Tag Archives: carbon footprint

The Disposable Society

Imagine a time when you either wove your own fabric from skeins of wool or cotton, maybe even carding and spinning the wool. Or perhaps you bought the bolt of cloth and made your own garments by hand, or were lucky enough to have a foot treadle sewing machine. If you could you might have bought one fine dress and it was your Sunday dress or suit, worn for years until it wore out. Any garment you had would be recycled as it fell apart, the usable pieces cut out and either made into something else or used to patch a new garment. Nothing was wasted. You wore your shoes until they fell off of you, probably having been repaired and patched as many times as possible.

If you bought (or even if you butchered yourself) part of a cow, you would use every scrap possibly, make soup from bones. Even slight old vegetables or meat that was still good would be cooked or preserved in some way as soup, stews or pickled. Dish water might be reused several times or people would bathe in the same water. Everything was used until it could not be used anymore. Baskets or carts were taken to market laden with goods, and brought back again with different items.

Just think, only one hundred years ago, this was the norm for the average person. Before the age of industrialization it was very much the way and life consisted of one of existence and keeping a roof over your head and feeding you and your loved ones. Communities worked together and spare time was time to socialize because it was rare but everyone needed some fun and leisure.

Once industrialization began, machines could make things faster and cheaper, cutting down on labor (which caused its own problems in labor of course) and soon most people did not need to know how to sew or mend, could own a couple of pairs of shoes and could buy various items easily. As we progressed past the war years, we started to enter the disposable society. Imagine the rationing of World War II when everything from food to rubber was rationed so that the front lines had enough and that equipment could be made towards the war. This would never happen today because there are numerous supply lines from various countries and shipping through various forms of transportation.

You would have an outhouse and if lucky, perhaps a newspaper or magazine, that once read from cover to cover, would be used as toilet paper. If no newspaper, you probably had buckets of leaves. Water was gathered from a pump or a well and heated on a wood stove, the wood which you chopped yourself. You would probably grow many of your own vegetables, raise a few chickens for eggs and if on a farm, you’d be butchering your own meat. Bread was made from scratch as was everything else. What surplus you had was sold for items such as plows, hoes, shoes, ribbons, fabric, treats or other food that you didn’t have, candles, lamp oil, axes, horses, cows, chickens, maybe a book if you were learned and could afford a bit extra.

If you look at your life in contrast to someone’s of a hundred years ago you will have numerous clothes, good and casual, several pairs of shoes or more, and coats for several seasons. You live in a place with many books (if you’re into books) or magazines or newspapers. You have a TV, a computer, a land or cell phone (or both) and a host of other electronic devices that make eating, sleeping, working and leisure time easier. You don’t have to make all your food from scratch or even have a garden. Vegetables and fruit are available year-long, plus exotic foods that only the elite once ate. We throw out clothes when they go out of fashion or get a bit worn. We can buy new clothes for as little as a few bucks.

Most of us don’t even need to take our basket or cart to market, though more and more people are using cloth bags. And this in itself has generated an industry of plastics so cheap that you get a bag with every purchase. The bags are disposable, like the clothes, the slightly worn shoes, a computer three years old, a car that is five years old, a book, jewellery or food in such abundance that we let it go bad. But is it truly disposable? We throw or give these things away and once out of sight, out of mind. But many of these items end up in landfills or garbage heaps or somewhere where they will take a thousand years or more to decompose.

Imagine, in a thousand years we went from the Byzantine Empire to today. Religions were born, societies fell, cultures changed. And now, we constantly waste, all of us. There are countries in the world that are too poor to waste anything, but anyone in western culture, Europe or North America wastes, no matter how good we are at recycling. So that means we all have room to improve. And if we really want to take a look at the popular carbon footprint, then it does not just mean taking the bus instead of driving, or not flying. It means buying foods that are made locally, or grown yourself. These aspects we know, but where do our clothes and our shoes, our computers and iPods come from? How much carbon is used in the manufacture of these items and the shipping of them?

I believe every person could try harder to be less wasteful, which would preserve our resources longer, and really think about that carbon footprint. Money and resources flow through us as if the sluice gates were wide open.  The carbon footprint is everywhere, not just in food or transportation. It’s not an easy solution, nor a fast one and will take years of us looking differently at everything, but maybe we can change our society from being one of disposable and consumeristic to being one of conserving and re-using.

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Conservation: Working on a Way of Life

I have been working on lessening my carbon footprint since I was a teenager, long before there were all the fancy catchwords that included “go green,” “eco” this and that, and “carbon footprint.” Recycling was the biggest, newest buzz word. As a teenager I had already read about the Gaia Hypothesis so I had a concern for the planet and pollution. About all I was doing at that stage was trying not to litter. It was a small start, but a start.

Over the years I never threw anything out that could be re-used. It makes me a bit of a pack-rat and I have sometimes had old computer monitors or printers on my floor for a year before I could find a home for them. I can’t bear to put working or perfectly good items into the landfill. I also stopped cleaning with abrasive, chemically enhanced cleansers. I clean with baking soda, almost exclusively, using low phosphate detergent and soaps and rags and cloth napkins instead of paper towels and napkins.

I started using cosmetics not tested on animals but I’m probably still eating/wearing my fair share of lead and other toxic chemicals, which are not yet regulated for cosmetics. That’s something I hope to work on soon. Unfortuanately I still drive, but my attempts to change that to something more fuel and energy efficient are being thwarted at the moment. (Previous blog entries cover public transportation, carbon tax and cars.)

I also try to avoid the overpackaging that supermarkets give. This includes bringing a cloth bag, or if I have just a few items, carrying them out in my hands or my purse. Also, the “buy this 24-pack of cookies/chips” prepackaging is something I studiously avoid. Instead of paying more for all that extra bagging of chips, which are then placed in a cardboard tray and shrink wrapped, I’ll buy a large bag of salad greens, or nuts or whatever, and then re-use plastic containers and bags that I do have at home. I haven’t bought a container in years, nor prepakaged thingamagooeys.

I rewash plastic cups from parties and put out bags to recycle bottles and plastic. I don’t wash my clothes or dishes until I have a full load. I don’t wear animal furs but I do wear leather. Shoes just don’t work well made of plastic or as long if made of cloth. But I do wear my shoes until they wear out, and try to fix them as long as I can.

I could compost more, but my garbage during the garbage strike was only one small grocery bag every three weeks. I don’t buy wrapping paper anymore and do re-use what people give me. But I also keep old calendars and use the pictures on those as wrapping. I also make re-usable cloth bags. I save buttons off of shirts and turn clothes into rags if they can’t be sent off to a goodwill store.

Am I perfect? Hell no. There are many ways I could improve especially when it comes to the car, though I do walk if I’m in my neighborhood. I try to keep an eye on what I do and improve it. For my own health and for my environment, I’ll look further into safe cleaners, nontoxic cosmetics and rechargeable batteries. Right now, I save batteries and take them to recycling facilities. If we all try a little bit, it can make the environment a lot better for everyone and everything. It still saddens me when people toss things because they “can’t be bothered” or are too lazy. That’s fine if you’re living on your own world, but not when you’re sharing with everyone else.

In BC, you can contact the Recycling Council of BC’s recycling hotline on what to do with various items. http://www.rcbc.bc.ca/index.htm

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