Greening the Home - An Informal Case Study

Private Property South Africa
Shaun Wewege

At about the same time I was asked to research and write green features for Private Property I decided to get on the property ladder and buy my first home. Scanning the site to view potential houses and spending Sunday afternoons visiting show houses made me realise that in my own home, I would have no excuse not lead a greener lifestyle. It’s easy to say things like, “My housemate wouldn’t be happy if…”, but having my own place would mean that I could implement any greening plan I saw fit.

First on the agenda was recycling. We set up large bins in the garage for glass (we enjoy wine so thought this would fill quickly), paper and plastic and have one bin inside for other refuse.

The results have been astounding. Once we started splitting our waste we realised just how much plastic society uses. Even though we seldom get bags from stores it is virtually impossible to shop for groceries and not fill up a recycling bin for plastic. When you weigh fruit and vegetables it gets wrapped in plastic, meat is packed on styrofoam trays and sealed with cling-wrap, most juice and cold drinks are packaged in plastic bottles. Our plastic bin fills rapidly. After the initial move we had large amounts of cardboard to throw away, but since then our paper bin fills less quickly than our plastic one.

We are a bit lazy though. We are diligent with ensuring that our waste goes to the correct bin, but tend to wait before dropping it off at a recycling centre. We make fewer trips this way but have a very full load when we do go! The surprising part is that we actually have very little other waste. We have not yet started composting and think that if we do, our regular waste bin will be even emptier.

Our next step was to look at ways of cutting water and electricity usage. Initially this was easy because we didn’t have a television! Even so, none of our appliances are left on standby and we switch our geyser off fairly often and leave it off for prolonged periods, especially if we know that we will be going to gym some mornings or evening.

We were very fortunate in that the previous owners left us with a house with no leaking faucets. The house also seems to be well insulated so we don’t envisage having a massive heating bill this winter (we think that red wine and a small gas heater will suffice). There is no guttering at present but once we have funds we may look at fitting gutters and a rainwater harvesting system. Solar products are also in the long-term plan. All in all, our utilities bill is fairly low but could improve. At the moment we have to save through careful useage rather than installing devices.

Our next bit of good fortune was in the form of geographic location – nearby is a small centre where we shop at a greengrocer and butcher. We support local small business, don’t have to travel far distances for basic goods and eat fairly healthily as a result. We prefer to cook at home rather than eat out. This cuts down on take-out packaging but does bump our power usage up. Cooking is probably where our biggest spend is in terms of electricity.

One thing that researching greener lifestyles has done is make me more aware as a consumer. For example, a home ware store we went to stocked a range of bowls made from recycled plastic. It’s a brilliant product idea except that the store had brought these in from the U.S.A. Surely you increase carbon footprints by jetting plastic bowls around the world, regardless of the material they are constructed from? We’ve also seen stores that charge a fortune for special “recycling bins”. Apart from being over-priced, these are little more than regular plastic bins that have some colour coding. Again, many are imported which goes against the basic green principal of buying locally produced goods.

Our experience with trying to be greener has lead us to realise a few things:

• You throw away so many items that could find their way to recycling centres.

• It requires little capital outlay, time and effort to recycle.

• Being green can lead to saving money though you do need to look out for exploitative marketers.

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