In which I question everything we have done to date

Filed in Blog by on March 13, 2009 19 Comments
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Yesterday was one of those days. One of those days when my faithful companion, the black dog came to curl up in the corner of my mind, combined with a wasted journey and a trip to the recycling centre.

I came home thoroughly depressed, not only at wasting my time, but at my feelings as I was visiting the civic amenity site.

A friend called us last night with great news. She had seen a ‘lorry load’ of wood which was free for the taking. We run a wood burner, so are always grateful for tip offs about free wood. It’s like someone offering to pay your fuel bill for a few days!

Off we went at the crack of dawn (quite literally – I had to wake LMG from her slumber and that is never a good thing), and we were told to come back later.

In hindsight, I should have got out of the car and taken a look at the wood, but I was still half asleep and wasn’t about to brace the winter morning cold rush of air in a hurry.

We went back home, ate breakfast, dropped Little Miss Green off at a friend’s house and went back to collect the wood. There was indeed a lorry load of wood, except it was all painted – old cupboard doors, floor boards, skirting boards were there. I wouldn’t have minded, except my immediate though was ‘lead paint’.

Mr Green stacked up the car and my eyes started watering. I felt out of control, unsure what to do. Was I over-reacting? (I can be pretty good at that) Should I say something? (believe it or not, I’m not good at speaking out) Or should I let him get on with it and just shut up.

I decided on the latter.

Once he got into the car I began to feel more and more uneasy. I broached the ‘lead paint’ subject and he’d been thinking exactly the same thing.

So do you know what we did? We drove straight to the recycling centre to get rid of it all!

What a waste of an hour. Basically, we saved a builder his dumping fee, so I guess we can be pleased we performed a Random Act of Kindness; but in my time at the recycling centre I sank deeper and deeper into my own self pity.

It was a very busy morning; we had to wait to get to the ‘scrap wood’ skip because the ‘metal’ receptacle was full and needed to be compacted.

I stood and watched a JCB thunder down on people’s rubbish – old bikes, washing machines, gash metal, down it went crushed like tin cans. Suddenly someone called out; he had seen a gas canister in there. Yep, someone had put a full gas canister into the metal bin.

We could all smell gas escaping, but thankfully the damage seemed minimal.

People were swarming around the site dumping their stuff. I saw people throwing away laminate flooring, dismantled wardrobes, a sofa, patio chairs – you name it, someone bought it in for disposal. What struck me most of all was that none of it looked beyond use. They might have been a little dirty, but the laminate wasn’t warped, the wardrobe looked in excellent condition, the sofa needed nothing more than a clean, and the chairs a jet wash, perhaps.

I figured these things were no longer this seasons colours, or didn’t match the new fitted bedroom. I tried desperately hard not to judge and criticise; I mean, what would I know? Perhaps someone’s mother had died and this was all part of a house clearance, but I couldn’t help but wonder.

Were these items really the desperate by-products of our consumer driven society?

My thoughts turned to the other side of the world where this sort of scene would never take place. In developing countries everything is salvaged and re-purposed in some way. We may have the technology and wealth, but they are so much more resourceful than you and I. They really do see treasure where we see trash.

I have my moments when I’m desperate to throw things ‘away’. I have dreams of hiring a skip and just getting rid of all the clutter in one swoop. I know of the temptation to get rid of things when the mood strikes. I’ve been there and I’ve done it, several times over. I’ve thrown away perfectly good stuff because I’ve bought newer, better, more trendy or the latest colour. And if you’d talked to me then about what I was doing and the impact on the environment, I would probably have laughed in your face. I would have had more important things to do; like ensure my duvet matched my curtains. I guess this is what we are up against. You can’t make anybody care. It has to be something they discover for themselves …

But when you embrace a lifestyle change, you see other people continuing as you once did and you can’t help by be affected by it.

I felt there was no hope.
That only a tiny percentage of Gloucestershire households had taken up the zero waste challenge during January.
That we talk of 70,000 visitors to the site per month, but that’s minuscule compared to the number of people visiting their tip every week.
That we are swimming upstream against a rapidly increasing tide.
That I’m some barmy woman going on about reducing landfill waste when there are far more important things going on in the world for individuals.

So you see, even though the thrust of this site is optimistic and celebratory; I do have my ‘bad days’. I have days when I feel like packing it all in, when the effects of what go on ‘out there’ affect me deeply and I feel helpless. I have days when I wonder what possible difference we can make and when I feel that I’m dancing to a different drum beat to most of the other beautiful people on this planet.

There was a glimmer of hope though. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted an area at the back of the recycling centre which had some decent looking stuff around it. On closer inspection it was the ‘re-use area’ and people were free to make an offer for things they would like. It’s a small step in the right direction. So, ya know, give me the weekend, the birdsong, a beautiful sunrise or a cuddle with my family and all will be well again …

What about you? How do you deal with your ‘no hope’ days?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (19)

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  1. Compostwoman says:

    Oh have a hug, its horrible when you feel like this, isn’t it?

    It does get like that here sometimes, I feel utterly despondent sometimes….why should we bother when no one else does?

    BUT, I then remind myself that I can only, ultimately, be responsible for ME and if I don’t bother, why should I expect anyone else to?

    Also I remind myself of the impact *I HAVE* made, teaching children about composting, all the adults I have encouraged to compost (and reduce/recycle and grow their veg in their home made compost etc etc ….)

    Its a question of perspective, isn’t it? on a “bad” day its easy to feel you have “only” touched 70,000 visitors lives each month…

    but on a “good” day its “wow, 70,000 hits!!”

    I find on a black day its good to do something which shows how much you have done.

    And wine helps, also πŸ˜‰

  2. Poppy says:

    Mrs G, you have done so much to encourage others to think about their wasteful ways and the bad habits that the nation or indeed the majority of the world has; didn’t happen overnight and the change to good habits won’t do so either. People like you and I have children that we are bringing up to think about the impact they have on the world and they in turn they will pass this information to class mates, friends and eventually their own children.

    We need to keep soldiering on and be glad for every single convert that we manage to inspire, intentionally or otherwise. Some will take longer than others, but I believe it will happen. There will be a tipping point when recycling is seen as the norm and the crowds who like to fit in will follow. The rebels and outcasts will then be those that throw, not those that recycle!! At least the person who dumped the gas cannister thought to take it to for recycling rather than just dumping it!

  3. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    Reality checks can be deflating but this is such a positive website for Zero Waste. Keep up the good work.

    In dealing with an aunt’s estate, a lot of good stuff, as well as waste material, was landfilled. A community reuse facility would have been a help.

    There are a lot of new practices developing in many areas of the trend. Patience is required but we shall definitely see more progress this year.

  4. Carol says:

    Oh Mrs. G! I’m so sorry that you had a bad day. Just know that many of us share your feelings – all of them! We just need to remember that we are standing up for what is right and don’t contribute even more to the heaping piles of trash. We can only control our own behavior and be examples of change to others. I think you need a 70,000 person virtual group hug!

  5. Carole Blake says:

    Yes, I agree with the other Carol above. Mrs G. you are an inspiration to many people. I am quite convinced, and as Poppy says, you are passing that onto your own family, and they pass it on to their friends etc etc.

    I hunted down more Zero Waste Easter eggs today, and last year I probably wouldn’t have tried so hard, so you’ve made a difference here. Also, on our school newsletter for this week, when I update the website later, your “cut the junk mail” link will be going on there and I’m hoping several of our parents will sign up.

    (((((((())))))))))))))

    Carole

  6. Layla says:

    Dear Mrs Green,

    sorry to hear you had a sucky day… Check out my new blog entry, maybe it will cheer you up? πŸ™‚

    I had a sort-of-sucky day too, just had a first ‘bigger’ zero-waste ‘fight’ with Mom, who I thought was ‘on board! –

    /Can you maybe help solve this: she watched you & Little Miss Green the other day & was greatly inspired & now folds all bits of plastic film & bags, including clingwrap, to recycle (?) She says they were not ‘contaminated with food’ but I wasn’t so sure.. Can these be recycled anyway? what do you all think?
    (still gathering courage to call whoever might know more here, & figuring out who that would be..)
    I think plastics with no number & mixed together can’t be recycled, whereupon she just threatened to ‘toss it all then’ (& I panicked, lol!) We did clear it up, did some gardening, & I did some happy experimenting which I write about in the blog!:)/

    Hope your day manages to be turned around too!! πŸ™‚
    Know that we love you & ADMIRE all that you’ve been doing!!

    Reuse centers are badly needed here in Slovenia too, I LOVE this video, for example! http://cbs5.com/video/[email protected]
    (But was thinking, what about lead paint or such, too!!:)
    So it would be great if all these were ‘proofed’ by experts somehow!

  7. Awww, Mrs. Green! Don’t be discouraged and don’t give up. There truly has been progress….and more progress than there would have been if you weren’t busy sending out your message.

    Think of all the people who are composting and freecycling and reusing…not everyone is doing it, but a lot of people are.

    I love the idea of a re-use center, incidentally.

  8. Peter says:

    It’s easy to say, and I speak as one who has sat at his PC all too often thinking ‘what the heck am I doing?’, but life is a journey where, to quote the Chinese saying… ‘one of a thousand miles starts with the first step’.

    And, sadly, one has to realise, and accept, that for every few forward there will be the odd one back.

    But be assured that the are all still worth taking, and even the odd set (step) back can often be a learning experience. As here. You have shared some valuable information in your tale, and it has inspired others. And I, for one, have gained some valuable tips and links to inform my future actions, and feel that this is much more useful to improving my daily environmental efforts that a raft of high-falutin’ stuff I have been reading lately in the media.

    As you know, I am a huge fan of reuse, but have had to accept that to those tasked with facilitating civic actions it is a poor second cousin to recycling. But there seem to be some glimmers cropping up here and there that suggest that even in official quarters its potential is being recognised and some measures taken to help those who are keen to… help themselves! At least your tip has that takeaway section!

    When I created the Vac:Sac ( http://www.junkk.com/junkkdetail.asp?slevel=0z622z709&parent_id=709&renleewtsapf=1730 ) some asked me if I might create a range. So I trotted off to the council bring site. Lovely chap there. ‘Do you get lots of old vacuum cleaners?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ he replied. Great! “May I pop round and collect them?’ I proceeded, enthusiasm abounding. ‘No, I am afraid not,’ was the comeback, ”once in we are not allowed to let any one take anything out…’elf and safety”.

    Thanks to this I am going back to see if the rules have changed… or can be!

    I have heard, possibly because the name appealed, of a concept in Germany, called ‘Junkentag’, whereby on special days you put out on the kerb gear that you don’t want but others might, and are free to whisk away.

    Like you, my heart sinks at all the potentially still useful kit one sees in skips, etc, but possibly only destined for the landfill.

    I am currently working on a proposal to see if something might be done to address this, juggling the legal situations, H&S, permissions, etc, and involving councils and telecoms companies who may be interested in sponsoring a civic cooperation initiative.

    If, and when, it takes place, I’ll share. Or if anyone feels like joining in (dealing with officialdom can be time-consuming and, yes, depressing) do get in touch!

  9. Oh Mrs G – I can only empathise. On a trip to our local recycling centre last year I came away in tears as I saw the bikes that had been left, which looked like they could have been easily repaired and reused or sold on. It made me feel sad that it had come to that. What wonderful support you have here and I can’t agree more with everything everyone’s said. It’ll take time, but look what happened with smoking. Going from a trend that was cool and mainstream, it is no longer that way. There are many changes taking place now that are illustrating the ways society is on the move. From allotments to keeping chickens and even reusing. I have faith in what Poppy said that one day it will tip with people, products and services all pulling together with initiatives and ideas. If it doesn’t I’ll eat my hat. Oh blimey…that’s a commitment and a half eh! Keep your chin up honey. You’ve been there for me this week, and I’m certainly here for you πŸ˜€ x

  10. Karin says:

    I know the feeling, but these days I’m better and concentrating on what I can do to change and not wanting to change others so much. We can only change what we do, but in doing so we may inspire others. These things don’t usually happen overnight, either. Some people need to meet a lot of people ‘crazy’ as us, before they realise it’s actually good idea, while others may not give the idea a second thought until their circumstances change. Often people need a trigger in their life.

    Also, I do what I can to recycle and lead a more sustainable life etc because it’s what makes sense to me, and I would no longer be comfortable with going back to my old ways. It’s part of being true to myself, and I suspect it’s the same for you.

    You can’t do something only for other people, whether to please them, or to change them. In the end it won’t work. You have to do it because you think it’s right, and if you do, the other people don’t matter so much.

    Every change is made up of many steps, and the change to a sustainable way of living is made of many, many little steps, by the whole population. It’s true we don’t seem to be taking enough steps quickly enough, but more and more people are starting on the journey and even if they dump something perfectly good today, they might do better tomorrow.

    It does need to be easier to find people to reuse things, too. Free-cycle and e-bay are popular, but they seem too complicated to me. Having a covered area at the local tip for items that others might want to reuse seems like a good idea.

  11. Carole Blake says:

    Mrs G,

    Yesterday I was at this fab recycling/re-use shop centre in Newton Abbot in Devon.
    http://www.devon.gov.uk/index/environmentplanning/recycling/recycling_centres/brunel_road.htm

    You can take all your recycling, (including Tetrapaks) here, and then nip across to the re-use shop where they have LOADS of stuff to buy at very reasonable prices. Everything from wind surf sailboard to sofas. Aquariums, garden furniture, rocking chairs, compost!!

    It’s places like these that we need more of. I’ve been there before and it’s always mega-busy. Lots of people carrying of “treasure”. I didn’t buy anything myself, but only because I’m moving up with my other half soon and we’re going to be having plenty of yard/car boot sales ourselves to get rid of all the excess stuff. Two into one just won’t go!!

    I’ll be freecycling stuff too I have no doubt.

    Carole

  12. Sal says:

    What do i do on a no hope day?
    Sulk and swear under my breath.
    We cleared out the garage and shed on sunday, hubby offered to take some stuff to the tip/recycling centre and then started complaining badly at what i wanted taking ie I want this recycling and the paint tins need to go etc and the old dust sheets recycling.
    Sulking and swearing worked and he trotted off to the centre.
    When we have a clear out he wants everything gone now! which is not helpful when i want to re home things luckily the good tins of paint were collected by my thrifty friend yesterday.

  13. VegBoxClara says:

    *hug*
    I usually cry with frustration.
    I am trying to decide whether to try and do something “campaign-y” in my street for Earth Day (if I can work out when it really is!), but as I was moving my tomato and broad been and lettuce seedlings out to my front garden this morning, I had a pre-defeated feeling of frustration. “No-one will care, and no-one will show up if I invite them to come and hang out in my front garden and take away seedlings for their own gardens and eat home-made biscuits packaged in re-used cardboard containers …”
    How to decide whether to focus simply on changing what I know I can (ME) and trying to directly influence others…

  14. Sal says:

    Oh VegBoxClara go for it, what do you have to lose except for a few bits of recycled paper invites:) I have held a couple of fair trade style parties and panic like mad before that no one will want to come, everyone has loved it and asked when the next one is to be.
    Rally a few family and friends that will definetely come and eat the biscuits if nothing else and anyone else is a bonus.

  15. VegBoxClara says:

    *hug* again : )

    My low passed after I wrote it out to you, and here’s the first step I took:

    http://blog.vegbox-recipes.co.uk/2009/03/17/earth-day-challenge/

    Perhaps you’d cast your vote and leave a comment to help me on my way?

  16. Marta says:

    Hey, I know exactly how you must have felt at the amenity centre, I see it all the time, it is very depressing.

    I can only hope that people see positive actions taken by people like ourselves and that it will brush off on them. It is very true what you said about people needing to decide to change for themselves, we really can’t make them.

    Don’t give up πŸ™‚

  17. Mrs Green says:

    @Compostwoman: Hmmmm **snuggles in closely** Thank you compostwoman; that’s better. I loved this part of your comment “I can only, ultimately, be responsible for ME and if I don’t bother, why should I expect anyone else to?”
    Perfect and you’re right; it’s a matter of perspective. Amazing how much that perspective can change so quickly!

    @Poppy: Thanks poptarts. I guess we all have moments of ‘I want everything yesterday’ but you make an important point about this being seed sowing for the future. Only yesterday we were offered a paper bag in the chemist; Mr G refused it because we didn’t need it, but LMG piped up ‘at least it’s not plastic; so that’s good’ within earshot of the woman serving us. These seeds will grow into beautiful plants πŸ™‚

    @John Costigane: House clearance must be very hard, because there is a part of us that wants the easy option – to be rid of everything and to move on. Is there nothing like freecycle or SnaffleUp in your area?

    @Carol: Thank you Carol; a hug of 70,000 people would be an experience, that’s for sure LOL! I guess I’m not alone in my feelings and it’s good to have you all here to pull me back up again.

    @Carole Blake: You’re an inspiration carole – it’s great that you are sharing some of these ideas with others. A school newsletter is a great way to pass on information to a target audience. Thank you for joining in!
    I loved reading about your reuse shop; it sounds like a great idea. Maybe I should start one in the front garden LOL!

    @Layla: Hi Layla, thank you so much and I loved your blog entry, as you know πŸ™‚ You bring up a key point about the confusion and contradiction with recycling. To my knowledge if you can clean the plastic, then certain types can be recycled, but other sources say plastic used for food can NOT be recycled as it is contaminated. tbh, I don’t understand it; if it’s going to be made into patio furniture anyway, then why would it matter if it’s been used for food? I think you’re going to have to pluck up the courage and make that call πŸ˜‰

    @[email protected] Frugal Girl: Thanks Kristen; you’re right. When you stop and look, from an optimistic mind, about what is going on; there is a lot of good, positive change happening. Thanks for the reality check!

    @Peter: Hi Peter, great comment – thank you. We need to look for the tiny glimmers of hope, the door that cracks open to us and cease those opportunities. You are the King of this with some of your reuse ideas. And i admire how you keep on keeping on…
    Good luck with getting the rules changed about vacuum cleaners et al. Health and safety has a lot to answer for; you see it in every walk of life from children’s nurseries to recycling!
    Junkentag is a wonderful name – it sounds like an old fashioned pudding LOL!
    Good luck with all that you do; you are a true pioneer.

    @Almost Mrs Average: Thanks Mrs A. I have a post on recycling bikes coming up – we saw them too; I wanted to lift one out of the container and ride it home LOL! You’re right about the smoking; I hadn’t thought of that. And the idea of allotments too. yes, it’s all moving in the right direction. Time to focus on what IS happening πŸ™‚

    @Karin: Hi karin, there was a lot of wisdom in your response; especially about people needing a trigger in their lives. I know that I’m only responsible for myself but, but, but ……. πŸ˜€
    Maybe we should all promote the idea of a reuse area at our local recycling centres; that would make it reachable for the masses.

    @Sal: πŸ˜€ sulking and swearing under your breath. You are far more refined than I – I tend to just let rip. I know what you mean though; it’s hard when you’re not singing from the same hymn sheet. Often I am the one who wants things gone now, but I’m learning to control that in favour of the ‘better option’ Well done on sticking to your principles. Loved your buck-up post to Clara; I agree with you.

    @VegBoxClara: my turn to dish out the hugs then (((HUGS))) I think this says more about you and your level of confidence than ‘the issue’ iykwim. It must be like a pop star fearing that there will be no one in the aiudience. I think with some food and drink on offer, everyone will come over and so what if only a couple of them ‘get it’. You’ll have provided a great social event; which in itself, is what ‘saving the world and rebuilding communities’ is all about. I have a sneaking suspicion your fears with be unfounded, however; and I think whatever you decide to do with be truly inspirational and get others thinking.
    you go, girlfriend πŸ™‚
    I’ll be back to your site in a moment to view your poll results.

    @Marta: Hi Marta, good to see you. Thanks for your words of encouragement and we keep on with our vision πŸ˜‰

  18. VegBoxClara says:

    Innit brilliant, the amount of love and encouragement and positivity that emerges when we have the courage to voice our honest feelings of overwhelm and despair?! So many responses to this post, Mrs G … And I suspect, many positive actions ensuing from it : ))

  19. Mrs Green says:

    You’re right Clara; it’s been an incredible thread with some lovely heart-felt comments. Sometimes we have to have the courage to show our vulnerable side πŸ™‚
    Have you decided what to do for earth day yet?

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