Seven wildlife-friendly kitchen sink habits to adopt today
If we've learnt anything from our attempts to live greener, it's that everything we do at home has and will have an impact somewhere in the wider world. More specifically, every little habit, every big decision, either helps or harms the wildlife with whom we share the planet.
A little habit: chucking our used cotton buds down the toilet, instead of putting them into the bathroom bin.
The harmful consequences: Such a tiny scrap of plastic, yet collectively we flush so much non-biodegradable stuff that the Victorian sewers under our towns and cities are overwhelmed. Some flushed cotton buds wash up in our seas, floating until they're mistaken for a snack by unfortunate seabirds or, through the gradual process of weathering and fragmenting, return to us in the decidedly untasty form of microplastic particles in the salt shaker.
A big decision: choosing FSC-certified wooden products for our homes and gardens.
The helpful consequences: By making the greener choice, we encourage the manufacturing companies competing for our cash to use ethical timber in their products, cutting the demand for illegal timber logged from orangutan habitats.
short, we're none of us living in a bubble. And with that in mind,
let's get wildlife-friendly with the most mundane of bubbles – the
ones in our kitchen sink...
Look for the Ecolabel on your washing up liquid
Who has time to scan through lists of ingredients, pondering over freaky sounding substances like Dimethyl aminoethyl methecrylate and 1,3-Cyclohexanedimethanamine? Instead look for the Ecolabel for effective dishwashing suds that won't irritate your skin or cause unnecessary problems for our aquatic friends.
2. Recycle cooking fat and oils, don't dump them down the sink
If there's one species that loves a good fatberg, it's the brown sewer rat. Which are very much not endangered. In fact, unlike most of our native wildlife, the rats are positively thriving on the diet of rancid gloop we're kindly washing down our sinks each day. And what a waste, when all this grease could have a second life as biodiesel!
Put a large container with a lid beneath the sink and get into the habit of cooling and saving your used cooking fat and oils ready for your next trip to the recycling centre.
3. Be frugal with water
Turn on your kitchen tap and loads of lovely clean drinking water swirls into the bowl. We take it for granted. But where does that water come from? Treatment plants, yes, yet originally? As much as possible is pumped from natural underground stores (a.k.a. aquifers) or purpose built reservoirs, however during times when our national water usage is high or stocks are low due to drought, supplies have to be topped up with water siphoned from lakes and rivers. The self same lakes and rivers that are vital habitats for British wildlife.
Help preserve the delicate balance of these natural environments by reducing the amount of water you use day-to-day, starting at the kitchen sink:
Fill up a bowl instead of cleaning dishes under running water
Scrub vegetables in a bowl and use the dirty water on houseplants
Switch the tap off when you're soaping up your hands
Put a bowl or bucket beneath the tap while you're waiting for water to come to temperature
4. Choose a natural, non-plastic scrubber for your pans
Plastic scouring pads, sponges, scrubbers, washing up brushes and polyester cloths are pretty rugged, yet in the process of doing tough jobs teeny-tiny bits of plastic – microplastics – break off from the surface and get washed down the sink. Once in the environment, these microscopic particles accumulate in the soil, in waterways and in the bodies of all kinds of wildlife, including us!
Switch to wildlife-friendly, long-lasting, biodegradable sisal or agave twine pan scrubbers, with perhaps a few natural cotton cloths for general cleaning around the kitchen. Try making your own.
5. Get natural on the cleaning...
No surprise that cleaners with giant black 'TOXIC' symbols on the back aren't the best for aquatic wildlife – or the health of our homes in general. Steer clear and try to use natural cleaners wherever possible:
Bicarb is tough but gentle and handles burnt-on food in all kinds of pans including copper and non-stick
Sprinkle a little coarse salt on half a lemon for a quick sink scourer and degreaser
Refresh a stinky plughole by spooning over a tablespoon of bicarb and adding a glug of ordinary white vinegar. Let this fizz for a minute or two, then carefully pour a full kettle of boiling water down the sink.
6. ...and hands on when it comes to declogging
Conventional drain cleaners are particularly noxious. Even a quick glance at the instructions makes you feel like you're preparing to enter a radiation zone. Definitely not something we should casually be putting down our sinks, despite the snazzy advertising.
Often a clog can be cleared manually at the waste trap below the sink, no products needed. Put an old bucket or bowl beneath to catch any standing water and gently unscrew the couplings on both sides of the 'U'. The piece will come away, along with all kinds of brown goo and, hopefully, whatever was blocking the sink. Remove the blockage, scrub off the goo with water, bicarb and an old toothbrush and then screw the clean piece back in place.
7. Fix dripping taps quickly
Leaky taps, left to their own devices, can drip away a litre of clean water an hour! Fortunately they're usually a doddle to fix if you're at all DIY savvy, so put that tap at the tippy top of your to-do list.