Friday, 20 August 2010

Waste Not . . .

Rag rug made from scraps of material
'Waste not, want not', my grandmother used to say. When she was growing up money was very tight and so nothing was thrown away without first considering if it could be put to some use or other. With no crisps or snacks between meals people were hungry and ate everything on their plate that could be eaten. Clothes were mended until they couldn't be mended any more and then they might well be ripped up to make pieces for rag rugs.  She continued to be frugal throughout her life, although she could also be generous.

In contrast as a young adult and new home-maker I happily bought plastic pots to store dry goods in the larder and leftovers in the fridge. To my mind they looked so much smarter than my mum's margarine tubs and other re-used containers.  Although we weren't well off and in many ways I was fairly thrifty, there were standards I felt I had to keep.

At some point in my 40's I began to wake up to the fact that the way my generation and much of my parents' generation was behaving was not so smart as all that and it was causing us big problems.

Readjusting my thinking about what is acceptable has been a slow process, however and one that is still ongoing. For instance, while now I do re-use plastic ice-cream tubs when we have them, it has only occurred to me as a result of writing this that I should probably consider using a few margarine tubs for leftovers and maybe I didn't need to buy quite so many 'smart' plastic pots recently, although the kids may find a few of them useful when they go off to university this Autumn.

Most of us have been infected by this disease, the seeds have been sown in our minds from an early age by advertisements in magazines and on TV and billboards. The prevailing culture tells us that we are better people if we have filled our homes with bright, shiny things, but the good news is that there is a cure. We can think differently and will not become lesser people because of it, although it may require a little effort on our part and take a little time.

We can start by giving more thought to what we buy, asking ourselves if we really need it. If we need it, how long will we need it for? Sometimes we only need things for a short while and could borrow or hire one. If we need it for longer, it helps to consider if this one will last or is it likely to be no good in a year or less, in which case would it be worth it to pay a bit more for a better one that will last longer.

Then when we stop needing things, we need to think about whether we could re-use it for something else, for instance margarine or ice-cream tubs can be used for all sorts of things, or whether someone else could use it in which case we could take it to a charity shop or try to sell it.

Some things have no more use, but that doesn't mean they should go straight in the rubbish bin. They might be better off in the compost bin, or it might be possible to recycle them. Recycling isn't ideal as a lot of energy is used to recycle some things, but it is better than throwing everything into a huge landfill site to pollute the environment for who knows how long.

Best of all is to Reduce the amount of rubbish we bring into our home, whether as unnecessary packaging or as cheap, shiny objects we didn't really need or that break in a short while.

Second best is to think about how much we can re-use for other purposes, such as using toilet roll-holders to grow leeks.

Thirdly we need to consider if what we are about to throw away can be composted or recycled.

This is just an overview of a very big subject, which I intend to return to and break down into bite-sized chunks.

A couple of good blogs dedicated to rubbish and ways to reduce it are
The Rubbish Diet
and My Zero Waste.

If you have come across other helpful blogs on the subject of rubbish or have anything to say about waste in general please feel free to use the comments facility provided.

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