Earth Day 2024: Planet vs Plastics – How St Milburga Chapel is looking at the problem.

What is Earth Day?

Monday 22 April 2024 is Earth Day. If you’ve never heard of it, Earth Day is an annual event celebrated worldwide on April 22 each year to raise awareness of environment issues and demonstrate support for environmental protection. It’s been going a long time: the first annual Earth Day was held in 1970. However, with the advent of mass media, a growing concern for the health of our planet and the increasingly harder to ignore effects worldwide of global warming, Earth Day has become much more widely recognised. The event marks a day of action that might include activities ranging from planting trees and cleaning up local environments to campaigning for government action on ecological issues.

This year’s theme is “Planet vs Plastics”. EARTHDAY.ORG, the organisation behind Earth Day is demanding a 60% reduction in the production of ALL plastics by 2040.

So what can we do to support this commitment? Although, ultimately a major reduction in plastic production might only occur with changes to government legislation and a commitment from big businesses to reduce plastic use, we do believe that as individuals and as a small business we can play our part. In this blog post, we look at the ways in which we have tried to reduce our plastic use within St Milburga Chapel as a holiday let and a business, and a look at the areas where reducing plastic use has been a challenge.

Renovating the Chapel

Our aim was to renovate St Milburga Chapel in the most sustainable way that we could. We thought carefully about what needed to be replaced and what we could keep and re-use, at least for now. We used a natural paint brand that did not contain microplastics which came in recyclable metal tins throughout the chapel. We used a natural floor varnish also in recyclable metal tins. When sourcing furniture, we were keen to buy second-hand wherever we could. This resulted in some amazing finds, including the dining table that came from a church in Wales in keeping with the ecclesiastical theme. The beautifully unique wooden chairs throughout the rooms were another Facebook Marketplace find. We upcycled items where we were able: the dining room chairs, coffee table and chest of drawers in the twin bedroom are all upcycled pieces. When we were unable to find suitable items second-hand, we tried to buy products in natural materials or that were sustainable. For example, the rugs in the bedrooms are made from recycled plastic bottles and the towels are also made from recycled fabrics.

Energy Sources

We decided to go with a 100% renewable energy provider for the electricity and replaced the old overnight storage heaters with new cast iron electric radiators. The living area had an old gas heating stove and we replaced it with a more modern version. Although this has an A energy efficiency rating, it runs on bottled gas, so we are not yet 100% fossil fuel free. In the future we plan to look an air source heat pump and solar panels.

St Milburga Chapel as a Holiday Let

We try to use eco-friendly products wherever possible: our cleaning products, laundry detergent, soap and washing up liquid are all eco-friendly brands.

We try to encourage our guests to recycle as much as possible, giving clear instructions on what can be recycled and where to put it.

We encourage guests to use the heating wisely and to turn off the heating when they go out for the day.

Challenges we face

Sustainability comes at a cost. We are prepared to spend more money on materials such as paint and varnish, cleaning products etc in order to buy more eco-friendly brands. However, sometimes the eco-brands are just too far beyond our budget.

Unconventional spaces made sourcing furniture and other items even more difficult. We would have loved to have sourced the majority of the furniture second-hand. However, height restrictions created by the characterful sloping ceilings in the bedrooms meant finding specialist beds that would fit under the eaves. The open-plan living space also proved finding a second-hand sofa was difficult; most were too large, too dominating or just too worn out!

Local recycling restrictions: coming from North Wales where just about everything can be recycled kerbside, it was quite a shock to find that various items such as tetrapaks were not recycled in Shropshire. It was also quite a challenge getting our head around what went in each bin/bag! So, if we find it a challenge, we are sure guests coming from different areas of the UK also find it confusing. And frankly, the last thing you want to be doing on your relaxing holiday is trying to figure out if and where you can recycle your plastic tubs or wine bottles!

Hygiene/guest expectations: this is one of the most pressing challenges we face and not one we have thought of a solution for at the moment. For both hygiene reasons and because we think guests expect it, we put out new cleaning cloths/dishcloths for each guest and they tend to be the type designed to be disposable after a few uses. However, this generates unnecessary waste and is also costly, not to mention that those type of cloths tend to contain or be made from plastic. We’d like to come up with a solution to this problem but it is proving difficult. Any suggestions would be most welcomed.

Lack of control: although we can encourage guests to be responsible, ultimately we have no control. If guests want to throw everything in the main bin and leave the heating on all day, then that is up to them (please don’t if you are reading this – its costs us a fortune as well as the earth!). You just hope that most people are a little bit respectful of the environment and our holiday cottage, and will do things they are used to doing in their own homes.

Future Plans

We would like to aim to be 100% fossil fuel free at some point. This would mean replacing the propane gas bottle-powered heating stove in the living room with a greener alternative which at this point we are unsure what that would be. We would also like to look into the potential of putting solar panels on the roof. However, we may face limitations – St Milburga Chapel is a listed building, the roof is old and we would not want to damage the aesthetics of the building.

Short term, we would like to find a greener solution to the disposable cleaning cloth situation. We have also been toying with the idea of providing an eco-branded shampoo, conditioner and shower gel for guests to use. This would have an added benefit of being kinder to our septic tank as well.

In the near future, we are looking to renovate the kitchen: an area that we have not tackled yet. This would give us the opportunity to replace the white goods with more energy efficient brands.

In any case, we still have a lot of things we can do and we hope this article has giving you food for thought and encouraged you to think about some of the things you could do in your own life to respect the environment a little more.

You can find out more about Earth Day and search for an event happening near you here