Category Archives: Green Living

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.

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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.


Climate Change – Show the Love

February means the Show The Love campaign is underway in force again, raising awareness of climate change. Last year I took part and made a green heart. I’m recycling it this year, and will make some more for good measure. But, this isn’t about empty gesturing, nor should it be about grinding ourselves down in despair over what’s going on.

To love this world at the moment, is to also feel pain, fear and grief. I don’t think it’s possible to separate those feelings out. It can be tempting to protect ourselves from pain by caring less in the first place, but that can only make things worse. If people are to change for the better, then we have to keep caring.

I love trees. I grew up in a landscape of hanging beech woods – woodland clinging to the steep side of the Cotswolds. I’ve always lived in places with trees. Climate change brings all kinds of threats to trees. Powerful storms take trees down far more often than used to be the case. I’ve seen leaves on trees into December, and new leaves on hawthorns in January, and it troubles me. I don’t know what it means, or how well trees will adapt, or what we stand to lose.

I also know that trees are part of the solution. Trees are one of the best ways to quickly slow heavy rain and prevent flooding. Trees are also good at taking carbon out of the air. Trees reduce light and noise pollution, and they improve our mental health as well. Planting more trees will not magically solve all problems, but it is a good place to start.

I do not want to see the natural world trashed for the short term profit of the few. I do not want to see habitats lost for the sake of the human illusion of progress. So much goes to so few, and so many suffer as a consequence. We should be sharing out resources fairly so that everyone has what is necessary to a basic standard of living – food, shelter, warmth, security. Climate change threatens all of that for a great many people. We have the resources to take decent care of all humans without trashing the planet. What we don’t have is the political will.

We have to stop celebrating greed. We have to step away from disposable culture, and short term profits. We have to love what is alive and beautiful more than we love what corporate adverts tell us we are to love. We can change everything.


Windowsill gardener

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the suggestion that if you don’t have a garden, you can always grow some herbs on your windowsill. It reflects a lack of experience of life without gardens, and I think this is advice Pagans need to stop offering other Pagans about how to be greener.

Not all living spaces have windowsills. Boats don’t, caravans and static caravans don’t. Not all flats do, either. I have a friend who has no windowsills in her flat. Having a windowsill also doesn’t mean you have enough light to grow herbs. You might be able to grow ferns because those are shade-dwellers.

You have to get the plants from somewhere. If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t have a garden, you may also not have a car. Plants on the bus or taken for long walks are not reliably happy plants. Garden centres tend not to be in urban areas, so you may be limited to the things in pots you can get from supermarkets. Supermarket herbs in pots die.

Not having a garden can also be connected to poverty. You may not be able to afford plants. You may only be able to grow plants if other people give you plants. No one should be shamed for this.

Let’s imagine that you’ve got a flat, and you manage to grow plants in pots. After a while, the plants get bigger, and need potting up. You need soil to pot up a plant. You may have a nice friend with a garden and be able to move a little soil about. You may not. If you buy soil, it tends to come in large bags – larger than you need, larger than you may be able to store if you live in a small space. You might not be able to store pots, either. Of course you could buy plants and throw them away when they get difficult, but that’s not a very green solution.

Where are you going to pot up your plant? You may not have any safe outside space you can use, which leaves the choice of doing it in the kitchen or bathroom. If you’re renting, you cannot afford to mess up a carpet. Kitchens and bathrooms aren’t really designed for indoor gardeners, it is doable, but the smaller your space, the more awkward it all is. The less mobile you are, the less feasible it is. These are jobs that take both hands, and bags of soil are heavy. Not everyone can do it. As an indoor gardener, you won’t have gardening tools either. Yes, a lot can be done with spoons and knives from the kitchen, but if you’re worried about contaminating eating utensils, you might not want to go for that. And no, a set put aside may not be viable, because there may not be enough room even for that.

If the plant dies, what are you going to do with the remains, the pot and the soil? Disposing of a dead plant is part of its environmental impact. If you can’t do this well, then the green advantages of having it in the first place are questionable.

Yes, it is lovely to have houseplants and a garden, but if a person says they can’t do that, take them at their word and don’t make them feel awkward about it.


The downsides of small space living

I’m in favour of living in small spaces – or at least, in spaces that aren’t significantly bigger than you need. I’ve spent the last seven years mostly living in small spaces, and it’s taught me to be disciplined about what I keep and to think carefully about what matters to me.

Small space living is often depicted as an affectation of people with more money than sense, moving into improbably small caravans and tiny dolls’ houses. The reality of living in small spaces is that it is often a direct consequence of poverty. You take what you can afford, not what you need. Yes you can sleep two children in a small bedroom – but you can’t provide them both with quiet, personal study space.

One of the consequences of living in a small space is that you can’t stash things against all eventualities. You may not, for example, have anywhere to put wellington boots for everyone. You may have nowhere to put a snow shovel, or to store things for summertime play and relaxation. You may have nowhere outdoors in which to enjoy those summer things anyway. Spares, extras, foul weather stock-piles – these are the things a small space makes impossible. Most of the time that’s fine, because you can have the things you need most of the time. But, for those times when the extras, spares and emergency kit would have been good, you are more exposed.

Small space living often means that you can’t pick up things on offer. If you don’t have a lot of kitchen space, or a big freezer, then supermarket offers aren’t for you. Opportunities to save money by bulk buying aren’t for you if you’ve nowhere to put things.

At the moment, we’re a three person household in a two bedroom flat, and none of those rooms are large. There is one communal space that is living room, dining room, workspace for me, art studio, and study space. There are many things for which a private and dedicated space are a real advantage – for spiritual practices and meditation, for quiet work and study, and of course for writing. A writing cave, where it’s just you and everyone knows to leave you alone is a real asset. It’s also a luxury I can’t afford.

Small space living is, without a doubt, the greener option. It uses less land, requires less heating, and does not encourage us to own a lot of stuff. If only there were free to use spaces where a person could go to read, or meditate – but those are in short supply. Churches are locked in the day, often. Libraries are closing. It would be easy to live in smaller spaces if we had shared spaces we could use as well. But, we live in a system that is geared to private ownership, and to paying for every way in which we might access public space.


Unfashionably Green

Fashion depends on the idea that we throw things away as soon as they are out of fashion and replace them with newer, trendier things. It particularly applies to clothes and accessories, but the logic of it permeates our lives – how our homes look, what’s in our kitchens, our gardens, and all the rest of it. If you can buy something, then you can buy it newer and more fashionable.

Pre-industrial revolution, fashion was mostly the concern of the wealthy. Most of us made do with what we could cobble together and kept it going for as long as it would last. Mass production introduced the idea of fashion to the population as a whole. Mass media exposes us to images of what the wealthy are doing and wearing and seeds in the rest of us the desire to have what they have, live as they live. This is part of the mechanism that helps keep the poor driving the economy, helps keep us in debt and always running to keep up.

Imagine how different the world would be if we didn’t celebrate consumerism in this way. What if the media routinely critiqued the unsustainable excesses of the rich? Would we be so keen to emulate them if they weren’t celebrated so much? Fashion doesn’t reliably give us beautiful things, or for that matter useful things. What would happen if we sought beauty and utility rather than a sense of being on trend? What would happen if we were more interested in durability and sustainable sourcing? Everything would change.

I think some of what we have at the moment is the cultural backlash that came after the rationing and the aftermath of the Second World War. A cultural desire for easy good things and not having to make do and mend. Perhaps understandable, but not liveable with.

In recent weeks I’ve seen some media acknowledgement of how grossly wasteful the fashion industry itself is. We throw away an obscene amount of clothing each year. It doesn’t help that cheap mass produced fashion isn’t made to last – it wears out and falls apart at depressing speed. Being in a position to compare the longevity of modern clothes with older clothes, I notice a vast difference. Items I’ve had twenty years and more endure while things bought recently fall apart. As someone inclined to make do and mend, I find modern fabrics are very hard to keep going.

Fashion is a story we have told ourselves about what’s desirable. We could have other stories. We could value originality more than keeping up with the crowd. We could value use and durability more than this year’s must have look. We could buy things that are better able to last and not be afraid to keep wearing them for years afterwards. We could be more creative.

One of the things I’ve noticed while pondering this blog is how bland most people look. Supermarket clothes, in fading fabrics and banal styles certainly have a ‘timeless’ quality in that they always look boring and always will. I see my nearest supermarket suggesting we freshen up our wardrobes for Christmas, while offering the same bland sort of shit, plus ridiculous jumpers. I think we’ve got to the point that what we’re being told is the new look isn’t even that, it is as old and tired as anything we bought last year. If what the people around me are wearing is anything to go buy, fashion is an idea that has already past its sell by date anyway.


Druids for trees

There is no separating Druidry from trees. It’s there in what little written history we have, with ancient Druids cutting mistletoe out of oaks. It’s there in every etymology attempt on the word itself. It’s there in our history, ancient and modern, of celebrating in groves.

Like many Druids, I am deeply disturbed by the way short term financial gain is always put ahead of the needs of the landscape. All too often when we want to build in the UK, tree loss will be dealt with by offset. As though a wood is nothing more than a replaceable cluster of trees. A wood is much more than its trees. It’s the fungi in the soil, the insect life, the undergrowth, the resident birds and mammals. Each wood is a unique interaction between precise local climate, underlying geology, and the bringing together of many different species. Ancient woodland, with its huge biodiversity, takes centuries to form. You can’t just recreate that by sticking a few saplings in what was previously a field.

Challenging developers means engaging with your local planning department to make a case for the trees. It helps if you can speak a language the planners recognise. To this end, The Woodland Trust has developed The Planner’s Manuel, which can be used in a number of ways.

It’s good information for activists to use when talking to planners.

If your area is developing a local plan, you can use this to find ways to get tree protection into that plan.

There’s also the possibility of getting in ahead of a problem and raising awareness of ancient woodland issues with your local planners before you need to protect a specific piece of land. There’s a lot to be said for being in first, and for having the space to raise awareness when you aren’t trying to fight a specific battle at the same time.

In the UK, planners working at a local level are usually are the ones making the decisions that can make or break the future of an ancient wood or veteran tree. Sometimes, as we’ve seen with fracking, local decisions can be overturned, but nonetheless, local is where to start with this. The Woodland Trust’s aim with the Planner’s Manuel is to educate and encourage planners to help them make the right decisions for our irreplaceable habitats.

I don’t know how useful this will be for anyone outside the UK, but it is a place to start if you don’t have other resources you can draw on.

Find out more here – http://bit.ly/PlannersGuide