Or we feel the state of the world is so overwhelming that it seems like what we do in our homes can’t possibly make a difference.
But it does. Everything is interconnected and all the small choices and actions we take have ripple effects out into the world.
This blog is about doing what we can, with what we have, to make sure those effects are as positive as possible. We don’t have to save the world, but we can do our very best to have a happy, healthy home that ultimately has a good impact on people and planet.
Eco Efficient Homes
Guiding ideals….First do no harm. Have a positive impact on people, animals and the planet. Be efficient with natural resources and home finances.
Let’s start by seeing the home as a living organism that breathes in and breathes out. If we want our home to be as healthy as possible for us and our families we want to make sure the home breathes in as much goodness as possible. If we want our homes to be as healthy as possible for the planet we need to make sure that whatever leaves our home has, for the most part, another use or a positive impact.
Crucial to the wish to be efficient is the principle that in nature there is no such thing as waste, one animal’s waste is another treasure, as illustrated by the humble dung beetle. People have created this concept of waste, things that we ‘throw away’, but where is ‘away’ if you consider our interconnected world? Shifting our concept of waste is central to living eco efficiently, how can the waste you produce be minimsed and re-used for other purposes?
1. Towards a zero waste home
The trick here is about reducing the amount of potential waste that enters your home and then making sure that whatever does leave your home as ‘waste’ is recycled or repurposed as much as possible, how can your waste become a treasure for someone or something else…
Refuse: anything that you can only use once and has no other purpose as well as all unnecessary packaging, just simply say no
Reduce: rethink any single-use packaging or anything disposable by rather focussing on re-usable items and buy in bulk where you can
Recycle: recycling only happens after having reduced, refused and re-used, separate your clean recyclables according to your local municipality or recycling service provider
Rot: sending food waste to the landfill is a real waste and could be such a treasure for your garden, compost it or use the bokashi method which is suitable for those without space for a compost heap
Small non-recyclable plastics and foils like those from chip packets, cucumber, chocolates can be pushed into an eco brick which you hang somewhere in your kitchen for ease of use. Eco bricks can be used to build schools, benches and more.
Running your home to create as little waste as possible is about setting up new habits and being prepared, have a basket in your car with all your re-usable goodies so that you can refuse packaging. If you don’t have a car carry a small re-usable fold up shopping bag and re-usable water bottle and that will make a big difference.
Have a look at this video of a Zero Waste Home to be inspired and then do what you can with what you have.
2. Water and energy saving
There are lots of simple things you can do here to save both money and the precious natural resources of fresh water and fresh air. Some of these suggestions will cost a little outlay, some a lot and some none, but all of them will save you lots in the long run and really reduce your footprint.
Install LED lights – they use 10 times less electricity than old fashioned light bulbs and will save you 10 times more on electricity
Put a brick or full water bottle in your toilet cistern – and save a few litres every time you flush
Divert your greywater to your garden – from your bathroom and kitchen, use a company or DIY it
Solar panels or solar water geezer – the prices keep coming down for these and they pay off big time
Rainwater tanks – for your garden or home, they come in slimline or huge to suit your space
Low flow taps and shower heads
Make sure all new appliances are energy A-rated
Only water your garden before 10am or after 4pm
Geezer blanket and timer – for electric geezers
Insulation – crucial to saving on heating and electricity use
And simple things like showering for one minute less will save 1 400 litres a month in a family of 5, it all adds up!
3. A living wage
Only when we have healthy communities will we have a healthy planet, what you pay your staff has ripple effects into their homes and their communities. Here is a great tool to check if what you pay the staff in your home is a fair and living wage.
Food is of course central to the health of our families and our homes, guiding principals for healthy food are that it is… locally produced, organic, unprocessed and ethically farmed. Some say you can change the world by the food you have on your plate and it’s true that our consumer choices have far reaching impacts on the health of our soils, the treatment of animals and the overall health of ecosystems. Realistically it’s not always possible to get the healthiest most ethical food, so we do what we can with what we have and recognise that the more we demand healthy food, the more healthy food will be available.
Food is also a very personal choice and whether you’re vegan or a meat-eater it’s important to respect different food choices and not get stuck in arguments about which is better. Having said that though, it is a good idea to catch up with some of the international movements which encourage eating meat-free once a week because the meat industry does have a far greater impact on natural resources. If we ALL had a plant-based meal just once a week it would be the same as taking 240 million cars off the road! Check out Meat Free Monday and Green Monday SA for inspiration, recipes and ideas.
In terms of finding the best local, ethical food find out if there are any co-ops in your area, the Munching Mongoose in Gauteng even delivers your food free of plastic packaging by using re-usable containers! There’s also Ethical Co-Op in Cape Town, Organic Emporium in Joburg, Fresh Organics in Durban and FarmFresh Direct along the Garden Route.
5. Buy local
When you shop from big supermarket chains more than half the money leaves the the local community or town whereas if you support local producers the money stays in the community and supports local families and businesses. See what necessities you can get within a 100km radius of where you live, it will make a difference to the lives of so many local families AND you will drastically lower your footprint in terms of how far goods have travelled to get to you.
Once again look out for online co-ops and deliveries, visit local markets so that you don’t have to drive from place to place, or ask the shop you love to shop at to stock local products.
6. Buy second hand
Bea Johnson, who initiated the Zero Waste Home initiative never buys anything brand new, EVERYTHING she buys is second hand, except for food of course! And she always looks fabulous with a very minimalistic wardrobe. There is the concept again of one person’s waste being another’s treasure. Our second hand culture is not as developed here in South Africa as it is overseas, but it is growing fast with sites like GumTree and local community pages on Facebook. It’s a mind shift and habit change to buy everything second hand, but one that will drastically reduce your negative impacts on people and planet.
Whether you live in a flat and grow herbs on your windowsill or on a smallholding with a large veggie garden, everyone can grow some of their own food. Vegetables start loosing their nutritional value the moment they are picked so it’s far healthier to eat your own than what has travelled from farm to depot to shop, plus you know exactly what has gone onto them! It’s simply fresher and healthier and oh so rewarding. For inspiration have a look at Jane’s Delicious Garden and Jane’s Delicious Urban Gardening, you don’t have to think big, start with a pot of spinach and lettuce at your kitchen door.
8. Friendly cleaning products
I don’t know about you but I get a headache from all the chemicals that are put into our cleaning products these days, lots of people are going back to the simplicity of using bicarb, vinegar and lemon for all their household cleaning, it also means no excessive packaging! There are lots of scary ingredients in household products, many of which have been linked to breast and other cancers, so not only are they bad for our ecosystems, they are bad for us. If you’re not keen on the DIY option then luckily there quite a few locally produced ranges to choose, the key questions to ask when choosing household cleaners are whether they are: locally made, biodegradable, not tested on animals, free of known carcinogens, available in bulk and accept returns on containers. Have a look at Greenman, Probac, the Clean Shop and Naturally Good.
9. Friendly body products
All throughout this blog we’re looking at options that are healthy for us AND for the planet, so what we put on our bodies and our skin, our biggest organ, is of course central to our health. But once again it’s also central to the the goodness of what we bring into our home and send out again, so people and planet friendly body products would ideally be locally made (local economic empowerment, less carbon footprint), not tested on animals (humane and ethical), free of known carcinogens (not bad for you!) and biodegradable (good for greywater systems and waste water leaving your home and eventually reaching the ocean). Have a look at Sassui, Jinja Skincare, Hemporium, Essential Africa and Earth Ant or search the wonderful online eco stores for a wide range of products.
10. Your garden as a habitat
Your garden provides vital living space for so many living creatures from bees to butterflies, birds to lizards. Birds like the sunbird don’t like to fly over areas of alien trees and built up areas so it’s important that we plant indigenous shrubs, plants and trees to provide homes and food for them and all the other gorgeous co-inhabitors of our home spaces. Indigenous plants are not only incredibly diverse and beautiful they are also waterwise and adapted to our rainfall areas, plus the insects and birds have adapted to them as a food source. Our gardens can create natural corridors between green belts and nature areas for diverse flourishing ecosystems. On an interconnected planet like ours our survival depends on the survival of so many other living beings.
Try to stay clear of poisons in the home and garden, there are lots of eco friendly options, have a look at this site for recipes and tips to deter ants and other creatures naturally. Poison is one of those things you can’t take back, once you’ve sprayed Doom into your home, it’s there to stay.
Have you got any great tips for running your home more eco efficiently? Share them here in the comments. There is such power in sharing our collective knowledge, don’t let your good ideas go to waste!