A lot of my life seems to be about cutting down on various things, whether it be my time in Second Life, as per my previous post, cutting down on waste and recycling more, taking stock of anything I might be hoarding, using less water, less electricity, less internet (and paying as little as possible for these things), driving less (something I did until the point at which I quit driving), and consuming less sugar or other unhealthy things. But some things we can’t cut down on, or out, so easily, such as Council Tax bills, as was discussed on the radio today, but let’s delve into some of these things in some more detail (apologies in advance if any of this is a little repetitive in relation to some of my previous posts).
Supermarkets, Plastic and Meat
I’ve been a keen recycler for a long time, but I got to the point where I realised it boiled down to my buying decisions, particularly relating to food. This can cause a conundrum between cost and packaging though; I mean, choosing some reduced-priced apples wrapped in plastic over some slightly more expensive ones that are sold lose. This seems to be more a moral decision that not everyone cares about or considers, but we are all being made increasingly away of the problems of plastic. Theresa May came out with a silly comment earlier this year about an idea she had about forcing supermarkets to have a plastic-free aisle; my responding thought was that if she wants to see such things then perhaps she should open her own supermarket chain. While I would like to see less plastic, enforcing this is not necessarily the best solution and the whole process of seeking and implementing legislation often seems like a money-making scheme by someone, instead I would like more people to be mindful of what they buy and then choose not to buy such produce.
However, the buying decisions of the masses are not always the best ones and can lead to burdens, financial or moralistic ones, for those of us wanting things to be different. Therefore, when a majority of shoppers choose plastic-wrapped apples over lose ones for example, supermarkets deem that to be the overall preference and then plastic-wrap every tom., celery stick, and strawberry. It can effect the price of things too; just this week a client of mine got talking to me about the price of meat in the supermarkets, finding it to be stupidly expensive and when he raised this point with the supermarket butcher was advised not to buy it – supermarkets are big business like others and they will hike their prices where they think they can get away with it; therefore, the people who can afford to pay more lead to things becoming unaffordable to those below them on the income scale.
I have considered cutting down on meat consumption but the cost of my meals would be an issue, based on my levels of activity (cycling and running) and being pretty slim already; I have added more nuts and seeds into my diet though but as with buying vitamin tablets, these end up being delivered in plastic sealed bags which aren’t really deemed to be the recyclable type.
Another thing that I have heard about, and was also in the news this week, yet I have not done anything about (other than write this here sentence) is the use of palm oil and the problems it causes. The supermarket chain that is Iceland seems to be leading the way on this, illustrating to Theresa May that you don’t need legislation, you just need people to up their standards and expectations. Where should I begin with my own palm-oil reduction since I rarely eat biscuits!?
In addition to seeing less plastic on the shelves of the supermarkets (and even market stalls), I would like to see less litter. This was another topic in the news as of late with the potential penalty of litter being thrown from cars now being on the onus of the driver. Being a cyclist and a runner in the countryside it saddens me to see so much litter around, and it’s always the same kind of stuff and paints the same kind of picture of the people that discard it: fast food packaging, garage/service station and corner shop rubbish from youngsters on a Friday or Saturday night journey home. I remember when the call to “Keep Britain Tidy” was promoted through school when I was of a young age, but that mentality, and the one that respects and values the environment we live in has seemingly slipped further away since then with a significant minority. From in a car at night, one sees little impact of carelessly throwing something out of the window of that moving vehicle, but walk those roads the next day and the place looks a mess. I occasionally make an effort myself to pick stuff up from my area, but when cycling along or out running, and unless making a special trip out to do that, it’s not so convenient. Little pull-in places on single-track roads seem to be particularly bad areas and I sometimes wonder if the wind simply directs stray rubbish here. I would love to see a change in people’s attitudes though and if that means passing the responsibility to the car drivers to say “hey, that’s not cool” to an ill-trained passenger then great; I’d do it when I was a car driver, and if they repeated their action I’d pull over and request they walk! For now I’m just wondering if the particular stretch of road near my house is falling victim at particular times to certain individuals; I may investigate further.
Similar to the price of meat at the supermarkets, I feel like something similar is happening to broadband in this country with the increasing availability of fibre/super fast broadband. I’m on standard broadband, but due to my rural location it’s at a pretty dismal slow speed (although other people have it slower). However, the leading supplier that is BT seems able to offer me superfast broadband if I’m prepared to pay double the cost. This seems wholly unfair since the standard broadband speeds of just a few miles away would be perfectly usable at their speeds which are 10x faster than mine, yet cost the same as what I’m paying. I also see that they have not actually yet connected up the fibre cable on my street – it is just hanging free from the pole – seemingly waiting for the first customer to pay the hiked up fees and get it connected. It seems that until this point in time the cheaper broadband providers, including the one I’m with, can’t offer me that service because it is “not yet available in my area.” Again, it’s a case of a big company over charging for something because there are a few people that can, and are prepared to pay that extra amount, and I know very few people here that would notice any difference of 50mb+ broadband speeds over 5mb. With a few people stupidly prepared to pay for the super-fast service they’re actually bumping up the UK’s average speeds while a minority are on substandard speeds and will seemingly never see an improvement unless they too hand over more money.
Recycling and Council Tax
Moving on now and in recycling so much my main bin rarely gets full and my recycling boxes get put out only once every few weeks or so. At the same time my nearest library that I visit from time-to-time is facing closure. Both of these services are funded through Council Tax, which itself was a feature topic on the radio today since this month the bills have been rolling out again and have seen another yearly increase. Of course one can only expect such bills to go up when everything else does (wages and inflation), so in real terms it is perhaps no higher, but when services are being cut left, right, and centre, there are many people that begrudge it, and I am one of them.
Council Tax bills vary based on the deemed value of one’s property and how many people live there, so because I live on my own in a simple little house my bill is down the lower end of the scale, although I have casually considered downgrading to a caravan to reduce this expense still further! (FYI it would seem to make little difference). Some people genuinely struggle to pay their share of this Tax, as was pointed during the radio topic, but as with all bills that people struggle with, and what the radio show didn’t seem to question and therefore failed to address, was why a household struggles with their bills; perhaps the bill payer has a gambling, smoking, drinking, drug, or ebay addiction. Perhaps they have other debts that are incurring hefty interest fees, or they are simply financed up to the hilt with mobile phone contracts or a car they don’t actually own. I know people in these situations. On average, around 100 people a year are imprisoned due to failing to paying their Council Tax bills, while those of us who keep a level head and keep on top of our finances are paid what are asked of us, even if we question if the amount is fair and just. I question if the amount is fair and just because the amount I pay to have my rubbish taken away, and the ever-dwindling library service (because I witness little else) almost amounts to what I spend on food each month and with this I have a choice over how and where my money is spent, but not with Council Tax.
Since the winter ended and I switched all my computer off and stopped using any form of heating, I’ve been keen to drive my electricity usage down to as low as possible, and for the past couple of weeks I’ve been instantly satisfied with my efforts. I had a chuckle when Youtube presented to me a video about someone showing how everyone could cut their usage down by 1/3 “by doing nothing”. As the video revealed, by doing nothing he meant, he had discovered his cable box was consuming some 600W and he had been in the routine of leaving it on all of the time. I could cut my electricity down by doing nothing also, but by nothing I would mean, by doing nothing that consumes electricity, such as watching Youtube, playing in Second Life, typing on my blog, using an electric cooker, and drinking hot beverages. Fair play he had cut his usage down to 30kwh, but this was per day and I’ve been using less than half that… per week! It’s like some people don’t have a clue, or I fail to appreciate how other people live.
One bill I have been less keen to cut down on, because it is already at quite a low level, is, yes you’ve guessed it, my water bill. I had determined that for my bill to be reduced to a level that would have a noticeable and beneficial financial impact on me, my efforts would have to be drastic and include purchasing and plumbing in a water butt. I had calculated that from the amount of water I could save such a system would have to be in place for a good number of years and likely need maintenance within that time, thus nullifying the financial gains. If I was living with other people then it would make more sense. I have however, been reusing some water to flush my toilet with, which I figured uses about 10 litres at a time, by collecting water from laundry washes (which I do by hand) and hair washes, and also collecting some from outside. Also, when I run my shower the water comes through cold for (as I have measured) about 3 litres until hot, and does so (annoyingly) mid-shower too, so I blast this into my collecting-container, rather than letting it go down the plug hole. On the odd occasion that I will have a bath then this amounts to half a week or more’s toilet flushes, but leaving this in the bathtub leads to a damp bathroom due to the evaporation, so not ideal. It’s a bit of a faff, but I am keen to see if there will be any noticeable difference on my next bill’s meter readings. I am doubtful though.
When the cold weather hit a couple of months ago it lead to a burst water main somewhere nearby. I had at first noticed a drop in water pressure but thought nothing more of it. Then a day later I got a text message from the water company confirming the problem. Even then I thought little more. I was surprised that it was a friend that suggested the point of saving some water; I kicked myself for not thinking of it. I think due to my low usage I hadn’t on this occasion ran my pipes dry, but it made me then consider the point of having a regular backup of water and the benefits of a water butt (even if that too might freeze in extreme cases).
I recently wrote of the news that the popular soft drink Irn-Bru had changed its recipe to cut out sugar. This move was ahead of the enforced, and so-called Sugar Tag. As discussed there, the move is another one of those things that is legislated but doesn’t necessarily bring about healthy living. This is because the drinks replace sugar with other sweeteners and in the long run are (as I and a professional on the radio suspect) likely lead to health issues also. This is because, per my simplified explanation, these things aren’t cutting out the craving of sweet-tasting things which cause problems for the body since, in the case of sugar, the body will prefer to use the sugar for its energy source instead of any fat, thus, when a “food” contains both fats and sugars, the body ends up storing the fat.
Due to people being addicted to such beverages, the enforced tax on their drinks of choice have lead to some outrage. It’s like stealing candy from a baby.
I too, over the past year or so, have been cutting out the sugar I consume, by first putting less in my cups of tea. This has led me to prefer less in coffee, and so much so that in some coffee and tea I put no sugar. I also now question why sugar is in other things, or why there is so much, when these things now taste overly-sweet if I actually taste them mindfully, rather than blindly consuming.