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.

IMGP4820

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.

DSCF1237

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.

IMGP4961

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

IMGP4695

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.

IMGP4905

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!

All wrapped up

My friend Kate* contacted me the other day to ask whether I’d ever tried making my own waxed cloth wraps for keeping food fresh. It’s one of those things that I’ve seen instructions for** but have never got round to trying: another thing on ‘the list’. Initially I thought that she was going to ask me how to do it, but it turned out that she was actually offering to make some for me – what a treasure!

And last week these arrived:

IMGP4886

waxed cotton wraps

 

They are made using beeswax and cotton fabric. I haven’t needed to use any of them yet, but I can see that, combined with some string or an elastic band or two, they are going to be really useful and a brilliant alternative to plastic bags and boxes… both at home and when going shopping. I suspect some of them might go on picnics with us too. I may even add loops and buttons, so that they have an integral secure way to close them.

-oOo-

* One of many: I know an awful lot of Kates, Katies, Kts and Katys – this particular one is local

** There are several approaches, differing only in the details of how to melt/apply the wax, for example here and here

A Peachy Project

As regular readers know, two and a half years ago we had the limery built – a growing space attached to the house and used to grow limes, as well as lots of other food and decorative plants. It has been a delight in the past year to hear about the progress of a similar project from my friend Ann. I thought, therefore, that you too might enjoy reading about it.

I first encountered Ann through permaculture activities (in fact I met her on-line ages before I finally got to meet her in person). She approached her project from a clear permaculture design perspective as it’s part of the set of her designs for her permaculture diploma portfolio. Ann and her partner Steve are mediaeval re-enactors and have lots of gear that they use when they go to re-enactment events, including this beautiful tent, which is big enough to accommodate a wooden-framed double bed in the “back room” and still provide living and work space at the front:

'17 Haddon Hall-20

now, that’s a tent

Anyway. I thought you’d enjoy hearing from Ann about it all, so over to her…

The Story of the Peach House

So we needed more space. Ideally some way that did not involve lumping heavy re-enactment gear up and down stairs every month (we’re not getting any younger), and that would give added benefits.

As part of my Diploma in Applied Permaculture I am steadily working my way through 10 designs to show that I understand it all. One of these designs looks at our whole system – house, garden, hobbies etc. This uncovered various functions that we would like to be filled. We needed somewhere to grow peppers and a nectarine (the greenhouse is rather cold). Somewhere close by to store a bit of extra wood for the wood burner, an undercover clothes drying space, somewhere nice to sit on a sunny day are on our wish list, to name but a few.

Various options (elements) were listed for the functions needed.2017-12-05 (3)

Our first thought was an extension on the side of the house incorporating a porch linked to the front door, as this would answer most of our needs. However, the first builder we asked directed us to local building regs that would most likely prevent us building to our boundary, or forward of the front line of the house, which meant that joining a porch to the extension would not be possible. Yes we could apply for planning permission, but there were other issues with the boundary and stability of the ground so we reluctantly abandoned that idea.

We then used another tool used in Permaculture designs, a PNI (Positive, Negative & Interesting) to look at the alternatives. Then using one of my favourite tools, McHarg’s Exclusion*, to eliminate the ones that would not work for us.2017-12-05 (4)

We are now the proud owners of the smallest and cutest little conservatory that our lovely builder Spencer has ever built. BTW, this is a different builder to the one mentioned above, who wasn’t at all interested in building the conservatory for us as he felt we would regret it. Eh? Not his problem!!! And no, we don’t regret it, it’s a lovely space.

Peach House

The Peach House. Named by the lovely Snail of Happiness. We don’t have limes, but did have a nectarine – hence ‘The Peach House’. Sadly said nectarine has since died, but the name has stuck.

So here it is. Office, craft room, green house (extends food growing and somewhere for tender plants over winter), wood store, clothes drying space, re-enactment gear store (that also performs as shelf space), bird and hoggie food store, relaxation space, insulation for patio and back doors, extra security, adds value to house.

An added bonus is that in the summer heat it shields the patio door like sunglasses (special glass in the roof) so the lounge is kept cooler with all the doors open. Previously we had to choose – if we wanted the breeze when the curtains had to be open. That let the sun in too! Now we can have the doors and curtains open! Sorted!

Eco choices

Yes, we would have loved wood. The best wood is, I gather, accoya, a sustainable wood that has been impregnated with chemicals to stop it rotting. Made into conservatories in Poland (in the case of the supplier we approached). So overall not really that much better than UK made PVC. In the end we chose PVC as wood would have stretched our budget too far.

However we did choose local trades people and a local window manufacturer.

We couldn’t have recycled materials for various reasons, so did our best to recycle the waste.

  • The displaced slabs were used in a customer’s garden.
  • The vent pipes under floor was left over guttering.
  • We save all the water
  • The skip on the drive – Spencer put things in it and we kept taking them out!
  • We saved – sand, gravel, half a bag cement, old block pavers, nicely algaed ridge tiles, some slate, 2 garden gates, half a fence panel, oddments of wood and an interesting looking cast iron gutter hopper.
  • Any left over cement went onto a path we want raising up, so it wasn’t wasted.
  • Tiles for the floor came off ebay.

One last thing. We kept finding these….

Spencer….

Spencer was here…..

-oOo-

* Sue over at Going Batty in Wales wrote an interesting post about using this approach to decide on her new flooring.

an itsy bitsy update

Following on from my musings on microfibre pollution the other day I have taken action (well, you know me, I don’t hang around) and I’ve done a bit more research.

First, the action. As I mentioned in the comments on my original post, a Twitter friend pointed me in the direction of some resources and information, leading me to the Guppyfriend washing bag. Sending all our manmade fibre garments to be recycled (even assuming that is possible) is probably not the most environmentally friendly option until they are actually unusable, so for the time being we need to maintain them whilst doing as little harm as possible. Reducing the shedding of microfibres when we do our laundry can be achieved by washing at low temperatures, using liquid detergent rather than powder, filling the washing machine (to reduce friction) and washing garments made of synthetic fibres less frequently. I do all of these already, so the other easily achievable action is to install a filter. I wanted a quick fix that avoided any plumbing (at least for the time being) and the best option seemed to be to buy a Guppyfriend – a monofibre polydamide laundry bag that you put synthetics into in the washing machine. The bag catches the fibres, which can be cleaned from it and disposed of appropriately (whatever that is) and when it reaches the end of its life, it can be recycled (once the zip is removed). I bought two – I will report back once I’ve used them.

IMGP4695

Guppyfriends

The other thing I did was a spot of research. I have been wondering for a while about whether the fibres from rayon are problematic. In case you don’t know, rayon is a manmade fibre, but made from plant material (cellulose) rather than petrochemicals. For example, viscose is a sort of rayon made from wood pulp; Tencel is a sort of rayon made from eucalyptus wood; bamboo fabric is a sort of rayon (unless it is referred to as bamboo linen, in which case it’s woven directly from the natural fibres). There are all sorts of issues associated with the chemical processes required to create these products (with the exception of Tencel, which is produced in a closed loop system that avoids chemical pollution). However, my particular interest this week was microfibre pollution. I discovered that rayon fibres are biodegradable. Indeed, they break down at approximately the same rate as cotton, if not a bit quicker. However, they do seem to be included in the figures for microplastic pollution in the sea, so I’m still not sure how ‘bad’ they actually are in this respect.

When it comes to the worst culprits, however, cheaply made fabrics are a real problem as they are not designed to last (for this and many other reasons we should avoid ‘throw-away fashion’ at all costs). Shedding seems to increase, too, with age, so I think that there comes a point  (when, I’m not sure) when we should think about recycling or repurposing (I’m considering stuffing a dog bed with some of mine). I’m afraid that acrylic does not come out well in the analysis, so all that cheap knitting yarn is not just a problem because it’s a product of the petrochemical industry, it’s also shedding fibres and damaging our aquatic systems.  The time has come, wherever possible, to move back to natural fibres and to be very thoughtful about our use of synthetics.

oh, and before I go, just a reminder that there’s still a few hours left to leave a comment on by 1001st post to be entered into my little celebratory prize draw… I’ll turn commenting off tomorrow morning (Saturday 2 December) to give US readers a little extra time (originally I was going to call a halt at midnight tonight).Please don’t be shy – I really do want to send you a lovely gift!

 

Itsy bitsy teeny weeny

I’ve been pleased to see over the past week that there has been a lot of publicity in the UK about plastic pollution in the seas. It seems that if David Attenborough highlights an issue, the public will finally sit up and take notice. Well, thank goodness someone has this power.

It’s relatively easy to show the horrible effects of things like plastic bags and balloons on sea creatures, but tiny fragments of plastic are a problem too and it’s these that I have been thinking about recently. Plastic fibres and microbeads enter the food chain at the smallest level and are particularly insidious – many plankton are unable to distinguish between plastic and real food, so ingest the former indiscriminately, potentially causing their guts to be blocked (you can read more about this and follow the linked references in this article).

IMGP4298

Pure woolly warmth

And so, I have been considering ways that I can reduce the tiny bits of plastic that I am responsible for in the environment. I’m not sure that I have ever used a product containing microbeads, and I certainly don’t use any now. I think that my biggest source of micro-plastics, therefore, is from fibres originating from fabrics. Years ago we were all delighted to wear garments made of synthetic fleece made from recycled plastics, but now we discover that every time we wash these clothes, we are putting more fibres into the water. So, no more fleece jumpers for me – my two new ones are both pure wool. The same is true for any manmade fibres and so I’m trying (mostly)  to phase them out. A while back I was happy to use upcycled acrylic yarn to make bath puffs, but now I think it’s best avoided. My new dishcloths are cotton and when we get round to replacing carpets and curtains they too will be made of natural fibres.

 

Now I think about it, I don’t know for sure the composition of any of the carpets in our house because they are the ones that were here when we moved in. I do know, however, that none of my curtains contain manmade fibres, so I can feel happy about those. And this brings me round to being concerned about how we dispose of items made of manmade fibres. If I decide that I would like to have a new wool carpet, what do I do with the old one of unknown composition? Similarly – is it better keep wearing my fleeces until they wear out and then replace them with something kinder to the environment or dispose of them right away so that I am not continuing to add to microplastic pollution? And if the latter, what do I do with them?

I don’t have any answers to these quandaries and I’m wondering what approach anyone else takes. Suggestions most welcome.

%d bloggers like this: