Tag Archives: waste

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.

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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…


Inefficient efficiency

‘Efficiency’ is one of those words politicians like to use. They talk about cutting back on wasteful, needless spending, trimming the fat out of the system, making everything streamlined and cost effective.

Efficient hospitals have no spare beds to deal with entirely predictable winter flu crises.

Efficient councils have no resources or workforce ready to deal with unexpected problems, be that flooding, heavy snow, trees brought down in gales, power cuts, lack of drinking water and so forth.

Efficient schools can’t cope in the years when there are more children than expected needing school places.

Efficient work places can’t cope with employee illness. They have far less scope for resilience when faced with unexpected challenges or setbacks.

Life seldom goes entirely as predicted. People get ill and a system that assumes it needs no slack in it to offset against sick days and people not being able to deliver, is a system bound to fail. Systems that don’t have anything to spare for the unexpected have no choice but to squeeze people harder in order to get the same results. Squeezed, pressured people get sick and ill – and the efficient system isn’t equipped to deal with that and can only respond by squeezing harder and making everything worse. Stress related sickness costs economies a fortune.

Paring everything back to the bare minimum to cut costs and avoid ‘waste’ is often a really inefficient choice. Any system working this way is incredibly vulnerable to the slightest problem.

In a crisis, efficiency kills people. Cuts to the NHS in the UK led to an estimated 10,000 deaths this winter. That’s a very high price to pay for saving money. Why on earth would be let ourselves be persuaded that saving money is more important than saving lives?

When a pared to the bone system hits an inevitable crisis, it costs a lot of money. One way or another. It may not be an immediately obvious cost. It may be a long term cost in health, skills, social engagement. It may be a long term cost that will increase crime, or violence, or abuse. Efficiency is incredibly costly when it falls apart.

To cope with life’s variables and uncertainties, we don’t need to be efficient. We need to be flexible. We need to have options. Take a long term look at the cost/benefit analysis, and slashing everything back turns out not to be even slightly cost effective. Flexibility and adaptability are key survival skills for all things in all contexts. Efficiency can deprive us of scope to adapt, and room for innovation.


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.


Zero waste

There is no such place as ‘away’. Everything we throw out winds up somewhere. Landfill is not a viable solution, and making things just to bin them is not a sustainable way to run a culture. We need a zero waste economy. There’s a lot we can do as individuals, with the whole reduce-reuse-recycle mantra, but that only works when you have the right materials in the first place. A disturbing number of important foods only seem to come in non-recyclable plastic packaging.

What to do?

Companies give us this stuff because they have convinced themselves it’s what the public wants, needs, expects. So we have to have clingfilm on cucumbers and re-sealable packets, and little plastic windows so that we can see the donuts inside look like every other fried confectionary we’ve ever encountered… it becomes normal so we expect it which justifies the idea that we expect it so they have to provide it.

We have to break that circle. I think we can.

I had a chat with @sainsburys on twitter recently. I’ve also started poking Quorn. I’m looking at companies I buy from and am commenting on how disappointing their packaging is. Doing it in the public domain – twitter and facebook are good – it draws attention. I had a lot of support from other social media folk, out of the blue and with nothing organised. If enough of us tell them that recyclable packaging is what we want, they may listen.

We pay for this stuff, twice over. We pay to buy it. Then, we pay for our councils to send it to landfill. With cuts eating into essential services, it is not acceptable that we should be spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money on burying refuse the supermarkets and others have forced on us. Rice, pasta, seeds, dried fruit – dried, basic, storeable things, are not reliable available in recyclable packaging. This has to change.

So, consider what’s in your bin, and who helped you put it there, and then drop them a polite and friendly line in a public space. ‘I am not happy’ is a good tone to take. At this stage its worth seeing if we can get some co-operation. If there isn’t much movement, petitions can work wonders, and we may have to consider posting clean waste back to the people who created it, explaining that as we can’t recycle it and don’t want to send it to landfill, returning to source seemed like a good idea.