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.

Pack up your lettuce…

For many years now we have bought much of our meat by mail order from a company specialising in organic produce. Up until out latest order they always sent a pre-paid address label so that we could return and they could re-use the insulated packaging. Our last parcel, however did not contain the label. I enquired, only to discover that the cost of postage has made return of the polystyrene boxes uneconomic. I’m so cross about this… repeated reuse of packaging is such a great idea.

Our local council do accept polystyrene for recycling, but I really didn’t want to take advantage of this unless absolutely necessary*. We thought about paying for the boxes to be returned or even dropping them off when we are over in that direction, but I’m not sure whether the company would accept them back (I will check next time). So, they have been sitting in our hallway whilst I waited for inspiration to strike – which it did on Saturday whilst I was planting seeds.

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Not the most exciting picture ever posted… compost in a polystyrene box

I had two boxes, so I stabbed a few holes in the bottom of one, chucked in some compost, sowed some winter lettuce seeds and covered it with its lid. And there was a nice insulated growing space for some winter leaves. I’m keeping it in the limery and hopefully I will have a crop from it in a few weeks time. Having decided to focus on growing, I am keeping the other box for cultivating mushrooms. I ordered some mushroom spawn (the fungal equivalent of seeds) last week and when it arrives, I’ll use the the second polystyrene box as a mushroom propagator.

Of course, I can’t find a use for a never-ending supply of polystyrene boxes, but at least the current ones are turning out to be useful. I will find out whether the meat company would be prepared to take any other ones we receive back and will return them at our cost if possible, but for now I’m satisfied to have found good uses for something it would have been all too easy to consign to the recycling.

-oOo-

* It’s generally more energy-efficient (and therefore, greener) to re-use or re-purpose than to recycle.

The world’s most impressive recycling system

National Recycle Week – Day 2

Today, on this dry and sunny day, I’m thinking about water.

The Water Cycle (from NOAA – The US National Weather Service)

Water is one resource that gets naturally recycled: clouds drop rain on the earth, which gets soaked up by the soil, used by plants or flows into lakes or the ocean, before some of it evaporates to form clouds again. Round and round it goes, sometimes being stored, sometimes being created (all living things make water when they respire, and it’s released during combustion) and sometimes being used as a building block (plants use water along with carbon dioxide in photosynthesis to create carbohydrates). This global cycle carries on unnoticed for the most part, although humans do interfere with it, for example by extracting water stored underground or by channelling it so that it flows quickly through the landscape and doesn’t soak into the earth.

Humans also, however, pollute it. We use it to wash away waste, thus requiring some sort of treatment before it can safely be returned to the environment. So, we need sewage treatment plants and  tailings pools and filters and all sorts of other ways of cleaning up the water we have used. Sometimes we also make it warm and then discharge it directly into the environment, thus upsetting the natural systems in the area (this is known as ‘thermal pollution’ and is a particular problem with power plants and industries that use water for cooling)), at least in part because warmer water contains lower levels of dissolved oxygen.

Pair of butts collecting water off the roof of the house at the back

Pair of butts collecting water off the roof of the house at the back (the are awaiting new positions with the limery construction under-way)

On a more personal scale, it’s interesting to consider the water we use in our own homes. In most cases, there’s not a lot of cycling goes on in this context, but we can be much more efficient with our water use and make sure that we contaminate as little of it as possible. Generally in domestic situations, our biggest source of contamination is sewage – every time you flush the toilet, you send 5-10 litres of polluted water down the drain, and that water will have to be processed (thus using energy) before it is safe to release back into our rivers and seas.

The best thing we can do as individuals is to reduce our water use, using our water as many times as possible before sending it out of our homes. Grey water – such as what comes out of the washing machine – can be used again to water plants or wash the car, thus doubling up on use and reducing the amount that needs to come out of the mains (which will save you money too if your water is metered). Chez Snail, we collect lots of rainwater for use around the house and garden and this means that, wherever possible, we are not using the processed water that comes out of the taps for jobs that don’t require it. For example, all the concrete that has been mixed during our building work has used rainwater… after all, it made no difference if it was a bit gritty or contained some algae.

From the Guide to Sustainable City Living

From the Toolbox for Sustainable City Living

It’s even possible to build your own little gray water treatment plant at home if you wish. I have a book entitled Toolbox for Sustainable City Living that provides detailed instructions on building a wetland out of three recycled bathtubs to filter washing machine waste water… it’s not the answer for all of us, but if you live in a city and want to process your water for re-use there are options. Chez Snail we will continue to water the plants with our used washing-up water and flush the toilet with rain water and grey water and in these ways we will help mother nature in her grand recycling operation.

Start as you mean to go on

National Recycle Week – Day 1

Council recycling bag

Council recycling bag

So, here we are on the first day of National Recycle Week and I’ve been thinking some more about what I’m doing. Monday is, in fact, recycling collection day Chez Snail – the council collects cans, tins, paper, plastic, cardboard, tetrapaks and polystyrene from homes in our county once a week, so much of our recycling is a no-brainer. Items for recycling go straight in the bag provided and are put out to be picked up every Monday. Everyone in the street seems to do this without any trouble, and folks have even got used to the food waste bins that are emptied at the same time. In fact, we rarely put out any food waste because (1) we don’t waste food* and (2) peelings etc end up either in the chickens or in the compost.

I think that, in our house, everything that can be recycled is, so why should I be thinking much about this subject? Well, the answer is that we still sometimes have waste that cannot be recycled and also I’d like to have less to recycle.

It seems to me that the only way to reduce the amount of stuff that needs to be recycled, and thus to reduce the waste stream, is to think about the whole life-span of any item. If we considered the length of time an object could serve its purpose and the destination of that object at the end of this time,  we might make better purchasing decisions.

So, today, it was appropriate that through the post I received a new washing-up brush. I ordered this last week after a whole saga of inappropriate choices and disappointment. I like to wash the dishes using a brush and for many years I have used plastic brushes. When one started to wear out some months ago I was pleased to find a replacement made of recycled plastic and with a replaceable head. Sadly, the bristles were flattened within a few weeks. I didn’t want to have to buy a new head every month, even if it was recycled plastic, so that option was abandoned. A new plastic one was purchased, but that too has become unusable after only a few months. So, by the power of the interweb, I sought out a more natural alternative, and here it is:

New arrival

New arrival

It is wooden and has natural (plant) bristles. Plus, as you can see, it came with two replacement heads. Now it may be that the bristles fall out after 20 minutes, but at this stage I’m feeling quite happy, because even if a head doesn’t last very long, I can put it in the compost heap, or use it to light a fire. This brush (apart from the metal bits) should never enter the municipal waste stream… and should provide energy rather than consume it when it comes to the end of it’s life as a washing-up brush. Now, that’s my sort of product.

-oOo-

* Despite Mr Snail thinking that the stinky cheese in the fridge should be classified as ‘food waste’!

Living in the future

On Saturday morning we went out shopping and to do some chores. All the latter were related to reuse or recycling: glass bottles to be recycled, polystyrene packaging taken to the Post Office to be sent back to the company it originally came from for reuse; and a bag of clothes and box of knick-knacks taken to a charity shop (finally those never-used wine decanters are out of the house).

Local cheese from Simply Caws - mileage specified

Local cheese from Simply Caws at the People’s Market- mileage specified

It appears that, in recent years, shopping has become a form of entertainment and this was certainly the case for us this weekend, although it wasn’t the goods that we purchased that provided the instant gratification, but the people we met. All our purchases were practical: nuts and bolts, ingredients for granola, local cheese, hand made bread… so we weren’t really supporting the consumer society. We are never going to be the people responsible for ‘spending our way out of recession’, but we might spend our way to a robust and sustainable local economy.

The lady who served us in Mulberry Bush admired my string bag. The lady in the Post Office was devastated that her broadband wasn’t working and so she couldn’t open properly, but was happy to take our Freepost parcel as long as we didn’t need a receipt (we didn’t). LAS, our local recycling company, was busy with folks dropping off all sorts of items, and the man at the charity shop welcomed our contributions with a smile.

Loyalty card and vouchers

Loyalty card and vouchers

Our final port of call was the People’s Market, where they were giving out prizes to the winners of a recent treasure hunt run in conjunction with the Lampter loyalty scheme. Lampeter has recently become the first town in Wales to launch a loyalty card, with 59 businesses currently participating. Every time you spend £3 or more in a business, you get a stamp in one of the slots on your card, but you can only get a stamp from each shop twice on the same card. Once you have 10 stamps, you can drop your card in one of the designated boxes around town. At the end of each month the cards are all be entered into a prize draw. The winner receives £30 in vouchers that can be spent at any of the participating businesses. The businesses involved in the scheme ran the treasure hunt as an additional incentive a couple of weeks ago and a friend of ours won one of the prizes. Because we helped her with some of the answers , she shared her prize with us and so, as well as our shopping, we came home with a couple of vouchers. All this is designed to keep money circulating in local businesses and, so far, it seems to be working.

Finally, I was stopped by a friend who wanted to show me a square she had crocheted – I taught her how to make granny squares a while ago and she has finally got the hang of doing it on her own. She was so pleased, she brought her creation shopping with her in the hope she would bump into me to be able to show it off. I was delighted.

And this, I hope, is the future of shopping – a social activity where we support local people and make our communities a richer place… just like we used to do in the past.

Wrapped up

Not being one to follow fashion, despite its title, this post is not an end-of-year wrap-up, but about something closer to my heart… packaging.

All this surrounding some small headphones

All this surrounding some small headphones

A few weeks ago I bought myself some new headphones for my MP3 player. After much research, I selected some that should be robust and fit for purpose (listening to audiobooks at night when I can’t sleep and to help me fall asleep). They are the sort that fits into the ear and so they really are small. When they arrived, however, they were contained in a box measuring 13 x 14 x 4.2cm. The packaging included the outer box, an internal piece of cardboard and no less than three separate pieces of plastic. Now, these headphones could have fitted comfortably in a medium-sized matchbox,without the need for any plastic, but that wouldn’t have made them look ‘high quality’, I suppose. Indeed, a quick test revealed that a simple combination of matchbox and their carrying case would have been ideal packaging:

Headphones in (French) matchbox

Headphones in (French) matchbox

Matchbox in carrying case

Matchbox in carrying case

And all that was before we even got to Christmas. I love the idea of a wrapped present and we have a couple of bags containing suitable paper/boxes/bags for wrapping gifts, but most of it is second hand in some way. I collect pretty boxes and tissue paper, along with gift bags, paper and pretty envelopes in which to put gifts. I also collect ribbons  – you’d be surprised how many organic goods come wrapped in tissue paper with cotton ribbon or tape around.

The pile of waste outside just one house after Christmas

The pile of waste outside just one house after Christmas

But I am in the minority. A short walk on the day when refuse was due to be collected after Christmas revealed piles of wrapping and packaging waste. Not content with wasteful, throw-away gifts, it seems that we in the UK want to compound the horror with tons or wrapping paper. It really does sadden me that so many people care so little about our planet and are quite prepared to be profligate with our limited resources.

I didn’t plan to end the year on a gloomy note, so I will make a promise instead… in 2014 I will try to find more ways to encourage people to treasure and nurture our planet and take just a few more small steps (like the Snail of Happiness) towards sustainability.

Wishing you all a happy and sustainable new year!

“Flat-pack” crafting

As is clear from many of my posts, I love making things: from bottling a surplus of apples, to knitting socks, to crocheting bath puffs (yet more on that in a later post… I have a new yarn to try out: a recycled cotton and acrylic blend). I accumulate scraps of ‘stuff’ – fabric, yarn, old packing material, envelopes, buttons, shiny things – and enjoy turning these into something useful or lovely or just fun. I do buy materials, particularly knitting yarn and wool for felting, but one of the enjoyable aspects of crafting and cooking for me is using things that would otherwise go to waste or have a very short useful life.

A few of my homemade cards... made with this and that!

A few of my homemade cards… made with this and that!

So, I’m not keen on packs containing everything you need for a particular project… partly because I want to make use of things I already have and partly because I like to make something that is unique. If I go out and buy a pack of “everything you need to make this lovely birthday card”, then I’ll just end up with something like everyone else has made, and I might as well have gone to Hallmark. I want to be individual and express my own creativity – even if it is a bit wonky sometimes! I know that things like knitting patterns should result in end products that are standardized, but there’s always room for creativity whether in using a yarn from your ‘stash’, choosing a new yarn, or just doing things a little bit different (for which there are endless opportunities when knitting!). I do buy nice ‘bits’ to use in my crafting, but I don’t want the whole thing handed to be in a pack.

But my current bug-bear is something pretending to be a craft when it isn’t – things that are pseudo-homemade. Just like a cake mix isn’t, to me, really homemade – a pair of slippers that come as two single flat pieces and are each fastened together with a lace (the colour of which you can choose) are not homemade. I don’t think I am a carpenter because I can build an Ikea bookcase, so constructing a pair of ‘flat pack slippers’ isn’t craft!

I guess that the issue is that craft is now ‘big business’. You only need to visit Pintrest and Etsy to see the massive interest in handmade items. And, of course, as part of the increasing drive towards consumerism, there are ample opportunities for big companies to take advantage. So, in another act of civil disobedience… cast off your desire to make the perfect card/cake/dishcloth/whatever and use up some of the things you have around the place to express your creativity. You never know, you might create a masterpiece… and you will certainly end up with something unique!

-oOo-

Many thanks to my friend Tracey for inspiring me to write this post… she blogs about her permaculture diploma at What Grows from a Seed

21st Century Womble

Do you know what a Womble is? If you were a child growing up in the 1970s in Britain, you certainly do, but I’m not sure how far their fame spread and whether they crossed the Atlantic to become popular in the US or traveled half way round the world to the Antipodes… I hope they did.

Wombles may have been the greenest creatures ever created… they were certainly well ahead of their time. They are smallish furry animals with an eye for potential: collecting what others perceive as rubbish and transforming it into useful items. The original books were written by Elisabeth Beresford (the first was published in 1968) but then made into a television series that was narrated by Bernard Cribbins. Ms Beresford was an author with vision – she created a group of characters who could save the world if they were in charge: unassuming grassroots environmentalists.

The motto of these creatures

make good use of bad rubbish

is one that we should, perhaps all pay attention to. Being dedicated to reuse and recycling is not a bad lifestyle choice. In these days of ridiculous consumerism (just watch ‘The Story of Stuff‘ if you want your eyes opening on the subject) I find myself becoming more of a womble with each passing year. It’s not that I don’t buy anything… I do, and certainly more than I need, but I try not to and I have started to look at ‘junk’ with a more creative eye.

We often walk the dogs the mile or so to the nearest shop to buy a newspaper on Saturday morning. A couple of years ago I noticed a plastic spatula on the pavement next to a newly built house. It was the sort that you use in the kitchen with non-stick pans, perhaps to flip burgers. I walked on, thinking that someone at the house had dropped it, perhaps when they were moving in, and that they would retrieve it. But no, the next week when we walked past it was still there. And the next week. And the next. No one had moved it, no child had picked it up to play with, it just sat there on the pavement (sidewalk) week after week, not broken, not wanted, but clearly not important enough for anyone to even bother throwing away. After about two months I could bear it no longer… on our return trip with the newspaper, I picked up the spatula. I brought it home and inspected it. It appeared non the worse for its prolonged residence on the pavement. I have plenty of cooking utensils and anyway it seemed a little unhygienic to consider using it in the kitchen. However, the plastic scoop that we used to clean out the hen-house had recently broken, so the spatula became a replacement for that… and it still is. It lives outdoors and, to date, has survived sunshine, frost, wind and rain. It saved me 99p for a new poop-scoop (or, more likely several 99ps), but really it saved the production of yet another plastic item that consumed fossil fuel and probably had to be transported thousands of miles for me to use. Apparently it isn’t biodegradable, so if I hadn’t picked it up, it would presumably have sat on or in the ground forever, or at least until it was physically broken up and eventually became unrecognisable.

It’s just one example of my transformation into a Womble, but I collect all sorts of other things… sticks to burn, cans and bottles to recycle, cloth (sometimes to use sometimes to compost), metal objects for recycling or reuse… not everything I see, but some things. And so my thoughts turn to those who only have waste to live off. There are examples from around the world: Guatemala City, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, Jakarta. These people are true 21st century Wombles – their entire lives and livelihoods are based on things that other people throw away. Rubbish dumps become their homes, but are dangerous places – physically, chemically and biologically – and the people who are forced to use them are at great risk. What a choice to make – realising that your only way to survive is on a rubbish dump. And, sadly, it’s not new – in Our Mutual Friend Charles Dickens describes the Victorian ‘Dust Heaps’ where just such activity occurred.

What a world we live in – where some have so much that they simply throw it away when something new comes along whilst others survive off the objects that the rest of society has discarded. Where, for example cardboard is simply trash here in the UK for most people, but a valuable resource in the slums of Nicaragua or Kathmandu.

So, I encourage you all to embrace your inner Womble and see the value (financial, environmental, aesthetic, whatever) in the things that you plan to throw away, or see others throwing away. Maybe buy a few less things and make the things you have last longer, or even make use of things that other people have discarded… you may even find you enjoy being a Womble.

Eating slugs

It’s rather wet here… well, it is the west coast of Wales, so what do you expect?

There are some plusses – no hose pipe bans (not that I use a hose pipe unless it’s connected to a water-butt or IBC) and we have lovely lichens and mosses, but we do also suffer from slugs. I try to make the most of what occurs naturally in the garden – I keep the brambles under control so that I can harvest the blackberries, I use nettles in the compost, I collect as much water as possible and use it, where possible, when drinking-quality water is not necessary – but slugs are a different matter.

A few years ago Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall experimented with cooking slugs in various ways – slug fritters, slug satay, stuffed slug, slug in tomato sauce – and his conclusion was  “I can heartily recommend those dishes, with just one small adjustment – leave out the slugs” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinknews/5556313/Eat-slugs-in-tomato-sauce-says-television-chef-Hugh-Fearnley-Whittingstall.html).

But I can announce that I have the answer: eat them indirectly.

Two years ago we bought three hens. They came from a small local supplier and had been taught by the other hens what is good to eat. It turns out that what is good is slug! In the early days there was an abundance of slug in our garden, so much so that there would be much gulping and head bobbing to get them all down, but now slugs are a much rarer commodity and scuffles may break out when one is spotted. I have seen mad dashes across the garden by one hen who has found a juicy mollusc, with the other two in hot pursuit in the hope of getting a share. I was originally told that hens do not eat slugs, that ducks were the girls for this job, but our two Speckledies and one Calder Ranger are doing a great job.

Our girls are strictly for egg production – we don’t have space for table birds and the neighbours would certainly object to a cockerel in residence – so we eat all our slugs in the form of chicken eggs! A good result all round.

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