While many billions are invested globally on trying to find sustainable solutions to protect the environment, we only need to go back in time by about 50 years to get some insightful lessons into how sustainable life used to be before it was taken over by mass manufacturing and globalization.

Buying used equipment in the UK, recycling, repurposing, these are all commercial initiatives that have been in existence for generations now, but only in this generation has it become a trend that is almost veering into the ideological arena. 

Bottle returns

Once upon a time shops and pubs would encourage their customers to return their ‘empties’ – beer bottles, soda bottles, any kind of glass bottle. Part of the deal was in returning the glass bottle you would get a penny (or so) in exchange. 

The shop or pub would then return the empty bottles back to the drinks manufacturer who sterilize and reuse them again and again. This original method of recycling ensured that people took care of the bottles and perceived them as a valuable resource.

Cloth nappies

The environmental cost of nappies is horrendous. It is estimated that one child will have managed to soil their way through between 4000 and 6000 nappies until the time they are potty trained. Globally, this amounts to 250 million single use nappies every single day. 

Throwaway nappies contain plastic, which means that once they hit landfill (along with all their contents) they sit and leak toxins and faeces back into the soil.

Terry nappies, the original cotton reusable nappies – have made a massive come back in recent years. Unfortunately, the environmental impact still remains, with them emitting as many carbon emissions as disposables due to the energy required to wash them. However, there are an increasing number of options on the market these days where companies offer a regular weekly service whereby soiled nappies are picked up and returned after going through a more environmentally friendly washing service. 

Second hand furniture shops and clearances

Who doesn’t love a poke around an old antiques market, or picking up a bargain on a Sunday morning car boot sale. They say that one man’s rubbish is another’s treasure, and that is definitely the case when it comes to household goods.

Most older furniture, even if it is not genuine ‘antiques’, is made to a much higher quality than their modern equivalent. 

Paper bags

In 2015  the UK retailing industry started charging for plastic bags. This has led to a drop of 98 per cent in the use of single use plastic bags – an overwhelming success by any standard.

Go back fifty years, and consumers were not using plastic bags at all. Shopping was packed in paper bags, or housewives would go out to their shops with string shopping bags or trolleys which were used again and again without even a second thought. It was only when plastic was introduced as the de facto solution for carrying your shopping home that it became an issue.

All that has happened is that people have reverted back to what they were doing anyway. 

Bear in mind as well that in those days most shopping was done locally, on the local high street which was well served by public transport, or was within walking distance, and often deliveries would be made that same day by young lads on delivery bicycles, the environmental impact comparably was minimal. 

Ultimately, we became a ‘throw away’ society, with products coming off the production line with inbuilt obsolescence. Growing awareness of the impact of this mindset on the planet has led to a raft of initiatives focused on ‘pre-loved’ and ‘vintage’. Recycling these old fashioned values could actually end up saving the planet. 


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