I presume that it’s a mainly Western problem that having too much ‘stuff’ causes us ‘stress’. It seems crazy that whilst some people are starving and living off rubbish dumps, others are amassing huge amounts of possessions that require ‘management’. Numerous websites and magazine articles exist to help us ‘clear clutter’. Yet in our consumer driven society we seem to be programmed to go on creating more and more waste.
They say you arrive in the world with nothing and leave the same way. But it’s not strictly true, in the western world, at least. I was surprised, on having my own children how a small baby suddenly creates a load of ‘stuff’ – cribs, cots, car seats, changing mats, portable changing mats, baby baths, feeding bottles, sterilizers, mobiles, baby rockers, high chairs, slings, baby carriers, prams, pushchairs, potties and that’s before you take into account the nappies, clothes and toys – babies are big business, and whilst some things can be bought or acquired second hand and passed on, the consumption pattern starts.
At the other end of things, I was struck, as I put the last carrier bag of my dying fathers cleaning wipes into the wheelie bin, how futile possessions can seem, and what is it in life that we really need. Two places that depress yet fascinate me are shopping centres and ‘civic amenity sites’. In Julie Hill’s book, The secret life of stuff, she gives an insight into the true costs of the products we buy, and some hope that the future could be different. I wonder how Micheal Landy felt when, in 2001, he bravely shredded all his possessions in the name of art, Breaking Down. Did it liberate him? It must be my age (nearing 50), – but are we just born to consume? I’ve started thinking – how many fridges will I own in my lifetime and what’s the average number of washing machines an individual will own? (I need to get out more!) What is our greater impact and legacy? and is the only answer to the meaning of life 42?
I have always been a keen on composting – so much so, that I shudder if I’m anywhere and I see veg peelings going in the dustbin. I compost everything from tea bags to cardboard; I don’t include cooked food or egg shells until they have been dried out in a cooling oven. However, there is an issue which deters many from composting their kitchen waste – and that’s rats! There is no getting away from it – rotting food will attract them, and I know we’ve had them in ours. I always give the bin a good kick before opening the lid! We’ve now put chicken wire underneath our plastic bin, but I guess they will chew through that eventually. If you don’t fancy composting at home, many local councils have started kirbside collections of kitchen waste or you could set up a community composting group. There is help available from the Community Composting Network, who have lottery funding to run a series of training events on Community Composting for Local Food, or from the Master Composters
Spookily, just after I had updated a page on Green Choices about green burials, I turned on the radio to find a new woodland burial ground being opened in an episode of ‘The Archers’. There is certainly a growing interest in greener funerals, from wicker or cardboard coffins to woodland burial sites. I can remember when I ran the Countryside Trust on behalf of the Countryside Agency, receiving a funding application for a Green Burial site, it opened up lots of areas of discussion – the pro’s and cons of cremation and burial, impacts on the environment, land use etc. I know the Woodland Trust considered the feasibility of a woodland burial scheme, but decided not to proceed. However, there are now over 200 green burial sites around the country, and a growing choice of more environmentally friendly coffins, such as those made of recycled newspaper . I know death and dying aren’t subjects many of us a comfortable discussing. If you can plan your choices or those of your loved ones, in advance it is helpful; searching around for wicker coffins at a time of grieving can be difficult, and if they are imported from China are they a green choice? Better to have done your research first. When my father died last year I was surprised how much there was to organise and how many decisions we had to make – if you throw in is “environmentally friendly?” at this stage it can be too late – it’s hard to think about reducing the crematoriums emissions by the choice of clothing, or the handles on the coffin, but they do have an impact. If a green life is important then a green ending should be too!
On a rainy January day the prospect of hanging clothes out to dry on the line is remote, and an e-mail from a company that sells rotary lines with covers, started me thinking about washing again, I won’t dwell on how often you should change your knickers this time, that resulted in some interesting feedback!
I know time is a big factor in peoples lives – and faced with a family load of washing at the weekend it is so much more convenient to bung it in the tumble dryer, but the cost of the energy they use, particularly inefficient models, is astounding with the annual running costs of the least efficient being nearly £160 per year according to sust-it, the energy efficiency website for electricals, that is more than the appliance costs to buy! I find it surprising that 45 per cent of households now have a tumble dryer and a further 15 per cent own a washer-drier. With 26.3 million households, that’s a lot of energy being used, the average cycle uses around 4kWh, and a lot of CO2 created. Perhaps house builders could be encouraged to design covered outdoor spaces or flats with balconies, include indoor drying equipment or offer covered rotary lines. It may take more than this to change our behaviour, but it would be a start.
With Christmas done and dusted, and the finances depleted it’s surprising that, at this time of year, many of us think of planning a holiday to provide something to look forward to. Taking a holiday, however, can often create something of a dilemma for those with a green conscience, wanting to reduce their carbon footprint. To fly or not to fly? Should you forgo visiting that far flung destination? Miss out on helping the orangutans in Borneo, or the experience of trekking in Nepal. Maybe these are ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences that can’t be sacrificed, but swapping a villa in Majorca for a cottage in Cornwall might be an option. The UK does have some stunning locations to visit; glorious beaches, great cycle routes, challenging walking routes, and whole host of accommodation types to suit families, couples and even large groups wanting to party! It amazes me the amount of rental properties available for those wanting to holiday in UK, check out the EcoHolidayShop for some inspiration – it doesn’t need to be all composting toilets and communal living either, by simply choosing to holiday in the UK, you are helping our economy, and reducing your own carbon footprint by not flying.
What was your most useless Christmas present? The one that blew it for me and made me think I was turning into my mother, ‘tut-tutting’ about the ‘waste of it all’, was the novelty ‘grow your own beer’ thing – that has nothing to do with beer or growing your own, but is a piece of something shaped like a glass of beer, made in China, which when added to a bowl of water grows! Wow. I’m sure it doesn’t have a massive carbon footprint compared to other over packaged energy consuming products, but it does seem futile. Especially when I, ‘greeny two-shoes’, had gone to the trouble of buying local products for gifts. I managed to create hampers of items all produced within 12 miles. Including Stinking Bishop cheese (needed to be kept in a separate building!), local honey, Hartpury Perry, jams, quince jelly, apple juice, Three Choirs bottled beer, and also one my own collagraph prints of a perry pear. At least most of the products will be consumed and hopefully enjoyed, – where as the ‘grow your own beer’ thing will end up in the bin (we did try it out and it didn’t grow very large!).
I’m looking forward to seeing BBC2’s Big Bread Experiment, which starts tonight, charting the trials and tribulations of setting up a community bakery. Not just so I can spot my Mum shopping in Bedale, or tossing a pancake along the high street or where ever else she was caught on camera during the past two years of filming, but because I think this community bakery is such a fabulous idea. Linking an old working mill in Crakehall, a re-opened railway line, and using locally grown wheat, ticks all the right boxes on the sustainability front. And it involves volunteers, benefiting from the satisfaction of working together for a common purpose and gain the therapeutic effect of making bread. There’s nothing like a bit of vigorous kneading to beat away the blues or to calm the frustrations of daily life. I hope it proves (n0t a breadmaking pun), interesting – I can see the appeal for the TV company in finding a Vicar of Dibley character in the (then) curate Cath Vickers, who started the whole process. What’s more the bread is delicious as are the chocolate and beetroot brownies!
As I sip a glass of Cotes du Rhone, I must admit to not wanting to think too deeply about the environmental impact of wine. But I know there are lots factors that contribute to an individual bottle’s wine’s total environmental impact, including growing practices – the water used, pesticides etc, type and size of packaging, and the transportation distance and method. Complex indeed. And to avoid all those bottles needing to be recycled, a wine box seems a far better idea, apart from leading to my over consumption, (far too handy to fill a glass up from the tap on the side!). I’ve also tried the tetra packs that look like cartons of orange juice; but they don’t seem quite right, or pour very well nor do they look good on the table. So I was pleased to hear of the invention by Suffolk based Martin Myerscough, of a paper wine bottle, GreenBottles! Building on the success the company had with it’s paper milk bottle, the revolutionary packaging is made of paper with a thin plastic lining. After use the plastic lining can be removed and the paper outer-casing composted. If they can give the paper bottle the aesthetic appeal of the conventional wine bottle, and the assurance that the plastic lining doesn’t effect the taste, and will result in saving CO2 emissions, it sounds like a Green Choice and I’ll drink to that!
wine bottles by issi lammas
The recent announcement by the government of their intention to cut the rate of Feed-in-tariff for PV solar panels from 43.3p p/kwh to 21p, for people who join the scheme after 12th December 2011, has alarmed many. But let’s face it weall knew a cut to the high tariff was inevitable, it’s the speed and severity that doesn’t make sense; although it may get rid of some of the ‘sharks’ in the industry. What bugs me is why the Government didn’t take a more holistic approach to reducing household energy usage from the start and link insulation improvements and incentives for energy reduction to the scheme. PV solar panels have become an attractive income generator for those with a spare £12K in the bank, but will it change energy usage. You may argue that a attractive financial return is just what was needed to kick start the industry. Saving energy to save cash is great, it doesn’t matter if it’s a green choice or not, but to generate an income, and carry on using energy at the same rate, at the expense of others higher energy bills doesn’t seem fair. It’s when I overheard someone enthusing the virtues of the FiT and solar panels so that they could heat their hot tub that I thought we’d got it wrong. High energy prices make people think about energy usage; feeling that you are getting something for free can lead to waste and that won’t save any carbon. So a combination of financial incentives for energy conservation and energy generation is needed, and the Green Deal is still a year away.
My mother once commented to me, “You are either very clean, or very dirty!” as she found our house was always strewn with washing – either dirty; hoping to be ironed; or waiting to be put away! It is probably a bit of both given three children, and one with a liking for mud. But it got me thinking – have our standards changed? Is it no longer acceptable to wear the same T-shirt for a week? A friend recalls, as a child, knickers were only changed every other day! Yet now I know of people who wash their shower towels everyday; and others who can’t bear any dirty laundry around and will use the washing machine three times a day, every day. So given that the average modern washing machine, according to Sust-it’s database of electrical appliances, costs, around 22p per cycle and uses around 55 litres of water, washing too often will certainly be bad for the environment and our pockets. And that would be if everyone had a washing machine less than 10 years old, which they don’t. Plenty of people still have machines that have been going for years, oblivious to the amount of energy they are consuming. So multiplied over the country that adds up to a lot of carbon being emitted not to mention the costs.
So how clean should we be? How often should we change our sheets/towels? I had a very odd discussion once with a distinguished university professor about how he and his wife turned over their bed sheets after two weeks to get more use! Well we all know how wonderful it is to get into a bed with fresh sheets – but how often is it necessary to wash them. There are obviously people with allergies who need to wash their bedding very regularly – but what is normal? And has this changed over the years. What happened in the past with Monday wash days, and no tumble dryers? The size of washing machine drums has grown too, it’s now possible to fit 9kg in some machines. If you have a family and enough clothes to wash in bulk, these machines can work out more economical, but not if they are used to wash just 3.5Kg of washing and are used the same amount of times. I know I usually have too much for my 5kg machine and a bigger drum would cut down on the number of washes. But before we all rush out to stick solar panels on roofs, we should think about how we can do less washing. Although I would always have to have clean knickers – who knows when you might get run over!!