New Internationalist

Simply… Nine Ways To Help Save The Planet

Issue 203

new internationalist
issue 203 - January 1990

[image, unknown] NINE WAYS TO HELP SAVE THE PLANET

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1. DISCOURAGE PACKAGING

Illustrations: Clive Offley Next time you are out shopping try this test; the less essential a product is, the more packaging it will have. Compare, for example, a box of chocolates with eight layers of wrapping, to a bag of rice with only one. Over-packaging adds about ten per cent to our weekly shopping bill. It serves no real purpose and eventually we have to pay for it to be taken away. It also uses up scarce resources; most plastic is made from oil and does not biodegrade. As a first step you might refuse the plastic bags that are thrust upon you at the supermarket check-out and use boxes to carry home the food.

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2. AVOID POISONS

Illustrations: Clive Offley Every day there is another scare about some product damaging our health. The easiest poisons to avoid are those designated as such. Weedkillers and pesticides work their way up the food chain from plants, through insects and birds, into your family - which is a good reason to keep your garden organic. Bleaches are among the most polluting of household cleaners. As well as being a health risk, they carry on killing organisms in rivers long after they leave your home, so it is best to minimize the quantities used. The environment-friendly bleaches now on sale are better than ordinary bleaches since they contain no chlorine - but the substitute, hydrogen peroxide, may still be harmful.

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3. SET STANDARDS

Illustrations: Clive Offley Don't be satisfied with buying something because it is described as 'green'. You need to know exactly what you are getting. How will it affect the environment and you? What is it made from? You have the right to accurate, informative labeling of products so that you can make your own decisions about what to buy. That means lobbying governments, supermarkets and manufacturers. In West Germany shoppers look for a Blue Angel on the label before they purchase. Then they know that the item conforms to a given set of environmental standards. The scheme has recently been improved to include criteria for judging a product at all stages in its life, from how it was made, to its impact on the environment after it has been sold.

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4. EAT LOCAL

Illustrations: Clive Offley Take one of your favourite cereals and count how many ingredients are listed on the packet. The more there are, the more wasteful its production process has been. The stabilizers, additives, colourings and flavourings in processed food are chemicals produced in factories. Most have no nutritional value and many are harmful to our health; they are included to increase the shelf-life and 'attractiveness' of the product. Likewise the pesticides and weedkillers used in large-scale crop-farming kill plants and wildlife and pollute the atmosphere. The residues accumulate in our bodies and can cause cancer and birth defects. Fresh food grown organically without using chemicals is better for your health. It also tends to be grown locally so that less fuel is wasted on transporting it. Organic food is still expensive - but the more we buy it, the cheaper and more widespread it will become.

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5. PENALIZE POLLUTION

Illustrations: Clive Offley The deadly pollution potential of many manufactured goods is now being recognized. But we can all do our bit to eliminate polluting products from the market. In a society dominated by consumerism, every buying choice we make is a political act - by choosing to buy environmentally friendly cleaning fluids and powders, avoiding aerosols and using unleaded fuel, we are not only minimizing our own impact on the environment but also registering a protest. This forces companies to see that there is a growing demand for genuinely 'green' goods. But we should also try to find out what kinds of pollution a product causes during its manufacturing process. Some items are harmless in themselves, but cause enormous environmental damage to make.

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6. SAVE ENERGY

Illustrations: Clive Offley There is no hazard-free way of producing large quantities of energy, so we have to conserve it. Insulating your loft, fitting double-glazing, making your doors draughtproof and switching off lights and fires when you don't need them save energy - and money too. You can save up to 30 per cent of your heating costs by fitting a time-clock and a thermostat to your boiler. Low-energy-using fridges and washing machines have recently appeared on the market and are cheaper to run than ordinary ones. Heat recycling pumps use little power themselves and improve heat distribution, reducing the amount of energy needed to heat the house. Best of all, you can fit your home with solar panels (see Action) that will supply at least some of your heating needs.

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7. RECYCLE WASTE

Illustrations: Clive Offley We produce more garbage today than ever before. Recycling is better than disposal so before you throw anything away think how you could give it a second life. Many supermarkets now have bottle-banks, but returnable bottles are better still because they save natural resources and energy - manufacturers need to be pressured into recognizing this. Old fridges and cookers should be taken to second-hand shops or civic-amenity sites to be refurbished instead of dumped. Organic household waste can be composted to make garden fertilizer. And many motorists are still unaware that used sump oil from do-it-yourself oil changes can be recycled if returned to garages.

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8. RESEARCH RAW MATERIALS

Illustrations: Clive Offley It is important to find out what raw materials a product uses. How were they mined and where did they come from? Did the table and chair in your home involve rainforest destruction? If they are made of mahogany, the answer is 'yes'. We should only buy woods that have sustainable sources, look first for furniture in second-hand shops, and give away old household items to be sold by charities. Aluminium cans are made from bauxite which is often dug up in tropical forests. They use the equivalent of half the can full of oil in their production. The recycling of these is well established in Australia, Canada and the US, all of which re-use more than 50 per cent. But in the UK more than 90 per cent of all aluminium cans are still thrown away - collect yours together and take them to a scrap-metal dealer.

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9. PLANT TREES

Illustrations: Clive Offley Each of us consumes the equivalent of between one and two trees each year in paper-use alone. The least we can do is plant a few trees in return. Stick to native species to ensure the tree is suitable for the soil in your area. As well as being aesthetically pleasing, trees absorb carbon dioxide which is thought to be making holes in the ozone layer. They also harbour wildlife and help prevent soil erosion. They will be in place long after you have gone, like guardians of the future.

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