/ Sustainability

How we’re championing sustainability together

Saturday 5 June is World Environment Day, but what does that mean to you? Here are some of the things Which? is doing to champion the cause together.

I believe everyone can make a difference to living more sustainably, no matter how big or small the changes you make. Whether it’s changing a lightbulb to a more energy efficient one or being more aware of the products you buy, we can all play our part.

This Saturday, 5 June is World Environment Day and, perhaps like many, you might be struggling a little about what it means for you?

World Environment Day is an ideal opportunity to take a moment and look around at your daily routine and think about what you can change to live more sustainability. It could be as simple as turning off your home computer each night instead of leaving it on standby mode, or taking an extra minute or two each day to recycle more. Which? wants to help provide that advice so people can make better, more informed choices.

How Consumers International is tackling plastic pollution

The power of sharing

At Which?, we have a group of colleagues who set up a sustainability champions network, exploring the changes that can be made within the organisation and sharing their tips for living more sustainably.

Sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start, so the network helps other colleagues share their suggestions, ideas or tips so we can all learn from each other. Earlier in the year, they produced a ‘sustainable living’ guide (below) that’s updated on a regular basis to help inspire others internally.

 

If you find it difficult to know what to do to make a difference, take a look at our new digital supplement ‘Making sustainable choices’. It’s packed with useful information and advice from our experts to help you to make more environmentally-friendly decisions that work for you and the planet:

 

Your sustainability tips and suggestions

One thing that has been clear for me is the power of conversation in helping colleagues, friends and family understand how they can live more sustainably.

The champions network has been a great example of encouraging others to take small steps in the right direction. Just imagine if we all picked one tip to follow…. I found out that turning my computer and TV screen brightness down to 70% can reduce the energy usage by 20%!

If we all took little steps together, it’d surely add up to a big win for the environment.

I’d love to hear your tips and suggestions to help inspire others on World Environmental Day to live more sustainably.

Need some inspiration? Take a look at some of the past Which? Conversations here.

Comments
Anita says:
5 June 2021

The Guide to Sustainability was very interesting but I wasn’t sure whether you made mention of Freecycle and Terracycle? The former is growing rapidly and has just upgraded its systems. Terracycle seems to be a bit of a law to itself – for example certain schemes are closed to new registrations and others are not widespread geographically. It should also be noted that the Tesco recycling scheme, which is mentioned, is limited only to the West Country and Wales at present; so the ability to recycle e.g. pet food sachets is not available everywhere (I use Cats Protection, which may not be widely known about). Continuing coverage of this vital topic will be very welcome!!!

Unfortunately, Terracycle is going to be too much hassle for most people especially if they only have the odd bit of packaging to recycle.

If something is recyclable, councils should be responsible for organising the collections to send for processing.

My council doesn’t accept Tetra Paks with kerbside collections, but at least there are a couple of car parks not too far away with collection bins where we can leave them for recycling.

It’s good to hear sustainability mentioned repeatedly by Which? I would like to see introductions to Which? product reviews inviting readers to question:

:: Do I really need this product and how often will I use it?
:: Can my present one (if applicable) be repaired, either professionally or by me?

My tip is to learn how to fix your own stuff. There is plenty of information on manufacturers’ websites, and enthusiasts often post helpful videos on YouTube.

”According to the Energy Saving Trust, cooking accounts for 13.8% of electricity used in UK homes, with freezing and cooling food consumes another 16.8%. Combined, that’s over 30% of your total household energy use coming from these two activities alone.27 Mar 2020
Once we have a fridge and freezer, pretty well essential, we cannot do much about the 16.8%. But if we tinker with the edges – the intro mentioned turning down screen brightness – maybe Which? could investigate how to minimise energy used when cooking – meals that consume little electricity, batch cooking, cold meals for example.

I would also like to see Which? examining products for likely durability when they report on them, and the ease and cost of repairing. This might persuade some that, in the long run, some “cheap” products are not good value for money.

As for consumerism, as long as we have “disposable” income many will choose to dispose of it, on things they find nice to have, not essentials. Perhaps we could look at better ways of using disposable income?

Anyone with a smart meter can get a good estimate of the cost of cooking. It will cost about the same to batch cook as to cook one meal in the oven, so it makes sense. Looking at my daily energy use online it’s easy to see the days on which I had a baking session.

A batch meal will require defrosting maybe in the microwave and reheating, so maybe not energy efficient.

It is definitely me-efficient though.🙂

Phil says:
6 June 2021

Or you could take it out of the freezer the day before it’s wanted and let it de-frost slowly on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Save a bit of energy and a lot safer!

I often take home-made food out of the freezer and eat it either the next day or the day after. With milk stored in the freezer the only practical option is to allow it to thaw in this way.

Edit: I see Phil has beaten me.

Do you always know what you want to eat the next day?

Probably because I have eating problems and can’t always plan too far ahead, I only decide at lunch-time if we will be eating something out of the freezer and defrost it on the draining board.

I usually do. If I have to go out the meal will keep in the fridge. It was more difficult when I was working and ate out more frequently.

I can understand the challenges of having to be careful about eating because I know people who have to be careful, Alfa.

”Choosing to cook with a microwave vs oven can use from 30% to as much as 80% less energy, according to ENERGY STAR. … In essence, microwaves heat all the food at once. This method reduces cooking time and energy consumption, especially when cooking small amounts of food.

Most of us do make use of the energy savings and convenience of microwave ovens but they do have both limitations as well as advantages over other forms of cooking.

Batch cooking in an oven helps offset the increased cost of using a conventional oven and reheating in a microwave oven is quick and efficient.

I have a Philips book on microwave cookery and a St Michael one, neither of which have proved very helpful during the 30 years I have owned my microwave oven, but it is used daily for reheating food, cooking veg etc.

Phil says:
6 June 2021

Generally although sometimes it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I eat what I took out of the freezer the previous day.

Although as it’s been cooked it should last a few days out of the freezer.

Microwave vs conventional oven. It is not all or nothing but combining the best of both to save energy.

I bought some frozen crepes yesterday, mainly because they were reduced; I would normally make them from scratch. However they took 40 seconds in the microwave, whereas if they’d been cooked as normal in a frying pan I’ll bet a pint to a pin that would have used far more energy. And, to my surprise, they were excellent – sprinkled with caster sugar and plenty of fresh lemon juice.

Far better than an experience many years ago in a JLP cafe. Not sure what to have I saw omelette on the menu – something I like. To my dismay, this came out of a box and put in a microwave and was a disaster – no moist egg, just a soft tasteless brown lozenge.

Most of my batch cooking consists of stews and curries done in the slow-cooker with reheating on the hob.

”An induction hob is likely to be quicker and cheaper to run than other hobs, but they can be more expensive to buy.

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/hobs/article/induction-hob-buying-guide-aMeZI2F83GDZ – Which?

Our microwave oven was last used about twenty-five years ago and disposed of around twenty years ago. I suppose they have become an essential appliance now that so many people eat ready-made meals and more retail space is now given to them than to to fresh meat and vegetables.

Are there any figures for the amount of plastic wasted through discarding the trays containing ready meals?

Is there possibly a connection between that sort of diet and obesity?

Microwaves are very good at cooking fresh vegetables.

I know, Malcolm, but so is cooking with three pans on the hob. We haven’t missed the microwave.

I use the microwave oven every day and never eat processed or convenience foods. The only pan I use on the hob is for boiling potatoes or rice. Frozen fish and chicken is cooked in the micro-oven as are the fresh vegetables.

I eat quite a lot of fresh salad, so if I don’t manage a whole cucumber I will dice what is left and microwave it along with frozen peas for approx 4 mins. Carrots are grated and popped on the top of a salad and any surplus I will grate and make into a carrot cake (approx 5/6 ) in the micro-oven, which will keep fresh in the fridge for up to 5 days, but at 500 cal per portion, it is a rare treat, but a good way to use up those surplus bagged carrots from Ocado et al.

I’ve got nothing against microwaves, it’s just that having a good built-in oven and hob we don’t need one so it’s one less thing to find space for and keep clean.

That’s exactly how I feel about toasters, John. I would not use one, though guests say I should have one. I tell them that if they want toast they are welcome to put bread under the gorilla. 🙂

No point in having a toaster if you don’t eat toast. But if you do, and you want to save energy, it is the clear winner. And a microwave is a quick clean way to heat a cup of milk for your bedtime cocoa. Energy efficient and no messy pan to wash. 🙂

I find it curious that a pro vs anti microwave seems to exist. I have an oven, hob and a mircrowave and we use them all regularly. Microwaves do some things better than ovens and vice versa. I understand some people prefer one or the other, but that is probably down to lifestyle. If I lived alone in a small flat and had to choose one, it would be the mircrowave, on the other hand, if i had a number of others to feed and space was not an issue, I’d choose an oven with hob – but i would miss my microwave if I had to give it up. I would miss it most for heating up small amounts of stuff with less and easier washing up after, and for defrosting when I forgot to get it out the night before, or unexpected guests turn up. I love that I can heat up my coffee if I get interruped when I am drinking it. I love it for making lemon curd so easy to make. I think a microwave is more of a replacement for a hob than for an oven, if you have to choose, because what it doesn’t do is to cook crisp bread, pastry or crackling. Oh and keeping it clean is much easier than any oven or hob.

You are so right – i am much more concerned about the use of plastic packaging for food than the energy used in cooking it. You can use a steamer or pressure cooker and the hob if you don’t want to use a microwave for cooking food. This is a false dichotomy.

Justkate – I don’t think there are any anti-microwave comments here; it’s just that some people choose not to have one.

We happen to keep our toaster in a cupboard because it is rarely used and we don’t use a mixer/blender or have an electric carving knife or coffee grinder. We also hang the washing out on a line to dry.

I suppose we are relatively uncivilised by today’s standards, but people don’t have to justify their choice of kitchen aids and appliances.

RIGHT TO REPAIR

I hope that Which? will be reporting on the long awaited ‘Right to Repair’ initiative: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56340077

It should mean that manufacturers are required to hold spare parts for their products but there are a few obvious questions:

:: Which products will be covered under Right to Repair?

:: Will parts be available to the consumer or just to companies. I’m sure that I am not alone in wanting to be able to buy spares for products I own. I suspect that the manufacturer might prefer I just bought a replacement.

:: Will parts be available at a sensible price?

If successful, Right to Repair could achieve a worthwhile step on the road to sustainability.

I wouldn’t be too cynical about manufacturers. Many support repair schemes, supply parts (or there are pattern parts) and we still have domestic appliance repaiers.

What I would like to see Which? develop is expertise in assessing appliance build quality so that they can give an assessment of durability. They will doubtless need to buy this in but plenty of people out there with the background necessary. Then, as well as having the ability to repair products we could make a purchasing judgement based on the more important attribute of not likely to need a repair – at least, not for many years.

I am not being cynical and I find the allegation rather unpleasant. A lack of spare parts and in some cases refusal to supply parts to anyone other than appointed repairers is an international problem, hence the right to repair initiative.

Yes there are manufacturers that do supply parts and provided that their prices are reasonable, no-one will criticise them.

Yes this Right to Repair initiative is really important because some manufacturers are NOT allowing people to repair them (sometimes for reasons that we probably supported if we hadn’t thought about the whole picture) and we need to make sure that those manufacturers that do encourage repairs, are able to compete. I too would like to see Which following this initiative

You might be interested in a Conversation about Right to Repair: https://conversation.which.co.uk/sustainability/right-to-repair-appliance-eu-rules/ It has been updated recently.

As you say, some manufacturers do not supply parts to consumers or independent repairers. Where parts are available they can be very expensive. It’s hardly surprising that so many products are scrapped.

I want a world where things never need to be repaired. We have only ever had one appliance repair [for a small malfunction in a dishwasher]. I wouldn’t have been able to find the fault or know how to fix it.

I have been searching the net for a lightweight cordless vacuum cleaner that is Made in Britain and the only one I could find was GTech. I was under the impression that British manufacturers appliances were Made in China to retail at affordable prices. Mr Dyson’s machines maybe a Best Buy, but hardly affordable for many, which begs the question, would he price himself out of the market alongside JL whose own brands are also Made in China, if they both decided to up sticks and move their mfg enterprises back to the UK?

Regulars here will remember Duncan Lucas, who spoke very highly of his GTech cordless cleaner, mainly because it was British made. I have no experience but would advise you to look for a cleaner that has spare batteries available at a sensible price.

Like GTech, Dyson gives a two year guarantee on its cordless cleaners but five years on corded ones.

https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/02/gtech-launches-pro-k9-cordless-pet-vacuum/”.
I would much prefer UK designed products to be made in the UK; it requires the appropriate investment. I don’t see that being a money issue as the profit made from dyson vacuum cleaners seems to have made the owner pretty wealthy, owning a large chunk of Lincolnshire.

It’s difficult to know what is the best approach. At least James Dyson must have contributed a lot to the economy in the days when his products were made in the UK. Should we support companies like Miele that design and manufacture abroad instead? I have not bought any Dyson products but there is no doubt that his company did produce highly efficient motors that were needed for battery-operated products. I can see that investing in companies does have benefits but that in turn contributes to the wealth of those who own shares. Perhaps the companies should raise their own funding and leave taxpayers’ money to fund the NHS and schools.

Wavechange – I am not sure I understand your final sentence. Unless I have missed something, companies do raise their own funding. They get it from shareholders who put up much of the initial capital that every start-up business requires.

Because of the large sums involved new companies, or existing companies developing new products or markets, usually require corporate investments from finance houses but over time that money needs to be repaid and, if the company is successful, shareholders will invest in it to ensure it has enough working capital to develop, expand and grow in value.

The yield on those investments would normally provide the investors with a decent income but it is not guaranteed and sometimes the share price falls or collapses because the company fails in some way or the market changes against it. Shareholders’ investments then lose their value.

I feel it is reasonable, given the risks being taken by shareholders, that they can earn a reasonable return on their investments. Low risk investments [for example, utility stocks] tend to have low yields. In my view that sort of investment is not real wealth any more than an investment in National Savings or a building society bond would be. Shareholders’ dividends are taxable like other income.

Real wealth comes if shareholders continue to hold their stakes over a long term and, if the company is successful, their shares appreciate and they can sell them at a profit [and pay tax on the capital gain].

There might be better models for funding new manufacturing or business development but I would suggest that the present method seems to work, it is transparent, and the markets have confidence in it — which is an important consideration. It also doesn’t require any ongoing subsidy from the state [apart from eligibility for the normal business development incentives that are approved by Parliament in the national interest for certain sectors]. It would seem that enterprises free of state or municipal involvement prosper and provide greater benefit to society. They also tend to develop more progressively and are more responsive to consumer needs in terms of product or service improvement because, if they have done well, they have good access to more capital for further development.

I don’t support Miele in any way other than choosing to buy a decent dishwasher from them. I wish we had an equivalent UK product.
As John says the way companies are funded works. State intervention will inevitably lead to political interference. But I would like to see some way that “disposable income” could be offered a home to fund UK manufacturing, particularly new ventures. I would hope that our universities could contribute to commercialising the innovation that exists there.

Thinking about our topic, sustainability, I still use my British-made 1980 Electrolux 303 cleaner to clean my car, garage/workshop and premises belonging to a charity. I have a Miele cleaner dating from around 2000. Both have had repairs but are still working fine.

Thanks Malcolm for the very useful link. I have found just what I was seeking in the British-made GTech HyLite 2, vac for everyday use in between Miele downstairs Electrolux upstairs.

Wavechange, I have at last solved the URL address problem on the iPad. Safari refused to come up with Preferences, but further exploration revealed the following:

Click twice on the selected abbreviated address in URL box, then click Paste and hey presto, the full monty appears!

One thing to watch out with cordless vacuum cleaners is that the part you hold can be heavy and cumbersome because it contains the motor, battery and dust container. The same applies with corded ‘stick’ cleaners but with these you don’t have the weight of a battery.

I’m glad you have sorted out your problem with displaying the full URL, Beryl.

This year I was shocked by reading about the difficulty of recycling plastic film, and where it ends up as a result – so have decided to do what I can to reduce my use of it. I have discovered that a lot of what I use is wrapped around pre-packed fruit and veg from supermarkets, so I am making more effort to seek out produce from markets and greengrocers that are not plastic wrapped – i can do this as my husband is retired and we have time to shop during the day, but it is so disappointing that none of these shops offer an evening opening time for people who work during the day. On the plus side I have discovered a couple of local shops that offer ‘loose’ frozen produce which has enabledd me to buy these without the plastic. It’s hard work though and takes a lot longer to shop this way – to get more people to do this, evening opening is a must. I discovered that supermarkets in mainland Europe offer a much wider choice of ‘loose’ goods – if the small shops don’t get in on the need for evening opening, the supermarkets will eventually get in on the act and these shops will lose some of their customers.

Phil says:
14 June 2021

I ordered a bit of 25mm ply cut to size for a work bench. A fairly robust item you’d have thought but it came wrapped in enough plastic to fill two bin liners.

Justkate – Our local Sainsbury’s is open from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm six days a week and from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on Sundays [Sunday Trading Act restriction]. I believe other major stores are also open in the evenings and at weekends including M&S, Aldi and Lidl. They are increasingly selling loose produce or with paper packaging.

Small independent shops cannot offer longer opening hours because staff costs are too high for the available trade and they sometimes have a closed day or early closing day but they are nearly always open on a Saturday. That was the traditional day for working people to do their shopping.