Based in Devon, environmental journalist Anna Turns specialises in writing about climate change, marine issues, food, farming and our connection to nature. With 20 years’ experience working in the media, her solutions-focused approach showcases progress, innovations and changemakers.
In 2017 she founded her own environmental campaign, Plastic Clever Salcombe, which focuses on reducing single-use plastics and empowering children to make change. Then in 2020, she joined the Integrity Council for Provenance, which aims to combat greenwashing and create standards that better enable transparency.
Below, Anna shares an extract from her first book, Go Toxic Free, in which she empowers readers to learn how to reduce their own chemical footprints and call for systemic change whilst avoiding the greenwash.
Awareness of plastic pollution has skyrocketed in recent years. But what’s inside those bottles, packaging and containers, and what else besides plastic is our stuff made of?
The “useful” lifespan of a cleaning spray, shampoo or toy is just a fleeting snapshot of a much bigger story, and it’s really important that we understand what happens along these hidden and complex supply chains. It’s crucial that we consider the ingredients and raw materials that are used to make the contents of each bottle, carton or can that we buy, and what happens when they get thrown away after we’ve finished using them. Often, hundreds of different chemicals are involved in each production process, and many of them are not just harmful to us while in our homes, but poisonous to the planet before and after we use them.
“We are all part of this Earth’s ecosystem; not above it and definitely not separate from it.”
From the chromium used in commercial leather tanning that leaches into the waterways to the mercury that poisons small-scale gold miners, every toxic chemical has a knock-on effect somewhere along the line, either as an environmental contaminant or a human health concern; sometimes both.
While chemical pollution is a global problem, sometimes it can occur in places where you’d least expect it. Everything is connected. We are all part of this Earth’s ecosystem; not above it and definitely not separate from it. Our actions affect our environment and each other, as well as future generations, here and on the other side of the world. The good news is that we can do so much to minimise our own chemical footprint.
This journey starts at home, it goes global and it keeps coming back to how we can reduce chemical pollution in our daily lives.
I wanted to write a book that made it much easier to navigate this terrain and for us ordinary people, and make better decisions by understanding a bit more about the products we use and why it matters. I explain what a chemical is, what chemical-free isn’t and what toxic really means, and shine a light on the science so that readers can see through the greenwash and discover which claims are myths and which hold truth. By lifting the lid on toxics, my own assumptions have been challenged massively and there have been plenty of surprises along the way. Advertising culture skews our perceptions, so be prepared for your understanding of what’s safe and what’s not to be challenged. And the worst culprits aren’t necessarily the ones we hear about all the time, so I’ve created a list of top toxics which highlights the things that we need to focus on most of all.
Go Toxic Free is full of progress, innovations and changemakers who are already making headway, from remediation at the source of pollution to the design of more sustainable chemicals that won’t harm the environment.
By joining the dots between us, our families and pets, our homes and the surrounding environment, we can all tread more lightly. Our carbon footprints, plastic footprints and toxic-chemical footprints can be reduced. But zero impact is meaningless because every single thing we buy, eat, spray and use on our bodies has an environmental knock-on effect.
Yes, we can streamline the number of toxic chemicals that we use and buy products that are less toxic. But it’s possible to go one step further. By buying substances and materials that have been formulated in a positively regenerative way or changing our habits altogether, our choices can actually enhance the environment. Instead of sourcing fewer toxic pesticides for your garden, ditch them altogether and create a wildlife-friendly habitat where biodiversity thrives and the food you grow is free from chemical residues.
Every action has an impact, but it can be a positive one. Room by room, I investigate which things in our homes pose the most risk and which we could replace with healthier alternatives. My mission is to make the reality of chemical pollution and what we can do about it as tangible as the plastic litter we might see on the street, verge, riverside or beach.
From what gets washed down the plughole in the kitchen to what might get flushed down the loo, it’s clear that everything has a consequence, however small. There is no washing or flushing “away”. The book acts as a guide around your home, encouraging you to start small, by focusing on the cupboard beneath the kitchen sink or check out what’s in the detergents you use on your family’s clothes, bedding and towels, so you can create your own recipe for a healthier home.
Decisions aren’t guaranteed to be clear-cut. There isn’t always a right or wrong option. Instead, I aim to arm readers with the relevant facts and the latest thinking from experts around the world to build a more balanced picture. Sometimes, you might end up asking numerous questions. I urge people to be curious, spark new conversations and push for more answers. Email manufacturers to ask for further information about claims on their labels or for lists of ingredients that haven’t been published yet and support independent, ethical businesses aligned with your own values. One thing’s for sure – by demanding greater transparency, we can be catalysts for real transformation.
Extract from Go Toxic Free by Anna Turns published by Michael O’Mara.
Top image by Steve Hayward. All other images courtesy of Anna Turns.