Greening your life in simple steps

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Reuse: Despite the fact that the three “Rs” of waste management are “Reduce, Reuse & Recycle”, and that in that order, the latter, that is recycling, seems to get undue promotion to the detriment of the two former. Reuse also saves you money; recycling gives money to the council.

Now, reuse can take several forms:

There is reuse in that children (and adults) wear secondhand clothes and you may furnish your home with secondhand stuff rather than new and the same goes for car and bicycle for instance.

The other kind of reuse is to take an item of waste, such as a tin can or a glass jar from produce and use it for a different purpose. This is also known as repurposing and even upcycling.

Upcycling, to all intents and purposes, does go a little bit further than does “ordinary” reuse and even repurposing but it, nevertheless, falls under the same “R”. Reuse starves you trash can and even your recycling bin and keeps money firmly in your wallet.

There is absolutely no need to go and spend £7 on a recycled steel pencil bin for the desk when a simple clean tin can – FREE – equally suffices.

And the same is true as to glass storage jars where glass jars from products such as dill pickles, preserves, etc. will work equally well as will store-bought jars, but at zero cost.

A great majority of folks today, however, no longer, unlike our parents and grandparents, seem to be capable to think “reuse” and have been “brainwashed”, for lack of a better word, into thinking that recycling items of waste via curbside recycling schemes and such is the only way to go. This is, obviously, no so. Reuse must come before recycle, and a long way before that.

Commercial recycling, on a large scale, or on any scale really, is the absolute final solution when nothing else goes; the final resource and when you have to toss something into the recycling bin for council pickup you have already lost. But yes, it even happens with me, an ardent reuser and upcycler for there is only that much that you can reuse, repurpose, rework and upcycle before you have to run out of options, needs and space (unless you start a business from it).

However, I do tend to go to the limits with it and I do look at each and every item of waste with view to possible reuse potential and reuse stands here for all the categories mentioned before.

Reuse is one of the greatest moneysavers and ways to green your life that does not cost you anything all and, in fact, you could, as indicated, use it to actually make things for sale and thus make money from it. Reuse is level with “make do & mend” and with “stay with what you've got” when it comes to free ways of greening your life. Others can cost a little here and there.

Walk and cycle to school, work and the stores instead of taking the car: It amazes me, though not in any funny way, how many people will take the car just to go a few hundred yards from their homes to the shops, or to take their kids to the local school, which is often only a few streets away.

They then double park outside the school with the engine running while they bundle their little darlings out of the car and into the school – about ten minutes or so. The same palaver was – more than likely – also had, as by way of time, getting them strapped into the car (for even the shortest trip requires the use of seatbelts). In that time the parent could have walked the kids to school with time to spare.

The same for the trip to the high street to pick up some groceries, for once they get to near the stores a parking space will need to be found and that can take a good while too, driving about.

I am well aware of the fact that in rural areas things are a little different now but when I was a kid, even though I never went to school, children from the farms and the forestry places, etc., walked to school, often several miles, or they cycled and they rarely were obese. While it is true that traffic was a lot less in those days when walking they rarely walked along the roads but used the public footpaths across fields, meadows and woods.

Most people in that time also worked locally and did not commute tens or even hundreds of miles, as they do today, to the towns and cities to work. Those that worked in towns and cities lived there and those that lived in the countryside predominately also had their place of employment or business in the countryside, or in the local villages.

We must get back to a style of life, as far as possible, as that, in that we live close to where we work. Close enough to walk, cycle or use public transport, where the latter is possible. And we also must get back to being sensible and use our feet or a bicycle for the silly short distances to school and shops. There is no problem walking a mile or two to the shops or cycling a couple of more even to the shops or work. Saves money – unless you have to buy the bicycle first – and keeps you fit. Saves you definitely the gym membership.

Holiday at home rather than flying to the English coasts of Spain: I always amazes me when I see people who have really nice homes and gardens and the latter with patios and “outdoor rooms”, barbecue areas, etc., jetting off to Costa del England – for lack of a better description of those Spanish costas – in summer.

It is true that many people are beginning to rethink this kind of vacation, especially in the light of the Great Recession but also with view of environmental issues of flying and long distance travel. In light of this staycations and holidaying in Britain are in again and even the holiday camps and the static holiday caravans are becoming popular again.

The staycation, but then I don't ever even consider holidaying abroad, in my opinion, is the way to go. With a staycation you stay at home and have your vacation there.

Many of those that jet abroad to their holidays never get even a whiff of the local culture with the exception, maybe, of going into a Tappas Bar and even that one will be run by – more than likely – ex-pats. They have, however, never even seen the delights of their own area let alone England and Britain itself.

Staycations are, as said, going to be more and more the in thing for some people, and they then also decide to visit local attractions and the local parks and such. By indulging in a staycation you also do not have to worry about on the way to your destination as to whether you actually did turn off those lights or not and whether you did lock the house safely. You are there at home. You also don't have to worry as to whether, after you have been away for a fortnight or so, you will come back to a burgled home or such. All under control as you are there. The kids won't moan being away from their friends and you don't need to find a kennel for the dog or cat.

Make do & Mend: This is an old adage from the wars but it is still as valid as it was then.

Making do is something that we have lost in today's world of instant gratification and the constant clamor for more, ever more. Too many people are never satisfied with what they have got and always want the very latest gadget and what-have-you. Does it really have to be thus?

Mending is something that people often, today, also have no idea about anymore. The story of a woman that brought a nigh on new bicycle to the municipal dump simply because it had a flat back tire, and she having bought a new one already to replace the one with the flat, is but one illustration of many that could be brought here. Another one would be the Mini HiFi that was thrown away simply because the mains plug has come off. In both cases a simple repair job of a few minutes for the plug and maybe half hour for fixing the flat would have kept both articles working for some time to come.

Boots and shoes, in the main, today, can no longer be repaired and neither can almost any other product, whether electric kettle, coffee machine, or what-have-you.

Stay with what you've got: This follows the “make do”, in a way, in that it is a conscious decision not to “need” the latest iPhone, iPad, or even just Notebook or Netbook computer, but to stay with last year's model or even one already a couple of years or such old, such a the computer I use as my workhorse, a Compaq Evo of 2003 or thereabouts vintage with only 128MB RAM that runs Ubuntu Linux, and in this case also an oldie, namely “Dapper Drake”. It works, though, and that's why it will stay as is. It is not necessary to have the latest, even before it has, officially, come out. As long as what you got and use works and does everything you need at the speed that you need why change. This goes for everything, basically, and not just gadgets as mentioned.

It does not need to be this year's model of car when there is a perfectly working one that you have already got, or the latest of bicycles. The latest of them still works in the same way as those of 10 years ago and the more beat up but working perfectly your bike is the less someone is going to steal it. But you get a new bells and whistles one and take that out and you either get it stolen or damaged on purpose in no time.

Waste not, want not: This is yet another age old adage that has never lost its value and it applies to almost anything and everything but is especially true as regards to food.

Lear how to cook from scratch and how to keep and make use of leftovers. Too much food gets wasted, tonnes and tonnes of it on a daily basis and that just in Britain alone, and often there is no need for this waste whatsoever.

Too many people have simply (i) no idea as to how to cook from scratch and (ii) have no idea whatsoever how to make use of leftover food the next day for a good meal for themselves.

OK, I admit, you can't make use of leftover McDonald's burgers but then I would not consider them food anyway. And the same is true, to an extent, also of other takeout food leftovers. Reheating some of that stuff for use the next day might not be advisable.

Cooking from scratch is, therefore, what you should be aiming for and learn to estimate the needs of yourself (and your family) so as not to actually cook too much.

Should you have leftovers, however, then just experiment as to what to do with it. It is fun and often some astonishing meals come together that way.

Fakeouts: If you want Chinese, Indian, Malay, Thai, or other ethnic cuisine learn how to cook this at home and make your own ethnic meals. It is cheaper and better. You know that there are only the ingredients in them which you put in and therefore no nasty surprises, as have so often happened already.

Recipes abound on the Internet from all corners of the globe. Chinese, Indian, Japanese, as well as German, Greek, Spanish, Mexican, etc. and by doing it yourself you can save a lot of money and create the menu to your own taste. You could even mix the regions.

The above are but a small list of ideas as to how to green your life somewhat and how to live a more sustainable life.

© 2011