Not Evangelism

Friday, September 17, 2010

What Pragmatic Environmentalism Means to Me Part 2 - PE in Practice

In Part 1 of this article, I gave my definition of pragmatic environmentalism, and what it means to be a pragmatic environmentalist.  In this article, I'll focus on the practical application of PE as it works for me. These are my choices; clearly, they may not work for you in exactly this way, and nor am I attempting to convince you to slavishly follow my decisions. These are my Right Choices, and they work for me. Your choices are the ones that will work for you.

As we saw in Part 1, PE is about finding the Right Choice for You, for your situation, and about acknowledging that there is no absolute Perfect Right Choice for everyone.

The aim of this article, then, is to explore some of the decision making I've done in constructing my own PE manifesto. Some of these decisions have aesthetic benefits as much as anything else, showing (if not proving) that environmentalism can have its own chic.

Applying pragmatic environmentalism to you life requires a contingency plan; some thought about graceful degradation - knowing your primary options, and then your outs.  Such as: if you just have to buy more than you can carry, what's better than just grabbing a store's plastic carrier bag? What's Plan B for that situation?

Here, then are a selection of my personal principles. I'll be covering them in more detail in an upcoming article. Now, some of these are macro, and some micro.

Principle: Prefer unpackaged products

Fundamentally, this principle boils down to not bringing crap (packaging) into the house; crap I'm going to have to spend time & effort throwing out (or recycling). It's particularly relevant to pre-packaged fruit and vegetables; not only do these often come in shrink wrap and protective trays, and all manner of other things for my convenience, but they're also often a lot more expensive than their unpackaged cousins. I recall comparing the loose broccoli with the shrink wrapped broccoli at a major supermarket, and discovering that the shrink wrap had somehow tripled the price.

Secondary options:
If a version of a product is not available without packaging - and certain things (such as liquids) are pretty hard to sell without some form of container - I'll choose the least packaged, then the one in already-recycled packaging, then the product whose packaging I can recycle locally (preferring paper and glass before plastic, and types 1, 2, 3 plastic if there's really no other option).

Principle: Prefer reusable and repairable over disposable

For me, the grand advantage of reusable products is that they're not going into the waste stream. And I think reusable products make so much more sense considering the time and effort I might spend shopping for replacements for disposables.

Choosing products for reuse often means I can pick quality, artisan-made, heritage products that will last a lifetime; things I can form a lasting relationship with, and that will take on their own personality over time. I include clothes and shoes in this category: I have a few pairs of shoes that are good quality, repairable (and British made!), and also a bespoke suit. At the other end of the scale, I have a refillable fountain pen that I plan to use for the rest of my life. I'm also teaching myself to shave with my straight razor, rather than using disposable safety razors.

Principle: Prefer solids over liquids

I choose soaps and washing powders over shower gels, liquid soaps, and laundry liquids, because the latter products are all largely water. I'm effectively paying for water, and the packaging it requires, to come into my home; something I already pay the water company for.

I'd far rather buy a solid product, such as soap, which also requires less packaging (and certainly less plastic packaging), and which contains less of something I already have in my home.

Secondary options:
Concentrated products (that can be diluted with water from the tap).

Principle: Food - seasonal first, local second; and FairTrade where not local

Although, let's be honest; local usually means the same as seasonal, at least for fruit and vegetables. But if I can't get something locally - within a smallish number of miles, at any rate - I'm happy for it to be grown in Britain, in the current season.

Equally I prefer to buy my meat, eggs and such like from local producers; there's a great satisfaction in knowing that an animal was reared locally, and that my money is going straight back into the local economy, undiluted by big business, transport costs and so forth.

So, for instance, I buy asparagus only when I can get British asparagus - never from Peru (which happens to be tasteless).

I do buy bananas from time to time, and coffee; but I choose FairTrade products. If I can't find FairTrade, I'll do without.

Principle: Decline plastic bags

I find it profligate, wantonly wasteful, to collect something, use it once, and throw it away.  I would far rather reuse.  And if I am reusing, given that I'm going to be using the thing for a while, I want to like it.  Want to enjoy it, feel proud of it.  I'm not going to choose a plastic carrier bag for that purpose.

So I decline carrier bags when I've only got a few things to carry (after all, I have pockets).  I don't double wrap items (decent bags don't need double wrapping; everything else is well-sealed).  I've broken the habit of helping myself to a carrier bag - that short term helpfulness that has a cost in the longer term.  I've made that decision a point of principle, I've considered it; that's my Perfect Right Choice.

Secondary options:
If I'm buying more than I can carry (possibly due to bad planning), then I'll look for a cardboard box that I know I'll recycle when I'm done with it.  And only if I can't find one will I resort to buying a Bag for Life, as they're generally better quality (and inexpensive).

What about you?

I hope these principles have been an illustration of how PE thoughtfully applies to my life; I'll expand on them  (and more) in detail in a future article.

What principles are part of your PE manifesto? I'm fascinated to hear about them.

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