So paper isn’t the solution?

Posted on: 5th November, 2018

Category: Trash Talk

Contributor: Allison Roberts

Allison Roberts of Exploding Tree is documenting her family’s self-imposed challenge to create zero rubbish for a whole year. If you would like to join Allison in her quest, or suggest some tips to help her achieve it, you will find her blog at

We are now eight months into our cut-the-rubbish project, so I think it’s time for an inventory. As per my self-imposed guidelines we have kept all our rubbish and recyclables in the shed and we have six boxes of glass bottles and jars (mostly wine and beer bottles), one smallish bin of hard plastic (mostly milk bottles from our recent family visitors), one medium bin of tetra-packs, one small box of scrap metal and electronic bits and bobs, one small bin of aluminum (mostly bottle tops and a dozen tins), a very large pile of cardboard, two large bags of paper and one black bin bag of rubbish (about 3kg of bits of soft plastic, bits of tape and mixed material packaging). The rest of our rubbish is composted, fed to our worms and chickens or burned in our woodburning stove as kindling.

Looking at the shed I can see we have achieved a massive cut back in our rubbish and a great reduction in recyclables but we still produce a very decent amount of paper, card and cardboard. We have done less self-monitoring in that department, often choosing paper-packed alternatives when out and about. At the same time I’ve been researching and reading more and more about the enormous and often overlooked impacts of saying ‘yes’ to paper. It seems that though plastic obviously loses on biodegradability, paper is actually much more damaging to the environment when it comes to production and shipping impacts. I wasn’t surprised when I read that “tree regrowth cannot keep up with the current logging rate”, but I didn’t realise it takes more than four times the energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic one and found my heart sinking when I read that “paper sacks generate 70 per cent more air pollutants than plastic bags” ( Paper can no longer be the conscious-clear alternative, we are all learning that our wee planet cannot sustain single-use lifestyles and applying that to my own business is a source of constant angst. I’m hoping package-free shops become mainstream sooner rather than later – bring on more refill stations like Clonakilty’s wonderful Twig in Spiller’s Lane!

At the end of the day, as a friend recently once quoted her elderly aunt “It’s all choices”. She was telling me a story about a conflict in her own life-schedule that meant she had to cancel on said aunt and her aunt’s reply was “it’s ok, but it’s all choices”. And she didn’t mean it to offend or to create guilt, she used this phrase often, it was meant instead as a portion of that elderly wisdom, just stating the facts, we choose and we have to accept that we are actively choosing all the time, makers of our own destiny.

Sometimes I am so overcome by choices I am nearly paralysed by indecision; I often create excuses for why I had to choose something – there was no alternative or because of time restraints. We make so many choices everyday and where and how we spend our money is as important as any other. As much as possible, and especially in our everyday routines we can choose to spend our money in the places we want to see exist and thrive, to spend in a way that encourages shops and the food industry to move forward in terms of more ethical and package-free options, and we can choose to buy things that will last. Christmas is around the corner again so plenty of opportunity for me to practice.


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