Category Archives: Green Living

Politics and adverts

Last week, an advert from the company Iceland was banned. In practice it’s a little bit more complicated because much of the content was created by Greenpeace, and apparently there are some nuances around ’banned’ when it comes to what’s allowed on the TV. It’s not allowed out (as far as I can make out) because Greenpeace are considered to be a political organisation and therefore any content that comes from them is deemed too political for screens and isn’t allowed.

Here’s the Clearcast statement regarding the advert.  – https://www.clearcast.co.uk/press/iceland-advert/ 

Not knowing the rules about adverts, I poked around. This is a useful bit of the government’s website for anyone who wants to look. No doubt somewhere there’s a detailed version written in difficult legal jargon, but this is at least the official gist of it. https://t.co/WwIc2Hy6iM

One of the things that becomes evident reading through, is that the status quo is fine, and change is political – or at least potentially political. Now, as I see things, there are huge political implications to the status quo, and this means business as usual gets to lobby anyone with a screen on a daily basis to persuade us that business as usual is just fine and dandy.

Greed, consumerism, waste, throw-away possessions, pollution, constant growth, capitalism, market economies – these are all part of business as usual. We are killing ourselves and the planet with business as usual, but because it’s normal, encouraging it isn’t considered political.

Take the car industry – with implications for road building, tax, air pollution, noise pollution, climate change, peak oil, road deaths, premature deaths from air pollution… these are all political issues. These are all issues that require governments to spend money. Many of them are issues that kill people. Transport is a big issue in terms of climate change. People with TVs are reminded on a daily basis of how good and desirable their cars are, because it’s business as usual and that’s fine, apparently. Car companies are not considered political, despite the massive political implications of car production.

Adverts for flights to exotic destinations are much the same. The fashion industry is a massive polluter, but apparently there are no political implications to showing adverts for clothes that help us wreck the planet. We can watch all the adverts we like for shampoos that are using palm oil and destroying habitats, but we can’t watch something that invites us to question this.

So much around us is set up to affirm that how we do things is fine, and change is suspect. We’re killing ourselves. We’re killing life on Earth. Business as usual is destructive, poisonous and unsustainable and we have to challenge the assumption that if something is normal, that’s a good thing. We need to radically change everything that humans do, which is a massive task. Doing it in the face of constant normalising and encouraging of all the most damaging things, makes it all that bit harder.

Here’s that Greenpeace/Iceland advert.

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Druidry and making our own environments

Following on from yesterday’s blog about nature and nurture, I want to think about how taking up a spiritual path can involve deliberately changing your environment in order to change yourself. I suspect there are elements of this in any path, but Druidry is what I know best.

We can be quite critical of the apparently superficial things people do when they come to Paganism. Early on, some people can seem to be more about the surfaces than anything else. The bling, the clothes, the pretty things. It’s something I’ve tended to be suspicious of. However, I’m fortunate in that I grew up with music, folklore, and wildlife. For the person who grows up in a ‘muggle’ environment, sorely lacking in magic and creativity, the jump to Paganism can be a big one. Changing the surfaces around you can help affirm that jump and make it seem real, I realise.

Making our environment, and ourselves look ‘pagan’ can be part of a process for change. If what’s around us affirms our choices, we’ll perhaps be better equipped to act on them. It may be that we spend a lot of our time in environments that are banal and soulless, and that dressing the part and covering your home in green men is a necessary push back against that. What looks like a superficial, consumer-orientated approach may in fact be a way of creating space for Paganism, and for changing personally. It depends on what a person is looking for.

If you use environmental shifts to support personal changes, then they can help you. If you are buying Pagan things because you like the look, and a few years hence maybe you’ll take up a steampunk look, or a hippy look… then it won’t make much odds. If you want a pretty surface as a temporary amusement I don’t rate the chances of it transforming your life. If you are changing how things look around you, and how you look to reinforce other things you are doing, it’s likely to do that.

Take a glance around your living space and consider what’s there primarily to give a physical presence to your beliefs. Perhaps you have an altar, a depiction of deity, a green man. I have house plants and a scattering of fossils picked up on walks. And I do also have some dry mistletoe. I have art on the walls that, while not overtly Druidic, does things for me. I live in a colourful, chaotic space that reflects what I do. Other people may find soothing tones, or minimalism reflects their spiritual identity – there’s no one right answer here.

Doing things to your home to make it look more druidy, or witchy, or shamanic will require you to think about what that means. Where does a big TV screen fit into that? Do your kitchen cupboards reflect your path? If you walk into the bathroom and looked at the products there, do they affirm your sense of being a Pagan? If you align your living space with your beliefs, you may end up making radical changes to do that, and thus what starts out as a superficial, simple thing about looking the part can become a serious process of walking your talk.


Playing with clothes

Somewhere in my teens I figured out that I could take a scissors and needle to the clothes available to me and make them more to my liking. At seventeen I bought a new – entirely new to me – dress for the first time in my life and it was a memorable moment. I’ve never wanted to be fashionable. I’ve spent most of my life not trying to dress in a way anyone would find sexy. But I do like clothes and I like dressing up.

The fashion industry is wasteful, polluting and planet damaging. I’ve also never really understood why anyone would want mass produced clothes that you leave you looking bland and identical. For me, one of the great joys in upcycling and making from scratch is that most of what I have is unique.

I do buy new things – sometimes because I need clothes that do a specific job and I can’t afford to wait for them to show up second hand. As I walk for transport, I need robust and weather-appropriate attire. When items of clothing die, I do my best to re-invent them, or take what bits are still in good condition and turn them into something else. I have a lot of fun doing this, and it is the principle source of unique clothing in my possession.

In the last week or so, I’ve taken usable fabric from four shirts that where worn out, stained or damaged and could not be worn as they were. I have five items of clothing from these – radically different to what went before. To achieve this, I bought two meters of broidery anglais and half a meter of stiffening fabric – it has a name and I can’t remember it! The principle damage to two shirts was below the armpit, leading to two sleeveless tops, the sleeves from one top being used to replace sleeves on another top, where the cuffs were worn out. The other set of removed sleeves went into making a hat. Salvageable bits of sleeve from the dead-sleeve shirt went into widening the bust on the last shirt (not originally mine). I was, I admit, rather pleased with myself.

I needed some additional wardrobe items for one of the jobs I’m doing. I’ve saved myself a lot of money by working over items that were free. I look a touch eccentric, and I like that, and I’ve put far less in the bin than I would otherwise have done. The clothes I have created aren’t exactly smart, but they will do.

One of the great things about taking a scissors to an unusable item of clothing, is that the pressure is off. As it stands, the item is only fit for the bin or recycling. If you get it wrong, you can still do that. If you get it right, and can get a few extra wears even, you’ve won. It’s safe enough to play and experiment. I do sometimes buy extras to lift an upcycled item, but I only do that when I’m sure it’s going to work. It’s not necessary, often, so aside from the cost of the thread and needles, there’s very little outlay. You can get a lot of upcycling out of a reel of thread. You can get a lot of fun out of the remaking – so it can double as a low cost hobby and way to amuse yourself.

If you can’t sew – it’s not that hard and youtube has tons of tutorials. Your otherwise ruined and unwearable clothes are great to practice on as you build skills.


Pumpkin Horror

I’ve been experiencing seasonal pumpkin horror for about a week now – ever since the massive boxes of massive pumpkins turned up in the supermarkets. I noticed today that many of the ones now revealed at the bottom are full of cracks and bruises. No one will buy those, and I expect they’ll go to landfill.

Of the ones that are bought, the majority I expect will be carved, used as decorations for an evening or two and then discarded. Some may go to compost or food recycling. Some will go in the bin.

I wonder how much land it took to grow them all, how much water, fertilizer, pesticides. I wonder how much energy it took to harvest them, what the food miles are on this edible decoration that mostly won’t be used for food. I wonder what could have lived if they hadn’t been grown.

I’m aware, because I’ve talked about this kind of thing before, that there are people who will see me as a miserable kill-joy. ‘It’s just a bit of fun’ is such a popular defence. One of the major problems with humans as I see it, is the way we feel entitled to our ‘fun’ and disinclined to look at the cost. As we drive other species towards extinction, our ‘bit of fun’ seems ever harder to justify or excuse.

If you feel the need for a pumpkin, hollow it out well and cook the innards and eat them. The flesh of a pumpkin is easy to cook and has a mild flavour. Toast the seeds and eat those too. What you can’t eat, put out for the wildlife because lots of things will cheerfully eat your pumpkin leftovers. Don’t put them in a bin to go to landfill, that’s the ultimate pumpkin horror.


Cats, bins, snot and plastic

Late this spring I started properly monitoring how much my household sends to landfill, and what we send. I turned out that we were putting out a small bin bag per month – which for a household of three didn’t seem too bad. Our landfill waste was, for the greater part, un-recyclable plastic, so the bin bags were light and loosely packed and could have been compacted to take up little space. Sometimes we’d have to throw out a truly broken and useless item, but there weren’t many of those in any given month.

Then we took in a cat. Our bin use increased dramatically. As we live in a flat, cats have to be up for being indoors cats, and they have to use litter trays. This creates waste. However, what creates far more waste, is the non-recyclable sachets most cat food comes in. We can’t do tins because we haven’t got a fridge, and an open tin of cat food in a cool box in summer conditions is not going to work. One elderly cat with a small appetite does not get through a tin quickly. For a few months we were throwing away far more and far more often.

Eventually we found a food that the cat really likes and that creates less waste. Dry cat food of course comes in cardboard boxes. You can also get a sort of chewy and dry cat food in bags. It doesn’t go off in the way that fresh meat will, and doesn’t attract flies. We’d had an arrangement with our local crows about leftovers, but on the whole it’s better not to have an issue. One big bag creates far less waste than lots of little sachets.

With the cat food containers under control, and the contents of the litter tray leaving in the un-re-cycle-able bags some food stuffs come in, we’re fairly organised again.

I noticed during the same time frame that if the household all has colds, we create a lot more waste – entirely in the form of snotty tissues. I’m a bit more relaxed about those going to landfill as I think there’s less issue with those than plastic. I also note that at times when I’ve had an open fire or woodstove, tissues full of snotty disease have mostly been burned. I have no idea which outcome is the most problematic. And yes, I have tried fabric hankies, but they really do need boil washing and we really can produce a lot of snot…


How green is your loaf?

Every day in the UK, 20 million slices of bread are thrown away. That’s a terrifying amount of food waste and means that an average person here throws out more than half of a loaf of bread each month. I first ran into this statistic a few weeks ago and stopped to look at what happens in my own household. We buy a lot of reduced to clear food, so the things we bring home have a shorter life expectancy. We don’t have a fridge. Even so, we are definitely under average in the bread waste.

Some of the problem is, without a doubt, the bread itself. Buy a good quality loaf, and it may dry out as it gets old. You can toast it, or make bread pudding, or use it in cooking in some way and nothing is wasted. Cheaper loaves are much more likely to grow mould as they age – usually green, hence the title of the post. Once bread is mouldy, you can’t use it.

Timing is clearly important. There are three of us in the household, we can get through a loaf in a few days. For a single person, this is clearly less feasible. Obviously there are other bread products that can be bought in smaller quantities, but clearly not everyone chooses that, and these are not cheaper options, often. For a single person with little money, a very cheap loaf that ends up partly in the bin may still be the better financial choice, and that points at a great many things wrong with our society. People who can’t afford to eat well may be forced economically to make bad environmental choices.

Food waste is an area in which individual action can make a difference. Even so it’s important to remember that the option on individual action often comes with an element of financial privilege, and that we need better choices from government and business as well.


Plastic and privilege

I’m always in favour of people being the change they want to see in the world. I think it’s an important place to start with any kind of activism. If you believe it, you live it. However, often there’s a massive privilege aspect to being able to walk your talk.

If you don’t need plastic straws – and most of us don’t – then giving up straws to save the planet isn’t that big a deal. It’s a small sacrifice. However, for disabled people who need straws for drinking, for whom paper isn’t durable enough and washable straws are problematic, giving up straws isn’t so simple. Of course most of us should do without them, but making life difficult for the disabled is not the answer here.

If you’ve got plenty of money, then buying loose veg and going to your farmer’s market is easy. You may have to drive to get there and to carry your plastic-free goods home and you’ll want a big fridge to keep them in. How green is it? And if we berate the people who can’t afford to do that, is that going to help save the world? If all a person can afford is the 45p bag of carrots, and doesn’t have a car to drive them home in and can’t afford to run a fridge to keep them in… complaining about the bag seems to be the wrong place to focus attention.

If being green is a game for the well to do, in between flights to nice places for holidays, then it’s pretty meaningless. As poverty is a real barrier to living a greener life, there has to be political change. There has to be change that makes it easier and more affordable to be green.

There’s usually some bright spark on hand to say that the poor should try harder. That it isn’t so difficult to do this and that and save money here and there and really, you don’t need the things you think you need. The reality of living in poverty is that it is mentally and emotionally exhausting. It’s hard getting good food every day when money is tight. And when you have to watch every penny and cost up everything it takes a toll, and yes, a few pence here and there on the cost of things can make a difference. It’s easy for people who live in comfort to talk about what they think everyone else should be doing, but that’s not good activism. And no, the farmer’s market is not affordable, and no, not everyone can grow their own veg.

It is certainly true that if everyone acted differently, a lot of environmental issues could quickly be solved. Inspiring, enabling and uplifiting people so that they can live more sustainable lives, is a good thing. Blaming those who are least able to make changes, is not cool. And if you’re jetting off to other countries a few times a year, I’m not convinced that your organic fruit is much of an offset. Green living as an affectation doesn’t fix anything, and it can serve to entrench injustice and blaming the victims of an unjust society.

Do what you can to make changes in your own life. Share things that work – especially things that really are low cost. Go after the people with the power to make changes, not the people with least power who are easiest to harass. Remember that if it’s easy to be greener, there’s privilege at play – wealth, opportunity, resources, skills, education, energy, and so forth. Seeing what personal advantages you have that enable you to be green is a good place to start if you want to tackle the issue of why other people aren’t doing so well. We need to lift each other into more sustainable ways of living, and we need to ask most of those who have most.

 


Plastic progress

Some weeks ago, I wrote about the difficulty of getting non-recyclable plastics out of my life and my bin. I was struggling especially with finding proteins in plastics I could recycle. Plastic-free protein seemed impossible. And then, a magic thing happened! A lovely person opened a plastic free shop in Stroud.

I can now buy nuts, pulses, pasta, couscous, dried fruit and other dried goods with no packaging at all. I can rock up with any container or bag I like, or buy re-usable packaging in situ. I can buy as much or as little of anything as I like. It’s reasonably priced and there’s a good range. The only downside is that it’s a much longer walk getting stuff back, but that’s worth it once or twice a week. I figure I can build up stores of dry things.

This in turn leads me to the happy prospect of picking up more re-usable glass jars for my kitchen, and having shelves full of plastic-free dry goods. This is a very superficial side of things but one that will give me considerable joy. My kitchen is finally going to look the way I have wanted it to look, and it won’t be just an affectation. I’ll need those storage jars.

I’m also enjoying the impact this is having on my cooking. Homemade bean burgers are now a lunchtime stable and I’ve got raw cacao to play with!

I understand that supermarket Iceland has made some clear statements about eliminating plastic packaging, so, when that happens, I may give them a little more of my custom, too.

However, I’m much more keen to divert what funds I can to my local ‘loose’ store. When you buy from a big chain, money goes to shareholders. When you buy from an independent store, much more of the money stays in the local economy. Rents disappear into the distant pockets of property owners all too often, but that’s the biggest fly in the ointment. I’m interested in contributing to my local economy, and to community economics rather than to the bank accounts of shareholders. I have no desire to help other people make money out of money.

I hope what’s happened in Stroud will happen more places – and it could. We’re sold everything in unrecyclable plastics because the belief is that we want speed and convenience above all else. If we can create a demand for better sourced goods with less packaging, everything can change.


Wrangling with plastic

Much as I would like to tell you I’m going plastic free, I know that would be disingenuous as a claim. Toilet paper would thwart me as soon as I run out of rolls. I’d have to give up eating nuts, which conflicts with my desire to try and reduce my intake of animal products. Yes, there are other plant proteins that don’t come in plastic, but some of them cost a lot more.

As it stands, we empty the bin every three weeks to a month, and most of what is in the bin bag is non-recyclable plastic. It’s pretty much all food packaging. As it’s the only thing in the bin most months, it’s become impossible to ignore. Can I eliminate it? Well I could, but there’s a price tag.

In the supermarket, loose veg often costs more than plastic wrapped – broccoli, peppers, tomatoes and others are cheaper to a significant degree when packaged. I can’t by spinach or cabbage without a bag. Cucumbers and swedes are wrapped in plastics. Most fruits are in bags.

Yes, I could grow my own veg instead – expect for the small problem of living in a flat and not having a garden. Many poor people do not have gardens and many disabled people don’t have the option of gardening, so this is a rather exclusive solution.

Perhaps I could get a veg box – I’m going to track what I spend on veg and see how it compares and whether I can afford it. At this stage, I’m not at all sure I can afford it. I know many people can’t – if you’re choosing between heating and eating then veg boxes are right out. If you’re on a tight budget, then loose, unpackaged veg is unaffordable.

Yes, there’s a farmer’s market locally, but it too is significantly more expensive than the supermarket. It also means carrying veg home on a twenty minute walk, and that’s quite physically intensive. On a bad day, it isn’t an option. I don’t have a fridge, so getting all my veg in one go may not be realistic – also an issue for the veg box.

Most snacks and junk food come in a lot of packaging. I’ve been cutting back on that for a while now. I can’t buy biscuits without getting unrecyclable plastic. I can’t get dried fruit without plastic. Healthier snacks at my health food shop are all in unrecyclable bags. I can’t get cheese, or pasta or rice reliably without non-recyclables. Although increasingly I’m being priced out of the market where cheese is concerned.

I’m looking at economies of scale – 18 toilet roles don’t have as much packaging per toilet roll as a pack of nine. Bigger bags of just about anything use proportionally less plastic. Again, you’ve got to be able to afford the greener option to use this as a way of cutting down, and it isn’t a total solution.

I’d like to solve this through personal action, but as things stand, only people with disposable income to deploy can shop their way out of unrecyclable plastic packaging. A solution that doesn’t exist for the less affluent is not a solution. Over the coming weeks I’m going to look hard at what I can afford, and make what changes I realistically can, work out what I can do without, and what I can’t.


Giving things up

Shrove Tuesday came by this week, and many people will have feasted on pancakes with no intention of giving anything up for Lent, just swinging in for the chocolate feast at Easter. Not that I’ve ever been a fan of Lent – to me it too often looks like privilege playing at doing without, safe in the knowledge that it’s temporary.

Those of us who have more than enough really do need to think about giving things up – not for Lent, but forever. We use more than the planet can sustain. We take more than we need. Our very notion of ‘need’ is framed by a constant supply of adverts that tell us to consume, throw away and consume more. Here’s a list of things we all need to cut back on, and if possible, give up entirely. Not for the next few weeks, but forever.

  1. Food Waste. We throw away an obscene amount of food. The impact of this, plus the impact of growing it only to waste it is appalling. Nothing should die only to be thrown away. To reduce food waste you have to look hard at your buying and storing habits, your meal strategies and how you use leftovers. It can be done.
  2. Throwing away clothes. This has a higher environmental impact than flying. Wearable clothes should be given to charity shops or freecycled. Damaged clothes can be upcycled and used for crafting. No wearable item of clothing should ever be sent to landfill.
  3. Driving is a tricky one because many of us live in places with centralised resources, designed with car driving in mind. For people with mobility issues, doing without a car may not be feasible. However, cutting down on car use, exploring car shares, walking and cycling when possible, and cutting back on non-essential journeys can all help. Demand better and more affordable public transport.
  4. Flying. I think we all know about this one. If you want to keep doing it, consider going the extra distance with some other aspect of your life to try and offset it.
  5. Buying water in bottles.

 

There are many other possibilities to explore as well. Food miles. Plastic packaging. Use of animal products. The number of children you have. How big a house you need. If you drive, what kind of car you drive. What you do at work. What the company you work for does. Every aspect of our lives should be open to our scrutiny and questioning. This is not a comfortable process, often. It calls on us to do without things we’ve persuaded ourselves we deserve, or are entitled to. It calls upon us to accept what we may think of as a lower standard of living.

The next one for me has to be a move to cut back on non-recyclable plastics, which is going to be tough, and has to be balanced against nutritional needs, and affordability. I know I can’t go zero impact on this one, but I can do better than I am at present.

Give something up – not for Lent, but for life.