Do you get confused sometimes at the terminology surrounding green initiatives? I find myself nodding appreciatively when people tell me something is “fully sustainable”, of course I know it’s something good – but I can’t really explain what it is!
Is it something you can use again? Or is it something that has been made from something that was recycled?
If you sometimes get as confused as me, I’ve done a little research into the terminology…
Now, the term recycled is pretty straight forward. It means that you are re-using this item in another form.
Maybe you have been doing this for ages, for example, if you cut down your jeans with the hole in the knee to make a pair of denim shorts, then that’s recycling. If your favourite mug or pot gets broken, and you make a mosaic, then that’s recycling too!
It takes minimal effort these days to simply sort out rubbish into cardboard, glass and cans, so that it can be taken away by the professionals, from your own front door, it couldn’t be simpler! They then crush it up and do whatever they do with it to make it into a raw material that can be used again to make something else.
But I’m sure you knew all that!
Let’s take a few examples here – for instance, cashmere, wind power and trees. They are all sustainable…yes?
Well, no, actually! To be truly sustainable, the production of a certain resource must be indefinitely supported by nature, and not alter the delicate balance of nature. A renewable resource is not the same thing.
Timber can be sustainable, as you cut down the tree to make it into furniture, paper, and other things, so long as you plant another one. This can only be truly sustainable if the tree grows particularly fast – of course, some trees take 10 plus years to mature which is not that sustainable – well not straight away.
However, some foresters and ecologists have pointed out the problem that if you keep on planting and growing on the same bit of soil over and over, the soil becomes depleted of nutrients needed for the trees growth. This means they have to beef it up a bit with fertilisers to help it along, which isn’t sustainable.
Not so easy, is it?!
A Renewable Resource
This is where our friends the sheep and goats come in. Let’s say for example, you have prized goats used for their soft wool that makes cashmere. OK, it grows on goats and they can keep on breeding, so you’d think that was sustainable. But let’s fast forward a bit, and it’s a different story.
The goats are sturdy little creatures and will eat anything in sight. They tend to kill off any vegetation that they come across and they leave the place like a desert. Their hooves also tend to rake up the top soil which doesn’t help with reseeding.
Of course, they are really eating themselves out of house and home, and eventually there will be no food for them to eat. Also, there is no more fertile soil left for the locals to plant in.
China is a good example of a region that is renowned for their cashmere, but the places where it was worn away now resemble the dust plains.
So, this is an example of something that is a renewable resource – but is not sustainable – is the penny dropping?!
I hope that helps. Of course, wind and sun are totally sustainable resources – until the planet gets hit by a giant meteorite, and then we’re all doomed!
Estelle Page is a thirty something interior designer, loving life with her husband and two kids! When she’s not redecorating her home for the 100th time, you’ll find her at a local garden show at a nearby National Trust home.
- Recycling is dead! (greenreview.blogspot.com)
- New “Tree in a Bottle” Changes The Way We View Eco-Packaging (greenerideal.com)
- Garden waste recycled as useful resources (eatmysilverbeet.com)