Eco Church

St Mark's is working towards an Eco Church award. Here are ways in which you too can help to save our environment.

June 2022

More about plastic!

I’ve just finished doing the Big Plastic Count, part of a nationwide survey of plastic use to try to establish how much plastic waste is generated in the UK. If you’ve taken part too, you’ll perhaps be as shocked as I was to realise just how much plastic we get through – and I thought I was avoiding it as much as possible! So here are a few thoughts about how to reduce our plastic footprint; some are obvious and very easy, things we already do, others maybe won’t quite suit us, but I hope you’ll find some useful ideas.

First though, let’s accept that for some uses plastic is vital and unavoidable – let’s not have a guilt trip about those things we really need, there’s no doubt it’s a wonderful material especially for anyone with particular needs.

First, some thoughts about shopping:

  • Try to choose fruit and vegetables that aren’t plastic-wrapped – if you save your used plastic bags you can easily pop your purchases in a bag at home before storing them, to keep them fresh.

  • Choose recycled toilet rolls that come wrapped in paper rather than plastic.

  • Toiletries and cleaning products are nearly always in plastic containers, but there are alternatives – shampoo bars rather than liquid shampoo; and washing powder in cardboard boxes rather than liquid. At the zero waste shop in Crookes, you can take your own containers to fill from large dispensers of washing-up liquid, liquid soap and all-purpose cleaner.

  • Unwrapped, the zero waste shop, also sells a wide range of dry goods, spices and herbs, as well as fresh bread, again take your own containers. We can hope supermarkets might take up this idea!

  • If you’re an online shopper, you probably know how much surplus packaging can arrive with your purchases. “Click and collect” might be a way of minimising that, plus it gives you the freedom to collect at your convenience rather than waiting in for a delivery.

And general ideas:

  • I don’t think many of us buy bottled water these days, but if you take your own bottle you can refill with drinking water for free at many shops that show the “Refill” logo. (see the free Refill app, if you’re a smartphone user)

  • Similarly, take your own insulated mug or flask for hot drinks – and take your own sandwiches, rather than buying a plastic-wrapped one.

  • What about cling-film? It’s so handy, isn’t it, but I’m trying to wean myself off it. Cut fruit and veg, eg half a lemon or half an onion, just needs to go sliced side down on a plate; pastry or other mixtures can be stored in a bowl with a plate on top. A clean teatowel can be used to cover dough while proving; the key is to use what we already have rather than looking for trendy new ideas.

  • Used takeaway containers make good lunch-boxes, and margarine tubs can store leftovers in the fridge.

  • Cut up old towels make good cleaning cloths.

  • If you make compost from your kitchen scraps, don’t put your used teabags in it unless you’re absolutely sure they don’t have plastic in them – surprisingly, most brands do, and it’s annoying to keep finding plastic teabag “skeletons” in the garden!

  • And if you’re a wet wipe user – please please don’t flush them down the toilet, whatever it says on the packet – they all have plastic in them, which causes serious drain blockages.

  • Lots of us like fleece-type jumpers and jackets, but these synthetic fabrics shed plastic microparticles when washed – which find their way into rivers, seas and animal life. Let’s try to wash these fabrics as little as possible – only when needed – and let’s try to choose natural fibre clothes, cottons, wool, etc. Charity shops have a wide range of good quality and bargain clothes, and buying there not only helps the charities but also means we’re re-using items that might otherwise go into landfill.

I’m sure you’ll have lots of ideas of your own but I hope this is a start!


May 2022

Climate crisis help for Zimbabwean farmers; and a project to quantify plastic waste in the UK

As always at this time of year, Julie and her team are preparing for Christian Aid week, which this year is 15th -21st May. The climate crisis is affecting the poorest in our world most, even though they are probably least responsible for it. Christian Aid is one among many organisations working to bring solutions, so this is a great opportunity to see what we can do to help. Here’s a story from their website; you can find much more, and lots of ideas of how to help, at christianaid.org.uk/appeals. When the envelope pops through your door, please be generous – Thank you!

Jessica is a farmer in Zimbabwe who is keen to earn a decent living and provide a more hopeful future for her family. But drought caused by the climate crisis, and rising global food prices caused by the war in Ukraine mean that she is struggling to do this. 7 out of 10 women in rural Zimbabwe rely on farming for income and food, but the land is dry and nothing can grow no matter how hard they work, driving families into hunger. Jessica’s husband is sick so she is the only breadwinner. With our help Christian Aid could enable Jessica to grow drought-resistant crops and set up water taps on her farm, so that she can provide for her family in this harsh climate. Let’s be as generous as we can!

Another event coming up in May that you might not have heard about is Greenpeace’s Big Plastic Count, which will run from 16th to 22nd May. We all know how useful plastic is, it’s vital in many applications – but the problem is the sheer amount of waste that’s generated. The government is currently deciding on targets for reducing plastic waste, but at the moment there’s little hard evidence of just how much of it is produced in the UK. So this is a way of gathering the facts about how much waste there is, and where it goes. The idea is that for that week, we count all our plastic packaging – crisp packets, drinks bottles, wrappers, everything! – and record it, submitting the results at the end of the week. Greenpeace can then calculate how much of it is likely to be recycled, and what’s likely to happen to the rest. This will create a real picture of plastic waste in the UK, as well as for us individually, and will enable the government to make sure the right recycling systems are in place so that plastic waste is no longer dumped where it can cause harm to people and wildlife, either here or overseas. You can see much more about this, and sign up to join the count, at greenpeace.org.uk/count-me-in – they will send you all you need to classify your waste and submit your results. They hope as many households as possible, of all sizes, will join in, to give the widest possible spread of evidence.

April 2022

This month we’re taking a step back from the local and looking at a global issue that affects us all, fuel and energy. We hear a lot at the moment about rising energy prices, both for oil and gas and for petrol and diesel. So it makes sense to try to cut our reliance on these, despite the fact that we all need and use them constantly. The current horrific situation in Ukraine, and the world’s consequent efforts to reduce imports of Russian fuel, give extra impetus to this.

So – why do we need to leave oil, gas and coal in the ground? Surely we depend on them, and have derived huge benefits from them? It’s now well attested that emissions from fossil fuels are the single biggest cause of human-induced climate change. This is potentially very dangerous indeed for the whole of humanity this century, and slowing it down will take decades. But the rate of global temperature increase is still accelerating, despite all the conferences, agreements and targets, so serious action is vital now.

Renewable energy, primarily solar and wind power, has become much more affordable in recent years as the technology has developed. But overall demand for energy is rising steadily despite increases in the efficiency of our gadgets and systems. So renewables must be allowed to reach their fullest potential; I read that if solar panels covered just 0.1% of the earth’s surface, an area of 228 square miles, all of today’s energy needs could be met worldwide – amazing!

So – what can we do to protect God’s world, and to ensure that everyone, not just the best-placed, can flourish? Here are some thoughts:

  • Let’s use our voice, and our vote if the opportunity arises, to make sure politicians both local and national make the right choices. We may feel we can’t do much, but we have the privilege of living in a democracy so we can write, march and vote to support those difficult and perhaps unpopular (in the short term) policies.

  • We can encourage politicians and other leaders to support investment in renewable energy, especially solar, and the technologies to improve storage and transmission, eg batteries, etc. Plus encourage new employment possibilities in these industries; and put in support to enable us all to make energy choices that will provide a secure future.

  • We can refuse to be tempted into supporting those who advocate new fossil fuel projects, eg the Cumbrian coal mine, fracking, and new North Sea oil drilling.

  • If we are fortunate enough to have investments or a pension plan, we can do our best to make sure that we’re investing in the positive things, not the negative.

The technology for most of the changes needed already exists, what is required is investment and, most of all, the political will to enable them to be fully developed. As we watch the situation in Ukraine, we want to detach our country from reliance on a regime whose values we cannot agree with; how much better it would be to fully commit to building a resilient renewable energy industry, and supporting every effort to achieve global agreement so that everyone can have a safer future.

For much more detail about all of this, can I recommend “There is no Planet B” by Mike Berners-Lee, you can find it at Ecclesfield Library. Mike teaches at Lancaster University and sometimes appears on TV as an expert on calculating carbon footprints and much else.

March 2022

We are thinking about caring for the environment through the “Eco Church” framework, and this month we look at food. It’s great that many supermarkets are now ensuring that their nearly-outdated produce can be sent to food banks. The S6 food bank based at Hillsborough supplies our local food bank at St Paul’s, Wordsworth Ave, which just now is very busy as the cost of living rises. The generosity of individuals and businesses is very much appreciated there.

I’m sure we all know the wisdom of having a list when we go grocery shopping – and doing our best not to waste the food we buy. It’s so easy to fall for those special offers, but can we really use them? Look out for the “Wonky” vegetables and fruit in your supermarket, they are usually good value because while not the ideal size or shape they are perfectly fresh. And try to avoid exotic produce which has been air-freighted to the UK – flying in out-of-season strawberries or roses is not good news for God’s world!

One powerful way to reduce our carbon footprint is to cut down on the amount of meat and dairy produce we eat; it doesn’t mean we all need to turn vegetarian or vegan, just eat a bit less meat! There’s lots of background information about why this is really important, so check out this section of Greenpeace’s website: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/challenges/meat-and-dairy/

We’ve moved to eating much less meat, and we certainly don’t feel we’re missing out. It’s easy to find recipes, but here are a couple of suggestions if you want an easy way in. The first is Frittata, with stir-fried veg, I find courgette, pepper and carrot make a nice combination. Fry gently in oil with a lid on for about 20mins till they are tender, with whatever spices or flavourings you like, then beat up 2 eggs per person in a bowl and tip the veg into it. Stir it up well, so that the egg begins to cook, then tip it all back into the pan and cook gently for 5mins or so till set. Then sprinkle some grated cheese over the top, brown it under the grill for a couple of minutes, and serve with crusty bread.

My other easy favourite is Lentil Shepherd’s Pie. Make your mashed potato as usual, and while it’s cooking fry a chopped onion, add a crushed garlic clove, and then a tin of green lentils (drained) and half a tin of tomatoes (for 2 people). Stir it all together, and add a stock cube and more liquid if it seems a bit dry, Henderson’s relish, tomato puree or whatever flavouring you like. When it’s well mixed and bubbling, pour the lentil mixture into a casserole dish and top with the mashed potato, then sliced tomatoes, and bake in a hot oven for 15-20mins. Enjoy!

February 2022

The days are starting to get longer, and snowdrops are showing at last - spring will soon be here! As we think about caring for God's world, many of us enjoy nurturing our own little slice of it, even if it's only a window box or some pot plants. And we can all help the natural world, whether it's planting flowers that will encourage insect life or feeding the birds. I saw an item on TV recently about the vital role peat bogs play in the environment, they hold vast amounts of carbon, as well as providing a home for a huge variety of wildlife. We can all help preserve these special places by using peat-free compost in our gardens; this Royal Horticultural Society video explains how important this is, and also that the peat-free composts developed recently are now much improved. Let's see what we can do to help.