Plastic fantastic?

I now use a Pyrex roaster rather than a roasting tin and foil

I now use a Pyrex roaster rather than a roasting tin and foil

In my push towards a more sustainable life I’m always keen to avoid ‘single-use’ products where possible. As a result, every piece of aluminium foil in my kitchen is used multiple times, getting progressively smaller and more wrinkled until it finally enters the recycling bin. This makes good financial sense too, as I haven’t bought a new roll of the stuff for about five years. Where possible, however, I try to avoid using it at all – a Pyrex chicken roaster with a lid, for example, means that I never use a roasting tin and foil any more.

However, there are some occasions when it’s very difficult to avoid single-use items… plastic bottles of shampoo, for example. I’m happy that I only use the shampoo once (it’s a consumable after all), but what about the container? OK, I put it in the plastic recycling bin, but making a bottle for a single use seems really inefficient. The Body Shop used to refill bottles of shampoo, but they haven’t done so for many years now and I don’t know of anywhere else that does.

So, it is with interest that I have been reading Westywrites’ blog posts on just this subject ‘Plastic-free Me’. Westy is working up to taking part in ‘Plastic-free July 2014‘ which

aims to raise awareness of the massive consumption of single-use plastics throughout the world. The goal is to cut out completely (eek!) those plastics that we use for sometimes just a matter of minutes that potentially end up in landfill forever more
(Plastic-free Me: introduction)

Once you start thinking about all the single-use plastics that we encounter, certainly here in the UK, you begin to realise how much energy and how many resources we are being wasted. Even folks like me, who really do think about this sort of thing quite a lot, are still responsible for lots of plastic that’s only used once; for example, the bag my muesli comes in, the wrappers around magazines I subscribe to (although some of these now come in paper or cornstarch envelopes), my shampoo bottle, milk cartons, wrappers around plastic cd cases… I could go on.

We take our own containers when we buy coffee

We take our own containers when we buy coffee

Over the past few years we have reduced our use: we take a container to the coffee merchant and get that refilled rather than taking it away in a fancy plastic/foil/paper multi-layered bag; we buy unwrapped soap; we get bottles of various cleaning products refilled; we buy in bulk (this does not eliminate packaging, but does reduce it); we save small plastic bags, wash them out and reuse them; we never accept a plastic carrier bag and always have a cotton one or basket when out shopping; we reuse plastic bottles and containers when possible; we save bubble-wrap for re-use; and we try to buy food in paper rather than plastic packaging.

Buying in bulk and in paper packaging. We'll probably store potatoes in the bag once the oats are eaten.

Buying in bulk and in paper packaging. We’ll probably store potatoes in the bag once the oats are eaten.

However, without making my own shampoo, I’m at a loss to know how to avoid this single-use plastic. And there’s a limit to the number of small plastic bottles you can make use of round the house. So, I will be reading about Westy’s journey to a plastic-free July with interest and hopefully, I’ll get some new ideas along the way…. or perhaps you have some for me now?

Civil disobedience is homemade pants!

A few months ago I read a post by my friend Seema about making her own pants (or underpants as you would say in the US I think) that prompted me to start writing this entry on my blog. Somehow I didn’t finish it and has taken me until now to get back to it, but finally here I am…

Now, you might be wondering how making your own underwear resulted in thoughts of civil disobedience…

Apparently my homemade socks could bring down the government!

Apparently my homemade socks could bring down the government!

Well, Seema mentioned something called ‘The Compact‘, which started out as an agreement between a group of friends in San Francisco not to buy anything new for a year, with the exception of a few things, including underwear. Seema felt that it should be possible to make your own pants and thus further reduce the purchase of new items. I have previously written about buying secondhand socks, but perhaps secondhand pants are a step too far! The answer, therefore, is to make your own, and Seema tells you how.

This still doesn’t really explain the link to civil disobedience, does it? But, stick with me, I’m getting there.

In researching The Compact I discovered that this attempt to reduce consumerism and do something to live more sustainably has been widely criticised, because it does nothing to support ‘the economy’. If you watch the news or read newspapers in the UK, US and probably any industrialised country, you will know that governments want ‘growth’. And by that they mean more manufacturing, more purchasing, more exports. For example an article in the Star Tribune states:

The American economy depends on consumers willing to buy the latest in fashions, furnishings and flat-screen TVs. Indeed, in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, shopping was cast as a patriotic duty, a way to help prevent the economy from tipping into a recession.

And that sums it up – if you don’t shop and buy more stuff, you are going to bring down your country… the whole of the economic system that many of our countries rely on will no longer function. What can be more civilly disobedient than that?

But, I hear you ask, do I really want to bring down the economy of my country, even if it is by making my own knickers and not buying that new mobile phone that will make my life worth living once more? Well, for many people, the current economy is not working well – there is a huge gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and this is becoming increasingly difficult to govern. In addition, common sense tells us that all economies cannot continue to grow indefinitely – surely we should be looking at stable, sustainable economies, where the needs of all can be met without constantly trying to exploit either groups of people or the planet? Buying new things is driven, to a great extent by large corporations wanting to make money (I direct you once again to The Story of Stuff – do watch it if you haven’t already) rather than their desire to make you happy!

I have to confess that, as an inveterate bibliophile, I can’t bring myself to promise not to buy anything new, but I think that we could all reduce, reuse and repair in order to make the world a better place… and if that means I’m bringing down our whole economic system, then I’m fine with that

-oOo-

If you are interested in The Compact, there is an online community

And if you want to find out more about economics and alternatives to constant consumption, you can do no better than to visit the website of the New Economics Foundation… sounds dull, but it really isn’t!

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