How can I be greener?

I've always tried to recycle, not use bottled water, compost our vegetable waste, generally do my bit for the environment, even if here in Spain it's not the norm. But now, after 15 years of religiously separating plastic, paper and glass I'm beginning to see that even this is not enough. Not nearly enough. Apparently many of the plastics I put in the recycle bin can't even be recycled. So why bother?

If this is the case, what can I do to help the planet? And is there really much point when I'm just one person surrounded by hundreds who chuck all their rubbish into the same bin?

One of the major differences between Spain and the UK is that here you have to take out your own rubbish, which basically means you choose whether you want to recycle or not. In the UK you can choose between recycling or drowning under a mountain of your own rubbish when the bin men refuse to touch your refuse.

As I see it we we need to change our ways on several different levels: the way we shop, the way we eat, and the way we get around, just for starters.

When it comes to packaging I now despair when my husband brings the weekly shop home on a Friday and I almost fill the recycle bin with superfluous wrappings. But what can the individual do in a world where plastic rules? We buy peppers in the supermarket and they're wrapped in plastic. Shower gel or shampoo? Again, plastic but this time in hard durable plastic bottles. It seems that plastic has become an essential part of every aspect of our lives that even for those who want to, not using plastic just isn't an option. Certainly, that appears to be the way things are in Spain.

On a personal level, I guess we can shop around, go to a separate butcher's, greengrocer's and take our own plastic containers. But this is generally more expensive and more time consuming. This could be the moment for the return of string shopping bags and soap on a rope, I'm certainly going to return to traditional bars of soap and try only to buy detergent that comes in cardboard boxes, but what about shampoo, toothpaste or face cream?

As individuals it's very difficult to change things when every supermarket aisle is piled high with plastic-wrapped products. While activists may campaign for less plastics, students go on strike for a day, it seems nothing will actually happen until governments legislate, ban plastics and supermarkets are forced to seek alternatives.

Turning from packaging to climate change, I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called Cowspiracy which reveals the true cost to the environment of the burgers, steaks and other meat that we consume. And I was quite shocked to find out that 51% of greenhouse gases are produced by livestock and their by-products (far more than cars!!) and not only that, some 2,500 gallons of water is needed to produce just one pound of beef.

Like most teenage girls, I went through a phase of contemplating vegetarianism, but in the end my appetite and love of roast dinners won out and I never embraced the vegetarian lifestyle. But now, some 30 years after planning a vegetarian diet for my GCSE Home Economics coursework, I'm going to try and cut down as much as possible on the amount of meat we eat as a family. Although perhaps that's easier said than done with my four fussy eaters, for whom each meal usually revolves around the 'fun' meat ingredient. The challenge will be to come up with tasty plant-based alternatives.

I'm not sure how much we can do as a family, or if my efforts will be nothing more than a drop in the plastic filled oceans. But I'm going to start one bar of soap and one veggie burger at a time and maybe, just maybe others will start to do the same.

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