? What advice would they give to other trail-blazers who want to do the same? I had a coffee with Ollie Richmond, their Trade & NPD Manager, to percolate on some of these questions…

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Q. What’s the history of Percol Coffee?

Percol is a brand with a great story. We are proud to have been pioneering ethics and sustainability since we started back in 1987. We were the first ground coffee to earn the Fairtrade mark and the first to offer organic arabica. We’ve got a long history of making sure the people and environments that grow our coffee are supported, respected and protected. We’re now proud to launch the world’s first plastic-free packaging for ground coffee and beans.  

Q. How much plastic waste do coffee drinkers produce?

The takeaway coffee market has received a lot of negative press recently over the amount of non-recyclable waste it creates, and rightly so. People in the UK throw away 2.5 billion coffee cups a year, of which less than 1% get recycled! So, how is the coffee industry responding to an ever increasing drive to be sustainable, not only in coffee shops but in consumers’ kitchens? 

Over 100 million non-recyclable coffee packs are produced and used each year – you’ll notice the ‘not yet widely recycled’ OPRL symbol on the back of ground or beans coffee packs. As a UK retail coffee brand which sells more than 4 million products a year in supermarkets, we have an important role to play in reducing the impact we are making on the planet, and providing customers with more sustainable choices – without compromising on taste, quality or our ethical sourcing.

Q. Why is Percol Coffee going plastic-free now? Does it make business sense?

Like many, we want to do more to reduce the amount of packaging (and particularly plastic) that we’re using. So we’ve looked at all our products and have taken bold steps to find sustainable packaging alternatives, starting with our ground and beans. Ultimately our aim is to give customers a plastic-free option.

Being the first has meant taking risks and the new plastic-free ground and beans packaging is significantly more expensive than what we used previously. However, we were passionate that this was the right decision to take in order to reduce our impact on the planet.

Q. What were the biggest challenges to going plastic-free? What advice would you give to others who want to do the same?

There is no silver bullet. There will always be pros and cons to any alternative solution so it’s important to understand these and make an informed decision that you think is right for your business. The best solution to one type of packaging issue may not necessarily be the same for another. With that in mind, technology and innovation are constantly improving the options available – we’ve made a decision which we think is best at this point in time but we’re open to change if a better solution comes on to the market.

Q. Did you consider a circular economy model, where packaging could be returned to you and reused?

Our new plastic-free ground and beans packaging is certified home compostable. This means the customer can throw it in their local council food waste bin where it will be industrially composted and break down in 12 weeks. Alternatively, in their home compost bin it will break down in 26 weeks.  

We feel this is the best alternative to the multi-layer, non-recyclable plastic packs on the market. Composting is nature’s circular economy and compostable packaging, when organically recycled, is a true cradle to cradle solution. Our packaging – once broken down – can be used as a soil improver.

Q. What about all the people who don’t have food waste bins? What happens to your packaging if it ends up in landfill?

We would always strongly encourage our customers to put our new home compostable packaging in their local council food bin or home compost bin. If neither are available, we’d encourage you to speak to your local council about having a food waste bin put in place for your home. The UK sent 7.7million tonnes of Biodegradable Municipal Waste (BMW) to landfill in 2016* – this could be avoided through increased food waste collection.

If our home compostable packaging is put in your regular refuse bin, it will go through the local waste system where it’s likely to enter a landfill or an anaerobic digester. If landfilled, the packaging will act like organic waste – such as a banana peel – which may slowly break down but is likely to remain inert due to the lack of oxygen and moisture required to start bio-degradation. 

Q. Is the aim to differentiate Percol from its competitors, or would you like them to follow your lead?

By being the first in the market to launch compostable packaging, we expect this will differentiate us from our competitors. However, we hope others will ultimately follow or innovate in this area. We would encourage others in the coffee industry to be brave and invest in sustainable packaging solutions.

Q. How much plastic will this change save?

This move will strip out over 1.3 million pieces of plastic from our business, which equates to 2-3 tonnes of plastic a year. 

*(UK Statistics on Waste Statistical Notice October 2018)

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Thanks to Ollie for answering all my questions!