I was Crusoe, the world was my desert island and I could do anything – without Amazon or eBay…

zero waste week author richard strauss

Continuing our series of giving the Zero Waste men in our lives a platform to share their stories, here’s Richard; today’s Dudes against Destruction!

As a young boy I remember being greatly inspired by the book about Robinson Crusoe. Not so much the religious theme, but the incredible resourcefulness and inventiveness of the character. From an early age I loved making things out of what was at hand. Bits of old wood, screws, tins, old wheels, they all became wonderful components for go carts, dens and super ray guns to get the monsters… I was Crusoe, the world was my desert island and I could do anything without Amazon or eBay..

Not surprisingly I became an engineer in later life and today still love to make things from discarded materials, wasted items and using my own creative resources. An old washing machine is not a piece of junk, its 300 screws, numerous nuts and bolts, electrical wiring, and various reusable components for a future project. An old sofa that can no longer be repaired has castors, a ton of feathers and seasoned wood for the wood burner. All these large items when disassembled are not only easier to recycle because you’ve separated the materials, they also yield a wealth of additional bits and pieces to repair create and maintain other items.

As a generation, have we lost the art of ‘repair and make do’?

Is it an embarrassing leftover from the post war years?

Have we been so immersed in the commercial world of ‘new, shiny, faster’ that we no longer want or need to even think of repairing and reclaiming old materials?

Our need to consume is met with ever easier options, making it even easier to simply chuck it out and buy a new one. The worst example I ever saw was a brand new vacuum cleaner that was dumped. When I checked it out, the only fault was a faulty fuse carrier in the moulded plug! Five minutes later with a new plug, it was a perfect £200 Dyson.

I still believe the manly attributes of being able to provide, protect and use your mind as well as your wallet. In today’s world of ever increasing consumerisms we are all faced with the encroaching challenge of depleting resources and diminishing places to bury our discarded trash. In decades to come, I imagine we’ll be mining our old landfill sites for the precious resources we so carelessly discarded.

How many guys out there know how to change a 13amp plug? Or have we been deceived into believing anything electrical is dangerous and best left to a professional. How many schools teach boys and girls how to change a tap washer, how to test for a gas leak, or change the oil on a car engine. Men, it’s time to review our place as providers, as creatives and custodians of the things we own. That means not chucking them out when they go wrong. YouTube is a wealth of information on ‘how to do’ things. Watch a few videos on the same subject to see if the same advice keeps coming up. Buy a tool kit, get a garden shed and ask yourself this question. How would Robinson face this challenge the next time something breaks down or needs repairing or repurposing? After a bit of practice you’ll be surprised how satisfying this becomes and in doing so you’ll be giving extra life to a broken item and collectively reducing the amount of useful items consigned to the landfill.


The 2004 Boscastle flood was a stark wake-up call for Richard. Seeing peoples possessions and livelihoods being washed away made him realise just how fragile and transient our lives can be. Also that in spite of our reckless plundering and trashing of resources, the Earth can ‘Bite back’ at any moment in time with unstoppable force.

Everything we touch and use has a life cycle with a beginning and an end and yet we so often only see the part where we take it and use it. Crude Oil takes millions of years to form and we may use a plastic bag for a few minutes of convenience, only to throw it into a landfill to spend hundreds of years toxifying the ground and water systems.

Richard now sees everything in a new way. How did this ‘material’ come about, what’s going to happen to it when I no longer have use for it? For him, these questions should be our collective responsibility of everyone, as thoughtful custodians of our planet. From decisions from leaders of industry to the actions of our daily home life. We all have our part to play.


Here are some of Richard’s ‘must have’ items: LED torch, soldering lighter, cordless, compact circular saw

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Rachelle Strauss

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