A consumer's guide to alternatives
‘Alternative’ consumption smacks of re-cycling paper, collecting tin foil and bicycling. That’s
only part of the picture. You can also help others in their struggles through asserting your power
as a consumer. Troth Wells gives some ideas and campaigns you might like to work with.
Don’t use aerosol cans
In the 1970s there was much publicity about the use of fluorocarbons as the propellant in aerosol spray cans. Fluorocarbons (CFCs 11 and 12) are thought to destroy the earth’s ozone layer, which protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. In the US, Canada, Norway and Sweden fluorocarbons are banned except for a few exceptional uses. In Britain fluorocarbon use has not been banned, just reduced. Aside from ozone depletion, aerosol sprays are easily inhaled and can cause allergic reactions and heart disorders. They are an expensive form of packaging, and wasteful: for instance with spray polish or paint you may be spraying as much as 50 per cent propellant. Even when empty the cans remain a hazard (‘do not puncture or expose to sunlight’) and look unsightly. Very few things, if any, need to be sprayed by aerosols. If you must spray, use a re-usable pump spray bottle from a drug store or garden centre.
Avoid garden chemicals
Total eradication of insects in the garden is not necessary or desirable: most of them are important to other animals as food. It’s also virtually impossible. The more chemicals you use, the more resistant pests and weeds become. Alter your expectations of garden perfection instead. Many chemicals are already notorious for their dangers - DOT, 2.4-D, 2.4.5-T, Dieldrin. Paraquat. BHC, Heptachlor. Lindane to name just a few. The more we know about them, the worse their effects are found to be.
Use alternative means to cope with the worst excesses: lawn sand to kill moss; ammonium sulphamate kills weeds but becomes ordinary sulphate of ammonia after a few weeks, leaving the ground safe for sowing. Tar oil can be used on paths. Mulch your flower/vegetable beds with lawn mowings or leaf mould to suppress weed growth. Use garlic extract to keep many pests down. A mild solution of washing-up liquid kills aphids.
Remember that chemicals you use will find their way into the water supply and into the food chain so ultimately they end up in us.
On your bike
Between 15 and 20 million people have died in road accidents since the birth of the car. Other social costs are well-known; clogged roads, lead pollution, financial costs of road construction and environmental costs of concreting over green fields. Cars are quickly junked. In the UC more than nine million cars go to the grave each year. For every gallon of petrol a c consumes, it pumps out three or four pounds of carbon monoxide, a deadly gas which affects our oxygen supply. Wit public transport services being cut back, a virtually non-existent as in the US. the cant obviously here to stay for the time being. But you can reduce the environmental impact of your car by using lead-free petrol: using a small car sharing it with others: keeping it well-tuned so it will emit less pollution. Think about a diesel engine which is less polluting or an electric car, or using liquid propellant gas.
For short trips you can’t do better than to use your bike - with 1.500 calories needed for a five-hour cycle ride at 12 mph you can achieve 1 .600 passenger miles for the energy equivalent of one gallon of petrol. Or walk - it’s reliable and non-polluting. There are no parking problems. Like biking, it’s invigorating, promotes health and gives you the chance to think.
Wash day or wash-out
If possible, don’t use detergents in your washing machine. They contain phosphates (between 25-50 per cent) which soften the water and break down oil and grease. Beneficial as these effects may seem, they are outweighed by the disadvantages to the water supplies: phosphates speed up the growth of algae in rivers and waterways, so that the water is clogged and fish are deprived of oxygen. Ordinary soap powders have lower impact on the environment but there’s more profit to be made on detergents. Fierce promotion of brand names works against consumer interest. The price of soap is kept high to subsidise promotional costs of synthetic detergents. Detergents are made from oil by-products and therefore are using up non-renewable resources. Soaps on the other hand use vegetable oils. Most detergents also contain bleaches, dyes, perfumes and sometimes enzymes (‘biological powders’).
First decide how clean is clean for you, and whether whiteness is really what you need. ‘Whiteness’ has nothing to do with cleanliness or sanitation - it’s just a gimmick. And it’s culturally defined: in Latin America, ‘whiteness’ has a reddish tinge - courtesy of the detergent manufacturers - while in Europe ‘whiteness’ is bluish.
Press for full ingredient labelling on detergent packets so you can see what other chemicals are involved, especially bleaches, dyes and perfumes which may aggravate skin complaints like eczema.
Soak your washing first - this is the key to cleanliness. The UK Consumers’ Association found that the difference between ‘biological’ and ordinary detergent was minimal when both were soaked first.
Use soap powder instead of detergent if possible. If you must use detergent (in a hard water area) then use less than the recommended dose. Tests by Friends of the Earth found that to achieve a satisfactory wash in normal water areas you need only a quarter of the amount of detergent recommended.
Buy ecologically safe washing up liquid, soap powder etc from health shops.
Several organisations encourage ethical savings and investing - which takes moral considerations into account when deciding where and how to deposit or lend money.
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 566. New York NY 10115 (USA).
Ethical Investment Research and lnformation Services, 9 Poland Street, London WI. Traidcraft Kingsway, Team Valley Trading Estate, Gateshead, NE11 ONE (UK).
World Council of Churches, 150 route de Fernay. 1211. Geneva 20, Switzerland.
Fund for Workers’ Enterprise. 210 Napier Street, Hamilton, Ontario L8R 1S7.
Bread and Roses Credit Union. 736 Bathurst Street, Toronto. Ontario M55 2R4. Bridgehead Trading, 190 Carlton Street, Toronto, Ontario M5A 2K8 (Canada).
Australia and New Zealand’ please contact your national consumer organization for details.
Boycott goods from South Africa and Chile
Each Chilean has at least one friend who’s been tortured or murdered by the military. And in South Africa apartheid’s repression of blacks is infamous. At the request of these oppressed people, don’t buy South African or Chilean goods. The Chilean Popular Unity government (in exile) calls for the isolation of Chile’s junta ‘militarily, politically and economically’. And South African Chief Albert Luthuli stresses that we shouldn’t shrink from boycotting for fear of making things worse for oppressed peoples: ‘We were the victims of suffering long before our boycott and sanctions call to the rest of the world,’ Exports from Chile to watch out for include apples, grapes, on ions and wine.
South African exports include fresh fruit brands OUTSPAN and CAPE. Canned fruit is sold under the JOHN WEST or S & B label; canned meat and fish under the ARMOUR and BULL BRAND label; ROOIBOS tea (sold in health food shops):
SOUTH AFRICAN SHERRY (often sold as a supermarket’s own brand): PAARL or LANZERAC wine: TEXTILES, such as TESCO women’s tights.
Watch out for labels - these may say product of Chile, or ‘Made in RSA’ which looks harmless but of course means Republis of South Africa.
Explain to the shop manager why you won’t buy South African and Chilean goods. Consider picketing the store.
Don’t bank with Barclays. Lloyds or the Midland. Barclays is a major investor in South Africa and Lloyds has given tens of millions of pounds in loans to the Chilean junta. Some banks also sell gold krugerrands as a means of speculation and investment. Avoid these banks and write to explain to their managers why you are closing your account.
For more details of these boycott campaigns write to:
Anti-Apartheid Movement, 13 Mandela Street, London NW1 00W ChiIe Solidarity Campaign, 129 Seven Sisters Road, London N7 70G (UK).
Canadians Concerned about Southern Africa ,‘Toronto). P 0 Box 9468, Postal Station A’. Toronto. Ontario M5W lAQ.
Toronto Action for Chile. P 0 Box 70, Station ‘J’, Toronto, Ontario M4J 4X8 (Canada).
Transafrica, 545 8th Street SE. Suite 200. Washington DC 20003. Casa Chile, P P 0 Box 3620. Berkeley. California (USA).
Australia and New Zealand; please contact your national consumer organization for information.