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Life Chez Dee Episode #90: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Recycling; being eco-friendly; everyone is so conscious of doing their bit for the environment. We use these words so frequently now, we hear them so often, that they are in our psyche, at the forefront of our minds, on the tip of our tongue … so familiar, they’ve become part of our everyday lives. Today, we shout about saving the planet, reducing emissions, global warming, carbon footprint, being green, saving energy … but this isn’t a new thing. Let’s go back say 40 or so years, I’m thinking now of my childhood (some of you young whipper snappers may not be able to do this, but I certainly can) and our grandparents were living this way pretty much all the time.

For a start, walking was more common than it is now. Walking for a purpose, rather than just for recreation, which is more like it is today (I know I’m generalising, and there are exceptions, but go with it). Walking to shops, schools, parks, or work; most families didn’t own a car, and certainly a family with two, or even three cars would be almost unheard of; and so therefore everything had to be within walking distance, or if not then public transport would be used, and they’d walk to the bus stop or train station. This generation didn’t jet off at the drop of a hat … indeed, my grandparents never experienced flying on an aeroplane.

They planned meals, they bought what they needed, locally, from markets, seasonal food. Food wasn’t wasted, rations saw to that, but with that wartime mentality enough was cooked, portion sizes controlled, fruit and veg were seasonally sought and bought. Bottles and jars saved and reused … jams, chutneys and pickles made to preserve the produce home-grown and harvested.

Milk bottles were returned to the milkman, and glass bottles returned to the local shop, to reclaim the deposit … unless of course your bottles had been pinched by the local kids, returning them for you so they could get a bit of extra pocket money. I’m a hoarder of nice jars I do confess … ones which have a nice shape, or nice lid, I save and use for pickles and chutneys … I’ve never made jam, but only this week have decided that I’m going to get together with a neighbour and do a jam making session.

And then there are tins … oh how I do love a nicely decorated tin. I just can’t resist buying one as a souvenir of a holiday, limited editions, or those commemorating a historical event, royal wedding, sporting event. I’ve got loads of tins … they’re all put to good use, for crafty bits and bobs, gift tags, ribbons and string, airfix paints and bits we’ve got in one, and there are numerous “special” tins which I can’t bear to get rid of which are put to use in the garage to hold various bits and bobs. Spare ones sitting on the shelf next to Justin’s collection of old ice cream tubs, and glass jars which he uses for various DIY jobs, Polyfilla mixing, or paint brush cleaning; and more old tubs are saved by me to empty grease and oil into, so this can be thrown away in the bin, and not put down the drain.

We’d walk to the shops, where we’d buy loose goods, scooping them out, weighing them into paper packets. Other goods would be popped into paper bags, only if necessary, and then carried home in a large sturdy brown holdall, the original reusable shopping bag. Shopping at the butcher, fishmonger, baker, grocer, greengrocer, ironmonger or haberdashers. How I loved to go on these trips with my Grandma, looking around at the shelves and all the goods stacked so neatly with care and pride. The wonder at popping to the baker and being treated to a miniature Hovis Loaf which we’d take back and I’d have for lunch with lashings of butter. Every kind of shop you could think of making up the high street, back street and corner shop, everyone making time to chat, knowing and caring about the customer.

Clothes are so easy to get hold of these days, and much cheaper than they ever were. We live today in a throwaway society, whereas years ago clothes needed to last. They were made, mended and altered, to extend their life by either repair, or being passed on to others … and they were protected, my Grandma always wore an “overall” over her clothes whilst she went about her household chores, cooking, cleaning, washing, gardening, or anything else. Clothes which couldn’t be salvaged were given to the rag and bone man who did his regular rounds of the neighbourhood.

Clothes were handed down and was a far more commonplace practice than it is today. I remember clearly getting the bag of hand me down clothes brought over the road from our neighbour. The bag, full of dresses, which came to me fourth hand. They’d start off with Susan, were let out for Joanne, taken in again for Jane, and let out again for me, in again for my sister, then my mum passed them on to a friend; I’ve no idea what alterations took place, but I do know that they were passed on yet again to others; reducing, reusing, recycling at its best. Clothes weren’t as easy to come by, or afford, my mum didn’t sew, and so this bag of clothes when it arrived was an occasion; it was really exciting, and I couldn’t wait to try everything on.

Garden tools were sharpened; appliances were fixed. Dad was always fixing something … from cars to washing machines, and to be honest he’s still my go to person if things go wrong. Justin is pretty “handy” when it comes to fixing stuff or DIY, but my Dad is the font of all knowledge, and there’s usually a story to be told which accompanies his advice of when he too was told this information, or a story of how he’d learned the hard way.

So many things we’ve repaired and salvaged, saving a fortune, over the years. Even now, when jobs need doing, I rarely turn to getting this done by professionals, always relying on Justin or my Dad to do the job for me, to an exceptionally high standard I might add; they have to, they’re under the watchful eye of myself, and I’m eagle eyed, and extremely picky, and there’s not a lot gets by me without me noticing ... ask my dad!!

My Dad has always saved stuff which might come in handy for any number of home disasters or DIY projects. It’s all there in the garage … nails, screws, washers, wood of all sizes, plumbing and electrical bits, door locks and sink plugs. Anything I could ever need; years’ worth of stuff accumulated and saved just in case, left over from jobs done over the years for family, friends, neighbours, even stuff which we knew for a fact he’d salvaged from skips on neighbours driveways. A standing joke in our house of the bookshelves he’d made out of Wendy’s doors. We’d also tease him that the best Christmas present we could ever buy him would be a set of broken Christmas tree lights which he could spend the day fixing, or a bag of assorted nails which he could spend hours sorting.

Justin’s the same … whatever we might need making, we probably have stuff in the garage or shed, which can be recycled and repurposed into something useful and new. He’s spent this weekend for example making us a new compost bin out of all the bits of wood we had in our shed. Bits of left over shiplap, tongue and groove boards, and a couple of old pallets which I’ve had deliveries on. I’d wanted a new compost bin; the black plastic one we have in the garden was going brittle and had broken in several places. The small hatch at the bottom wasn’t the easiest to get to the compost anyway, so I wanted something far bigger, more robust, and with easy access. Oliver has helped make this, so has had some great practical education in woodworking and painting skills. Most of the wood used to build it was pressure treated, and so will last for ages, but those bits of softwood, he’s painted with some Sadolin and so it should last us a long, long time.

We’ve run out of this now, and so the lid of the bin has been painted a lovely claret colour … with the same paint in fact as was on our front door when we lived in Bristol more than 10 years ago!! The tin of paint kept in our garage all these years, as it would one day come in handy. It was a job and a half getting rid of the old bin, but goodness we managed to get about five buckets of the most wonderful compost in the transfer operation. I can’t quite believe how many eggs we eat; the compost seemed to be made up of so many … hundreds and hundreds of them.

It’s funny how my mind works; how I latch on to something, and there it goes whizzing off at a tangent. I was prompted into thinking about all this after chatting to my friend Jen. We’d met for coffee a while back, and she’d mentioned to me that she saved bread packets to give to her neighbour, who’d requested that she save them for her, as she used them to pick up dog poo. She laughed, as did I, but not for the same reason. I too did that, I confessed to her, not for dog poo of course, as I haven’t got a dog … but for cat litter. Why not? It’s a plastic bag going into landfill, why not use it to put the litter in, and then throw it away. It’s going in landfill anyway, but at least we’ve put it to use; we’d have only had to use a different plastic bag, one which we’d purchased specifically for that; much better to use up plastic, than buy more! Anyway, I told Jen that she can keep on saving her bread packets and I’ll repurpose them for her, and she can be smug about having less plastic in her black bin going to landfill.

My Grandma had a paper bag stash, which she kept hooked on her back door. The hundreds of paper bags, neatly folded and saved, ready to be reused. Today I do the same; I keep bags, neatly folded in a stash, ready to be reused, either to pass things on to others, or to use as liners for my bin.

Before the bag tax, I would use the supermarket carrier bags as my bin bags. Stopping the bags in shops hasn’t stopped me from needing bin bags, all that has changed is that I can no longer repurpose the plastic bags given to me from the shops.

Christmas cards, birthday cards and all other occasion cards are reused by me. I see so many posts about where can I recycle Christmas Cards. I’m at a loss if I’m honest at why this question is being asked by so many. For a start, you could fill your brown bin with them and send them for recycling, or you could reuse them, as I do. I rip off the backs and put them in the brown bin, but I save the picture side and keep for scrap paper, shopping lists etc. This saves me buying paper for a start, but I actually think it’s rather nice to go out with my shopping list written on a pretty card. I can quite often remember who sent me that card, and so I have a moment where those memories come back to me too which is rather nice.

I didn’t grow up here; I moved into this area over 10 years ago, and suppose, compared to many who live here I’m a relative newcomer, but I love living here, and consider myself very lucky. The number and variety of local shops in Lytham, St Anne’s and Ansdell is a joy to behold; it is a privilege to have them on our doorstep, and an integral part of our wonderful community. We need to use and support these businesses so that we don’t lose them, which could so easily happen. Local shops were a far more regular sight for my Grandma, than they are for us today, and we’ve to thank supermarkets, and the public’s support of them for that.

It’s so much better now that we are able to recycle in our household bins much more than we ever were able to, but anything which can be repurposed and recycled that way has to be better for our environment, and indeed our pockets. I compost my food scraps; old newspapers line the caddy, and are in turn added to my compost bin; I send my clothes to charity shops; even the ones which aren’t fit for resale, I still give them to charity shops to weigh in for rag. I give old spectacles to Wendy @ the school nursery who manages to get them to Africa, and so they’re helping give the gift of sight to someone in need. I save stamps and give them to charity … and of course it’s even better if you find a stamp which hasn’t been marked by the Post Office, and you can steam it off and reuse, making the postage a lot cheaper.

Homemade packed lunches are taken to work, college or school in reuseable sandwich boxes or wraps, rather than buying lunches out each day; I save leftovers in reuseable containers, or wrapped in beeswax wraps; refreshing summer treats come in the form of homemade Vimto lollies (a blast from my past), and I save wooden lolly sticks so we have a supply of plant markers. Herbs are grown in the garden and used in cooking and, cuttings taken from them to root and hopefully get another crop.

I used to laugh at my Great Uncle Fred, who would reuse wrapping paper. He’d remark when you gave him a beautifully wrapped present, saying “That’s nice paper, I can use that again”. But why not? Why not use it again if it’s so lovely, much better than sending for recycling and having to buy more.

So there you are, I’m not the best with a needle and thread, and so I’m not able to make, or mend clothes … but I do my best to make do and mend, recycle, reuse and repurpose as much as I can. So if you don’t want your old birthday cards, Christmas cards, or bread packets …send them my way; I’ll make use of them.

by Elizabeth Dee

[This piece was originally written for and published by Lytham St Annes News; republished by Elizabeth Dee on Life Chez Dee on 20th January 2021]

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