Friday, 26 March 2010

The Shopping Dilemma

Is it possible to not go food or household shopping ever again?

Reason One
‘Can I have some money please?’ seems to be my constant refrain to Bron these days. Poor chap, I really don’t like having to ask for it, and I’m sure he’s fairly sick of me always asking.

‘I can’t help it,’ was his hushed and irritated response yesterday evening when I pointed out the fact that April’s rent has now been removed from my bank account, but he has yet to finish giving me his share of March’s rent.

However, it did get me thinking: if Bron can’t afford to give me the rent, never mind his share of the shopping bills, then clearly we’re living outside of our means. Therefore, we (or I) should not be buying the things I do. Hence no more shopping ever again.

And, the more I think about it, the more I realise this would make a rather nice solution to everything.

Reason Two
As a general estimate, I reckon that I’ve reduced my plastic intake by at least half since last summer. I think this is fairly good going, but I know there’s still a long way to go, especially as I’m now getting onto the trickier things. For instance, although I only buy sauces in glass bottles, they still come with plastic lids; and pasta and rice always come packaged in plastic, but they’re such staples in our diet that it’s very hard to contemplate cutting them out.

If I stopped going shopping altogether, would Bron and I be forced to find alternatives? How long until we gave in?

Reason Three
I recently read the fantastic book Real England by Paul Kingsnorth. This investigates the multitude of ways in which corporate blandness and big business are taking over England, the English countryside, and English culture. Supermarkets are a huge part of this, and the inner workings of the minds who run them are officially scary. They are about as close to real evil as anything can get, in my book. If I keep on shopping there then I’m literally buying into and supporting this mindset, and effectively destroying my no-longer-quite-so-sturdy British heritage.

But if I stop shopping then what will we eat? Well, we still get fruit, vegetables, and eggs from Riverford, and we’ve got a cupboard full of tins that will take a little while to work through. Ideally, what I’d like to do is break our habits and go back to the absolute basics, all of which I know I can get from local health stores.

My real reason, secret and shameful though it may be
I wonder how long it will take before Bron notices that I’m no longer shopping? Perhaps then he’ll take the hint that if he can still afford to go out and buy the amount of tobacco, beer and wine that he does, then he really should be giving me the rent money first. I can’t decide, though, whether this makes me more practical housewife, or more bitch.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Quick Tips for Reducing Plastic

1. Always take your own bags with you when you go shopping

2. Use solid beauty products, e.g. deodorant and shampoo

3. Use soap instead of shower gel

4. Join a vegetable box scheme

5. Never buy prepared or ready meals, instead cook from scratch using the lovely vegetables from the veg box

6. Buy products in glass rather than plastic containers (e.g. like squash or tomato sauce); believe it or not, they usually taste better

7. Avoid plastic containers by buying butter instead of margarine and not buying food such as yogurt

8. Find a friendly local baker to get bread from

9. Source a local store health store that provides refills for household chemicals such as washing up liquid

10. Use laundry powder instead of a liquid detergent for your washing

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Out with the Old?

This week Bron and I have consigned the following items to the local dump:
• One toaster (only toasts if I hold the bread down by hand)
• One microwave (paint peeling off and rust growing inside the oven)
• One vacuum cleaner (actually burst into flames when I turned it on; granted they were small flames, but it was still enough to make me run shrieking from the room)

I am a conundrum
The act of throwing these items away has brought to my attention that I’m a bit of a conundrum. Yes, me.

(A) I don’t like mess. Everything must have its proper home where it is tucked away out of sight when it’s not in use. If it has no use or aesthetical value anymore, then it shouldn’t be in my house.
(B) But I don’t like throwing things away that still have a function. It just feels wrong.

The toaster still worked even though I had to hold the bread down for it to toast, the microwave still did an excellent job regardless of the fact that it was possibly poisoning me in the process, and the vacuum looked on the outside as if it was perfectly fine, apart from the burning smell. Yet the act of throwing them into the big metal dumpster at the waste and recycling centre made me feel completely and utterly guilty, as if I was committing some hideous and unspeakable crime. Is this just me? Is it right to feel guilty?

What happened to ‘Make Do and Mend’?
I live in an inherently throwaway society. Everyone around me is throwing away the old and unwanted, replacing it with the new and shiny. It’s what the world of corporate marketing is telling me to do everywhere I look, and I often feel that goods today are not made to last – everything is designed to be used once, twice, three times, and then abandoned. Both the vacuum cleaner and the microwave were less than three years old, and I honestly believe they should have had a lot more life left in them. Perhaps that is why throwing them away felt so wrong.

My parents were both of the post war generation, and ‘make do and mend’ was the motto of their childhood. Although I’m from a different generation, I was still brought up within a similar concept, up to a point at least. Where did it all change, I wonder? Is it possible to get back to it? And how extreme will the triggering factor have to be?

The redeeming factor
The one thing that makes me feel better about throwing away these things is the fact that I have not replaced them with new ones. Not brand new ones, anyway. In this context I can almost convince myself that the manufacturers and marketing consultants have not won; I have not succumbed to their cunning salesmanship this time. This is thanks to my cousins, who are emigrating to the states and in the act of clearing out their house have donated their toaster, microwave, Dyson (ahhh, a Dyson!), bread maker, speaker system, garden spade, and several Xbox games to the worthy of cause of Bron and me. Ok, so I know that they’ll be buying new replacements for most of it when they reach their new home, but at least it wasn’t me who had to!

Friday, 12 March 2010

The 'I Deserve It' Feeling

A blog I like to read, 365 Days of Trash, recently pointed me towards this amusing article by the Onion, How Bad for the Environment can Throwing Away One Plastic Bottle Be?

I find this farcical approach to be incredibly revealing, not just about everyone else out there in the big wide western world, but also about myself.

"It's not like I don't care, because I do, and most of the time I don't even buy bottled water," thought Missouri school teacher Heather Delamere, the 450,000th caring and progressive individual to have done so that morning, and the 850,000th to have purchased the environmentally damaging vessel due to being thirsty, in a huge rush, and away from home. "It's really not worth beating myself up over."

How many times have I thought these exact same thoughts? Far too many times is the simple answer. Especially lately. It’s that, “Well I’m normally so good and I’ve had a really hard week and I haven’t had anything like this for ages so I really deserve it,” feeling. The real concern for me is the frequency that this has been popping into my mind of late. That plastic treat in my weekly shopping has become two treats, three, four; it’s almost as if I’m trying to buy plastic, not trying NOT to buy it. Oops.

There are two ways to look at it.

1. Everyone else out there is buying plastic and throwing it away, so what difference is it really going to make if I stop doing it? It’s like taking out one very small piece of straw from the middle of a haystack that’s the size of my house. So, why should I bother?

2. But if everyone, or even half of everyone, stopped buying plastic and throwing it away again, then that would make a very real difference. And someone has to start the ball rolling somewhere: there’s no reason why I can’t be that someone. Besides, I already know I’m not the only someone. Eventually – I hope – the snowball will take hold.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

A Mobile Quandary, Part 3

I have committed an evil deed.

Over the last few weeks I have been conducting an internal argument with myself over the ethical and environmental considerations of replacing my mobile phone: a mobile quandary, and a mobile quandary, part two. Tragically, this weekend temptation got the better of me, and I am the guilty new owner of a posh touch screen phone. I know, I’m sorry, but it was just so much prettier than the eco version. I’m bad. Very bad.

Out with the Old
But what to do with my old phone now that it’s life with me is at an end? I don’t like throwing away what is essentially still a usable piece of technology, never mind the hideous impact such an act is likely to have on the environment.

Anybody who watches TV on a frequent basis is bound to have seen one of the many adverts that seem to be being constantly rolled out on how to exchange your old phone for money. I’ve got to admit this is tempting. Firstly, though, I don’t think any of the phones I’ve got kicking around in my drawers are going to be worth that much. Secondly, what do they do with them? I suppose they must reuse the parts somehow, otherwise their business wouldn’t exactly be a viable one. A second option could be to send the phone back to the original manufacturer, though the latter question applies here too. And – stingy as I am – I’m not too keen on the idea of enabling this wealthy multinational company to make even more money.

Mud Between Your Toes
No, I’ve decided: if I’m going to be bad and get a new phone, the least I can do is try to enable someone less well off than myself to benefit, rather than the other way around. So I’m going to send my old phone, and the others I’ve been saving up over the years, to the Eden Project. They’ve teamed up with an initiative called Corporate Mobile Recycling (CMR) to recycle phones and convert the money received for them into donations for environmental causes, specifically Mud Between Your Toes, an educational programme designed to get children out of their houses and exploring the natural environment. Actually, I’ve got a suspicion that this programme is run by my MA cohort, Philip Waters. Go Philip.

Here is what CMR actually do with the phones they receive. Though I wonder how I can get my hands on one of these reused phones? I don’t recall having ever seen them in the shops.

And if you’re not too sure about Mud Between Your Toes, there are plenty of other charities who would like to recycle your phone as well, from Oxfam to the Woodland trust.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

I Recycle, Therefore I Am

These three, stackable, white plastic trays are our recycling corner. They are the only real evidence we have of our – or, at least, my – attempts to live a more eco lifestyle. In today’s western world, in the average household to recycle is to be all you can be to the environmental movement. I recycle, therefore I am.

The boxes sit, inert, on top of our small grey freezer in the kitchen corner, tucked away behind the door, hidden and yet visible for all to see. They are solid and they are stable, much like we expect our waste and our recycling collection services to be. They were bought from Argos, a store that is the epitome of warehouse catalogue shopping, a place I had never set foot in until I met and moved in with Bron. Cheap and cheerful, plastic central. No offence, Bron.

In our old home, we dreamed of these boxes. Of somewhere neat and tidy to put our bottles, paper, tin cans, and plastic trays. To keep this pile of rubbish, of unwanted material, out of sight and out of mind instead of thrown on the floor at the side of the sofa, waiting to be tripped over, and waiting to be sorted and tidied into rain-soaked plastic bags outside the back door. These boxes are our recycling salvation and I look upon them with pride.

Plastic bottles, lids, and odd bits and pieces are unceremoniously added to the top box on a daily basis, along with tin cans and, this week at least, foil trays emptied of Felix cat food. Carefully lifted down on a Tuesday evening, it is emptied into a large purple, plastic bag by Bron’s strong hands. The box returns, empty, to its lofty heights just below the kitchen ceiling, while the purple bag takes up its place on the front lawn, alongside a clear bag of paper and card, a green one of bottles, and the obligatory black bin bag. It’s always a surprise to see how few of our neighbours produce as many full and coloured bags as we do. Are they failing in their environmental duty? Can they just not be bothered to recycle? Or perhaps we are the failures. What if these neighbours, somehow, manage to produce less waste than us?

This is where my doubts kick in. How much of what I’m sending off with the recycling men actually gets recycled? The glass, the paper, the plastic, does it actually get to become something new, or is it going to wind up on the side of the road in a suburb of India? ‘Check with your local authority,’ packaging tells us now; and ‘All plastic is recyclable,’ yell the industry execs, but I can’t help but wonder how much of it really is in practical terms.

And so these three, stackable, white plastic trays link me to the products I put in them, to the food industry, the beauty industry, to consumer society. They link me to Bron, to the dustbin men, to the Council, to the rest of the country and the factories where my plastic goes to be sorted out, melted down, and made into new things.

They are the central causeway; they are the eye of the storm.