I have often noticed that almost every one has his own individual small economies – careful habits of saving fractions of pennies in some one peculiar direction – any disturbance of which annoys him more than spending shillings or pounds on some real extravagance. […] String is my foible. My pockets get full of little hanks of it, picked up and twisted together, ready for uses that never come. I am seriously annoyed if any one cuts the string of a parcel instead of patiently and faithfully undoing it fold by fold.
–Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford (1851)
I’ve been thinking about this passage a lot lately. Gaskell wrote this as a parody in the mid-19th century, when waste was much less common than it is today. Gaskell’s narrator pokes fun at herself for saving on packaging, while Gaskell herself was probably woefully unaware of how much waste packaging for goods of all sorts would produce a century and a half in the future.
I think that most of us here probably waste far more than we need to (I certainly do), but at the same time, most of us probably have our own little small personal economies to reduce waste, and it strikes me that sharing these with each other could be useful. We may not save the world with these, but it still makes a small difference. And the more environmentally mindful habits that we form, the more likely we are to be mindful all the time.
One of my personal economies is waste associated with take-away food — I try not to make a habit of buying the stuff, and so I make up big batches of soup and freeze them, or make up a chickpea-based salad that will last a few days in the fridge, so that I don’t get stuck buying my lunch when I’m at work. (And it’s a great way of using leftovers too.) If I know in advance that I will require take-away, I often take a lunchbox with me, and ask that that be used instead of a disposable container.
My efforts in this direction, however, are compromised by the amount of disposably plastic I use in other areas. For instance, I like to freeze meat in individual portions — one or two sausages, one chicken breast, etc — and I find myself using disposable freezer bags for this task, because with plastic tubs, you end up with a lot of wasted freezer space (and my freezer is not large). Perhaps someone here will have some sort of personal environmental economy that will help me with this issue.
There are also a few things that I’m just starting to do, so they aren’t habits yet — but I’m hoping they will become so. For instance, the waste of my food scraps has been bothering me, and I don’t have a big enough garden to make compost. I feel rather silly that it never occurred to me before that the community garden down the street from me would have a use for compost scraps, and now that I’ve got in contact with them, I’m hoping that I can form a habit of delivering my plant-based scraps to them once a week.
So, what are your personal little environmental economies? Where are the areas that you’d like to reduce waste, but you need a few tips on how to go about it?
(And just a disclaimer — while I’m obviously all about sharing suggestions here, please don’t be shaming anyone who doesn’t do X. Everyone’s situation is different, and a little economy that may be very easy for you may be very difficult for someone who doesn’t have as many spoons as you, or for someone in a different financial situation, etc.)