My health or the planet’s?

The other day I had an e-mail from Patricia with the possible text for a blog post. Here is what she wrote:

IMGP6953I was tempted to call this Scrap Unhappy, but will refrain and remain positive, but I am concerned with medical waste.  Not on the huge hospital scale, but my own small domestic waste from the first aid box and prescription and non-prescription drugs.

I just finished a bottle of medicine and was rinsing out the bottle recalling a time when medicine bottles were returned to the chemist for re-use. Now that is impossible, but I can recycle both the glass bottle and the hard plastic top in my council doorstep collection. But that’s about all that is recyclable in my home pharmacy.

At the beginning of this year I went through my first aid box, not a job I’d done before and I’m ashamed at how many out of date items I found and more to the point of this blog, disturbed by how much plastic was in there. Long gone are the days when first aid meant linen bandages and cotton wool, lint and little gold safety pins. Tubes of antiseptic and cream for insect bites etc all needed replacing and although I couldn’t stick to my preferred brands, which all came in plastic,  I was happy to find how many products were available in metal tubes. I found Weleda especially helpful and their staff were as knowledgeable about their packaging as their products. Their package arrived in paper, card and potato starch based pellets that would bring a smile to the sternest Snail.  But plasters – what are they? Micropore? What is it? How are they to be disposed? When they have been used on wounds, I feel the only way that meets both health and safety demands of disposal is burning, but otherwise? And what of those bits that come off plasters?  Has anyone moved away from these plasters in pursuit of something greener?

However the real trouble started when I looked at my prescription and non-prescription tablets. They all come in blister packs. As far as I can tell none of them, not even a simple aspirin or antacid is available in a bottle. And what are blister packs? It seems as if there is no requirement for medicines to contain information about safe disposal beyond the safe disposal i.e. return to the pharmacy, of the drugs themselves. I once gardened for a large community and a member of that community took her daily walk after lunch around the grounds. She took with her, her daily pill and one could follow her progress by the tiny metallic plastic top that had come from the blister packed pill. Now I guess we could make our way across the planet following this and other home medicine spoor.

Has anyone else tried to ‘green up’ their home remedies? I’d love to hear from you or can you please point me to others addressing this.

What an interesting post I thought… I’ll put that up later in the week… and then I got toothache…

… not just an irritating ache, but real, powerful pain that had me scurrying for strong painkillers and a hot water bottle and then, as quickly as possible, to the dentist, followed by the pharmacy, where Patricia’s words came back to me.

IMGP6956So, here I am this evening, still with my hot water bottle, but also with various types of medication all in an abundance of packaging. Turns out that I most likely have a gum infection, so there are antibiotics (blister pack/cardboard box), then I needed strong painkillers (blister pack/cardboard box) and interdental brushes (plastic and cardboard packaging plus their plastic handles and bristles) and antiseptic mouthwash (plastic bottle).

Well, there go my environmental credentials as soon as I have a medical problem. Perhaps there are alternatives to some of these products that have less or more environmentally friendly packaging, but when you are literally crying with pain, it’s not the time to seek them out.

And I’m not the only one in our household with dental issues. Daisy has rather poor teeth. I do clean them with a brush (plastic) and doggy toothpaste (hurrah! metal tube), but she also has a tooth cleaning chew every day and these come in a box with several plastic packs each containing a few chews. However, I have recently found an alternative. It is possible to buy unpackaged dental health chews from our local big chain pet shop, who simply put an elastic band around them. Next time I buy some, I will take my own container so they can go straight in that.

I genuinely understand why it is considered best practice to put tablets into blister packs, but I can’t help feeling that if we trust our pharmacists to dispense the correct drugs, we could perhaps trust them to put those drugs in a bottle for us too. And certainly over-the-counter medication could easily be sold in sealed, returnable bottles, as used to be the case.

Anyway, I’m now going to take some of those strong painkillers, so you may not get any sense out of me for a while…

The wrong sort of worms

Just can’t bring myself to post a picture of an intestinal worm!

To date I have written about compost worms and knitted worms, and even earthworms get a mention occasionally, but currently we are suffering from ‘the wrong sort of worms’.

For two years our little flock of hens remained worm-free, possibly as a result of the addition of Vermex (a herbal supplement including garlic and cinnamon) to their food in the form of three doses every month. However, at least one of our two new girls has arrived with intestinal worms – round worms to be precise. Sadly, we have run out of Vermex and the local farmers store doesn’t have any in stock… and the second nearest one only has the stuff for sheep and goats. We are adding garlic granules to their feed, but I’m not certain whether these will help. In general I feel that the herbal treatments keep worms away, but they don’t get rid of them once there is an infestation.

So, we need some sort of medication. It was ordered and we awaited its arrival. I was planning to deliver it to the girls individually in raspberries (currently the highest value chicken treat available in the garden), but my plans have been revised. An e-mail arrived from the internet company to say that, despite claims that the product was in stock when we ordered it, it actually wasn’t (grrr). Now I don’t want to hang around when it comes to worms, so we cancelled the on-line order and picked some up (at much greater expense – 30% greater!) from that farmers’ store we passed on the way to visit my parents today.

Reading the instructions, I discovered that the dose is so small that the raspberry trick isn’t going to work and that, instead, we have to spike their main food with it for the next seven days. This means they should each receive the correct dose because big chickens will eat more than small chickens and, therefore, will receive a bigger does. Clever, eh? Well, the feed is mixed and ready for them to dive into tomorrow morning. Apparently we can eat the eggs whilst they are being medicated, which considering the dose is so small seems fine to me.

Parasites are something of an issue when keeping any animals and my approach is to try to avoid them rather than have to treat an infestation once established. This is why we use the herbal ‘worm deterrent ‘ and why we have been struggling to find a way to end the infestation of red mite that the girls have been suffering from. Red mite, in case you don’t know, are blood suckers that hang around in the nooks and crannies of the hen-house during the day, then emerge at night to suck your chickens dry (well, sort of). There are various powders and sprays (some very toxic, some entirely organic) that you can use on the hen-house to rid it of these pests. We managed to keep them at bay mainly with the use of diatomaceous earth for two years, plus an occasional spray with something more hardcore, but this year they got out of hand and we just couldn’t shift them.

The improvised mite-busting hen-house

It turned out that our chicken house was a haven for mites – the construction of the roof provided ideal locations for them to hide out and where no spray (organic or otherwise) could penetrate. We removed the roof and burnt it (in our Kelly kettle, of course), but there were still mites in other places. Then we got the two new girls and needed separate accommodation. I’ve described before how we made a new chicken house for free from an old dog crate, some carpet protector, a piece of old skirting board and some cable ties. For a while the  newbies slept in the new house and oldies in the old house, but gradually they all wanted to sleep together. Initially they chose the old hen-house, but we realised quite soon what a mistake this was. We managed to persuade them that the new house was much better. .. and so it is. It’s bigger, the perch is longer, it’s completely fox-proof and red mites hate it. There are no dark crevices, there are no poorly ventilated areas and there’s no wood. Inadvertently we have built a great hen-house, We still let them use the laying boxes in the roofless old house (the boxes still have roofs), but that’s all. Never again will we have to deal with a mite infestation, unless a new species evolves that has a preference, for dry conditions that are light, airy and made of plastic.

I’m pretty sure that there’s no guaranteed way of preventing worms and I know that there’s always a chance of hens picking them up from wild birds, but hopefully once the current infestation is cleared up we’ll be able to prevent future problems by using herbal food supplements. I would be really interested, however, if anyone has tips for keeping chickens worm-free.

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