Beer Bottles and Yoghurt Pots: What do you keep, throw away or swap?

Durham’s natural beauty

Last night the sky was crispy and clear, the stars were etched into the heavens above and the moonlight was a halo for the Cathedral standing proud behind the allotments on Margery Lane. Durham is a beautiful place to live.

Sometimes hearing another person chat about the environment can wear us thin. We wonder what we we’re meant to do a) to encourage them to pipe down a bit, and b) to help keep such beautiful places beautiful. Realistically it doesn’t seem like washing the yoghurt pots or saving the plastic cases from the wraps in college packed lunches for recycling is going to change much. We’re certainly not going to see any direct changes from doing so. Grasping the fact that our current lifestyles could cause Durham to lose its beauty and significantly impact our lives is something that I know that I for one have never managed to do. And yet perhaps realising we don’t want to have to grasp it through first-hand experience or even by seeing others having to do so is reason enough to keep up with the yoghurt-pot collection.

Recycling is, of course, only one of many ways in which we can begin to use our resources more efficiently. It also happens to be a topic which often bores us to sleep, something which, as a language student, I can attest to. The many years of GCSE and A-level vocab learning around such areas fully ensure that I can now delight in conversing with both the French and the Germans about why we should not use plastic bags. I fully endorse these ideas, but sometimes it would be nice to do something more than consider how we transport our shopping. The more our society investigates the issues around protecting our environment, the more methods, projects and activities are being publicised and made available for us to be able to join in the discussions. Here I’m going to share a few with you which I hope you’ll find you can engage with practically.

The first is the phenomenon of ‘Swap Shops’ – community projects which are being organised nationwide. In Wheatley, my village just outside Oxford, these events have been happening for years[1]. Just as the name suggests, the event is quite simply a time when members of the community can swap their possessions for something new, or more likely, something old. Typically such an event happens on a Saturday morning, when those who are running it will come and set up empty tables eager to be laden with swap-able items, as well as perhaps an area for tea and coffee, over which people can meet and chat. Over the course of the morning the world and his wife can bring and take items for free, the only rules being that the items must be still in good condition and that they cannot be brought in too close to closing time in order to avoid them having to be stored in the organiser’s garage until the next event. In second year we equipped our modern Viaduct House with a Wheatley-Second-Hand chest of drawers, toastie-maker, toaster, kettle, pots, pans… you get the idea. A simple idea with innumerable positive outcomes which can be of benefit to us as well as the environment.

Swapping is even something that could happen in college – perhaps in a bar or common room. If you’re not interested in chests of drawers, how about some clothes? When flying home from our time in Germany last Spring, my Irish friend was frantically trying to rid herself of the piles of clothes she’d accumulated in the course of the year and which would most certainly not fit in her suitcase on the flight home. Consequence? As I sat in her post-card covered room and she cut my hair, she pointed out different items of clothing I could take home. I took one of her piles with me, kept a couple of things myself and passed the rest on to my housemates. In return I gave Maeve a cardigan of mine – nice and green for her Irish home. When the Charity Shops don’t have what we want and our student bank accounts don’t either, clothes swapping (and sharing) is something to promote.

If you haven’t got friends to do this with nearby, or your local community doesn’t seem to be putting on such events, or you just want to broaden your options, The Freecycle Network[2] can be found online and here you can meet some of the 8,694,583 members around the world who are currently giving away unwanted possessions (used or otherwise) so that they can continue to be appreciated. Membership is free and demands no commitments: here is something that doesn’t need to eat away at your finances or your time.

These activities are things we can be involved in as a community, but of course there are things we can be doing on a more individual level, which perhaps will only implicate ourselves. Introducing… the Mooncup! The mythical rumours whispered from woman to woman seem to correspond with the ethereal title of this tampon-alternative, but in fact the reliability, durability and comfort of this creation is worthy of legend and rooted in reality. On average a woman uses 11,000 tampons or pads in her lifetime which are only going to end up in landfill or in the sea. The Mooncup is made of silicone, and (surprisingly) is the shape of a small cup. It can be worn for up to eight hours under all circumstances – whilst swimming, sleeping and… anything else. Inserting it takes a bit of getting used to, but you can adjust quickly. Your Mooncup will last you for years, and costing just under £20, will save you all those annoying monthly trips to Tesco or Boots. Suitable even for women with sensitive skin, using the Mooncup is a simple way to change some part of your lifestyle in order to reduce your landfill waste. If you’re not convinced, the Mooncup website has even provided a Youtube video Tampon vs. Mooncup Rap Battle[3]. This is where it’s at.

Studying languages has not only given me the ability to talk about plastic bags and yoghurt pots with my friends overseas, but it’s also provided the massive privilege of being able to spend time immersed in different cultures. In some ways the eco-friendly legend, Germany, does indeed seem to be a few steps ahead of our British ways. At the end of our house party in Heidelberg last year I was clearing up and recycled the paper beer bottle labels which had been collected from among the debris on the floor. My housemates were somewhat disappointed – they’d deliberately been collecting them so they could take them and the respective bottles to the supermarket to receive the Pfand (deposit) money you get on returning empties. Recycling wasn’t enough, Germany’s on the financial incentive! You buy a beer, pay a bit more for it than you would in England, but then get the extra back when you return the empty bottle for recycling. This doesn’t just happen domestically, it also applies in bars – recycling is quite literally at the centre of the party; not so boring after all.

We’re not in Germany, and I’m not asking us to be – but these are ideas being put into practice all over the world, hopefully some of them will interest you. Next time you walk down onto Prebends Bridge surrounded by Durham forest, remember how beautiful Durham is, and how beautiful Durham could remain.

[1] http://www.wheatleycag.org/Swapshop%20information.htm

[2] https://www.freecycle.org/

[3] http://www.mooncup.co.uk/

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