When you were growing up, I bet you didn’t think for a second that your grandparents could be cooler than you? How could that be? They didn’t have the latest ‘thing’ like your BMX bike or fluorescent leg warmers or Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ on cassette (I’m showing my age here, aren’t I?), and they didn’t even drive a new car! How embarrassing! Well, stop right there! Your oldies were way ahead of their time and, if you think about it, were setting a good example for all of us who have realised the planet needs our help. Unfortunately, many of us haven’t followed this example and have just gone on consuming and buying and tossing plastic out like we have a never-ending supply of resources, animals and big landfill holes in the ground. So now it’s time to think about what we can learn from an earlier generation; a generation who didn’t have ‘disposable’ products or income to throw away; a generation who lived through the Great Depression or entered the world just afterwards. So cast your mind back…..
Did your Grandpa repair rather than replace? Did your Nanna serve up legendary leftovers? Did you ever eat take-away food at their place?? Or actually go out for dinner more than a couple of times a year if you were lucky??? I thought not. I’ve spent a while thinking about this and have decided to put together a list of things that my grandparents did that we could/should all be doing to live a more sustainable, eco-friendly life. So thanks for the eco-friendly hacks Nanna!
- Use cotton hankies/handkerchiefs – Nanna always had a hanky handy; up her sleeve, in the bedside drawer, in her handbag; a hanky for every occasion! So why are cotton hankies better than tissues? The top reasons are that they are reusable and biodegradable (if they are 100% cotton). Cotton and paper production both use a lot of water but cotton still wins by using 4 and a ½ times less water than paper. Once the hanky is produced, you can use it for an indefinite period (I still have hankies Nanna gave me!) whereas a tissue needs to be chucked in landfill as you can’t really recycle a dirty tissue…
- Wear your clothes more than once before washing – Nanna often wore her clothes a few times before washing (and so did we) and as long as they weren’t stained, there was nothing wrong with it. Airing out your clothes is a great way to get more wear between washes; there is nothing like sunlight to freshen up a few items and it’s an unlimited, free resource (I hope?).
- Use up your leftovers – I don’t recall ever seeing my grandparents throw out edible food and many a time we would eat leftovers for lunch the next day when we stayed with them. When you think about it, wasting food is an awful thing to do when there are people all over the world who do without, but on top of this, food production and the food production chain (getting it from farm to table) uses up so many resources that are just wasted if you throw away food. Have you seen the statistic that it takes over 15,000 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of beef? Now think about all the other resources needed to turn that cow into beef? Electricity, grass/maize, petrol… I used to leave half my plate uneaten at restaurants but now I ask to take it home and eat it the next day. It really is awesome when you are out of lunch ideas! NOTE: it only takes 109 litres of water to produce 250ml of wine so less beef, more wine.
- Use bar soap – Nanna always had bar soap in the shower and next to the sink for washing your hands (and the occasional bit of handwashing of clothes). At some point, some genius came out with liquid soap in plastic pump packs and the world went crazy for them and is using up an insane amount of plastic in the process (for the pumps and the refill sachets). Have you ever gone back to soap and realised you feel cleaner and love that soapy smell? Find some soap in cardboard packaging or, even better, loose and get back into it!
- Put all the leftover bits of soap together – still on the soap theme, Nanna would never throw out that little, fiddly bit of soap you end up with when the soap is nearly used up, she would put it on top of the new bar and glue it there with water so it wasn’t wasted. I thought this was really weird as a kid but now I’m all for it! It is absolutely zero waste! Thoughts of the last ever fiddly bit of soap do keep me awake at night though… what is gonna happen to him when I die? Will he ever be paired with a new bar?
- Grow veggies and herbs – all my grandparents got into this! You set up a nice little garden where you can grab a few items for your salad or herbs for your pasta and you do away with the need to run to the shops and buy veggies that have been genetically modified or sprayed with pesticides. You save money and you gain satisfaction from being self-sufficient. There is nothing like gloating at dinner about the tomatoes that were picked off the vine that morning!
- Use a Nanna trolley for groceries – did your Nanna have one of those wheelie trolleys to take to the shops? Did you think ‘Nanna is so weird with that’ and get everything you bought in plastic? Yeah, me too. I have since seen soooo many people with those trolleys or a homemade equivalent to cart their shopping around and it’s a great idea! Put everything in your reusable bags, chuck them in your trolley and walk home.
- Use things until they are worn out/can no longer be repaired – my grandfather was always tinkering in the garage with his soldering iron fixing items from around the home. Nanna was quite the seamstress and would repair clothes she had worn for over 30 years and would patch and hem our clothes too. I’m not saying you need to do your own sewing or tinkering if you aren’t that way inclined, but getting stuff repaired is such a great way to stop the overproduction of goods which will eventually end up in landfill.
- Use the library and share books around – libraries are a fantastic resource and Nannas see their worth. You can go and read in the quiet, join in community activities and borrow books so you don’t have to buy them. Just think about how much use one book in the library gets compared with a book you purchase from a book shop, read once and leave on the shelf at home. If you can’t resist buying the latest bestseller, try and share with as many people as possible or donate it to the library/school/local ‘street library’ when you are finished.
- Reuse your jam jars (even for jam!) – my Nanna made some delicious jam and used to put it all in jam jars she had collected over the years. When I was growing up it was quite common to reuse jam jars as drinking glasses and some smart companies started designing them so they looked like a drinking glass when washed out (we had loads of Vegemite jars to drink from). Now I save glass jars to refill at the bulk store or to store things at home. You can even store some leftovers in them for work the next day!
So there you have it. The top 10 ways that Nanna was zero-wasting it before you knew what zero-waste was. Thanks for reading and I hope you have taken away some ideas that can help you reduce your waste or at least got to take a little trip down memory lane. I can think of at least 10 more awesome things that Nanna did so I may have to get onto a Part 2 shortly; just gotta go and listen to Michael Jackon’s Bad first… on my Walkman which Grandpa fixed for me.