Why I’m Walking for Wildlife

Mr Snail is undertaking a sponsored walk next week to support Denmark Farm – an amazing local conservation charity where he is now a trustee. Here’s his post about it, with a link to the page where you can sponsor him… even a small amount will help as the charity will get some extra money if they get enough individual sponsors.

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RIMG9243.JPGIt’s a waste bin, it’s the Earth – go on, guess the symbolic meaning…

I promise this will be my almost probably last post about my sponsored walk! On 28th April 2018, I will walking from Aberaeron (in West Wales, UK) to Lampeter (er, still in West Wales, UK). I thought you should know why (apart from the obvious “because he’s totally bonkers” reason).

Wildlife worldwide is in crisis and it isn’t just cute furry animals, pretty flowers, or the other living things lucky enough to have come under Sir David Attenborough’s scrutiny. There is pretty much no order of life that hasn’t been negatively affected by human activities. One of the problems that humans appear to have is why the loss of an ape, a snail, a frog, a tiny water-borne flea or a mammoth elephant might matter.

When I say every living thing is connected to every other…

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The good soap dish guide

Over the past few years I’ve become a convert to soap – the solid bars, not the liquid. Using it can help significantly cut down on our use of plastic (soap is often sold wrapped in paper or in cardboard boxes and even completely unpackaged) plus it cuts down the unnecessary transportation of water (a large proportion of what’s in all those bottles of shampoo and liquid soap). In addition, it’s easy to find small soap producers who source their ingredients ethically and who do not use palm oil in any of its many forms. A number of people have told me that they cannot use soap at all, but I encourage you to give it a go. I used to find soaps very harsh on my sensitive skin, but these days there are so many options and so many good soap-makers who select their ingredients very carefully that you might be surprised. For example, goats milk soap is very gentle (I use one that also contains Calendula, which is great for sensitive skin) and the Castile soaps form a lotion rather than a lather and therefore have moisturising properties.

The one issue with bar soap, however, is that it does need to be treated with care so that it doesn’t become a soggy mess between uses. Simply keeping your soap in a bowl by the sink or worse still in the shower will just result in you ending up with a bowl of gloop. There are many different solutions – some better than others – so I thought it might be useful to share some examples for those of you considering using soap. The key issue is drainage – you soap will remain in the form of a solid bar and will last much longer if it can dry out between uses, so all soap dishes should be freely draining.

 

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coconut ‘flower’

None of my soap dishes are plastic. The first one I bought was made from a coconut shell on three little dowel legs, with a dozen holes drilled in the bottom. This is a beautiful dish, but there are a couple of issues with it. First of all, it’s round and with only having three legs it overbalances when I put a large new oblong bar in it. However, as you can see, it is the ideal shape for the solid shampoo I use, which comes in round cakes. The second issue is that the holes in the bottom do get clogged up and require cleaning out every few weeks to avoid this simply becoming a coconut shell bowl. Still, a little bit of hot water sorts out that problem. This dish has been in use for several years now and is still going strong.

 

In my search for soap dishes that were suitable for the soap that I normally use, I ordered two types from the company that soap comes from (The All Natural Soap Company). The first is a ridged wooden block, which allows free drainage even when it has got a bit soapy:

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ridged wooden block

This is the perfect size for the bars that I use and I have a couple of these beside the bath. The ridges get clogged after some weeks of use, but a quick scrub with a nail brush and some warm water returns them to a serviceable state.

 

Both the above dishes do dribble a bit, so they need to be placed on a non-permeable surface – sitting them on a small tray or saucer would be ideal, although I simply keep mine on the end of the bath.

I also have a wooden ladder-style soap holder that sits beside the kitchen sink. The soap here is the bar used most frequently and the chances of it becoming soggy are very high, so I chose this design with that in mind.

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kitchen sink soap

I have to keep it in a rectangular dish that needs to be washed out frequently, and this is probably the design that I am least happy with. As you can see, it’s rather suffered from getting wet so frequently, although the soap does stay quite dry.

 

If I had a suitable place to put it, though, my choice would always be a magnetic soap holder. These magic contraptions allow your soap to dry out completely and, as a result, last as long as possible. This is mine above the bathroom sink:

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my favourite

This holder comes with a metal disk with a wavy edge that you embed in the soap so that the magnet in the wall-mounted piece can hold the soap. Of course you need a suitable location to site these, preferably over the sink so that any drips (there won’t be many) are easily wiped away. This is my absolute favourite soap holder.

You’ll notice that none of my soap holders/dishes are made of breakable materials. That’s because the ceramic one I had got knocked into the sink and smashed. After that I decided I needed to stick to something less fragile.

 

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not plastic – honestly

Of course, you also need something to carry your soap in when you are away from home. I have two plastic soap boxes that I have owned for decades. These function perfectly adequately, although I have to be careful to drain them and leave the lids off as much as possible to allow the soap to dry. However, the lovely folks at All Natural Soap recently asked if I would test out a new soap box for them – they have been looking for a non-plastic version for sometime. When it arrived I was surprised that it did seem to be plastic, but apparently it’s made from natural materials and is biodegradable (they are testing this out currently by burying one in their compost heap and one in the soil). It’s not much different from standard boxes, although it does have some slight ridges in the bottom to help keep the soap dry – if they were deeper they would do the job better. Interestingly I trialled this and found that my soap did not form a soggy mess as long as I drained it well before closing the box, even when left shut for a week… I wonder if it ‘breathes’ a little. They are not yet available on the web site, but it’s nice to know there are non-plastic options out there and I’d certainly recommend this one when it becomes available.

 

So, that’s a quick tour of my soap holders. Do you have a favourite design at home? Do you use bars of soap?

 

Hanging out to dry

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snap!

There are some things in life that you don’t buy very often… not because they don’t get used, but simply because they don’t wear out very quickly. A particular example is clothes pegs (pins). It’s probably 20 years since I bought any new ones and at the time the problem of plastic waste did not occupy my mind, although I can remember cursing about my old plastic pegs breaking. I think I looked for wooden ones, but couldn’t easily find any and so bought a (plastic) basket of (plastic) pegs from Woolworths. The basket has long since disintegrated and I made a felt peg bag some years ago. Recently, however, there has been an outbreak of exploding pegs. The plastic is finally breaking down and I’ve been cut several times as a peg snaps whilst being squeezed to open it. Some pegs have even snapped whilst in place on the washing line – leading to even more cursing and some essential re-washing.

My very old wooden pegs (given to me by my mum about 30 years ago) are still going strong, although they probably need soaking in something to get them clean, as I think things may have started growing on them. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of them. So, a purchase was required. In this case I did not need to do any research because I knew exactly what I wanted. Years ago I read about a company in Scotland that was selling a product called K-pegs – strong metal pegs capable of holding washing on the line in the windiest of conditions. A little bit of hunting around and I found the company (Exquisite Scotland) and placed my order. They arrived a few days later and I have been very impressed. I’ve already tested them out in windy conditions and to secure a heavy mat and I’ve had no failures. There’s no plastic and they are easy to keep clean, so I think I am on to a winner…. and will probably never have to buy another peg again in my life. Oh, and wonderfully they arrived in re-used packaging… a company after my own heart.

My laundry issues did not stop there, however. I also have some plastic ‘smalls’ driers. I really like these because it means that when the inevitable rain comes, all those little things on the washing line can be brought in quickly and with minimum effort. Like the pegs, though, these elderly plastic items were starting to disintegrate. One was thrown out a few years ago and the remaining ones have started losing pegs and arms:

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gradually deteriorating

Replacing these took a little more research, but I found that several metal options are available. In the end I chose a version that does have plastic cables to suspend it, but that is mostly metal. The pegs are good and strong and, although the hook does not grip the washing line, the new K-pegs can be used to secure it.

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lots of pegs

So, I’m now all set for many years of hanging the washing on the line – no matter how windy it is.

For Pauline

We lost a lovely, funny, talented lady last week. Knit Night at Red Apple Yarn will not be the same without her. I can do no better than Jude’s words…

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Last week our friend Pauline died. Our thoughts are with her family, who have been through so much during her illness.

She was a warm and generous person with time for people. We shared the enjoyment in making knitting, collecting wool and sharing a hobby with others. While the shop has been open she has been a rock, encouraging me, listening to my struggles with commerce and buoying me up when things went wrong. I enjoyed her company. I wish I could have protected her from the cancer that ended her life too soon. I would have liked to get on and do all the things we had talked about doing  – visiting the lavender fields and that infamous trip to Shetland in a minibus with all the other ‘mad knitters of Lampeter’.  Every time I pick up needles and start a lace pattern I’ll remember her in my stitches…

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Another pond

I mentioned at the beginning of the year that I would be writing less here because I would be doing other writing intended for publication elsewhere. This included fulfilling a promise to make some contributions to the Plastic is Rubbish web site/blog, which provides resources for those looking to cut down their use of various plastics (below are pictures of some of my alternatives).

I often say that my blogging is like throwing a stone into a pond and letting the ripples spread out. I am hoping that having my writing appear elsewhere is like throwing stones into another pond. If you fancy a dip in that pond, you can read my first contribution here, and I do encourage you to have a look round the site as it does contain all sorts of useful ideas, resources and products. Don’t worry, though, it’s not a preachy site, for example, they say…

We shop at supermarkets when we have to, eat meat and drink alcohol. Giving up is not in nature. We want to do everything just without creating a huge pile of non-biodegradable, possibly carcinogenic, animal-killing rubbish that future generations will have to clean up.

We dont  cut plastic completely, you will only get the Dyson when you pry it from my cold, dead hands, but we aim to stop abusing plastic and encourage the discussion on how and when it should be used.

It is a British-based site, but a lot of the content is relevant wherever you are in the world.

Privilege

Some months ago, a comment from Jill (Nice Piece of Work) on my post about decluttering got me thinking a great deal about privilege. About the fact that I am only in a position to make choices because of my circumstances… the fact that I am educated, that my parents both had jobs and money, that I live in a democracy, that I am a member of the major ethnic group in my country, that I have a job, that I have home and partner, that I have a supportive family, that my country is stable politically, that I am healthy. So many people have so many immediate things to worry about… where their next meal is coming from, where they will sleep tonight, whether their children are safe, how they will pay for medical treatment…. When I thought about all the problems I could be facing, it seemed somewhat crass to be fretting about clutter.

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This simply isn’t available to everybody

Then last week we were having lunch with Sue (Going Batty in Wales) and discussing her recent experience during the time she had her arm in a cast, having broken her wrist. She mentioned the necessity of using prepared, frozen vegetables when she was unable to chop up her ingredients for cooking, and how disappointing many of them were in terms of both flavour and texture. This sort of inability to do things is the long-term reality for many people and so they, unlike me, are deprived of a full range of choices when it comes to, amongst many things, their food. So, there’s my privilege again.

It’s funny how these sorts of conversations come around several times… the following day I was having a video chat with Kt (Kt Shepherd Permaculture) in Spain and she mentioned the value of ready-meals for people with limited abilities to cook. She pointed out how marvellous they are for those who rely on other people preparing their food: to at least be able to choose a dish that you fancy and heat it up yourself. Ready-made food may not be everyone’s idea of freedom, but for some that is exactly what it represents. And so, again, my level of privilege is reinforced. I can choose what I eat, what I buy, where I buy it from, how I cook it. The fact that many ready meals are, in the words of Joanna Blythman, “food-like substances” rather than real food is unacceptable – we should not condemn those with limited choices only to poor choices.

So where have all these thoughts led me? I don’t think feeling guilty is the answer – that just directs energy to a useless end, but certainly being aware of such privilege is important. This issue certainly relates to the permaculture ethic of ‘fair shares’ but perhaps I haven’t really thought about it in this way before. I feel that I would like to take action, but other than doing the usual things I can to support my friends and local community, I’m not sure how. I’m only just beginning to think this through and deciding on possible actions, but I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this and what, if anything, you or anyone you know is doing from/about their position of privilege.

 

 

Gone, gone, gone

For the first time in the history of this blog I have removed a post – well two actually.

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Organic cotton bath puff

Many moons ago I was interested in environmentally friendly alternatives to nylon bath puffs (scrubbies). I wrote a number of posts on the subject and explored a range of fibres to use. At the time, I was delighted to discover how well reclaimed acrylic yarn worked and I wrote a post about it. At the time, and with the information I had to hand, it seemed like a great way to use something that would otherwise simply be thrown out (yarn unravelled from old knitwear). Now, it turns out it was not such a good idea. Just like making fleece fabrics from recycled plastic bottles, which we all thought at the time was a great way to use waste, new information has made me think again. Using manmade fibres in bath puffs will add to microfibre contamination of water unless there is a fine filter on the bath/shower outlet, which seems unlikely. So, the two posts that mentioned using acrylic yarn for this purpose have been removed to prevent encouraging anyone else to try it.

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Soap and a flannel (the latter made by a friend)

It’s still easy enough to make bath puffs or cloths with natural fibres – cotton, hemp, nettle, or even wool, depending on the texture you desire. However, I like Kate‘s recent suggestion (see the comments in this post) about using loofahs if you want something with a rougher texture for washing yourself or your pots. If I spot some seeds, I may well have a go at growing my own – now that really would be a green solution. However, since starting to use bar soap, I’ve had no need for a bath puff. My favourite soap to use after swimming (ginger and lime) has little bits of ground ginger root in it and these provide all the exfoliation I need – naturally and biodegradably. I have also made myself (or been gifted) several cotton wash cloths/flannels and these are especially useful when travelling or when water is limited.

The moral of the story is that we do the best we can with the knowledge that we have at any given time, but that it’s important not to get stuck in a rut (or get defensive) and to make changes when new information comes to light. Have you had to revise your thinking on anything recently?

The Guppy Report

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Guppyfriends

Regular readers will remember that, in an attempt to further reduce the plastic pollution that I am responsible for, I decided to buy a Guppyfriend. Basically, this is a very fine mesh bag to use in the washing machine to trap fibres from manmade fabrics. In the end, I decided to buy two of them, because a single one is not big enough to contain a full load of washing. The decision was a good one, although not for the reason I initially thought. So, what did I think of them?

Pros: The bags arrived quickly and are well-made. There’s a little cover for the zip once it’s closed. to keep it in place and ensure that it doesn’t catch on anything. The opening is large, so there’s no difficulty filling or emptying the bags. Any items that I put in the bags seem to have come out as clean as without them.

Cons: If you only have one bag and you put all your washing in it for a small load, you might find that the drum of your machine becomes unbalanced and so won’t spin (this happened once when I was testing how well they worked). By splitting your wash between bags, this is less likely to be a problem. If you accidentally turn the bag inside out and reuse it, you’ll release any trapped fibres into your wash (unlikely as you’d notice before you got this far as the zip would be on the inside). If you stuffed the bag very fully, there would not be room for the items inside to move around and get washed/rinsed properly.

In fact the issues with washing distribution are probably only going to be significant if the majority of the things you are washing contain manmade fibres. Once I started carefully sorting my wash, I realised that a lot less than half of the things we wash contain non-natural fibres. Since natural fibres are biodegradable, these items (towels, bed linen, t-shirts, skirts, tea towels, dish cloths, sweatshirts, jeans, tunics, aprons…) don’t need to go in the guppy friend and go in the machine ‘naked’… thus being entirely free to circulate as the drum rotates.

Looking inside my Guppyfriends after a couple of months of use, I can’t really see any fibres and certainly no accumulation large enough to extract. I suspect that this is because of the nature of the items I’ve been washing: nothing ‘fluffy’ (no fleeces, for example) and those rare things that are 100% manmade (eg my swimming costumes) are very tightly woven. I’m sure households less focussed on avoiding manmade fibres in the first place might have a different experience, in which case the Guppyfriends would make a huge difference.

So, overall, I think they were a worthwhile purchase. They are no trouble to use and have the potential to make a real difference to microfibre pollution until we only use natural fibres for our clothes and household linens. Oh… and they are going to be really handy when I do any wet felting in the washing machine, as they will be so much more efficient than a pillowcase for stopping the filter getting clogged up with woolly fluff. This, however, is probably not a consideration for most potential users!

Plastic is news

Since I last wrote, I’ve been seeing a huge amount in the media about the evils of single-use plastics. It feels like, finally, the rest of the world is catching up with what many of us have known for ages. I’ve seen discussions about un-recyclable coffee cups, drinks bottles, straws, microbeads, microfibres, plastic bags, cotton buds, vegetables wrapped in plastic… the list goes on. I hope that if you’ve read my posts over the years, the issue will not come as a big surprise to you. Perhaps it’s something you have already taken action on – remember every piece of plastic we don’t use, is one less that could become pollution. Some bigger things are afoot, however, as this wave of public concern starts to penetrate the consciousness of politicians and makes retailers and manufacturers worry that sales will suffer. For example:

  • Here in the UK a ban on microbeads in cosmetics came into force earlier this month.
  • There is increasing pressure for a deposit scheme on plastic drinks bottles, and this is the recommendation of the UK government’s Environmental Audit Committee in a recent report.
  • The supermarket Iceland announced this week that they plan to eliminate plastic packaging from all their own-brand products within five years.

But it is important to remember that you don’t have to wait for someone else to take action or to make a difference. You can vote with your wallet and you can, as an individual, make a difference. It’s easy enough to find lists of simple changes to make – say no to plastic straws and disposable coffee cups, buy cotton buds with paper sticks, take your own shopping bags and so on. You might, however, think a bit more creatively.

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home made moisturiser

Cosmetics are particular culprit when it comes to over-packaging, but it is possible to cut down on this if you think about your purchases. It’s easy enough to buy soap in paper rather than plastic, for example. I always used to use shower gel because I found soap too harsh on my skin, but a little bit of experimenting and I’ve found lovely mild soaps that I use all the time now. Similarly, I’ve stopped buying liquid hand-wash and now just use bar soap – my favourite in the kitchen is one that has coffee grounds in it to act as a mild abrasive (what a great alternative to tiny bits of plastic). I also use solid shampoo now, which again comes plastic-free. These days I make my own moisturiser (and I also supply my sister with it) because I got so fed up with all the packaging and the difficulty in avoiding palm oil. The ingredients do come in small plastic bags, but the amount of single-use plastic involved is tiny compared to the lotions and potions I could buy in my local chemist (drug store). In addition, it’s fun to make and very easy (I started with a kit from Aromantic).

In fact, if you have time, making all sorts of things yourself can cut down on plastics. My homemade biscuits involve relatively little plastic packaging (cocoa container lid, golden syrup lid, organic chocolate chips bag) and absolutely no palm oil. My bread only encounters single-use plastic around the yeast and salt, and my leek and potato soup is plastic-packaging free. I know it takes time to shop for plastic-free ingredients and then to combine them into the food you want to eat, but it is such a worthwhile activity – healthier for you and for the planet.

 

Cocktail time

Mr Snail and I have a favourite pub where we go to for dinner and sometimes for breakfast. A few months ago, however, we were browsing the cocktails menu (like you do) and discovered one that we’d both really like to try. There were two problems, however. First it was breakfast time, so it was a bit early in the day. Second, the particular cocktail in question has got lots of crushed ice in it and really needs to be drunk through a straw. Neither of us want to be responsible for adding to the mountain of unrecyclable plastic of which drinking straws are one component.

Our desire for cocktails isn’t constant and so it was only after new year that I remembered. A little bit of a search and I found a small company on etsy selling these lovely things, complete with carrying bag and cleaning brush:

They are now residing in my handbag, ready for use. We just need to a sunny day, so we can stroll down and enjoy our drinks… plastic-free and without the need to drive afterwards!

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