Tag Archives: green

Have a greener Christmas

For the next couple of weeks, this blog is going to be all about having a greener Christmas, Yule, or whatever else you celebrate. I’m going to mostly say ‘Christmas’ because I think more people will find it if I do. Also, Christmas is the festival especially tied in to commercialmass, and it’s the specifically Christmas derived traditions that I am going to be challenging. So, if you’re having an eco-friendly Yule already, or a sustainable solstice, you probably don’t need what I’m wafting about. However, I’m asking for shares, tweets, reblogs and so forth on this content if you can spare me a moment over the coming weeks. (Not this one, this one doesn’t really have much in it…)

Christmas is a terrible time for waste, consumerism, debt and perpetrating the idea that stuff is what we need to be happy. As a species and as a planet, we can’t afford this kind of attitude.


Have a green Christmas tree

The Christmas tree is one of those seasonal features likely to appeal to Pagans. How green is your tree, and what does it cost?

In 2014, some 160,000 tons of Christmas trees went to landfill. Once in landfill, they rot and give out methane, which is not good news for the environment. Yes, you can have them chipped and used for something, but growing a non-native tree in plantations, cutting it, transporting it, sticking it in the corner of a room for a few weeks and then chipping it doesn’t sound like a good use of natural resources to me.

Here’s some more data and some more tree alternatives. https://www.upcyclist.co.uk/2017/11/zero-waste-christmas-trees/

Here’s what the Carbon Trust has to say about Christmas trees and their impact. Interestingly, real trees still have a lower carbon footprint than artificial ones. https://www.carbontrust.com/news/2013/01/christmas-tree-disposal-advice/

Clearly one answer to having a tree, is to keep a live tree in a bucket and heft it indoors every year. Carbon goes into the tree and methane does not come out. However, there are issues here – you need outside space for them, and they get bigger year on year and may not suit the space you have. Locally there’s an amazing scheme that allows people to rent live Christmas trees- thus getting round the issue of storage for the rest of the year, and growth.

Another answer is to use something else – Yule logs are also traditional, cut branches from trees can be decorated and if they were going to be cut anyway, that’s lower impact. You can make a tree out of whatever’s around, as with the charming examples on the Upcyclist website. You can decorate something already in your home. I don’t have space for a tree, but I do have a rather large Christmas cactus, so I may decorate that this year.

When it comes to tree decoration, think about how much plastic you’re going to use and consider its lifespan. If you like tinsel, store it and re-use it rather than buying new each year. It doesn’t take up much space and it keeps well. Try sourcing decorations from craftspeople, and have things made of natural materials where you can. Make things yourself – it all involves more time and effort of course, but you’ll get more from it than grabbing cheap plastic baubles that mean nothing to you. Aim to send nothing decorative to landfill at the end of the season. This is a great opportunity to use your imagination and harness your creativity, rather than being sold a bland, and environmentally damaging ‘solution’ to Christmas.


Greener for Christmas

Wrapping paper is incredibly wasteful. Much of it has too a high a plastic content to be recycled. If you want to be greener for Christmas (or Yule, or whatever else you may be celebrating or obliged to participate in) tackling your paper waste is a good idea.

Last year I gave my family gifts in re-usable fabric bags. This year I’ve started sewing earlier and have sourced some festive print. Hand sewing a bag doesn’t take that long.

Here are this year’s bags, with books partially tucked into them for scale, and a surprise, photo-bombing cat called Tiggy.

 


It’s easy… for me

I think one of the big mistakes many people make – especially around radical life changes to be more sustainable, is that if it’s easy for them, it’s easy. How well resourced a person is to begin with makes a lot of odds. Resources like time, money, energy, skills, education, and health all make a lot of difference to how hard or easy something will be. Everything is harder when you are already struggling.

I find it easy living without a car. This is in no small part because I’ve never had a car. I am well enough that I can mostly get where I need to go on foot, and I don’t do things I can’t do without a car. For someone who has always had a car, doing without a car isn’t easy and requires a lot of changes in what you do, how you plan and how long things take. For someone who is ill or disabled, being without a car may be impossible.

Not having a car, I can’t drive to the farmer’s market to pick up a week’s supply of vegetables. I can’t park near my local loose goods store and drive all my plastic-free food home. The process of getting food home has made being plastic free difficult to say the least. I would also struggle to afford to buy all my food on these terms. I’ve cut back on plastic every way I can manage, I’ve questioned my food choices and I’ve given things up. I’m not as good as I want to be.

I feel strongly that we shouldn’t be blaming or shaming people whose lack of resources makes it hard for them to be green. It’s good to flag up ways of being green that save money or aren’t that hard, because if lots of people can engage a bit, that’s progress. It’s often the people with most resources who cause the most harm. Be that with buying things that will soon be thrown away, food waste, flying abroad, travelling by car, using a lot of water, buying products with a lot of air miles on them – it’s the things that cost the most that often also… cost the most.

It’s easy for me to give up flying. I’ve only done it a couple of times in my life. It’s easy to do without holidays when you can’t afford them. It’s easy not to support the environmentally damaging fashion industry when you can’t afford to buy new clothes that often and really have to make your clothing last.

But it’s hard avoiding palm oil on a small budget.

And when you’re tired, and sore and you work long hours and your home isn’t warm enough and everything is a struggle… you probably aren’t going to be able to grow organic veg on an allotment to make nutritious stews to feed your family.

If becoming green is easy, it’s probably because you have the resources that make it easy.

If becoming green is easy there’s a very real chance this is because you had far more than you needed to begin with. Cutting back from a place of excess isn’t so very difficult in practical terms, even if you do feel like you’re doing something heroic.

And if it is easy for you, please, please consider that it might not be easy for someone else.


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.


Return of the green

Greenness has been returning to my local landscape for weeks now. The slow unfurling of buds, the return of undergrowth, the shift in colour. The re-greening of spring is a long process, not an event. As I get outside every day in the normal scheme of things, I engage with this aspect of spring on a daily basis. I can heartily recommend it.

There have been years when I’ve failed to engage with the spring – mental health issues have been a big part of that. Experiencing it not as a daily development but as a dramatic moment is easier when you aren’t properly paying attention. That in turn is disorientating and has, in some years, left me with a profound sense of dislocation from the season.

‘Out into nature’ doesn’t have to be a big or difficult project. If there is anything non-human living where you do, then there’s scope to engage. Grass changes colour with the spring, becoming much more lush as it starts growing again. Flowers and small plants, even saplings will grow in the least promising of places. Any neglected ‘wasteland’ is soon reclaimed. Nature is not away, somewhere pristine and free from human meddling. Nature is with us all the time. Street trees do not consider themselves inferior to forest growth. The sparrows roosting in the street trees do not consider the trees to be anything other than their proper home.

When I was out yesterday, it felt like the greenery had reached a critical point. It no longer felt like it was getting started, and now feels like it is all under way out there. The green has returned. Small, opening leaves are everywhere. From a distance, the trees can look pretty bare, but up close, the unfurling is obvious. It’s also the smaller trees that leaf first – taking advantage of the light before taller trees get going – so to see what’s going on, you can’t view the wood as a whole thing from a distance.

For me, connecting with the plants is one of the easiest ways to connect with spring energy. Even if I’m not feeling so lively myself, I can delight in watching everything grow.


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.


Ten not so green bottles

I admit that in the last month, due to a miscalculation about how much water to carry on a hot day, I ended up buying a bottle of water. It’s something I generally avoid. I have a reusable drink bottle that won’t leach plastics into my water, and I take it with me on warm days. It saves money, and of course it means I’m not disposing of as much plastic as I otherwise might.

According to a recent newspaper article, we get through a million bottles a minute, and much of it is people buying water. This worries me. It worries me in terms of the massive waste and recycling issue, but that’s not all.

It wasn’t so long ago that Nestle were telling us that access to water should not be a human right.

The more money there is in bottling water, the more pressure there will be to let water bottling companies make a profit. We’ve already seen this in action. It means depriving communities of drinking water. It means moving water bottles about by road rather than people sourcing their water more locally. It means taking something that is a common, is a necessity for life, and turning it into a commercial opportunity. It’s a logic that puts money ahead of life and planet.

Of course drinking water is considered healthy, and any kind of spring water or mineral water is marketed as extra healthy, so it’s easy to buy this stuff and feel virtuous. It would be better to demand safe, drinkable water on tap for everyone, at prices everyone can afford.