A friend of mine recently said about being eco-friendly; “It’s more about what you don’t do” and it struck me as a profound message. Particularly as we enter the time of ‘Lent’ when people traditionally give something up for 6 weeks (or ‘don’t do’).
This Lent, help fight the climate crisis, halt biodiversity loss or reduce our waste problem by changing a habit that wasn’t good for Mother Nature, or by doing something that is. Below I’ve outlined 16 ways to help the environment during Lent, to give you some ideas.
Before I jump in, however, I’d like to issue a friendly reminder: be kind to yourself in a quest for a greener life. All circumstances have their own limitations and what a family can do in London, will be different of course, to a person living alone in a rural village.
Eco Lent idea, #1: Plant a seed
I’ve started with this because it just seems right. Planting a seed is synonymous with the new beginnings of January and February, the sacrificial element of Lent and the long-awaited arrival of Spring. And it’s not just symbolic – this is great time of year to begin sowing and growing if you’ve ever considered it. Right now in the UK we are sowing tomatoes and peppers, ‘chitting’ potatoes and late starters, like me, are just getting our garlic and broad beans in the ground. Growing a garden can be a rewarding pastime, as well as providing a bounty of sustainable food. Look for peat-free compost at your local garden centre or even better, pop a composter in your garden and make your own!
Eco Lent idea, #2: Become a second-hand buyer/borrower
How about changing the way you spend when you need something ‘new’? There are charity shops on most high streets and ‘thrifting’ has become quite trendy (just take a look at the hashtag #thrifted on Instagram). Second-hand shopping can be really fun too; there’s nothing like clothing your whole family for less than £30 – especially when said children like to grow so fast! But what about when you need something quite specific, like a tool or a piece of specialist equipment? Consider hire shops or find your local lending library – if you don’t have one where you are, consider setting one up! Selling sites like Ebay, Gumtree and Preloved, have grown massively and if you’re in need of replacement appliances, many independent shops will offer perfectly good, refurbished models.
Eco Lent idea, #3: Turn down the heat!
I know it seems cliché, but with all this time at home I’ve realised just how poor my children are at dressing for the weather… Anyone else? It’s February, so it should feel pretty chilly, and yet my children are running around in crop tops and bare feet asking for the heating on! This Lent (and beyond) try introducing a seasonal wardrobe and encouraging your kids/housemates/parents/etc. to do the same. No one should be walking around in shorts and a t-shirt inside in winter—turn the heat down and put some extra layers on.
Eco Lent idea, #4: Refill and Reuse
This lent, try buying your groceries like they did in the old days; by refilling instead of replacing. Pasta, oats, lentils – you name it, if it’s dry and with a relatively long shelf-life, you can probably find a place to refill your stocks without the packaging. Fruit and veg can be trickier if you don’t have a greengrocer near you, but many supermarkets are getting back on board with selling items loose and unwrapped. The shift feels achingly slow so do encourage your local supermarket by writing to them and asking for loose fruit and veg in store. Every little helps, after all.
Eco Lent idea, #5: Turn your kitchen and bathroom plastic-free
From bars of solid shampoo to coconut scourers, the choices for kitchen and bathroom swaps are in vast supply. I find these products to be generally accessible to all budgets too, with many options saving money as well as the planet. If you live in a hard water area, I’d suggest going for bars that aren’t saponin-based and consider reusing old jars to store them in. Babipur has a wonderful range of options, and everything they stock has an ethical as well as sustainable supply chain.
Eco Lent idea, #6: Switch to cloth wipes, nappies and menstrual pads
This is one of the biggest changes I’ve made over the years; especially since having our third baby and wanting to tread as lightly as possible this time. Cloth nappies and wipes are comfy, effective and simple to use (they look beautiful too). Our favourite brands of nappy are: Baba & Boo, Close Parent and Tots Bots which are all ethical British businesses. For grown-ups, cloth menstrual pads are also growing in popularity, with many people finding that chemical-free pads help to lessen pain and lighten periods. Earthwise Girls are a great brand to try (they donate a pad to girls in poverty with each purchase too) and I also love the wonderful WUKA period pants.
Eco Lent idea, #7: Review your spending – who/what do you fund?
There is a wealth of information online – a quick search will bring you helpful websites such as Ethical Consumer, which analyse companies based on their sustainability or ethics. Also, don’t be afraid to ask. A truly ethical company will already have a mission statement in place and will have full traceability in all its products. If a brand doesn’t know where the raw materials for their products come from, they probably aren’t very ethical. Be particularly demanding with clothes, coffee and chocolate, where modern-day slavery is still rife in the mainstream industry.
Eco Lent idea, #8: Swap to sustainable toys
Have you discovered open-ended play yet? As a Primary Teacher, this is one of my favourite swaps. Wooden toys, play scarves and particularly loose parts such as Grapat mandala pieces make excellent, open-ended play pieces for children. Without the overt stimulation of repetitive sounds and lights, children are free to lead the play their way and you’ll be amazed at the wonders little ones create. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about changing the (not very eco-friendly) batteries or the unbearable noise from that favourite ‘singing’ toy again. Not all wooden toys are made equal, however, so look out for natural stains and supply chain traceability.
Eco Lent idea, #9: Plant a tree each time you surf the web
Ecosia is a revolutionary web browser, where the people behind the company will literally plant trees each time their search engine is used. They say “We plant trees where they’re needed most. Our trees benefit people, the environment and local economies.” I’ve been testing it for the duration of writing this article and I’m sold! It was simple to install and I’m getting perfectly good search results. Passive actions like this can feel really empowering if other eco-swaps aren’t as accessible to you. You might even find you want to stick with Ecosia once Lent is over!
Eco Lent idea, #10: Insulate your home
This might be as easy as calling in the experts or having a go at some lockdown DIY. After a tentative online search (and planting trees simultaneously) there seems to be a number of options for natural and sustainable loft insulation. Wool is naturally fire retardant and free of toxins, so could be a good solution for the sustainable home-improver. Outside of insulation (which may not be an option for everyone) there are many other ways you can make your home more sustainable. See this Pawprint eco-guide for ideas, then pick one as this year’s ‘Lent mission’.
Eco Lent idea, #11: Swap to green energy
More than a quarter of the average UK household’s carbon footprint comes from the energy used at home, making it one of the best areas to make a real difference. Ecotricity and Good Energy both generate energy from renewable sources, making them two of the best UK options in terms of impact in the green energy space. To calculate your estimated carbon saving by switching to one of these providers, see Pawprint’s Renewable Energy challenge.
Eco Lent idea, #12: Have a use-everything-up-dinner once a week
Lent is the perfect time for an epic hunt through the depths of cupboards and the bottom of the freezer. With a few on-hand herbs and spices, you’ll be amazed what culinary joy can be created from an apparently empty kitchen. According to Pawprint, “…the average UK person’s ‘waste carbon footprint’ is around 700 kg CO2e per year; that’s a return flight to Zadar from Edinburgh!” Even some small changes in this area will make a big difference.
Eco Lent idea, #13: Switch to homemade cleaning spray
Easy-peasy lemon squeezy! First, take an empty spray bottle, half-fill with tap water. Next, top up with white vinegar (buy in bulk or refill at your local eco store). Finish by adding a few drops of essential oil. My favourite oil combination for a kitchen spray are lemon and thyme. This is a perfect multi-purpose spray for surface cleaning. It will clean away those germs but won’t harm you or the planet.
Eco Lent idea, #14: Go vegan
Easy to say but not always so easy to do—if it helps, you could think of this as ‘giving up animal products’ so that it aligns with traditional Lent practises. Why put yourself through this? It has been well-documented now that plant-based diets (even taking into account food miles and other elements) have a lower carbon footprint than the most sustainably produced meat diets. Climate scientists and naturalists from David Attenborough to Chris Packham are encouraging us to lessen our meat consumption and aim for more plant-based meals. The Vegan Society has a wealth of tips for first-time vegans if you need them.
Eco Lent idea, #15: Become a citizen scientist!
From birdwatching to counting stars – citizen science projects are fun, educational and provide those working hard to look after nature with much-needed data. Children are often enthusiastic participants and what better way to nurture earth-loving humans, than to get them inspired by hands-on natural science? According to Pawprint’s Scientific Advisor, Mike Berners-Lee, teaching your kids about climate change, and how to live sustainably, is one of the most impactful things you can do.
Eco Lent idea, #16: Sign a petition or start a campaign
Up and down the country ordinary folk are fighting for climate justice and they need our help. Whether you go in search of a campaign, or just provide support to those sharing petitions when they land on your Facebook newsfeed; caring for the planet requires action. It might seem small, but great change can come from community response. Together we are powerful.
So, as we head towards the lighter and brighter days of Spring, make a positive change for the planet this Lent by trying out one or some of these eco-friendly swaps. With six weeks of reflection and small actions, you might be surprised at what you can achieve by Easter!