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Waste not, want not

Reusing, recycling, upcycling.

When I was growing up, these words were pretty much unheard of, but the practice of these words was an everyday occurrence. Just about everything we used had a second or third use. Families put out a single small bin of rubbish weekly and for most weeks, those bins weren’t full.

Newspapers after being read, were used to wrap rubbish in (plastic bags were unheard of), or to help light the fireplace. Meat came from the butcher and it was wrapped in paper, no plastic, no tray, nothing other than paper. Fruit and vegetables, again, no plastic, peas were put into a paper bag, and those peas were still in their pods for you to shell at home. Biscuits could be purchased from your local grocery store where the store owner scooped your amount out of a large tin, weigh them up and put them into a paper bag for you. These paper bags were reused for our school lunches and we were to fold them afterwards and bring them home for use the next day. The same went for just about everything we purchased, from flour and sugar to nails and screws. Clothes were regularly handed down from child to child, family to family, and even generation to generation. Mothers made clothes and altered them later to fit a different family member (if you were lucky enough to have them altered)!

All of this and yet the words ‘reusing, recycling, upcycling’ were never used, it was all ‘common sense’ and being ‘thrifty’ and ‘wise’.

Look at where we are now – plastic everywhere, drink bottles, bags containing fruit and veg, wrapped around meat, fish and chicken, hair products… you name it, there is plastic somehow involved with its storage, and this plastic goes into our landfill and will take who knows how many years to break down. Waste is rampant with clothes thrown out on a regular basis simply to keep up with fashion. We barely give any thought to how products are packed and always make sure we get one of those pretty bags from fashion stores to carry our purchases, usually to just put them in the bin when we get home.

It’s great that some of our major supermarkets have banned single-use plastic bags, but this should be just the start of helping to save our beautiful planet.

I recycle when I can, but I too, despite my upbringing, have am often caught up in the fast paced life we all live in now. Quick! Rush to the supermarket, grab a few bags and packets of stuff and throw together a meal. Oops, running out of shampoo, quick, lets rush down and buy another bottle. I put rubbish in appropriate bins but wonder why I struggle to fit the final things in the recycle bin each fortnight.

I make my own clothes washing liquid and feel very proud that this is saving heaps of bottles going into landfill, and to top it off, my clothes are just as white and bright as everyone else’s. The recipe I use to make this liquid creates two boxes for recycling every TWO years. So, when you think how many bottles of washing liquid you would use in that time, that’s what I am saving with just doing this one thing.

But even when we think we are doing our ‘bit’ for conservation and recycling we can be ‘foiled’!

I recently read about a company that makes shampoo bars and conditioner bars, as well as many other natural products. The shampoo bars were promoted as equalling three bottles of shampoo. My instant thought – WOW, I can help reduce landfill if I use this product, let’s hope it’s good.

I immediately made an online purchase, two tubs of body moisturiser, two shampoo bars and one conditioner bar, and was pretty excited for them to arrive so I could try them all out. The joy of internet shopping, the variety of products available to us that were previously out of reach, the fact that we don’t have to leave home, or get in our cars and cause more pollution by travelling.

A few days later my box of goodies arrived.

The box was roughly 35cm long, 25cm wide and 25cm deep, which I thought was pretty big for the products I had purchased, but maybe they were bigger than I thought – bonus!

But in fact, the products were a bit smaller than I thought; the cardboard box was full of packing peanuts. After doing some research I found that the peanuts my products were packed in were made of a biodegradable product, which heartened me slightly, but there was still an extraordinary amount of packing and wrapping involved for this small purchase.

Here are the pros and cons of biodegradable packing peanuts according to one packing company –

  1. Loose fill packaging peanuts are often thought of as a nuisance, making a mess once packages are opened and clinging to clothes long after. Not only do people find them irritating, but they are also harmful to the environment.

Yet loose fill packing peanuts are still around, despite their drawbacks. Due to their low production costs and ability to protect items in standard-size corrugated shipping containers, eliminating the need to raise costs for customized boxes, consumers and suppliers continue to choose packing peanuts. Fortunately, with the increasing awareness of the materials’ impact on the environment, biodegradable packing peanuts are now available as a more eco-friendly alternative to the traditional polystyrene peanuts. Here, we will examine the pros and cons of biodegradable peanuts.

Pros: Composed of polystyrene, a plastic polymer better known as Styrofoam, traditional loose fill packing peanuts are difficult to decompose. After disposal, they can end up in a landfill or floating around the ocean for many, many years. Biodegradable packing peanuts are made from natural, nontoxic sources, such as wheat and corn starch. They dissolve in water and can be thrown into compost piles after a single use. In addition, biodegradable foam peanuts do not have an electrostatic charge, meaning they will not stick to clothes.

Cons: Biodegradable starch-based packing peanuts may be a more environmentally-friendly option, but they do have their disadvantages. With a higher weight than traditional packing peanuts, the eco-friendly version increases shipping costs. Production also has higher costs than traditional packing peanuts, and in a challenging economy, many consumers and suppliers will often choose reduced costs over greener, more expensive alternatives. Many recycling programs accept Styrofoam packing peanuts, which are recycled and colour coded to indicate material origins. Green peanuts are made from at least 70 per cent recycled materials.

I haven’t tried my products just yet but will get around to it when my disheartenment wanes. I truly thought I was going to help the environment with my purchase (as well as them being good products). I was going to save fuel and car emissions by buying online, I was going to save shampoo bottles and hair conditioner bottles going into landfill. Yes, I will have still done that, but packing peanuts and this over-sized cardboard box has taken the bonus value out of it for me.

Maybe we should, and could, put a bit more thought into everything that has become the ‘norm’ in our lives and change a few things to become the ‘thrifty’ and ‘wise’ of previous generations.

by Carol Sheridan