Advice on living more sustainably, from Sussex’s experts and eco-business owners
PUBLISHED: 10:58 16 April 2020 | UPDATED: 10:58 16 April 2020
Credit: Peter Cripps / Alamy Stock Photo
This April will mark 50 years of the international environmental event Earth Day. Now more than ever, we know that we all have our part to play in combating the climate emergency. So what can we do in our communities and at home?
Carrie Cort heads up Sussex Green Living, a Horsham-based network offering advice on living more sustainably. She says enquiries have risen steeply in
the past couple of years, which she attributes to television shows such as Blue Planet and Drowning in Plastic, as well as activism by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion.
When asked for her top tips for individuals, Carrie says: “Think about waste reduction: using less; powering down; insulating up. I went to a Zero Carbon Britain course in December about how the UK can achieve zero emissions by 2030 and one of the big messages I took away from that was that although we need to push for new housing stock to be built as sustainably as possible, insulating and powering down existing stock is crucial: double-glazing, cavity wall insulation, the roof, underfloor heating where
possible – and try to use less energy, whether it’s clean renewable or not.”
BHESCo (Brighton and Hove Energy Services Co-operative) advises customers on improving their energy efficiency. Their largest project to date has been enabling local schools such as Brunswick Primary School to
save money on energy by installing solar panels. Another of their more ambitious projects is working with villagers in Firle to find alternatives to oil-fired heating, which the government wants to phase out by 2030.
BHESCo’s marketing and energy desk co-ordinator Dan Curtis says: “The number one point for someone looking to reduce their carbon footprint is to have an idea of their own energy use. You can only really get that from a survey of your property. It’s always worthwhile for people to have a look at their energy performance certificate – every property has to have an EPC which must legally be added to the national register. If you type in your postcode (at www.epcregister.com) you can find your EPC and it will have the current energy performance of your property as well as some suggestions. That’s probably a good starting point.” Warmer Sussex – a new scheme in which BHESCo is a partner – is currently offering a special rate of £75 for more detailed, room-by-room
When Carrie Cort set up Sussex Green Living she trained as a waste prevention adviser with West Sussex County Council. With the benefit of this in-depth knowledge of local waste disposal and recycling, she warns against complacency. “Most of us recycle”, she notes, but that is not the end of the story. “What people don’t realise is that in West Sussex alone, our hard plastics are recycled, but loads get shipped to China – 10,000 miles by ship using fossil fuel, to recycle them to bring them back as plastic goods which we buy. Our single-use plastics, unless we recycle them through special recycling schemes such as Terracycle, get shipped to Germany or Holland to generate energy... but how did it get there, what has it used? Fossil fuel.” It is best, she says, to avoid plastic in the first place – only then will supermarkets and their suppliers get the message, and change their practices.
According to a 2019 House of Commons report, the fashion industry was worth £32bn to the UK economy in 2017 and we buy more clothes per person than any other European country.
The report reads: “Textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined, consumes lake-sized volumes of fresh water and creates chemical and plastic pollution.” And there are other concerns too – the low prices of so-called fast fashion items come at a cost to others in the garment supply chain.
In the past century, attitudes towards clothing have changed to a staggering extent: a huge number of unwanted clothes
now end up in landfill. While
the most sustainable thing to do is to buy once, buy well, wash carefully and repair when necessary, it’s now very possible to buy new clothes responsibly.
Here, local designers are leading the way: Brighton company Ruby Moon makes sustainable swim and activewear using ECONYL® nylon yarn from used fishing nets and other waste material. The company also produces 42 per cent less carbon emissions compared to other high street swimwear (certified by The Prince’s Accounting for Sustainability Project). All the company’s net profits are lent out as small loans to empower female entrepreneurs in 11 nations. Founder Jo-Anne Godden, who set up the company as a reaction to 25 years spent working in fashion, says: “The fashion industry has the most substantial potential to positively impact the social and environmental state of our planet.”
Clothes made from single materials, such as wool or cotton, are easier to recycle when they come to the end of their natural life. And certified organic materials, such as the cotton used by Brighton children’s clothes label Toby Tiger, means no harsh chemicals or dyes and only natural pest control methods are used. To be confident that the brand you’re buying upholds the highest social and ecological standards in their manufacturing processes, look for the certification held by Toby Tiger and others, including some John Lewis lines – GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard).
Health and beauty
While kitchen products are routinely recycled in most homes, a recent study by Which? found that many common bathroom products are not clearly labelled as recyclable, leading the consumer rights group to warn that plastic containers could be needlessly ending up in landfill. Difficult-to-recycle items such as toothbrushes are available in other materials such as bamboo, while solid soaps and shampoos, such as the goat’s milk products made by the Raw Soap Company, minimise plastic use.
It’s not all about packaging, however. Sometimes the cosmetics themselves contain pollutants: last year after lengthy campaigning exfoliating plastic “microbeads” were banned in the UK; recently more attention has been turned on sun creams, which commonly contain oxybenzone, a compound which has severe detrimental effects on coral reefs.
One Sussex company was at the vanguard of the natural beauty movement. Charlotte Vohtz set up Green People, based near Horsham, in 1997. In 1999 Charlotte was invited to be on a Soil Association committee to design the first standards for organic beauty. Charlotte, and later Green People’s cosmetic scientist Ian Taylor, were hugely influential in setting natural and organic cosmetic regulations. Ian says: “I think in the very early days, there was very little understanding of the whole natural and organics market. I well remember attending exhibitions such as In Cosmetics and asking suppliers if they had any ingredients suitable for use in organic products, and they basically laughed at us. Attitudes have changed hugely. Now when you go to those same exhibitions every other manufacturer has a big sign up saying Ecocert-approved or Soil Associatiom-approved. There has been a paradigm shift and we’re very pleased to see it – it increases the comeptition we face but it means there is much greater awareness. The natural and organic movement has become much more mainstream.”
As a company Green People has done a lot of work investigating alternatives to plastic packaging but they have found that glass has safety issues, while metal uses too much energy and is prohibitively expensive. “We’re in the process of changing all our tubes from a petrochemical-derived normal polyethylene to one derived solely from sugar cane,” says Ian. “The advantage of this is that for every kilo of plastic that is produced from
sugar cane, the sugar cane absorbs three kilos of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It’s actually having a beneficial effect on climate change.”
But in the bathroom disposable sanitary items are the greatest culprits. According to Friends of the Earth, wet wipes made up more than 90 per cent of the material causing sewer blockages that Water UK investigated in 2017. And if they’re disposed of in the bin, rather than flushed down the loo, they go to landfill.
A Newhaven-based company called Cheeky Wipes is one of the leading manufacturers of reusable baby wipes. Founder Helen Rankin had the idea for the business while heavily pregnant in 2008 and recently experienced a huge upsurge in interest after featuring on This Morning. The company also produces reusable make-up remover pads, period underwear and cloth sanitary pads.
Brighton-based Mooncup launched its reusable silicone menstrual cup in 2002. The company says that the average woman uses 11,000 sanitary products in her lifetime – yet a single Mooncup will last many years. With 1.5 billion items of sanitary protection flushed each year in the UK, this could make a significant difference in the war on plastic.
Make do and mend
Repair Cafés are free meeting places where people can bring things in need of attention: clothes, electrical appliances, furniture and much more. Tools and materials are available and expert volunteers are on-hand to assist with repairs (repaircafe.org/en):
Brighton Repair Café: The Hanover Centre, Southover Street, Brighton
Chailey Repair Café: Chailey Parish Hall
Forest Row Repair Café: The Community Centre, Forest Row
Lewes Repair Café: Landport Community Hub
Burgess Hill Repair Café: Salvation Army Hall
Chichester Repair Café: Drapers Yard
Crawley Down Repair Café: The Haven Centre
Horsham Repair Café: Quaker Meeting House
Worthing Repair Café: Quaker Meeting House
From zero to hero: zero-waste shops
Refilled Chichester, Drapers Yard: refilledchichester.com
Gaskyns, Arundel (refills of cleaning products, shower gels etc only): www.gaskyns.co.uk
Larder, Worthing: zerowastelarder.co.uk
The Zero Shop, Heathfield: thezeroshop.co.uk
Down to Earth, Hove: www.downtoearth-hove.co.uk
Hisbe, Brighton: hisbe.co.uk
Waste Not, Brighton: wastenot.shop
Zero Waste Eastbourne: zerowasteeastbourne.co.uk
Wonderfill, St Leonards: wonderfill.world