Category: Buying stuff

Summer fun!

As it’s been an expensive year so far, we are staying closer to home this summer – which suits me fine, because I love holidays in the UK. The main downside for me is that holidays means surfing, and the UK summer can deliver a lot of small, dribbly waves (even in Cornwall). In preparation for this, I bought a brand new bargain foam surfboard from Cost Co. With this baby, I can still get out in the water in even the crappiest surf. At £130 it’s a bargain. And the kids love playing on it too.

But hang on, Mr Eco Warrior, I hear you say. What the heck is eco about buying 5 kilos of high impact polystyrene?

That is certainly a lot of coffee cups right there! (over 3,000 of the bloody things, in fact). It makes me sad to imagine all those bobbing round in the ocean. I also have a historic aversion to anything made of polystyrene, which dates from the days when it contained bucket loads of ozone-knackering chemicals. So let’s look at the impact of my new toy for a moment.

Wavestorm vs Planet

The 8ft Classic Wavestorm is mass produced in Taiwan from mostly expanded polystyrene (EPS), with an HDPE bottom and three marine plywood stringers (thin bits of wood that go through the board to give it more strength.) As such, it sounds pretty much the antithesis of environmentally friendly surfing (I would think more of beautiful, lovingly handcrafted hollow wooden boards like these).

Making polystyrene is a pretty nasty business, for sure. It is made mainly from oil, and produces some pretty toxic waste. But in purely carbon footprint terms, the Wavestorm is surprisingly low impact. It weighs 5.2kg, so using manufacturer’s figures  this gives a carbon footprint of  around 20 kg CO2e per board. At the end of its life, if I chuck the polystyrene and plastic remains in the bin at the local recycling centre, it will go to the city incinerator. There it will undoubtedly burn like stink, and produce another estimated 27kg of greenhouse gases*, as well as some heat and a small amount of particulates and ash. (The ozone-depleting chemicals have all been replaced by a gas called pentane,  so at least it won’t be making the ozone layer thinning any worse.) The city incinerator is a heat recovery unit, so the burning will provide heat for the local public swimming pools and a host of other central buildings via a district heating system.

If I were to chuck it onto landfill, that would be the worst option, as it is bulky and will never, ever break down or do anything useful (although the embedded greenhouse gases would remain locked inside it rather than being released to the atmosphere). Theoretically it would be possible to recycle the board into more polystyrene cups etc, but there aren’t – to my knowledge – any facilities to actually do that.

Conclusion? Don’t sweat it.

So the total lifespan emissions of my board are around 47kg of greenhouse gas from factory to incinerator. If I can make it last for 10 years (which with care should be possible), that is a bit under 5kg per year for my board. Even if I add another 20% for shipping, packaging and manufacturer under-reporting the climate impacts, it’s still not really that much.

In truth, I was surprised at how low the actual carbon footprint of the Wavestorm is. I expected it to be much higher. And if you compare it to the environmental impact of flying from the UK to somewhere with consistently good waves, it doesn’t even register; Wavestorm wins hands down.

So I’m off to the beach! Til next time, have a great summer.

* I estimated that a kilo of polystyrene produced the same greenhouse gases as 2 kilos of diesel. So that would be 10kg diesel @ 2.772kg CO2e = 27.72. It’s just an estimate, if anyone is a polystyrene expert and wants to improve on this – please do.

How much stuff?!

In 1950s America, the average middle class couple had enough money to buy everything they needed. Only one person of the couple would need to work to cover all the household expenses (usually the man, back then) and the retirement age was 60, with a great pension. Nowadays, across the developed world, both partners in a two adult household usually have to work full time, and the retirement age is 70 plus and rising. What happened here?

The seminal financial lifestyle book Your Money or Your Life points to the creation of consumerism as the basis for this unhappy shift. In essence, we now work harder to buy more stuff. The undesirable side effects of this consumerism are that we have less time for family and friends, and less time to enjoy ourselves. We have also depleted our natural resources, and clogged up a lot of our world with post consumer debris.

So, how do we avoid working hard just to fill up all those landfill sites and dead whale corpses with plastic? Here are my tips…..

Buy less

Derr! Yes it’s obvious. And no, it’s not as easy as it sounds. One thing that I do when faced with a purchase is to calculate how much time it takes to actually earn the thing that I want to buy. Most people will say they earn a certain amount – but that will be the headline rate, before taking off tax, costs, etc. The actual hourly rate may be a bit more meagre. Try this calculator to work out your actual hourly rate. Then look at the thing you are thinking of buying. So – purely by way of example – will that motorised ice cream cone bring you enough happiness to justify an hour or more doing whatever it is you do to earn cash? Could you put it somewhere else that would make you happier? Some things will of course be must haves, and they will improve your life. Buy them, if you can afford them. But leave the rest on the shelf, and hope that eventually they will fall out of production.

Buy Secondhand

Some things are just no good if they aren’t new. but the list of items this applies to is pretty small. For everything else, there will probably be a secondhand option on Ebay that will do the job perfectly. It will save you a fortune, and it also prolongs the life of lots of items that would otherwise end up in landfill. We live in a pretty affluent area, and so our local charity shops are a fantastic source of clothes, books, films, furniture, and all sorts of other useful things for a tiny fraction of the cost of the new item.

Buy Quality

If you really need to buy something new, then it’s worth buying quality. We all know that – with a few exceptions – cheap shit breaks quickly and will need to be replaced sooner. As the saying goes, you only cry once when you buy quality. It’s always worth filling in your warranty details on big items so that if it goes wrong you can get it replaced easily.

Borrow stuff

If you only occasionally need something, you may be able to borrow it from a friend or neighbour. I have a number of friends with whom I regularly lend and borrow power tools with, for unusual DIY jobs. This is how communities used to work, and it still can, if there is a certain amount of give and take….

Kill your television

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin once sang it, and ok, it might sound a bit wide eyed and radical. To be more precise (and probably achievable) I am really recommending that you kill your TV advert consumption.  The aim of advertising is to encourage you to buy more of a product or a service, of course. This is mostly achieved by making you feel dissatisfied in some way with what you have.  Cutting out this stimulus will save you a fortune, and thanks to the rise of Netflix, Iplayer, Digital TV and a host of other technological innovations, it is now very easy to choose not to have adverts.

Good luck!

David Sorsby

LiveLight Founder


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