Tag Archives: re-use

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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Go Green

I have already mentioned how I wouldn’t litter even as a teenager, and what I think of Sam Sullivan’s “eco-density” movement (another word for cramming people into smaller spaces). Along the way of my own greening I started to look at what I could do to lessen my impact. Like most people there is even more I can do.

At one point I was a book rep and had many book samples as well as reams of catalogues and order forms. Blue boxes had not quite made it into every household. Instead of loading up the garbage cans with all the paper, I would take loads to the Kent St. station, the only place in Vancouver that would take material for recycling. They had bins for paper, glass, plastic, tin and electronic equipment such as toasters or fridges. Unless you were bringing large containers or items it was free to dump and the Kent St. depot is still there.

I started cleaning my sinks and tub with baking soda as it was less harmful than using chemical cleansers. I look for biodegradable detergents for laundry and I try to buy make-up that’s not tested on animals. Though the nasty stuff in the makeup that isn’t good for humans is something I still need to research.

I also try not to buy anything that’s overpackaged. However, that’s difficult because small items are often packaged in a box that’s packaged in a molded, plastic blister pack. I understand the reasoning for this, which includes marketing–making the piece more visible on the shelf, and as an anti-theft deterrent–make it big and bulky. But buying something like a box with 24 snack-size bags of chips, crackers, cheese, whatever wrapped in plastic is a sign of convenience, or laziness, and not environmentally sound. Consider that you can always buy a bulk bag or box of the same product and portion the sizes out into reusable containers.

When I have a party I keep extra plastic cups but I have bags set up for people to put their bottles and used cups into. I recycle and wash the plastic glasses until they crack. I haven’t had to buy plastic cups in years. I don’t use paper napkins but have cloth napkins. I don’t use plastic utensils but wash my metal ones, and the same for plates. I don’t use paper towels but have rags for spills. I do however, use toilet paper. 🙂

I’m not so good at composting. Lee Valley has these nice stainless steel composting buckets and I’ll need to get one of those. Anyone who has kept any sort of vegetable scraps in a bucket knows they stain, but the smell of decomposing organic matter smells just like an outhouse, so the container needs to be sealed. I keep all my used batteries in a plastic bag and when there are enough of them I take them to Ikea. I hear London Drugs also has battery recycling as well as other depots.

I’ve just finished painting my bedroom and will have several empty paint tins. I wasn’t sure where to take them, a paint depot or to the garbage? Although empty there is still paint residue. They’re no longer allowed to be in the blue boxes and the hardware/paint stores don’t necessarily take them back. Likewise, painting has caused me to purge other items. I have a working fax/printer and a scanner that I refuse to throw into the landfill. Besides, one can now be fined for putting these things in the garbage. So I clicked on the Recycling Council of BC’s website. They have a host of information on where to take all sorts of items, as wells as ways to lessen our environmental footprint. http://www.rcbc.bc.ca/index.htm

Many cities may have something similar for recycling and information on programs. If they don’t, public encouragement can get them there. The RCBC’s website also has the Waste-o-Meter. Like places I’ve seen that show the number of species going extinct by the day, this shows how much we’re tossing in the landfill and it’s frightening.

A year ago the greater Vancouver area suffered a strike, which included garbage collectors. Between my landlords and me, we managed to keep the garbage down to the large plastic bin for over a month. My garbage amounted to one small bag every two-three weeks. Hopefully I can still improve on that. I encourage everyone else to try a little harder. I’ve always said, If necessity was the mother of invention, then laziness was the father. I’ve had too many people tell me they didn’t recycle because they couldn’t be bothered. It’s too bad we treat our world with such disregard.

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