Eco Tips: Stuff 

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share my experiences.

Previous pages have looked at the use of heating and energy, food and travel for which it is generally easier to calculate one’s carbon footprint and assess the sustainability of alternative choices. Today I am going to reflect on the none food things I buy such as books, clothes, things for the house and garden. These all have a carbon footprint and have more or less sustainable credentials. Here are some of the ways I try to ensure that I use stuff sustainably.

*Not acquiring things that I don’t actually need. It is surprising how often we are tempted  – or encouraged by advertising – to buy things we don’t need. Do I really need it? Do I need to buy it now or could I wait and see if I still need it at a later date? Have I got something similar that will fulfil the same purpose?

* Research – find out what choices are available: which product is most sustainably, how long it will last and, if electrical, its energy efficiency. The internet is useful, as is Ethical Consumer which has both a web site and a magazine. When we needed a new printer, we bought a more expensive Epson model that instead of using disposable cartridges (which hardly last any time at all) has an economical  refill system  – and 8 months later we have yet to need to refill these. 

  • Buying second hand – or more endearingly, preloved – items allows existing resources to be reused  rather than consuming even more fresh resources. I buy clothes and books from charity shops with the plus of funding a worthwhile cause. Sometimes I can also find household items here too – such as a saucepan or a pestle and mortar – but then I do have to be patient as what a charity shop stocks is not predictable! I bought my mobile phone and iPad from Music Magpie – an online second hand site.  When I need a particular book I try web sites such as World of Books and Oxfam – I avoid Abe Books and The Book Depositary being subsidiaries of Amazon. If I buy new books, I use our local independent book shop. 

* Repairing rather than replacing. When something breaks, see if it can be repaired – either at home or via a specialist. Years ago, I bought a Globe Trotter suitcase because of their reputation for quality. When the handle broke, I was able to take it back and have a new one fitted. I frequently darn socks and T shirts, patch up tears, glue broken items in the kitchen, mend punctured tyres, takes shoes to the cobbler,  and buy spare parts from the manufacturer.

  • Up cycling – sometimes rather than buying, I can make what I need from something I already have. Eg pillow cases from worn sheets, plant pots from have cartons, a seed sprouted from a jam jar and a piece of muslin. Old inner tubes become garden ties, and shoe laces are reused as string. Old trousers become shorts, and trouser legs bags for root vegetables.
  • Making do with – enjoying! – what I have: I could buy a food processor but instead I use the knife and the ballon whisk I already have. We have an old kettle whose automatic switch no longer works but since the rest functions, we continue to use it. 

* Lending and borrowing: do I need to buy something if I am only  go to use it occasionally? As well as libraries for books and videos, there are libraries for things. I prefer to rent skis  knowing that they are going to be well used, as opposed to buying skis that would become obsolescent before they wore out.

* If I can, I look for options that will make a positive contribution to someone else: eg choosing a fair trade or organic option, supporting a local producer, buying from a B corp.

  • Packaging – I often make choices dependant on packaging, choosing not to buy something because it comes wrapt in plastic. For example buying a pencil I might choice the pencils sold loose over those pre-packed in plastic.
  • I prefer to spend money on doing rather than having: going to a cafe for a coffee and a cake rather than buying a magazine, going to the theatre rather than buying clothes, buying membership for a nature reserve (eg The Wetlands Centre) rather than cosmetics.

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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