I am absolutely fed up with being told how important it is to recycle. I groan when I hear about councils threatening to fine people for putting recyclable waste into their normal dustbins. I mutter to myself about the vicissitudes of waste management from county to county. I feel genuine pity for the people who live within half a mile of our local rubbish tip, for whom the constant smell must be utterly unbearable.
In Leicestershire we have a green bin for garden and a ‘limited amount’ of cardboard waste, a box for paper including junk mail and another box for glass and tins. We then have a black bin for everything else. Recycling is collected weekly and the black and green bins are collected bi-weekly. The refuse collectors have the right to refuse to empty your bins if the lids won’t close. I have to drive to the nearest recycling centre. But every county is different accordingly to which refuse company has been awarded the contract and how much the council is willing to spend. My family in the south have a far greater range of recyclable rubbish collected from their houses than we do in the Midlands.
I am not an expert environmental scientist and I am not a guru in the field of waste management. I am simply a Housewife (Wartime variety, naturally) who doesn’t want to see my country disappear under a mountain of rubbish. Recycling is all very worthy, but it is not the answer to the massive refuse problem that we, and the majority of the developed world, is facing. In times of recession, many waste management companies are not buying this recyclable waste, so what happens to it then? And let’s not forget the energy involved in producing recycled goods.
If we really want to ‘do our bit’ for the environment, we have to produce less waste in the first place. We must consume less. In some aspects of life this is easy; one excellent reason for cooking from scratch is that you don’t have to contend with all that packaging from pre-prepared food. But I scream with rage when I am told, all too frequently, that it is cheaper to buy a new appliance than it is to repair the old one. At one time, one assumed that if you bought an expensive brand of kettle, it would last you several times longer than a £4.95 one from Argos, but even that does not appear to be true any more. Lady Marjorie recently had to throw away a £70 Dualit kettle after only 18 months and was told she had done well to have it last that long. Apparently, she should have spent another £12 on an extended warranty.
So what can we do? And how can we do it without completely disrupting our lives? Here are a few tips (to reduce the tips!) that I follow when I can, with which most of you will already be familiar, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded!:
- Plan as many meals as you can in advance so that you can get the food you need, thereby potentially reducing waste
- Cook from scratch to avoid packaging
- Take tupperware boxes to the meat, fish and deli counters in the supermarket and ask them to put your food in those with the bar code stuck to the lid. Some will refuse, but most won’t and if they do – make a fuss! Independent shops are much more amenable to this idea.
- Always have a couple of cotton shopping bags in your handbag or car
- If you need to use carrier bags, keep them for use as bin liners
- Sugar bags and flour bags are ideal for re-use as they are lightly waxed on the outside to keep the original contents dry. Use them to wrap sandwiches and cake for packed lunches.
- Keep some of your interesting rubbish for junk modelling as an activity for the children.
- Keep some jam jars and small bottles with screw lids. Next year they will be there when you have a go at jam, jellies and syrups!
- Wash foil and use it again
- Use the milkman if you can afford to. If not, plastic milk cartons, cut in half, make very effective cloches for seedlings in your garden. You can adjust air flow through the lid.
- Mend your clothes and darn your socks. I will do an item on darning if this will help! Just because you can buy a new pair of trousers in Primark for £2 doesn’t mean you should. You can do mending while watching TV or listening to the radio.
- If clothes are beyond the pale, cut them up for dusters and cleaning cloths. Old pants make super dusters, shirts are non-linty for shiny surfaces. A man’s shirt will make a practical painting overall for a child.
- Don’t buy separate cleaning fluids for every different job. It’s a con. A decent, all-purpose household cleaner will manage most things as will an own brand bleach and a packet of soda crystals. Better still, invest in some eco cloths. My sister bought me some four years ago and they’re still doing the job.
- Lemon juice in the cleaning water will disinfect work surfaces as well as anything else
- Essential oil, such as lavender or lemon, on a damp cloth, wiped over your radiators will fragrance your house as well as any air freshener, costs much less and can be tailored to your own taste. Why does your house smell so bad anyway?
- If you need odd bits of furniture for general use, see if your local tip has a shop and look there first. You’ll be amazed at what you can find.
- Auctions – the ultimate in re-use from expensive antiques to general houseware. And it’s great fun.
- Have a go at E-bay – you’d be amazed what people buy and if it doesn’t sell, it’s cost you nothing
- Use charity shops – again you’ll be amazed and the benefits are two-fold; less waste plus a charity donation
Right, that’s enough to be going on with. I would love to hear your own tips for reducing waste or saving energy.
I am now going to save my own energy by switching off the computer and going to bed.