Tag Archives: waste

Greener Eating

In recent weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make the household more environmentally friendly. The most obvious actions for us to take are around food – reducing the animal products in the diet (one omnivore, two vegetarians) and cutting back on plastic waste associated with food.

Limitations of both sourcing and budget mean that the only way we can do this, is to make more from scratch. Between us we do a fair amount of meals from scratch, but it’s the extras that need looking at especially. Snacks, puddings, biscuits, and bread.

There are in turn implications about comfort, wellness and energy levels. I make my least good food choices when I’m ill, exhausted, overworked and uninspired. At that point, making everything from scratch is a push too far. We walk for transport, shop on foot – there’s a lot of greener things going on that mean spare energy is not always available. I’ve also learned that it pays to eat with an eye to mental health, and that means carbs – often toast. Low blood sugar causes a lot of mood problems and if my mental health goes to the wall, nothing else is going to work out well.

So I’ve been experimenting a bit. There are issues around how and when I plan the food, and what breaks I get between food-making and other jobs. Tom is finding that having managed to bring work-related stress levels down, he has more energy resources for this sort of thing, too. It’s clearly possible to get into vicious cycles where a poor diet adds to body weariness and makes it harder to get on top of things and do better around food. There would be all sorts of benefits to getting this right. Mass produced food is always more bland and less nutritious than the stuff you can make for yourself.

But, convenience food exists in a culture that puts us under a lot of pressure to work. If you’re mentally exhausted, even thinking about what to cook can be overwhelming. Energy is required to be making bread and biscuits and whatnot. Having the kind of day jobs that requires massive amounts of concentration over long periods, Tom and I both tend to snack to keep going. There’s a complicated relationship already between how we work, how we shop and how we eat and it’s something I’ve had to think about carefully.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that making good changes depends on seeing the bigger picture. It means examining how we’re living to see what, overall, could shift us. This also requires time and energy. The key place to start is to ask why things are as they currently are, because without exploring that, any changes are likely to be brief and superficial, or counterproductive in some other way.


Reducing Plastic

The trouble with a lot of advice about reducing plastic is either it’s very basic – take your own shopping bag level of stuff – or there are privilege issues. I’ve been giving some thought to ways of reducing plastic that don’t depend on your health or your income too much.

Avoid overpackaging. It’s not always easy to tell the first time you buy something if it will turn out to have layers of plastic on the inside, but once you know, these are easily avoided. Overpackaging is most often a feature on snacks – multipacks of crisps, cake bars, sweets and whatnot. These are hardly essential. If you’re desperate for snacks, there are options with less packaging.

Carry a water bottle or a thermos flask – this has the bonus of saving you money. If you can’t afford a fancy water bottle, re-using bottles is workable. Keep your bottle cool to reduce the risk of it leaching plastic into your water. If you have to buy a drink, there’s a lot to be said for a re-usable cup in a cafe if you can afford it. Failing that, fruit juice in tetrapacks is worth a thought – better than paying someone to extract and bottle water – which is a preposterous thing. You can then re-fill the pack with water – I’ve done this at events.

Re-use packaging – jiffy bags, bubble wrap and all that sort of thing can be re-used, saving you money at the same time. If you end up with a lot of it, give it to a charity shop so they can re-use it when people buy breakables.

Check the price for weight on fruit and veg. Unhelpfully sometimes loose stuff is sold by the item not the weight, so you may need to give it some thought. Sometimes the loose stuff is the same price, or occasionally even cheaper than the bagged produce. Also consider the food miles though – loose mangos and pineapples may not be as good an idea as apples in a bag…

Clothes made from synthetic fabrics release plastic particles when you wash them. Try to wash a bit less frequently and/or on gentler cycles, or going over to handwashing (I do this, synthetics are easy to handwash).This will reduce the amount of plastic you put out. It also increases the life-expectancy of your clothes, which saves you money, and saves you money on water, electricity and laundry soap – which also improves your sustainability. Win all round.

Car tyres are another source of plastic particles in our environments. If you have to drive, then going at lower speeds, cornering and braking to reduce wear and tear on your tyres will save you money on replacing them, and save you money on fuel consumption and that all helps with being greener as well. If you can do without the car of course that’s even better from both an environmental perspective and a body health perspective. For those of us who can, walking and cycling is healthier.

Picking up rubbish is a good way of helping if you have the time and energy. Plastic bags and other detritus end up in our water systems, and then get out to sea and into the bodies of marine creatures. Plastic breaking down in wild places can strangle and choke wildlife. It doesn’t solve the existence of the plastic in the first place, but you can at least reduce the harm.


Matching sets – making greener choices

My guess is that the idea of matching sets goes with the industrial revolution and mass production. For most of history, most of our ancestors would not have replaced anything that wasn’t broken. Most people would have put up with broken things, or fixed them, or only replaced what was broken. The idea of matching crockery is a pretty weird one when you think about it in terms of how we use resources. Matching kitchen furniture. Matching bathroom stuff – these things are bulky and costly to replace, but so often if one goes, the lot has to go.

Of course, this whole approach serves capitalism very well. If we feel tatty and shameful with mismatched items and are persuaded to throw everything away and get new ones any time a single thing breaks, we spend more.

I recently went round this with the kitchen floor. A number of the vinyl floor tiles were breaking up and not fit for purpose. Doing the whole floor was clearly going to take a lot of time and effort, so neither of us got round to it. Eventually it dawned on me that there was no need to do the whole floor. No need to take up perfectly serviceable tiles in order to replace them. We bought a single pack of tiles, removed the damaged ones, inserted the new ones – a job that didn’t take Tom very long at all in the end. A small amount of unusable material went to landfill.

We now have mismatched floor tiles in the kitchen. It’s perfectly functional. It looks like what it is.

So much of it comes down to what we think is desirable, acceptable, good enough, versus what we think will get us judged critically. If looking overtly green was considered your sexiest option, it would be persuasive. If you thought people would look on you favourably for waste-avoiding choices, then chucking a whole bunch of things away because one thing was damaged, would not be even slightly attractive.


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?


Rubbish Crackers, let’s not!

They come in boxes, usually with a non recyclable plastic front. You get the momentary cheer of pulling them. Out pops a non-recyclable bit of plastic tat, and a couple of bits of paper – a hat that will likely tear as you try to put it on, and a crappy joke.

If you shop around online and through eco-outlets, you can find all kinds of exciting alternatives, with worthwhile things in them, and no plastic. But even so, I question the logic of the cracker. There are many ways to dress up a table, they aren’t necessary for that. I detest the paper hats, for me they represent all the forced jollity I hate about the season. If you want people to wear brightly coloured hats for the meal, why not invest in some brightly coloured hats that can be re-used?

So much more rubbish goes to landfill over the festive period. It’s worth looking at what you think is normal, and questioning it. Crackers are not that great when you stop and think about how much pleasure you derive from them compared to what they cost and how much needless waste they generate.


Greener Christmas – cut out the plastic

Here’s a simple tip to make Christmas greener: Cut out the plastic. Don’t buy anything that has significant packaging on it – all those gift boxes the supermarkets like to put together are just bundles of waste that have to be dealt with. Let’s send them a clear message that we don’t actually want a ton of extra packaging as part of the season.

Don’t buy plastic disposable things.

Don’t buy gifts in single use plastic packaging.

Don’t buy gifts that are themselves made of plastic – especially not the kinds of cheap children’s toys that are likely to break soon and wind up in the bin.

It can be tempting, especially when buying for children, to want to present them with a big mound of gifts to open. It is of course more affordable to do this by purchasing lots of cheap, plastic toys. Overwhelming a child with low value things that will go in the bin teaches them some unhelpful lessons about consumption and waste and will set patterns they’ll have a hard time breaking in later life. If they can break them at all. It is much better to have fewer things of better quality and to learn to take care of them and value them.


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.

 


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…