Low Waste Doesn’t Have to Cost the Earth

As more people are moving towards a low waste lifestyle it can seem as though with the myriad of ‘low waste alternatives’ on the market that you’re going to have to fork out a lot of money. However, as someone who started living low waste as a broke university student I can tell you that it doesn’t have to cost the earth, in fact in most ways low waste is actually cheaper. A lot of the low waste alternatives, the ones that are actually useful, last much longer than they’re disposable, wasteful counterparts. But as we’re getting closer to ‘No new September’ (Blog post on that coming soon) I thought I’d give you a few tips on low waste techniques that don’t cost anything.

1. Be more energy conscious

This one may seem like a no brainer but a lot of people still waste needless energy in their day to day lives. Turn of lights when you leave a room, turn your electronics off at the wall instead of leaving them on standby. And one of the most important things that will not only lower your energy bills and reduce your consumption but will also help you sleep better is turn off your TV’s and other screens when you go to be. So many people I know watch TV or Netflix in bed and then leave it running when they fall asleep, looking at a screen just before you go to sleep reduces the amount of melatonin your brain which makes it harder to fall asleep and causes any sleep that you do have to be less restful. Instead of watching TV try reading a book before bed or listening to some mellow music, it’ll calm your brain and allow you to sleep better and has the added advantage of using far less energy.

2. Refuse excess

There are many wasteful bits of excess in our everyday lives that we don’t think about such as receipts, bills, catalogues etc. Most of these have online alternatives, try taking a few moments out of your day to opt out of paper bills and bank statements and instead get them sent to you via email. Same with catalogues, I know that I have an issue with agreeing to sign up to catalogues when I’m in shops but practically every company has a dedicated website so there really is no need to accept them. Also if given the option refuse your receipt, a lot of places will provide a digital receipt now so you cans till keep on top of anything that you may need to return, but for everyday things like groceries etc just refuse the receipt.

3. Learn to make do and mend

This is not a new concept, but it is one that has unfortunately gone out of the mainstream consciousness. Instead of simply throwing out clothes and other items when they begin to wear out try mending them instead, there are plenty of tutorial videos online that will teach you basic sewing skills. For more complicated items such as electronics look in your local area to see if there is a repair café. Repair cafes are springing up more and more and most of the time they’re free and you can learn some useful skills and possibly make some really good friends whilst there.

4. Talk to your local council

For most people it seems pretty clear which items are recyclable, and which aren’t. Plastics – recyclable, paper – recyclable etc. However, there are certain things that councils don’t recycle, depending on their recycling facilities and budget. Try contacting your local council to find out if there is anything that they don’t recycle, and then you can avoid buying products that contain them in the future.

Switch Off and Do Nothing

Earlier this week I was sent home from work with a severe migraine, an unfortunate side effect of spending 7+ hours a day staring at a computer screen. I initially welcomed the day off as it meant that I wouldn’t have to sit for hours on end inputing pointless data for companies that I really couldn’t care less about. But my mood quickly shifted when I realised that, due to the fact that my brain was currently trying to escape through my eyeballs, my day was going to be just as unproductive and boring as it would have been had I stayed at work.

Usually a sick day can be spent watching TV, reading or possibly catching up on researching/ writing for this blog. However I was forced to spend Wednesday curled up in a dark room, trying to find a position where I wouldn’t feel like my head was about to explode. And it occurred to me as I lay there, in pain and bored out of my mind, that I couldn’t really remember a recent time where I was voluntarily doing nothing. That’s because as a society we’ve been told that we have to be doing something productive 24/7 or else we’re lazy, wasting our lives etc. I felt like a failure, like I was cheating something because I was just lying around, even despite the fact that I couldn’t feel half of my face, of even see out of one of my eyes.

And what’s more we’re so bombarded with stimuli that any time away from that, where we’re just alone with our thoughts, feels totally alien. And this is where i’m going to talk about phones and social media again (cue groans). Because as I was lying there, knowing that any light, especially light from a screen would make my migraine much worse, I kept checking my phone. It was for no reason as well because, like I said before, as soon as I picked it up the light from the screen would send a sharp stab of pain to the back of my eyes and i’d have to put it back down again. You’d think that after the first couple of times of doing this i’d learn and leave the phone checking for another day, but I didn’t. It was like I was having withdrawal symptoms, my brain needed the short-term hit that it gets from checking social media, or playing mindless apps, it was no longer accustomed to just ‘being’.

I’m not going to act like phones or social media are inherently bad, and i’ve talked about this before. My phone allows me to do so many things, I can talk to my friends and family, I have apps that help me with learning new languages, and my social media is where I promote this blog (not very well but you know, I give it a go). But the problem with being able to do anything means that we’re constantly doing everything, and it’s burning us out. How many of you use your phone whilst watching TV? Most of you i’m sure. It’s changing how we interact, or don’t interact, with each other and the world around us. We no longer take in as much because we’re filling our time with other, much less meaningful things.

The take away from this, possibly meandering, post is this. Try doing just one thing. This is something that i’m trying to do better at from now on myself. If you sit down to watch a show or a movie with your family, leave your phone in another room and just focus on what’s happening. If you’re reading, writing, tidying up, don’t have a Youtube video playing in the background distracting you. If you’re having a conversation with friends, leave your phone in your pocket/bag. I can’t tell you how long it sometimes takes me to write one of these things because i’m constantly being distracted by the ‘background noise’ of some show or another that I’ve put on, but I can tell you that due to those distractions i’ve put out work that i’m not really very pleased with because I couldn’t get it any better with everything else that was going on around me.

And every once in a while, do nothing. Allow yourself that time to sit and just be, with no goals or deadlines or guilt. Because you won’t really be doing nothing, you’ll be relaxing, thinking, recharging, escaping.

In the end, my sick day wasn’t really a write off like I thought. I planned this post, I thought of ideas for future posts, I developed more ideas for the novel that i’m writing, and most importantly I got better. I finally listened to my body and gave it the rest of the day free of screens and stimuli, and the next day I woke up with a clear head, ready for the next few months before another tiny creature finds its way inside my brain with a pick-axe to teach me a lesson.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Wastemas

It’s the season of giving, and by giving I mean needlessly consuming and spending, which let’s be honest is what Christmas has become. I’m not trying to be a party pooper, and seriously whichever holidays you celebrate I hope you have a great time, but try and remember what is important this time of year (and all other times of the year). Supporting each other, being with loved ones and helping those less fortunate.

There are plenty of ways in which you can still enjoy the holidays and reduce waste/ not buy into the consumerism culture.

  1. Think honestly about what it is that you need/want this holiday season.

I had real trouble finding things to ask for this year when my family members wanted to know what I want as a present, and that’s because i’ve rewired my thinking. Practicing mindful living has made me take stock of what is important materialistically in my life, and the answer is not a lot honestly. I live very comfortably as I am now, I don’t need new clothes, I don’t care about the latest gadgets anymore, so what is there to ask for?

How about asking friends and family to donate the money that they would normally spend on you to a charity? If you still want something to open then many charities provide ‘gifts’ this time of year. For example Friends of the Earth are giving out ‘Christmas Bee Saver Kits’ with a minimum donation of £12.

2. Think about gifts beyond what you can buy

  • Many people show their love through well thought out gifts that they know their family and friends will enjoy, and i’m not saying that we should stop that, but there are more ways of providing gifts than spending money on fancy new items.
  • Provide experiences – things such as experience days, trips, lessons etc – one of my most memorable gifts was when my nan bought me a ‘walk with hawks’ which allowed me to spend the day learning about and watching various birds of prey with a group of other enthusiasts.
  • Provide your time – why not gift your loved one with the promise of your time, whether it be the promise of helping them move/decorate, going out to the cinema together, having lunch. If you have children then why not create a little coupon book with things such as ‘a day of play’, or ‘mum cooks with me’ etc (I don’t know what kids like).
  • Make your gift – Some of my most treasured possessions are gifts that were handmade, for example the quilt that one of my best friends made for me for my 18th birthday, or the story that the same friend wrote for me one year. Don’t worry if you are not super creative, just putting the thought and time into making your gift will make it all the more meaningful.
  • Re-gift or buy second hand – Re-gifting gets a bad wrap (unintentional pun), but as long as your not giving it back to the person who originally gave it to you then I don’t see what the problem is. If you think that someone else will get more enjoyment and use out of something than you, and as long as it’s in a decent condition why not re-gift it? Also, look in charity and thrift shops for your gifts before buying new, you could find something extraordinary and you’ll be helping a good cause while you’re at it.
  • If you buy, buy local – Finally, buying new gifts should be a last resort in my opinion, but if you’re going to buy new then patronise your local businesses before you give your money to giant multinational corporations. The quality of the gift will often be higher because they have more to lose from shoddy workmanship, and the conditions in which the product is created will often be better because things are normally locally sourced and not from sweatshops.

3. Use this time to think of others

Why not donate your time/money/unneeded items to those less fortunate this holiday season? If you can’t do all three that’s fine but look for things to help out with.

  • Time – volunteer at a soup kitchen, help hand out blankets and food to the homeless, invite a lonely older person to your house for Christmas dinner (there are charities that will put you in touch with people who want that, don’t just pick up a random pensioner off the street). There are plenty of foundations that you can join that really need the extra help (all year round but especially during the cold months).
  • Money – make a donation to a charity, give money to the next homeless person you see (or if you don’t want to give them money then buy them a hot meal). But be vigilant about which charities you support, the Salvation Army will be making the rounds again this holiday season however I will personally never donate to them due to their harmful, anti-LGBT rhetoric and archaic values.
  • Unneeded items – many charities offer donation boxes for the homeless and the poor all around the world, why not check your cupboards for unneeded canned goods, toiletries (seriously sanitary towels etc are a godsend for these things), and even children toys. This is a great time to teach your kids about giving to those less fortunate and about how fortunate they themselves are. My old school used to do a christmas shoebox exchange where each child filled a box with old toys etc which were sent off to children in the third world.

How you can help:

Here are some links to various charities with advice on how you can help out this holiday season.

Money:

  • Friends of the Earth and their ‘Bee Saver pack’ – giving you the tools to help save the bees
  • KidsOut and their ‘Giving Tree’ – helping children who have escaped domestic violence
  • Unicef and their ‘Inspired Gifts’ – providing lifesaving supplies to children and communities around the world
  • Savethechildren and their ‘Virtual gifts’ – life changing gifts for children in third world countries
  • Refuge and their ‘Christmas gifts’ – give a christmas present to a woman or child that has escaped domestic violence
  • WWF and their ‘adopt an animal’ – protect an endangered animal and get a cuddly toy
  • Centrepoints and their ‘More than a gift’ – buy a homeless person christmas dinner, a gift, or a bed for the night
  • Impact and their ‘gift tokens’ – help restore a persons health and improve their life through medical funding

Time:

  • Crisis at christmas – volunteer to help run one of Crisis’ homeless centres, from cooking to counselling there is plenty that you can do
  • Age UK’s ‘telephone befrienders’ – Age UK are looking for people to have a 30 minute chat with a lonely older person once a week. Seriously just 30 minutes a week.

Unneeded items:

  • Local foodbanks – you can find out what is needed at your local food bank and help take part in the ‘reverse advent calender’ where you donate an item of food everyday in the run up to christmas.