Going green

Like Charlotte, like a lot of us, I am trying to be greener. Unfortunately when I bought my house a year ago, I did not pay attention to the poor public transport connections between where I live and where I work. Let’s put the rather embarrassing fact that I drive about 20,000 miles a year on one side. I am finally making practical changes to my lifestyle which make me feel virtuous, even though will make no practical difference to the future of the planet at all.

(1) Freecycling. http://www.freecycle.org – just the most wonderful idea. A true example of think global, act local. The website provides links to tens of thousands of yahoo email groups, and the idea is that stuff is offered for free locally. The chances are high that there is one in your town. So far I have got rid of two half bottles of Citroen hydraulic fluid (how else would one get rid of that?) a couple of tickets to Alton Towers and a clothes rail. When I told a colleague he muttered about people taking the good stuff and re-selling it on ebay, but – as with beggars – I’d rather be ripped off than not trust. A lack of trust erodes the soul. I get a huge amount of pleasure out of giving stuff away to be honest, and this is a cool route to a quick hit.

(2) Padded curtains. This comes under the energy efficiency section really. I am slowly making myself padded curtains for the doors, and curtains with thermal linings for the windows. I’m also putting up thermal roller blinds in the windows. If you are having curtains made, you should be able to order padded interlining and thermal linings, and making curtains really is not that difficult. You just need a large floor for cutting out and pinning, and the ability to sew in fairly straight lines.

(3) Woolly jumpers. This comes under the energy efficiency section too. Looking back on it, it astonished me that when I was elbow high my grandmother and my mother would change into long skirts in the evening. With my grandmother it was more understandable, a generational habit. My mother was younger so it was odder. These long skirts were not glamorous. They were home-made out of worsted or some other itchy wool and because they were itchy they were lined. When I asked my mother why she bothered, she said “but it gets cold in the evenings”. And indeed it did. Ice on the inside of the windows cold. So what I had assumed to be a legacy of pre-war standards was just a matter of thermal-efficiency. I draw my personal line at long skirts, but I do have sheepskin slippers and woolly jumpers and cardigans.

(4) Carbon Neutrality. This one really is papering over the cracks in one’s conscience. Essentially, you work out your carbon profile, and then pay a company to plant enough trees to ‘compensate’. The problem with this is that current experiments in forests in the US, Germany and Australia are challenging the received wisdom that trees reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and that most people won’t do it. I am sure there was a similar scheme run by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. Pardons? Indulgences? I need a medievalist to tell me. On the other hand, I like trees, so I regard it as a charitable gesture and hope for the best.

(5) Organic Veg box scheme. The internet was made to make it easy to find box schemes for organic veg. The reason for using small schemes is that they use veg from local farms, so you are improving your local economy, eating fresher food and reducing your food-miles. Do not be seduced by supermarket schemes. Their schemes just pimp out their existing vegetable section; and like most pimps, the supermarkets bully their suppliers and don’t care about food-miles. I rather like the randomness of not knowing what veg I will get next week, and the discipline of planning my meals around what I’ve got.

(6) Composting. My local council sells compost bins ‘worth’ £40 for six quid. With an offer like that it’d be rude not to. Mind you, one of my neighbours muttered darkly about smells, so I had to say “if it smells, we’ll get rid of it” – I did offer him the compost for his allotment, which made him marginally less gloomy about the whole thing.

(7) Recycling paper, glass, metal, plastic. Did you know you can recycle plastic milk- and drinks-bottles? Neither did I until our local kerbside recycling scheme started up. I recycled before, but at least my car is no longer full of carrier bags of tins and bottles waiting for me to take them to a supermarket recycling centre. The composting and recycling have reduced my rubbish to landfill by about 2/3rds, which is practical and pleasing.

(8) Public Transport. Having admitted that I drive some 20,000 miles annually, I do try to take the train or the bus when it is sensible. National Express is one of Britain’s unsung transport treasures. Trains too, are much easier to use now that we have the internet to plan journeys and book tickets, and there are some oddly useful routes, Birmingham to Brighton via Kensington and Gatwick for example. I still think that a rail journey should be significantly cheaper than the same journey by car, but that is another rant for another blog.

(9) Expensive stuff. Now we move into the realms of expensive stuff, like solar roof panels, lpg vehicle fuel, and domestic wind turbines. I haven’t done any of this, but it is interesting that B&Q are starting to sell this stuff (though in what sort of world can £2498 be described as “only”?) In the meantime it seems simplest just to give a list of links which kinder and greener people gave me when I was first investigating the subject.

  • The Low Carbon Buildings Programme – which makes the expensive stuff cheaper: “The low carbon buildings programme will provide grants for microgeneration technologies to householders, community organisations, schools, the public and not for profit sector and private businesses.”
  • The Centre of Exellence for New and Renewable Energy – A good source of information on the choices available for domestic generation – “NaREC is involved in developing the micro-generation technology. We are supporting items as diverse as roof parapet wind turbines, biomass combined heat and power, and systems to integrate renewable generation into homes at the build stage.”
  • The Centre for Alternative Technology – “We address every aspect of the average lifestyle – the key areas we work in are renewable energy, environmental building, energy efficiency, organic growing and alternative sewage systems.”
  • The Alternative Technnology Centre – slightly dippy-hippy organisation based in West Yorkshire (it runs courses on how to recycle plastics as a medium for crafts, art and technology) – “As an educational resource centre, we aim to make sustainability achievable and simply irresistible by working from a strong base within our local community to provide inspiration, accessible information and advice to improve the quality of life using sustainable means – economic, environmental and social.”
  • Micro-cars – This is so not suitable for me, given that 30% of my mileage is motorways, and another 50% is A roads: But the G-Wiz makes the Smart Car look big, clunky and gas-guzzling. To be honest though, shouldn’t you be using public transport, if you live in a place where this is a suitable vehicle?

Right, enough time indoors this morning! I am off outside to scrub up some reclaimed flooring blocks to use as the uprights in a bookcase. Sustainable forestry? Eat your heart out Ikea!


3 responses to “Going green

  1. Freecycle is a truly wonderful network — we joined up when we were in the process of moving and found homes for so many odd bits and pieces that we no longer could use. My husband had a similar reaction to your colleague but my opinion was that once the item was out of my hands it was none of my business what use it was put to. I found an enormous amount of pleasure in passing things along, quite possibly to people who couldn’t afford the same item at retail prices. And one of the people who claimed one of my offerings was someone I’d shared a house with fifteen years previously. Added bonus.

    I don’t do as much as I should to reduce my ecological footprint — but I do where I can.

  2. I need to check out if there’s a German Freecycle, because it sounds like a great concept. Also, you’ve inspired me to get that organic veg box I’ve been promising myself for the last four years. NOW is the time!

  3. So far we have freecycled a stack of MacWorld CDs (someone wanted them? My word) and caused the equivalent of a freecycle scrum by offering up a somewhat elderly and low-res digital camera. Oh, the smugness.

    *Written while wearing hand-knitted woolly socks, woolly jumper, and fingerless gloves. Wool rules*

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