Morale And Green Living

morale and green living

For something a bit different today, let’s talk about morale.

For those interested in green living it can be challenging at the best of times to have high morale.  There’s always a bad news story about climate change doing the rounds.  Sometimes there are good news stories but you really have to seek these out.  But the bad ones?  It seems like they fly right at you as soon as your switch on your computer.

It’s also tricky to keep morale up when green living has so so many grey areas.  For example, is buying an fairtrade bag made from recycled materials in Guatemala better than buying a locally made bag made from non recycled materials that has zero air miles?  Is wearing vegan shoes made from plastic better than wearing vegetable tanned leather made from by products of the meat industry?  Is criticising people who aren’t vegan or vegetarian ok when you drive a car on a daily basis or holiday abroad twice a year?

Trying to find an absolute answer to the imponderable is nigh on impossible and would drive you to a pit of despair if you contemplated them for too long.

The truth is there is no perfect way to live greenly.  I firmly believe it simply is not humanly possible for a person to be 100% green in every single aspect of their life.

But if that’s the case then shouldn’t we just give up the quest, and just live our lives recklessly without any regard for the environment?  My answer is no – we keep trying to be as green as we can.  So how can you keep morale up when you can’t be 100% green?

Let me let you into my secret as to how I keep my morale and enthusiasm for green living up.

morale and green living

While I write here on Moral Fibres on a regular basis on green living, as much as I try to be upbeat and positive, it’s not all sunshine and roses.  I’ve always been upfront and honest about my struggles and challenges with green living.  One of my first posts in 2013 was about my then un-green habits.  I’ve mentioned briefly about my struggles with veganism on my about page  and about my struggles with avoiding palm oil.  So yes, I happily put my hands up and admit there are things that I don’t do so well at.

At the same time, there are things that I think I do really well at.  Not perfectly by any means, but pretty well.  Despite living semi-rurally (not through choice, we were completely priced out of city living) and having two kids, I have lived car free for 10 years now.  I have been a long term vegetarian for over 10 years, and I consider myself to be an eBay ninja at procuring secondhand clothes.   I am trying to clean my home as greenly as possible.  In short, I try my best.

And do you know what?  It certainly 100% improves my morale when I know I can’t possibly be THE best at every single aspect of green living, but I can do MY best.  That’s what keeps me going.  Knowing I’m doing what I can, and the fact that where and when I can do more, I will.

Of course, not everyone shares the same view and I sometimes get emails from people who are disappointed in me for when my best doesn’t match up to their own standards and values.

The most recent one was from a vegan who was angry and disappointed because in my sidebar was a link to a post on how to test egg freshness to help reduce food waste.   She said I should be vegan, and should be urging all readers to go vegan.  I explained that I have tried to go vegan in the past (most recently just last year) and really really struggled with it, so instead I have cut my dairy consumption as a compromise.  She didn’t agree this was an acceptable compromise.  It’s not the best, but right now it’s my best.

Sometimes people get angry at me because some items I recommend don’t match up to their own personal purchasing criteria.  For example: if I’m wearing or recommending clothes that can’t be composted.  I personally don’t have the facility to compost clothes at home and as far as I’m aware my local council doesn’t compost clothes, so it’s not something I factor in to purchasing decisions.

Instead I wash my clothes appropriately to help prolong their lifespan; repair where possible; donate or sell second hand clothes when I’m done with them; or when they are too far gone, donate to charity in a bag marked as rags.  Almost all charity shops which sell clothing have an arrangement with a textile recycler, who buys any unsold items from them for recycling.  Maybe it’s not the best, but right now it’s my best.

I’m not against criticism when it’s constructive, but criticism for criticism’s sake serves no purpose other than to sap morale.  Who knows – maybe one day I’ll manage a successful transition to veganism.  Maybe one day I’ll successfully be able to compost my old clothes.  In the mean time, I’m not going to get too down about the things I’m not doing perfectly.

Not everyone has such a thick skin though.  Not everyone believes that their best is, right now, the best.  For another green blogger getting these kind of criticisms may make them think they should stop blogging because they’re not good enough, when really they are doing a great job at helping to spread the word about green living and challenging others to do more.  Or for a blog reader reading these kind of criticisms/comments it may, for example, stop them trying to seek out more ethical clothing because they may feel apathetic or completely overwhelmed, when really they are doing a great job in realising that fast fashion isn’t sustainable, and that looking for alternatives is a great place to start.

So how can we spread morale amongst the green community and beyond?  We could applaud and encourage people who are trying to do the right thing in the best way that they can.  We could tell them they’re doing a great job.  We could offer constructive support and guidance where we can, but leave negativity to the side.  Telling people that they’re not doing enough, or that they’re not doing something correctly isn’t a great way to spread enthusiasm or morale.  Because surely someone trying to do something good is better than them doing nothing?

So let’s champion the small baby steps.  Let’s celebrate our trials and errors in trying to find greener ways that work for each of us.  We’re all human after all!

What are your thoughts on morale?  How do you keep yours up?


Are Biodegradable Plastics Good For The Environment?

are biodegradable plastics good for the environment


As consumers the way products are marketed to us influence our purchasing decisions.  However, it’s often difficult to know if a product is actually green or if it’s just greenwash.  To help you navigate labels, packaging and adverts I’ve started my new Greenwash 101 series, which aims to separate environmental fact from greenwash.

I’ll start with the main one that gets touted around: biodegradability.

Plastic bags, food wrappers, nappies and some other plastics are often labelled as biodegradable.  While manufacturers don’t explicitly say that these products are better for the environment, this choice of word implies that these are better choices for the environment.

Let’s take 5 minutes here to examine whether biodegradable plastics are good for the environment or whether it’s corporate greenwash.

greenwash 101

Are Biodegradable Plastics Good For the Environment?

Conventional Plastic Vs. Biodegradable Plastics

Firstly, let’s look at the difference between conventional plastics and biodegradable plastics.

Conventional plastics are made from petroleum based products derived from oil.  They will either take hundreds of years to break down or, in the worst case, never decompose.

Biodegradable plastics are made from conventional petroleum based plastics, but also contain chemical additives.  These additives cause the plastic to break down more rapidly when exposed to air and light, but could take anywhere between 2-5 years to break down, if not longer.

The other type of biodegradable plastic is known as bioplastic.  Bioplastics tend to be made from plant biomass, such as corn starch, sugar cane or wheat, and should either completely and rapidly break down naturally, or be compostable.

However, and it’s a big however, whether a product is biodegradable or not ultimately depends on where it ends up.

Let’s think about that last sentence for a minute, and think about where out waste goes.

Disposing Of Plastics

In order for biodegradation to occur three basic resources are required – heat, light and oxygen.  If a biodegradable plastic or bioplastic ends up in a landfill site it will never decompose.  In landfill sites waste is essentially mummified, in a complete absence of light and oxygen.  Food that has ended up in landfill will not biodegrade, so there is no hope for biodegradable plastics or even bioplastics.

You would think then that the answer is therefore to ensure that you always compost or recycle your biodegradable plastics.  Unfortunately it’s not that simple.

Biodegradable Plastic Disposal

Most biodegradable plastics are classed as code 7, which places them in the ‘Other’ category of plastics.  Code 7 plastics are generally not accepted for recycling by local councils.  This reason being behind this is that biodegradable plastics are harder to recycle due to the addition of chemical additives in them.

If you want to get round the landfill and recycling issues, and pop your biodegradable bags in your compost heap then you’ll also come a cropper.  Polyethylene, which is what biodegradable bags are commonly made from, often contains a manganese additive.  This additive stops breaking down when placed in compost bins/heaps.  Scientists think this most likely occurs due to the influence of ammonia or other gases generated by microorganisms in the compost.

Even if you were to get lucky on the composting front, and your plastics did break down then you will likely encounter another problem.  Because biodegradable plastics are made from petrochemicals they aren’t always suitable for composting, as they can leave behind chemical residues in your lovely compost.  The key lesson learned here is that biodegradable is not the same as compostable.

And there’s more.  Some biodegradable plastics actually fragment rather than biodegrade, due to the addition of oxidising agents (found in so called oxo-degradable plastics).  By fragmenting, rather than degrading, they break into small pieces which can pollute soils, increase risk of ingestion for animals and end up in our oceans and waterways.   These kind of plastics are impossible to recover for recycling and aren’t suitable for composting.

Bioplastic Disposal

At this point you might be thinking that surely bioplastics are a better environmental option?  The thing is, if bioplastics are sent for recycling, these types of plastic cannot be recycled with standard plastics as the additives in bioplastics can make the recycled product less durable.

Therefore the easy answer would be to ensure that you always compost bioplastics.  However  if you don’t have the ability to compost your waste (perhaps you don’t have a garden) then you are out of luck.

Don’t be so smug if you do have the ability to compost though: some bioplastics will only compost in commercial composters.  Commercial composters reach the kind of temperatures and humidity levels you would be unable to achieve in a standard garden composter, so your bioplastics may never truly break down at home.

If that isn’t enough of a headache for you, with bioplastics you also have the added headache on how the plant material that was used to create the bioplastic was grown.  Concerns include the use of GM crops, and the use of valuable farm land that could be used to grow food crops.  Other potential impacts of growth of bioplastics crops include, but aren’t limited to: deforestation, monocultures, use of fresh water supplies, soil erosion, fertiliser use (which often comes from petrochemical sources), pesticide use, food supplies, food prices and food security.  Makes for quite heavy reading, doesn’t it?

What’s The Answer?

I’m afraid to say that there is no easy answer to the plastics conundrum, apart from avoiding single use plastics where you can and recognising that if a product is labelled as biodegradable then it’s often not the environmental choice that it seems.

Biodegradable plastics are rarely recyclable, and biodegradable does not mean the same thing as compostable.  Compostable goods are often a better choice than biodegradable ones, but only if you can compost appropriately.

Composting nappies, for example, is almost never a good choice because of the mix you would need of green material (e.g. grass clippings, leaves, etc) to nappy.  Considering how many nappies a baby goes through in a day, you would need more than a few compost heaps and a ready supply of green material to be able to compost effectively.  A better choice in this example would be washable nappies.

Check back again soon for the next Greenwashing 101 installment!