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?

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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

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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.

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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.

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.

Five plastic-free changes that have stood the test of time

My wife Sarah and I were inspired to give the Marine Conservation Society’s Plastic-Free July challenge a go. Instead of trying to drive every last piece of plastic from our lives, we focused on making a few lifestyle changes that might stand the test of time.

Here’s what is still working for us three months later…

1. Wonky veg

BsQ9RF6lQBSb4MjR6Eu52QCrazy that all of this is “too wonky” to be sold in supermarkets!

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Can OLIO become the Facebook for food waste?

The concept of the OLIO app is beautifully simple — it allows you to exchange food and other items that would otherwise have gone to waste with others in your local area who want them.

It now has over 325,000 active users, 15,000 volunteers and is available globally. Since its launch across the UK in January 2016, strangers have met over 100,000 times on their doorsteps to exchange food that would have gone to waste.

I interview Sasha Celestial-One, the co-founder and COO, to find out all about it.

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