Tag Archives: cutting waste

Slow fashion

My work colleague is off to buy a prom dress with her daughter. If you know anything about my colleague and proms (I don’t mean the musicfest at the Albert Hall each year) you’ll know the dress is for her daughter.

I don’t know the history of the school prom in this country (it probably originates from the USA) but it’s a semi-formal post-exam celebration for secondary school students. Wikipedia says it’s a shortened version of Promenade Dance. For the girls or, more likely their parents, it can cost £££ for the prom dress and, as my colleague pointed out the other day,       ‘all the other stuff’.

I suspect most prom dresses are only worn once; an extreme example of the worst waste of the ‘fast fashion’ industry. (Incidentally, did you know the average DIY power drill is used for only 13 minutes of its life?) Given that the younger generation seem to be more in tune with the climate emergency than their parents, it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any downturn in the (new) prom dress market in the coming years. I’d like to think that campaigns are slowing fashion, alongside the emerging range of alternatives to excessive spending on clothes – renting, sharing, upcycling, donating – making secondhand, pre-loved, vintage (chose your own adjective) clothes not only acceptable, but desirable.

At the high-end of the re-worn clothing market is Wardrobe HQ – a luxury fashion rental and resale website. I say ‘high-end’ and your rented designer coat could still set you back £295 for a week, and a sequinned bodycon (whatever that means!) mini could cost you a maxi £215.

Interviewed in the Guardian newspaper, Wardrobe HQ Chair Jane Shepherdson is quoted as saying the idea of clothing rental is particularly appropriate for luxury womenswear, with ski-wear, occasion wear, maternity wear and kids-wear other areas ripe for rental. Personally, I think she’s got that the wrong way around; maternity wear and kids-wear should come first as it affects so many more people. But then maybe I’m looking at this through an environmental/community lens rather than a commercial one.

A similar but much more affordable clothing option that’s geographically and conceptually much closer to my heart is Nuw. Based in Cambridge, Nuw describes itself as a clothes-sharing app and community; they’re all about sharing, not renting. I met the people behind Nuw at a Swish (clothing exchange event) in Cambridge and they seemed to have their hearts and heads in the right place.

In the west country, the fine folk of Frome in Somerset have taken the community clothes exchange concept a step further. The Frome Wardrobe Collective organise swapping events, but also have a small ‘community wardrobe’ in a converted public toilet (a case of deja loo?) alongside their community fridge and larder – the first such fridge in the UK when it was set up more than two years ago. From 8am to 8pm people can leave their ‘occasion clothes’ for others to borrow.

Closer to home, Circular Cambridge are promoting slow fashion through discussions and events, including a festival and Swishes. Swishes are volunteer-run and usually free and tend to feature women’s and children’s wear (the only man I know who’s into secondhand clothing does his shopping for designer items in charity shops in posh places). Circular Cambridge also organise Repair Cafes and more often than not these include sewing and mending facilities as part of their free offer – anyone for a bit of upcycling?

Not forgetting community exchange platforms such as Freegle (many localities also have Facebook groups for local exchange or sale of pre-loved items) and charity shops are another great source of affordable clothes.

I’m sure I won’t have to persuade my colleague about considering these alternatives to prom-dress-buying – a way to save money and the planet. I suspect that convincing her daughter might be somewhat harder…

https://www.mywardrobehq.com

https://www.thenuwardrobe.com

https://edventurefrome.org/enterprises-initiatives/frome-wardrobe-collective

http://circularcambridge.org/category/blog/fashion

http://www.getswishing.com

https://www.ilovefreegle.org

Now you have no excuse

I’ve followed Jen Gale’s wise words on being green since, what I’ve recently learnt, was her first public-speaking engagement – a TEDx talk in Bedford in July 2013 which she describes as ‘terrifying’. I was part of the group organising the TEDx event and as well as introducing me to Jen, it also sparked an ongoing interest in TEDx events around the East of England (including speaking at one of them which, I can confirm, is terrifying!)

As well as an interest in TEDx Talks and sustainable living, I also have a passion for real books (for details check out a blog post in the ‘My love affair with…’ series). This interest includes 15 years in book marketing and sales and explains my addiction to buying printed books, some of which end up in the Little Library outside our house. So, when I saw that Jen Gale had written The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide I couldn’t resist being consumer(ish) and I bought a copy.

Being a grumpy old pedant, I notice it’s not printed on recycled paper, but it’s ‘responsibly sourced’ and, since I refuse to read e-books, that has to be good enough. If you don’t know already, you’ll soon learn that trying to ‘do the right thing’ when it comes to behaving sustainably it’s often not straight forward. Try looking at the relevant carbon footprints of plastic, paper and cotton bags.

What I like about the Sustainable(ish) Living Guide is that it doesn’t pretend there are easy answers, but it does address the common concerns that I suspect many of us share. To quote from the book’s introduction… ‘This is for you if you’re worried about the state of the planet, but you’re just not sure where to start or what to do… It’s for you if you feel a kind of low-level guilt about the things you do every day, knowing that there is a better way, but you’re up to your eyes in work and family and life stuff, and it doesn’t feel like there’s the time or energy to make big changes.’

But here’s the good news – all effort, however small, is worthwhile and Jen Gale’s guide provides an abundance of (jargon alert) quick-wins that won’t involve a radical change to the way you live nor having to find more hours in the day to make an impact.

And she doesn’t just cover day-to-day living. My love of books attracted me to one idea for an alternative advent calendar – involving books – and, similarly, Jen’s ideas for more ethical Valentine’s Day presents reminded me about the idea of giving family and friends ‘a blind date with a book’, bought from a charity shop and wrapped (in newspaper of course).

Charity shops cropped up again in a section about how many donations, however well-intentioned, end up in landfill because clothes are unwearable or toys and equipment are broken. This got me thinking… could volunteer repairers in Repair Cafes (also commended in the book) team up with local charity shops to fix donated items – increasing income to those charities and, of course, saving stuff from landfill. So, the book has already helped me make connections!

If this book does nothing else, I think it gives the reader hope, and ideas, and some answers. What is comes down to is that each one of us is personally more powerful than we might imagine. And it’s not all about costing more; many of the actions to save the planet can actually save us money. When we do have to spend, we have choices about where and how we do this. We have no local bookshop where I live, but by buying The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide online from Hive Books, I support a company that pays it’s taxes and gives a share of the purchase price to my nominated independent bookshop.

My make do and mend year – Jen Gale TEDx Talk  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCm7aBM7EeY

Buy the book https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jen-Gale/The-Sustainableish-Living-Guide–Everything-You-Need-to-K/23879824

Visit the website https://www.asustainablelife.co.uk

RIP – Re-use In Practice

On 14 December 2019, almost 15 years to the day since  starting it, we closed Royston Recycle – our local freecycling group*. The reason for this was quite simple – hosts Yahoo reduced their functionality, so our online group couldn’t, er…function. GDPR considerations notwithstanding, it was not feasible to ‘migrate’ (to coin a dreaded Universal Credit phrase) our members to a new site and, anyway, there are now alternative local free-exchange platforms to join.

The aim of freecycle/freegle** is simple – the free exchange of unwanted items to keep them out of landfill and in use for longer. That core objective directed our moderation of the site for the 15 years – set up with techy support from Dermot for many years; a role continued by Andy until this month’s close-down. But it did so much more than just reducing waste; locally it spawned a new initiative – Royston Repair Café – and it inspired personal friendships between people with a common cause.

Ultimately, the success of the site in meeting its aim has been down to the active and responsible  participation of its members. Co-founder Dermot was keen that the site should, as far as possible, be self-moderating, with few rules beyond ensuring items on offer and requests were ‘legal decent and honest’. We had to intervene once or twice over live animals (discouraged but not actually banned, and I learnt that re-homing frog spawn is discouraged by wildlife groups). The lack of rules was a problem for some. We knew that some members would get stuff free online and then sell it on via boot sales or selling sites. While people would complain about this apparent abuse of people’s goodwill, it wasn’t, in fact, against the rules. The big thing was that giving and taking had to be free of any exchange of money (‘the clue’s in the name’ we’d say ‘free-cycle’) but sometimes people would try to make a charge for delivery or ask for a donation to charity – both, however reasonable, against the rules.

Trust and mutual respect were an important part of the relationship between members of the group – we only rarely ‘advised’ particular people about the rules (this usually amounted to a verbal warning or putting them on moderation) when evidence had built up. More often than not the problem resolved itself; friendly reminders to the whole group were usually enough to get things back on track.

I always describe Royston Recycle as the most sustainable community initiative I’ve ever been part of. We spent no money on it, we never had a planning meeting, we attracted 7500 members through word-of-mouth. Since 2004 those members have posted 97,000 ‘offers’ and ‘wants’ keeping an estimated 45,000 items out of landfill.

In our increasingly materialistic and seemingly divided world, it’s been heartening to see people willing to give without expecting anything in return. I’ll never forget when, following a post from someone who’d been thrown out of their house, members piled in with offers of bedding, small pieces of furniture, and even a tabletop cooker.  I was always delighted when items, particularly for children – toys, clothes, pushchairs – circulated many times around the group, multiplying value for so many and saving the planet for the benefit of all.

I often quote a memorable experience from my own use of the Royston Recycle group. One Sunday morning my daughter asked if I’d buy her a clarinet on e-Bay. ‘No’ I said, ‘but I’ll post a request on freecycle’. The post went up at midday and by 6pm that same Sunday, my daughter had gratefully collected a clarinet from a local member and had an offer of a free lesson!

Although my other half always reminds me we need to get rid of stuff not acquire it, I have rarely been disappointed when posting requests for ‘odd items’ to do with my re-purposing/ upcycling projects – mirrors, brush heads, and clock mechanisms being just three examples.

Talking of odd requests’, one stands out above all others. The woman posting the ‘want’ later reflected that she might have asked the moderation team before she posted the request. And we agreed – it did generate a lot of complaints. Whether she fancied herself as a second Damian Hirst, I don’t know, but her request for a dead horse didn’t go down well. I think it was for an art project, and we never found out whether she got one!

So farewell Royston Recycle – you have served us and the planet well. Long live re-use!

*Royston Recycle would have been called Royston Freecycle but for an error at the registration stage. This mistake proved to be fortuitous when, some years later, the founder of Freecycle in the USA tried to ‘stake a claim’ in each local group. We refused his demands and simply had to remove any freecycle branding without needing to change our name.

**Freegle is the UK version of freecycle – started in response to the attempted north American takeover.

Also reducing waste in Royston area…

Royston Repair Cafe http://www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

Royston Free and For Sale Facebook Group  – https://www.facebook.com/groups/roystonfreeorforsale  [The local moderators of this group points out they allows things to be both given away for free and sold. Items given away may be later resold]

Royston Freegle group – https://www.ilovefreegle.org/explore/Royston-Freegle [The moderation team for this group are based in Stevenage. This group is only for rehoming items without any money changing hands]

Trash Nothing – Not so much a group but an easy way of interacting with a number of different freecycling/recycling groups https://trashnothing.com

Wine by weight

I don’t want to give the impression that my holidays revolve around alcohol, but this June I was looking forward to a special service provided by a small Greek supermarket that I’d visited two years previously.

At that time the enterprising owner offered to fill your own container (usually a bottle, but it could be a basin – only joking) with pleasant and affordable local red or white wine and would then charge the customer according to the weight of wine (having weighed the container before and after). This meant you could buy as little or as much as you wanted and, importantly, it cut down on single-use bottles – never a bad thing in a world of increasing consumption and waste of non-renewable resources and in a country which is still , I think, in a financial crisis.

Sad to report then that this June the wine was no longer available on tap and the woman behind the counter – not the owner – had never heard of the idea and had been working there for nearly two years. So, the practice had ceased around June 2017 and, at that stage, I could only speculate why the service had been stopped.

Maybe, I thought, it was about demand – that not enough people could be bothered to bring their own bottles when out shopping (I hoped it wasn’t the case, even if we’re talking about people on holiday). I speculated that it could be the Greek weights and measures police (or the EU maybe!) closing a loophole that no one knew existed in the world of wine-retailing. Or possibly it was pure economics – that the supermarket made more money from selling bottled wine.

I was wrong in all my speculation! When I finally met the owner, she told me they’d stopped the service for a far more pragmatic (literally down to earth!) reason. Rather than wait to be served, the customers were carelessly filling their own containers and shop staff were constantly having to clear up a wine lake (took me back to the good old days of the EEC – remember the wine lakes and butter mountain?) on the floor; their liquid assets were literally flowing out of the business.

I live in hope that the supermarket owner will see the environmental sense in providing wine by weight and find a way to make it business sense as well – like not letting customers anywhere near the wine taps. We should encourage and support changing attitudes to unnecessary and wasteful food (and drink) packaging. I see that this June Waitrose launched a ‘package free’ trial in one of its stores in Oxford (with prices typically 15% lower than their wrapped cousins) – and this includes four beers and four wines available on tap!

I hope Waitrose can make it work financially, but it certainly makes sense in environmental/ethical terms; they are following a growing trend among small independent retailers. My daughter introduced me to one – Unwrapped in Sheffield – and I left the shop amazed by the ‘magic machine’ that turns whole peanuts into peanut butter with no additives or processing needed. Closer to home, I was pleased to be part of a successful crowdfunding campaign that will see Full Circle Shop in Cambridge expanding their product range and going mobile. Then, only last week, in my home town (Royston) I discovered a friend of many years has just launched Anahata – selling plastic-free, planet-kind products online and through market stalls.  If a former work colleague’s support efforts bear fruit, a new outlet for ‘naked food’ and other household items may soon be opening in Bedford.

Exciting times indeed, so let’s raise a glass to all retailers offering plastic and packaging free products the world over.  The wine-by-weight experience of that Greek supermarket might be a lesson for all bring-your-own container outlets – make sure your customers know how to fill their containers properly. Or maybe it’s only Brits abroad who need to be shown?

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jun/04/waitrose-launches-packaging-free-trial

https://www.unwrappedshop.co.uk

https://fullcircleshop.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/anahata.planet

 

The story of a broken piano stool

Last Saturday I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours at New Broadcasting House contributing to a BBC World Service radio programme* about Repair Cafes.   These community repair events have gone global since being founded nine years ago by the brilliant Martine Postma in the Netherlands. There are now nearly 1600 Repairs Cafes in 33 countries.

On Saturday morning I had lots of examples of successful fixes ready to share with radio listeners but, as often happens, I only had time to recall a couple. One unshared repair job stands out in my memory; I think it sums up perfectly what the Repair Café concept is all about. In fact, it was my first introduction to a ‘live’ Repair Café, it fired my interest and I’m re-telling it here in the hope it will spark interest in others in the run-up to International Repair Café Week 2018 in mid-October.

Before setting up the Royston Repair Café five years ago, I arranged a visit to one in London at the wonderful Goodlife Centre. Alison Winfield-Chislett, the genius behind the Centre, offered me a cup of tea as I walked through the door and suggested I just ‘get stuck in’, buddying me up with the owner (we’ll call her Sue) of a broken piano stool. This was lucky because, if I have a repair specialism, it’s furniture. I soon learnt that the stool had been broken by Sue’s 16 year old son. She didn’t say he’d ‘lost it’ in the middle of a particularly demanding piano lesson but that was the image in my mind’s eye.

The big thing about the best Repair Cafes is that, where possible, the owners learn how to mend their broken items themselves. After a bit of instruction for Sue, I watched while she dismantled the broken part of the stool – unscrewing the wooden leg from the metal bracket that had held it in place. Sue glued and clamped the leg and, while the glue dried, we drank tea and had a chat with others at the Repair Café – a lot of that goes on at these events.

Back on the job, Sue bent the bracket back into shape and reconnected the broken leg to the main body of the stool, while I had another cup of tea and offered the odd bit of advice. Within about an hour and a half the stool was fixed. The proud smile on Sue’s face made it all worthwhile.

As she left Sue said, almost as an afterthought, “What I didn’t tell you is that my son’s now 21. This piano stool has been broken for five years! I can’t wait to see his face when he sees it in one piece again, he feels very guilty whenever he looks at it. And when he finds out that his mum fixed it…!”

*Programme to be broadcast in October 2018 in the World Hacks series  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04d42vf

Find out more…

Visit your nearest Repair Cafe https://repaircafe.org/en/visit                                                              International Repair Cafe Week 2018 is 13-21st October https://repaircafe.org/en/international-repair-cafe-week-2018/

Royston Repair Café www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

 The Goodlife Centre https://www.thegoodlifecentre.co.uk

More blog posts in this Repairing the World series https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/repairing-the-world