Banning the bag – a discussion with Greenpeace

I was contacted by Greenpeace earlier this week. I’d signed a petition to ban plastic bags, and I think they figured I might be willing to donate and support them financially.

I wasn’t willing to do that, as I focus my financial support in another direction (KidsCan NZ), but I did have an interesting discussion with the Greenpeace representative about plastic waste and the problems it presents for our environment.

The Greenpeace ‘ban the bag’ campaign. A great idea – plastic bags are a huge problem. But Greenpeace is offering no ideas of what to replace bags with!

‘Single use’ bags are really dual-purpose bags

The argument you’ll hear against banning bags in New Zealand is that people re-use them for their rubbish bins, and this is true. Again and again I hear, If we ban the bags, people will just have to buy them instead. ‘Glad’ and other plastic bag makers will be thrilled. Their profits will soar. And ordinary folk will have yet another item they have to buy which once was free.

There are a lot of poor people in this country. The last thing they need is to pay for rubbish bags. I’m a keen environmentalist but I also feel strongly for families struggling to make ends meet.

I asked the Greenpeace Rep on the other end of the phone what suggestions she had for people to use for their rubbish instead of the single use shopping bags. She had none. None at all!

In my view this is pretty pathetic – if you’re going to ask people to change, you MUST offer an option for them to change to. People do love the environment and want to help, but they hate feeling like it’s a choice between feeding their kids and being ‘green’.

It shouldn’t ever be a choice! We should all be able to support our planet and do the right thing – and we should all be able to save money in the process. Being green shouldn’t only be an option for rich people. It should be for everyone.

    ‘Being green shouldn’t just be an option for rich people. It should be achievable for everyone.’

I pointed out that we can’t just put our rubbish in the bin without bagging it. It’ll fly all over the street and make a mess. She agreed. We also can’t go ‘zero waste’ – we’re a family with four kids in a country town on a budget and the plain fact is, we use products that have packaging.

While it’s a good thing to lobby companies to use less packaging and to choose items with less packaging, change will take time in that direction and in the meanwhile, families will continue to produce plastic waste that needs bagging.

So yes, I support Greenpeace’s ban on single-use bags, but realistically I don’t think it will happen. If Greenpeace is not offering any alternative solutions, the problem of plastic bags won’t be solved by their ban even if it works – it’ll just be transferred. Instead of free plastic bag waste we’ll have bought plastic bag waste instead. We might have fewer, but the problem will remain.

I don’t have answers beyond what we already do. We have chickens to use our food waste – and they do this brilliantly. We compost everything the chooks won’t eat. We recycle everything we can. We buy bulk when we can to cut packaging further. We burn most of our cardboard and paper waste in the fireplace for extra heat in winter. So most of the unsorted waste that goes to landfill is plastic.

We have chickens which take care of almost all of our food waste. We compost the rest of our rubbish, recycle or burn it, so virtually the only rubbish going to landfill these days is plastic.

It’s clear to me that society is improving. We’re getting better. But we have a long way to go. And one thing is clear – you can’t successfully ban plastic bags without having a genuine alternative for all people, wealthy and poor, to switch to.

Saying NO to fast fashion with a capsule wardrobe

I’ve been doing The Project 333 for nearly four years now.

The Project 333 is a Capsule Wardrobe system. It asks us to dress with 33 items, or fewer. The rules are fairly simple:

  • 33 items or fewer in your wardrobe. This includes jewelry, shoes, outerwear and other accessories. Vision glasses, wedding rings and religious items are exempt.
  • Sleepwear, workout wear, underwear, in-home only wear is not included. In my case, I’ve created a “10 items or fewer” Workout Wardrobe, that I use for workouts only. I also have items like nighties, ugg boots and a robe that I only wear at home (of course!).
  • You can box up seasonal wear to keep safe for the next year. This doesn’t count in your 33 items. For me, as it’s winter in New Zealand at the moment, I’ve boxed up my light denim jacket and a couple of dresses, which I won’t wear until summer again.

Stepping off the fast fashion train with a capsule wardrobe

Having a capsule wardrobe enables me to step away from the crazy, unsustainable world of fast fashion.

For a long time I’d had issues with the way fashion was going. Clothing was becoming poorer and poorer quality, while the stories of child labour and sweatshops were hard to ignore. I’m not a full-blown activist, but I wanted what I wore to reflect who I am. And who I am is NOT someone who supports cruelty and abuse.

Fast fashion is designed for profit, not for those who wear it or those who make it. It is cheap to buy, per item, but expensive in the long term. It is not designed to last or look good. Much like a drug hit, it give a quick “buzz” then the thrill is gone, forcing the user to move on to the next hit, then the next.

My capsule wardrobe from a few years ago. Some items have changed, but I still dress with less.

What I wear, what I buy…

These days, about half of my wardrobe is made locally. I buy locally made merino tops that I layer, and I stick closely with a color code of blue and black, with some brights in accessories for interest.

I’m also a fan of secondhand, recycled jewelry. I often pop down to the local Hospice shop, where I pick up cheap jewelry for a couple of dollars apiece. I wear it, then when I’m bored of it I donate it back and buy a replacement from the Hospice shop again. In this way, I’m sharing what I have, and I have an endless supply of great, recycled jewelry I don’t have to store or maintain! It’s a winning strategy!

Inside my drawer. A color code of blue, green and black helps me keep organised.

How a Capsule Wardrobe will change your life

Take a step away from fast fashion. Fast fashion is trashing our planet and hurting people and economies. Taking a step away from the madness is a positive move for everyone.

Buy fewer clothes. Less money wasted, less time spent shopping. More cash left for the things that really count.

A co-ordinated, planned wardrobe. Fewer items are easier to co-ordinate. I also have a color code – blue and black form the basis of everything I wear, with pops of warm colors in accessories (yellow, coral, red).

More money for better quality clothes. Having fewer items means I now have the budget for better items. I can buy three t-shirts at $80 each in merino, instead of 10 t-shirts at $20 each, and I know my better quality items will fit better, look better, feel better and last longer than the cheap ones ever could.

This lapsed vegan-turned-omnivore is thinking maybe the vegans are right, after all…

My confession: I’m a lapsed vegan.

I was a vegetarian for a long time, almost five years, and then a vegan for ten years or more after that. I stayed vegan right up until I bought my own farm and it seemed crazy to buy tofu from China while we had our own organic lambs in our own farm, barely a few feet away.

So I became a meat eater again. What started as a “only our own meat” exercise gradually became an “all meat” thing, and before I knew it, I was an omnivore again.

Sayonara veganism.

Now I’m not one to criticise other people’s diets any more, although I certainly used to be that way. Maybe being a meat eater again has helped me gain some perspective. I hope it has. I hope I’ve mellowed.

But I can’t help thinking that maybe, just maybe, we need to start eating less meat again.

However…

Maybe the hard and fast lines aren’t helpful. Maybe we need soft lines, soft focus, and an understanding that judgement and rules aren’t useful for anyone.

Maybe the way forward is to be kind – to ourselves, to others, as well as to the planet.

I love food, and I’ve come to really enjoy my meat again. But I can’t help thinking that we’re all eating way too much of it. Humanity’s endless lust for protein is killing not just the planet but us as well.

I’m hearing about the way our fisheries are collapsing.
I’m seeing the way dairying is killing our river systems here in New Zealand.
I’m seeing and hearing the way cattle are destroying the Amazon, which used to be the lungs of the planet.
I think we all just need to take a breath, own the damage we’ve done, and recognise that our diets are a significant factor in all this.

I think we need to change.

So I’m drawing a line in the sand. I’m going back. Not to veganism again, not yet. But to being vegetarian during the week, and to leaving meat for weekends instead.

It’ll require a re-schedule of our rotational menu, but I think we need to do this. Two days of meat should be enough for anyone. We can also have meat on birthdays or special events, if they fall in the week. But I think reducing our meat intake won’t hurt us, and will probably make us healthier.

That’s what I’m going to do. Because the only way to be the change in the world is to make the change we wish to see.

earth

10 tips for suburban sustainability

This is the third post in a series titled “100% sustainable – is it possible?”. I hope you enjoy my analysis of different lifestyles, their ecological impact, and the possibility of humanity achieving sustainability.

We’re selling our farm, and moving into the suburbs of a small town to live.

I’ve already talked about how small homesteads aren’t necessarily sustainable, especially when you factor transport into the equation. The next question is, can suburbs be sustainable?

I think they can, but it depends on a lot of factors. So here are 10 tips for suburban sustainability.

1. Localize, localize, localize. Even in a city, you can localize. Find hobbies and social groups that are close by. Use the local shops where you can, and local businesses. Share tools and household implements and knowledge with your neighbours – and get to know your neighbours!

Every suburb or area has its own unique “vibe” and identity. Become a part of yours, and become known as a local member of the community. Make sure your kids are known too. You won’t regret it.

2. Transport. Transport is the big one. No lifestyle is sustainable if you need a car to get you everywhere. Choosing a home that is close to where you need to be on a regular basis (work, schools, hobbies) is a huge factor.

3. The size of the home. Big homes use more energy in just about every respect. Consider lighting, for example: my home (the farm) has 33 ceiling lights. My friend’s small bungalow in town has just seven. My farm was built in the 1980s; his bungalow was built in the 1930s.

Houses may be built more efficiently now, but as time has gone on they have got bigger, and added more “features”. Extra rooms, bathrooms, porches and windows all use lots of energy.

In short, if you want to know if a house will send you broke before you buy it, count the ceiling lights and windows.

4. Choose the smallest home that will fit your needs. You’ll be happier, wealthier, and have more free time because you won’t be spending so much time cleaning and maintaining a huge home!

5. Search for the sun. When you’re house-hunting, take a compass with you. Find north. If you live in a cold climate, the more low north-facing sky you can see (in the southern hemisphere) or low south-facing sky you can see (in the northern hemisphere), the warmer the house will be in winter.

Sunshine will make a massive difference to your heating bills.

6. Thick curtains, rugs and insulation. Make sure your home, wherever it is, is well-insulated. It’ll pay for itself very quickly. Likewise, thick floor-to-ceiling curtains will keep the warmth in in winter and keep the house cool in summer. Floor rugs are also great for warmth, and can be cleaned and replaced easier (and more cheaply) than wall-to-wall carpet.

7. Use your greenspace. I’m continually surprised at the fact that, on our farm, most of our home-produced food comes from the small amount of greenspace just outside our front door. Plus our chickens, which turn food scraps into eggs.

Don’t think for a moment that you need a farm to be sustainable. And don’t underestimate the amount of food that can be grown even in pots, on a balcony.

Just in pots we grow: cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries, lettuce and a variety of herbs. They provide summer salads and desserts in very small space. It’s easy to do.

Strawberry plants - plus a few flowers - on our kitchen windowsill. My kids are watching them eagerly!

Strawberry plants – plus a few flowers – on our kitchen windowsill. My kids are watching them eagerly!

8. How much is that doggie in the window? How much does your pet really eat? I’m not saying don’t have a pet, but do the maths before you take on a pet. And if you do choose to have a pet, go to the SPCA if you can, and give a lost pet a new home.

9. The Farmer’s Market. Check to see if there’s a local Farmer’s Market, and use it. you’ll save money and shop more efficiently. Locally grown produce is almost always better, and usually cheaper as well as more sustainable.

10. Get to know your local secondhand stores. Buying secondhand is much more sustainable than buying new. And don’t be afraid to pass on old, outgrown items instead of binning them.

What did people do before plastic rubbish bags?

Have you ever wondered what people did before plastic rubbish bags?

I’ll let you in on a dirty secret of mine – I’m awful when it comes to remembering re-usable bags at the supermarket. So are most Kiwis. We re-use the bags for our rubbish, and figure that gives us a free pass to not bring re-usables to the supermarket.

But plastic bags are a problem. And I wondered what people did before they arrived on the scene. So I did the logical thing. I asked my Mum 🙂

The world before Da Bag

Here are Mum’s answers. Although we can’t burn rubbish any more, some of her tips are great ones, and ideal for getting our rubbish down, even in this day and age when some of the food tastes like plastic!

  • The inside bin (kitchen bin) was lined in newspaper. When full, its contents were thrown into the metal rubbish bin. If she was short on newspaper, she bypassed this step completely, but it meant the bin needed washing more regularly.
  • Peelings and food scraps were put on the compost pile, or given to the chickens. Did you know that if you can’t keep chickens in your suburb or city, keeping quails might be an option? You can even keep them in a small cage on an apartment balcony!
  • Dust and cobwebs etc. from cleaning was wrapped in newspaper (again) and put in the metal rubbish bin. Did you know that dust can be composted or just buried in the garden?
  • Soft drink and milk came in glass bottles (not that Mum ever bought soft drink as it was too expensive!) and were collected at the doorstep and re-used. Most milk cartons and bottles can be recycled. Just rinse them out first!
  • As much as possible was put in the incinerator in the back yard. This included plastic wrappings (which she remembers starting to come in) and cardboard too big to go in the rubbish bin outside. These days, we know better – cardboard and junk mail can give off very toxic chemicals when burned, and the particulates will fall very close to your own chimney i.e. around your house. So unless you’re into poisoning yourself and your family, this is NOT a good idea.

These days, most municipalities have great recycling programmes. While they’re only a small part of the solution, they are a part.

So – ready to quit single use bags?

I’ve been reading up on this issue, and I’m ready to turn over a new leaf and quit my plastic bags for good. I’m going to try my mother’s old technique of just putting rubbish straight in the bin, no bag required. I’ll let you know how it goes.

You might not be as awful as I am when it comes to plastic bags. But if you are, maybe you’d like to think about having a plastic bag free rubbish bin too?

Whatever you decide, wish me luck! 🙂

You don’t need to be a pauper to live a simple life

It’s easy to think we have to give up everything when we choose to live simply.

We don’t.

Living simply is not about making poor choices. It’s about making good, wise, wholesome choices. We don’t have to live like misers, live as paupers, live cheaply, just because we want to make a difference and save our sanity – and the planet – at the same time.

Joy and common-sense can be partners in our lives. We just have to use a bit of brainpower to make their relationship happen.

Simplicity isn’t about politics or poverty. And it shouldn’t be. It just doesn’t make sense, no matter where you come from or what your beliefs, to waste money and resources, or to buy things that you’ll never use.

Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to buy things that cause misery and unhappiness to others, or that devastate this beautiful world we’ve been given.

simplelife

I believe in happiness not just for my family and friends, but for all people and creatures on this earth. I also believe we have a responsibility to behave as adults and choose wisely. Not with guilt, but with common-sense, when we buy.

So no, we don’t have to be paupers to live a simple life. But maybe we need to consider others as well when we think of ourselves.

And maybe that’s what being a caring, thoughtful adult on this planet is all about.


Special thanks to ModerateMuse, whose wise thoughts made this post possible.