Tag Archives: recycling

Dealing with a dead tree

In the aftermath of Christmas, a great many trees will be burned or sent to landfill. I blogged earlier in the season about alternatives to cut trees (still better than plastic trees). However, we’re now at the point where you’ll be thinking about what to do with the tree, if you have one.

If you don’t have a tree, well done! Please feel virtuous and easy of conscience at this point because you’ve already done the most environmentally responsible thing you could do on this score.

If you are in the UK, your local authority may well have a tree collection point for chipping and deployment – chipped trees can be used to help maintain paths, and this kind of re-use reduces their impact.

In some areas, charities are collecting trees for a donation, and then recycling them as chippings.

Find a responsible way of dealing with your dead tree. Don’t send it to landfill.

And really, Pagans, if you’ve killed a tree to celebrate midwinter, you might want to have a think about this.


Re-use or recycle your cards

I’ve seen estimates of a billion cards going in the bin after Christmas. I’ve seen estimates of several hundred thousand trees needing to be felled to make those cards in the first place. I’ve not tracked down any definite figures online, but it doesn’t take much thinking to consider how many cards might be sent, and what it took to create them and come to the conclusion that it’s a very high environmental cost, regardless of the precise figures.

At this point, you may have cards. How you dispose of them will make a difference.

You could cut them down for reuse, as gift labels. You could use them in future crafting projects. You could give them to a charity that can make money recycling them. You could recycle them if they aren’t covered in non-recyclable things.

For the longer term, you can think about buying recycled cards to reduce impact on trees. Buy smaller cards that use less material and create less waste. Consider not giving cards.

Cards are an example of things we think of us just a bit of seasonal fun and goodwill. How much harm is it ok to cause for the sake of a bit of fun and festivity?


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.


Closed system earth

The boat is a closed system. It’s not on the grid, or plumbed in to the water and sewerage systems, anything that is going to be in the boat either has to be generated in situ (electricity) or physically brought in (water, fuel, food etc). There are of course some obvious downsides to this – especially when you consider having to sort out your poo… but on the plus side having the means to generate your own energy and source everything you need creates independence. If the grid falls over, I’ll still have lights.

One of the things this makes me very aware of, is the degree to which everything entering the boat comes from somewhere, and everything leaving it goes to somewhere. I have a much more direct sense than most people of how much lavatorial waste we generate in a week, and that it goes somewhere else and needs sorting out. It doesn’t magically flush away never to be thought of again. It goes somewhere. Something has to happen to it.

There are no bin collections for us. Consequently we cycle the recyclables a few miles to drop them off, and there are places we can appropriately dispose of the other things. Big bins all boaters use. And where do those go? Away… to that never never land where all the rubbish goes. Looking at those big bins every week, full of things other people couldn’t be bothered to recycle, and all the useless packaging and waste does not make me comfortable.

There are features of modern life that make it very easy to ascribe things to ‘away’. Water comes from ‘away’ and when you’re done with it, it goes away. Petrol comes out of a nozzle, the actual source rendered invisible. Rubbish disappears in a lorry every week or two. We insulate ourselves from most of the process, the whole structure of modern living encourages us not to see our own place in the many cycles we interact with. This is not helping.

The earth is a closed system. Everything we have is here. There is no off-world grid to turn to if we mess up. No method of being plumbed in to intergalactic water and sewerage systems. Anything that is going to be used on the earth has to be generated in situ. Fantasies about getting it all from space are not going to solve anything any time soon. There are of course some obvious downsides to this – especially when you consider having to sort out your poo… but on the plus side having the means to generate your own energy and source everything you need creates independence. Or it would, if we weren’t being collectively insane.