Away

In 1856, the Metropolitan Board of Works was established in London and it appointed Joseph Bazalgette as its chief engineer. As a result, Bazalgette embarked on his greatest work: designing and overseeing the construction of the sewer network in London, which effectively removed the threat of cholera and greatly improved the health of London residents and the general environment of the city. With immense foresight, Bazalgette estimated the size of sewers required and then doubled it, meaning that his original system is still coping with the population of the capital today. Nevertheless, his sewers still just diverted waste away and raw sewage was collected in tanks, the contents of which were discharged directly into the Thames a little way downstream at high tide. It wasn’t until 1900 (nine years after Bazalgette’s death) that sewage treatment works were constructed to deal with the outflow.

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Map of the London sewerage system developed by Joseph Bazalgette 1858-1870 (Rudolf Hering, 1882 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

I am in awe of this amazing feat of engineering, but I’m also aware that it is the physical embodiment of Victorian values: the earth was created to serve man and human beings had a god-given right to use natural resources no matter the consequences to nature (which was also there for the benefit of mankind). And so, human waste was neatly and efficiently removed from sight (and smell), improving the lot of those in the city, but actually delivering the source of the problem to another location. Even during Bazalgette’s time, there were, apparently, those who objected to the fact that a valuable resource was simply being pumped into the Thames rather than collected and used for growing crops.

I wonder, therefore, what a different world we might inhabit had Joseph Bazalgette taken a different approach. What if he had valued this resource rather than simply seeing the (admittedly huge) problem? I’m not sure what sort of solution he might have come up with, but that change in perception in the nineteenth century might have seen modern homes not flushing fertility ‘away’, but having their own sources of compost production. Or maybe ‘away’ would have been to digesters or power plants or fertiliser factories.

There is no such thing as away. When you throw something away, it must go somewhere. Annie Leonard

Soap and flannel*

by Patricia Collinspat soapAn American friend sent me these lovely soaps for Christmas and I’m doing my best to work my way through them because of the packaging.  My mother would not be pleased. She had far more patience and self control and would keep soap, no matter how pretty or enticing, in our clothes drawers for months before thinking of using them. This not only scented the clothes, but apparently hardened the soap so that it would ‘go further’ when finally put into use. Has anyone else come across this trick? Usually I still save soap before use, but is there science to prove saved soap goes further?

The reason I’m racing through these soaps is the packaging! Each one is wrapped in a pretty piece of pure cotton. The wrapping is secured with two small stitches so that it comes undone easily, and I just can’t wait to make something of these pretty pieces of cloth. Each one is  7×5.5 inches – I still sew Imperial. For those who don’t that’s 17.5x14cm and I will have five pieces. Any thoughts on what to make? Having complained of poor packaging on numerous occasions, I just can’t wait to get my hands on this lot.

PS This isn’t an ad for the soaps, but anyone interested can see from the wrapper who makes  and sells them via the internet.

-oOo-

* Well, fabric, really

 

Nicely packaged

by Patricia Collins

Back in the Brownies, I learned to tie a parcel.  One evening we trooped into the church hall with brown paper (brought from home and saved from the last parcel that arrived in the house) and string. After the toadstool gathering, the salute and the promise, we set to on empty cereal packets and shoe boxes with just that brown paper and string, a slip knot, round turns, half hitches and reef knots to finish off.  Oh and scissors – proper sharp scissors and 20 little girls bursting with excitement. At the end of the evening we handed in the scissors and took our parcels home with the reminder to untie them carefully and save the paper and string ‘for next time’. This was the Health and Safety and environmental thinking of the day!

A delivery this week – ALL the plastic you can see is tape

I can still tie a neat parcel, but today I’m back at my desk drawer and pondering the problem of sellotape.  For those outside of England – Scotch tape, sticky tape, plastic adhesive tape. And there you have it.  It’s taken me almost all my post-Brownie years to realise that Sellotape is plastic and in that time I have created a much loved and appreciated collection: double sided tape, parcel tape, masking tape, electrical tape and all in several different widths. All of it plastic, all of it non-biodegradable, all of it potentially harmful to our environment.

It’s New Year and I’m sure I’m not the only one full of good resolutions, but what to do? Return to Brownie skills? Get rid of the collection and how? Or use up this store? 

  • don’t use sellotape to re-seal used envelopes etc. Gummed paper labels and staples do this job well
  • don’t use it to mend books or other paper-based documents. It’s the archivist’s pet hate as it leaves stains and weaknesses that can never be made good . gummed brown paper works well inside book jackets or a very thin piece of bandage pasted on pages
  • don’t make sellotape the first choice- think before reaching for the roll of sticky tape – can the job be done another way?

Are there other ways of lessening my environmental impact? I’d welcome your suggestions. Meantime I’ll remember that Brownie promise ‘do your best’

-oOo-

The Snail’s solution

This thought-provoking post from Patricia arrived on the same day that I received the parcel in the photograph above, from a “green” grocery store. All that plastic tape made me wince. I carefully peeled it off and the cardboard went into the compost, but the tape has to go to landfill, I think. When I am packing a parcel myself, I use paper parcel tape and, increasingly, I see that parcels arrive sealed with this. And, of course, there are marvellous companies who ensure that all their packaging is plastic-fee: All Natural Soap Company and Roasting House are two who are helping me keep my consumption of single-use plastics down, although I know how privileged I am to be in a position to make these choices.

The mighty pen

by Patricia Collins

At the risk of sounding like a fossil, I’ll tell you that I learned to write with a slate and slate key, progressed to a pencil and on to a dip pen i.e. a wooden holder with a changeable steel nib that was dipped in the inkwell that was set into the corner of my school desk and replenished every week by the ink monitor. With a few adventures on the side with chalks, powder paints and wax crayons, this took me happily to the 11+ and the ritual fountain pen.

The fountain pen had a rubber bladder that was re-filled with ink, but it was made of a hard plastic casing and was, as I see now, my first non biodegradable writing instrument. When work for O-Levels commenced, we all yearned for Rapidographs. Wonderful tools for drawing maps and graphs that were like writing with hypodermic needles. I still have mine and see that though it too was re-fillable, it has a clear plastic ink reservoir.

‘Biros’ were considered to be detrimental to our handwriting and were strictly forbidden until the Sixth Form. My first biro was precious; it had a metal casing and was refuelled by purchasing a metal cartridge of ink.

And now – biros arrive in the post as ‘free’ gifts from charities either urging me to support their work or to thank me for supporting their work, arrive as promotional Christmas gifts from local businesses. They also seem to have a life of their own, accumulating in my desk drawer and shopping bag from I know not where.

Many of the charities send pre-paid envelopes with their gifts, so it’s an easy matter to return the pen, and say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to any more.

patricias pencilcase

Plenty to fill this (c) Patricia Collins

For the accumulation, I’m taking a two pronged attack. Firstly, greater care in restoring pens to their rightful owners. No more thoughtless pocketing of other people’s biros. Secondly, a little sewing project – an oddment of material, a re-purposed zip and a pencil case is born. A sweep of the shopping bags. desk drawers and back of the sofa throws up a nice assortment of spare pens and pencils to fill it. A trip to the EFL centre where local asylum seekers have their English lessons to hand over the filled pencil case.

I can only lament my years of ‘green’ writing and the proliferation of plastic today and realise passing on the unwanted biros does nothing to solve the bigger problem, but at least people in need can practise the great art of writing.

-oOo-

Thanks to Patricia for another thought-provoking post.

Last year, before we passed our old dresser on to my niece, we cleared it out and discovered loads of old pens. I fished them out and Sister of Snail tested every one to see if it worked. Now I have an old cutlery tray full of pens… perhaps I should find new homes for them?

Bedding down

The woolly dog bed is complete. The pad was made entirely from an old dog bed and the yarn is 100% British wool out of my stash.

The edge includes a separate crocheted section that can be unravelled so the pad can be taken out to allow it to be washed separately from the cover. This was done to avoid the use of buttons, poppers or a zip, all of which might have been rather tempting to chew and then swallow.

I am rather pleased with it and Daisy and Sam seem to be happy too.

Glittery Christmas

by Patricia Collins

… and still they come in.  Despite all the awareness-raising campaigns of the past year about the effects of micro plastics on the environment, I’m still receiving glittery cards, even from people I thought were ‘greenish’.

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Mostly we’ve been glitter-free this year Chez Snail… one or two of you might recognise a card here!

My favourite, i.e. most disappointing, example is a pretty Christmas tree card sold to raise money for a very worthy medical charity that boasts its environmentally friendly credentials on the back – ‘made from FSC sustainable resources, recycled materials and using  vegetable printing inks’.  But it’s sprinkled with glitter of which there is no mention. From opening the pretty card, that glitter is now on my clothes and my carpet so it will go with the clothes to the washing machine and with the hoover dust to the compost and so to the sea and soil.  This card also reminds and requests me to recycle it. How am I to do this safely?

Well rather than simply carp, I’ve decided to take inspiration from our Snail and take action; so every time I receive a glitter card I email a request to the producer for further information. I ask whether they are using ‘safe’ glitter. If they are request them to flag this up on their environmental credentials. If they are not, I ask them to change. And then add the big question how do they suggest I recycle their product. I add a link to a good, basic article on micro plastics: here.

I’m still puzzling over whether to send copies of the correspondence to my ‘greenish’ friends – any thoughts?

So far no replies from the manufacturers but watch this space.

-oOo-

Many thanks to Patricia for writing this post on a subject that I hadn’t thought much about, but certainly is worth considering.

If you would like to write a guest post on a subject that fits with the sort of thing that appears on The Snail of Happiness blog, do get in touch… I’m not making any promises, but it would be interesting to feature some things that you have been thinking about as well as my random musings.

Shame

It seems to me that large manufacturers and retailers are genuinely out of touch with the public. As environmental awareness increases and there are more and more demands for reductions in packaging, ditching unnecessary single-use containers and abandoning built-in obsolescence, it’s time that big corporations made some changes. Now I know that it takes dinosaurs a long time to respond, but I can’t help feeling that some of the reluctance to change is because it’s simply easier not to. However, it is not impossible – specifications can be amended, processes can be modified, expectations can be altered. Making the excuse that it’s because of economics just does not wash (economics are a fiction – plastic in the sea killing marine life is a reality).

So, I have decided that I will take action. I already vote with my money, but that’s a rather private action and, whilst it is important, is not going to make a huge difference in isolation. I am, therefore, taking to social media with direct, public messages to companies that I have issues with. Today, via Twitter, I targeted Seasalt, who make lovely organic clothes, claim to be environmentally responsible and pack all their goods in plastic.2018-08-21 (2)They did respond, which is at least something, but obviously it’s easier to blame someone else:2018-08-21 (3)

They haven’t responded further, but I hope that other people will join in and we might be able to persuade them to make the change.

I would like to think that shaming companies publicly might have some effect, because after all social media is a key part of their marketing strategy. Perhaps you’d like to join me? Do tell me about any companies that you have contacted and how they have responded. Perhaps we can support each other and make our ripples into waves.

Knit, Purl, Save the World

The other day I was browsing the local library and came across this bookIMGP5890so I couldn’t resist taking it out to peruse thoroughly at home. I love the idea of the book:

A sustainable approach to knitting and crochet that benefits the planet AND your creativity

The book takes a pattern-by-pattern approach, using a different “eco-friendly” fibre for each – alpaca, soysilk, locally produced cashmere, camel, bamboo, jute and so on. Some of the pros, cons and eco-credentials of each fibre are discussed and some of the patterns use scrap yarn or yarn made from recycled/repurposed materials. There’s also a two-page spread entitled Community Awareness: Global Efforts to Live, Create, Employ, and Sustain Via Yarn Crafts which describes projects in various countries that use knitting, crochet or fibre production as the basis for community development and economic independence.

But I’m sorry to say that I was a little disappointed with it overall. The organisation means that the patterns rather than the fibres take centre-stage and there is no handy way to browse the types of yarns and compare their characteristics and credentials. I’m rather saddened that the research that the authors clearly did to find out about the yarns they use was not presented in a more accessible and thorough way. Space is dedicated to basic knitting and crochet techniques, which are easy to find in a multitude of books, rather than to the really interesting, unique stuff. I don’t need another book of patterns, but I would have loved a book comprehensively discussing the merits (environmental and otherwise) of different yarns and fibres, so I’m glad I got it out of the library rather than bought it.

Ah well, I guess that I’ll just have to write the book I want myself. I’ll add it to the list.

Knit, Purl, Save the World by Vickie Howell and Adrienne Armstrong, ISBN 0715336347

The trouble with water

Here in Wales we’re having a bit of a drought… it’s hardly rained for weeks and the water butts Chez Snail are sadly depleted. This is a bit of an issue because we try to avoid flushing the toilet with mains water – instead using rainwater that we have collected from the roof of the house and shed. As the water butts have gradually emptied, we have started using ‘grey’ water: saving the water when we shower for use in the toilet, for example. We’ve also been tipping water from washing up and washing onto the plants in the garden (in both pots and the ground) and trying to make use of any other collected water, like when the  hot water tank started overflowing because the arm of the ballcock had warped (now mended).

So, when I get home from swimming, I put my swimming costume and my goggles into a bucket of cold water to rinse away the chlorine, and then I use the water in the garden (assuming that it’s so dilute by then that it will do no harm). And this is where the ‘trouble’ originated.

This morning I simply could not find my swimming goggles. I usually leave them on the table in the kitchen to dry and then put them back in my swimming bag ready for my next session. But this morning they were nowhere to be seen. Where had I put them? Had I left them at the pool? Now, I know that you can see exactly where this is going, but at 6:30 this morning I was completely bewildered. I hunted around the house to no avail, and I asked at the pool, where they have a box of abandoned goggles… none of which turned out to be mine. The lovely staff offered to lend me some, but I had my old ones and so although my swim was a bit blurry (unlike the new ones, my old ones do not have prescription lenses), I was fine. As I swam up and down I mulled over what I could possibly have done with my goggles… and the light started to dawn.

On returning home, I checked the garden, and there they were in a pot with a courgette plant. Apart from a little compost and needing a rinse, they were unharmed. Needless to say this is going to cause great amusement with my fellow swimmers when I tell them on Monday. Ah well, it’s just one of the hazards of a green lifestyle.

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The offending goggles with my eco-friendly swimming costume (made from recycled fibres)

 

 

Things I can learn from Max

As some of you already know, our doggy buddy Max finally passed away a couple of weeks ago. It was very peaceful, but has left me feeling very sad. I am trying to remember the lessons that he taught me, so here’s a little reminder for you too…

The Snail of Happiness

I am very unsettled. The presence (and absence) of builders over the past few weeks means I don’t feel particularly relaxed.

First, every morning, there’s the will they/won’t they arrive question. Then if they don’t turn up first thing the issue of whether I should release the chickens to free range, or whether the builders will appear later and then I’ll have chicken wrangling to deal with. If they do arrive there is disturbance and noise, even though the workers are all very nice and deeply apologetic when they need to ask for something. I had hoped that it would all be over in three weeks, but it’s going to go on longer than that.

In an attempt to work out how I should get through the next few weeks, I have been observing Max, who seems to take this sort of thing completely in his stride (well, shuffle, really)…

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