Julia Stephenson: Green Goddess
Thursday 16 November 2006
I'm fed up with everyone banging on about recycling like it's the ne plus ultra of green living. In the old days there was a green mantra, "reduce, reuse and recycle", but the "reduce and reuse" bit seems to have been jettisoned. Recycling is an extravagant use of resources. The energy expended to make a glass bottle or plastic cup, using it once then destroying it again to reassemble as exactly the same product, is a vastly extravagant use of energy.
Many of our recyclables now get shipped to developing countries where the underpaid labour force, often made up of children, risk their health sorting through our toxic waste mountain for us.
Even in the dark days, when my idea of being green was to buy organic blueberries out of season from Tesco, I was always a rubbish Nazi.
It was heaven living in Davos, Switzerland, which has a satisfyingly draconian method of dealing with rubbish. No, not a firing squad for those who recycle envelopes without removing the plastic windows first, but by making it illegal to throw away rubbish in anything but special bags costing 1Sfr.
And although people feel a warm glow as they fill their car boots with old bottles and papers and go to the bottle bank, an unknown quantity will end up in landfill. For while 80 per cent of people recycle at least one type of waste regularly, a paltry 11 per cent actually buy recycled products. This means that there just isn't the market for much of what we diligently recycle.
To close the recycling loop it's vital to buy as many recycled products as possible. Kitchen paper, toilet roll, envelopes and computer copy paper, for example, are now easy to buy. Although it's important to look after our bottoms, we don't need to use virgin pulp paper on them. The recycled stuff does the job just as effectively and it won't give you haemorrhoids, as an anally retentive commentator pointed out on national television last week.
To close the loop, buy recycled glass products, vintage/second-hand clothes, and furniture from auctions to save the carbon emissions and environmental toxins created from making new furniture.
EBay is very eco-friendly, giving people hours of pleasure while keeping our useless junk endlessly circulating and out of landfill.
If you can't sell something, give it away on www.freecycle.org, an organisation that puts people and unwanted stuff in touch with each other.
This is a great idea, but luckily my saintly cleaner Mrs Pippolata is a one-woman freecycle outlet and happily takes everything off my hands. I suspect she has her own "retail outlets" - or maybe she's sticking it all on eBay too. Whatever, it's fine by me.
I don't want to put you off recycling, just put the emphasis on reducing and reusing what we have.
Next week I'll pass on some tips to help you cut down your rubbish mountain and become more healthy and beautiful while saving reams of money.
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