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Bees are crucial for biodiversity. Here’s how to support their survival

Aside from their fascinating social structure (many bees are ‘eusocial’, meaning each individual plays a role within a colony, which itself could be seen as a living individual), bees play a vital role in the continuing existence of humans. They pollinate around a third of the food we eat (although the exact figure is hotly debated), many of the crops that make our clothes, and those used for feeding livestock. Out of the 400 different types of plants grown for human consumption, bees play some role in the yield and quality of 84%. As a result, it’s estimated that annually, bees contribute $170bn worth of crop pollination around the world – vital with our ever-growing population in need of food. Economically speaking, beekeeping can be an important sustainable and alternative source of income in rural areas, benefiting communities living in and around forests. 

Unsurprisingly, bees provide services to ecosystems beyond this anthropocentric viewpoint too. They have evolved to be highly efficient pollinators of a huge variety of trees and other plants, vital for nature’s biodiversity. Bees visit plants for their food, nectar and pollen and have evolved to do so while also (usually) benefitting the plant they are visiting. Their bodies are covered in hairs to trap nectar and pollen, which they can do so year-round (climate dependent), so long as there are flowers available. Their co-evolution over millions of years has led to symbiotic relationships as old as each species – nectar and pollen from flowering plants are bees’ only food source – nectar for energy and pollen for baby food – and bees a primary pollinator for many plants. Bees also act as indicators of the state of the environment. Their presence or absence tells us of the current health of that ecosystem

Because of all of this, there has been an increase in awareness-raising for the plight of bees. In the six years leading up to 2013, more than 10 million honey bee colonies across the world were lost, often to Colony Collapse Disorder, where bees abandon their hives, leaving the queen and young to fend for themselves. Although the full cause of CCD has not yet been established, evidence points towards the use of Neonicotinoids, pesticides brought in to replace other banned pesticides. Inevitably following CCD the hives die out, although mercifully farmers are able to restock honeybee numbers each year. The same cannot be said for less blatantly economically beneficial species, such as solitary bees, which make up the vast majority of bee species. Of these, around 1 in 10 face extinction as a result of intensive farming, insecticide use and climate change. The habitats they depend on for nesting sites and foraging are rapidly diminishing due to urbanisation – since 1945, 97% of wildflower meadows in the UK have vanished – leaving precious few refuges for them to bounce back. 

Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, was published nearly 60 years ago. It’s credited with catalysing the environmental movement in the US and UK, after documenting the devastating effects for bee populations of indiscriminate use of pesticides such as DDT on crops. In 1972 the EPA banned DDT and it is now classified as a probable human carcinogen. And yet, 60 years on, there is still a constant battle between agricultural industry, and environmental organisations. Following the banning of DDT, new pesticides have been introduced – such as the Neonicotinoids that contribute to CCD – and many subsequently banned. Who’d have thought that removing the base of the food chain would cause everything above to collapse? Despite decades of proving that the indiscriminate wiping out of large swathes of the food chain is harmful to the whole ecosystem, the battle between industry and nature continues. 

Buy organic

One of the best things we can do to promote bee-friendly growing techniques is to buy organic. According to the Soil Association, plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant of organic farms. By supporting these farms, you’re supporting the expansion of organic farming practices, thus helping bee populations further afield. 

Fill your garden with bee-friendly plants

Reducing the frequency of mowing, and planting native flowers can massively benefit bee populations. You don’t need a lot of space either – window boxes of flowers and un-mown patches of lawn all provide shelter and food sources for multiple different species. Aim to have flowers that bloom year round – grow snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils for early spring feasts and cyclamen, dahlias and begonias for autumn stockpiling. Look for wildflower seed mixes. They’re tough to grow but in the right conditions provide the most benefits for our pollinators. 

Create nesting sites

While honeybees require large hives to thrive in, the majority of bee species require much less space. Create a bee hotel to allow them to nest and rest, or build a rock garden. Many bee habitats are considered ‘messy’ to most gardeners, but by maintaining some areas of the garden undisturbed, the nooks and crannies can act as warm shelters for the local solitary bees. 

Avoid herbicides and pesticides

As tempting as it may be, using herbicides and pesticides can significantly harm bee populations, as well as everything further up the food chain, such as your garden birds. Mulch around the base of trees and on bare earth – not only will this suppress weeds, it’ll also provide nutrients to your plants, and nesting sites for overwintering insects! Look into ‘companion planting’ – planting more attractive or naturally repellent plants between your crops, to attract or repel unwanted insects. 

Buy local honey

Honeybees are not the be all and end all of the bee population in the UK or further afield. However, buying local honey supports local bees pollinating plants in your local area – a win win for the environment and the beekeepers. Purchasing from small businesses also protects against mass production of supermarket-bought, pollen-free ‘honey’, often packed with artificial sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup. If you eat honey, make sure it’s from local hives. 

“But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.” 
― Rachel Carson

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5 ways to be an eco-conscious gardener

“We may think we are nurturing the garden, but of course it’s our garden that is really nurturing us” Jenny Uglow.
Gardening is good for our mental health and physical wellbeing so as we continue to seek natural havens to escape the stresses of day-to-day life, it is not surprising that gardening has become a huge trend. While adding more green to our world is helpful and great for the environment, it is essential to do it well in a way. We have put together some tips for your to become a conscious gardener.


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Understanding the environmental impact of cut flowers

The COVID 19 pandemic has had a plethora of unexpected consequences, from a rise in domestic violence cases to massive reductions in global carbon emissions. When it comes to cut flowers, the pandemic has had both expected and unexpected impacts.

Initially, lockdowns crashed the EU cut flower market, which lost €1bn in the first six weeks of lockdown. This impacted not just retailers, but also growers and suppliers alike. However, unexpectedly, after the initial lockdown, the online floriculture market started to appeal to younger consumers looking to brighten up their homes, send gifts remotely and benefit from having a little slice of nature at home. This causes e-commerce flower sales to boom, and also forced retailers to look at their supply chains in order to develop resilience for the future.

Unfortunately, however, there are many considerations to take into account when it comes to buying flowers, as with any globally produced product. The UK is a major market for cut flowers in Europe, with annual consumption exceeding €2.5 billion. Between 2011 and 2015, the annual import of roses alone increased from €161bn to €182bn, making up around 25% of all imported flowers sold. Most of these come in from the Netherlands, but increasingly flowers are grown in less economically developed countries (LEDCs), such as Kenya and Ethiopia, thanks to climatic conditions allowing for year-round production, and cheaper labour costs.


There are many variables that affect the environmental and ethical impact of cut flowers, such as growing conditions, pesticide use, import distance and method and working conditions.

Since cut flowers are not edible, they do not have the same regulatory controls as crops, meaning that pesticide use is rampant, and pesticide residue is much higher than allowed on foodstuffs. It is estimated that one fifth of the chemicals used in the floricultural industry in LEDCs is banned or untested in the US. For example, methyl bromide, a toxic chemical used as a pesticide, was banned and ceased to be used in the US by 2005 due to its harmful effect on the ozone layer and potency as a greenhouse gas. However, it took until 2015 for it to be phased out elsewhere, leading to numerous potential issues, both environmentally and ethically – methyl bromide is highly toxic to humans and may affect the nervous system after long-term use. In the same way that factory workers in the fashion industry are often exposed to harmful chemicals through their work, floriculture workers have similar issues. A study of female workers in Ecuador showed that pregnant women exposed to everyday pesticides were more likely to have children with a neurological impairment and high blood pressure.

Another issue of note when it comes to growing conditions is water usage. The water footprint of one rose flower is estimated to be 7–13 litres, and the market for cut flowers could eat into the water availability for other industries, such as food production. Virtual water refers to the amount of water required to produce an amount of product, e.g. on average it takes 1,340 cubic meters of water to produce one metric tonne of wheat. Floriculture accounts for 45% of the virtual water exports from Kenya, i.e. of all exported goods, the floriculture industry requires 45% of total water usage. This can place added strain on water-poor countries, and further regulation is needed to ensure a fair distribution of water throughout vital industries.

Emissions are the most obvious difference between imported and cut flowers. According to one study, emission savings are the greatest when purchasing British-grown bouquets, followed by those with a longer vase-life (as fewer will need to be bought). Imported stems produce at least 3x as many emissions as British-grown, maxing out at a whopping 67x the emissions for the most polluting, when considering transportation, heating and electricity for growing. 

Ethically, the conditions on some flower farms have significant room for improvement. Floriculture provides vital work and income to many, many people – in Kenya alone, it provides over 2 million jobs and over $500 million a year for the country. However, floriculture often uses a workforce of poor, less educated, primarily female workers, meaning that the industry is ripe for exploitation. This can come in the form of low pay, poor and dangerous working conditions and repression of vital trade unions, especially in LEDCs. The issues aren’t constrained to poorer countries, however – pesticide use in the Netherlands still has harmful effects on workers, and the industry is being encouraged to clean up its act, after a report showed that pesticide use was six times higher than other forms of intensive agriculture in the same regions. 

Thankfully, the market share of locally produced UK flowers has been increasing steadily, thanks in part due to the more rigorous ethical and social standards, such as the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and Fairtrade.

  • Regardless of flower origin, if you’re looking to buy fresh cut flowers, search for certifications such as FairtradeFlorverde or ETI to ensure certain baseline standards have been adhered to. 
  • Look for organic flowers, as excessive fertiliser and pesticide use can harm local wildlife and waterways, as well as workers. This is a problem both in the UK and abroad.
  • Look for companies that have committed to reducing their packaging. Most flowers are transported in plastic and then packaged in non-recyclable cellophane, which never biodegrades. If you require packaging, check that the company provides recyclable wrapping, or better still, no packaging at all. 
  • For the most-part, opting for long-lasting potted plants bought from independent sellers who can verify their origins is significantly better than looking for the cheapest supermarket cut flowers or potted plant of unknown origin. Not only are you likely to get a better-quality product, you’re also helping to support small businesses and local growers, if you choose well. If you’re looking to trade cut flowers for pot plants, ensure they’re not imported from the other side of the world. China currently provides 18.6% of the world’s cut and potted plants and plans to become the largest flower exporter in Asia and second globally after the Netherlands, meaning that even more environmentally sound potted plants could come with a sizeable carbon footprint. 
  • Look for other gifts. There are many ways to tell someone they mean something to you without buying flowers. Shop small and local where possible – that way you’re supporting not only the gift recipient, but also an individual who truly appreciates your custom.

Article written by Hattie Webb, research assistant.

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5 sustainable & stylish fitness brands to know now

The fashion industry is labelled one of the most polluting industries on the planet. As an extension of the fashion industry, athleisure is no different. Good news: the activewear industry is slowly moving in the right direction. Brands big and small are innovating with recycled materials, eco-friendly dyes and low-impact fabrics . Keep in mind, nothing is more sustainable than the activewear you already have at home. We put together a list of our favourite sustainable and stylish fitness brands for the next time you need some new pieces.
Remember, recycled polyester still sheds microfibres so it’s important to launder it carefully. We recommend a Guppyfriend washing bag.
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A runner’s guide to conscious and eco-friendly nutrition

At its core, running is the ultimate sustainable sport. It requires not much more than your legs and a pair of trainers, it’s hard to wonder what could be so unsustainable about running. However, between wearing out shoes, constant new kit, travel to races and plastic food packaging, the climate impact can quickly build up. 

As we lead up to marathon season, one of the most common issues eco-conscious competitors will face is the number of plastic wrappers on all things to do with running nutrition. From energy gels to drinks and protein bars, the single-use packaging adds up, but it doesn’t have to be this way, as evidenced by the number of  brands who are switching to more eco-friendly formulas and sustainable packaging. As a runner myself, I’m constantly on the hunt for products that work well and are kinder on the planet. Here are some of my favourites.

Energy gels

Finding eco-friendly fuel for long runs has been the number one question I get regarding nutrition. It’s a tough one – any extra weight when you’re running is detrimental, so single-use, disposable sachets have long been the packaging of choice when it comes to running gels. The problem is, not only is this packaging reliant on harmful fossil fuels, it’s also damaging (and unsightly) when it accidentally falls onto the trails.

A natural alternative to modern sports nutrition, Lucho Dillitos is my go-to trail ‘gel’, although in reality it is a solid block more than a gel. Based on the traditional Colombian dessert Bocadillo, this fuel is made from guava fruit (85%) and sugar (15%). Because of its ingredients, it’s super high in vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium – useful for when out on a run. Most importantly, it’s wrapped in a dried leaf which is completely compostable. Once the block is eaten, the leaf can be discarded on the trail like any other leaf, where it will biodegrade. The blocks also avoid the problem of sticky wrappers and half-eaten gels in your running pack – a huge bugbear of mine! 

If you prefer liquid gels, one alternative could be to create your own, either with a gel mix or using home ingredients. Active Root is a small brand providing eco-friendly electrolyte and gel mixes. Its powdered gel can be mixed with water to create a natural energy gel, completely erasing the need for single-use gel sachets. They sell soft-flasks for mixing, holding the equivalent of 3 – 4 gels, and some flavours even have caffeine in, too.


Most protein brands package their products in plastic or mixed-material packaging, making it harder to recycle and (again) heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Additionally, whey protein relies on carbon-intensive animal agriculture. Opting for vegan proteins can reduce the overall impact of the product itself, and choosing plastic-free compostable or recyclable packaging lessens the environmental cost further. 

Introducing Vivo Life, a specialist in supplements that don’t cost the earth. Not only are its proteins all 100% plant-based (using a mix of protein sources including hemp protein, pea protein and soy protein) to minimise the impact of animal agriculture, it is also a certified carbon neutral company, including delivery. As much as possible, Vivo uses organic ingredients, and its delivery boxes are cut from recycled card. On top of all this, Vivo has ditched plastic scoops and is switching to home-compostable packaging within the year – a positive change which will pave the way for others in the supplements industry. 


For longer and warmer runs, hydration in the form of electrolytes is vital, both out on the run and when you return home afterwards. Electrolytes are not only important to allow your muscles to contract and relax (hence why athletes get cramps if they don’t have enough), they’re also key to recovery after each run. If you don’t take rehydration seriously, your next run will suffer. 

Active Root is a small UK-based brand providing eco-friendly electrolyte mixes. Each pack contains 1.4kg of powder (cane sugar, ginger powder and sea salt), enough to make 40 500ml electrolyte drinks. The refill sachets are 100% compostable too, making this an entirely plastic and waste free option. And, because of the ginger, it’s a great option for people who get upset stomachs on the move! 

Vivo Life also provides hydration mixes (Sustain), using coconut water mixed with EAAs (essential amino acids, providing further recovery benefits). The orange & baobab flavour is my absolute fave post-workout for muscle repair and rehydration.

On the go snacks

Created to help you hit your long term health and wellness goals, nutrition brand Human Food offers up natural snacks packaged in home-compostable packaging made from plant-based cellulose. The wrapper can be disposed of in your food-waste bin or compost, and if it flies out of your running pack on the move it won’t wreak havoc with the local ecosystem (although it’s better to find a compost bin rather than throwing in a hedge as conditions are better for decomposition in the former). 

I really like making my own snacks at home, too. Homemade ginger cake or flapjacks are my favourite, and make a nice change from pre-packaged foods during an ultra-marathon. Storage can be difficult but beeswax wraps or reusable zip-locked sandwich bags tend to do the trick. Snacks that can be bought in bulk, like trail mix also make for decent food, but remember that high-fat foods such as nuts are processed slower than sugar, so best for long and/or slow expeditions. 

It can be hard to find what works for you on a long run, and harder still to find eco-friendly options. Thankfully, so many brands are coming out of the woodwork and stepping up to the mark when it comes to sustainability, and hopefully soon running can be the simple, eco-friendly sport it was meant to be.

Follow @foodfitnessflora for more tips.

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What makes a brand sustainable?

The move has been criticised by many as yet another example of greenwashing, conveying misleading information about the brand’s sustainability credentials. As a leading high-street fast-fashion company H&M Group has contributed significantly to the issues of fast fashion in the UK and worldwide over the years. The UK website currently has 7209 items of women’s clothing, with volume of styles being a key indicator of fast-fashion brands. H&M Group has over 2000 factories worldwide producing billions of garments a year, and has previously been called out for burning unsold stock, to the extent that power plant Vasteras could become temporarily fossil-fuel free, purely by burning H&M clothing. In 2019 it had an inventory of $4bn (£2.91bn) unsold clothes, each requiring huge amounts of resources and labour to create, but never being sold or worn.

Let’s talk about sustainability. As a brand, H&M could be seen as leading the way in moving to a more sustainable business model, at least in terms of fast fashion. Surprisingly, the group received 73 out of 100 points in Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index, although of course, being transparent about your policies and practises doesn’t say anything about how good they actually are. H&M Group has committed to using 30% recycled materials and reducing emissions by 20% by 2025. The brand offers £5 vouchers for customers bringing in clothes for recycling (which could more cynically be seen as a clever tool to get higher footfall and increase spending on new items in store), and was one of the first high-street brands to launch a ‘conscious collection’. This does beg the question that if 5% of their collection is ‘conscious’ or ‘sustainable’, what does that make the remaining 95%?

Superficially, H&M seems to be saying all the right things, and making all the right moves, albeit slowly. If you’re not looking too deep, it can be tempting to believe that fast-fashion brands making efforts to improve their green credentials are a viable solution to ‘conscious consumerism’. You can have your new dress and wear it.

Look a little deeper, however, and cracks begin to show. Many of the claims H&M (and other fast-fashion brands) make are not only unsubstantiated, but impossible to ever verify. ‘Eco-friendly’, ‘conscious’ and ‘sustainable’ really mean very little, if anything.  The unreliability of their sustainability claims is evidenced by the below statement by their current CEO (previous Head of Sustainability) Helena Helmersson about the sustainability and ethical guarantees the company offers:

“I don’t think guarantee is the right word…A lot of people ask for guarantees: ‘Can you guarantee labour conditions? Can you guarantee zero chemicals?’ Of course we cannot when we’re such a huge company operating in very challenging conditions”.

And therein lies the issue. While H&M and other high-street fashion brands move towards materials that have less environmental impact, their entire business model (selling high volumes of clothes cheaply) means they cannot possibly guarantee that they’re having any any less of a negative impact at all. They don’t even know what is happening in their factories. Without addressing the entire fast fashion business model, it is dubious that high-street brands such as H&M could ever be sustainable.

Alongside this, there is the issue of ethics. Following the Rana Plaza disaster of 2013, H&M joined the Bangladesh Fire Safety Accord to address health and safety issues in factories. H&M promised to pay their workers a living wage by 2018, a target which they spectacularly failed to meet, and have made no notable efforts to improve wages since. With much of their clothing selling for under £10, it is impossible for workers to be being paid wages that allow them to live a decent life. The issue becomes all the more stark when considering the amount celebrity endorsers, such as Maisie Williams, get paid to be the face of a brand such as H&M. When celebrities are getting paid in the millions for promoting a ‘sustainable range’ in lieu of garment workers getting paid fair wages, it’s hard to consider the range sustainable at all. As a large brand, H&M holds clout with its 2000+ factories. Insisting on living wage would send an important message to the industry and raise the standard for all, but instead, these brands are all too happy to channel these funds into increased marketing to sell yet more clothing, and the cycle continues.


When you consider the ethics of making sustainability claims that cannot ever be substantiated, many would argue that sustainability and ethics go hand in hand. Misleading well-intentioned customers in an effort to sell more clothes is anything but ethical. 

Sustainability and ethics are also intrinsically linked when looking at those most affected by climate change. Companies doing the most damage (such as fast-fashion brands) are not only outsourcing labour to the Global South, but also outsourcing damageToxic dyespolluted waterwayshorrendous farming conditions all impact the workers as well as the environment, so it is impossible to uncouple the two elements of a clothing brand. While profits, shareholders and celebrity endorsers are continually placed ahead of suppliers, factory workers and the environment, no fast fashion brand can ever be deemed truly sustainable. We need system change, not fabric change. It is impossible to separate the dubious ethics and unthinkable volume of clothes intrinsic to the fast-fashion business model, from the more ‘environmentally friendly’ fabric choices in their ‘conscious collections’. Sustainability and ethics go hand in hand. Leave one behind, and you’re left with a green façade of sustainability, ready to be broken down once fashion changes.

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4 takeaways from the documentary Seaspiracy

Leonardio DiCaprio-backed documentary Seaspiracy was released on Netflix this month, to a wave of commentary from viewers and industry experts alike. Directed by Ali Tabrizi, the film documents the issues facing our oceans, diving deep into topics such as plastic pollution, commercial whaling and the human rights issues of the fishing industry.

The documentary raises some very real and important points about the perils of over fishing, combined with a somewhat sensationalist narrative. So what are the facts, and what can we learn from the film itself?


The documentary points out that while governments are working hard to be seen banning single use plastics such as straws and cotton buds, the largest single contributor to ocean plastics (and thus microplastics) is from commercial fishing. Across the whole ocean fishing gear contributes to around 10% of ocean plastics, but in concentrated areas such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (700,000km squared of plastic sitting in the Pacific Ocean), this figure rises to an astounding 46%.

Plastic in the oceans is an issue for many reasons. For sea animals, consumed plastic can lead to starvation, due to the stomach filling up with plastic, rather than the necessary food. This can be through plastic being mistaken for other food, such as jellyfish, or consumed via bioaccumulation, where microplastics plastics become more and more concentrated in larger animals due to the number of smaller animals they have to consume to survive. Over time, the food is digested but the plastic remains, building up until it kills the animal. Ghost fishing is another issue, whereby discarded fishing nets and lines continue to kill wildlife long after being discarded. Between 500,000 to 1 million tons of fishing gear is discarded or lost in the ocean every year, and without any incentives to stop this, it’ll continue to be easier and cheaper to dump broken fishing gear in the sea than take it back to land for recycling.

If we want to actively tackle the amount of plastic and microplastics in the ocean, we need stricter regulations on the types of fishing gear allowed, and enforcement of how it can be safely disposed of, without doing any more harm than that intended.


Over the last decade or so, there have been increasing numbers of reports of deaths and disappearances of those working to enforce rules designed to protect fisheries. Due to scarce resources and ever tightening regulations, ocean watchdogs are under increasing pressure to accept bribes or look the other way when it comes to enforcing legislations. Those that don’t have increasingly met grim fates.

On top of this, Seaspiracy shone a spotlight on the world’s complicity with modern day slavery used in commercial fishing. Details are understandably murky, but the Global Slavery Index has stated that modern slavery exists in fishing in most parts of the world, thanks in part to the desire to reduce costs in this low-tech, highly labour-intensive, low-profit industry.

The nature of the industry – offshore, often under cover of night, hidden from sight – means that escape or relief is impossible for most. The issue is not unique to Thailand – there have been media reports of modern slavery and labour abuses aboard American, British, Chinese, and Taiwanese vessels in recent years too. The ever-growing demand for fish and over exploitation of fish stocks has lead, and will lead, to greater pressures on fishing, directly increasing the amount of slavery used, and greater competition with small-scale fishing villages who rely on fish for food and income. With this competition for an increasingly scarce food source, there can only be one winner, and it’s unlikely to be the Indigenous populations who have been fishing sustainably for millennia.


Farmed fish are marketed as a more environmentally friendly way to eat fish, because they do not plunder wild stocks – the fish are bred specifically for eating, in a similar way to farm animals. However, due to the high density of fish (leading to disease and thus open water antibiotic use), high levels of waste escaping into the surrounding water and lack of regulation, fish farming using our current methods has a high number of issues too.

Atlantic, sockeye and pink wild salmon populations crashed in the late 2000s (and for multiple subsequent years), thanks primarily to local fish f arms. These farms had over 80% prevalence of parasitic sea-lice, a common infection in farmed fish, which infect local wild populations, leading to a 99% reduction in susceptible fish. In addition, due to the release, or escape, of some farmed fish, native populations are interbreeding or being outcompeted, reducing genetic diversity (and thus resilience to threats such as climate change and disease) of native wild salmon populations. The exact same things has happened this year on our own coastline, in Scotland, in part due to sea lice from fish farms. Seaspiracy also pointed out the number of wild-caught fish that go into feeding farmed fish – it is not an efficient way of feeding a population.


Despite a recent press release by the Marine Stewardship Council stating otherwise, it is evident that there is not currently enough enforcement of rules and regulations to ensure the sustainability of wild-caught seafood. With much of the fishing industry working far out at sea, Seapiracy made claims suggesting that it is impossible to guarantee that no bycatch was killed, or animals such as dolphins caught up in nets during the fishing process.

By choosing Dolphin-safe or MSC-certified seafood, you are showing a desire to have minimal impact on the environment, but in reality there is very little that can be guaranteed once a fishing boat is out at sea. Nets are not discriminatory, and even those with the best intentions will end up having some bycatch in the form of dolphins, sharks, turtles and whales.

Seaspiracy set out to raise awareness of the very real, deeply worrying issue of overfishing, and the human-rights issues that come with it. In this sense, they were successful – the film climbed to Netflix’s top 10 in the UK and US, and received praise from celebrities worldwide. Despite its obviously one-sided approach, lack of intersectionality and simplification of an extremely complex issue, the film succeeded in both raising awareness and starting a conversation about ocean conservation. Perhaps the whole film should be taken with a pinch of salt, but the overall message stands true.

Fishing is not intrinsically bad for the environment, especially where fish consumption can replace/reduce red meat consumption, which ultimately has the most negative impact on the environment. Ethics notwithstanding, fishing is an industry that supplies over 3 billion people with a major source of protein, and over 90% of fisheries are small scale, with around 50% of workers being women. The film, perhaps understanding that the majority of viewers would be from the Global North, almost entirely ignored the issue of intersectionality, calling for viewers to give up fish entirely – a task impossible for many globally.

However, Seaspiracy showed that the methods in which we fish on an industrial scale are undoubtedly failing in their job to preserve the world’s largest ecosystem. For most of us in the UK, it is not only impossible to guarantee the sustainability of most of our fish, but also unnecessary to eat it in the first place. Globally, this may not be the case, but for those who have the luxury of choice, cutting down on overall fish consumption as much as possible is a good first step to take – for many people this may mean avoiding fish altogether, but others may not have the means to do so. Avoid smoked fish, processed fish and unspecified ‘white fish’, anything ‘mass caught’ (purse-seine, bottom trawled etc)….. If you have to, buy whole fish where possible and know where it has come from, and how it was caught.

Sustainable fishing, in theory, is absolutely possible – Indigenous populations have been practising it for millennia – and there are many people working around the clock to make this a reality. However, with the lack of infrastructure to regulate and enforce well-meaning legislation, we are a long way from having healthy, recovered ecosystems in our seas, and even further from being able to exploit those reserves to the extent we currently do. Because of this, many are opting to cut out fish until better solutions exist that better represent the interest of all involved parties – not only developed countries’ obsession with plundering resources required by many.

Further watching – reading – listening

Sharkwater extinction – a documentary exposé on the trade of illegal shark fin.

Ghost Fleet – delves into Thailand’s fishing industry and its links to human trafficking.

Ocean Recovery – an evidence-based look at what the future of sustainable fishing could look like based on scientific data.

How To Save a Planet – a podcast interview with Yurok Tribe Vice-Chairman Frankie Myers on the demise of local salmon stocks and how the tribe is working to bring them back.

How To Save a Planet – another episode looking into the sustainable alternatives to fish, and the birth of the kelp-farming industry.

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How to choose the right carbon offset scheme for you

Forests are home to about 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, with more that 60,000 tree species, and around 1.6 billion people directly depend on them for food, shelter, energy, medicines and income, with the rest of the global population indirectly relying on them for the very air we breathe. The world is losing 10 million hectares of forest each year – about the size of Iceland – which accounts for 12% to 20% of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Land degradation affects a further 2 billion hectares – an area larger than South America – increasing the forests’ vulnerability to climate change.

The UK government has planted millions of trees over the last decade and is pledging to plant another million between 2020 and 2024, in an effort to improve biodiversity and sequester carbon. However, Friends of the Earth said this fell far short of what was needed to have a real impact on climate change. It’s important to understand the real effects of carbon offsetting via tree planting, its unintended consequences and potential limitations.

Do they provide an ‘everyone wins’ climate solution? Who do they benefit? Do they have the potential to cause harm? How effective even are they?

Tree planting and carbon offsetting

Carbon offsetting is a way of paying for others to reduce emissions or absorb CO2 to compensate for one’s own emissions. This can be via tree planting, or funding projects using green energy (which may otherwise have used fossil fuels). Tree planting is now being provided everywhere, from holiday-providers to delivery services and beyond, with a myriad of companies claiming to offset emissions with a range of different schemes. 

Many studies suggest that planting trees is one of the more effective ways of tacking land degradation and absorbing excess COfrom the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimated in 2018 that at least 10% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions derive from deforestation alone, and other studies have suggested that reforestation could remove three billion to 18 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. In 2017 land use changes – mostly deforestation – contributed four billion tonnes of CO2 emissions to the global total of 41 billion tonnes of CO2. If we stopped cutting down trees in the first place, our annual emissions would be reduced by around 10%. These are all significant numbers.


However, many experts are concerned that offsetting projects don’t lead to the behavioural change we really need to see if we want a palpably different future than the one projected. Offsetting has been shown to encourage people to continue with behaviour they know is harmful, and allows the worst polluters like BP and Shell to continue with unsustainable behaviour, while simultaneously shifting responsibility onto the consumer to reduce damage. Heathrow, too – which hopes to take an extra 265,000 flights a year with a third runway – has stated that it plans to use offsets to make it “carbon neutral” by 2030 and to be “zero-carbon” by 2050, even though it will be directly responsible for releasing millions of extra tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere with the plans. 

Planting trees, while vital in many areas, cannot be a replacement for not producing emissions in the first place. Due to trees’ slow-growing nature, it can take as many as 20 years to capture the amount of CO2 that a carbon offset scheme promises with the click of a button. Tree planting is not the ‘rapid-response’ action we need when it comes to climate change and GHG emissions – it plays a role in reforesting areas that we can previously deforested, and in mitigating the long-term effects of climate change. However it can only provide a fraction of the carbon reductions needed to keep temperatures below the 1.5C to 2C goals, and must be used in conjunction with behavioural change and other faster-acting climate solutions. 

Concerns have also been raised about the issue of climate colonialism, which has been defined as “the domination of less powerful countries and peoples by richer countries through initiatives meant to slow the pace of climate breakdown”. Carbon offsetting projects, such as tree-planting schemes, are cheaper to set up in the Global South rather than closer to home (which is in as much need of reforestation as anywhere else). Because of this, there is a lack of connection between the people paying for the projects, the companies providing them, and the local people on the ground, including Indigenous People. For example, Amnesty International reports that the Sengwer people of Embobut forest in Kenya were violently forced from their homes and dispossessed of their ancestral lands as part of a government plan to reduce deforestation. The Sengwer people were moved without being consulted, and never consented to the plans for their removal – a violation of both Kenyan and international law. The world’s 370 million Indigenous Peoples make up less than 5% of the total human population but manage over 25% of the world’s land surface and support about 80% of the global biodiversity. Extra pressure in the form of ‘doing good’ from overseas can exacerbate their persecution and expedite ecosystem degradation, rather than the opposite. Climate justice requires an in-depth understanding of the needs of local peoples, and offsetting schemes often do not have this knowledge. Saving the planet cannot come at the cost of the people living on it.

Theoretically, so long as local people are consulted and suitable regions identified for reforestation, tree planting can have positive effects, but only if the right species are used. Many of the trees being planted are monocultures of fast-growing species – useful for carbon sequestration, but provide next to no ecosystem benefits. Biodiversity, or species richness, is crucially important for the success of these projects, provided the species are of local origin and not invasive. Regardless, a large body of literature shows that even the best planned forest restoration projects are unlikely to fully recover the biodiversity of intact forest, which in many cases have taken thousands of years to establish. This shows the importance of preserving what forest we have left, and only reforesting in addition to other measures to address the key causes of deforestation. Prevention is better than cure. 


It is evident that our forests are crucially important to the survival of our planet, and the rate at which we are deforesting the planet, many things need to be done to preserve what we have left and restore what we have broken. Tree-planting carbon offset schemes, however, have limitations due to intrinsic factors, such as how slowly trees grow, to their impact on local communities and species diversity. 

When choosing a carbon offsetting scheme, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I doing this to offset guilt as much as carbon? Could/should I avoid doing this polluting activity in the first place?
  • Are the trees native and will they support biodiversity?
  • How long before the trees will absorb the amount of CO2 that the organisation promises? Will they be protected for the decades it takes?
  • Who is planting the trees? Are they being paid/treated fairly?
  • Who is encouraging this offset? If it is an oil or gas company or an airline, think about why they are doing this and what you can do to reduce fossil fuel use in the first place.
  • Look for projects supported by the Gold Standard to quantify and certify impact in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
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Recyclable, compostable, biodegradable — the lowdown on eco-plastics

It is estimated that people in the UK use 5m tonnes of plastic every year, around half of which is single-use. Recently, however, there has been a rise in alternative packaging options, from bio plastics, to compostable plastics, to plastic alternatives, such as glass and metal. 

Single use plastics are problematic because they are notoriously difficult to recycle, and because we make so much of it. We create around 300m tonnes of plastic waste each year with 5m to 14m tonnes of that ending up in the ocean. Because of the sheer amount we produce, plastic is everywhere, from the top of Mount Everest, to the Mariana Trench, to our own drinking water

Is plastic recyclable?

Plastic is a whole category of materials, and only a few types (PET and HDPE) are easily recyclable in most areas. Contrary to aluminium, however, which is infinitely recyclable, plastics can only be recycled a limited number of times. Because of this, and the fact that virgin plastics often have to be added to reuse recycled plastics, they’re usually downcycled, limiting their lifespan. But, theoretically, the above types of plastic are recyclable, if only a limited number of times. 

Other types of plastic, such as LDPE (thin film plastics) are extremely difficult to recycle, and in most cases should not be put in curbside recycling, as it can damage recycling plants. Putting these into the recycling bin can do more harm than good, as they can clog up recycling machines, and the people at the plants have to pay to have them removed, further lowering the profitability of recycling. Some film plastics, such as plastic bags, bread packaging, frozen food bags, some crisp packets etc can be recycled at specialist recycling centres. The best thing to do with these (if they are unable to be reused) is to store them up and then take them to large supermarkets for recycling. More and more supermarket chains in the UK provide this, so take a look next time you go!

The alternatives

Needless to say, these are not perfect solutions, with the amount of single use plastic still at a historical high. However, the use of ‘alternative plastics’ has exploded in recent years, with ‘bioplastic’ production set to quadruple between 2016 and 2021. So what are these alternative plastics, and are they better than our current solutions?

There are lots of varieties of alternative plastic, with more being made each day. There are two key labels – bioplastic and compostable – that many put on their packaging as evidence of their ‘greener’ nature. However, the environmental thinktank Green Alliance suggested there was evidence that by using terms such as ‘biodegradable’, customers were more likely to discard items into the environment, making pollution on land and at sea even worse.

Bioplastics are a diverse group of materials, and the term has several meanings. They can be made from plant-based sources such as starch, oils, cellulose etc., but are not necessarily biodegradable. These ‘bio’ building blocks can be used to create non-biodegradable plastics that behave in exactly the same way as conventional plastics – just because ‘bio’ is in the name does not mean it is biodegradable. Coca Cola’s PlantBottle, for example, though partly derived from sugarcane, is chemically identical to hard-to-breakdown PET bottles. So, it can be recycled, but it won’t break down for centuries if placed in compost. Equally, the term bioplastic can refer to plastics created from fossil fuels which are made to be biodegradable. The term is used for a wide range of materials that do not necessarily all behave in the same way – see the graph below (WRAP).

Then we have compostable plastics. Thankfully, there is an industry standard that plastics must meet to be deemed ‘compostable,’ which ensures they can decompose/biodegrade in industrial composting conditions. Not all biodegradable plastics are compostable, but all compostable plastics are biodegradable, in the right conditions. What this does not mean is that they can be placed in household composting – these products must be specifically labelled ‘home compostable’. If placed in the wrong bins, these plastics could do more harm than good. Vegware, for example, must be composted industrially for it to biodegrade. It cannot be recycled, and will not biodegrade in your home compost. If you can’t send it to be industrially composted, it should be placed in your normal landfill bin.

Because of this, many of these alternative plastics are best limited to closed environments where post-use collection is possible, e.g. in a restaurant, university etc. Otherwise, they’re no better (perhaps even worse!) than conventional, recyclable plastic. Any plastic that evades appropriate collection and treatment systems and instead makes its way into the environment has the potential to have long-lasting negative impacts. Jo Ruxton, cofounder of Plastic Oceans, shares that even biodegradable plastics can take years to break down at sea. “They can be mistaken for food and ingested, they can entangle animals. They can do everything that plastic does – they just don’t last as long.”

What are the solutions?

As always, reducing plastic consumption is the first step to solving the problem. If you have less waste, you don’t have to worry about which bin it can go into. Producing more single use alternative plastics will only exacerbate the problem, contributing to our single-use lifestyle and adding to the confusion. See if you can opt for circular schemes, such as Loop, and refillable models. 

Reusing plastics is the next best option. Butter tubs can be useful for storing wires, screws and other miscellaneous goods. Bread bags are great to use instead of new ziplock bags or sandwich bags. Plastic bags can be reused again and again for shopping. Make sure every item has the longest life possible before making its way to your bin. 

Recycle the plastics you can recycle, compost the ones that you can compost and make sure everything else makes its way safely to your bin – do not let it get into the environment! 

Beyond this, it’s important to push companies to create less waste to begin with. If you have a company you love, send them an email to let them know that you’d love to see them move away from single use plastic packaging. Check out the Break Free From Plastic campaign and Plastic Patrol, who are working to hold brands accountable for the waste they produce. Use your voice and your vote to influence governments. 

There is a lot we can do individually to enforce change, both at home and country-wide, and it starts with individual action. Knowledge is power, so share this article with others so that together we can have a profound impact on the environment around us. 

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Everything you need to know about eating seasonally

As we inch towards spring here in the UK, we move ever closer to the ‘Hungry Gap’, a time that spans much of the spring where there is little to no fresh produce available to harvest. Winter-harvested vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes, kale, turnips and swede have all been harvested, and spring crops such as asparagus and broad beans are yet to come through. There is a reason British-grown asparagus is seen as a sign of the warmer days – it is one of the earliest spring vegetables to be harvested.

Despite its limitations, seasonal eating is making a comeback, with multiple companies dedicated to delivering fresh, local produce to your door and many people willing to spend considerably more for locally produced, seasonal food. There does, however, seem to be a divide between those looking to shop seasonally, and everyone else. A survey by the BBC suggested that whilst 78% of Brits claim to shop seasonally, only 5% could name when blackberries ripen in the UK. In addition, it seems not all of us are even aware what ‘seasonal’ and ‘local’ means anymore, so where do we begin, and what are the benefits?

According to Wikipedia, “Seasonal food refers to the times of year when the harvest or the flavour of a given type food is at its peak. This is usually the time when the item is harvested, with some exceptions; an example being sweet potatoes which are best eaten quite a while after harvest”. Seasonal produce tends to be foods grown ‘locally’ at the time of year that they have traditionally been abundant, without the aid of artificial heating.

Arguments for seasonal eating include better tasting produce, more nutrients, supporting the local economy, reducing environmental footprint and paying less for food. Food systems are complex though, and not all of these factors stand up to scrutiny. For example, depending what you’re looking to buy, it may be more environmentally friendly to transport (by road) some fruit and vegetables from Europe, due to the warmer growing conditions negating the use for artificially heated greenhouses. Thankfully, the energy demand for UK grown vegetables is generally lower than their imported equivalents, aside from a few notable exceptions, such as aubergines, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes which are often grown in heated greenhouses in the UK.

Despite the complexity of our food systems, it can be good to support local farmers and the produce they produce. If you are also buying from small farms, you’re likely to get a variety of produce you might not find at your local supermarket. Buying from local farms may also help boost the economy in the area – important especially at a time like now, where many are struggling


When eating raw/fresh produce, local and seasonal vegetables may taste noticeably better and may even be more nutritious. Foods that are able to be picked when fully ripened (as opposed to harvested early so they can be transported further) may be higher in nutrients, and thus have a better flavour. If you are eating a lot of foods raw or unflavoured, this difference in flavour alone may mean it is worth picking up local produce over imports.

Cabbage, celery and Brussel sprouts are the most sustainable UK produce you can eat, and should always be consumed in season if possible. Aside from that, importing vegetables grown in unheated greenhouses in Europe has a lower impact than UK vegetables cultivated in heated greenhouses (e.g. aubergines, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes), despite the transportation – so if you are eating produce out of season, make sure you know how it was grown. If there’s the chance it was grown in a heated greenhouse, it may be better to opt for food grown in Europe that has been transported to the UK by road.

Air freighted vegetables have around a five times higher impact than domestic produce, so in the case of a choice between locally produced vegetables and those air freighted, always choose local produce.

It is important to bear in mind that despite all these variables, eating vegetables is always more environmentally friendly than eating red meat when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, and the confusing nature of food labels should not put you off eating a mostly plant-based or diet. It can be easy to become bogged down in the specific of in season or local produce vs importation, but there are a few changes you can make to your diet that will have far bigger impacts in the long run. For example, plant-based diets are the best suited to fight climate change, so if you eat a lot of red meat, cutting down will have a far bigger impact environmentally than purely eating locally.

In addition, food waste is one of the worst culprits for increasing food impact on our environment. Reducing food waste overall, rather than focussing on purely buying local produce, may have more of a beneficial impact on our environment. 4.2 million tonnes of avoidable food and drink is wasted each year in UK households, worth £12.5 billion.

In conclusion, there are many benefits to eating local. Eating food in season may taste better and be more environmentally friendly, but even more importantly, it can help support local farmers and their families, support the local economy and may even introduce you to produce you’d never see in your local supermarket.

However, there are other ways in which you could have a greater impact when it comes to carbon emissions and environmental impact. Moving to a more plant-based diet and reducing food waste overall will help you see the greatest reduction to your environmental impact!

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5 trainer brands pioneering circular footwear

Circularity in fashion is not a new concept. In fact, prior to fast fashion becoming the status quo, the fashion industry was considerably more circular. Clothing formed a long-lasting partnership with the wearer’s wardrobe, being altered, fixed, tailored and passed on to others before ever being thrown out. With the rise of fast fashion came the idea that clothes were disposable items, to be worn – an average of just 7 times here in the UK – and then chucked. If your clothes cost less than your average lunchtime meal, it is no wonder we hardly expect them to last any longer.

A linear economy, such as the one we currently have, follows the ‘take, make, dispose’ blueprint. Raw materials are extracted and resources used to make a product, which serves a purpose and then is disposed of.

With its disposal, all the raw materials and resources are lost – an estimated $500 billion worth of textiles each year. The only way to make money in this system is to sell as many items as possible, and pay as little as possible for the resources used to make them. In this way we have created a positive feedback loop of low value items and disposability, where one leads to the other.

A circular economy, contrary to the above, maintains the value of items long after their initial purpose. The blueprint is ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, where fewer resources are used because resources already in use (e.g. in the form of clothes) are reformed and reused again and again. In this system, value is created by maintaining products in the system – reusing and recycling – and minimising the raw materials required.

When it comes to circular fashion, one area that is lagging is shoes, possibly due in part to the lack of desirability of second-hand shoes. In the EU alone, 1.2 million tonnes of shoes are thrown out each year. In the UK, around 15% of waste shoes are reused (e.g. via charity shops), and the remaining 85% are sent to landfill. Another reason they are not frequently recycled and repurposed is due to their complex material makeup – shoes are generally made from a mix of materials. Rubber or EVA foam soles, leather uppers, plastic stitching – the list goes on. In fact, shoes can be made of up to 40 different types of material stitched or glued together, making them notoriously difficult to recycle.

Part of the problem is that brands and consumers don’t consider the full lifecycle of clothing and shoes; post-consumer life is rarely considered in the design process, leading to designs that are impossible to repair or recycle, severely truncating their potential useful life. By incorporating reparability and recyclability into the design process, the economy will be free to move in the circular direction, thereby making use of the vast quantities of wasted resources landfilled each year. The alternative is to produce shoes that are made from sustainably sourced materials and biodegradable, meaning that at the end of their life they can at least not contribute to landfill waste.

These are fundamentally different models to the current linear economy and will take some pushing to become the norm. However, there are some brands leading the way in sustainable footwear!


Another brand that performs a full lifecycle assessment to measure the full impact of their shoes is Hylo. The various materials used in Hylo’s trainers are all natural and plastic-free, meaning that theoretically they could biodegrade. Rather than recommending this, however, Hylo provide a returns service (in return for a £10 voucher) in order to have shoes broken down into new Hylo products – the ultimate circularity. The company is also carbon negative. As a relatively new company, the proof will be in the pudding and it remains to be seen if 100% recyclability of these shoes is viable.


Adidas’ Ultraboost DNA Loop trainers are a concept style made from 100% recyclable TPU material designed to be returned at the end of their life to be recycled into new trainers. Its creation from one material means that it is much easier to recycle than other shoes. This design is merely a concept shoe made to dip a toe into the waters of circularity, but its creation does beg the question: if creating such a shoe that performs well, is economically viable and has end of life options is possible, then why is this not the modus operandi for all of Adidas’ shoes? Or indeed all shoes ever?


Another ‘sustainability-lite’ option similar to Adidas, Salomon are releasing a 100% recyclable shoe called Index.01 that, at the end of its useful life, can be returned for free to be upcycled into Salomon ski boots. This is a great concept as it provides evidence that it is possible to create a high-performance shoe that is 100% recyclable – not just able to be downcycled – and presumably profitable. However, it raised the same question as above: why only one style? Will this technology be rolled out to other styles? If it proves profitable, will it be rolled out across other ranges, or is it merely a way of dipping a toe into the sustainability space? Only time will tell, but it’s a promising start.


US-based Thousand Fell takes a materials-first approach to making trainers, focusing on using materials that can biodegrade or be recycled. They have also partnered with Terracycle so that unwanted and worn-out shoes can be broken down into their component parts to make recycled raw materials, ready to be made into new shoes again. Some materials are downcycled, but nothing is sent to landfill, thereby creating a circular system where materials are used and reused continually. Again, as a company that launched in late 2019, it’ll be interesting to see whether the environmental credentials hold up a few years in, but it looks promising so far!


Nothing New Shoes launched in 2019, and do what they say on the box – the shoes are made from recycled materials, reducing the need for virgin materials. Using recycled post-consumer plastics, recycled fishing nets, recycled cotton and cork, the shoes are primarily made from sustainable materials built to last. At the end of their life, send them back. They’ll get partially recycled or sent to charity in return for $20 store credit.

It’s interesting to note that the vast majority of these footwear brands are only producing more sustainable footwear in recent years. As the main premise of circularity is that it requires customers to send products back, we will only be able to see the true impact of these brands in the coming years. We find ourselves in a space of limbo, albeit it with a lot of hope, while we wait to see whether consumer behaviour (i.e. returning shoes once they break) can match up perfectly to the technology of recycling and reusing. And, of course, whether the brands view it as an economically beneficial route to pursue.

Ultimately, it is both our demand for new items, and the ways in which we create them that is problematic. Frequently buying from sustainable brands won’t solve our climate crisis, nor will infrequently buying fast fashion items, if they ultimately end up in landfill. What we need is a mindset shift away from the disposable clothing model, in line with principles of circular fashion. Reduce, reuse and recycle all need to be co-opted by brands and individuals alike, from reducing the amount we buy, to calling for better material use and demanding end of life options from brands, to voting for governments who will implement systems that allow brands to become better.


Ultimately, it is both our demand for new items, and the ways in which we create them that is problematic. Frequently buying from sustainable brands won’t solve our climate crisis, nor will infrequently buying fast fashion items, if they ultimately end up in landfill.

What we need is a mindset shift away from the disposable clothing model, in line with principles of circular fashion. Reduce, reuse and recycle all need to be co-opted by brands and individuals alike, from reducing the amount we buy, to calling for better material use and demanding end of life options from brands, to voting for governments who will implement systems that allow brands to become better.

Ultimately, we need to create a model that benefits those moving to a circular production system more than those exploiting the linear one we currently have in place. Until we provide economic incentives to move towards to circularity, it will be difficult for those attempting a more sustainable model to ever get a foothold in the industry.

And as individuals we must play our part by buying only what we need, mending what we own and supporting brands that are leading the way in truly sustainable footwear. The options are out there, you just have to do a little legwork to find them. And in sustainable shoes, that should be a little more comfortable.

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How sustainable is your tea?

Tea is the most commonly drunk beverage in the world, with an origin story dating back to 2737BC, when some Camellia leaves allegedly fell into a vat of boiling water. According to the FAO, approximately 5.1 million tonnes of tea are produced every year, with over 1.8 million of this being exported

Due to the growing conditions required by the plants used to make tea, the majority of the tea producing countries are located in the continent of Asia where China, India, Sri Lanka are the biggest producers. African tea growing countries are located mostly around the tropical regions with Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda being the major producers –most of our tea in the UK comes from East Africa.

As with the world of fast fashion, the locations of these producers leave them vulnerable to human rights abuses, and the sheer quantity of tea grown for consumption and exportation leaves a big question mark around the sustainability costs for our planet. 

So, with over 100 million cups of tea being consumed each day in the UK, what are the issues, and how can we ensure that our tea is as sustainable and ethical as possible?


Working conditions for tea pickers is often poor, with low wages, low income security and high levels of discrimination along ethnic and gender lines. Sometimes conditions are unsafe, both to work and live in – some pickers live on site – and unionisation is hard when there are so many workers are temporary/agency workers, who are unable to be represented. Because of this, it’s hard to work to improve conditions from the bottom up, but equally, with opaque and complex supply chains, improving things from the buyer’s end is hard too.  

Many tea-pickers are women, meaning their conditions are often in direct contradiction to some of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Goal 4 is quality education, 5 is gender equality and 10 reduced inequalities and discrimination. Research has found that there are high levels of illiteracy among female plantation workers, thanks in part to cultural negligence of girls’ education, early marriages and lack of infrastructure, and discrimination against female workers.  

Globally, the price of tea is being driven down, with the price of fresh tea leaves often below the cost of their production, leaving smallhold farmers struggling to raise wages and improve conditions. 90% of the tea traded in Europe and North America is bought by 7 companies: Tata, Unilever, Associated British Foods, Van Rees, James Finlay, Teekanne and Ostfriesische Tee Gesellschaft. Some of these companies, namely Tata, have been caught up in many unsavoury deals, such as arms deals, which makes their products, such as Tetley and Teapigs worth avoiding

Wages on many tea plantations is far below the locally agreed minimum, especially in India, where working conditions are a hangover from colonial rule. Wages are often provided ‘in kind’ in the form of housing, healthcare and food, although in reality often workers are forced to pay for these things too, despite the Plantations Labour Act of 1951. Because of this, the workers are trapped in a system whereby they cannot leave plantations as they would also lose their homes, and may be left owing money – this is essentially a form of bonded labour, or slavery.


The sustainability of tea is dependent on many factors, with packaging being the largest factor in the carbon emissions of tea, matched by the type of milk you use. In terms of energy use, however, the biggest emitter is simply boiling the kettle, with overfilling reducing the sustainability of your daily cup of tea considerably. However, the biodiversity implications of habitat conversion, degradation and pesticide use cannot be ignored either – as with many food items, the way tea is grown can vastly reduce local biodiversity.

In addition, while the teabags are generally considered compostable, the majority of those sold are only 70 to 80% biodegradable because they contain plastic used to seal them. This also contributes to the release of microplastics, which are promptly ingested along with the tea in levels significantly higher than previously recorded in foods, especially where high-content plastic teabags are used. According to one study, steeping a single plastic teabag at brewing temperature (95 °C) releases approximately 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into a single cup of the beverage.

While the health impacts of microplastics are not yet fully realised, what is certain is that plastic teabags are significantly more environmentally harmful than their paper counterparts, in part due to the use of non renewable resources in their production, and in part due to their inability to decompose, contributing to landfill and further releases of microplastics into local waterways, impacting ecosystems.


It shouldn’t be so hard to have a sustainable and ethically sourced cup of tea, but there are a few things you should look for and do when you shop and next make your tea.

  • Buy tea that is certified by Fairtrade. Although this does not guarantee better conditions for workers, there is the potential that paying a fair price for tea will trickle down to benefit workers. 
  • Look for organic tea. It does ensure no pesticides are used, which is beneficial for local wildlife.
  • Buy 100% biodegradable teabags or loose-leaf tea, and compost the remains, or dispose of it in your food-waste bin.
  • Don’t overfill your kettle – boiling too much water can double the carbon emissions of your cup of tea. Only boil the exact amount you need.
  • Look for companies that are transparent about their sourcing – do you know where the tea is from? 
  • Take a look at Ethical Consumer’s score table, listing major tea brands and rating them on their sustainability and ethical credentials.  Avoid teas towards the bottom of the list.

It’s not easy for us, as consumers, to know everything about the tea we drink, or in reality many of the things we consume day to day.

However, by engaging in learning more about who grows, process, packages and buys the produce we consume, we can start to demand more transparency from brands and better standards for everyone involved.

We did some digging and these are tea brands we like & trust: PukkaYogiArt of TeaKusmi! Enjoy a cup of tea and let us know which one you picked!

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A guide to eco-friendly gift wrapping

The Christmas season is an exciting one, but it’s also one of excess and waste, especially when it comes to food and gifts. Much of this is sadly sent to landfill, releasing methane gas as it slowly decomposes, contributing to climate change. A lot of the wrapping paper we now use isn’t even recyclable, thanks to the pretty glitter, shiny texture or metallic detailing, and those that are recyclable often end up in landfill regardless. You can tell whether yours is by scrunching it up – if it springs back, it likely isn’t recyclable, probably due to a plastic coasting. If it stays firmly scrunched, it may be recyclable, but keep an eye out for glitter and metallic detailing, which clog up recycling plants, and thus aren’t able to be recycled

According to the waste-collection service Biffa, in the UK we produce around 30% more waste over the festive season. In 2016, Brits threw away 227,000 miles worth of wrapping paper, more than enough to stretch to the moon! And when it comes to Christmas cards, if we placed all our Christmas cards alongside each other, they would stretch around the world 500 times. When thinking about the world as a whole, that is an almost unimaginably large amount of waste.

There are many ways to reduce waste at Christmas, but one major way is by paying more attention to the way we wrap our Christmas presents. Buying from small, sustainable brands is likely to also reduce the amount of packaging on a present before you wrap it, and is a good place to start. After choosing your sustainable gifts, check out these more eco-friendly wrapping ideas.

  1. Newspaper. Many of us have a lot of newspaper lying around, and it makes great wrapping paper, reducing waste in multiple ways. It also makes for interesting reading during the unwrapping process! Although maybe not if it’s from this year…
  2. Try these wrapping bags by British designer Giles Deacon.
  3. Old packaging. If you receive lots of parcels or gifts throughout the year, save up the packaging to wrap your Christmas presents in. Crepe paper makes for pretty wrapping and saves you throwing it out too!
  4. If other people use wrapping paper at Christmas, ask them to carefully open their presents so you can collect it and use it next year – the longer the life of the paper, the less wasteful it is. 
  5. If you are keen to use wrapping paper, use recycled and recyclable options over anything else. Make sure it is FSC certified if not recycled so you know it is sourced responsibly. This is not as good as using none at all, but reduces waste. 
  6. Try Furoshiki, the Japanese tradition of using cloths rather than paper to wrap presents. This allows for the recipient to reuse the cloths too, and looks beautiful. Leave a little note on the gift so they know to keep the wrapping for future gifts. Check the ones we have from FabRap.
  7. Check out Etsy’s reusable gift wrapping section – this way you can support independent sellers too. 
  8. Use a reusable gift-bag. Most shops will offer these, and they save you painstakingly wrapping up presents. They also look great and festive, so the perfect option if you’re looking for something a little glam.
  9. Send e-cards. While not strictly gift wrapping, card giving is disappointingly un-eco-friendly. The Royal Mail estimates at least 1 billion cards are thrown out after Christmas. Opting for sites such as Paperless Post (which are often free) reduces waste and is quick and easy too – you can even choose the date you want the ‘card’ delivered to their inbox.
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How to small (and sustainable) this Christmas

In the lead up to Christmas, many people’s minds jump straight to shopping. Decorating, mealtimes, gifts – the average UK household spends an extra £800 in the leadup to Christmas, providing a much-needed boost to the economy. This year especially, Christmas spending is sorely needed by many businesses, especially smaller ones. Almost 2/3 of small businesses in the UK report that the very existence of their business is under threat due to a slump in trade this year, putting 16.6 million jobs at risk. Small businesses contribute 52% of the £2.2tn turnover generated by the private sector and employ 60% of all private sector workers, so a threat to small businesses is a threat to our economy and countless communities too. 

It’s always important to support small and local businesses, and this year Christmas is a great opportunity to put your money where your mouth is. Many of these businesses are also more sustainable, meaning that your presents can have a small impact on the planet, while having a large impact on local communities. 

So, why should we support small businesses this Christmas (and always!)?
  1. They make a positive impact on the local economy. Small, local businesses encourage local spending and for other businesses to open in the area, drawing more entrepreneurship in and boosting local development. This helps the whole local community prosper and benefits local residents.
  2. Job creation. Small businesses create local jobs – as of 2015, US small businesses employed 58 million people, or 48% of the private workforce. In the UK this is even higher, at 61%. Local businesses help employ and train up local residents of all ages.
  3. They are more sustainable. Many small and local businesses have, by their very nature, more sustainable practices than massive corporations. This may be due to a shorter manufacturer to consumer journey, reducing pollution from transport, and improving transparency about ingredients and manufacture methods. They may produce goods in small batches and source local ingredients too. This isn’t always the case though, so make sure to enquire!
  4. You make a difference to someone’s life. Shopping at Amazon may be convenient, but how much does your money make a difference? By shopping locally and at small businesses, your custom helps support someone doing what they love. It puts food on the table and helps their family – that’s something you can feel good about!
  5. Better customer-consumer relationship. It is hard (or even impossible) to form a good relationship to a faceless corporation, but shopping local and small businesses can be incredibly rewarding, as you can get to know the people who run the business. 
So now we know the benefits of shopping local, how can we better support these businesses?
  1. Buy gift cards. If you’re not sure what to purchase someone as a gift, get a gift card to your favourite small business instead. This means the shop is guaranteed your custom, and it also means you introduce someone else to that shop!
  2. Support them on social media. Without large marketing budgets, small businesses are often unable to get the reach they deserve. Social media is a great way for these businesses to reach more potential customers, and by following, liking, saving and sharing online, you’re helping them do what can be an extremely difficult job. This is also free so even if you can’t afford their products, you can still support them this way!
  3. Find small business collectives – online collectives share a range of hand-picked small businesses, where you can find lots of different items. Know the Origin is a collective of brands that promote sustainability and transparency.
  4.  Shop Black-owned businesses. Black-owned businesses are more likely to hire from local communities, and provide a trickle-down effect on local area, benefitting everyone. People from minority ethnic groups, particularly black African, black Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi minorities, face much higher risks of unemployment and have much lower levels of earnings than do their white British counterparts over the life course. Support these communities by looking at Jamii, a collective of small, Black-owned brands.
  5. Write a positive review. Many brands and businesses rely on word of mouth for their custom, and online review sites like Trustpilot and Google reviews can spread the word even further. If you had a good experience, leave them a nice review – it helps more than you know!

As you can see, there are so many ways to support local and small businesses this Christmas. When you buy from them, you make an individual very happy, and when you buy a gift for someone else, you’re spreading that joy even further! What are your top tips for supporting small and local businesses? Are you shopping local this Christmas? 

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Fashion’s waste problem: a sea of synthetic fibres & chemicals

Recently we delved into fashion’s waste problem and the innovators looking to change it. We have seen that the fashion industry has exploded in recent decades, and demand for new clothes has led to a surplus of waste fabrics at every stage of production, from factory offcuts to post-consumer waste in landfills.

However, waste comes in many forms, and the process of producing clothes leads to a lot of it in every conceivable manner. The source of water pollution and waste in the fashion industry is threefold – large amounts of fertiliser to grow crops for clothes, chemicals used to treat clothes and microfibres released once those clothes are washed. The textiles industry relies mostly on non-renewable resources – 98 million tonnes in total per year – including oil to produce synthetic fibres, fertilisers to grow cotton, and chemicals to produce, dye, and finish fibres and textiles. The fashion industry also contributes to 20% of wastewater production globally, polluting waterways and damaging ecosystems.

This extensive use of hazardous substances in textile production has negative effects not only on local wildlife but also the farmers that harvest the raw materials, factory workers who work them, and locals whose environments are permanently polluted. Unfortunately, there is a lack of knowledge or research into the sheer volume of hazardous chemicals that are used in the textile industry. Sadly, as with so many industries where labour is outsourced to other countries, especially the Global South, out of sight really does mean out of mind. Despite growing concerns raised by NGOs, the public, policymakers, and across the textiles value chain itself, there is very low transparency on the chemicals used across the industry, making the true scale of the pollution – and its associated economic, environmental, and societal impacts – difficult to evaluate. Improving knowledge of what goes into our clothes and how we can better choose what we buy is vital to changing this.


Annually, 43 million tonnes of 8000 different types of chemical are used to produce textiles. However, there is a remarkable lack of understanding about the chemicals that go into textile production and the effects they have. Despite this, many have been found to be carcinogenic or hormone-disrupting, likely harmful to the factory workers who are in contact with them on a daily basis and the waterways into which they are disposed. Many of the chemicals are also known to bio-accumulate: they become more concentrated over time in the environment, posing increasingly greater risks the longer they are in the environment.

Substances used in the production of clothes often stay in the clothes after they are made and sold, meaning that they work their way to the consumer too. Not only does this spread the issue of water contamination far and wide, but also has led to reports of allergic reactions, respiratory diseases and loss of aquatic life. Needless to say, it is in everyone’s best interest to better understand and then better control what substances are used in the making of our clothes. A 2017 report estimates that eliminating today’s negative health impacts due to poor chemicals management in the industry would have an economic benefit of EUR 7 billion (USD 8 billion) annually.


Synthetic clothes also release microfibres when they are washed and as we buy an increasing volume of synthetic fibres, this issue intensifies. It has been estimated that around half a million tonnes of microfibres are released into waterways during the washing of plastic-based textiles each year. This is a preventable problem – filters built in to washing machines could trap the majority of these, to be disposed of safely – but this would take legislative change that governments don’t seem willing to make.

As the use of synthetic fibres such as polyester (which currently makes up 60% of fibres used in clothing) grows, not only will we perpetuate the demand for fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources, we will also contribute increasingly to a non-biodegradable environmental disaster in our oceans and waterways. As with many chemicals, microplastics such as these are persistent in the environment (they take a long time to break down), and accumulate up the food chain, leading to deaths of animals such as seabirds, whales and dolphins by starvation – they fill the stomach but provide no actual nutrients, leading to death or severe illness.


Buy less, buy better
The best thing to do to reduce your contribution to fashion waste is to buy as infrequently as possible and use what you already have. Buy second-hand and from sustainable brands, or swap clothes with friends. Only by reducing the demand for clothes can we reduce the amount created.

Look for accreditations such as OEKO-TEX and GOTS
There are some accreditations that offer third-party auditing of supply chains to ensure only non-harmful dyes and treatments are used. Two of the best known are OEKO-TEX and GOTS. These often also look as social criteria and set ethical standards too, so you know clothes with these are likely made with ethics and sustainability in mind.

Avoid synthetic clothing
Organic cotton and linen are not without their own issues, but these products avoid the use of excessive chemicals in their production and have the added benefit of not releasing microfibres when placed in the wash.

Use a Guppyfriend bag
If you have a lot of synthetic clothing, such as sportswear, that you wash regularly, invest in a filter for your washing machine. One of the most effective is Guppyfriend, a bag to place your laundry in that will collect microfibres released from your clothes to be safely disposed on in landfill, instead of being released into waterways.

Campaign and lobby brands
Many brands get away with having no transparency and poor working conditions. Campaigners and groups such as Fashion Revolution have forced brands to improve transparency and have led to changes in the clothing production process. Use your voice on social media and via letters and petitions to force brands to be open about who their workers are, how they’re treated and what working conditions are like. Avoid brands that are resistant.

There is a lot we can do individually, but without legislative changes (e.g. banning the use of certain chemicals, introducing filters on washing machines etc), there’s only so much that will happen. Many of us are privileged enough to spend more to shop with sustainable brands, but that isn’t the case for everyone. Voting for a government who will hold brands and businesses to account when it comes to their environmental footprint will have far more impact than individual action.

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The health impacts of pollution and how you can avoid them

The World Health Organisation and the UK Government recognise air pollution to be the largest environmental health risk we face today. While plastic pollution has been front and centre of recent pollution concerns (with good reason), this other insidious and oft overlooked type of pollution continues to cause deaths around the world.

With Coronavirus top of the health agenda, many other health concerns have been pushed aside, especially those we cannot see, such as the air we breathe. Air pollution has caused more deaths than COVID this year, and yet the issue has been easily ignored by the world’s politicians. This is not to downplay the impact of COVID or to compare the two concerns, but more to raise awareness of the sheer number of deaths that continue to occur year on year due to pollution and its related diseases.

Those most impacted by pollution (MAPA – most affected people and areas) are often those least contributing to the problem globally, specifically those with lower socioeconomic status (SES). Unfortunately, the impacts of environmental health hazards such as air pollution continue to disproportionately affect those from lower SES communities, making them disappointingly easy for governments to ignore. When it comes to pollution, young children, adults and households in poverty have the highest levels of exposure, despite there being an inverse relationship between poverty and emissions generation (i.e. people who live in poverty have lower emissions). This is therefore an environmental justice issue and requires a collective global response.

In the UK, pollution is a bigger killer than smoking, and costs the UK economy over £20bn per year. The biggest culprits are Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), emitted mainly by diesel vehicles, and PM2.5, fine particulate matter linked to adverse health effects. In Europe the toxic air is causing more than 1000 premature deaths each day from PM2.5 – a figure which is 10 times higher than the number of deaths from traffic accidents. A recent study by King’s College found that adults living within 50 meters of a busy road parameter had an increased risk of lung cancer by 10%, and children suffered from stunted lung growth by 3-14%. To put this in perspective, around a third of Londoners (about three million people) are thought to live in these high-risk areas. 

Some work is being done, however, to reduce the amount of pollution affecting people around the UK, especially those living in cities. A coalition of 15 health and environment NGOs are calling for legal levels of particulate pollution to be reduced to the limits indicated by the World Health Organization by 2030. At the moment, current UK legal limits for PM2.5 are more than double this, and no political party has committed to bringing levels down to the WHO suggested limit by 2030. Thankfully, studies suggest that pollution levels drop rapidly in response to pollution-reducing measures and events, for example during the 2019 Extinction Rebellion protests, or throughout various Olympic Games. In fact, data collected by Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air suggests that the incidental reduction in pollution at the start of the coronavirus pandemic prevented approximately 15,000 deaths. This gives some hope that any measures implemented to reduce city pollution levels will have immediate beneficial effects even within the space of a number of days. In the meantime, these are a few ways you can reduce your exposure to air pollution.

How can we protect ourselves and others against pollution?

  • Avoid walking streets with heavy traffic – walking even just one block over from main roads can reduce exposure by up to 50%.
  • Take public transport where possible. Fumes inside cars can be significantly higher than just outside the car, thanks to the circulation of fumes around the enclosed space. Taking public transport also reduces heavily polluting private vehicles on roads, reducing overall levels of pollution.
  • If you are moving house, look at the pollution levels where you are moving. Avoid main roads and polluted streets if you have the ability to do so.
  • Switch to a green energy provider and aim to conserve energy where possible. This will reduce overall levels of pollution, and may even save you money!
  • Avoid excessive use of wood burners, fireplaces and candles. As we move into the colder months, fires become larger contributor to wintertime pollution. Reducing wood burning and candles in enclosed spaces reduces their impact on health and pollution levels.
  • Choose to exercise outdoors in the mornings if you will be running busy roads – pollution builds up throughout the day, especially during summer.
  • Aim to walk on tree-lined roads and in parks. Even small amounts of greenery help reduce pollution significantly.
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Fashion has waste problem. Meet the innovators finding solutions

Anyone with half a foot in the sustainability world will be aware of the issues the fashion industry poses.

Over the space of two articles, we will explore the issues present in the fashion industry, from waste to chemicals, and the innovators looking to change it.

In the last 15 years, production rates have doubled in the fashion industry, in part thanks to new attitudes, particularly among the middle classes, towards the value of clothes. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Clothes are cheaper than they have ever been, meaning they are worth less to the consumer, meaning the consumer can generally afford to be more wasteful and buy more, reducing their value further. These has led to a reduction in the amount of time each item is worn by about 40%. The average lifespan of an item of clothing is now just 2.2 years, worn an average of just 7 times.


Wasting clothing is problematic for several reasons. Many types of clothing are created from valuable natural resources, which use energy, space and water to grow. For example cotton, one of the more sustainable fabrics used in our clothing, uses up to 20,000 litres of water for a single t-shirt by some estimates. In fact, nearly 20% of global waste water is produced by the fashion industry.

Needless to say, using up so many natural resources, labour hours and, of course, money for a product simply to be thrown out is immensely wasteful. Much of the clothing we wear nowadays is created using synthetic fibres, which are essentially fossil fuels. Again, wasting these items at any stage of the production process or post-consumer means an increase in non-biodegradable fabrics making their way to landfill, or being incinerated – both of which are harmful to our environment.

The methods of production for any item of clothing can be immensely damaging too, so maximising usage of fabrics and clothing and extending the time it remains out of landfill is in intrinsically beneficial, both to the environment and to us. According to WRAP, £140 million worth of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK each year – that is a lot of wasted resources and money.


So what happens to our clothes after we dispose of them? Unfortunately, in the UK, 73% is burned or sent to landfill. 12% is downcycled into mattresses, cleaning cloths, insulation and other low-value items. Just 1% is upcycled into new clothing – meaning the fashion industry is missing out on a shocking $100bn worth of pure materials each year, as well as the high costs of disposal on top of that. Even the best-performing countries, such as Germany, only reuse around 50% of disposed clothes – the rest may be downcycled or end up in landfill abroad. There is a lot of room for improvement. This is only post-consumer waste, but the consumer is certainly not the only one at fault here. What about pre-consumer?

Pre-consumer waste refers to the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fabric that is wasted at each stage of production before it is purchased by the consumer. This could be surplus material from cutting patterns, surplus stock (brands over order by around 3-10% to avoid running out of stock, other brands burn stock to avoid ‘damaging the brand’) or faulty items from printing/weaving mistakes. Of the 1,100,000 tonnes of fabric wasted in the UK in 2016, 73% of this was pre-consumer, at a huge 800,000 tonnes.

As with many environmental issues, while the onus is often placed on the consumer to make better decisions and be less wasteful, in reality much of the issue lies in holding brands and governments to account.


The sheer amount of fabric, both used and unused, that goes to waste globally is a great business opportunity for many. There are some great examples of brands specifically looking to reduce both pre and post-consumer waste in the industry. Find below some of many examples:

PATAGONIA has a Worn Wear policy that allows customers to send in old clothing to be repaired or replaced as needed. This is a brand that trusts in the longevity of its product and champions fixing items, rather than disposing of them.

NUDIE JEANS, along with multiple other brands, provide free repairs of their jeans, so technically they could last forever. This is the way we should be thinking about all our clothes.

DEPOP has massively capitalised on the second-hand industry, which is projected to grow to nearly 1.5 times the size of the fast fashion industry in the next 10 years. Rather than sending clothes to charity shops (many of which are shipped abroad or end up in landfill), Depop raises the value of second-hand clothing, ensuring a second (or third, or fourth) life. Brighton based brand ILK & ERNIE purchases surplus fabric from the fashion industry to recycle into beautiful clothes (I am obsessed).

MAISONCLEO is based in France and run by a mother-daughter duo. It also sources deadstock fabrics from French Couture houses to create its designs, all of which are hand sewn to order, thereby further reducing waste. Pieces can be tailored to your measurements. Leather’s sustainability credentials are often called into question, but leather brand TRMTAB upcycles waste leather and offcuts into long lasting accessories and shoes, reducing the amount that ends up in landfill.


Increasing garment lifetime is one of the most effective ways of reducing their environmental footprint – simply wearing something for 9 months extra could reduce its carbon, waste and water footprint by 20-30%.

In the UK, we buy more clothes per person than anywhere else in Europe, and five times the amount we bought in the 1980s. Each item of clothing we buy has its own sizeable environmental footprint, and will eventually be added to the massive waste problem that fashion already has.

At the end of a garment’s life, consider fixing the item at your local alterations service. If you still don’t want it, try to sell it or swap with a friend also looking to refresh their wardrobe. Only send to a charity shop if you cannot find someone else who wants it.

Aiming to purchase clothes (when you need them) from sustainable and ethical brands will likely reduce both pre-consumer waste and the overall environmental footprint of your clothing. Put your money where your mouth is – support sustainable brands and encourage other brands to become more sustainable.

As with everything, individual change is important, but not everything. By lobbying governments and voting for candidates that favour environmental causes, big businesses are held responsible for their environmental impact. Ideas such as a 1p levy on garments sold in the UK could raise over £35 million per year to improve textile reuse and recycling facilities. However, ideas such as this need to be implemented by governments to take effect.

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Inside the world’s biodiversity crisis and how you can help

Recently, Netflix released Sir David Attenborough’s newest documentary, A Life On Our Planet, leaving viewers collectively galvanised to make a change. Created in partnership with WWF, the film documents pivotal points in Attenborough’s career, and the changes that have happened to our natural world throughout that time. The documentary came at a good time – 2020 marks the end of the UN Decade of Biodiversity, yet the world has failed to meet a single one of the targets laid out.

Biodiversity was a term that came up again and again in the documentary, as viewers were reminded how biodiversity loss is a huge threat to the planet. In fact, biodiversity loss has been highlighted as 3rd biggest risk to the world both in terms of likelihood and severity this year, ahead of infectious diseases, terror attacks and interstate conflict. Biodiversity is the abundance and variety of life on earth, and humans are entirely dependent on global biodiversity for the air we breath, the food we eat and the water we drink. Almost half of global GDP – around €40 trillion – depends on nature and the services it provides, so its importance cannot be overstated. In Europe alone, biodiversity loss costs the continent around 3% of its GDP each year. The loss of biodiversity has reached unsafe levels across 65% of the world’s land surface – this issue must be brought to the front of global powers’ priorities sooner rather than later.

The recent COVID pandemic has brought to light just how much we rely on biodiversity for our safety and comfort, with scientists positing that the increased incidences of viruses such as Ebola, Bird Flu, Dengue Fever and COVID are exacerbated, if not caused, by biodiversity loss, deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade. In addition, many cures and treatments for such diseases are found or inspired by substances found in the natural world. Without biodiversity, we may lose life-saving treatments for diseases we may not even know about yet. It is important now, more than ever, to understand what it is that causes the loss of biodiversity, and work on bringing it back.

Biodiversity loss is not only an environmental issue, it also impacts upon many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including those tacking food security, poverty, peace, justice and development. As stated by Sir Robert Watson, chair of the IPBES, biodiversity is “a security issue in so far as loss of natural resources, especially in developing countries, can lead to conflict. It is an ethical issue because loss of biodiversity hurts the poorest people, further exacerbating an already inequitable world. And it is also a moral issue, because we should not destroy the living planet.”(Guardian, Nov, 2018). Closer to home, biodiversity in green spaces is inextricably linked to mental health and wellbeing for all of us.


The key driver of biodiversity loss is conversion of land from wild space to agricultural or urbanised land. This is not simply due to population growth, but primarily due to overconsumption and overexploitation of natural resources for the existing population, especially in the world’s richest countries. Factors such as climate change also reduce the resilience of ecosystems to these pressures, increasing the likelihood they will not remain in equilibrium, leading to ecological collapse.

The introduction of invasive species (often accidentally through trade and transport) can also unbalance ecosystems, leading to the demise of others within the same ecological niche. Pollution is the final major cause of biodiversity loss.
Many of these reasons are linked, as they are all to do with the expansion of humanity into all realms of our planet, coupled with the desire for development, growth and increased consumption, often at the cost of the natural world.

Half of Earth’s habitable land is taken up for agricultural use, 77% of which is used for grazing livestock. However, while livestock take up most agricultural land, they only provide 18% of the world’s calories, and 37% of total protein, suggesting this is an inefficient use of space – it takes considerably more land and water to raise cattle (and indeed any animal for human consumption) than to grow almost any vegetable. The exact figures vary vastly depending on the production system, e.g. feedlot vs grass-fed.
Either way, of the 28,000 species threatened with extinction, 24,000 have agriculture listed as a key reason for their demise. Even land that is left for arable farming is used to feed the vast number of livestock we raise – over a third of all crops grown are used to feed livestock rather than humans, and only 55% of the world’s crop calories are directly eaten by people. This is another example to show that population growth is not an issue in and of itself – it is the way we choose to use resources (especially in richer countries) that is problematic


One thing lacking from the Attenborough documentary was a strong call to action. For many viewers, the issues were clearly laid out, but lacked tangible action points. Many watching the documentary will be the greatest contributors to global biodiversity loss – people in rich countries consume up to 10 times more natural resources than those in the poorest countries. And yet, the negative impacts of this are most keenly felt in the poorest countries themselves, once again leading to an environmental justice issue where those least contributing to the problem are those most affected by it, maintaining global inequalities in wealth and quality of life.

Projections suggest that without increasing the land we currently farm, we have enough food to feed an extra 4 billion people, provided we grow food primarily for direct human consumption, rather than feeling the world’s 70 billion livestock. By choosing a more plant-based diet, we can collectively reduce the amount of land needed to feed livestock globally, allowing more food to be used for direct human consumption. In the UK, we eat almost double the world average meat consumption per capita, and two times the protein we actually need, so there is room for a decrease in meat consumption both from an environmental and a health-based point of view. There are some suggestions that a flexiterian/plant-based diet with some animal products in may be more beneficial for the environment than a purely vegan diet (dependent on a number of factors), but what is widely accepted is that in the global north we should all be reducing out meat and dairy consumption, and buying better quality, more ethically and sustainably raised animal-based foods when we do eat them.

Currently, most countries signed up to the Paris Agreement are on track to miss most or all of the targets laid out. Unfortunately, it seems all too easy for governments to prioritise growth and expansion under capitalism than more sustainable long-term goals, such as increasing biodiversity and taxing unsustainable business practises. Alone, we can choose to live as sustainably as we can, but we will never be able to make the change we need without voting in governments who prioritise our environment both within the country and via collaboration across borders. By voting for governments that will prioritise long-term solutions to our biodiversity crisis and lobbying the government we have, we have a chance to make a real change, both close to home and further afield.

There are so many accreditations that claim to certify the sustainability of the clothes we wear, goods we buy and food we eat that it can be hard to know what is reliable and what is not. However, keeping an eye out for accreditations that guarantee the source and cultivation method of a particular object (with the knowledge that they are not infallible) can help you make better decisions when it comes to shopping. Aiming to buy only products that you need and that are sustainably sourced can help lower your environmental impact. Goods such as coffeewoodenfurniture and cotton have vast differences in their biodiversity and environmental impact depending on their growing conditions, so ensure you’re buying ethically and sustainably sourced versions, and only when you need to.

It’s tough to keep track of environmental injustices and governmental mishaps, but by donating to charities and NGOs that have made it their mission to maintain and improve biodiversity in the natural world, you can play a small part in financing the positive steps made possibly by the work of many non-profits. There are plenty of charities to choose from, and each will have its role. Find one that aligns in what you believe is highest priority and if you are able, set up a monthly donation.

There are so many ways in which we can help improve biodiversity at home, within the country and even globally, but it can often feel overwhelming and like a small drop in the ocean compared to the work that really needs to be done. Unfortunately, while global powers prioritise profits over all else, saving the world’s biodiversity is sure to be an uphill battle, but we can only do what we can do. Use your voice, share articles, papers, charities, petitions, vote for who you believe in and we may yet be able to make a change.

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How to avoid food waste in your kitchen

Food waste is a very serious concern globally, with far reaching environment, economic and social effects. 

In the UK, WRAP estimated that around 22% of all food is wasted post-farm-gate. In 2019, this had a value of over £19 billion a year, associated with over 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. The majority (70%) of this is household waste, not hospitality and food service (12%) as often expected. Reducing this waste could save UK households around £700 a year, and provide those without access to regular meals an extra 10bn edible meals each year. To put global food waste into perspective, if it were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the US.

Thankfully, food waste in the UK has reduced since 2007, when large-scale interventions were put in place to raise awareness of food waste and reduce waste across supply chains and in households. Between 2007 and 2018, edible food waste in the UK fell by 21%, although globally the figure is still almost incomprehensibly high, at 1.3bn tonnes globally per year. This is a third of all food produced for human consumption, and enough to feed all the 815 million hungry people in the world four times over.

Every day in UK homes we throw away: 4.4m potatoes, 0.9m bananas, 1.2m tomatoes, 0.7m oranges, 20m slices of bread, 5.2m glasses of milk and 2.2m slices of ham. The majority of this is cause by over-purchasing and over filling plates, and storing items wrong. Despite the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables thrown away, access to these products is still an issue for many. According to charity Food Foundation, as of 2018, 3.7 million children in the UK alone were living in homes unable to afford to eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables each week.

It is important to remember that not everyone has access to the same privileges that could reduce household waste. While poverty leads to an increased need to save as much food as possible, many people living in deprivation may lack the time needed to manage and prepare meals effectively due to juggling multiple jobs and long working hours. Shopping may also be done in bulk, increasing the risk of food spoiling before it is eaten. This is something that’s key to remember when implementing strategies to reduce food waste at home.

However, there are many things we could all be doing to reduce the amount of our food that ends up in landfill. As the majority of food waste in the UK comes from households, it is up to all of us to reduce the amount we personally throw out. Below are some great tips to reduce the amount of waste you produce.

10 ways to help you reduce your food waste

    Plan your shopping to purchase only what is needed, and have regular clear-outs of your cupboards to have a better idea of what you already have. Challenge yourself to use up only what you already have in your cupboards and fridge every so often before buying new items.
    Ignore best-before and try to use before use-by, although many foods are ok after this point too, especially vegetables. Use common sense to avoid throwing out perfectly good foods, and only buy items you know you can use before their use-by date.
    Foods that are able to be frozen should be placed in the freezer before they go off so they can be consumed later on. 
    And experiment with dishes using what you need to use up. It can be fun thinking of new ways to use food! Prioritise using up leftovers over buying new food.
    (or try a ‘waste veg’ veg box, such as Oddbox) This reduces waste before the farm gate, which is a significant proportion of food that is wasted due to size and shape requirements. Some supermarkets provide wonky vegetables at a reduced price.
    (which are most often quite edible), e.g. carrot-top pesto, sauteed beetroot leaves, vegetable broth, roasted potato peels, broccoli stem stir fry, tomato carpaccio etc.
    Fresh herbs go off very quickly, but freezing them retains their flavour and allows you to use them over a longer period of time.
    Many like being refrigerated, while others prefer storing in dark places, and others on the countertop. Keep fruits separated – apples, bananas and pears give off ethylene gas, which ripen fruits around, causing them to go off quicker.
    While not every area provides composting bins, if you are able to do so this significantly reduces the amount of food making its way to landfill, and allows nutrients to be recycled back into the earth.
    Many people can be quite condescending about these options, but in reality frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables reduce waste as they last significantly longer than their fresh alternatives, and you only use the amount you need, when you need it. They also often have higher levels of nutrients, thanks to being frozen immediately after being picked, rather than travelling long distances while fresh.

There are a myriad of ways to use your food so that as little as possible gets wasted. Here in Europe most of us are incredibly lucky to have almost unlimited access to fruit and vegetables everyday, which unfortunately leads to a wasteful attitude, and the 30% food waste figure we see globally. However, much of this is avoidable which just a little rethinking of our shopping and cooking habits. See what you can do this week with your leftovers and ‘waste’ products – you’ll be surprised how far they go!

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5 simple ways to reduce your climate footprint

With so many articles on the subject, sometimes it can feel overwhelming to think about how to have the biggest impact.

A country’s climate footprint is loosely defined as the amount of resources it uses, including the amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by that country. Their carbon footprint, specifically the amount of carbon dioxide released, is often broken down into per capita consumption to see how much each individual is emitting, as obviously larger countries with more people will have a larger footprint if looking as the country as a whole.

If you are reading this piece, you’ll likely have a higher carbon footprint than most of the rest of the world. The UK’s average carbon output per capita is 5.62T, the US is 16.56T and Australia has the highest in the world, at around 17T. For comparison, the global average is around 4.8T (2017). In just under 2.5 days the average American or Australian emits as much as the average Malian or Nigerian does in a year. In order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we must reach ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050. The UK became the first major economy in the world to pass a law committing itself to this target. So far the government has fully achieved only 2 out of the 31 milestones set.

An individual’s carbon footprint is not the sole measure of their climate impact however. Their use of resources, such as consuming clothes, food, plastic etc., has an impact of its own. Behaviours such as recycling have a small impact on carbon emissions, but a much larger impact on reducing waste and conserving resources, which is why they are so important.

Tackling the climate crisis requires a multifaceted approach. Thankfully, we have the information and technologies we need to make a real difference, we just need to implement them in order to prevent more irreversible damage. Much of this can be helped through individual action, but the role of governments and cross-border cooperation such as the Paris Agreement in implementing larger-scale policies cannot be downplayed.

Below are some great steps you can take as an individual to make a real impact on our future.

One of the reasons the UK’s per capita carbon footprint is lower than many comparable countries around the world, is because a much larger proportion of energy produced in the UK is from renewable resources. Switching to a green energy provider not only reduces your carbon footprint, but also allows these companies to expand. The more money we put into green energy globally, the better. As we move into autumn, it’s the perfect time to move over to an energy provider that is not only better for the planet but also potentially better for your wallet too. The UK’s favourites are Bulb and Octopus Energy. The great thing about switching is that once it’s done, other than being sensible about energy usage, it’s not something you have to think about every day, unlike some other lifestyle choices. Switching energy provider takes about 5 minutes, and once it’s done, it’s done!

While many people focus a lot of energy on how they spend their money, aiming to be as sustainable as possible, not many people think about how their money in the bank is being invested. A report was released in 2018 suggesting that the ‘big 5’ UK banks (Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS and Santander) are hindering our efforts to tackle climate change. The report shared that in 2019 alone, banks invested $736 billion in fossil fuels. They also provide financing for companies that exploit natural resources unsustainably, fund tobacco, nuclear weapons and practices such as fracking. By switching to an ethical bank you can remove your money from these investments, instead placing it into projects that make a positive environmental and social impact on the planet. Moving your money to an ethical bank places pressure on mainstream banks to follow suit and clean up their game. If you don’t want to change bank, at least ensure that any investments you make are not funding the fossil fuel industry. Many banks now have ‘ethical investment’ portfolios.

Before we come onto recycling, it is important to remember that reducing consumption and reusing items is absolutely vital if we are to protect the environment. Simply buying second hand and items made from recycled materials, reusing what we already have and passing on unwanted belongings to friends, family and charity shops can significantly reduce the impact those items have on the planet. Reducing consumption is probably the most important of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ – we cannot live in a world where we continue to consume unrenewable resources at the rate we currently do. Before buying something, consider whether you really need it. This is especially important with clothes. If the fashion industry were a country, its emissions would rank almost as highly as the entirety of Europe, and the average item of clothing in the UK has a lifespan of just 2.2 years before being thrown out. Extending this lifespan by just three months would lead to a 5-10% reduction in their carbon, water and waste footprints, and cut resource costs by £2bn. As an incredibly unsustainable industry, it is important we buy only what we need, and ensure that items remain in circulation for as long as possible, before being recycled at the end of their lives. For household goods, aim to purchase refillable options to reduce packaging. Reuse items as long as possible – a glass jar used just twice has half the impact per use than one used just once and then recycled. Only if an item cannot be reused should it be recycled.

Recycling is something taught at many schools, and yet as adults, we seem incapable of remembering to do it on a mass scale. Part of this is because the recycling systems in place in the UK are outdated and often difficult to understand. However, it is still vitally important. The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle is enough to power a lightbulb for four hours. Recycling a plastic bottle would power a bulb for up to six hours, as it takes significantly less energy to create new bottles from recycled materials. Not only does this save energy, it also saves valuable resources, too. All the oil, water and other resources used to make an object are wasted if that product isn’t recycled. Keep the loop closed and minimise landfill waste by recycling everything you can.

While these are all great ways to reduce your individual impact, there is without a doubt the need for systemic change. Without voting for parties who you feel will tackle the climate crisis head on, it is hard to believe that individual chance will be enough to lead to global improvements. However much we reduce the amount we drive, change what we eat and take fewer flights, so long as governmental regulations allow for unsustainable practices in industry, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible to reverse the impact we have had on this planet. Voting is one of the most important things we can all do to reduce the country’s climate footprint.

There are many more things we could and should be doing to reduce our climate footprint, from flying and driving less to switching to a plant-based diet.
The above suggestions are just the start, but can make a great impact with relatively little effort. Individual action counts!

“Use your voice, use your vote, use your choice” – Al Gore.