Plastic tea

There are a number of folks currently taking part in ‘Plastic Free July’  - a challenge to reject single use plastics for a month. You can read about how people are getting on on various blogs, but the one I am particularly following is Westywrites. And it was through her blog that I discovered my teabags have plastic in them – and yours almost certainly do too!

My favorite teabags

My favorite teabags

I know that some of you (Kate Chiconi) are tea purists and only use leaves, but I like the convenience of a tea bag and I find them easier to deal with when it comes to collecting them for composting. I thought I was safe buying Clipper Organic Teabags made of unbleached paper. Sadly I was wrong… visiting their website I discovered that the two halves of the bag are stuck together with plastic. At least they are open about it and I didn’t have to ask, as seems to be the case with most companies. Anyway, Westy has been encouraging her readers to write to companies and highlight their concerns about single use plastics, so yesterday I e-mailed Clipper:

Dear Clipper
On your ‘our story’ web page you publish the following statement:
“Always a pure, natural product – there isn’t a single artificial ingredient in any of our products.”
However, in your FAQs, I discover that
‘Square “pillow” bags do have a very thin layer of polypropylene plastic’.
Oh, I’m so disappointed! As someone who is trying to live more sustainably, I want to eliminate as much single-use plastic from my life as possible. I love your organic tea bags, but feel that I’m going to have to revert to loose tea because of the presence of this plastic. Yes, I know it’s a small amount, but it’s still there and it all adds up.
Please, please could you consider ways of making tea bags without the plastic? I know it would make you very popular with customers like me who care deeply about the environment and the products we buy.
Many thanks
Dr Jan Martin

And I quickly received a reply:

Dear Dr. Martin,
Thank you for contacting us here at Clipper – it is lovely to hear from you!
With regards to your concerns about their being plastic within tea bags we can confirm that certain types of tea bags do contain polymer fibres. Standard square or round tea bags which are the most common in the UK market will all contain a type of polymer fibre as they are made using heat-sealable filter paper. The tea bag filter paper requires a means of sealing the two layers of paper together as paper will not stick to paper and glue is not used. The filter paper Clipper uses for this type of tea bag contains polypropylene to provide the heat-seal function. The filter paper is food grade for its intended purpose and meets all relevant UK and EU Regulations.
The filter paper used to produce tea bags with the string and tag attached does not need to be heat-sealable, as it is closed differently, and therefore does not contain any polymer fibres/plastic content.
In terms of Clipper packaging in general we can confirm that we do not use PLA material (the biodegradable material used for some pyramid bags and other plastic packaging) as it is derived from corn which may be from GM sources.
Best regards

Hayley Butler
Consumer Care

http://www.clipper-teas.com
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clipper-Teas/172392210758

Is it time to ditch the bags?

Is it time to ditch the bags?

Well, it’s disappointing, but at least they responded. However, perhaps if lots of people wrote to them (and other companies that make teabags) they might start to take notice. So, I’d like to ask you to write a single e-mail, letter or tweet to the company who make your teabags and ask them whether they use plastic in them and, if they do, to stop it!

If you want to join me, the e-mail for Clipper is: help@clipper-teas.com

All quiet on the western front

Don’t worry, I haven’t disappeared completely, it’s just a really busy time of the year.

We have been away for a couple of days celebrating my mum’s 80th birthday. She was taken ill on her birthday last year and since then has been diagnosed with two very serious illnesses and lost my dad. Now that she’s recovering somewhat, it seemed like a good time to celebrate and so we did. Let’s hope the coming year is less sad and stressful than the last one.

In the mean time, I’m still busily making things: all the hexagons are edged and ready to be passed on to others in my craft group for sewing together into a blanket; I’ve even worked out how to use all of them up (there are 46) in a blanket that’s a sensible shape:

It is possible to use all 46 hexagons in a symmetrical blanket

It is possible to use all 46 hexagons in a symmetrical blanket

And I’m back at work on edging the masterpiece. I’ve now done five complete rounds and I plan to do one more in blueberry, one in black and then the final wavy edge… unless I change my mind!!

Still going round and round

Still going round and round

At the end of the week I’m going back to Karuna to teach my annual introduction to permaculture course, so I will have to find something small to make whilst I’m away… socks? string bag? granny squares? a dish cloth? Who knows?

If you don’t hear much from me over the next few days, don’t worry, I will be back for sure on Monday 28 July… I know this because I’m already working on the post!

Oh, poo!

Over the past few days, a link to an article on the Guardian website has been doing the rounds on Facebook (at least in the circles I mix in, which are mainly related to sustainability). It’s entitled Why the modern bathroom is a wasteful, unhealthy design and explains why we might not want to keep our toothbrush next to our toilet and why it’s such an environmental issue to mix the water we wash our hands in with the waste we flush down the toilet.

Basically, the issue with water disposal is that grey water (from washing) can safely be used to irrigate the land, whilst black water (from the toilet) needs to be processed to make it safe. By mixing the two together, we end up with a lot more highly contaminated water that has to be processed in some way. According to the Guardian:

Over 10bn litres of sewage are produced every day in England and Wales. It takes approximately 6.34 GW hours of energy to treat this volume of sewage, almost 1% of the average daily electricity consumption of England and Wales.

I don’t know what the figures would be if we separated the two sorts of water, but I know they would be significantly lower. The real issue in my mind, however, is that we see everything that goes down the drain as a problem – all waste water is pollution in the current paradigm. What we need to do is realise that, in fact, all waste water is a resource… faeces and urine contain valuable nutrients, and water itself is an increasingly rare commodity globally.

And if we are thinking about fertility, The nitrogen fertiliser industry is big business, closely tied in with fossil fuels… according to the International Plant Nutrition Index:

All N fertilizer begins with a source of hydrogen gas and atmospheric N that are reacted to form ammonia. The most-used source of hydrogen is natural gas (methane). Other sources of hydrogen, such as coal, are used in some regions. After hydrogen and N are combined under conditions of high temperature and pressure to form ammonia, many other important N-containing fertilizers can then be made. Urea is the most common N fertilizer, but there are many excellent N fertilizers that can be made from ammonia. For example, some ammonia is oxidized to make nitrate fertilizer. This same conversion of ammonia to nitrate takes place in agricultural soils through the microbial process of nitrification.

Because the production of hydrogen gas required for the synthesis of ammonia largely comes from natural gas, the price of this primary feedstock is the major factor in the cost of ammonia production. Ammonia factories sometimes close or open in various parts of the world in response to fluctuating gas prices. Higher energy costs always translate into higher prices for all N fertilizers. (IPNI)

The classic image of a compost toilet

The classic image of a compost toilet

So, we flush great fertiliser away down the toilet (remember a key function of urine is to expel excess nitrogen from our bodies), pay for that to be treated to make it safe and then pay even more to extract nitrogen from the atmosphere to apply to the land to grow crops. Somehow, this just doesn’t seem sensible. Why not turn the waste into a useful resource and avoid a whole bunch of pollution?

I know that most people are squeamish about composting toilets and they are currently not readily available for use in ‘normal’ houses, but technology is changing. Soon, you won’t have to deal with the waste yourself if you want to avoid the standard flush toilet, and you wont have to have a compost loo in the garden either. Take a look at Toilet Revolution if you want to see a whole range of options suitable for real homes.

 

Unwanted things

Katy's hexagons... there's 46 of them

Katy’s hexagons… there’s 46 of them

Did I mention that last week Katy the Night Owl donated a bag of crochet hexagons to our charity blanket project? She decided that she was never going to make anything from them, so passed them on to me to use. Today I took them to our latest cake and craft afternoon to see if I could get someone to turn them into a lap blanket. Sadly I wasn’t at my most persuasive, but I did get a couple of offers to stitch them together once they were edged, so I spent the afternoon and part of this evening edging them with white yarn donated by my mum. Once they have been sewn together, I’ll do an outer edge round them in a contrasting colour and we should have a completed blanket… all from unwanted things.

Edging towards the finish line

Just thought a little post on the progress of the masterpiece blanket is in order for my regular readers.

Despite crocheting bunting for Scarborough and finding fabric for Queensland (a little of which I had to remove from the parcel to make it less than 2kg and thus affordable to send), I have managed to fit in a bit of work on the edging… actually three and a quarter rounds so far, which is no mean achievement considering what warm work it is!

I must also direct you towards a blog that I think many of you might enjoy… I had to stop reading back through the posts because I was spending so much time, but if you have an hour to spare, take a look here… you might be as tickled as I am with it.

A day in the life

Well, obviously you all like photographs: yesterday turned out to be a very busy day here on my blog. While you were all enjoying my post, I was generating even more pictures and having a ‘green’ day. This mainly involved cooking: I made a wonderful cake using Karen’s recipe on Sweet Baby Veg, but whilst she used gooseberries and elderflower cordial, I used raspberries and framboise… because that was what I had in the house. The framboise I have is British not French and I can highly recommend it (details here) – both for making Kir (white wine and fruit mixer) and in this cake.

Plus, I made some of the courgette mountain into soup. This time I chose to make courgette and carrot soup, which speaks for itself – the only other ingredients are onions, water and seasoning.

And, of course, my day wouldn’t be complete without something crafty. Despite the fact that my Masterpiece edging is calling, I have taken some time out to contribute to a yarn storming project (I don’t like the phrase yarn bombing). I was asked if I could make some bunting pennants for this: I managed 10 of them, which are now being blocked so that they actually are triangular. In addition, Kate over at Tall Tales from Chiconia is planning to make some quilts to donate to Australian sevicemen and women. When I was in my teens I started making a quilt, but it has never been finished, so I decided to drag out the blocks I had already pieced and send these to Kate for her to see what she can make of them. They’ll have to travel by sea, which will take a few months, but hopefully they will finally be transformed into something useful rather than sitting in a box in my loft for another thirty plus years. I’m going to send some of the fabric too, as I know that I will never use it myself.

Of course, there were less photogenic activities… cleaning out the laying boxes in the hen house, walking the dogs, cooking dinner (more courgettes!), harvesting… you know the sort of thing. All in all, quite a green day – I hope yours was too!

This is what it looks like

Some years ago there was a BBC television programme called It’s not easy being green. Whilst it included some interesting things, it used to annoy the hell out of  me and Mr Snail, mainly because of the title. What better way to put people off trying to be more ‘green’ than by telling them that it’s difficult?

So, I want to share some images of what you can do to ‘be green’ that is not only easy, but fun, delicious, empowering, enjoyable, sociable and good for the planet. Let’s not wallow in the negativity; let’s not believe that the only people who can make a difference are rich or famous or in charge of big corporations. Let’s remember that we are all well-connected, because we are all connected with each other.

So, here are some of the ways that I have been green over the past few years.

I’ve been making my garden productive:

I’ve been putting my money where my mouth is and supporting local producers and installers as well as companies who recycle:

I’ve been reducing packaging, especially single-use plastic:

I’ve been cooking delicious food with simple ingredients:

I’ve been creative – resuing, recycling repairing and repurposing:

And, not forgetting to share your ideas:

So, why not give being green a go? You might enjoy yourself!

A frivolous pastime?

Today, for one reason and another (I’ll spare you the details), I have been wondering whether all the time and energy that so many of us put into the creative crafts is well spent. In particular, I have been thinking about the place of countryside crafts in environmental education.

I do understand that, by many, crafts are considered the preserve of ladies of a certain age with plenty of money and time on their hands. To a certain extent this is true… just as everyone who goes fishing is a working class man and all football fans are young blokes who drink lager. Perhaps I am just being defensive about an activity that I love, but I genuinely do see craft (countryside or otherwise) as a valuable way to spend my time.

Demonstrating the qualities of the wool of different sheep breeds on a felt making course

Demonstrating the qualities of the wool of different sheep breeds on a felt making course

At Denmark Farm we run a whole range of courses at a whole range of levels: from felting for beginners to Phase 1 Survey for professional ecologists; from basketry to bat identification; from food growing to field survey techniques. We train all sorts of people to do all sorts of things, but I would be hard pressed to rank our educational activities in order of importance. A stool-making course does not train someone in woodland management, but by having consumers who demand locally produced wood for furniture-making, we are developing a ‘market’ that might lead to the preservation, or indeed planting, of more woods. Our felting courses emphasise the value of using British wools and understanding the qualities of the wool of different breeds of sheep. Since different species and breeds of livestock deliver different conservation outcomes because of, for example, grazing preference, bite site and hoofprint size, the availability of a variety of animals is key in delivering a range of biodiversity objectives.

In addition, simply engaging individuals with activities that link them to the value of the countryside and associated natural resources is important. Sadly, many of us are distanced from the natural world and never realise the connections between it and, for example, our food production. Recently, the impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on bees has been in the news. Such insecticides, their manufacturers claim, are good for agricultural production. However, we now know of their devastating impact on pollinating insects and the knock-on effect of this on crops has severe implications for the production of food plants that rely on insect pollinators. By drawing people into the countryside in which all these interactions take place, we can introduce them to the issues and engender an interest and understanding. It is hard to feel invested in a system if you are completely disconnected from it.

Creating something useful

Creating something useful

Furthermore, by offering training in crafts, we build resilient communities in which individuals have the ability to deliver some of their own needs – whether that is producing charcoal, making clothes, encouraging pollinators by building a bee house or, even, earning a living. Encouraging creativity is valuable in itself. Once you know you can make a basket, what else might you be encouraged to try? Creating is a powerful activity and one thing can certainly lead to another. If we are always spoon-fed – with our food coming in a plastic package and our clothes on a hanger – we may never explore our potential to take control of the goods and products we rely on.

My experience of craft classes is that they are remarkably co-operative. Participants help each other, find shared experiences, make friendships and take new ideas forward. Sometimes the outcome is as simple as increased confidence and support, sometimes it’s the formation of a new community or a group project. It may even be something more dynamic – the phenomenon of craftivism is growing and can make powerful political statements as well delivering all sorts of practical benefits.

And finally, I cannot help but feel that the world is a better place with beautifully made things in it: items made with care and love, to be treasured and not simply discarded on a whim.

On edge

Finally, all the squares are stitched together in the Masterpiece blanket and so I’m on to edging it.

All the squares!

All the squares!

I had grand ideas of a fancy edging originally, and I did test out one option that I thought would look great:

Test on a spare granny square

Test on a spare granny square

But actually I hate it! I’m sure it would look fine on a baby blanket, but it just wasn’t right for the masterpiece. If you do like it, you can find the instructions here. I realised, however, that what I want for the masterpiece is a frame: something simple. I have never been keen on very fancy picture frames, so why should this be any different?

I have, therefore, decided to start with a few rows of trebles so that there’s a simple base to work from and after that, I think I’m going to do some rows with granny-square style clusters of three trebles, followed by a wavy edge like this:

Bunny Mummy’s Double-V Edging (click on the picture to visit her web site for instructions)

That way, the focus will still be the squares. I might go as far as doing the outer few rows in black rather than blueberry, but I’m  not sure yet.

I haven’t even managed the first round of trebles yet, but at least I’ve made a start and so it should be completed within a few weeks if I focus. After that, I just need to get the scrapbook in order and (finally) update the Masterpiece page here on the blog. The end really is in sight!

 

Courgettearama

Yesterday's courgette harvest

A small harvest a few days ago

Every time I go into the garden there are more courgettes (zucchini) – clearly a run-away success this year. I’ve generally been weighing them when I bring them into the kitchen, and so far I’ve picked well over 7kg (15lbs) of them… not bad for mid-July, eh? Currently there are seven decent-sized specimens in the fridge, a pot of courgette soup on the stove (simple recipe: courgettes, curry powder, homemade stock, cook together, then stir in some creme fraiche and season to taste) and lots growing on the plants in the garden. Last night we did have a meal that did not include courgettes (new potatoes, lettuce, boiled eggs and homemade mayonnaise: all out of the garden except the oil in the latter), but we did have courgette soup for lunch!

However, not everyone is having my success this year, and I have been asked by a couple of people what might be going wrong. I can’t say for sure, but I can tell you what works for me.

Courgette plants in the compost bed

Courgette plants in the compost bed

I always grow my courgettes in lots of compost; in fact, the bed that I use for most of them doesn’t have soil in it – it’s an in situ composting system to which I add grass clippings, leaves, cardboard, shredded paper, compost, chicken bedding and anything else I can think of every year. I have grown courgettes and squash in it for the past four years and the lack of rotation seems to have had no adverse effects. I think I add so much extra material each year that, effectively, there is always new substrate. In the winter I let the chickens onto this bed to give it a good turning and to further increase fertility. When I do plant courgettes into beds with soil, I always add lots of extra compost and water sometimes with some sort of nitrogen-rich liquid fertilizer (worm wee, for example).

Making use of lots of compost has two benefits: first, you are supplying plenty of nutrients and second, organic matter holds large amounts of water. Courgette plants are both hungry and thirsty! According to the University of Kentucky, a courgette is 95% water! So that means for every 1kg (2.2lbs) of courgette that you harvest, you need to supply 950ml (33 fluid ounces) of water. In contrast, a potato contains a mere 79% water. I, however, do not like to have to spend too much of my time watering plants, and all that organic matter saves me having to do so. I do give them a drink very occasionally, but even in June when we got a total of 58mm (just over 2 inches), I only watered them about once a week, despite the very sunny, warm weather. So far this month, I haven’t watered them at all, apart from giving the ones in the soil some liquid feed once. In drier climates, watering is likely to be required, but using lots of organic matter will certainly reduce the amount you need to apply.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with some images of the abundance… clearly the organic matter approach is working here:

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