Sian Berry's 5 tips for greener living

Co-leader of the Green Party, Sian Berry, shares five of her top tips for living a green lifestyle that's friendly to our planet. 

Greener celebrations

Birthdays, weddings and holiday seasons are full of traditions that don’t have to be wasteful to be fun and special. For your parties and celebrations, try these tips to reduce your impact on the planet:

Catering for larger numbers doesn’t have to mean a sea of "disposable" plastic plates, cups, straws and cutlery. Greener alternatives are out there, made of paper, wood, bamboo or even pressed leaves. Try to steer clear of balloons and plastic decorations. Opt for paper or cloth bunting instead, or make your own from recycled materials.

Please never release balloons into the sky, as they can cause huge damage to wildlife. Floating or flying lanterns are even worse, and can cause wildfires and harm to birds and animals. 

There are many firms making delicious ethical, fair trade chocolate and drinks ideal for celebrations. And a special dinner is the perfect excuse for getting high welfare organic meat and cooking locally sourced vegetables. 

"Birthdays, weddings and holiday seasons are full of traditions that don’t have to be wasteful to be fun and special"

Children’s birthdays deserve special parties and days out, which can be very green. Many nature reserves and outdoor education organisations offer group bookings for children to enjoy messy, fun activities outdoors like woodland games and pond-dipping.

When choosing a present, try to avoid increasing the amount of stuff in the world by giving non-material gifts. Vouchers and tickets for arts and cultural events, donations to projects that support wildlife and memberships for charitable organisations are some of the nicest things I’ve received and were really appreciated. 

If you’re putting together a wedding list, there are great green products at a range of prices to ask for, and many couples now let people donate to charity in their name as an alternative option.

For other wedding essentials, look out for vintage or recycled fabric wedding dresses as a beautiful and timeless alternative. Green jewellers are increasing in number too, so seek one out for your wedding rings. These use only recycled metals, avoiding the huge impact gold mining has on soil and water pollution. And it’s really important to make sure any diamonds are not being mined to support conflicts around the world. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme helps you avoid this ethical pitfall. 

 

Grow food without a garden

grow food without a garden

What better way to save carbon emissions and food miles, and ensure you have fresh food you can trust than to grow your own? Even if all you have is a few window ledges, you can still grow a range of useful crops. For example:

  • Salads: Window boxes and balconies are great for easy-to-grow salad vegetables, such as rocket and lettuce. These enjoy a mixture of sun and shade, and slugs and snails will find them hard to reach. To grow salad leaves, simply fill a window box with compost (peat-free), use a pencil to create two shallow furrows and sow your seeds along it. Cover the seeds, water gently and leave until the seedlings come up. Then, thin the rows and keep the soil just moist as the larger plants grow. When you have finished your first crop, just plant some more, or choose cut-and-come-again varieties that will grow new leaves as you pick them.
  • Fruit and veg: Tomatoes, potatoes and other vegetables will do well on a balcony, but need a reasonable depth of soil and some attention to watering. Grow-bags can help reduce water needs and are great for tomatoes. They can also be re-used for other crops like salad leaves later. Strawberries love being grown in pots and are a fantastic treat in the summer. You can even grow them in hanging baskets. Compact varieties of sweet peppers and chillies will also enjoy conditions on a sunny balcony, though netting may be needed to help protect them from the wind. 
  • Herbs: Shop-bought fresh herbs can have a huge carbon footprint, so growing your own is a way to really cut down your impact. You can grow herbs no matter how little space you have. Several kinds of herbs can be grown together in one large pot or, if you don’t mind regular watering, a collection of smaller pots of herbs looks gorgeous on a window sill. All our favourites are suitable for small pot gardens, including annuals like basil and coriander, and perennials like mint, thyme, oregano and chives.

 

Holiday nearer home

holiday nearer home

We’ve all been sold the same image of the "ideal holiday"—a palm tree and a stretch of white sand next to a turquoise sea. But is that really what makes for a perfect break? Does going far away guarantee having a relaxing time, and does a few days of tropical weather make up for the hassle of negotiating airports and long flights?

For most people, spending quality time with their families or friends is what they want from a break. Interesting activities, great food and comfortable places to stay don’t have to mean getting on a plane. In fact, most of us can find ideal holiday spots closer to home. For me, the UK has everything I need for most of my breaks, from a fantastic range of coastlines to hills and mountains that are just the right height to hike up for a brilliant view, without needing climbing gear.

In the UK we have history to spare, with more World Heritage Sites than the whole of the USA, from Stonehenge to the castles of North Wales and the Roman city of Bath. We also have amazing food in our seaside towns, and the best local pubs, while more and more companies are offering adventure and activity breaks ideal for families. 

If you’re not from the UK, don’t be envious. Your own close-to-home breaks will offer a similar range of things to explore. The principle of prioritising what you do, not how far you travel, helps you get to know your own backyard and enjoy more holidays that relax, inform and entertain you without breaking the carbon bank.

 

Making friends with wildlife

fox in garden

Your garden can be a real haven to help support sparrows, insects and other wildlife. Here are some ways to support your local wildlife:

  • Feed the birds: Put out different seeds, fat cakes and nuts to attract a range of birds to your garden. Bird boxes and bird baths also provide essential help.
  • Plant bee-friendly flowers: Leave dandelions until they flower as an important early source of pollen, and look up which flowering plants are best to attract bees to your garden
  • Support other insects: Buddleia is rightly known as the "butterfly bush" and will grow easily in most gardens. Over winter, many insects need to hibernate. An "insect hotel" can be made from a simple bunch of twigs in a plastic tube, left in a sheltered spot. 
  • Plant a hedge: These are ideal for birds to nest and roost in, particularly sparrows, so create a new stretch of hedgerow by planting a number of different small trees and bushes together at the end of your garden. 
  • Leave a wild corner: An out-of-the-way spot behind a hedge or next to the compost bin is ideal for leaving to go a bit wild. Add some rocks and dead wood to support toads, fungi and other creatures that like a bit of peace and darkness. You could also sow some native wildflowers or just see what grows.

 

Reclaim and refurbish

upcylcing is better for the environment

Re-use is one of the green "three Rs". Buying things second-hand is a very good way to make the earth’s resources go further, and also get a bargain in the process. 

The internet has taken over from newspaper classified ads as the best place to find and sell used items, and there’s almost nothing you can’t find online. There are also local networks for "freecycling" items, and these are worth a look at if you’re setting up a home or office and want quality items for less.

A bit of work can make even battered items like new again. I have a lot of second-hand 20th Century furniture. With some sanding and oiling or a lick of new paint, tables, chests and dining chairs (with new seat pads and covers added) can be made like new again.
People also dump reclaimable items into skips and on the street. This fly-tipping is not allowed, but I made a lovely side table from the legs of a tubular steel stool that I found in a local hotspot. 

Even if you’re not very hands-on, these spruce ups are not much more trouble than following the assembly instructions on a flat-pack item, and there are good books available to show you how to do it well. 

Read more: How to upcycle your old furniture

 

You can read more tips from Sian Berry in her book, 50 Ways to Help the Planet, published by Kyle Books, £9.99. Illustrations by Aaron Blecha