Not Evangelism

Friday, October 29, 2010

Straight razors and orange juice: some limits to my environmentalism

I wrote that one of the cornerstones of pragmatic environmentalism is knowing what your limits are; knowing why you're prepared to do some things, and why you're not prepared to do others.

Orange juice

Several years ago, I was focusing on reducing the packaging that I bought and brought home. One of the areas that I knew was ripe for improvement was orange juice; at the time I was buying cartons of orange juice, and at the end of the week I had a couple of cartons that I couldn't recycle.

At that time, I had milk delivered by the milk man, both supporting a local business (with the convenience of to-the-doorstep delivery) and also reducing packaging because of the use of reusable glass bottles. And I noticed that the milk man also delivered apple juice and orange juice, also in the glass bottles that would be collected, washed, and reused.

It seemed like a perfect solution. And it was also one less thing I had to remember to buy, one less thing to spend time, money and effort buying, carrying home, recycling. Great! I made the arrangements and the next Monday morning, along with two bottles of milk, there were two bottles of juice on the doorstep.

Except that the juice wasn't very nice. Not a patch on the fresher stuff that came in non-recyclable (at least, not locally at that time) Tetrapak containers. For a few months I continued to buy juice from the milkman, the reduced packaging principle winning out over taste and flavour (and, frankly, provenance). Until one morning I woke up and realised that I really wasn't enjoying the juice, which made it more of a waste than a benefit: I wasn't spending money, I was wasting it on something I wasn't enjoying - another one of my personal principles.

I had unexpectedly discovered one of the limits to my personal environmentalism. I cancelled the juice order and pondered my next decision.

Straight razors

Around the same sort of time I was looking at buying replacement heads for my razor, and realising how much packaging was involved in them; the cardboard box with all the marketing material on it, the plastic caddy within, and then finally the razor heads themselves, which lasted only a few shaves before they were blunt and needed to be disposed of.

After looking into my options for some time, I took the plunge and bought a straight razor. It's made of metal, so is durable and can be recycled at the end of its life. But that should be many years in the future; because the straight razor can be sharpened over and over again, it will have a long lifetime; it is a thing to last.

On the face of it, this again seemed like an ideal choice; a product with a long lifetime, made from recoverable materials, that would last for years.

The problem was with how hard it was to shave properly with it.

If you've ever seen a film where a character is shaving with a straight razor (and Sweeney Todd springs to mind), the insouciance with which they use those (supposedly) razor-sharp blades is laughable, dragging them across the tender and vulnerable parts of their neck without fear.

My own experiences have always been much more cautious, timid, and far less a close shave than I had got used to with my disposable safety razors. Sometimes I ended up cutting myself into the bargain.

Although I persevered with my razor for some months, I could never get as clean a shave as I could with the disposables. And although I got quite competent - nonchalant even - with the razor sharp blade next to my throat, I never quite got rid of the fear. I love the idea of the straight razor, but I can't handle the practicality of it.

Every now and again I do get out the straight razor and see if I can shave with it, but I've found another of my boundaries, another one of my limits. And that's fine too.

Nowadays, happily, juice is available in Tetrapak-type containers that contain far fewer composite ingredients, and (even better!) the facilities for recycling them locally exist. And I enjoy the juice I buy.

What are the boundaries and limits of your environmentalism? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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