The internet is awash with people pushing their green credentials. Which is, largely, a good thing. So, I’m going to join them and offer some nuggets of wisdom (don’t worry, I have weeks of experience in the field of environmental policy.)
“Hark, Shipshape,” you exclaim, “what do you know about green issues? Are you about to spout cack about single use plastic and dolphins?”
Well, it all depends on how dedicated you are to saving the planet. If you’re a member of a ‘plastic-free’ Facebook page and spend hours a day trying to make eco-bricks, then no, I’m not in that league. Eco-bricks are plastic bottles that are subjected to having smaller pieces of meticulously scrubbed non-recyclable plastic shoved into them until they resemble a toddler’s art project. Then, said eco-brick is left to hang out with its friend (they have few friends as it takes 3.5 years to make one brick) until its creator figures out what to do with it. Nine times out of ten they will end up part of the local primary school’s new eco-brick green house. They’re incredibly difficult to make and the eco-brick bandwagon conveniently disregards the toxicity of degrading plastic, which will negatively affect the integrity of the structure over time. Never mind being a fire risk.
The solution is simple – buy less single use plastic. Stop trying to find new uses for it and then patting yourself on the back. Eco-bricks, just like recycling bins for ‘soft plastic’ like crisp bags and sweet wrappers, are a band-aid. We need solutions. We need restraint.
Also, the green lobby is OBSESSED with plastic! Plastic is not inherently evil, and it shouldn’t be banned. There are so many other, more pertinent issues that require a national conversation. But plastic is easy, and it’s visible and we can see the direct horrific consequences of plastic pollution. Supermarkets and fast food outlets heralded the end to non-recyclable packaging by introducing so-called biodegradable carrier bags and takeaway boxes. But how does the consumer compost them at the other end? If you do have a compost bin you’ll find your biodegradable bags in there in 3 years time, probably in the same state you bought them in. They require composting on an industrial scale and that’s not something you’ll find at the end of your garden.
I worked in Waste Prevention for a bit, and I learned a lot about the realities of recycling. Our mantra was ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’. There is a reason why ‘recycle’ comes last. Because it’s a last resort. Do you know where Cumbria’s black bag rubbish goes? Not to landfill. Which is a surprise to many who consider local authorities as Satan in a suit. Our surplus waste gets treated in one of two Mechanical Biological Treatment plants, where it is shredded, dried and turned into a low grade energy and used by manufacturing companies as an alternative to traditional fossil fuels. Each plant can process 75,000 tonnes of rubbish annually and diverts over 80% of our non-recyclable waste from landfill. No one system is perfect, but its a start.
Yes, we can stamp our feet about the government and manufacturers not doing enough, and we’d be right to, but I feel that generally, we’re still not quite convinced of the seriousness of the situation.
Cleaning up the planet is a monumental task. We’ve lost nearly 50% of our wildlife species since the 1960s. We’re ALL responsible for this.
But we can all do something. I’m no paragon of virtue, believe me. I drive an old banger which emits more dirty emissions than my brother after a curry. I buy cheap clothes because I’m basically skint. However, we do a few things that help:
- We ‘wash and squash’ our plastic before recycling (contaminated plastic will be rejected).
- We try and buy loose fruit and veg when and where possible.
- We re-use cotton shopping bags. If I forget my bag you’ll see me balancing a 9-pack of loo roll on my head and juggling apples.
- We’ve swapped shower gel for soap (shout out to ‘Eunice and Blue’ goat milk soap!)
- We compost our food waste (check out ‘Recycle for Cumbria’ for details of their subsidised food waste digesters: these monsters eat EVERYTHING).
- We’re in the process of swapping to a renewable energy company.
- We don’t tend to our garden…..for the bees and creatures!
Honestly, I know I could do FAR better so I’m not going to preach from my sustainable tree house about how despicable you all are for not growing your own food. I’m no hypocrite, I only grow weeds (for the bees!). I just get annoyed by huge conglomerates expecting a round of applause for not shrink-wrapping cucumbers.
The planet is still a wondrous place but there are communities that are really suffering as a result of what we’re ALL doing. By making a few practical changes we’re no longer a part of the problem, but the solution.
Again, I will reiterate that I’m as culpable as the next person and I could do so much more to tackle wastefulness but doing only one thing differently is better than waving your hands around shouting about ‘liberal scientist conspiracies’ and using your recycling bin to store road kill.
Thus endeth a painfully patronising lesson. But I’m not apologising. Just buy less crap and we’ll be reet.