Today we are featuring a guest blog from one of our most proactive Green Mary team members – Michelle McAvoy, QMUL’s Widening Participation Coordinator.
For as long as I can remember I have had a pang of guilt every time I put out the rubbish. This surely isn’t right? Where does this rubbish go? Surely we can’t all keep doing this forever? But like many other things in life, I carried on and reluctantly accepted this learned, collective behaviour.
Taking part in the QMUL Green Mary campaign has compounded all the lingering questions I have about how we live. For the past two years, I have been making small incremental changes in how I choose to live to reduce the negative impact I have upon our environment. Not only do these changes make sense to me, they have made me considerably happier and more fulfilled.
These changes go further than recycling correctly; I have questioned my consumption and try to first reduce what I use and second re-use what I can, rather than use energy and water on recycling processes
The more I do and learn the better it feels and so the more I want to share this with other people. Here are some insights into what I have been doing. It’s funny – the reaction to these actions can often be that they’re ‘too extreme’ while also being ‘not enough’. I’ll leave you to make up your own mind.
I now eat meat only once a week
I thought I would hugely miss it but I don’t. Now when I do have it I buy organic, grass-fed, quality meat and support a local independent butcher. If you’re thinking that would be out of your budget, consider how much you spend on meat over the course of the week – I guarantee I spend less on my once-a-week ‘ethical’ meat. I have also reduced the amount of dairy I eat.
Eating this way makes sense – in a world with an ever-growing population, eating meat is unsustainable. Huge areas of land are used to grow grain and soy to feed cattle which otherwise could be used to grow crops for human consumption. Raising livestock also contributes to the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere.
As an added bonus, I have tried tonnes of new recipes and am enjoying figuring out what to do with the sometimes weird and wonderful veg that I get delivered through an organic box scheme or pick up from my local grocer.
I never buy coffee in a one-use cup or bottled water. Instead I use these:
The amount of water and energy that goes into a one-use throw away plastic bottle is unfathomable. The booming bottled water business is dominated by a handful of companies profiting from a product I have available to me from a tap. It has to have been one of the cleverest advertising campaigns of all time. Also as we have learnt from the #wastenot campaign even if coffee cups are recyclable the infrastructure isn’t there for this to happen. Re-use is always better.
This year I am not giving or receiving any Christmas presents
No, I’m not an enormous scrooge. I just realised that every year people spend money and time buying me things I don’t need and will never use. This year I have asked my friends and family not to buy me anything and if they feel inclined to donate that money to charity. I have donated all my Christmas money to one charity this year and it feels great. I am incredibly lucky – I live an abundant life and do not want for anything. I also live in a one bedroom flat and just don’t have space for things I don’t need.
Last year I made smaller changes. When I actually thought about wrapping paper, I realised how incredibly wasteful it is. So me and my mam thoroughly enjoyed wrapping gifts in Christmas tea towels instead!
Second hand clothes
Buying clothes from charity shops used to conjure a not-so-pleasant image in my mind of hand-me-down clothes from when I was a child. The reality is nothing like that. Instead of walking around an entire floor of a department store, I walk up to one rack in a charity shop with all the clothes in my size. I can quickly look through to see if there is anything I need or legitimately feel I will wear, and everything is a fraction of its original price. It feels like I am cheating the system and I love it! Another hidden environmental impact is the vast amounts of water and energy that go into making new clothes, and being able to step out of that system is a great feeling
Using the library
I am an avid reader and used to buy new books on a monthly basis. I joined the Idea Store and now request books old skool style. They have always had every book I’ve requested, it has encouraged me to read books before they are due back and once again I have saved loads of money.
Started a Masters
Back in June I decided to take my interest a step further, I want to make more of a difference but before doing that I need to be better informed. I applied to the MSc in Climate Change at Birkbeck University and have reduced my working hours to 4 days a week (a necessity to be able to fit in all the reading!)
Beforehand my friends and family were worried that the more I learnt the more stressed and frantic I would get about making change. In fact during my lectures I feel so lucky to be learning more and I feel even better about the lifestyle changes I have already made. I have learnt an incredible amount about how complex the earths systems are – and all the variables that can affect them. I didn’t do Geography A level and was never a fan of Physics so I have definitely challenged myself to understand the content! The scale of climate change is terrifying, but unlike many people across the globe I have access to the information to educate myself about it. We can’t just sit back and think ‘science will come up with a way of fixing things’ or ‘governments understand the issues and will solve the problems’. I guess what has struck me most is this:
Even if global warming wasn’t happening, overconsumption of the earth’s finite resources is still a HUGE PROBLEM.
And it’s made me more determined to lead by example.
At the start of the module many people would use the same phrase as justification for all kinds of arguments ‘but it is good for the economy’… Seven weeks in those comments have depleted and morals, values and ethics are high on the debate priority list. I forgot how fun it is to have the opportunity to challenge assumptions in university seminars. As a group we have stopped blaming one group or institution for problems; yes business should do more, and government(s) but like so many things in life it takes individuals to set the example and collectively we can make a huge difference and feel good about it.
Thanks for reading. To finish, I thought I’d share a few recommendations of things to watch and read if you are interested in finding out more
- The most watched movie on the National Geographic channel of all time: Leonardo Dicaprios ‘Before the Flood’. Explains the science pretty well
- True cost – a documentary about the fast fashion industry
- Small is beautiful by F. Schumacher- a great book from 1973 about the way we live and overconsumption