A Platinum approach to sustainable living: 70 years in perspective

To mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, we think about how attitudes towards sustainability have changed since 70 years ago.

The world has changed drastically during the past seven decades, and with these changes, our environment has suffered consequences.

Buckingham Palace

Being sustainable was an unintentional way of life

The Queen took to the throne shortly after the Second World War. During wartime the word ‘sustainable’ had never been heard. People naturally lived sustainably out of necessity rather than choice.

Sustainable food choices

Food was scarce during wartime and even up to the mid 1950’s rationing was necessary. As a result, food was not something to waste.

The ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign inspired thousands of people to grow their own fruit and vegetables to make themselves and their communities self-sufficient. Imported exotic foods were rare, except for instances such as tangerines at Christmas.

Food waste just wasn’t an issue, food scraps were either fed to livestock or used as compost. Even animal bones were used in glue and fertiliser production.

The only fast food/takeaway available was locally sourced fish & chips served in recycled newspapers. This simpler, less processed diet meant that people were healthier as well as there being less waste.

Make Do and Mend

The name ‘dustbin’ comes from people first needing bins to dispose of the ‘dust’ (or ash) from their open fireplace. There would have been little else placed in these bins as nothing was ever just thrown out. Things were mended, repaired and repurposed as our disposable culture with cheap replacements wasn’t an option.

The ‘Make Do and Mend’ movement encouraged people to reuse things they’d usually throw away. For example, reupholstering a piece of furniture, repurposing old clothing by handing it down or using the material to create an entirely new item of clothing. Even babies nappies were reused.

Antique sewing machine

Eating well, with less

Back when the Queen first took to the throne we didn’t package food in plastic like today. Supermarkets were not really a thing. Everyone shopped local with independent traders, and food was often wrapped in paper.

A fridge was unheard of as food was brought and consumed on the same day; and there were no plastic bags, just reusable wicker baskets lined with newspaper. So people ate fresh, and well and there was no waste at the end of it.

Travelling by car was considered luxury

People simply travelled less during this time, car ownership was rare, travelling on a commercial aeroplane was unheard of, people didn’t travel abroad to go on holiday.

Horse-drawn transport was still a key way of getting from A to B. For example, milk, vegetables, and coal were mainly delivered via horse-drawn carts. While this did create a dung issue on the streets, children would follow behind the horses to collect it to use as manure. Getting around in this way was very low in carbon.

How did we stop our sustainable living?

As our young Queen settled into power people were overwhelmed with the rise in their spending power as the post war economy started to boom.

As technology developed, the culture of convenience increased. From cars to fridges people had the option to live easier lives. Supermarkets offered the novelty of everything under one roof – a one stop shop and an increase in variety too. Unfortunately this also brought with it a rise in plastic packaging and high food miles.

But we can learn from our history, and bring back some of the values that helped make our lives more sustainable, and healthy too.

What could we bring back from this time?

Celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee by making some old fashioned switches that you might just find save you money, boost your wellbeing and help protect our environment too…

  • Reduce your reliance on supermarkets and packaging by grow your own vegetables. As well as growing/purchasing seasonal produce.
  • Reduce food waste through composting.
  • Avoid single-use plastics, by reusing containers i.e. water bottles.
  • Shop local – visit and support your local bakery or greengrocer/farm shop.
  • Invest in some reusable carrier bags (or even better a wicker basket).
  • Challenge yourself to ‘Make Do and Mend’ something you plan on throwing away.
  • Cycle or use public transport, (a horse drawn carriage might not be quite as practical).
  • Reinstate the milkman, to reduce trips to the shop and use of single-use plastic.