Where do we go from here?

National Recycle Week – Day 7

So, on this final day of National Recycle Week, I’ve been reviewing my posts and considering the future. It’s clear that recycling is simply not enough – everyone of us needs to think about using fewer resources. Just because our governments’ only measure of success is ‘economic growth’ does not mean that we have to (literally!!) buy into this. There is no such thing as sustainability that supports ever increasing consumption of physical resources. We can, however, look for growth in happiness, creativity, friendship, green spaces, homegrown vegetables… any number of factors that could be increased and could benefit us as individuals and the planet as whole.

I now know that I am not going to be able so save the planet single-highhandedly (goodbye dreams of my youth). And quite frankly, I don’t want to anymore – I want to be part of a team. Even so, I know there are still lots of things that I can do as an individual that will make a difference.

The first practical thing I am going to do is to take Sharon’s advice and put together a mending kit. Perhaps my dislike of mending will be reduced (I can’t see that I’m ever going to come to love the activity, only the results) if I have a handy tool box containing all the bits and bobs I might need for patching, darning and repairing.

So, I’ve found a box that used to house my portable sewing kit when I was a student:

A relic of my past

A relic of my past

Inside there are currently drawing pins, a bottle of ink, paper clips, treasury tags, a protractor and a few other bits and bobs that I haven’t seen for years because I haven’t opened it for years. These can join our main stash of such supplies and I’ll give it a good wash out.

Next, I’ve started putting together a collection of useful things to go in it: darning wool, thread, small scissors, a darning mushroom, mending tape a rouleau needle (for threading elastic). I’ve also used a little knitted strawberry that Sharon herself sent me as a small pin cushion, to which I’ve also added a darning needle. What else should I include? All suggestions welcome.

Things I've collected together so far

Things I’ve collected together so far

Do you have a mending box? If so, what do you keep in it?

Other than this, I’m going to be thinking about future purchases a bit more, particularly in relation to plastics and composite objects, as these are not always easy to recycle. We are fast approaching ‘plastic-free July‘ and whilst I’m not planning to participate ‘officially’ it seems like a good time to consider the whole issue and, perhaps, make some more changes.

 

Sofa so good

National Recycle Week – Day 6

If we are to believe the advertising, we would all be buying a new sofa in time for Christmas, or the summer holidays or Easter… Easter, for goodness sake? Well, no, really the companies who make and sell sofas would like us to buy a new sofa for all these occasions, but real people don’t. Real people can’t afford to. And real people often like their familiar, comfy furniture and don’t want to replace it. However, we might like a change of colour or to sort out damage, maybe even to replace squished cushions… or covers that a certain dog has decided to eat the zips off… yes, Sam, I’m talking about you:

DO NOT believe that look of innocence

DO NOT believe that look of innocence

When we last left my sofa, the five back cushions had nice new covers and I had bought a secondhand pure wool blanket to put over the seat cushions and anchor them in place. This latter solution was going to be a temporary fix, but actually it works so well, that it might remain a permanent feature:

IMGP5220

Five cushions and a blanket

And so things had remained. But in this week of recycling, upcycling, mending and generally making things last longer, I have been inspired to pick up my crochet hook again for the next stage of this project – namely a cover for the back of the sofa.

I wanted to make something simple, but with the same yarn colours, so I’ve decided on a striped blanket alternating two rows of even treble stitches with two rows of trebles in clusters of three (like a traditional granny square). This design is Lucy’s ‘Cosy Stripe Blanket‘ over at Attic 24, although I’ve had to make it 1/3 wider than in her original pattern. The increased width means I’m working across 264 stitches, which is a long way to crochet back and forth and means that I’ve only managed three stripes so far:

A long way to go yet!

A long way to go yet!

However it’s easy and doesn’t require much thought, so is perfect to do whilst watching a film. If I’m honest, I’m pretty sure that I could have bought a whole new sofa for the same cost as all the yarn I’m going to need, but where would be the fun in that? In addition, I am trying to make the parts of the cover such that they can be used for other purposes when the main body of the sofa finally gives up the ghost.

Maybe in another year we will have a completely revamped sofa, but at least now there are no exposed zips for Sam to consume. There is never going to be another sofa like it.

Piles of files

National Recycle Week – Day 5

Today it’s recycling my way!

With my half-century on the horizon (ok it’s more than a year yet, but it’s still there) I have been re-evaluating my life and some things have had to go, the latest being my teaching for the university. Finally I acknowledged Mr Snail’s repeated cries of ‘you’re being exploited’ and decided that I’d had enough. I’d fought the good fight – I’d argued the case for better treatment of ‘casual’ (their term, not mine)  teaching staff with everyone from personnel to the Vice Chancellor for the last 17 years and finally, I’d had enough. So, it’s over and I’m now looking forward to writing knitting and crochet patterns instead, alongside my usual editing work.

This change has brought with it the incentive to clear out my office… over the years I’ve accumulated loads of files and reports and they have been looming over me on my shelves for far too long. So, on Monday afternoon, whilst I was running a defrag on my ailing laptop, I decided to start the clear out in earnest.

I started on a shelf of lever-arch files, with one stuffed full of jottings from my 2002 Open University MEd module.

A small start

A small start

And then I worked my way along the shelf, realising just how much paper I have been accumulating over the years.

A few more

A few more

And so it went on, as I progressed to another shelf, which included box files

and more

and more

And then on to the pile on the floor up the corner

IMGP5872

and more

Until my computer was finally done and I had a break, having filled a couple of boxes  and a large bag full of paper

Just one of the boxes

Just one of the boxes

and having completely stuffed one of the liberated box files full of poly-pockets

Reused box file containing poly-pockets awaiting reuse

Reused box file containing poly-pockets awaiting reuse

I suspect that we will never need to buy any sort of filing supplies for the rest of our lives!  And I’m only part way through.

So, what of the recycling part of this post? Well, the new raised bed is now complete and there’s a lot of it to fill. We’ve decided to treat it like a big composter for the time being and so, the bottom needs a good layer of paper and cardboard to act as a base:

A nice absorbent base - full of carbon

A nice absorbent base – full of carbon

Before being covered with greenery:

Grass clippings on top

Grass clippings on top

Several years ago we trained some of our neighbours to deliver their grass clippings to us and, right on time, a bag arrived this morning for me to add to the mix. Now, I just need to go and collect the bags of moss I have been promised and some horse muck and we’ll be well on the way to a replacement for the bed that was removed to make way for the limery. Now, that’s my sort of recycling.

Mending my ways

National Recycle Week – Day 4

Today is all about not recycling… or at least not recycling YET.

Followers of Mr Snail’s blog will have read of his latest surgery on the wind-up/solar radio, thus further extending its already much-lengthened life. In order to keep up, I felt that I needed to do some mending myself this week too, so I investigated my collection of ‘clothes I am going to repair when I feel sufficiently motivated’ and gathered together my enthusiasm…

This week’s project: pyjamas. Six years old and split alongside a seam. I love these pyjamas, hence them wearing out!

Split

That’s torn it!

Iron-on mending tape

Iron-on mending tape

I decided too that the time had come to invest in some mending tape. Sadly it’s not magic – that is it doesn’t do the mending for you… for that you need a mending fairy and I can’t find one of those for sale on the internet. To to get the best results, some sewing is required, but basically you iron the stuff onto the back of your fabric and it strengthens that area of your garment and holds it together. It doesn’t work for drapy fabrics, because the adhesive makes it rather stiff (although it might soften with washing) but it does result in a robust repair.

My pyjamas are purple, but I couldn’t put my hand on any purple fabric, so I went with some contrasty red, from which I cut a small piece that I stitched behind the tear, tucking away the raw edges of the original fabric. I trimmed of the excess of the red, placed the tape behind it and applied the iron for 5 seconds, with a cloth between iron and mending tape. And, voila! my pyjamas get to live another day night:

It’s not stylish, but it’s functional and it means that I’ve kept another item out of the recycling bin for a bit longer.

Value-added recycling

National Recycle Week – Day 3

Today is National Upcycling Day!

Actually, I was a bit confused about what counts as ‘upcycling’ so I decided to find a definition. The Oxford Dictionaries web site defines upcycling as follows:

Reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original

Well of course, once you start talking about increasing value, you have to consider what your definition of value is. For me, any re-used or repaired object that was going to enter the waste stream has had its value increased by being rescued from this fate. However, upcycling carries the suggestion of making something more fancy or using it for something other than its original purpose. This means that my repeated repairs of slippers, socks and clothes in general are not really upcycling.

Mr Snail’s gate from a pallet

So, I’m beginning to wonder if I have anything that I could really describe as ‘upcycled’. I suppose that Mr Snail’s palletgate is an example of upcycling, because he actually modified something (a pallet) to turn it into something different (a gate). I’m also using frogged (unravelled) and washed yarn for some of my knitting projects (bath puffs and hexi-puffs for my beekeeper’s quilt). But mostly, we don’t do this sort of thing. We do repair like mad, which means that most things around the house are still being used for their original purpose – often long after most people would have thrown them away.

So, whilst I salute all you upcyclers out there, I have to confess that I’m not very good at it. What about everybody else? Do you upcycle? Have you made glorious objects out of discarded items?

If you want to see some great examples of upcycling check out Remade in Britain – it’s a shop, but there’s lots of inspiration too, in fact they have an A-Z of upcycling here. Also today on Twitter Jen @makeandmendyear is doing an A to Z of upcycling techniques, with links to tutorials, which is fun.

The world’s most impressive recycling system

National Recycle Week – Day 2

Today, on this dry and sunny day, I’m thinking about water.

The Water Cycle (from NOAA – The US National Weather Service)

Water is one resource that gets naturally recycled: clouds drop rain on the earth, which gets soaked up by the soil, used by plants or flows into lakes or the ocean, before some of it evaporates to form clouds again. Round and round it goes, sometimes being stored, sometimes being created (all living things make water when they respire, and it’s released during combustion) and sometimes being used as a building block (plants use water along with carbon dioxide in photosynthesis to create carbohydrates). This global cycle carries on unnoticed for the most part, although humans do interfere with it, for example by extracting water stored underground or by channelling it so that it flows quickly through the landscape and doesn’t soak into the earth.

Humans also, however, pollute it. We use it to wash away waste, thus requiring some sort of treatment before it can safely be returned to the environment. So, we need sewage treatment plants and  tailings pools and filters and all sorts of other ways of cleaning up the water we have used. Sometimes we also make it warm and then discharge it directly into the environment, thus upsetting the natural systems in the area (this is known as ‘thermal pollution’ and is a particular problem with power plants and industries that use water for cooling)), at least in part because warmer water contains lower levels of dissolved oxygen.

Pair of butts collecting water off the roof of the house at the back

Pair of butts collecting water off the roof of the house at the back (the are awaiting new positions with the limery construction under-way)

On a more personal scale, it’s interesting to consider the water we use in our own homes. In most cases, there’s not a lot of cycling goes on in this context, but we can be much more efficient with our water use and make sure that we contaminate as little of it as possible. Generally in domestic situations, our biggest source of contamination is sewage – every time you flush the toilet, you send 5-10 litres of polluted water down the drain, and that water will have to be processed (thus using energy) before it is safe to release back into our rivers and seas.

The best thing we can do as individuals is to reduce our water use, using our water as many times as possible before sending it out of our homes. Grey water – such as what comes out of the washing machine – can be used again to water plants or wash the car, thus doubling up on use and reducing the amount that needs to come out of the mains (which will save you money too if your water is metered). Chez Snail, we collect lots of rainwater for use around the house and garden and this means that, wherever possible, we are not using the processed water that comes out of the taps for jobs that don’t require it. For example, all the concrete that has been mixed during our building work has used rainwater… after all, it made no difference if it was a bit gritty or contained some algae.

From the Guide to Sustainable City Living

From the Toolbox for Sustainable City Living

It’s even possible to build your own little gray water treatment plant at home if you wish. I have a book entitled Toolbox for Sustainable City Living that provides detailed instructions on building a wetland out of three recycled bathtubs to filter washing machine waste water… it’s not the answer for all of us, but if you live in a city and want to process your water for re-use there are options. Chez Snail we will continue to water the plants with our used washing-up water and flush the toilet with rain water and grey water and in these ways we will help mother nature in her grand recycling operation.

Start as you mean to go on

National Recycle Week – Day 1

Council recycling bag

Council recycling bag

So, here we are on the first day of National Recycle Week and I’ve been thinking some more about what I’m doing. Monday is, in fact, recycling collection day Chez Snail – the council collects cans, tins, paper, plastic, cardboard, tetrapaks and polystyrene from homes in our county once a week, so much of our recycling is a no-brainer. Items for recycling go straight in the bag provided and are put out to be picked up every Monday. Everyone in the street seems to do this without any trouble, and folks have even got used to the food waste bins that are emptied at the same time. In fact, we rarely put out any food waste because (1) we don’t waste food* and (2) peelings etc end up either in the chickens or in the compost.

I think that, in our house, everything that can be recycled is, so why should I be thinking much about this subject? Well, the answer is that we still sometimes have waste that cannot be recycled and also I’d like to have less to recycle.

It seems to me that the only way to reduce the amount of stuff that needs to be recycled, and thus to reduce the waste stream, is to think about the whole life-span of any item. If we considered the length of time an object could serve its purpose and the destination of that object at the end of this time,  we might make better purchasing decisions.

So, today, it was appropriate that through the post I received a new washing-up brush. I ordered this last week after a whole saga of inappropriate choices and disappointment. I like to wash the dishes using a brush and for many years I have used plastic brushes. When one started to wear out some months ago I was pleased to find a replacement made of recycled plastic and with a replaceable head. Sadly, the bristles were flattened within a few weeks. I didn’t want to have to buy a new head every month, even if it was recycled plastic, so that option was abandoned. A new plastic one was purchased, but that too has become unusable after only a few months. So, by the power of the interweb, I sought out a more natural alternative, and here it is:

New arrival

New arrival

It is wooden and has natural (plant) bristles. Plus, as you can see, it came with two replacement heads. Now it may be that the bristles fall out after 20 minutes, but at this stage I’m feeling quite happy, because even if a head doesn’t last very long, I can put it in the compost heap, or use it to light a fire. This brush (apart from the metal bits) should never enter the municipal waste stream… and should provide energy rather than consume it when it comes to the end of it’s life as a washing-up brush. Now, that’s my sort of product.

-oOo-

* Despite Mr Snail thinking that the stinky cheese in the fridge should be classified as ‘food waste’!

Reduce your use

Tomorrow marks the beginning of National Recycle Week, with the aim this year being:

to get us all thinking about all the items we can recycle from around the home that we might not previously have thought about recycling (Recycle Now)

Now, I think this is a great idea. We should all think more carefully about what we can recycle. However, I think that recycling is similar in some ways to carbon off-setting, in that it gives us ‘permission’ to carry on as before with the same level of consumption. Telling ourselves that it’s ok to keep buying ‘stuff’ and using resources because they can be recycled is really not sustainable at current levels of consumption. Recycling takes energy, but less than production from raw materials:

It takes 95% less energy to recycle aluminum than it does to make it from raw materials. Making recycled steel saves 60%, recycled newspaper 40%, recycled plastics 70%, and recycled glass 40%. These savings far outweigh the energy created as by-products of incineration and landfilling. (Stark State College)

But it still takes energy – and there can be other negative outputs, such as from the bleaching and de-inking processes in paper recycling. So, whilst recycling should be one of our ways to be more sustainable, it shouldn’t be our first one. It would be much better if we didn’t actually use the object or resource in the first place. If you don’t accept the plastic carrier bag offered to you in the supermarket and instead use a cotton bag or a basket or a box of your own, then one less bag will be in circulation and it will never need disposing of at the end of its life.

Reducing consumption is a much more effective way of saving the planet, and if you do already own ‘stuff’ then, when it comes to the end of its, life consider whether it could be repaired or re-used or repurposed. And if you get fed up and want a change, why not try a bit of adaptation, embellishment or upcycling? All these approaches encourage us to be creative – to see our ‘stuff’ in different ways and to think about our options.

So this National Recycle Week I will be:

Reuse = Reduce

Reuse = Reduce

  • repairing some pyjamas (and thus not buying new ones)
  • buying my fruit and vegetables loose and using my own bags
  • sorting through all my old teaching notes, extracting the paper for use in the garden and saving all the cardboard folders, lever-arch files, box files and poly-pockets for reuse
  • opening my post with a letter opener so that I can use the envelopes again with the aid of some envelope reuse labels
  • and continuing to look for ways to be creative with my ever-increasing pile of OHP transparencies… before I give up and send them to Emily in the US to get them recycled!
  • oh, and recycling too… I always do.

But it might come in useful…

Apparently those of us interested in being greener by reducing consumption can be divided into two camps: the minimalists and the hoarders. You can, most certainly, find me in the latter. Whenever an item has reached the end of its use I find it difficult to throw it away. I cannot help but think that ‘it might come in useful’.

  • That box that my new secateurs came in? It’s very sturdy, if somewhat oddly proportioned… it might come in useful.
  • The old dismantled chicken coop that was a bit of a disaster? There’s mesh and a little door and wood… it might come in useful.
  • The old gutters from the house that were replaced five years ago? You can use them to grow plants in apparently… they may, even now, come in useful.
  • Padded envelopes? You can never have too many padded envelopes in a variety of sizes because you never know when you might need to send out 157 items in the post! They may (all) come in useful.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

Filling the space available

My bulging office

The trouble is, I’m starting to feel swamped by all this accumulating ‘stuff’ and so I’m having a bit lot of a clear out. A responsible clear out that does not simply mean sending everything to landfill and starting again, but finding an appropriate home for everything that I feel able to let go of.

The big task  at the moment involves teaching materials. After an internal tussle, I have made the decision to give up my university teaching and not to seek other similar work. The time has come to let it go. Now, there is a lot of ‘stuff’ associated with my teaching, including piles and piles of handouts. These take up an enormous amount of space in my office – occupying floor and bookshelves – that could be put to better use. So, I’m getting rid of them. Pretty much all the up-to-date stuff is on my computer anyway, so I don’t need to keep paper copies. And, even better, I know what to do with all the paper… it’s going in the bottom of the new raised bed to act as a carbon source! Well, we will keep a bit as scrap for printing on, but the amount I have would last us forever, so I’ve decided to convert it back into plant material: from hand-outs to herbs!

The other thing I came across today was a collection of OHP transparencies. I quickly searched on the internet to find out if these could be recycled… the answer is ‘yes’, but not in the UK as far as I can tell. The company 3M used to recycle them, and still do in the US, but an e-mail from them this morning confirmed that they no longer offer this service here. I’m rather disappointed about this because clearly a method is available. I see that there are a whole host of things you can use them for in an arty and crafty way, but I don’t want to. First, I want them gone because I’m making a break from this aspect of my life and second, I just don’t want to add to my stocks of ‘but it might come in useful’ craft materials. Anyone got any ideas? It has been suggested that I pass them on to a local primary school for craft work, but I’m not convinced that they wouldn’t just end up in the dustbin (call be cynical). So, if you have some use for acetate sheets with printing on them (all about conservation and ecology), just let me know because at this rate I’ll be sending them to Pennsylvania for recycling!!!

 

Limery Update

I know that regular readers will be itching for an update on the limery (yes, that is now its official name).

I knew that building work was not likely to happen quickly, but I had hoped that it would be finished by now. Alas not… although there has been progress and it might be done by the end of next week. My builders are lovely – polite and thoughtful and happy to chat over a cup of tea. But even so, it’s terribly unsettling, and the noise of my roof being taken apart and rebuilt was not conducive to calm contemplation or, indeed, editing work or writing blog posts!

However, I have things to show…

They started laying the patio (re-used flag stones) and  building the raised bed:

Flag stones look good as new, but they are about 20 years old!

Flag stones look good as new, but they are about 20 years old!

Then we got the framework for the glass:

Then the builders dismantled part of the roof (this was VERY noisy):

and this the day before thunderstorms were forecast… fortunately they didn’t arrive.

Next they covered the new bit of roof:

Well, at least it isn't going to leak

Well, at least it wasn’t going to leak (much)

Then they came back and put the slates back on the house and attached the battens ready for the new slates… which, apparently can’t be put on until the glazing is completed:

Roof in tact and lead installed

Roof in tact and lead installed

All the flag stones for the patio were put down and the raised bed had its coping stones fixed in place:

And finally, work started on the floor inside the limery – two layers of insulation (all off-cuts from previous jobs), a drain and a concrete floor (mixed using only stored rain water) which is to support yet more reused flag stones:

And that’s where we are tonight… I have just had to create a barricade:

No entry!

No entry!

To avoid any more of this:

Marking their territory

Marking their territory

I am SO looking forward to it being finished, so my garden stops looking like this:

Last year this was a vegetable bed

Last year this was a vegetable bed

 

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