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.

A home to take with you when you leave home!

This is the fourth 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.

Houses cost a lot of money. These days, more and more people are still mortgaged when they reach retirement age. Meanwhile, young people struggle to find affordable housing to give them a start in life.

I’ve been researching Tiny Houses, and one form of tiny house – the shipping container – might hold solutions to both problems.

Where I live (in southern New Zealand), you can buy an unfitted out shipping container for about $5000. By comparison, the average house price in our town is about $260,000.

So – what if, instead of buying the huge house and extra bedrooms for your older children, you buy a shipping container, slap it in your driveway, fit it out with all the modern conveniences, and use it as extra housing for your kids.

In other words, why not do the small home plus shipping container option instead of the huge family home option?

It’s not as grim as it sounds. I know I know, you’re hearing “shipping container” and imaging “third world slum”.

But check out these pics (from the excellent website Living Big In A Tiny House), showing just how cosy a shipping container can be when fitted out well:


Here’s the video:

Better yet, your teenage child can take their home with them when they leave home, setting them up with a home and saving you from having to sell up because your home is now too big!

I think the time has come to rethink sustainable living, and consider alternatives to standard family living. Containers – and tiny houses – can have their own plumbing, electricity supply, and heating and cooling. They are safe and secure, and are even more earthquake-resistant that most traditional housing.

I think choosing a tiny home for our kids to take with them is a generous thing to do. It’s also responsible.

What do you think?

Life lessons from being wealthy and owning my dream home…

    “Nobody told me how much extra work a great big house and a large property is to maintain. Nobody clued me in. When I was a kid, I thought houses magically maintained themselves! I’ve since learned – the hard way! – that big houses are lots of work and stress.”

I came to the conclusion a while back that my current home is way too large.

By modern standards, it’s not big. Four bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, one living room. The house was built in the 1980s, and in comparison to what is being built today, it’s actually on the small side.

My farm and home (orange roof). It's beautiful, but the garden alone is hours and hours of work a week.

My farm and home (two and a half storey with orange roof in the center of the photo). It’s beautiful, but the garden alone is hours and hours of work a week.

I began to notice it was too big from the moment we moved in. Prior to the farm, we’d lived in a two bedroom apartment. Sure, we were cramped, but it was so easy to clean up. Our amount of “stuff” was limited by space. If we couldn’t fit it in, we didn’t buy it. The kids were in one bedroom, which only worked because they were tiny, but we managed.

We didn’t have a guest room back then, but our guests coped on the pull-out sofa when they stayed. We didn’t have a second bathroom either, but we waited in line when we had to, and that was fine. Apart from the kids being in one room, we managed fine.

In the house we have now, the rooms are big. Really big. My bedroom is cavernous, and the guest bedroom is just as big. Having extra bathrooms is convenient…except I have to clean the extra bathrooms as well. Funny I never thought about that when we bought the place!

As for large bedrooms with three windows each? That’s three sets of curtains to replace. Three windows to clean. Lots of skirting boards to dust. Lots of vacuuming. Lots of dusting. Lots of furniture to make the room feel like it isn’t empty. Lots of money and time and effort to spend. The house has over 45 windows all up. Our apartment had seven.

My friend’s small house

My best friend lives in a small house in town, built in the 1920s, and I’m envious of his small home. It’s so easy to clean. Just three small bedrooms. No stairs. One bathroom. One window per bedroom. It’s so easy to look after, and by comparison with mine it really highlights the extra work my large house takes in upkeep.

Being wealthy, as I suppose I am, is a blessing. But it can be a curse. Sure I was able to buy the large house I currently have. And I was able to buy all the nice things that go in it.

But nobody told me how much extra work it requires to look after and maintain all those lovely things and that great big house. Nobody clued me in. As a child, of course, I thought houses magically looked after themselves! And as a young adult living in an apartment, before I owned a large house, I didn’t realise how time-consuming and exhausting owning things could be.

I’m not complaining. Financially I’ve been fortunate, and I’ve worked very hard, as has my ex-husband. But I do think our society encourages people to buy all these status items – large houses, lots of belongings etc. – but doesn’t educate us about how much extra work their maintenance will be. Those large green lawns in the suburbs, those shiny expensive cars, those great big houses – all of it keeps us tied to our jobs and exhausts us and keeps us from relaxing with our families on weekends. It all keeps us working, consuming. It all keeps us busy being rats in the endless rat race.

Maybe we’re not taught these things because if we’re taught we won’t want the status items any more?

Living a small, simpler life…

So I’m downsizing. I’m selling this large and lovely house, and buying a small house in the city. I’m leaving the suburbs and the farm.

I don’t want to spend my life looking after the things I own. I have better things to do with my time. Life is too precious to spend it cleaning! I just wish I’d known that years ago.

My large home will go on the market next year, and from then on…who knows? But whatever I buy, it will be small. I want to spend my life adventuring and enjoying experiences. Experiences which don’t include extra housework!