Slightly Off Topic

Usually I stick to purely equine topics, but with Christmas coming up I think it’s an important subject to discuss.

This last year everyone has become more aware of the problems of plastic. And microfibres. And recycling. And waste. And, well everything that we do.

Whilst it’s important that we recycle what we can, there are numerous logistical problems with categorising items as well as the sheer quantity, which leads to many councils not actually recycling that much of the recycling they receive. What I think we should be focusing more on is reusing things. There’s a kids TV programme called Junk Rescue, which encourages kids to make things out of bits and pieces lying around the house, such as wooden clothes peg dolls. Much of it involves their imagination – e.g. making rockets to play space. But the programme also visits craftsmen who upcycle things. Like a rag rugger, or a stained glass maker. It’s actually really good at highlighting the second use of everyday items.

My Dad is the king of reusing things. Anything that breaks is taken apart and useful pieces salvaged. I’m not quite that good, but I pass things his way if I think they’ll be useful to him, and I remove obviously useful things. He’s my first port of call if I need any bits and pieces is him – he’s usually got just the right size piece of wood or sized screw.

This year I’ve been trying to reduce our carbon footprint around the house – the impact we have on the planet. Little things don’t make a huge difference to our lives – in terms of time taken to carry out the task. But if we all try and do a little bit more then we can start to make a difference.

Here are a few changes we’ve made.

  • We’ve stopped buying milk at the supermarket in plastic bottles, instead reverting to the old fashioned way of having glass bottles delivered to the door twice a week, and returning the empty glass bottles each week. The foil lids are recycled each fortnight by the bin men.
  • Batteries (we use them more rapidly with a baby!) are kept in a tumbler on the kitchen side then when it’s full it’s taken to be recycled.
  • We tear off the stamps on any envelopes which come through the post and collect them for charity.
  • My Granny collects ring pulls for a charity which sends them to Africa where they’re made into jewellery by locals. Thus helping them earn a living. We collect them too, and give them to her to pass on.
  • Any clothes we’ve wanted to get rid of have gone to the clothes charity bins, so will hopefully help others.
  • This spring I sorted out the compost heap in the garden. I took our old plastic cone shaped composter and sold it, before getting a larger wooden one. Now we try to put non-meat food waste on the compost heap. Although some of it goes to Phoenix of course!
  • We have our own water bottles now. Partly to increase our water intake, but also to decrease our use of plastic bottles. We don’t tend to get hot drinks on the go, but we have travel mugs anyway if we ever wanted.
  • We have fewer plastic bags now, getting the majority of our shopping with the bags for life or tote bags. I refuse to buy bags, so frequently leave the shop with an armful of precariously balanced food!
  • I find I am more conscious of the packaging when I buy items. For example, I’m more likely to buy a make of food if it’s in a recyclable packet, or loose if possible. For example, loose veg or we buy baby formula in metal tins rather than the cardboard and plastic ones as the metal tins are useful storage tins to my brother, Dad and Uncle in their man caves. However, there’s only so far we can go like this, and really producers need to take more steps in minimising packaging.
  • I’d really like Amazon to introduce a policy whereby they collect old boxes and bubble wrap the next time they deliver to you. Surely it would be easier and better for the environment to recycle cardboard boxes as cardboard boxes rather than flattening them and sending them to the recycling plant to be mushed back into a pulp?
  • On that theme, it would be good to be able to do more direct recycling, either to those who can upcycle or so that we’re sorting items before the council collects it.
  • Reducing our waste is one thing, but also reducing the quantity we require is another. For example, buying a quality product that will last for years as opposed to a cheap one which will break within months.

    This is where Christmas comes into things.

    When I was younger I remember cutting up Christmas cards we’d been sent the year before to make gift tags, but this seems to have gone out of fashion. When I tried recently I had very few cards which were actually suitable – I think they’d been written on on both facing pages. Looking at the cards we’ve received so far this is a possibility for next year. Fewer and fewer people send Christmas cards now, and I think it’s right to not send cards to the people you’re going to see just before Christmas, or even on Christmas Day itself, but it’s a useful tradition to touch base with long distance friends and family, who you perhaps don’t see as frequently as you like.

    Wrapping paper. I get so frustrated with the quantity of waste surrounding presents. My parents taught us not to rip into our presents, scattering paper everywhere. Rather we had to open our presents leaving as much paper in tact as possible. Then on Boxing Day, Dad and I would sort through, fold up the pieces, cut off worn areas and put them into the Second Hand Wrapping Paper Box (that almost needs a fanfare announcement). Everything would come out, and Christmas paper would go at the bottom. Dad does take this to the extreme (the box is huge) and the paper they received on their wedding paper is still there. They celebrated their ruby wedding anniversary this year …

    Last year I kept quite a lot of uses wrapping paper and have recycled it with our gifts. It’s a win win situation really; it helps the environment and we don’t have to purchase as much new paper. It’s also a bit of a puzzle working out if a piece of wrapping paper will fit a certain present. I used to feel quite embarrassed about Dad’s frugality, but now I see the environmental benefits I’m getting more confident at keeping paper and using it again. The same with gift bags. We have a huge number (many with “baby girl” written on) which will stay in the cupboard until needed. But just think, if everyone kept 50% of their wrapping paper to use next year then that’s 50% less waste going to the tip on Boxing Day, and 50% less that you need to buy next year. Yep, you can feel smug!

    I challenge you readers, to save as much wrapping paper as you can this year, to help save Earth for our children.

    Feeling Festive

    Yesterday was a bit busy in terms of non-horsey activities, so I didn`t get around to writing a post. I`m sorry.

    My morning was spent riding and teaching, and then I went out for lunch with some friends before having an ice skating lesson from another friend. I don`t think I will ever understand a skaters fascination for going backwards, at speed!

    Once home I had the job of designing my new book cover and then in an attempt to feel a bit more festive, despite the mild weather, it was time to decorate the tree. Of course afterwards I had to wrap a few presents so that it looked complete. And the larger parcels have the added bonus of stopping the cat climbing behind the tree!

    Talking of wrapping paper, I`m going to continue with a non horsey post.

    Wrapping presents is a big puzzle to my family. A puzzle of economics. How many presents can you wrap from one roll of paper? Does changing the orientation of the box mean less paper is required? Is it worth cutting that slither off to wrap a small jewellery box sized present?

    At home, my Dad takes things to a whole new level. Much to visitors` surprise, he will bring out his “second hand wrapping paper box”. Or third hand, or fourth hand… If you really dig deep you can find the thin paper that their wedding presents were wrapped in thirty five years ago!

    Since I was a baby it has been drilled into me and my brother that presents aren`t ripped into, like a dog with a slipper, but rather carefully opened at the sellotape and then the present removed and the paper flattened and then folded ready for next year. It`s a Boxing Day tradition – folding up the paper. If any of the older paper has holes in, it`s not thrown away, but rather reduced in size so it can be used for a smaller present.

    I`m not quite as bad as my Dad, but I still can`t bring myself to shred the paper as I open my presents, and if I think the paper is fine, then I`ll keep it for family presents. So if you get recycled paper from me, you should be honoured – you`ve reached family status!

    When I was about eight, and on the verge of seeing through the Santa Claus façade, one of my stocking presents had written in the corner “To Robert, love Auntie Margaret”. There were two errors here. For one, I am not my brother, and for two, Auntie Margaret was no longer with us. So I questioned my Dad, to try and confirm my suspicions.

    Quick as a flash, he replied with, “Well Father Christmas didn`t have time to wrap them so he brought them for me to wrap for you.”

    Smooth Dad, real smooth.

    It kept me quiet for another year anyway.

    Back to the subject of recycling wrapping paper. Years ago, it was a common sense thing, after all newspapers were recycled and old clothes were used to patch newer clothes. It was a society that got the most out of it`s resources. Now, having new things is a sign of wealth and privilege, and we`ve become a society of waste. Younger siblings more often than not get new clothes, not the hand me downs. Wrapping paper is bought by the roll and presents are wrapped excessively, only for us to throw bin liners full of paper away on Boxing Day. So perhaps sensibly recycling wrapping paper is not just economic, it`s also eco-friendly?

    Does anyone else have any family traditions that are joked about by others, but in actual fact are really rather sensible?