As that wise old frog Kermit once said ‘it’s not easy being green’.
For several reasons trying to be just a tad more green is on my mind quite a bit at the moment, partly due to having started reading my new uni books, (if you don’t know from my previous blogs I have just started a new OU course, U116 Environment – journeys through a changing world), but also because of the new recyling regime being introduced by the local council.
“Reduce, reuse, recycle” the motto goes. I’m not very good at any of it, but I’m trying to do better. Thanks to the aforementioned new council regime I am having to get better at recyling. It’s taking up a lot of my time. We now have 2 general recyling bins, which will be collected each week, into these go plastic, paper, card, foil, tetra packs, mobile phones, spectacles, batteries, glass, textiles, shoes, tins and cans. They ask that the various materials are sorted, so I find myself tidying the bins at least once a day. We also have 2 food waste bins, a small 1 for the kitchen and a larger 1 kept outside, (the smaller 1 being emptied into the larger 1 when full), these will also be collected weekly. Green garden waste goes into a green garden waste bag and is collected fortnightly. Everything else is to go into a wheelie bin that will also be collected fortnightly, the wheelie bin is big enough to take approximately 3 black bin bags of rubbish. We’re over half way through the 1st week and so far I think we’re doing well. The 2 recyling bins are filling up nicely, the small food waste bin is about 3/4s full and I haven’t had to transfer any food waste into the larger bin yet, and there’s only about half a black bag full of ‘other’ rubbish. Hopefully the process of having to think about, and sort, all our rubbish will encourage me, and other householders, to think about reducing the amount of rubbish produced. One thing that has horrified me this week is the number of little plastic trays arriving in the recycling bin, from fruit, from cakes, from the ready meals that the cavemen choose when left to their own devices. So much that we buy seems to have extra, totally unnecessary layers of packaging. I need to shop more carefully, trying where possible to buy the less packaged items. I’ve already been doing 1 thing right in the battle to reduce waste, some time ago I started to shop on a daily basis rather than weekly or monthly and I do find that we throw less food away as a result of this policy. I’m not very good at reusing things, the number of supermarket carrier bags in the bin is another worry, I know that I should keep a couple in my handbag and reuse them rather than always saying ‘yes please’ when asked ‘do you need a bag?’, I’m just not organised enough, that has to change.
I’m trying to do better with the whole using energy issue too. Again, I’m not very good at it. There are 4 of us in my house, 2 adults, 2 teenagers, we often have 4 or 5 computers running, an xbox, 2 or 3 televisions, the washing machine, the dishwasher, the breadmaker, the cooker, 4 phone chargers, an ipod charger, and way too many lights. So different from the home I grew up in, where there was 1 television, a cooker and a washing machine, oh and way too many lights. How did we ever manage without all the gadgets? Pretty well I think, but could we go back to that now, no, I don’t think we could. So, trying to train the kids to turn lights out when they finish with them is my main effort to reduce household energy use. I don’t set a good example, for some reason I’ve developed a fear of the dark in recent years, so I normally leave my light on all night.
I drive, not every day, and rarely very far, but I do drive. Last year I took my car off the road for 6 months, and walked to most places I needed to go, using public transport if walking wasn’t practical. It was ok, I managed, but life is so much easier with a car. Walking was great, good exercise, and I didn’t even mind walking in the rain, but it just took so much longer to do everything. I probably do need to find a better balance though, I’ve got back into the habit of automatically jumping in the car when I need to go somewhere, (unless I’m planning to drink obviously), I need to start questioning whether each journey is actually necessary.
Buying food is a green nightmare. Like many people I tend to think that ‘food miles’ are bad bad things, and that buying British must always be good. It’s not quite that simple. It’s quite hard to make decisions based on the information available, for instance a packet of frozen king prawns might say they were caught in British waters, so that has to be good right? Hmmm, maybe they were caught in British waters, but there’s a good chance that they were then frozen at sea and then transported to Thailand to be ‘hand shelled’ before being sent back to Britain to be sold, that’s a lot more ‘food miles’ than you’d expect. Let’s look at apples, which would be the most ‘green’ buy – British Apples or New Zealand Apples? British apples will have travelled less food miles, but…. it actually takes more energy to store autumn harvested apples until the summer months than it does to transport apples 20,000 km from New Zealand, so the ‘correct’ answer will vary from season to season. Due to the media we tend to believe that the biggest environmental impact from our food chain comes from the ‘food miles’ our food has travelled, no, over 3/4s of the greenhouse gas emissions from the UK food chain comes from the production stages of food produced here. There are many foods that are imported and exported in almost equal quantities, for instance we send caramel sweets to Canada, and then import almost exactly the same quantity from Canada, why? Potatoes, we export them to Egypt, and then, guess what, yep, we import a similar quantity from Egypt, why? Ice-cream, we import ice-cream from countries like Germany, Sweden and Italy, and, yep, you’ve got it, we export the same amount of British ice-cream to those exact same places, why? None of this information is available in our supermarkets though, how can we make informed decisions? A lot of the time we can’t, and yet we try to do the right thing. One way that we can ‘get it right’ is to concentrate on eating seasonally, not constantly wanting, demanding, foods that have to be imported when our seasons change. It all takes thought, it all takes time, sometimes I just don’t have the will to think carefully enough, sometimes I just want to eat asparagus at the wrong time of year.
In many ways I think my generation are finding it harder, we were brought up in a time of rapid change, a time when new technology made so much more possible, a time when being a throw-away society wasn’t frowned upon, a time when make-do and mend was not the done thing. My mother, and grandfather, are brilliant at the whole reusing thing, I can’t remember Mum ever throwing away a margarine tub for instance, she has loads of them ‘in stock’ and uses them whenever she needs a container to store or freeze something, especially leftovers. Having been born at the end of 1 war and lived through another Grandad has very vivid memories of rationing and shortages, it is second nature to him to reuse and recycle. My children are taught a lot about the environment at school, whereas it just wasn’t really even an issue during my school days. Since they were young they have come home from school and tried to educate me about these matters, (although it has to be said they are useless at turning lights off).
We all know that environmental issues matter, we all know that we’re damaging our planet, we all know that we need to do something about it, but, oh my goodness, it’s sure not easy being green.