Stop the throw away insanity

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The avoidance of waste may sound boring but it is essential for the survival of our Planet and ours. We must reduce waste and as far as possible eliminate it all together.

Plastic, electronic waste, food that is thrown away (often needlessly) – our garbage is making us and our Planet ill. The only way out of this dilemma: We must produce less waste. Ideally we must get down to a zero waste society. Not an easy task, that is true, especially not with manufacturers still not making things repairable as they once were.

A couple of ways and ideas to reduce waste:

Eat everything

On average each and every one of us throws away about 80 kilograms of food every year. In order to to avoid this huge amount of waste you should definitely, when doing your shopping, be aware of the date on the packaging. At home, however, not everything that has gone past its date has to be binned immediately. Many things can be used well beyond the “Best Before Date”.

Often the “Best Before Date” and such is misunderstood anyway. Best before means just that... that it is best before. Use before means to be used before a certain date, ideally, but it does not necessarily mean that you cannot do it a day or two later. However, use by, especially when on fish, pork, and such should be adhered to.

Don't buy any unnecessary extra-extra large packages and be often creative. It is possible to make great meals from leftovers. Leftover vegetables make a great pizza, pasta from the previous day are great for making a pasta salad, already cooked vegetables turn into great soups and don't forget Bubble and Squeak made from leftover cooked vegetables.

Drink tap water

Put an end to water in plastic bottles. The quality of tap water in Britain and most EU member states, bar, maybe, some Mediterranean ones and those in the East, is good and in fact the standards for tap water are set higher as to quality and safety than they are for bottled water. Buy a reusable bottle (or even reuse a strong glass bottle) and fill up from the tap. This reduces the amount of waste produced and also saves you tons of money.

Say no to advertising

I am sure that you, like myself, have been annoyed by all the advertising fliers and such that are being shoved through your letterbox. Most of this material ends up, unread, in the trash and often not even in the waste paper recycling and that means that it goes to the hole in the ground called landfill. This is a waste of paper which at the same time is a waste of resources. The advice given time and again is to post a “No Advertising” notice on the mailbox and to be on a list of people who do not wish to receive such materials. While this sounds good it does not work everywhere, such as in the UK where I have requested the postman not to put such materials into the mailbox and was told that they had to as Royal Mail was being paid for this advertising and it had to be delivered to each and every household. And that regardless of whether people do not wish to receive it or not. Where it might work, however, it may be a good idea to reduce this part of the garbage heap.

Be creative

We, who are the children of the modern consumer society, seem to have lost many abilities to think the way that our ancestors did. Even among the so-called “greens” I am observing this trend. They too seem to have been brainwashed into consumption, even though it is “green” products rather than making things for themselves.

But it is so simple to make your own green products and also and especially to reuse, repurpose and to upcycle. Our ancestors saw each and every glass jar, tin can and tin box (plastic wasn't much around then) as a resource from which to make something that they did not have to go out and buy and spend their hard earned cash on. Each one of us can do the same by relearning the ways of our grandparents and their parents and, in fact, we must do it for our own good and that of the Planet.

Learn to repair

Again, this is easier said than done as many things today are designed – yes, designed – in such a way that they cannot be opened and repaired. It is the built-in obsolescence that makes it thus. Often appliances cannot even be opened to get to the parts inside fro repair or upgrade and this is the way that the corporations, hand-in-glove with the powers-that-be but should not be, have designed it. Built-in obsolescence guarantees that we have to buy new when something stops working.

However, some products can still be opened and thus can, with some knowledge and skills and the right tools, be repaired. If you cannot do those repairs yourself then, at least in many places nowadays, you have to be very lucky to still find a cobbler, a tailor who does repairs, or a radio and TV repair shop. Many of those have fallen by the wayside because, in the main, products as, as said, no longer designed to be repairable.

Obviously, in order to extend the lifespan of any of your possessions tender loving care is the first order of the day and that often too requires knowledge and skill as to the cleaning and such.

Another tip: Don't buy always new. Get older products and refurbish. While that may not apply to modern technological gadgets necessarily it does to many other things including radio receivers. Do you really have to have the new kind of TV?

Get real books

Yes, they are often referred to as having been made from dead trees but real books will outlast any e-reader and you can, legally, pass them on when you have finished with the (which you cannot do with Kindle or other e-reader books, unless they are PDFs). E-readers, like so many other electronic gadgets, have a factored in lifespan of a maximum of three years – yes, built-in obsolescence again – after which they will have to be replaced. Thus another one bites the dust and ends up in the trash. Most of them fail irreparable, however, well before that. Real books don't do that and they also do not need batteries.

E-books and the law: As I have indicated above you cannot legally – and also not practically – pass on any of the e-books (unless they are PDFs and then there is also a legal question still) to anyone, not even friends and family, when you have finished with them. This is, however, a fact that most people do not understand and those that promote the use of e-books, even in the green movement, either also do not understand or, like the vendors, hide. You do not own the e-books that you have bought, say from Amazon; you only borrow them, basically.

Make new from old

With a little creativity and imagination many things that would otherwise end up in the trash can (or the recycling bin and recycling is not as good for the environment as always made out) can be made into unique products, whether from glass jars, plastic (bottles) or textiles. Our ancestors did so and so can and must we.

Pieces of textiles were made into quilts or used to patch other garments, woolen jumpers, etc. were unraveled and the yarn used to knit new ones, glass jars were used for dry goods storage and as drinking vessels and so on and so on. With the right mindset very little needs to get wasted and end up in the trash. But we have been so brainwashed to think only recycling and consumption and not about other ways.

Electronic equipment

He who always tries to keep up with the latest trends in cell phones, PCs, and other gadgets very soon accumulates a vast array of “old” equipment that is seen as “trash”. But why do it? There is no need to “keep up with the Joneses”; not in this department nor in any other.

Here as with so many other things the adage should be to use everything for as long as possible and that if it still works and does the job it should be retained. There will always be a newer, more stylish model immediately after you have bought your “new” one. Thus stay with what you have got for as long as possible.

When it comes to computers that are no longer as fast and powerful as to work with the latest offerings of Microsoft the answer is to upgrade to another Operating System, to the free and open source one called Linux.

As far as cell phones are concerned I have to say that they are telephones with a facility to send text messages and that is how we should see them, first and foremost. And that way even an old simple cell phone will still do the job well enough and will be for quite some time to come. If I want to check my emails I do that on my PC at home and not on the move and taking notes and all that jazz is far too cumbersome on a smartphone. I rather use pen and a paper notebook. Oh dear, am I old-fashioned.

An important thing to consider, as far as electronic appliances are concerned is that you cannot simply toss them into the trash can. They have to be taken to specialist centers for dealing with for recycling. Recycling of electronic gadgets, however, is not a very clean affair and that is why, in most cases, the stuff is shipped abroad to places in the Third World and thus, the longer we can hold on to and use our things the better it is for the environment, for even though the recycling takes place in countries far away from us the impact is still a bad one and it should concern us, as ethical consumers, also what happens to it after we have finished with it.

Say no to plastic

Not always easy, I know, but... Plastic waste is one of our biggest environmental problems and therefore we all should avoid plastic packaging as much and as far as possible. Not easy, I know, especially as many products are encased several times in plastic, unnecessarily more often that not.

However, wherever possible try to go plastic-free and that means avoiding the plastic bags, if possible, as it not always is, when buying produce, use a reusable box for your sandwiches and such for work and school, and so on, and especially refuse plastic coffee and plastic flatware. Even the “paper” cups at some coffee shops (most of them in fact) are not just paper. They are board lined on the inside with either plastic or a wax which makes the containers non-recyclable.

Use reusable shopping bags

When going to the stores take your own reusable shopping bags much like our grandparents did instead of taking the plastic carrier bags on offer. Those bags, even if made of bio-plastic, are still plastic and will litter up the environment and endanger wildlife.

Cotton shopping bags can be had at most supermarkets for but a few bucks and if you are lucky enough, like myself, you get them for nothing, though branded, and have more than enough even. Put a couple of them into your bag or rucksack and then, if you pop into the shops, you have always got a shopping bag with you. Thus no excuse not to use your own bags.

Be brave, buy ugly

When going to the supermarket buying produce don't just buy the fruit and vegetables that are within the “norm” of beauty and size. Instead buy the deformed and the fruit and vegetables with blemishes on the skin and such. The external does not necessarily make for a bad interior. The opposite often.

However, much of the produce with blemishes and deformities does not even make it from the farm to the stores. They are being tossed out before they are shipped and that means tons and tons of perfectly good and edible food ends up in landfill.

Some supermarkets are beginning to understand this as do shoppers and if we, each and everyone of us, are prepared to show the stores that we are happy to buy ugly then we may be able to put an end to this waste. Many independent greengrocers do have such vegetables and fruit anyhow and we should make a point of buying them as it send a clear message that as shoppers we want an end to such food waste.

Buy quality

In order to prevent waste we should by as much and as far as possible buy products that will “live” for a long time and which we will then also use as long as possible. Cheap products, whether clothes, electronic equipment, furniture or toys, do not have, in general, a long life, they are not designed to have one, and will all too soon end up in the trash. Not only is that annoying it also makes for more and more exploitation of resources and workers. Or who do you think is producing that T-shirt for five Euros? Paying a higher price for quality goods and products, in general, is always a good investment.

Take the wooden path

Children break things very quickly. It is not something that can be changed easily. Therefore rather get wooden toys for the kids than cheap plastic things. Ensure that the toys are quality, the wood is ethically sourced and the goods equally ethically produced. This also means that fewer toys end up in the trash can as wooden toys can be handed down to the next generation.

I remember well one of my favorite toys as a child. A wooden tractor that got so many times repaired – I always managed the wheels to come off – that it was almost unbelievable but it was my favorite and no new one could replace it. Thus it had to be fixed time and again.

Let's get some common sense back into our lives...

© 2014