To construct a building, lay the foundations, build walls, or even doing the weekly shopping, we use resources, be they brick, stone, wood, cardboard or plastic wrapping. Recently a UK Government minister angered the food industry by suggesting that supermarket shoppers could protest the amount of plastic used in food presentation, by unwrapping it and leaving it at the till!
In the construction industry, as well as what the materials are delivered in, be they crates, protective wrapping or pallets, as well as the fuel and energy resources used in the delivery, a general over-estimation of materials needed, combined with wastage and breakages, results in a surplus of materials and therefore the overuse of valuable resources.
How can we find solutions to this exaggerated depletion of our resources, and build and live according to the principles of sustainable development, wasting little or nothing, and conserving resources, using renewables where possible?
The first principle in building, and shopping and consuming too, is to source local products.
Once you know the structure you want to construct, and have consulted with an architect, the local planning authority, and found a green builder (or are planning to do it yourself), put into practise the increasingly popular principle of finding local suppliers. This may be a local quarry that supplies stone, a local brick factory, or a supplier of wood and wood products from a sustainably-grown forest. This may seem to be an impossible ideal, but the more often we set ourselves these targets, then pressure is brought upon suppliers to source locally, and not just to rely on imported products.
The recent television programme ‘It’s not easy being green’ illustrated this point very clearly. In restoring an old farmhouse in Cornwall, the family involved wanted to use local Cornish slates for the roof, but prohibitive cost meant it was much cheaper to buy overseas imported slate. We as consumers ultimately have great power – purchasing power, which we can use to influence the availability of products. Local products ultimately provides local employment, and secure local economies. The BedZed Housing Development in the London Borough of Sutton was planned and built upon the (at the time, brave) decision to only use materials from within a 35 mile radius.
Reducing Packing Materials
This principle is harder to put into practise, but allows you to see instant results, when you aren’t faced with a pile of packaging to dispose of. It is easier to experience during the weekly shop, by choosing food that doesn’t come wrapped in layers of plastic, or better, choosing shops or markets that choose not to sell food in this overly clinical way.
Paper and some plastics, and glass, can be recycled, but as consumers if we can influence the suppliers and producers not to use unnecessary resources in the first place, then we will succeed. Another option is to only use suppliers who use packing materials made of recycled products.
One way of monitoring your households consumer purchasing and wastage on a weekly basis is to monitor your weekly rubbish output. How much can you reduce this ? By composting food scraps (see detailed instructions for guidance) the household weekly waste can often be halved. Of course, another option is to leave the packing materials at the store, and to leave the supplier to deal with it !
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
This simple phrase does help to drive home the message. Seeing images, common now in many environment-related documentaries, and daily in the media, of environmental destruction due to the depletion of resources – forests, landscapes, habitats, in order to package and provide, also reinforces the crisis we are in.
Recycling one glass bottle, or asking for locally made products to use in our home, really does start to make a difference. If we really now begin to minimize the use of resources, we will slowly begin to see and feel the difference to our planet – after all, it is our home.