• Minnie Eve
  • 18 March 2013

Less is more

Having grown up with a resourceful (to say the least) mother, born in the war and taught not to waste anything, I have experienced a household where not only does everything have a use but everything you do comes with a caveat that states it could be done differently, in a way that saves money and resources! For example, in said household, if there is leftover boiled water in the kettle, it gets transferred to a flask and saved for washing up later. If you run the shower, before it gets hot, the water is collected in a bucket and saved for some worthy plant life. There are various pots and receptacles containing bits of metal, pieces of string – unidentifiable, unclassifiable stuff.

“Mum, what is all this stuff collecting dust for?!”

The reply is always the same… “It could be useful!!

Useful for what I wonder.

But we come from different generations and not just that, we have different personalities. I prefer a more streamlined, minimal approach to my life, without clutter. But despite my love of less stuff, I do share the same approach to reusing and recycling. By that I mean, I wouldn’t just throw anything away that I didn’t want. I’ve sold a lot of stuff online over the years, I always donate to charity shops and I try (it’s hard sometimes in this modern life) to only acquire new things that I actually need. Right now I am sporting an aged iPhone with a smashed screen – which seems to cause much distress to my counterparts who catch sight of it, while I am convinced it’s good for another six months.

Last week I attended Workplace Law’s Waste Management course, which coincided nicely with Climate Week and the Ecobuild conference, and was time well spent. In fact I would go as far to say it was, to quote one delegate’s feedback, eye-opening, and one of its most poignant messages was that there is too much focus on responsible recycling and diverting waste from landfill. Of course, this is really important, but in the ‘waste hierarchy’ – my new favourite hierarchy – the emphasis falls on reducing and reusing – i.e. buy / use less and reuse more. Then comes recycling, energy recovery and disposal is last – as the least preferred option.

It is the Waste Regulations 2011 that implement the waste hierarchy, through the amended Duty of Care requirements. As a producer of waste, signing a waste transfer note, you make a signed declaration that the waste hierarchy has been applied. I never knew this! I personally think that the same logic should be applied to everything we consider parting with. There are some amazing initiatives and charities that make use of the things we don’t want anymore – local to me is Reboot, who made good use of my old computer monitor when I was lucky enough to get a new laptop.

On a wider scale WRAP works with the public and private sector, across the UK, to develop the understanding that what most of us consider waste, is actually of value, and preventing waste and recycling more can offer economic and environmental benefits.

An interesting idea, in today’s throwaway society, is that of the circular economy. Currently the UK economy is not very circular! According to Green Alliance 2012, the UK is 19% circular and 81% linear. In the UK we take, we make, we dispose – using up our resources as well as producing toxic waste. The circular economy performance model can teach us that all products – from washing machines to mobile phones – could be broken down and all their components reused – even if the individual product itself has ceased to function. I’m sure we have all experienced a washing machine that’s given up the ghost and is too expensive to fix, so we just buy a new one. Circular economy thinking would suggest that a broken washing machine could be returned and regenerated. Leading on from this is the question of ownership – do we all really need to buy all these products and own them? What if we could pay to use them and the manufacturers were ultimately responsible for them working and were obliged to take them back and renew them for us? Not too dissimilar to the days when hardly anyone owned their television, they rented it! I think it would be a big challenge to tackle the materialistic nature of modern society.

However, there is a growing demographic of people who believe it is not imperative to own a whole house full of possessions in order to live a fulfilled life. I first came across the idea a few years ago when I read an article in the Times about someone who reduced their possessions to about 23 – and we are talking about including every pair of pants and socks!! I think I probably have 23 pairs of socks alone. Living in rented accommodation makes this easier – if it is fully furnished and kitted out. Technology of today can also go a long way to streamlining what we own – I myself no longer buy CDs and a lot of my music, images and video is up there in the ‘cloud’. I no longer fear its loss as I used to, mainly because it is stored in a few different places. I certainly enjoy the peace in my head when I have less responsibility for something – the more you own, the more it needs looking after, cleaning and maintaining.

The minimalists of today start with a packing party – the idea that you pack up everything you own, getting your friends round to help, then you only unpack what you would need that day – your toothbrush etc. Do that for a week and you will find that most of your possessions remained packed, and these are the things you can probably do without.  I would like to think I could be ruthless and relinquish my hold on some of my possessions – this, coming from a girl that has kept every single letter she has ever received, including notes passed in class, from the age of 12!

Perhaps there is not a need to reach for such extremes, but in terms of making our world more sustainable and challenging current thinking, maybe we can start with the small things in order to lead into big changes. So I’m starting with my new mantra; less is more. That and I will be sending my smashed i-phone to Envirophone, where I look forward to its rebirth. Like the ancient Egyptian’s Scarab beetle, let it be a symbol of hope and the restoration of life.