Since most households spend more each month on food, personal and cleaning products than on electricity, there is a wide scope for behaviour/consumer modifications that can impact our overall energy consumption. Reducing meat consumption, growing your own food, buying local and organic produce can all reduce energy consumption, and improve diets! But household products that we use and buy on a regular basis, like toilet paper, soaps and detergents are all opportunities to chose less energy intensive options. Here are some of my favourite and a few others I have found and want to try.
One of the least energy intensive and well known laundry detergent option is the the eco-ball. It’s a plastic ball, the size of a tennis-ball with a ring around it – think Saturn. They apparently last for hundreds of washings, without the need for any detergent or soap. I’ve always wanted to try them and was going to test them out for the Great Energy Race, but after doing a wee bit of research it seems as though there are three camps – the camp that have used them for years and LOVE them, and the camp that have never heard of them and the camp that thing they are hogwash and no better or worse than just plain water. The same goes for soapnuts. I was all geared up to use test these two options, but after reading the nay-sayers, the scientist in me thought… Hmm, how can a hollow perforated sphere really lower the pH of water, or create surfactant properties. So I decided to stick to my tried and tested version of eco-washing.
Since I live in Scotland, where most of our water is lovely and soft, I really don’t need all that much soap anyhow. I wash my loads with half or less the recommended detergent (at 30C on the reduced time cycle) and don’t seem to notice any lack of washing ability. There are lots of new eco-products on the market, like Ecover (disclaimer: Ecover did send me a lovely care package as an Energy Race finalist, but I already had the habit of buying their products so have a genuine appreciation of them) that are more environmentally friendly than most of the big brands. Then again, if everyone is so happy with the above mentioned products, perhaps I ought to ditch the detergent all together and just use water? Hmmm. But I do enjoy nicely smelling clothes, so some eco fabric softeners can do the trick here, or add a drop of essential oil to the fabric softener drawer.
As a mother of two, I have seen my fair share of stains. I find that little works better than hydrogen peroxide on whites (the best to get bloodstains out, but it can bleach some fabrics), vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda, or some combination of these depending on the stain and type of fabric.
Kitchen and toilet rolls
Question #1, do we really need to be using virgin paper to clean up spills or to wipe bottoms? I have a few options at my nearest supermarket, from recycled paper to bamboo paper rolls. I would love to see a life-cycle analysis of the energy inputs to these two products. But my first instinct is to think that the recycled rolls are likely made more locally to me, and that the bamboo was likely flown in from somewhere nice and warm so perhaps the recycled option is actually better in terms of energy inputs? But I would love to see something looking at the pro’s and con’s of these products. Surely they are both better than super soft virgin paper? The bidet topic is a whole other blog!
For hundreds of years, we’ve been making soap. At it’s most elemental, it’s just lye and fat. Those have always been the basic ingredients more or less. Lots of lovely smells have been added since the olden days, but so too have other ingredients. One of personal pet peeves is antibacterial soap, so forgive my wee rant, but we should all stop buying it, as it’s no better than regular soap, and the “antibacterial” ingredients have the potential to harm our ecosystems and can’t be filtered out of our waste water streams. Plus it’s just an unneeded addition to a simple product.
OK, so there’s the “what’s inside” that needs to be considered, but we can also make energy conscious choices about the form of our products. Do we refill containers, or do we buy new ones with each use of a bottle? Or do we use projects that don’t have bottles? I’ve become a big fan of shampoo bars. There’s no plastic container to recycle, and if you get lovely ones you certainly won’t feel like you’re sacrificing. If you refill or buy bottleless soaps, that’s a heap of plastic that doesn’t need to be manufactured, shipped, and recycled. That’s a hidden energy savings that most people don’t think about! So go out and refill your soap container, or buy a bar of shampoo today!
There is a seemingly endless supply of better options than the supermarket standards out there for most of our home and personal needs. I could devote a daily blog to this topic, covering the options for years! If you are interested and haven’t already heard about her, Janey Lee Grace has a great website and book with a boatload more ideas for ways to make your home more natural, which also makes many of these options less energy intensive too. So win-win!