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Staying green from the cradle to the grave
This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published in The Observer, 2000
Disposable nappies have changed the mucky job of wrestling with nappy pins, terry nappies (and unhappy babies) into something half-way acceptable. But unfortunately, disposables have an after-life.
According to the Real Nappy Association, disposables now make up 4% of household waste, with the vast majority festering for decades in landfill tips. For parents in need of serious guilt-tripping, the RNA has plenty of other statistics on offer: disposables use up more than three times the energy used to produce and clean modern cloth nappies, and account for eight times more non-renewable resources.
The RNA, linked to the Womens Environmental Network, argues that cloth nappies are not only greener but also cheaper. Sensing a high profile PR opportunity, the Association recently delivered a selection of nappies to 10 Downing Street and has called on Tony and Cherie Blair to ensure that their new baby only has environmentally friendly nappies on its bottom.
Theres a wide range of washable nappies now available, ranging from shaped terries held in place with Velcro fastenings to all-in-ones. Companies offering mail order include Green Baby (www.greenbabyco.com) and Little Green Earthlets (www.earthlets.co.uk), whilst the RNA itself can provide a comprehensive list of stockists.
A network of professional nappy cleaning services has also developed in recent years, delivering clean and removing dirty nappies. Information is available from the National Association of Nappy Services (NANS) on 0121-693-4949.
The RNAs factpack (large envelope + 2 stamps) is available from PO Box 3704, London SE26 4RX). The RNA also has a useful web site at www.realnappy.com
There are twenty-four million cars in Britain (though reportedly only twenty-three million of these are on the M25 at any one time).
Traffic congestion means frustration, time wasted and a greater risk of road rage. But car use also has major environmental implications: as Friends of the Earth point out, cars take energy and materials to produce, consume energy and emit pollutants when they are driven, and pose a tricky problem of disposal at the end of their lives when they are scrapped.
Nevertheless even the most enthusiastic campaigners for traffic reduction accept that vehicle numbers are unlikely to fall very much. Its a problem: we simply like our cars too much.
The green-minded motorist will want to opt for a less high performance car which guzzles less petrol. There are now tax advantages to this: owners with cars up to 1100cc (1200cc next year) pay £55 a year less in road tax. From next April the road tax arrangements for brand new cars will be based on four tax bands, so that vehicles with the lowest rates of carbon dioxide emissions are taxed the least. There will also be a £10 discount for cars using cleaner fuels (such as dual fuels) and a surcharge for cars running on diesel.
But is this enough? One possibility, which has become very popular in Germany and north America, is to develop the idea of car-sharing and car pools. Currently a number of pilot car sharing schemes are running, including the CampusCar scheme at Cranfield University, where staff and students can book cars over the university web site, and Smart Moves in the Earlsdon area of Coventry, which is intended as a community-based car sharing club.
A somewhat different idea is that of lift-sharing. National CarShare (www.nationalcarshare.co.uk) is an organisation which attempts to operate a life matching service.
The food we eat
Organically produced food, once typified by a battered box of curiously shaped carrots in the local wholefood shop, is now widely available in supermarkets, though the price premium means that it remains a luxury purchase for those with higher incomes.
Friends of the Earth have suggestions for ways to avoid the weekly trip to the supermarket by car. They urge consumers to shop locally instead, looking for locally grown seasonal fruit, vegetables and products, especially those from organic farms.
This sounds like a tall order, though the growing number of farmers markets makes the idea slightly more feasible than in the past. Farmers markets (street markets where growers sell direct) may be a central feature of life elsewhere in Europe but in Britain it has taken strong encouragement from the Soil Association to develop the idea. The latest list from the Soil Association gives details of about 150 farmers markets, ranging from high profile venues such as Victoria Square, Birmingham, to small towns such as Chard and Epworth.
Another possibility is to sign up for an organic food box scheme, an idea which has also been strongly supported by the Soil Association. The principle here is that a farmer or wholesaler delivers a box of organic produce to each subscribing household, typically every week. Some box schemes go further and effectively turn organic farms into community-supported co-operatives, where subscribers are also involved in the financing and management of the farming ventures.
The Soil Association produces a Directory of Where to Buy Organic Food (£3 including p&p) and can also supply the newly published Organic Directory (£7.95 + postage). Details from 0117 914 2446 or www.soilassociation.org
When its time to go
Death has long been an environmental issue. In Victorian times, when vast necropolises were spreading out from the major cities, the Cremation Society of England campaigned for an alternative way to go, against the wishes of the Church (which preferred an altogether slower way of returning to dust and ashes).
Nowadays, environmentalists raise other concerns, including the chemicals used in the embalming process and the use of potentially harmful materials in veneer coffins. The desire for secular and more natural funerals has also brought back the idea of burial, this time in non-consecrated ground such as woodland. Some local authorities and private landowners offer this facility.
For a compendium of everything you would want to know (and probably plenty else you wouldnt) about alternative funerals, the place to turn is the Dead Good Funerals Book by Sue Gill and John Fox. This book includes among much else details of suppliers of cardboard coffins and coffins made from recycled wood, and also includes helpful instructions on how to make d-i-y shrouds. There are also suggestions for non-religious ceremonies.
The Dead Good Funerals Book can be obtained from the distributors Edge of Time, who also produce a range of other guides to aspects of alternative living. Details at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/edgeoftime/ or from 0800 083 0451.
The British Humanist Association also produces a guide to secular funeral ceremonies, Funerals Without God (£5). The BHA can be reached at 020 7430 0908.
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