It’s freezing and damp and I haven’t been gardening – this is more random environmental thoughts.
I’ve always been interested in environmental issues and have tried to do the “right thing”, whatever that is, but I can’t honestly say I did very well. Progress was slow, although I had been improving a bit over the last couple of years. In general though, I was rather depressed by the scale and diversity of the problems, disillusioned about the direction things were going and confused about the solutions.
Feeling that there was little I could do to solve the world’s problems, I set out to change the only thing that I had any realistic chance of changing – myself. Somehow, the circumstances all seemed to work together, and I have achieved far more than I expected.
Losing: one of my serious commitments for this year was to make less rubbish. There are so many things wrong with our disposable “use once and bury in landfill” mentality, and the “use once and put it in a recycling bin” is frankly not much better. The making, transporting and disposing of all that waste uses a lot of fossil fuel and contributes to carbon emissions, locks up what would otherwise be nice land in stinking landfulls, puts toxic chemicals into the environment and spreads persistent, damaging rubbish into some of the most pristine areas of the world. Reducing waste is a good for the environment in so many different ways.
Losing: the only thing reducing waste is bad for, as far as I can tell, is the economy. Waste, and the wasteful society we live in, generates a lot of economic activity, and the way our society measures wealth says that all that wasting is good. So I’m bad for New Zealand’s GDP, and I’m proud of it.
Gaining: other people’s rubbish. I’ve decided to try the approach of “offsetting” for the waste I do create – it’s hard to avoid buying some things in non-reusable, non-recyclable plastic. So I also stop other people sending stuff to landfill or recycling by using their rubbish, for example taking their old cardboard boxes, newspapers and coffee grounds and using them in my garden. Over the last few months I’ve taken several hundred litres of coffee grounds that would have otherwise been landfilled. This is much more rubbish than I think I’ve actually created over that same period!
Gaining: tastebuds. Reducing waste had meant avoiding most processed food, except as a rare treat. I’m making a lot of the food I eat from scratch (soup, stock, biscuits, breakfast cereal), and now I’m eating less salt, sugar and fat, I seem to be enjoying food more.
Losing: some things were hard to give up – like takeaway coffee. 10 years ago it was a rare treat, but I got sucked into the whole Wellington culture and soon came to depend on it.
Gaining: organisational skills. Taking my own shopping bags everywhere (not just a couple of supermarket bags, but all the small bags for fruit and vegetables etc) took some effort. Also, shopping only rarely at the supermarket means I have to think more about what I need and plan a whole lot better. I’m not the most organised person (understatement), but with practice I now manage. I’m both more organised and less stressed.
Gaining: muscles. I’ve done some hard gardening this year, and I’ve also given up using the lift at work. I mostly did it because I wanted to get fitter, but I’m saving a tiny bit of electricity too. I work on the 12th floor of an office building, so it’s no light sacrifice.
Losing: more than 15 kilos. It turned out that less waste = less waist. Who knew?