Circular economy, reducing food waste, upcycling, reuse reduce recycle – we seem to think that these are all modern eco buzzwords. But let’s go back a few years, perhaps to our childhoods in the 1970’s & 80’s. Can you picture your grandparents or perhaps even great grandparents? What kind of lives were they living? I truly think that they are the original living examples of sustainable lifestyles.
Don’t get me wrong, modern 21st century living is great. Everything is readily available. Big supermarkets give you the convenience of shopping for everything under one roof. You can stick a pre-prepared meal in the microwave for a quick supper or if you feel like it, you can go to the drive-thru of any fast food outlet. But we’re so used to the convenience of it all that we’ve forgotten about the waste that we generate on a daily basis. Not to mention the ethical aspects of the goods that we consume or the harm that our modern habits cause to our environment.
I had the great fortune of being brought up by my grandma which I always look back on very fondly. So, given that this is the start of the 20’s again, 2020’s that is, let’s see what practices can we revive in this new decade. More importantly, how easy is it to make these changes? Do we need to sacrifice convenience for sustainability?
Ditch the tea bag
Ah, the humble tea bag! Thomas Sullivan truly revolutionised the market with his invention in 1904 with his tea bags made of silk. Fast forward to today and our modern tea bags can shed 11.6 billion of microplastics into a single cup of brew. Don’t take my word for it, it’s all based on science. Now think how many cups of tea do you drink in a day and how much plastic is going through your body? Furthermore, most tea bags aren’t compostable as many believe because they contain plastic. So, no, you can’t put them in the green bin. That tea bag is not looking so humble now, is it?
But what did granny do? Well, she used to boil the kettle and use loose leaf tea in a teapot. Simples!
We’ve been doing this for over two years now and I can honestly say that the tea tastes a lot better! Maybe, it is also the knowledge that I am not consuming microplastics upto four or five times a day. Maybe, I feel a lot better not generating all that extra waste.
And those spent tea leaves? They go in my flower beds as plant food!
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Who wants to faff around with a teapot when you want a quick cuppa? Fear not young padawan, for you can easily get a stainless steel single cup tea infuser/steeper. Put it in your cup, add the tea leaves and the boiling water and voila!
Where to get good quality ethical loose leaf tea? LibberTea is just one such place. Their service is great too!
Switch to soap bars
Most of us are used to trendy body washes in plastic bottles. They come in all sorts of varieties for all sorts of skin types and with all sorts of benefits. But most of them also contain Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and Methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT). Quite a mouthful, these two but they are also linked to lung toxicity, allergic reactions & possible neurotoxicity. Not only that, once the product is finished the plastic container goes in the waste adding to the world’s plastic waste problem.
What did granny do? She preferred a bar of soap. And when the bar of soap was about to go out, she would stick it on to a new bar of soap. Practically no waste at all.
Of course, you can get bars of soap in your usual shopping grounds but there are also a lot of handmade, ethical soap companies which create all natural, cruelty free soap. The Black Cat Soap House is one of them.
Make meals from scratch
I don’t remember having ready meals ever when I was growing up. Yes, we used to eat out and sometimes get a take-away but meals were mostly cooked at home. I used to love the food that my grandmother used to cook. I had some clear favourites, of course but I also remember my grandmother being very innovative with recipes. Most of these were vegetable based too. Which is probably why I still prefer being a vegetarian.
Most people would dismiss cooking because they don’t have enough time, the kids are too fussy, they can’t cook etc. etc. But look people, cooking is one of those life skills which not only makes you self sufficient but also keeps your body healthy (obviously depending on what you intend to cook).
Not only that, when you cook at home, you cut down on packaging so you can be environmentally friendly. You can use the leftovers for another meal time so you can reduce your food waste. And it saves you a lot of money! All you have to do is be a little organised.
Make things & get the circular economy going
Hands up who wore jumpers knitted by their grannies while growing up? And do you remember what happened to those once you outgrew them? Well, granny un-knitted them and made something new out of it, oftentimes for someone else. In my opinion, there is no better example of a self sustaining, low waste, circular economy!
There was a lot of love that went into knitting those things which is probably why we still treasure them. Machine made, cookie cutter stuff simply does not have that appeal. That is also probably one of the reasons why we fall out of love so quickly with our things these days and send them to the waste heap.
My grandma also preferred buying things from small vendors, things that were handmade. Because she knew where it came from. Or perhaps because the big shopping malls & superstores were not a thing then. But I doubt she would’ve like them anyway. Handmade things have a story of their own. They have their little imperfections which make them unique.
She was also very adept at fixing things, be it clothes or kitchen pots and pans. Things weren’t thrown away. They were fixed. Or they were put to a different use. And if they could not be reused then they would be sold to a scrap dealer. That circular economy in action again!
Do you really need that disposable?
Plastics have permeated our modern lives so much that we don’t think twice about using a sandwich bag or a resealable bag. Remember they are all made of plastic and once used and thrown away, it all adds to the planet’s growing plastic waste problem.
What did granny do? She used to use jars and bottles most of which were either glass or porcelain. Most of them were reused jam jars & the like.
Even today our kitchen cupboards are full of them. And we’re an Indian kitchen with a LOT of spices but we’ve never had to buy any jars, least of all disposable ones.
For sandwiches for lunch and even picnics, we’ve switched to beeswax wraps which are so much better and can be used again and again.
Need to dry clothes? Put them on a line
The easiest and the best way to dry clothes used to be on the clothesline for my grandmother. OK, granted that was India and the weather was far better. But even in the UK. when the sun does shine, it is best to get your washing on the line. I love putting all the washing out in the sun in the summer. Sunshine is the ultimate anti-bacterial agent there is! And when it’s not so sunny, it is England after all, there’s always the clothes horse for indoors.
The washing always smells fresher and crispier and you avoid the dreaded shrinkage problem that you get with a dryer. You also get to reduce your carbon footprint. Using less electricity also means saving some more money on your bills.
So, there you have it. These are just some of the things that I remember my grandma doing and that we’ve very gladly adopted. The more I think about that generation, the more I am convinced that we have a lot to learn from them. There are a lot of answers we might find about our future from our past.
I’m sure you have your own stories to share about your grandparents and their lifestyles. What kind of sustainable lifestyle choices do you remember? Do share in the comments below.