By Emma Hurrell
You know those ridiculously big boxes some delivery firms send you stuffed mostly with brown paper and that one tiny item you ordered? Confession: I get a kick from saving it and then using that brown paper for gift-wrap. I’m re-using a waste material AND I don’t have to buy wrapping paper, what’s not to love?! I just don’t like things going to waste and I guess you could say I’m frugal.
I remember learning the word frugal when I was writing an assignment on my Granny at school – my mum helped me describe her as ‘frugal in her use of resources’. For Granny foraging for nettles to make nettle soup wasn’t part of the latest trend, bringing up five children with very little money made being frugal a necessity. She was innovative, they got by without much, and what could be repaired was repaired, reused (hello hand-me-downs) or re-purposed.
Granny was so frugal by necessity. To be honest, right now that’s not really a necessity I face. But I’m faced with a dilemma as I start to notice just how much waste my lifestyle is generating. This journey of noticing the waste from my lifestyle was really kick-started as I read more about inequality across the world in it’s various forms. One aspect of this is the way we have access to resources, and the way we use those resources. There are finite resources available to us, and yet if everyone consumed the way the average person in the UK does, we would need 3 planets to sustain us. That seems just crazy to me – we’re overusing our resources and we’re wasting it too! The idea of landfill, of mountains of rubbish decaying over tens and hundreds of years, all the while creating a toxic run-off… it gives me heebie-jeebies. I’m a big fan of earth, of nature and the environment, and I’m somewhat ashamed of what my own lifestyle is doing it.
I wonder if we have been misled by this phrase ‘throw away’? As if ‘away’ is some far off place, rather than this very planet that hosts 7 billion of us and gives us life!
Some plastics can take 500 years plus to degrade, and it’s thought that the plastic PET will never degrade. Yikes. It doesn’t take much between 7 billion of us to add up to a serious mountain of never-degrading plastics. Small decisions I make today have lasting implications. What a legacy to hand down to future generations; ‘Hey descendants, sorry about the toxic waste mountains. Enjoy the view!’
So what a relief it is that recycling has moved so far in the last decade. From a relatively new concept not that long ago, now many people in the UK are used to recycling and do it as part of their daily life. In terms of waste in our house, plastic film is pretty much the only thing in our bin these days. It’s definitely better – but is it that simple?
Have you heard the mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle? It’s one I have constantly ringing in my ears. And it is in that order for a reason. Reduce first. Then think about reusing and as a third option recycle.
Recycling takes up huge amounts of energy – from the collection and sorting, to the energy intensive processes of turning it into something new – that’s why it’s the last option. Whilst recycling may be a better option than landfill, if your council ships your recycling to China then I’m thinking it’s still not a great option. How much do we even really know about our recycling – we were hoodwinked on all those ‘recyclable’ coffee cups weren’t we? Over 2.5 billion coffee cups are used in the UK alone, every year, and barely any are recyclable. I now try and take my coffee flask with me whenever I buy coffee.
And so I’m on a journey of trying to be more conscious of my impact, my footprint, and trying to make more choices that might somehow be less damaging to both the earth and the people on it. Minimising the waste I generate, reducing what I use and making sure what I do use is recyclable is a key part of this.
I’m still in the early days of this journey – and many people are far further along.
Next week is #ZeroWasteWeek (read more about this here) and so it seems timely that I challenge you to join me in this journey this next week coming. To help us in this process I’ll be sharing some ideas early next week about how I’ve cut down waste room by room in my house.
Please share your zero waste lessons with me and others below and follow the blog to read part two next week.
About the author: Emma is a Shropshire lass living near the leafy rivers edge not so far from the Big Smoke, but occasionally escapes to the woods, the mountains or the sea. She studied Environmental Science and went on to work for an international development and relief charity.