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The Impact of UK Meat Consumption on the Environment

“Bacon is too good to resist”

“100% omnivore, gotta have my meat”

“If we didn’t eat them, they would eat us!”

Those are all comments we received from a survey we conducted on meat consumption in the UK.

Opinions are split, with some claiming that meat consumption destroys the environment and should be banned from our diet, while others insist that this is nonsense and everyone should enjoy their beef burger guilt-free. 

So, who is right?

Should Brits go vegan to reduce their carbon footprint? Or is it all just nonsense?

We cut through the beef and finally give a definitive answer to this question and more in this article.

In order to understand Brits’ meat consuming habits and their readiness to change, eco- conducted a survey with several hundred participants. The results of the survey show that Brits are huge meat consumers, in fact, 71% of respondents are meat consumers and 38% eat meat daily.

Shocking Findings on UK Meat Consumption and Its Impact on The Environment

“By not eating burgers, Brits could save CO2 equivalent to driving 616,154 times around the Earth”

Bad news for hamburger lovers, burgers are bad for the environment! In fact, by ditching burgers, Brits could save CO2 equivalent to driving 21,609,655,040 miles per week, since producing one burger has the same carbon footprint as driving 320 miles.

This corresponds to driving 616,154 times around the Earth. If driving around the Earth is not exciting enough, they can drive to Neptune and back 3 times, but they’d still need to find a road for the journey!

According to our results, 34% of Brits eat 1 burger a week while 10% eat 2 burgers, and 4% eat 3 a week, which is still a huge number when you add it all up across the population.

“Almost half of Brits are willing to reduce their meat consumption”

With concerns about the safety of the planet rising, a significant portion of the population is willing to change their eating habits.

41% of respondents claimed they’re ready to reduce their carbon footprint by going vegan for a few days a week or for a whole year, while others do their best by trying Meat Free Mondays. And yes, even one day can make a difference.

If the remaining 59% of the population decides to remove meat from just one meal a week, it will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 million tonnes which is the equivalent of taking 9 million cars off the roads.

The results of our survey show that Brits are ready to reduce their meat consumption to combat environmental concerns such as deforestation, biodiversity loss, or excess water use.

When asked about their main motivation to reduce meat consumption, 57% voted for environmental concerns.

“Animal welfare is less important than it used to be”

Did you know that cows can live for around 20 years? Impressive, right?!

Well, unfortunately they are sent for slaughter at around 10 to 12 months old. However, this doesn’t seem to bother Brits as only 18% of the respondents voted for animal welfare when asked about their main motivation to reduce meat in their diet.

Furthermore, cows are quite intelligent animals, and can be just as clever as dogs. So, would you eat your dog if he’d make a good steak?!

“Anything but going vegan or vegetarian”

Surprisingly, out of the people who are willing to reduce their meat consumption, changing eating habits is not their preferred way of reducing carbon footprints.

Only 18% would go vegan to reduce their carbon footprint, while others would prefer to switch to a hybrid/electric car (45%) or stop travelling by plane (16%).

Brits would opt for many alternatives before giving up their meat.

So, What’s the Point?

We conclude that meat consumption in the UK has a real impact on the environment. Fortunately, Brits are open to changing their eating habits to take good care of the planet.

However, it is important to remember that every single action counts, you can start by switching to a hybrid car, stop travelling by plane, or simply choosing to be a more responsible consumer.

At the end of the day, no matter which you choose, protecting the environment should be the main objective.

Treedom – making the world a greener place: interview with Federico Garcea (CEO)

The idea is simple: you go to Treedom, browse the catalogue of available trees, you choose one or more types and pay the corresponding fee. Each type of tree is described in terms of its impact (food security, CO2 absorption, economic development, environmental protection), and users from any country may participate.

Feeling generous? You may even plant a whole forest, perhaps by joining forces with a group of friends or coworkers.  

At that point, participating farmers plant your trees, which start growing as you receive constant updates (including photos) that show you how they are getting ready to offset carbon emissions and give food or economic development opportunities to the disadvantaged communities nearby.

Founded in 2010, this Italian company has planted a remarkable amount of trees in Africa, South America and Italy (more on that below). In 2014, it became part of Certified B Corporations, a network of companies that meet rigorous environmental and social standards.

treedom-founders

Little by little, it has become popular — and besides ordinary users, several companies rely on it for their environmental initiatives today, including Samsung, H&M and Hyundai. We had a chance to talk with their CEO, Federico Garcea. Here’s what he shared with us.

When and how did you conceive Treedom?

Treedom was founded almost 10 years ago by Tommaso Speroni and me. At that time, Farmville — a browser game in which the purpose was to build a virtual farm — was a big hit. I used to play it in order to impress a girl I liked, who was a big Farmville fan.

Now, if you wanted to create a nicer farm than all the others, full of plants and trees, you had to pay real money; so Tommaso used to make fun of me, saying: “You mean you’re really spending real money to plant fake trees?”

This question that bordered on the absurd was the spark that triggered the idea to create something that would allow anyone to plant real trees. This is how Treedom came to life.

How long have you been operating, and which are the results you are proudest of?

We’re going to celebrate our first 10 years of existence next year. Right now, we’ve almost achieved the goal of 750.000 trees planted, which will be able to absorb over 250 million kg of CO2 in their lifetime.

But perhaps, the most telling data about Treedom regards the community that has developed in time around our work: 260.000 people, all the way from Japan to Chile, from Russia to the Vatican, who have placed their trust in us and have planted trees with us.

Why should eco-‘s users plant trees (or even whole forests) on Treedom?

Well… let me reveal something about our holiday campaign for this year: it’s going to talk about all sorts of reasons to plant a tree and give it to someone you care about. During its creation, we’ve clarified the numerous factors for which a Treedom tree is a unique “product”.

There are perfectly rational reasons to plant a tree: if you do it, you know you are contributing something useful to the environment and to local communities.

treedom-kenya-planting

There are emotional reasons, since you can read the news about the development of the projects, which proved to you in time how much good you’ve done just through a simple click of your mouse. There’s the possibility of giving a tree to the people you care about, although they might be far away, and share this experience.

There are many reasons, so many that even we realize we can’t be aware of all of them!

Why have you opted for this form of carbon offsetting instead of other, more immediate ones, like payments for ecosystemic services, which prevents trees from being torn down in the first place?

This is another question that doesn’t have just one answer. On one hand, I might borrow the words written by Tom Crowther, one of the authors of the study titled “The Global Tree Restoration Potential”: “Our study clearly shows that planting new trees is the best solution available today to ward off climate change.”

treedom-tree-example

On the other hand, planting a tree isn’t just a way to offset carbon emissions, but also to create new opportunities, which for us is an equally essential aspect of what we do.

Is it true that Treedom users may also give trees to someone as a gift? Do many of them take advantage of this opportunity?

Yes, giving a tree as a gift is at the same time a concrete act and a deeply symbolic one. In many cultures, trees are planted to celebrate new births or marriages. After all, a tree is a gift that may represent the connection between people, even across generations.

And with Treedom, it’s also a gift that crosses borders, because with a simple click of my mouse, from my home in the UK I can give a friend who lives in Italy the gift of a tree that will be planted in Haiti. I think it’s one of the reasons why many of our trees are gifts.

treedom-gift-a-tree

Are there a lot of people who form groups in order to plant forest on Treedom?

There are several of them, and they are incredibly diverse, because green attitudes is widespread in all sorts of environments by now and it pushes the most varied people to group together and take action. It can be a group of people who love using organic cosmetics, of travelers, of fans of some sports or heavy metal music. There are no fences and no predefined fields.

How is your relationship with farmers? Do you really find that a tree planted with Treedom is “much more than a tree”, as one of your taglines says?

We do. And we believe so deeply that this is the added value of what we do, that we’re firmly focusing not only on being transparent regarding the increasingly more engaging news we provide from the field, but on offering users the chance to visit our projects. It’s the best way to experience what is being done through our work firsthand.

Beyond planting trees on Treedom, could you advise our users three concrete things they could do in their daily lives in order to help the planet?

Using their bikes anytime they can to go where they need to, avoid using plastic bottles of any size and… planting a tree every time they have a chance.

(Interview conducted by Matteo Vegetti)

Saving the Fish… with Fish Waste: Interview with Lucy Hughes (MarinaTex)

At 23, Lucy Hughes — who recently graduated as product designer at the University of Sussex — is a few years older than climate activist (and current dance music star) Greta Thunberg. But these two young women clearly have something in common: within their generation, they belong to the inspiring group of people who are giving hope and mobilizing the rest of us to read, reflect, discuss, actively take part in climate-oriented initiatives and make changes to our everyday lives in order to help save our planet.

Lucy recently won the 2019 national James Dyson Award with her graduation project, which originated from a brilliant idea: use organic waste from the fishing industry to develop a kind of bioplastics, aptly called MarinaTex, that seems to tick all the boxes required to replace, in the not-too-distant future, a lot of the plastic we reluctantly use daily. Want to get a sneak peek? Check out the brief, gorgeous video below and tell us: isn’t she one of the coolest girls you’ve ever seen? We’ve been lucky enough to have a chat with her, and this is what she said.

Could you explain in a nutshell how Marinatex is made and what will its most useful applications be once it’s fully available?

MarinaTex is made using proteins from biological fishing waste. My project started off at a fishing processing plant: I went there, identified their waste stream and came away with a bag of skins, a bag of scales and other kinds of waste they have. I started to explore and I found it was actually the skins and scales that had the most potential combined with the protein. I experimented with organic binders and ended up using red algae, which is a common cooking ingredient, especially for vegetarian people.

fish-waste

Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

I carried out different experiments to work out the best combination of things that would allow me to create a tactile material. The whole production process is relatively low-tech — I made it in my kitchen! So it’s not going to need a big, scary industrial process. It uses temperatures below 100°C — while with plastics, you must reach at least 150°C, which makes that an energy-hungry process.

As for its applications, MarinaTex is completely biodegradable. This isn’t totally new, since biodegradable materials have been around quite a lot, but it’s also home-compostable, which means it degrades between 4 and 6 weeks in a hot-compost environment, in which temperatures range between 44°C and 79°C.

It’s also translucent, so its most impactful application would be to replace single-use plastics, from bakery bags to all sorts of packaging that have a window that allows people to see things before they buy them. Statistics on consumer behaviour have shown this to be important for people, so I don’t think companies are willing to give up that window.

marinatex-uses

Until MarinaTex makes its way to our shelves, is there any good enough alternative among the materials available for us to use in our kitchens and our homes in general? Each of them seems to have pros and (a lot of) cons…

There are some great products that help consumers to reduce plastic consumption in the home. A good example of this is Beeswax wraps. Other ways include switching back to the milkman to reuse glass bottles, switching to a wooden toothbrush and using natural sponges – as microfibres from plastic sponges end up in the waterways and then the ocean (this is also the case when washing clothing made from polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide).

Read More: The best eco-friendly alternatives to cling film

There has been a lot of interest in MarinaTex and all bioplastics, which seems to prove that society is ready for them — but unfortunately the options that are available for the moment don’t seem too satisfying yet. So what’s missing for us to be able to get to a plastic-free, zero-waste world? Anything we ordinary people can do to help speed up the process?

As for what’s missing, I think governments are being too slow to act. Especially the UK government — unfortunately we’re busy with other things at the moment, so everything else has kind of slipped down the agenda.

At the moment, when there aren’t as many alternatives on the market, possibly it all starts with behaviour change. So in the short term, while the right systems aren’t quite in place, you could perhaps consider not getting a coffee cup at a shop, but bringing your own.

As a consumer, you can change your choices too. It might take a little effort to make those changes, but if you think it’s worthwhile, you can do it. Personally, after working on this for a couple of years now, I’ve gotten to a point where I go into a shop and I kind of wince whenever I have to buy a bit of plastic. It’s a body reaction I get, and I think “Oh God!”, since I’m so aware of the damage this is doing.

watermelon-plastic-recipient
Image by MMT from Pixabay

Also, we need to convince companies that they should look for long-term gains rather than being focused on short-term wins. And this is where as consumer, you have so much power. I think people always underestimate how much power they have.

I was at a talk at Sky yesterday, and their head of PR was on stage and she was saying: “This is what customers want, so this is what we’re going to do.” I don’t think we’re ever told that as customers, and it would help us to realize they’re actually listening to us. I’m a customer myself, and I do have a voice.

So what we can do to speed up the process is to make our voices be heard: contact the companies you think could improve and tell them what you think, because at the end of the day, how they make their money is through you, and that’s how they survive.

Speaking of the power we have as consumers, could you give us any examples of “good” consumer brands we could reward?

One of the leading brands in this field is Patagonia. They’ve got a really good repair & return scheme, but as an outdoor brand, they’ve also got lakes they’re protecting. I definitely always endorse their message.

Another useful thing can be just switching to Ecosia instead of Google as your search engine. For every search you do, they plant a tree.

A question from eco-‘s CEO David Douek: How sustainable are both MarinaTex and bioplastics in general, if you take the whole value chain into account?

Take bamboo socks, for instance. Great! Bamboo! But when you dig in, you see a lot of chemicals are used, and a lot of energy as well, to turn it into something that looks like a tissue. How sustainable is that? And how can we ordinary consumers distinguish genuinely sustainable options from the rest?

This is a really, really good question, and it doesn’t have an easy answer. Basically, each case is completely unique. It’s not like plastic, where there are these common processes that have been established over 70 years. At the moment, everything is at a quite early stage. And consumers don’t want to have to do that research, they want to be told: and if they’re told that something is sustainable, they shouldn’t be lied to, but unfortunately that’s a trend that’s already begun.

I think the best way to do it is just follow reputable sources of information — like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation — and look for companies and materials that have been endorsed by people who are doing the correct research.

Regarding MarinaTex and sustainability, this is my undergraduate project and I’m now looking to scale up and looking for the best way to commercialize it — and the starting point for me was: there is a problem and I want to solve it. I’m not a businesswoman who has seen an opportunity, I’m a designer that’s trying to solve a problem. So if it any point my product isn’t doing that, and it’s causing more harm than good, it means it’s not the correct solution — and I’m more than happy to reevaluate it, because that’s what I value.

marinatex-cover

Just as an example: considering how we look at the business model of a company, traditionally, you’ve made it if you go global. And a big part of me doesn’t know if that’s the right way to go. In my eyes, I’d actually quite like to go more local. For me, it’s less about finding materials from China and shipping them; I want to be able to create minimal impact and localized solutions.

I think for people like me, it’s about finding the right support networks, and the companies that are funding the right people and doing things the right way and not cutting corners — which means that it’s going to be a longer process.

One of these trustworthy companies, from my point of view, is Sky Ocean Ventures, an investment fund that works with Innovate UK; they vet different companies, and they have really good values at heart.

That is why I can’t say MarinaTex going to be available in a year. I don’t know what kind of challenges I will face, since every case is unique.

How did you come up with such a “poetic” solution – that is, to help save the fish in our oceans by turning waste material from the fish itself into an alternative to plastics? I’m wondering if you happened to grow up by the ocean for instance, since you live in Sussex.

I actually grew up in Twickenham, in Soutwest London. But I love diving, and as soon as I was old enough to dive, when I was 12 years old, I got my diving certificate. I think it was at that point that the ocean opened up to me — before then I was just looking at it from the surface level, because that’s what I could see, but as soon as I got underneath the waves, I could see how diverse and also how fragile it is.

I lived in the Bahamas for three months, I did some conservation work there, and we got to dive off places that weren’t tourist destinations; they were protected areas, and it was quite crazy to see what reefs should look like. It was a unique opportunity, and now when I dive while I’m on holiday, I see different reefs that have sort of been destroyed. I think having that contrast between what they should look like and what they do look like was a big eye-opener.

reef-fish
Image by x_blueberry_pie from Pixabay

In terms of the solution I’ve found through MarinaTex, I started off knowing I wanted to work with a waste product, because my values as a designer are kind of contradictory with my title as product designer. I came to the conclusion that it’s the products that are the problem… after spending 3-4 years training myself to design them. That didn’t sit well with me at all, and it made me think that everything I would design to solve certain kinds of problems would open up other problems.

If I wanted to make something, normally I would have to use plastics. You don’t really think about the material usually. It comes last. And that’s what didn’t sit well with me: I wanted to focus more on the materials and see if there was something else I could do — and I knew that if I did want to use no virgin material coming from the earth, I would need to work with a waste product.

My lecturer, Claire Potter, does a lot of work with the group called Ghost Gear to get rid of the fishing nets that have been left in the ocean, and she is a big circular economy advocate; she was doing a project with the guys of the fishing processing plant in New Haven, to review how much polystyrene they use, and she was designing a new modular concept for them, so she put us in touch.

Plastic was on my mind because in Brighton, where I live, we’re strongly in favour of cleaning up the oceans, and we have a lot of good initiatives going on — we have a beach, so there’s a lot of beach cleaning activities. So I always thought that was the big issue. We would go down to the beach with my friends and there was plastic all over — it’s not as obvious, because it’s a pebble beach, but it was something that was always close to our hearts.

abandoned-fishing-nets
Image by Matthias Groeneveld from Pixabay

Was it diving, then, that made you develop an interest in environment protection? And how did that eventually lead you to take the leap and turn it into your specialization and hopefully your profession?

With anything you want to protect in life, it always starts off with respect, love and joy. So I think diving definitely gave me that, and made me feel “Gosh, I need to protect this!”.

And then it was definitely being at university in Brighton, which as I said, is really ahead of the game in terms of sustainable and circular design, on a par with only one or two other universities in the UK.

Obviously I had that kind of passion for long, but what did it for me was learning about the issues, and learning about the role that design has to play in those issues and their solutions. I felt a bit powerless before then — but studying at university, I felt empowered. I felt that I was in the best position, and that designing out the problem was the best way I could help.

You already mentioned some of the ways this awareness shapes your daily life. Do you actually think eco-friendly or zero-waste in everything you do? How does this affect your social and family relationships?

It’s definitely changed the way I am. But I think it’s also about not setting too high expectations for yourself, and being kind to yourself in any type of behaviour change, whether that be exercise, or diet… This is just one of those things where if you set yourself too high of a pedestal, you end up letting yourself down. So it’s about making little changes here and there.

One of the biggest things I found really tough was trying to make my flatmates recycle properly. I didn’t want to cause any rifts, nor did I want to keep telling them off the whole time — so I ended up cleaning bits of their recycling stuff and not bringing it up.

All in all, I think little and often is the best way to go.

Apart from the things you already mentioned, do other things come to mind that each of us could do in our daily life to move closer to a zero-waste lifestyle?

Something I do daily is, I can’t remember the last time I bought a plastic water bottle, because I always carry a bottle in my bag. I think that’s something that’s quite achievable. I also always carry a tote bag, in case I want to take something from a shop.

zero-waste-products
Image by RikaC from Pixabay

You can also put your vegetables in that bag. For example, I was in Carrefour in France last month, and they have those plastic bags you put your vegetables in; I had taken my tote bag with me, and I put them all in it and stuck all the stickers with the weight and price of each onto the bag itself. I got a very funny look from the French lady, and she did have a look in the tote bag check I wasn’t stealing vegetables, but it worked.

It’s little things like that. Whenever I go to a coffee shop, I understand that carrying a coffee cup can sometimes be a bit messy or whatever, but I will just sit in. I will use a china cup. If I want a coffee, I’ll either avoid that, or I will allow myself the time to sit and have it that way, rather than in one of those plastic cups.

Since we’re approaching the end of the interview, are there any other messages you’d like to give our readers?

I think it’s important to say that plastic isn’t a bad material. It’s actually amazing, and it’s life-changing — even life-saving in some cases. I don’t want there to be this kind of hate toward plastic; the pressure should be focused towards how it’s used and why it’s used in those situations. For us as consumers, it’s all about high demand, and we want everything right now, and plastic in some ways is the best material for that. But I think it’s all about reassessing the product life cycle and finding the correct natural materials for the correct life cycle of the product. The product doesn’t end when the consumer is finished with it; it ends when it’s disposed of. Otherwise we’re just going to keep making things and piling them up, and that’s a completely unsustainable way to live.

plastic-fluid-bag

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

This makes one more question come to mind: does the plastic we throw in the proper recycling container actually get recycled? If so, why don’t we just keep using it and recycling it without feeling guilty about it — and use our time to persuade other people to always recycle, instead of going zero-waste?

In terms of recycling, only about 9% of plastic globally ends up being recycled. That is such a small percentage, even though everyone is trying to do good — all that plastic might not ever be recycled, so the best way to do it is to avoid using it.

It all depends on the different applications: in the medical industry, for instance, we need plastic, because it’s the best way to save lives, for it to be sanitary. But basically we’ve just got too plastic-happy, and we’ve got quite lazy as designers, and also lazy as consumers, and this is affecting our planet.

Even if we recycle, we should keep in mind that the different types of plastic can be recycled a different amount of times. Some of them can only be recycled one other time, others 6 or 7 times. This information hasn’t been conveyed to many people, it’s something that not many people know — but it means that if we want to use plastic, we need to be using those types of plastic that can be recycled multiple times.

It’s very hard to change other people’s behaviours. We’ve all shown it’s quite hard to change our own. So I think as an individual, you have the most amount of power to change your own decisions. You should share the message as much as you can, obviously. But I think the most efficient way is to change your own behaviours.

Time to close with the inevitable silly question: MarinaTex doesn’t actually smell like fish, does it?

No, it doesn’t! It’s completely odourless, and it’s definitely not fishy. In the early days, it was — so it took a number of experiments to get a formula that doesn’t smell like fish, which is good 🙂

(Interview conducted by Matteo Vegetti)

Toilet talk: 5 eco-friendly swaps to clean up your waste

The zero waste bathroom is a fine balance! Maintaining cleanliness and good hygiene while doing good for the environment is not always straightforward. 

But going eco doesn’t mean ditching the toilet for a well-dug hole and a few leaves either! 

Eco bathroom products that reduce landfill waste are thankfully popping up all over the place. This is excellent as up to 40% of landfill waste is from bathrooms, with nappies and feminine hygiene products being the worst offenders – they take 500 years to decompose.

Here are 5 simple swaps to instantly brighten the future and reduce waste.

The Plastic Free Toilet Brush

Cleaning away evidence left behind is not just good manners,  it’s also essential for toilet cleanliness

spotless-bathroom
Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay

But does it have to be plastic? Nope. There are many toilet brush alternatives. Eco toilet brushes use sustainable materials, pollutant-free production methods and won’t end up in landfill. They’re also naturally a bit brown, which hides the stains.

Our favourite wooden toilet brush is the FineFun natural coconut fibre toilet brush, made from compostable, organic material. The design is great too, it reaches more places than the conventional brush.

Recycled Toilet Paper Rolls

Plastic-free toilet paper is easy (who wipes with plastic?) but sustainable or recycled toilet paper? That’s not so easy, especially on a budget.

eco-toilet-paper
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Luckily we are becoming quite the experts in toilet paper and have a few tips to share.

First, bamboo. It’s sustainably harvested without killing the plant and grows at a phenomenal rate. As for splinters, don’t worry. Bamboo toilet paper, like The Cheeky Panda, is soft, anti-bacterial and hypoallergenic.

There are also great recycled options, including eco leaf toilet tissue made from UK recycled paper waste.

Check out our best eco friendly toilet paper guide for more eco options! 

Money-Saving Reusable Nappies

reusable-nappies
Image by Pamela Kiefer from Pixabay

Start early with the eco training with reusable nappies! They reduce the hundreds of disposable nappies sent to landfill with simple compostable liners. A 20 pack of the best reusable nappies will last from birth to big school.

Tots Bots is one of the best as their nappies grow with your baby! They’re also chemical free and easy to wash. In case you need extra help learning how to use reusable nappies (and how to wash reusable nappies conservatively), check out the full guide to washable nappies.

There are plenty of options to keep your baby dry and carbon footprint small!

Eco Toilet Cleaner

One of the most popular eco friendly toilet cleaners in the UK is Ecover(you’ve probably seen it in the supermarket and advertised on TV) and we love how short the ingredients list is. You can also buy 5 litre refills of eco toilet bowl cleaner to save waste further.

Another way to join the zero-waste toilet cleaner brigade is to create your own! Most eco friendly toilet cleaner recipes use a strong acidic element (vinegar, lemon juice etc.) and essential oils to clean and chase away odours. You can also sprinkle baking powder and scrub to lift stubborn stains.

zero-waste-toilet-cleaner
Image by Monfocus from Pixabay

Alternatives to Pads and Tampons

Disposable tampons, pads and applicators create 200,000 tonnes of waste per year… for just 85g of menstrual blood per cycle. That’s less than a teacups worth of natural human waste and a shockingly high amount of single-use plastic waste!

Menstrual cups are just one natural alternative to tampons, along with period pants, reusable pads and sponges. The cups can take a few tries but once you’re accustomed to it you’re saving a lifetime of waste!

menstrual-cup
Image by PatriciaMoraleda from Pixabay

Check out the OrganiCup to start with – it has 3 sizes and holds 3x what a single tampon can.

Your eco bathroom is within reach! Don’t forget to recycle packaging your eco bathroom products arrive in and lock the door when you’re spending quality time with your new purchases…

Eliminating the Idea of Waste: Interview with Stephen Clarke (TerraCycle)

TerraCycle, a US-based recycling company on a mission to “eliminate the idea of waste”, has been so successful in recycling hard-to-recycle waste that it has grown into the global leader in the field. Today, it operates in over 20 countries, offering several innovative recycling programs to 80+ million people. We had a chance to talk to Stephen Clarke, Head of Communications – TerraCycle Europe.

(Recorded on April 1, 2019)

Stephen-Clarke-Terracyle
Photo by TerraCycle

Could you explain in a nutshell what your company does and how you help people adopt an eco-friendlier lifestyle?

Founded in 2001, TerraCycle is the world’s leader in the collection and reuse of non-recyclable post-consumer waste.

TerraCycle works with well over one hundred major brands in twenty-one countries across the globe to collect used packaging and products that would otherwise be destined for landfills. It repurposes that waste into new eco-friendly materials and products that are available online and through major retailers.

The waste is collected through TerraCycle’s National recycling programmes, which are free fundraisers that pay schools, charities and non-profits for every piece of waste they collect and return.

TerraCycle launched in the UK in September 2009 (its first market in Europe) and today operates in 12 European markets (UK, ROI, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Sweden and Denmark). 

In the UK, it currently runs collection programmes for cracker biscuit and cake wrappers, crisp, nuts, pretzels and popcorn packets, baby food pouches, Pringles cans, writing instruments, air and home care waste, toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes, Aqua Optima water filters, pet food packaging, contact lenses, personal care and beauty products / packaging, Tassimo & L’OR coffee pod / TDISC waste and cigarette waste. 

terracycle-cigarette-recycling
Photo by TerraCycle

To date in the UK, TerraCycle’s programmes have diverted over 57 million items of packaging waste from landfill (around the weight of a jumbo jet) while earning over £744,000 for schools, charities and non-profit organisations. 

Which of your products or services are especially appreciated by customers and communities?

In the UK (as in most of our 12 European markets), we have a network of public access public drop off locations on most of the free recycling programmes we offer. 

To give you a few examples:

We have a number of fairly new programmes for FMCG products such as crisp packets (sponsored by Walkers), biscuit, cracker and cake wrappers (sponsored by McVitie’s), the nuts, popcorn, crisps and pretzels recycling programme (sponsored by KP Snacks), the Pet Food Packaging programme (sponsored by Whiskas & James Wellbeloved) and the Colgate Oral Care Recycling Programme.

Some of the recycling programmes are targeted at / more popular with specific types of groups / locations – for example the BIC Writing Instrument Recycling Programme is mainly participated on by schools who act as BIC Community Champions so local communities can all drop their used writing instruments off to them. 

Lots of parents of young children and nurseries and playgroups act as the drop offs for the EllaCycle programme for baby food pouches.  The Acuvue sponsored Contact Lens Recycle Scheme has 650 Boots Optician stores and lots of independent opticians acting as public drop offs.

What’s the first, most actionable advice you’d give to our users to help them advance in their journey towards zero-waste?

Make sure you know the types of waste that your council can and can’t recycle.  Putting the wrong materials into your home recycling box / bin causes contamination and can mean that some of the correct waste will ultimately end up in landfill.  A quick call to your council or Google search will tell you all you need to know.

Then, for a growing list of items that you can’t recycle with your council there are now free recycling programmes with TerraCycle – everything from coffee pods, to contact lenses to crisp packets and even cigarette waste. 

So check out www.terracycle.co.uk to find your nearest public drop off location, if there isn’t one close to you then consider setting up your own one or on some of the programmes you can sign up as a private collector.

terracycle-homepage

And what’s the second advice? 🙂

Stay away from anything designed for a single-use – instead purchase higher quality, more durable items that will last many years: rechargeable batteries, woven tote bags or bags for life instead of plastic grocery bags, metal cutlery and ceramic dishware, refillable water bottles – wherever you can make the switch, go durable.

Keep an eye out for excessive product packaging as well, and choose products from brands that limit their use of packaging as much as possible. It’s not uncommon to see products in as many as two, three, even four layers of packaging where only one (or none!) would have sufficed.

For instance, instead of shrink-wrapped produce and pre-packaged supermarket convenience foods, go local and buy loose produce from a nearby farmer’s market. Better yet, buy your basic cooking staples in bulk and make more home-cooked meals.

bulk-shop-vegetables

Photo by nrd on Unsplash

Read more:Learning how to start a zero-waste lifestyle now could save the future“.

Could you explain to our users how they could start to “upcycle” their waste, even in countries with less developed up/recycling facilities than in the US?

Complacency abounds in our consumption-driven society. Why fix or reuse something you own when it can be endlessly replaced at little cost? Learn to fix what you own and fight that urge to toss broken products into the trash.

If you need to replace something altogether, go the reuse route by buying second hand: Craigslist, charity shops, The Freecycle Network, Etsy and word-of-mouth are all great ways to get your hands on lightly used products at little or no cost.

(Interview conducted by Matteo Vegetti)

Aquaculture: An Industry in Search of Sustainability

Aquaculture is defined as the controlled production of aquatic species.

That industry is an important economic activity in the production of foods and living organisms intended for repopulation and ornamentation. Nowadays more than half the food of aquatic origin consumed in the world come from aquatic farms.

seahorses-farming
Seahorses farm in Hawaii. These seahorses are cultivated to repopulate some areas of the sea and for sale for aquariums (avoiding thus overfishing).

The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) estimates that before 2030, more than 65% of aquatic foods will come from aquaculture. Thereby, that industry is considered as an activity that contributes to the efficient use of natural resources, food safety and economic growth, with a limited and controllable impact over the environment.

The negative environmental impacts that could result from that activity, such as the variation of water quality, or the deterioration of the seabed, can be handled and minimized through a good knowledge of different processes, a responsible management and the right localization of the farms.

jurel-cultivation-containers
Mackerel larvas cultivation tanks

Thereby, that industry could reach a sustainable production of aquatic products by applying various strategies that can contribute to the conservation of the planet.

Sustainability is a concept that aims to provide a long-term livable environment for everybody, and its development encompasses 3 fundamental components:  conservation of the environment, economic health and social equality.

Aquaculture fulfills all of them.

However, that industry still isn’t very famous as our society is rooted in the consumption of products from traditional fishing. Few know that cultivated fishes come from wild progenitors, without any genetical modification, feeding on high quality nutrients. And few know that their breeding lasts between one and three years before they reach their commercial size.

Mackerel fish in a bucket before being moved to a new cultivation tank

Reducing the Impact On the Environment

One of the main problems of that young practice is that fishes and crustaceans are fed on diets full of proteins and oils, coming from flour and wild fish oil, which implies fishing for low economical value fishes.

In other words, fishes are produced from other fishes.

Another aspect to highlight is the chemical interaction with the aquatic environment, caused by the discharge of organic matter coming from the stool of the cultivated organisms, and by the possible waste from therapeutic products or non-ingested food. 

In both cases, we are currently looking for a way to fix these problems.

Flour and wild fish oil are being replaced by proteins and vegetable fatty acids, such as soy and palm, which gave good results.

rotifer-culture
Rotifers culture (living food for mackerels)

As for the discharge of nutrients and other pharmaceutical products in the aquatic environment, the problem can be minimized by placing the aquatic facilities in places that have the right depth and currents, in order to have a very localized possible negative impact.

Regarding therapeutic waste, antibiotics are being replaced by autovaccines.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that the breeding of aquatic species it not all about “negative aspects in process of solution”. Some important aspects for the population are being unnoticed by the consumers as aquaculture remains an unknown practice.

mackerel-larva
Mackerel larva

Food safety is a standard in aquaculture as the fishes raised in that industry are free of any parasites that can cause zoonosis, such as the anisakis. Hence these parasites won’t reach your plate.

Moreover, thanks to exhaustive controls during the whole breeding fattening, killing and manufacturing process, the final products are absolutely healthy.

Miriam measuring the size of a mackerel larva

Therefore, next time you’re in the supermarket, we recommend you to give a chance to marine food cultivated in farms. No only they are, or are trying hard to be, eco-friendly, but they are also of excellent quality and really healthy for the consumer.

miriam-guest-post

This is a guest post by Miriam Viader Guerrero.

She has a degree in Biology from the University of the Balearic Islands and soon a Master of Science, with orientation in Aquaculture, from the Center for Biological Research of the Northwest

Suffering From Eco-anxiety? Embrace it! Here is Why…

During the last decade, a new condition started to popup on the web: eco-anxiety.

Type it on Google Search, it’s everywhere… and reliable sources such as Vogue and the NYTimes are talking about it.

Yet, up to this day, there isn’t any official definition for it.

What’s not on Wikipedia isn’t real, right?

anxiety-scrabble
Image by Wokandapix on Pixabay

Joke aside, Good therapy gives us a good (unofficial) definition for it.

“Eco-anxiety refers to anxiety or worry about the ecological threats facing the earth. Eco-anxiety is not considered to be a mental health concern. Rather, it is seen as a typical reaction to the growing awareness of the problems that can result from climate change and other global threats.”

If you recognize yourself in these lines, rest assure… at least you’re far from being alone.

And solutions exist,  you’ll see a few of them further in this post.

(Spoiler alert: your anxiety is the solution)

Climate Change, Your Mental Health is at Risk

Most of the focus around climate change has been related to its effects on the environment and on people’s physical health.

But studies are revealing that mental health is also at risk here.

That mental health risk can appear at different levels.

It can be direct consequences of a natural disaster, such as PTSD from living a traumatic experience. Or it can be the constant fear of possible natural disasters when living in an area at risk.

flooded-streets
Image by terimakasih0 on Pixabay

It could also be due to longer-term, slower consequences of climate changes and pollution, such as the ones impacting agriculture or the livability of an area. Prolonged drought, food shortage or water contamination are only a few examples of the slow poison that can affect our health.

But there is another danger to our mental health that can reach everybody, even those living in “safe areas”.

This evil (let’s name it as such), is the anxiety linked to our guilt and lack of power when it comes to have an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Meet “The Green Guilt”

That side of eco-anxiety is what many call “the green guilt”.

The sad thing is that this evil seems to haunt the most eco-friendly individuals amongst us.

The ones that know what we and the earth are facing.

The eco-warriors that actually do something to change the trend and bring humanity back on the right path.

anxiety-guilt
Image by KELLEPICS on Pixabay

It all goes back to the saying “ignorance is bliss”.

Many agree on the fact that the more intelligent you are, or the more knowledge you have, the more you are prone to anxiety. And that also applies to our environment.

The difference with the environmental situation is that you don’t need to be intelligent to understand what’s coming, or rather what’s already in front of you.

It’s more about denial.

People emotionally disassociate from the suffering they inflict on the environment.

mother-nature-suffers
Image by Comfreak on Pixabay

In other words, they deliberately choose to be “ignorant”.

Hence, they have no reason to be anxious. But that’s the easy and coward solution.

Fortunately, many people refuse to take that shortcut and fight for a cleaner world.

Unfortunately, their knowledge of the alarming situation and their individual intents to change it are very likely to make them feel powerless against so much waste, pollution… global indifference.

A Fight Worth Fighting?

The daily life of an eco-conscious person is a real challenge that can feel like a battle lost in advance.

The more you learn and look for eco-solutions, the more you notice pollution is everywhere and the more you feel like you’re drowning…

drowning

Photo by Nate Nessman on Unsplash

Obstacles are everywhere:

  • You may not be able to afford some eco-friendly alternatives
  • You give your best to organize a zero-waste dinner and your friend brings plastic cups
  • You order a green alternative you can finally afford and you receive it in 2 layers of plastic packaging
  • Some money-driven business or politician just took an unethical decision and you can’t do anything about it
  • You forgot your reusable shopping bag at home and beat yourself up because you have no choice but buy a new one at the shop
  • Your kid came back from school with plastic waste, again
  • Another species of animal just disappeared
  • You just learned that that fabric you thought was eco-friendly is actually obtained through chemical manufacturing
  • Some friends already see you as the “annoying hippie activist” of the group

So many reasons to feel anxious, overwhelmed, frustrated or even lonely in your fight. And the media are constantly there to remind us how bad the situation is.

Embrance Your Anxiety

Don’t give up. History is full of turnaround success stories.

Take Reddit, a platform used by many to spread the green word. When it launched, it was as empty as a ghost town and the founders had to create fake profiles and discussions to give it a bit of life. Now, it’s one of the most active platforms ever, with more than 550 million active users.

Time and perseverance, it’s what it takes. And changing the lifestyle of the whole world population will need a lot of it.

climb-success
Image by fxxu on Pixabay

Would you not like to be a pillar of the greatest comeback story in the history: the recovery of our planet?

As for your eco-anxiety, don’t fear it, don’t let it turn into depression. But embrace it!  

A common advice given to anxious people is to embrace the power of their anxiety. Anxiety is not something that goes away, the best one can do is learn how to deal with it and take advantage of it.

For example, a consequence of anxiety is the constant thinking of what will go wrong in the future, preventing you to enjoy the present.

As you tend to live in the future, use it to plan ahead so that you can do the best you can in terms of sustainability.

plan-ahead
Image by skeeze on Pixabay

Another aspect of anxiety is the unnecessary worry about small things that won’t matter in the long run.

Let’s take the example of ordering a so-called green alternative that you finally received packed in two layers of plastic.

How annoying is that right?

But instead of feeling bad about it, contact the provider and tell him about the situation. He might listen to you. If not, spread the word about it.

Your actions may provide thousands of people to fall in the trap.  

We have to put an end to that green guilt. If someone should feel guilty, it’s the ones that are not doing anything to improve the situation.

zero-waste-advice

Thereby, to everyone reading these lines, please:

  • Don’t stop making small changes in your life.
  • See your mistakes and the ones of others as a path to improvement.
  • Cheer up with every small win.
  • Feeling you can’t reach your green goals? Lower your expectations and progress step by step.
  • Surround yourself with like-minded people, offline and online.
  • Share your experiences (positive and negative). You will see that you’re really not alone.
  • Remember, every small step counts. It’s a journey and you’re contributing to make this world a better place.

Looking for places to share your experiences? You can start by dropping us a comment 😉

Clothing Fabrics: How Sustainable Is Your Wardrobe?

Ever wondered what are the clothes in your wardrobe actually made of? And how sustainable are they?

These annoying care labels… most of us cut them directly after the purchase. They are irritating and it just sounds like it’s written in a foreign language.

I mean, what is “viscose” anyway? It doesn’t sound like something I want to be in contact with my skin.

Is that right?

In this fast-fashion era, shopping for eco-friendly clothes isn’t easy, especially when you’re not sure whether a fabric is really sustainable or not.

And finding green alternatives is even more complicated when you don’t know what fabrics you should be looking for.

But after reading this guide, you’ll look at that care tag differently and you’ll know how eco-friendly is that amazing dress you saw on that Instagrammer’s feed.

Bonus: At the end of this guide, you’ll find a short list of clothes made from some of the most sustainable fabrics.

The structure of this guide

In the clothing industry, most fabrics can be grouped into 3 big families.

On one side, we have the clothes made from natural fibres and on the other side, we have the clothes made from man-made fibres, which can be split into regenerated fibres and synthetic fibres.  

Thereby, this guide is structured the same way.

For most products, the assessment of eco-friendliness must be made considering the entire product life cycle. From the extraction of raw materials until the disposal of the product.

Clothes are no exception.

That’s why, in this comparison, we don’t only focus on whether a fabric is biodegradable or easy to recycle. Instead, we also take into consideration factors like the use of chemicals and pesticides, the amount of water needed for the raw material or the impact on wildlife and the workers.

Let’s jump right in.

Fabrics Made from Natural Fibres

Natural fibres need the less explanation, their name is pretty much self-explanatory.

They are the fibres that grow naturally and they come either from plants (cellulose), either from animals (proteins).

They are not man-made.

By definition, theses fibres are biodegradable and compostable. Meaning that they should be the most sustainable solution.

Unfortunately, we’ll see that it’s not always the case.

Traditional Silk

Silk is a protein based fibre made with the excretion from the bombyx mori caterpillar, aka the silkworm.

It takes up to 2500 silkworms to produce a single pound of raw silk. That’s why silkworms need to be cultivated, in order to obtain enough silk for the production of clothes. This is called sericulture, or silk farming.

That’s also why silk is so luxurious and expensive.

silk-traditional-dress
Photo by Lan Pham on Unsplash

The main problem with sericulture is that the silkworm is killed in the process of collecting the silk. Indeed, silk filaments are collected by immersing the cocoon in hot water to get rid of the sericin that cement the filaments. And that process also kills the worm inside the cocoon.

Despite that ethical problem, silk is a highly renewable resource. One single silkworm can lay up to 500 eggs.

Also, silkworms feed on leaves from mulberry trees, which doesn’t need pesticides and fertilizers to grow. However, as so many silkworms are needed to produce a small amount of silk, it also takes many mulberry trees to feed them.

Finally, silk isn’t a local resource. Silk farms are mostly located in India and China where chemicals can be used to clean the silk.

Wild silk

Wild silk is the ethical solution to killing silkworms.

wild-silk-sample

As suggested in the name, silk is collected from wild silkworms, after they hatch from their cocoon. No sericulture and no killing involved.

The main downside of wild silk is the quality. It’s rougher than traditional silk, less strong and its structure isn’t uniform.

This results in a less premium and luxurious silk.

Too bad.

Traditional Cotton

Cotton is everywhere.

It’s the most widespread profitable non-food crop in the world and it covers around 95% of the world’s natural textile fibre demand.

That’s a shame…

It may be a biodegradable natural fibre, but its current production method is far prom being sustainable. Demand has to be met and that “requires” unethical methods.

cotton-field
Photo by Trisha Downing on Unsplash

The main problem with cotton is the tremendous quantity of water required for its production. Take a t-shirt from your wardrobe. It can take up to 29.000 litres of water to produce the 1 kilogram of cotton your t-shirt is made of. That’s the amount of water a healthy person would drink in 27 years…

Cotton is not only very thirsty, its conventional farming process also involves loads of agrochemicals to make it grow faster. 25% of all insecticides used every year come from cotton producers.

This is a major threat not only for the soil, wildlife and freshwater ecosystems, but also for the health of the workers and people living in the farming area.

And let’s not talk about the allergic skin reactions that all these chemicals can cause on the end-user.

Organic Cotton

Being biodegradable, cotton can still be a great eco-friendly fabric… as long as the right production method is used.

This is what farmers are trying to achieve with organic cotton.

cotton-plant
Photo by Marianne Krohn on Unsplash

Organic cotton is a more sustainable alternative to conventional cotton. It is done by using growing methods that have a low impact on the environment and that provide safe working conditions.

Which means no chemicals and GMO are used and the cotton is handpicked rather than machine-picked.

Being handpicked, organic cotton will also be purer, softer and stronger than regular cotton. Hence, we get a more durable product.

To reduce water consumption, organic farmers are using a soil rotation system in order to maintain soil fertility (traditional cotton grows on the same soil). That way, nutrients retain water longer and less irrigation is required.

Organic cotton is also hypoallergenic. No chemical dyes and whiteners are used in the manufacturing of organic cotton. They resort to safer, natural alternatives that prevent skin allergies.

The “downside” of this ethical and eco-friendly process? Premium organic cotton also means premium price. But the earth, the workers and your skins will thank you… big time!

Linen (Flax)

Linen is not only a great fabric for summer, it is also one of the best eco-friendly fabrics on the market.

Made from the fibres of the flax plant, linen is often compared to cotton, being both natural plant fibers. But ultimately, linen is stronger and more durable than cotton. It’s actually considered to be the world’s strongest natural fibre.

bed-linens-coffee-cup
Photo by Madison Inouye on Pexels

Known for its capacity to absorb moisture without holding bacterias, linen is also organic, recyclable and biodegradable (when untreated obviously).

But it’s main advantage over cotton and other fabrics is how eco-friendly its growing process is. It grows naturally, without chemicals, and doesn’t need more water than rain can provide. To take the example of cotton again, linen needs 60% less water to grow.  

Sad thing about linen is its general adoption. It remains somehow a premium product and represents only 1% of global textile consumption. It is mostly used for bed linens, towels or napkins.

Hemp

Hemp, this scratchy, ugly, brown fabric…

STOP.

Hemp is way more than that and can actually be soft and beautiful.

Did you know that hemp is part of the family of cannabis plants? Meaning that not only it is a densely and fast growing plant, but it is also very little water-demanding.

hemp-plant
Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

Hemp doesn’t need any chemicals and fertilizers to grow and as it is naturally pest resistant, no pesticides are used.

In fact, growing hemp is actually beneficial to the soil, the same way a forest is. Hemp plants have strong and deep roots that prevent the soil from erosion and remove toxins.

Aesthetically speaking, today’s technology allow to turn hemp fibres into linen-like fabric while keeping its properties. It can also be blended with cotton for a softer feel.

In addition of being very eco-friendly to grow and manufacture, hemp makes a very durable (better than cotton), biodegradable and healthy fabric.

It is comfortable, hypoallergenic, breathable, protects from UV and absorbs moisture.

What’s not to love with hemp?

Wool

Wool is a tricky one.

Environmentally-friendly speaking, wool is not a bad student. Obtained from the hair of the sheeps, it is entirely natural, renewable and doesn’t need any chemical to produce.

wool-fabric-market
Photo by Irene Chan on Unsplash

The only considerable environmental downside is the methane released by the sheeps and the water they need to drink. Imagine the amount of methane and water it represents in a country like New-Zealand and its 45 000 000 sheeps…

But the real problem here is rather ethical.

Sadly, investigations from organisms such as PETA are showing that cruelty towards sheeps is almost a standard in the industry. Sheeps are often beaten, kicked or even killed for their wool by heartless workers.

sheeps-looking-through-fence
Photo by Jose Francisco Morales on Unsplash

And no need to go far to witness that barbarity. It happens here in the UK as well.  

Then, make sure the wool is taken from well-treated sheeps before buying wool clothes.

Fabrics Made From Regenerated Fibres

Both regenerated and synthetic fibres are man-made, but regenerated fibres have the particularity to be made from cellulose (such as wood pulp).

What does it mean in terms of sustainability?

Cellulose is an organic and natural compound, which means that when unblended with synthetics or not dyed with chemicals, fabrics made of that compound are biodegradable and compostable.

Be careful though, as many clothes use a blend solution of regenerated fibres (or natural fibres) with synthetics for better resistance or reduced cost.

Once again, read the tag.

Moreover, as explained below, many regenerated fibres are source unethically and involve harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process.

Viscose (Rayon)

Depending on where you’re from this fabric could be referred to as viscose or rayon (which is actually often used as a generic name for regenerated fibres).

Viscose is a low-cost, mass-produced fabric made from the wood pulp of fast growing trees and plants, before being dissolved in a chemical solution and then turned into yarn.

viscose-fabrics-blended

When first created, it revolutionized the fashion industry as this versatile fabric allowed to create good-looking and smooth fashionable clothes at an affordable price. It’s a cheap similar looking alternative to silk, somehow.

But as expected, this lower cost translates in poorer fabric quality and thereby, lower durability.

Due to being a biodegradable fibre based from renewable plants, it is often considered as an eco-friendly fabric and a better alternative to synthetics.

It is the case, but only to some extents.

As mentioned earlier, the wood pulp is dissolved into a chemical solution during the manufacturing process. This is a mandatory step to make the fabric strong enough to handle regular wearing and washing.

Unfortunately, this process is highly polluting and releases a big amount of chemicals into the air and water, some of them being a dangerous threats to the workers and closeby inhabitants. Around 50% of the hazardous waste can’t be reused and ends up in the environment.   

water-pollution-viscose-factories
Photo by Changing Markets Foundation

In addition to that, much of the viscose used by famous clothing brands appears to be sourced from unethical viscose factories in India, China and Indonesia. These factories have low standards regarding pollution and they extract most of the wood pulp from endangered forests, contributing to deforestation.

Finally, it feels like the harm done to forests is for nothing as around 70% of the tree is wasted during the wood pulp “extraction”. Quite a waste in comparison with hemp, where the remainings of the plant can be used for other purposes.

Good news is that some efforts are made to get more eco-friendly viscose. Brands start to source viscose from ethical factories and viscose is increasingly being manufactured using the lyocell process (see further in this post) in order to reduce waste.

Modal

Modal came as a solution to some of the durability issues of viscose.

It is made of cellulose from beech trees and has a texture similar to silk and cotton. Its extra softness, its resistance to wear and washing temperatures, and its capacity to absorb water make it a popular fabric for activewear and underwear.

fagus-sylvatica-purpurea-beech-trees

Modal and most regenerated fibres have a really similar manufacturing process to viscose (described above) and thereby they tend to share some flaws, such as the chemical processing.

However, some big companies like Tencel developed solutions with low environmental impact.

In this case, the manufacturing process of Modal is done in closed loop, which means that the water and the majority of the chemicals used are captured and can be reused. They also source Modal fibres of beech wood from sustainable forests around Austria.

Unfortunately, Tencel isn’t the only provider of Modal fibres on the market and many retailers source their Modal from cheaper and less transparent (understand way less eco-friendly) providers that face the same accusations as the ones listed in the Viscose chapter.

Lyocell (mostly Tencel)

That fibre, made from cellulose of eucalyptus trees gives a fabric with a very similar texture to viscose or modal fabric. But being a more uniforme fibre, lyocell fabrics generally offer better breathability and moisture absorption.   

eucalyptus-forest

The main producer of Lyocell is Tencel and for that reason, lyocell is often referred to as Tencel.

Tencel uses the same closed loop manufacturing process as for its Modal fabric and logically goes by the same sustainability standards (renewable energy, recycled water, sustainable wood sources…).

Even though Tencel produces both lyocell and modal in a sustainable way, there is still a major difference between these two fibres, in terms of eco-friendliness. Once again, the manufacturing process differs.

Instead of using caustic soda to dissolve the plants, Tencel’s lyocell process uses NMMO, a non-toxic, organic compound. And thanks to the closed loop process, that solvent can be reused at a 99% recovery rate.  

Which makes Tencel’s lyocell the most eco-friendly fibres of the three regenerated fibres cited so far.

Acetate and Triacetate

We won’t go far in the description of these two fibres. For the history, acetate is the first man-made fabric and the first one using cellulose.

Acetate and Triacetate are used as cheap substitute to silk as they are similar in appearance.

But the similarities end here.

Acetate fabric is not durable at all and for that reason, it’s mostly used for short-term wear or occasional wear. It also doesn’t handle heat and extra wash care is required.

Triacetate is basically the evolution of acetate. It’s more durable, easier to take care of and more heat resistant. However, it is still a relatively weak fabric and it shares the same sustainability flaws as its little brother.

Same as for the other regenerated fibres, acetate and triacetate are made from cellulose. Yet again, the problem lies in the manufacturing process.

They undergo extensive chemical process during the manufacturing and some of these chemicals are highly toxic and hazardous, such as caustic soda and sulphuric acid. That manufacturing process also requires a lot of resources, including water.

Compared to viscose, acetate fabrics are less durable and as (or even more) chemical extensive.

Bamboo

This is also a tricky one. Is bamboo fabric really sustainable?

When you read bamboo on the tag of some clothes, don’t stop there thinking it’s automatically green.

Because it will most likely not be the case.

bamboo-forest

It all comes down to the manufacturing process.

Your greenest option is bamboo linen. That natural bamboo is obtained mechanically, without the use of chemicals.

That’s great, but the result is far from the soft fabric you’d like on your skin. Coupled to the fact that the manufacturing process is expensive and labor intensive, you won’t see it often in the market. That’s why we didn’t include bamboo linen in the natural fabrics section.

So how are most bamboo clothes made?

You may have guessed it: through the viscose process. Thereby, bamboo viscose also goes through that chemical and not eco manufacturing process described in the viscose chapter.  

Moreover, there is no proof that bamboo fabric keeps bamboo’s natural qualities once it went through the chemical process.

There are some manufacturers offering bamboo fabric made by using the lyocell process though. However, few brands are actually using that bamboo lyocell.  

Soy

Meet the vegan cashmere.

There is a lot to like in soy fabric. In addition to be non-animal based, it is also easier to care than cashmere.

In terms of sustainability, it isn’t as straight forward.

The great thing about soy fabric is that it’s made from the waste of the processing of soy oil byproducts (such as tofu).

It’s basically taking organic waste and turning it into a great fabric. Thereby it is also biodegradable and compostable.

soy-beans-soy-oil
Photo by the United Soybean Board

It is soft, lightweight, wrinkle resistant and machine washable. And it is also moisture absorbent, breathable, UV resistant and anti bacterial. A great durable option for activewear.

However, the first ecological problem comes again with the manufacturing process. In order to become a fabric the plant needs to undergo a chemical process. The process is similar to lyocell’s as it uses a closed loop system that allows to capture the chemicals and reuse them.

The issue here is that the process requires the use of formaldehyde, a harmful irritant classified as a possible human carcinogen. It remains unclear if the final wearer is exposed to that chemical. But let’s not forget the workers…

The next issue is the source of the soy crops as the global soy industries heavily relies on GMO crops, which require a big amount of pesticides and water to grow. Soy production is also guilty of deforestation and habitat destruction in the rainforest, where much of the soy is coming from.

We might argue that being made from the waste of the byproducts of these crops undermines that last issue. But the real solution is to look for organically grown soy, which is not always easy as it is a really expensive process. Hence the success of GMO soy.

Fabrics Made From Synthetic Fibres

Synthetic fibres are the second man-made category of fibres used for clothes. Unlike regenerated fibres, they are entirely obtained through a chemical process, usually from byproducts of petroleum or natural gas.

They are extremely popular in clothing, especially amongst cheaper brands.

But how sustainable are they?

Polyester

Let’s start with the most famous one.

Polyester is the king of the fashion industry market.

And that’s a king we’d like to see overthrown…

In terms of convenience, it’s a great fabric. There is a reason why it’s the king. It is very durable, resistant to stretch, easy to wash and it dries fast. It is also mildew resistant and that’s its main advantage over natural fibres.

polyester-scarf

Sustainability speaking, it must be one of the worst fabrics though.

No need to go into details of what chemicals it is made of, polyester is a polymer and the fabric is basically plastic. The most common kind of polyester is also made of petroleum, one of the world’s biggest pollutant.

Useless to say that polyester isn’t biodegradable. They are also hard (understand expensive) to recycle.

Unlike natural fabrics (including regenerated fibres), polyester can’t be dyed using a natural process. It needs a stronger and chemical dye, which is difficult to treat and doesn’t really decompose. These dyes are dangerous to human, and especially to the workers.

poison-bottle

These toxic dyes are also guilty of causing several environmental problems as they often end up in the water streams around the factories.

Finally, the manufacturing process. Again, we won’t go into details. In a few words, polyester is really thirsty. A large amount of water is required to cool down the manufacturing process.

On the bright side, more and more brands are starting to use polyester made from recycled plastic bottles as an alternative. It’s a better option, but it is still not biodegradable, it still involves chemical dyes and the health issue unfortunately remains.

Nylon

Nylon is particularly used for items that need the ability to stretch and come back to normal without loosing their shapes, such as tights, underwears and activewear. It is also durable, resistant to tear, to sunlight and to water.

nylon-colors

However, nylon is also really bad to breath and has low moisture absorbency. To overcome these disadvantages, it is often blended with other fabrics.

Nylon is a polymer mostly made from coal and petroleum. Again it’s a kind of plastic and it shares the same sustainability threats as polyester.

But in addition to that, its manufacturing is energy intensive and also creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is around 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.  

Again, there is a bright side.

More and more brands start to adopt nylon made of recycled plastic (mostly from the ugly fishing nets polluting our oceans). That recycled nylon, such as Econyl is also made in a closed loop, in order to considerably use less energy and reduce waste and gas emissions.

Acrylic

Acrylic is the synthetic cousin of wool.

That fibre is soft and bulky, making it a cosy option for warm clothes and garments. It does tend to loose its shape over time though, unlike wool.

acrylic-fabrics

Again, acrylic is derived from petroleum, making it difficult to recycle and not biodegradable.

But the most controversial element of that fibre is that it is made from polyacrylonitrile, a plastic known for being carcinogen. It is proven that workers in acrylic factories are considerably more inclined to develop cancer.

What are the risks for the wearer?

Finally, the manufacturing of acrylic is also a highly energy intensive process.

Elastomerics (Elastane/Spandex)

Depending on where you live, that fibre can be named spandex, elastane or by elastomeric, its generic name. It is also often tagged as Lycra, Cordura and Supplex (which are actually 3 brands of elastomeric)

Want to know what these last 3 brands have in common?

Their producer: Invista, a filiale of the unfamous Koch industries.

If you don’t know them, just remember this: Koch industries generates 24 million metric tons of greenhouses gas a year. Which rank them amongst the top 30 polluters of America’s air, water and climate.

Elastane is another non eco-friendly polymer that requires many chemicals to manufacture in an energy intensive process. It is obviously not biodegradable.

elastane-fabric

The particularity of elastane is that it can be stretched up to 500% without breaking and then get back to its initial shape. That feature is something that is not possible to achieve with natural fibres yet, and that’s why elastane is a “necessary evil” in clothes that are susceptible to wear and tear.

That’s also for that reason that elastane is present even in eco-friendly clothing that requires that elasticity.

cyclism-elastane-pants
Photo by Simon Connellan on Unsplash

Good news is, it’s never used alone as a fabric and only a small amount is necessary. Elastane fibres are always blended with other fibres (organic cotton for example) to create a final stretchy fabric.

What now?

We hope you’re still wearing clothes after reading this guide.

The fashion industry is clearly a big mess. Even the fabrics that sound eco-friendly are hiding some dark secrets.

But at least now you know.

What’s really to remember here is that nowadays, which such huge demand and under the limits of current technologies, shopping sustainably is not really about getting 100% green clothes.

clothes-in-shop
Photo by Artificial Photography on Unsplash

Ranking the most sustainable fabrics would be more informative than useful. That would lead you to spend a huge amount of time and money into seeking the sustainable graal.

Obviously, if you have the means, go for it.

Instead, we can only encourage you to make as sustainable and healthy choices as possible.

  • Try to avoid these harmful chemical fabrics such as acrylic or polyester.
  • When shopping for sustainable alternatives, be careful of greenwashing. Bamboo isn’t always as green as it sounds.
  • Same goes for wool and cotton, make sure it comes from ethical and organic sources.
  • You don’t have to ban cheaper brands. Take Inditex (the group owning Zara and Oysho), they actually offer some eco-friendly clothes made from Tencel or organic cotton for example.
  • Sometimes, spending a little more can get you more durable clothes. See it as a small inversion.

That concludes this guide, we hope it helps you to see clearer in that fashion mess.

We haven’t listed all the fabrics here as we mostly focused on the popular options that you will actually find in a shop.

It isn’t a sustainable fabrics guide either, but more an assessment of the sustainability of these popular fabrics.

However, if you have a green fabric you’d like us to share, please let us know in the comments!

Time to build your sustainable wardrobe!

Here is some inspiration…

20 Illustrations That Will Enrage Your Green Mind

We all know something has gone seriously wrong in our world.

Ocean pollution, deforestation, climate change, overfishing, littering… we could list as many man-caused environmental problems as there are letters in the alphabet.

save-the-earth

An Ocean of plastic.

It is said that 95% of the ocean remains unexplored, which means amazing discoveries are still possible.

How exciting!

But will there still be something left to discover?

Experts say that if we don’t work to stop biodiversity’s decline, the world’s ocean will be empty of fish by 2048. Thanks overfishing, pollution and climate change…

 

A shorter time-frame? By 2025, there could be more than 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish in the ocean. As the saying goes, there is plenty of fi… plastic in the ocean.

more-plastic-than-fish

Take straws.

Even though they represent only 0.025% of the 8 million tons of plastic that pollute the ocean, getting rid of them is easy and doesn’t require a big change of behaviour.

So, why are more than 500 million straws used every day, in the US alone?

straws-kill-pollution

But if the main target of awareness campaigns only represents such a small percentage of ocean pollution, where does all that nasty trash come from?

little-mermaid-plastic-pollution

Did you say plastic bottles?

Wrong.

According to a study from The Ocean Cleanup, almost most of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (world’s largest floating trash island) come from abandoned fishing nets and gear.

And this is a double-edge knife. This abandoned “ghost gear” keeps trapping and killing marine wildlife.

ghost-fishing-pollutionIllustration by Ed Dingli

Littering.

Whether industrial, from households or individual, is nothing but an act of laziness and ignorance.

An act of laziness that has not only an environmental, but also an economic cost.

aquaman-plastic-pollution

People need to understand that with littering comes consequences. It affects plants and animals but also tourism and safety. Littered streets and surroundings tend to be abandoned, by both tourists and locals.

Nobody enjoys having a Sunday walk in a waste ground…

Most litter that isn’t picked up in the street by birds and animals ends up carried by wind and rain into rivers and drains that lead to… the ocean. Yes, disposing of an “innocent” single piece of trash in a street that is dirty anyway causes more harm that it seems. You might as well throw your trash directly to the ocean.

That’s why governments allocate a huge budget in cleaning up that mess. And you know what it means right? Yes, as a good taxpayer, you pay for the litter of the others.

By the way, did you know that cigarette butts make about half of the litter on the street? And contrary to popular belief, they don’t decompose in a few days… bur rather 10 years.

Our planet doesn’t need an haircut…

Forests, lungs of our planet, home for billions of people and animals… are under attack. Every year, we are destroying the equivalent of 27 soccer fields every minute.

no-deforestation-november

Half the size of England… gone.

The main cause of deforestation is agriculture. Farmers burn or cut down trees to make more room for crops and livestock.

deforestation-kills-wildlife

Are the farmers guilty? Or rather the hungry bellies of a growing population?

The second cause is logging. A huge amount of trees are cut down for producing palm oil and paper and wood items.

deforestation-palm-oil

Or for building illegal roads to access remote forests or for providing new houses to that growing population.

And the victims are numerous.

The main victims are obviously the forests, but the tropical rainforests are hit the most. They may be completely gone within less than 100 years.

By destroying forests, we are also destroying the home of millions of endangered species. And most won’t survive that disaster.

deforestation-kills-wildlife-sanctuary

Finally, some may not care about such events that take place thousands of kilometres away. But deforestation also plays a big role in global warming.

Trees are kind of a carbon sink, they absorb the greenhouse gases that would normally reach the atmosphere. But when trees are cut down, it reduces the amount of carbon absorbed, and dead trees also release carbon dioxide into the air.

deforestation-lungs-wwf

 

Speaking of global warming.

It is proven than human activities are changing the natural greenhouse and thus warming the planet.

Causes are numerous, but burning fossil fuels, deforestation and farming are the most impactful.

It’s time to start thinking: What’s the future we want our children to live in?

But let’s stick to the present, because the thing is: future is already happening!

The greenhouse effect is warming our planet, the ocean included. Which leads to an increasing sea level due to melting glaciers and icy surfaces. While humanity still remains safe from that event, we can’t say the same for polar bears.

Sea ice is their natural habitat and hunting ground. The increasing loss of their habitat forces them to travel further to hunt and many die from hunger or drowning.

It shouldn’t be their job to adapt…

 
Humanity needs to start thinking and focusing on what really matters.

Who’s the real danger after all?

 

The World’s First Zero-Waste Adventure: Interview with Court Whelan (Natural Habitat)

Natural Habitat is planning the first zero-waste adventure ever organised. It’ll take place in Yellowstone park. As first guest of our new eco-interview-series, we’ve spoken with Court Whelan, director of sustainability and conservation travel initiatives of Natural Habitat, to learn more about this adventure and how zero-waste and travelling can live together.

(Recorded on December 3, 2018)

court-whelan-natural-habitat-green-team-head

Photo by Natural Habitat

This interview was so interesting that we couldn’t even consider making it shorter. Have a look at the following index to get an idea of the covered topics… and let’s dive right in!

question1

 

Where did the idea of your zero-waste adventure originated from?

We like to view ourselves as one of the most sustainable travel companies out there. We are constantly trying to raise the bar on conservation, sustainability and so on. That goes for how things are done on our trips, in our office, for the education we provide to our guests before, during and after our adventures… Therefore, the idea of zero-waste originated from a company culture that is very immersed in conservation and sustainability.

We’re constantly thinking, “How do we make not just our company, but the whole industry better and more sustainable?”. This is why 11 years ago we did an “industry first” by becoming the first carbon-neutral travel company —back in 2007, at a timewhen carbon neutrality wasn’t really talked about and wasn’t very well known.

In this spirit, what we’re trying to do with this trip is make a huge change in the industry, an initiative that’s going to turn heads and get people thinking about something that’s a very big problem today, which is our waste stream and all that’s related to it.

We knew this was going to be a huge challenge, but also a great opportunity.

 

What does “zero-waste trip” mean?

The fortunate thing is that, since we are the first travel company in the world doing this, we have the ability to define what “zero-waste trip” means. In doing this, we’re holding ourselves to a very high standard: our definition is “diverting 99,9% of all waste from landfill over the course of the trip.”

We know there are going to be little bits here and there that we won’t know what to do with — we can’t get to 100%, since the technology is not really there yet — but our vision is that at the end of this trip, we’ll have one small jar containing all the trash, meaning all the stuff that couldn’t be recycled, composted or Terracycled (more on this right below). And that’s going to be a great visual of what we could do to change things: 14 travelers, 1 national Park, 4 cities, 7 days, 2 expedition leaders = 1 small jar, everything else will have been taken care of.

small-trash-jar-quote

Background Photo by Natural Habitat

During the course of the trip, we’ll recycle everything we can. Plus, as I mentioned, we’re working with a company called TerraCycle that specializes in recycling things that are currently harder to recycle, like candy bar wrappers, chip wrappers, all plastics that you cannot put into the normal recycling containers, will go into their special Terracycle box.

Composting is also essential: after every meal they have with us, we’re expecting travelers to scrape their trash into a compost bin, or to compost it back into the earth.

A lot of it comes down to refusing stuff. At the end of the day, something has to be made to be recycled; it’s better to not make it in the first place, so refusing things like plastic straws, single-use cups and the like is a big part of it.

That’s where education comes in. We have to learn ourselves, then teach our travelers what and how can be refused, and what are the proper techniques to do that, like refusing it before you get it — if you get a glass with a plastic straw already in it, it doesn’t matter if you use it or not, it’s there and it’s gonna get thrown away if you don’t have it, so we’ll have to be very diligent with not using stuff.

The same goes for food and compost. That’s a bit more delicate in the travel industry: you don’t want to be shortchanging people food, which is their “body fuel” to hike and walk around, but I think people will have to be a little more deliberate about it. If you’re not particularly hungry, why don’t you share a plate between you and your friend?

We will actively be quantifying what we recycle, what we compost, terracycle or upcycle into new materials and what we have to throw away.

I think not using stuff in the first place might be one of the biggest lessons to come out of this trip: learn to do a little bit better without stuff.

In a lot of ways, we are a high-end/luxury travel company, we mostly cater to retirement-near folks who are willing to spend money and expect certain services and things in return: so we’re asking ourselves, how do you work with that sector of the industry and provide people everything they want, but find a way to curtail that back? That will be very interesting to see.

Mugs_Court_Whelan_Botswana_Safari

Photo by Natural Habitat

Are you also educating your business partners about this? For instance, I read you’re going to self-cater at least for a part of this trip to avoid those kinds of waste.

We are, absolutely. It comes back to our overall ethos as a company. We’ve been doing this for a while; we’ve never actually labeled something as “zero-waste”, but we’ve been working with our partners and getting them to be more sustainably-minded for a very long time now.

We’ve worked to reduce packaging for food, like all the food we fly into our camps in Botswana. And if we do have to use packaging, we use something that can be composted, recycled or reused multiple times. For instance, we will buy a cooler that can last for 15 years instead of constantly using styrofoam. These are things we’ve been doing for a while.

Fortunately, we have a headstart on some of that, we have the dialogue open with our partners —our operators, our hotels, the camps we’re using. We’re just going to be upping it consistently.

This is going to be one of the big benefits of this trip. This time, it’s going to be 14 travelers: that’s just a drop in the bucket, but it’s 4 different hotels. It’s Yellowstone, the United States’ first national park. It’s a camp. It’s a transportation company.

collective-retreats-natural-habitat

Photo by Natural Habitat

So we have our influence on all of them, and if we can show them how easy it is to do these things, think about how many visitors the Yellowstone National Park receives every year, 5 or 10 million; if there’s something they glean from this initiative, from the talks we’re going to give before, during and after the trip, that makes a really big difference. So I think the relationship with our partners on the field is a huge aspect of what we’re trying to do.

Going one step further, one of my big goals is to create a best practices document out of this trip, so we have a roadmap, complete with tools that we can blast out to the whole industry to show them how we did this, what were the challenges and the things we had to pay particular attention to, and how they can do it too — since we’re the first, but we don’t want to be the only.

 

Have you already thought of ways you can increase the visibility of what you’re doing during the trip, like talking to people in the park and so on?

We’re actually working on that now. There was a lot of work we had to do to get to this point, to make sure we send people the right information, to also be as zero-waste as possible before the trip, like making sure everything is electronic instead of printed on paper.

Now that we’re about 6 months away, we’re entering Phase 2, going into that kind of details and getting in touch with partners on the ground.

We do have a shortlist of people in mind. There are some non-profits which are not officially part of the national park but have a strong interest in its protection — one that comes to mind is the Yellowstone Forever foundation, I’m sure they’ll want to know about this initiative.

yellowstone-forever

Photo by Yellowstone Forever

The hotels and the restaurants in these national parks are often owned by private concessions, so the government doesn’t actually run and operate them, but we want to reach out to them.

They will learn about it when we go through, we can certainly talk about it when we’re in line to get food, but we want to give them as much heads-up notice as possible, because they might say, “Oh, gosh! We want to jump on this bandwagon.”

I mean, it’s a trendy thing right now, and I want to capitalize on this zero-waste trend. Even if they can’t become zero-waste, they can adopt small practices, so we want to get the word out about that.

We’re actually open to suggestions from anyone about how we can do this better on the ground. They’ll be absolutely welcome.

 

Apart from your future partners for this trip, how is your relationship with other organizations working on zero-waste and environmental issues?

Being a conservation travel company, we’ve worked constantly since our inception, 30 years ago, to form friendships and business relationships with other organizations: we share best practices, we share ideas, we help each other…

Our strongest conservation and sustainability partner is certainly the World Wildlife Fund. We help each other in so many ways.

nathab-wwf-partnership

Photo by Natural Habitat

One of their big pillars of sustainability is the food cycle, from production to transportation to waste. Since they’re so passionate and knowledgeable about it, they’ll be very involved in this trip at that level.

Apart from this, we’re part of a number of different travel consortiums that focus on adventure travel and sustainability. Multiple times a year, the heads of several departments will meet with others around the country or the world to share policies, efforts, ideas, etc.

We have a long list on our website of smaller groups or organizations we’ve worked with to aid on direct conservation in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Galapagos Islands… We’re all trying to be the most eco-friendly we can possibly be, and learning from each other as well.

Besides, we actively donate philanthropic funding to various organizations, including the WWF. A smaller group within our organization called Nathab Philanthropy, which I also oversee, is our philanthropic arm outside of the WWF through which we provide small grassroots funding to smaller organizations worldwide, to aid in community welfare or direct conservation of wildlife or natural areas.

Bwindi-community-school-naturhab

Photo by Natural Habitat

The New York Times wrote that “sustainable travel is not just about the environment”. Are you working on other aspects closely related to responsible tourism, like the relationship with animals or with local communities?

As it goes, the definition of ecotourism or conservation travel is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and promotes the welfare of local people.” The latter is a huge thing we focus on.

Our tours are focused on nature and wildlife. We’re going to see whale sharks off the Yucatan peninsula, we’re going to see monarch butterflies, lions and leopards, tigers and bears and all that: but in order to save them, you absolutely have to engage the local community.

animals-wild

Photo by Natural Habitat

What we try, more than anything, is to have an economic impact by leaving as much of our money as possible in the hands of local communities. That’s not donations, necessarily; that’s business.

We want to stay at a smaller family-run safari camp, or a boutique hotel, and we know that that money is going to stay in the community.

That is probably the biggest value of tourism: the economic impact. When you can show people that there are millions of tourism dollars coming into an area and being left there, it makes that area much more valuable alive than dead — much more valuable left pristine than chopped down for timber, or mined, or whatever.

It’s far better to keep that reef immaculate, with excellent snorkeling or diving opportunities, than to overfish it. Short term gain is great, you can cut down forests for wood, you can pollute rivers for mining, but the whole thing is that responsible tourism done right, when you make those local choices, shows locals that there’s a lot of money to be had.

If you don’t protect local people, you’re not engaging the most powerful force in the area. You can put up fences around the national parks and give people fines for entering them, but that’s never going to endear people to what they’re trying to protect.

These are the actual stakeholders we’re trying to make, the people living around national park, because you can only employ so many rangers and have so many national guards — if the local people aren’t on board with keeping the area pristine and protected, it’s never going to work.

Read More: “We can make a positive difference to the culture, wildlife and environments we visit on our travels, flip flops in hand”

 

And what about animals?

Our partnership with the World Wildlife Fund —which is really close now, we are their travel program and they are our conservation program — started because both organizations, about 15 years ago, were doing overlapping work in a lot of ways.

They had a full travel program with 20-30 people in the office, we had conservation programs and were doing research and work in that area.

So we got together and said, why don’t we partner and both do what we’re best at? We’re really good at travel, we’re decent with research and conservation, while you’re just the opposite, so why don’t we just take over those responsibilities from you and you take over the conservation stuff from us?

They are the boots on the ground, they are the ones who are saving wildlife and lobbying governments, creating policies, protecting national parks, reducing poaching, keeping forests intact and replanting forests… We support them on that mission.

We do a lot of stuff on our own too. When we’re out in the fields, we follow very ethical guidelines. A lot of this just comes naturally, because we hire only the best and most professional expedition leaders, who in many cases are biologists themselves.

So it turns out in the small things, like not getting too close to wildlife and not intruding an area, and of course not taking anything — we’d never remotely think of poaching or hunting ourselves!

We’re entrenched in keeping areas protected by default. We are the people who carry bags with us and pick up other people’s trash off the trail and bring it back – that’s another initiative we have, it’s called The Dirtbag Program: it’s like a river dry bag made of a thick canvas-like material we use to pick up the dirt we find.

dirtbag-program-naturhab

Photo by Natural Habitat

And then of course, we’re entrusting the WWF to do so much of the day-to-day policy work, working with local governments and setting up protected areas, trading the rangers… And because we are their travel arm it feels like we’re doing that too, although they have full control over it.

 

You also offer safaris in places like Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, where literally hundreds of SUVs queue before sunrise to enter the park: by joining a safari in this type of locations, aren’t people actively contributing to the physical and noise damages caused to the park?

That’s the big question, and it’s a sensitive one. Travel is a carbon creator. The fact that we fly around the world is creating carbon emissions. By injecting ourselves into these ecosystems, we are becoming a presence for wildlife, whether the sound is impeding them or the trails that are being built affect them.

I come from an academic background of managing and understanding the impacts of ecotourism, and I can tell you there are a lot of studies out there that do measure things like sound and physical presence and trail erosion or creation.

Fortunately, those impacts are pretty minimal. Submarine testing, for instance, has a much bigger impact: the sounds that are created underwater and have been shown to affect whales aren’t coming from tourism, that’s a really small slice of the pie.

When you’re in these big national parks and there are so many vehicles, it’s obviously annoying — we get annoyed ourselves by them, shouldn’t animals be annoyed?

natural-habitat-transport

Photo by Natural Habitat

You know, they might be annoyed, but in terms of the metrics that biologists look at — things like, are they reproducing at normal rates? Are they feeding at normal rates? Are predator and prey densities in the same balance that we’ve been observing in the last 50-100 years? What is their reaction to sound, or to having a trail go across? — we find the impact is actually pretty minimal.

That being said, I realize we are a presence in these areas and in these ecosystems, but this goes back to what is probably one of the most initial debates on how to deal with protected areas.

One side says we need to protect 10% of the world, or 5%, or 1% as natural areas, like national parks: we need to set them aside, they need to live on their own and flourish and do their own things without humans getting involved. We don’t want any vehicles in there emitting smog and exhaust… Nothing.

The other side says, that’s great, we want to do that, but how do we build advocacy? How do we create animal and wildlife lovers, if we don’t get people in these areas to fall in love with wildlife?

Besides, one of the biggest issues we have today is the so-called “tragedy of the commons”. It’s climate change. It doesn’t matter if you have a large national park blocked off in northern Siberia that people can’t go into — it’s still susceptible to climate change.

This is a big part of the mission of the WWF. If you get people out into these natural areas, seeing a leopard or a tiger for the first time, swimming with whale sharks but doing so responsibly — of course, not impeding migration patterns or anything like that — you’re creating advocates, and these people are going to go on to help save these creatures.

great-grab-whales-nathab

Photo by Natural Habitat

They can do so in a variety of ways, whether it’s through direct fundraising or advocacy. Maybe they’re going to write their lawmaker and ask them to please pay attention to a new environmental bill. Maybe it’s the fact that these people are actually leaving money in this areas to promote conservation.

Going back to Yala National Park as an example: I’ve been there, I know the issue exactly. You have 10, 15, sometimes 30 vehicles around a single wildlife spotting and you wonder, is that how it’s meant to be in the world?

But you may also ask, what if we didn’t have that? How likely would it be for some foreign interest to look at that land and say, gosh, there’s a lot of oil under the surface, a lot of minerals, precious metals, there’s diamonds or rubies in a cave or underground — I’m going to pay 10 trillion dollars to buy up that land and turn it into a parking lot.

If someone wants to convert the value that is coming into Yala National Park, a value you can actually calculate, into something different than a natural area, all of a sudden the government can say: right now, it’s bringing in 50 million dollars a year in tourism, and that’s a value.

So the biggest thing tourism can do is create value for natural areas, and compare that value with other, deleterious processes like extractive processes, fishing, mining or whatever.

The perfect thing is for there to be a thousand humans on Earth and all the natural areas to be protected, and for wildlife to flourish. But the truth is that’s not how it is. The population is growing, people are needing places to live, they are needing food…

Yala-national-park

We have to fight tooth and nail to protect these areas. But if they don’t have any value, if there’s just a big government saying “Don’t go in there”, they’re not going to stay protected.

So even though that leopard is probably a bit annoyed by all the vehicles and all that, fortunately (a) it doesn’t go much more beyond annoyance, a lot of people are doing a lot of studies to make sure that its reproduction, its health and survivability are still intact, but (b) I’m afraid that leopard wouldn’t have a forest to live in anymore if it weren’t for all that.

 

What about the use of flights for your trips? I’ve read you rely on carbon offsetting to reduce your carbon footprint, compensating for the pollution caused by planes. Couldn’t internal flights at least be replaced with something else?

Flights do emit a fair amount of carbon; we’re doing the best we can to reduce that carbon footprint, and we’re also offsetting, so in theory we balance that.

Again, just like what we said about recycling and composting, it would be better if flights didn’t happen at all.

Some people love animals and wildlife, but they don’t travel because they don’t want to be a part of the problem of emitting carbon in the atmosphere, and I get that.

However, I do think it is absolutely worth the environmental cost to get people who have never gotten that spark ignited, that passion for wildlife, to get to these areas and see the wildlife and see what beauty there is in the world.

photographers-travel

Photo by Natural Habitat

Some people are just tried-and-true nature lovers since birth, and they’ve already been converted: the big thing we’re trying to do is convert the vast majority of the world into having an appreciation for nature, the outdoors, pristine environments and so on.

You can’t really do that without flying. Boats are not a solution. Cars can be — the Yellowstone trip, for instance, will be entirely vehicle-based, in a very fuel-efficient vehicle.

So we’re doing everything we can on that front. Of course we’d love to see the day when we can have electric vehicles, not just for our trips but for all safaris. Unfortunately the technology is not quite there yet, but we’re pretty close. I honestly think that within the next decade, we’re going to start seeing electric safari trucks.

One of the big issues with being so far in the wilderness with electric vehicles is the maintenance required; if they break down and you’re in the middle of the Okavango Delta, you will not have the parts to fix a solar array of batteries and the like.

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Photo by Wynand Uys on Unsplash

It’s rather prohibitive in terms of costs and materials, but I’ve been part of a think-tank recently on how we’re going to reshape this. Rest assured that when that technology becomes available and feasible, that will be our next “industry first”.

We’ve certainly experimented with things like vegetable-oil vehicles, we’ve had a couple in our fleet over the years, but again, it’s almost a safety concern when we’re so far and remote, since we intentionally get ourselves very far out there.

So right now we’re still using fuel vehicles, as most of the world is, but I’m watching Tesla and some other electric car companies very closely, and when there’s a company that is willing and able to take a bit of a hit on its bottom line to do the right thing, we’re the ones to do that.

 

How much interest have you witnessed from your customers for this kind of sustainable tourism? Have you found you need to educate travellers about this, or are they already one step ahead, stimulating you to tweak more and more aspects of your trips in order to make them more eco-friendly?

First, in every single evaluation that we ask our travellers to fill out after the trip, one item is “How can we make this more environmental-responsible?” — not because we’re not doing that enough, just because if we can ask that to 7,000 people a year, we’re going to get some really good ideas we never thought of before.

We’ve actively implemented a lot of those ideas coming from our customers, so they always have an ability to tell us what they see from their perspective, and that has helped greatly.

And regarding our clients in general, I would say they are often one step ahead. They tend to be the more eco-conscious people.

However, at the same time they’re often coming from worlds that are not science-based or conservation-based, they just have a strong interest in that world, so they see that we do have a firm commitment to sustainability and conservation by looking at our materials and our website.

We’ve done some studies, and that is actually one of the biggest things going for us, it’s because of that ethic that people really like what do.

But we also have the ability to teach them on so many levels beyond where they’re at, because they’re coming in with open eyes, with an interest and some knowledge, and it’s up to us to flush out that entire spectrum of knowledge, and that happens before, during and after every expedition.

Most of it is done by the expedition leader during the trip itself. We talk about very serious environmental issues, whether it’s palm oil when we go to Borneo or overfishing in Alaska, in Pacific areas… Any sort of environmental issue that’s there is front and center and we’re talking about it because we want people to know.

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Photo by Natural Habitat

And it’s a two-way conversation. It’s not just us preaching to the people, it’s usually them asking more and more. And since as I said before we hire the best expedition leaders in the business, we’re able to share the current knowledge with them and tell them what they can do to help.

By the way, we get a lot of that information from the World Wildlife Fund, so you see how it’s all woven out.

 

Are there any other initiatives by your Team you’d like to tell us about?

 There are a lot of things going on across the board. The Green Team does things in-office and out-of-office; we’re tackling sustainable food now, it’s a big initiative that has come up since we launched the world’s first zero-waste adventure, and all 23 of us look around the table and realize this is going to be much more work than that trip. But that’s the kind of people we are, we shoot for the moon — we’re already very sustainable on the sustainable food front, but we’re taking a much more policy-based approach to it.

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Photo by Natural Habitat

In-office, we’re looking at how we send materials out in terms of sustainable packaging. Those 7,000 travellers a year need to get information about their trips, and we do so in a very environmentally-responsible way.

We certainly encourage electronic documents and forms wherever and whenever possible. But when we do ship things to people, we use either compostable or recycled or upcycled boxes.

We have this cute little program called “The Ugly Box Program”: when we get a box, say, of backpacks or parkas, we’ll reuse that box, slap a big “recycled ugly box” sticker on it for our guests and say, “Hey, this box looks a little tattered, it’s a little bit damaged, it’s been around the world a couple of times, but we’re reusing it instead of just trashing it.

We’re also looking at eliminating plastic straws from all of our trips across the board. It’s an initiative we started a little over a year ago: I believe we’re now 80% compliant, and we’re aiming at being 100% compliant in the first quarter of 2019.

Besides, we’ve just launched the monarch butterfly scholarship grant. One of the trips we do is take people down to central Mexico where the large monarch butterlies migration takes place.

About 500 million butterflies from all over East and North America migrate down to Mexico over winter, they kind of hibernate in these groves of fur trees.

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Photo by Alex Guillaume on Unsplash

And we’ve given away two trips to teachers in elementary or middle-schools in the US this year: they join us free of charge, we take care of their air fare and the trip itself and make it an educational experience for them.

I’ve studied monarch butterflies quite a bit in my career, and I’ve found these butterflies are often used as a teaching tool in elementary schools to teach all about science — biology, metamorphosis, ecosystems, conservation, the climate, geology and all that.

So I had this idea, since one of the most amazing facets of monarch butterflies is this migration, but most teachers will never have a way to go down there and see it — it’s just too expensive, or they can’t take the time off, they don’t know how to do it…

So we’re offering it for the very first time in 2019, on January 6: two teachers will join us, and hopefully they’ll spread the scientific knowledge they’ll gain from the trip from our scholarship grant.

 

One last question. Most of our users are ordinary people looking for products that help them live a more eco-friendly life. As someone who lives and breathes this kind of topics every day, what advice would you give to people who want to move towards a zero-waste lifestyle?

The first step is the easiest and the hardest at the same time, but I believe it’s the most impactful: it’s learning what you don’t need, and taking a very deliberate approach to refusing things, like plastic bags or excessive packaging.

That’s the first step, but at the same time you should be doing a lot of research with yourself: what companies are producing things that just have too much plastic, too much paper, too much whatever? Where do you see excess in life? And write to those companies. Tell people about them.

If you have that thought and you keep it to yourself, you’ll be just one person. But if you tell your friends, put it on social media and start telling these companies: “Listen, I want to buy your laundry detergent, but your packaging is too much, I want to buy it in bulk or in a different packaging”, all of a sudden it’s not just one person, it’s two people, it’s all of their friends. It’s 10, 20, 100 people reading and listening to what you produce. It creates what we call a “market trend”.

So if these companies hears from dozens and dozens of people that they don’t like that they’re serving their coffee in styrofoam cups, they’re going to do something about it. They don’t want to lose the business!

They might have to pay a little more money for compostable cups, or offer reusable cups if you sit in and have your coffee or tea in-store, but the more people are vocal about it, the more we’re going to change things.

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Background Photo by Natural Habitat

So my advice is: do some research on your own and figure out what you can and cannot do without. And then, also identify how you can be more vocal and be a force for change by taking a bit of time out of your day to voice your opinion, because that’s how we’re all going to change.

Read More“Zero Waste is a journey, not a destination”

(Interview conducted by Matteo Vegetti)