The Things We Buy, Use and Throw Away.

Share this post

By Lauren Liles on behalf of SLH

This article was originally written for the April edition of Stockport Post

How much stuff is in your home, wardrobe, garage or shed that you have stopped using because it requires a small repair? How often do you think, “It is easier to buy a replacement and take this old one to the tip”? How often do you buy more than you need, because it’s cheap or more convenient? 

We all do it; every year, globally, 92 million tonnes of textiles and 50 million tonnes of electricals are thrown away and end up in landfill and, in the UK, we waste 20 million slices of bread every day! This is all in addition to other foods and plastics and packaging waste.

When items are sent to landfill they decompose, releasing CO2 and methane, which contribute towards global warming and climate change. Some waste, such as e-waste (e.g. computers, mobile phones, and large household appliances) can also leak toxic materials such as lead, mercury and dioxins while they decompose, causing harm to the environment and posing a risk to human health.

Modern life means that we all generate waste, but how can we reduce the impact we are having as individuals and communities? The “waste hierarchy” is a tool we can all use when we think about the products we buy and the ones we already have and how to minimise waste:  Prevent, reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, dispose — and it only takes a few small steps by lots of people to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and lower their collective carbon emissions. 

For example, a recent initiative, the Heatons Repair Café set up in October 2023, has welcomed an average of 49 visitors per two-hour session each month, resulting in 227 items submitted for repair with 171 of these successfully repaired from October 2023–February 2024. In a very short time, the repair and reuse of these items has contributed towards a 3.9-tonne reduction in carbon footprint locally created by the repairs, and 5.1 tonnes saved from buying new. This is equal to the average car driving 16200 miles in the same period. These calculations are made possible by weighing and recording the weight of each item then analysing the carbon footprint of replacing with new.

This is an excellent example of a community working together: the combined skills and enthusiasm of Heatons’ Men in Sheds, Sustainable Living in the Heatons, St Pauls church plus another twenty-one local residents who have given up their time to volunteer once a month to repair items and help put them back into circulation. Additional benefits from such initiatives include learning a new skill, meeting others from the area, or simply the enjoyment of a Saturday morning cuppa and chat. 

John Lepine (HMIS): “Items brought to the Heatons’ Men in Sheds include tables, small electrical items like radios, toasters and lamps. Repairs will depend on how the items are made; if they are sealed units and if parts are available. However, the good news is the future for repairs is looking bright — the UK’s “Right to Repair” law was introduced in July 2021 which legally requires manufacturers to make spare parts available to citizens and third-party repair companies”. 

John says “We have many stories which prove it is a very worthwhile initiative and goes beyond repairing items and saving them from landfill. For example, one family attended with a young child clutching a plastic toy and replacement batteries which we fitted. The parents wanted to demonstrate to the child the importance of recycling and ecology.  

Another young person brought in a small wooden stool made in Sweden by his great grandfather that has been used by four generations of children to stand at the sink to wash their hands. HMIS repaired it and hopefully it will last another four generations. A lady brought in a rather battered sewing box that had been passed down her family and after some work it is good for a lot more years of service. On the sharpening front a lot of third and fourth generation garden tools have been brought back to useful life including a set of grandfather’s edging shears which are reportedly “working better than they ever did!”

Lauren Liles, SLH: “The Heatons Repair Café is only one example of how to reduce, reuse and recycle. Others may include action around food waste, only buying products with zero or minimal packaging, and extending the life of your phone or laptop. Reducing our carbon footprint doesn’t only benefit our environment but can positively impact our health, wellbeing, and communities.”

If we don’t reuse or recycle efficiently in the UK we will need 3 times as many landfill sites taking up more land, releasing more harmful gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. These gases speed up global warming and more natural resources will be mined or extracted to meet our needs for new materials. This is why we should prioritise the first three steps in the waste hierarchy: prevent, reduce and reuse.

As a household or individual, small steps can make a difference:

– Can you reduce the volume or frequency of your purchases? 

– Could you buy second hand or buy less — buying new results in CO2 emissions from sourcing the raw materials, the transport, the processing, the finishing, the distribution and the travel or digital footprint of making the purchase. And that is before you even think about the packaging. 

– Do you really need to replace the item?

– Could you repair household items and clothes or at least extend their life by a few years?

There are many ways for you to reduce your waste and its impact, and examples like the repair café  demonstrate how a community activity can make a big difference even in a short space of time.

For further information contact: