3 eco-friendly alternatives to google search

We all use search engines every day, without really thinking about it. Most of us would use google because they keep implementing convenient functionalities, but behind the scenes they are selling our data to advertisers that are trying to sell us things we don’t need.

What if there was a way to make internet searches while protecting our privacy and making a positive contribution for the planet ? I have tested three alternatives to google search that aim at protecting the user’s privacy and contribute to something bigger.

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DuckDuckGo: it’s all about privacy

DuckDuckGo - A privacy oriented alternative to google search

When I started worrying about my privacy on the internet, I first came across DuckDuckGo.  This search engine is not eco-friendly per se, but it has a very high commitment on its users’ privacy: from not tracking users’ data to showing the same content to every user for the same search. For that purpose, it has developed its own search algorithm. It used not to have sponsored content, but added some to keep the project alive. However it is possible to opt out in the settings. If you use Safari or Firefox to surf the web, you can choose it as your default search engine.

I tried DuckDuckGo in its early days but came back to google pretty fast as I was not very satisfied by the search results. I tried it again last year and it has improved a lot, but it would still fall short when I would look for a combination of more than two ideas. I was finishing writing my thesis at the time and ended up having to use google for at least one third of my searches, which was not very convenient.

Lilo: support community projects

Lilo - Collect drops with every search and support environmental and social project

I still had in mind that I wanted to find an alternative to google search, so when one of my friends shared a post about Lilo on Facebook, I did a bit of research and set up to try it. The concept behind this search engine is to divert the ad revenue generated by our internet searches to  finance positive changes. Lilo redistributes 50% of their revenue to support environmental and social projects. For each search you make, you earn a drop of water. You can then choose to support the projects you like in a list of partner projects.

It works with the google search algorithm while protecting its users’ privacy (it doesn’t save personal data and protects you from web and advertisement tracking, but some basic info have to be passed on to google) so you don’t have to compromise on the search result quality.

Then there is the problem of the energy search engines consume. The internet gives this sense that things are dematerialised and it is easy to forget that behind each search there is an impact on the real word. Lilo offsets the carbon emission of its searches. This is also true for google, which uses 56% renewable energy and finance carbon reduction projects to offset the rest (see this Greenpeace report to know more about the green efforts of the giants of the internet).

I have been using Lilo since the beginning of the year and I am very happy with it. I only switched back to google for a couple of tricky IT questions that were hyper specific. To use it by default, you have to install a plugin on your browser. If you don’t like plugins, you can bookmark search.lilo.org. I like to see the drops accumulate through the month (I try to give my drops at the end of each month). It helps me realise how many searches I make and it is super nice to choose a project and give the drops away.

Ecosia: let’s plant trees

Ecosia - The search engin that uses its revenu to plant trees

Ecosia works in a similar way as Lilo, using Yahoo and Bing’s algorithm and giving away 80% of its ad revenue to a reforestation plan. You also need to install a plugin to use it. It is not completely clear to me where Ecosia stand in terms of the energy. I read here (have a look at the article if you want a more detailed comparison of Ecosia and Google search) that Bing and Yahoo are carbon neutral although Greenpeace ranks them lower than Google on green internet leadership. I didn’t find out if Ecosia does anything specific about their own energy use, but I guess since they contribute to planting so many trees they must offset the extra energy anyway.

As for privacy,  Ecosia don’t store permanently any personal data, but need to send some of them to Bing. Having read privacy policy of both Lilo and Ecosia, I would say Lilo is slightly better on that front, but if privacy is your main concern nothing beats DuckDuckGo.

I tried it for a few weeks and didn’t find a significant difference with Lilo in terms of the quality of the search results. As with Lilo, you can keep track of how many searches you make in the form of a counter telling you the number of trees you helped plant. Since you don’t have to choose which project to support, it doesn’t require any extra work to contribute to planting trees once you have started to use it. Although I like the idea that I can choose what kind of project I support.

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In conclusion, my current favourite search engine is Lilo, but that might just be a bit of chauvinism as the founders of the project are French 🙂  What about you ? Are you ready to try something different for your internet searches ?

Waste reduction: 6 months of trash

It has been 6 mouths since we moved to San Sebastian and since we ‘seriously’ started our waste reduction journey. I have seen people fitting their trash in a glass jar 6 months in their zero waste venture, but this requires more dedication than we have time for. Instead we focused on making simple accessible changes:

  • composting,
  • buying fruit, veg and cereals package free as much as possible
  • favouring glass, cardboard and paper packing over plastic
  • avoiding pre-processed food and cooking a bit more
  • avoiding buying new things unless we really need them
  • replacing disposables (kitchen roll, water bottles …) by washable and reusable alternatives

The result? We reduced our waste volume by  more than 12!

The compost

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We are lucky to have city compost in San Sebastian. In the summer, we have been taking a small bag of compost out per week. Now that the weather is a bit colder, we can wait 2-3 weeks until the bag is actually full. I would rather not use a compostable bag, since it uses energy and resources that could be spared, but it wouldn’t work with the city collection system. All this organic matter will be used to make natural fertiliser, sparing the use of chemical alternatives, instead of being burnt or berried.

The recycling

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In six months, we filled a crate of cardboard (a few deliveries, pasta and chocolate packaging mostly) and diverse papers (advertisement stickers don’t seem to be taken seriously). For the rest of the recycling, we have:

  • a few glass bottles (beer, wine and oil),
  • a couple of glass containers that I could not get presentable enough to re-purpose,
  • white vinegar plastic bottles (we use it instead of conditioner in the laundry and for all-purpose cleaning),
  • one month of milk bottles from before we found the zero waste alternative,
  • plastic beer bottles that we brought back home from a festival to make sure they would be recycled,
  • plastic bottles left by guests (no, we don’t kick people out if they bring waste),
  • a few other stuff like the empty hotel soaps I am trying to finish up, a few cans, and rare plastic pots.

This corresponds to about the same volume of recycling we use to get out every two weeks in London.

The garbage bin

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The photo above include all the none compostable, none recyclable trash of the last 6 months. That’s right, we only took it out 4 times and in small carrier bags as well! And we didn’t deprive ourselves to get to this result. For example, we didn’t find an easy zero waste source of cheese so we buy it from the supermarket. Same with the little meat we buy and a few other treats. I would bet that the content of those 4 bags would more than fit in the trash bags we used to get out every two weeks in London.

At first, I wanted to reuse the same carrier bag over and over, like we do for the recycling. I used a relatively resistant bag that could fit 2 months of trash, but there is too much fatty stuff in there so we moved to smaller thinner bags that last only one month.

Full disclosure

Because it’s easy to make things look more perfect than they are, here are a few points that hopefully make you feel that it doesn’t have to be perfect to make the effort worth it.

Full disclosure #1  There is also a few pizza boxes that went directly to the big street bin.

Full disclosure #2  I kept a few things that would go into the recycling for up-cycling craft projects that have high chances to end up in trash next time we move, as they are piling up faster than I actually make crafts.

Full disclosure #3  We recently re-subscribed to a weekly organic seasonal fruits and veg box and this is likely to raise our trash again as there is more packaging than needed and they don’t re-use the boxes like they used to do in London. When I opened the first box I was a bit bummed, but it makes our lives much easier since it reduces the shopping chore a lot and gets us to eat healthier. Once those veggies are in the fridge, we have to cook them! So I have decided to stick with it for now and see if I can convince them to consider waste reduction.

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Every fruit or veg type is in its own plastic bag. Help!

Full disclosure #4  We normally have lunch in the city centre and when it is sunny, we take a sandwich away to eat on the beach. The said sandwich is wrapped in aluminium foil and comes in a plastic bag with paper napkins. We haven’t found a good way to prevent this waste. If it doesn’t get too dirty I keep the plastic bags to use as trash bags, but we generate those faster than we use it. I keep the napkins to use as kitchen paper and throw them in the compost, but the aluminium foil often ends up in the city bins and is thus not counted in the inventory above.

Zero waste progress: and out of the office?

Read the first part here.

I have also re-started to get a weekly veggie box. Organic – check, seasonal – check, local – hum they are a bit vague, but guarantee zero air miles, zero waste – well I generate much less waste than if I went to the supermarket. The cardboard box goes in front of the door to be re-used, but is the plastic wrap around the tomato, the cabbage and spinach leaves very necessary? On the plus side, it prevents us to buy the same veggies over and over again and forces us to try new recipes which make cooking more fun!!! If I was not moving to another country soon, I would try to lobby them toward zero waste.

We also tried Tiny leaf, the first zero waste, organic and vegetarian restaurant in London. The chocolate-courgette brownie was definitely worth the trip to Notting Hill. I took a few pictures, but they are terrible. You better have a look at Green Travels‘ review.

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I also started to carry a ‘berry’ bag with my everywhere (merci Nonna), brought back my egg package for refill at the farmer’s market and refused lots of potential rubbish (plastic bags, leaflets…).

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This doesn’t seem like much, but it’s a start and I don’t want to become a hardcore zero waster (yet?). ZW is merely a tool to reflect on the impact of my life style choices. I like the reflection of My Minimalist Baby on how zero waste might not always be the best choice. I want to start with what is easy (and FUN – I guess I am a sustainability nerd) and see where it leads me. Changing one habit at a time…

A phone to be proud of

My desire to change the way I consume, comes from a reflection I started a couple of years ago after clumsiness resulted in my 6-months-old phone being out of order (yes I tried to get it repaired, and no it was not possible, but that is another story). I was very frustrated and ready to live of my old Nokia until a friend reminded me of this phone I saw at the 3D printing exhibition from the Science Museum a couple of months before. I thought ‘that’s cool but I won’t need a new phone for a while’.

A Dutch start up that was concerned with the transparency of the smart phone industry decided to make a Fairphone. To do so, they:

  • Used conflict free tin and tantalum.
  • Made sure the Chinese workers that assembled the phone worked in safe conditions and created a welfare fund.
  • Didn’t include chargers and headphones by default since most people would already have some.
  • Made it easy for users to make repairs.

I could have bought a much cheaper phone that would have had the same technical specifications, but I chose to spend a bit more money to support a more sustainable way to approach smartphone production. And I know where each of my Euros went!

Smaller packaging box means less transport related emissions


And they didn’t stop there. For the Fairphone 2 they have added gold to the list of conflict free minerals, made it modular so it can be upgraded or fixed without buying a new phone, integrated protection against chocks, etc. It almost makes me sad I already have a Fairphone 1.

If the only consideration is the actual environmental impact, it is probably better to get a second-hand phone – even though I sometimes wonder whether the existence of a market for second-hand phones doesn’t encourage some people to change their phone more often than reasonable. But on the long term, I think it is important to support companies that integrate social and environmental values to encourage more of them to be created.

Welcome to Ladybugland

Welcome to my blog. I am a long time ecologist. Or at least I think and talked about environmental issues a lot. During the negotiations of COP21, I did a lot of thinking about what I could do, at my little ladybug scale, to accelerate the transition to a sustainable society. So I joined the pre-COP21 demonstration, but that didn’t seem enough.

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Pre-COP21 demonstration in London

I also did a lot of reading during that time, partly because I needed a distraction from writing my thesis, and realised that I had to start by changing the way I consume. Every time I buy an individually packaged food portion that come from half way across the glob, I contribute to reinforce the current models, and the little I do better than the average won’t help to change that.

The long-term goals I would like to achieve are:

  1. Eat 100% bio, local and seasonal
  2. Be self-sufficient in energy and water
  3. Not produce any waste
  4. Not emit more than my share of CO2 compared to what the planet can naturally absorb
  5. Know the origin and environmental impact of all the products I consume

This is probably a lifetime project (if it is even achievable) and I don’t intend to do this overnight. For now, I will do one baby step at the time.

I want to use this blog as my lab-book to document this adventure. First, because it will be much easier to be virtuous when other people might expect me to, second because I am an incorrigible researcher and like to record my experiments, third to have an excuse to learn more about the topics I care about. I hope this can also be a tool to explain my friends and family what I am doing and may in turn inspire a few people to make a few changes. A girl can dream…