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Something borrowed, nothing new – easy ways to reduce overconsumption

Environmental correspondent Lizzy has always been passionate about the environment. Since 2016 she has been reducing her non-recyclable waste and is currently working with Roman Road Trust and Globe Town Assembly on the Plastic-free Roman Road project.

The 17 May marked UK Overshoot Day, the day in the year when, if everybody in the world lived like we do in the UK, we would already have used all the resources that the planet can naturally regenerate in a whole year.

We are taking from future generations to live this way, with recent estimates suggesting that children born today will have to live within lifetime carbon budgets almost 90% lower than someone born in 1950.

At the same time, owning so much stuff isn’t making us happier, despite what the 1600 promotional messages we’re exposed to every day try to tell us. In fact, consumerism leads to higher levels of debt, stress and dissatisfaction.

Roman Road’s anti-consumerist havens

So how can we reduce the burden on future generations and live by a different system when the pressure to buy is so high? There are a series of simple questions we can ask ourselves before buying something new which can help us find ways to live well with less. And luckily for us Roman Road offers many spots where we can exercise this simpler, more joyful way of being.

1. Do I really need this?

Capitalism keeps us feeling that we are inadequate so that we keep buying stuff. We’ve also become used to the instant gratification of shopping, but which quickly fades.

The best way to change this automatic behaviour is to pause before acting on it. Is this a need or a want? What need is the product claiming to meet? Do I already own something I can use for the same purpose? Would an experience meet the need better than a thing?

Just slowing down and pausing is itself anti-consumerist – we live in a society that makes us feel like we must live life at an unsustainable pace, making us more likely to succumb to those instant-wins advertisers peddle to us. Why not try mindfulness and meditation at Roman Road’s very own London Buddhist Centre to develop greater resilience to those messages we’re bombarded with?

2. Can I repair the one I already have, or make my own from waste materials?

Why buy a thing when you can make a thing? Join a local class or workshop to learn valuable skills and meet new people. Those listed below are just a handful of those running in our corner of East London:

  • Carpentry Classes called ‘Tools for the Terrified’ are being held at the Common Room on Wednesday 5 and Saturday 8 June. Book in advance by emailing jobehari@googlemail.com.
  • Join a DIY workshop by local carpenter and handyman Jo Levin.
  • Join Bow Sewing Bee on Tuesday evenings.
  • Check out the classes and workshops at the Create Place on Old Ford Road.

3. Can I borrow from, share, or swap with a friend or neighbour?

We need to develop the mindset that together, we have enough, and find ways to better use what we already own collectively.

  • Come to the Rich Mix Bookswap at the Globe Town Spring Community Fair on 25 May 11am-2pm. Rich Mix Bookswaps encourage families to ‘Bring an old book and leave with a new adventure’. They also champion the sharing and swapping of ideas, everyday creativity, parental engagement and family learning.
  • If books are your thing, remember we’re blessed with two public libraries on Roman Road, Bethnal Green Library by the tube, and Idea Store Bow on Gladstone Place just off Roman Road Market.
  • Check out Betsey’s Closet Swap Shop, a pop-up clothing swap event. They sometimes appear at Loveshack on Cambridge Heath Road, so keep an eye on their events list.
  • Join Nextdoor.co.uk to connect with neighbours willing to share all sorts of things from tools that otherwise gather dust in the cupboard to meals together.

4. Can I find one for free that someone else is giving away?

Even if you do need to get something, new isn’t always better. There’s a decent chance what you’re after is being given away for free, so have a look. You’ll be saving the planet and saving a few quid!

  • Join the Tower Hamlets Freecycle Group to find neighbours giving stuff away – and give away your old stuff instead of sending it to landfill.

5. Can I buy second-hand?

There’s a fantastic variety of second-hand options on Roman Road and in the surrounding area. These include:

  • Lama’s Pyjamas at number 83 and Jambala Book Shop just round the corner on Globe Road, both charity shops for the London Buddhist Centre
  • Gina’s Closet a browser’s paradise at number 371
  • Summer Jumble Sales at the Common Room, three dates coming up over the summer, next to Roman Road Car Park on the corner of St Stephen’s Road
  • Spitalfields Crypt Trust Charity Shop at number 589

If you can’t find anything suitable offline, there’s always eBay (remember to filter for ‘used’ items only), Preloved, Gumtree, and apps such as Schpock where you can buy directly from previous owners. Bonus points if you can collect from someone nearby rather than having it delivered from across the country.

6. Where did it come from, where will it go?

If you’ve explored all the alternatives and must buy new, consider the whole lifecycle of the product before you choose which one to buy.

This includes considering the materials and production methods used, where it was made, and what happens when you no longer need it – is it recyclable, does the company itself take responsibility for products at end-of-life, is there a collection point you can drop it off at?

While the answer might be more expensive than the average choice, we tend to see such purchases as investments that will last and we’re less likely to have to buy replacements.

Inspired to do more?

If you’ve started putting the above techniques into practice in your own life and want to spread the joy, consider joining some of the following movements:

  • Could you start a Repair Cafe on Roman Road? Our nearest is in Hackney – maybe you could start Tower Hamlets’ first.
  • How about a community tool library? Sunny Jar Eco Hub is planning to start a Library of Things in East London and needs enthusiastic people to help.
  • Check out Shareable Cities – a guide to creating urban sharing hubs.

If you enjoyed this piece you may like our piece on how to join community gardens in East London

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Lizzy Mace

Lizzy has always been passionate about the environment. Since 2016 she has been reducing her non-recyclable waste and is currently working with Roman Road Trust and Globe Town Assembly on the Plastic-free Roman Road project.

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