Thanks to David Attenborough and his Blue Planet TV programme about, well the planet, we are all suddenly far more conscious of how much plastic we use, what we throw away and the effects it has on the environment.
A friend suggested that I wrote a blog all about being environmentally friendly with horses as she was finding it very difficult to be “green”.
If I’m honest, it’s not something I’d really thought about, but now I have considered it for a few days I’ve realised that actually horse owners do generate a lot of plastic waste.
Let’s start with feed. The majority of feed comes in plastic sacks. Firstly, what do you do with your empty bags? You can reuse them for bin bags at the yard, for collecting manure for the garden perhaps. We used to use an old feed bag to collect the string from bales, and to gather up the loose hay and straw from the granary floor to use as bedding and hay in the field towards the end of the winter when the store was being depleted. How many yards recycle? I mean, do they have separate bins for plastic and paper? I know one yard which has separate bins, but this does take up a lot of space on the yard and I’m not sure how easy it is to recycle such large quantities with the council and tip taxes.
Some feed companies use paper bags, but you are limited to the type of feed you can use paper bags for. It would be interesting to know too, as the inner lining of the paper bags is coated in something, whether the paper bags are 100% recyclable or not.
One feed company in the UK, Chestnut Feeds, offer a bulk bin service, which is a system suited to bigger yards or those with multiple horses. Full bins are delivered to you, and empty ones collected to be cleaned and refilled by the company. Whilst this set up wouldn’t suit one horse owners, or those with good doers, it does cut down on plastic bag usage. Perhaps other feed companies should explore this idea, especially with everyone so plastic conscious at the moment.
Feed supplements usually come in hard plastic tubs. A couple of years ago I had to collect used ones for the Chauffeur, who used them to organise his shed – it must be the most organised man cave in the UK! Some companies provide “refill bags” which cuts down on the hard plastic being thrown away.
The next biggest producer of plastic waste is bedding. Or more precisely, non-straw bedding. These tend to come in vacuum packed plastic wrapping which we throw away immediately. How can we cut down on the use of plastic in this area? The obvious answer is to use straw, but it’s not always the most logistical to use and horses with dust allergies should avoid it. I guess manufacturers have already established the most economical size of bale, in terms of weight guidelines, dimensions, cost and storage. Is there any scope for large yards to buy wood pellets or shavings in reusable bags or bins? If I’m honest, I’m a bit stumped in this area. I’m sure an innovator could come up with an answer that would at least encourage recycling or reduce the plastic waste.
Haylage is another guilty party. Sometimes the quantity of plastic wrapping around a bale is extortionate, but there’s no obvious way of reusing the plastic around the yard.
Apart from these uses of plastic, there is the general plastic packaging on items in the tack shops, but hopefully with an increased awareness of the effect of plastic and new regulations under discussion we should see a reduction in that area. Already we can buy things like grooming brushes, stud kits etc without any packaging so hopefully we’ll see naked haynets for sale soon rather than being wrapped in plastic.
I think equestrians otherwise are quite good at recycling equipment, using it until it is defunct, and generally hoarding it “just in case”. Think of those holey haynets that you’ve repaired with balling twine. Or the rugs which are more patch than rug. Or the worn reins which would do in an emergency if your horse snapped his current ones (although why we need five pairs of “what if” reins, who knows!). And what about that Trigger’s Broom on the yard, which has had more new heads than we’ve had hot dinners on time, and has some vetwrap covering the crack in the handle. Or the numerous odd overreach boots, on standby for when one breaks or is discarded in the field.
There’s always people selling second hand tack and rugs on eBay and Facebook, which proves that even once we’re finished with something then someone else will happily continue to utilise them.
Even our clothes have long, hard lives. I have various nice hoodies which once they’ve become worn – or I’ve bleached the sleeves whilst being a domestic goddess – they get demoted to yard clothes. Then the yard clothes are used until the hole at the cuff has extended to completely remove the cuff, and my socks are more hole than material. How many of you wear your wellies until water and mud flow freely in through the holes, soaking your feet up to your ankles?
In answer to my friend’s question, in terms of plastic usage us equestrians are pretty wasteful and it would be good to see yards incorporating recycling bins to their waste disposal policy, and for manufacturers to consider methods to reduce the amount of plastic generated. However, in terms of getting our money’s worth and using our other equipment and accessories, or recycling them to other users, we are pretty good at keeping our waste to a minimum.
If anyone has any suggestions for cutting down plastic waste, please share. And perhaps we can work with feed and bedding companies to find a solution to the plastic problem.