Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Fairtrade Fortnight

It's Fairtrade Fortnight at the moment, until Saturday 10th March. You'll probably find lots of Fairtrade produce on special offer in the supermarkets until then.

Buying Fairtrade sugar, tea, coffee, chocolate, bananas and other fruit, flowers, cotton, or anything else is a way of helping the people who produce our food and other things we buy to be paid enough to live on. In some countries ordinary working people aren't paid enough to feed themselves and their families properly never mind provide a decent home, clothes, healthcare or education and the state doesn't provide them. Small producers around the world are at the mercy of market forces that are stacked against them

Fairtrade was set up to provide a more level playing field for small producers and to help them get a better deal. Paying producers a fair price means they can stand on their own feet in normal circumstances. Buying Fairtrade products is not charity. Fairtrade is necessary because normal global trade cheats small producers.

If you care about what's fair look out for the Fairtrade logo:

I'll be looking at Fairtrade again in the future, but if you want to know more now take a look at the Fairtrade Foundation website

Monday, 26 February 2018

Drinking To Avoid Micro-plastics

In Evian you can fill your own bottle with water direct from the mountains

So, we've had a look at how plastic bags are a real danger to animals and that they are killing and harming sea life.

It's not just plastic bags that are causing problems though.

Plastic is extremely useful, but when we throw it away it starts to cause problems and because we're using so much of it and have used a lot of plastic for decades, the plastic we're throwing away is becoming a huge problem.

A new Irish study has found that most deepwater fish have ingested microplastics.

Our oceans aren't just full of plastic bags, they are full of plastic particles from broken plastic bottles and all sorts of things. People searching British beaches are finding particles of broken plastic as well as nurdles, which are the small pieces of plastic used by manufacturers to make plastic products.

These tiny pieces of plastic are being eaten by fish and other edible sea creatures and so are finding their way onto our plates and into our bodies.

As I have already said, plastic if very useful and sometimes it's important to use plastic.  However, a very wasteful and damaging way to use plastic is to make plastic bags, bottles, cups and straws etc to be used once and then thrown away.

I looked at plastic bags in my last post, so today I want to look at plastic we use when drinking, and in particular plastic bottles.

Bottled Water

I have to confess to being a fan of bottled water. When I visited people in France and Germany as a teenager they all  drank bottled water telling me their tap water was poor quality. In those days most of the water came in glass bottles. I have a well developed sense of taste and I often find tap water tastes unpleasant. Chlorine isn't at all pleasant, but perhaps sometimes I just need to get used to water that tastes a bit more of iron than I'm used to.

I've been very resistant to changing my bottled water habit, especially in Summer, but I have recently started thinking about the damage I'm doing.

Perhaps I've been able to think about changing my habits because I'm less stressed just now. Over the last several years we seem to have had one elderly relative after another in a nursing home or needing care, but we don't just now. If you've got a lot of stress in your life I don't want to add to it, but the health or our planet depends on us all using a lot less plastic bottles, so I hope you'll feel able to think about doing that.

This video from the Story of Stuff might help you think about drinking less bottled water. I know it's made me think.

So now I have bought myself a reusable plastic bottle to carry around, especially in the summer when it's warm and I might get thirsty.  I had bought a stainless steel one earlier but even an aluminium bottle is heavy to carry around and the water can taste metallic, although you'll probably get used to that. The downside of plastic is that it is very absorbent, so it's important to wash and dry it properly to remove germs.  It's not the best thing for carrying milk or any strong flavoured liquid around as it absorbs flavours.

With care my plastic bottle should last me years.  I'm filling it with water from glass bottles than has travelled from Scotland at the moment, but after watching the Story of Bottled Water I can see I should probably start using tap water, or move to Evian where you can fill your own bottles and jugs as much as you like with mineral water straight from the mountains for free.

There is a wide range of reusable drinks bottles on the market so you must choose which one suits your needs best. If you've found one you like already please leave a review in the comments telling us what you're using and why you like it. If you're aware of any downside or why it might not suit some people please tell us about that, too.

Do you have any tips for remembering to take your bottle with you whenever you need it?

A More Sustainable Pinta

While we're on the subject of bottles have you considered milk from the milkman? If the extra cost puts you off could you manage to buy half your milk in glass bottles from your milkman?  Even one pint a week would be a bit less plastic over your lifetime.

To stop using single use plastic entirely would be the ideal we could all aim for, but I know it's not easy, so using less of it would be a wonderful start. Once we're aware of ways to avoid single use plastic it should start to get easier to use less and less.

We were getting three pints from our milkman three times a week and buying the rest from the supermarket. Having recently become more aware of just how much damage plastic is doing I've upped it to four pints each delivery and sometimes order a fifth pint on a Saturday. That's as many milk bottle as will fit in our fridge door and we have a small fridge as it is, so I still need another litre of milk in a plastic bottle to see us through until the milkman comes again on Tuesday morning.

Do you get milk from a milkman? Tell us how it's working for you.

Fizzy Drinks

If you're a fan of fizzy drinks buying them in cans would mean you're not wasting plastic. If your health is as important to you as the health of the planet then you might want to cut down anyway. I used to enjoy a drink of Cola until I heard about the way the Coca Cola company uses excessive amounts of water in countries where water is scarce and also that pollutes water. I've avoided any of their drinks since then and now rarely have a fizzy drink. If you do a Google search you'll find several articles like this one: Coca-Cola forced to close India bottling factory over excessive water use, pollution.

Greenpeace name "Pepsi, Nestlé, and Coca-Cola as worst contributors to single-use plastic pollution".

Have you cut back on fizzy drinks?

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

How to Choose Reusable Carrier Bags

Sea creatures such as turtles are eating plastic bags, which are killing them.

Yesterday I took a little look about some of the ways plastic is causing problems and what we can do with the plastic bags we have.

While they might not be our biggest problem plastic bags are starting to become a real danger to animals and they are killing and harming sea life around the British Isles as well as in the rest of the world.

It's not just animals that are threatened by plastic bags floating around freely, in Bangkok careless use and disposal of plastic bags clogged the sewers, posing a flood risk.

Bangladesh has banned the plastic carrier bag for similar reasons.

The problem of plastic bags is also an easy problem to fix.  It's not difficult to stop using disposable plastic bags. Other kinds of disposable bags aren't a great idea either because paper, for instance, needs much more energy to produce than plastic, so it's worse for Global Warming, which is an even bigger problem than plastic.

There is a variety of alternatives to disposable carrier bags.

Most supermarkets now sell strong jute bags with a plastic lining that will last for years. These are useful if you need your bag to be waterproof in case of leaks and spills.  They aren't ideal from the environmental point of view because bits of that plastic lining will find it's way into the environment eventually, but they can last 10 years or more, so you're saving a lot of single use carrier bags including the strong ones. You're also saving the energy that would have been needed to make them.

If you're not sure you need this kind of bag wait until you do need one as they should be easy enough to buy when you're in the supermarket. Some other shops also sell them.

If you want to have a carrier bag to hand at all times a small, light foldable one might be the best thing for your requirements.

About 10 years ago there was a campaign to ban the single use plastic carrier bags and Onya bags, made from parachute material, which was strong and lightweight. These are hard to come by in the UK now.  They are still available in Australia but are now made from recycled drinks bottles.

Buying bags made from recycled material is probably the most environmentally friendly thing to do, so long as the bags are fit for purpose and you will use them. It also makes recycling worthwhile.

Cotton bags aren't such a good idea as they are heavier, less water resistant and growing cotton uses a lot of water in countries where water is in short supply. If the cotton isn't organic a lot of chemicals are likely to have been used to grow it, which probably contribute to pollution and may be a health risk for those who grow it. If you already have a cotton bag it might be just the thing for buying and storing bread without using plastic.

There is a wide choice of foldable and other reusable bags available.

Ethical Superstore have a good selection of foldable bags, many made from recycled materials.

Look for eco tote bags on Amazon.

Little drawstring net bags can be useful for buying fruit and veg as well as bread rolls and small loaves.  This one was made by Onya but other makes are more readily available, unless you live in Australia.

Remember, buying so much as most of us do is one of our biggest problems, so don't rush out and buy anything just yet. Use up the carrier bags you do have first. Think about other bags you already have.  Look around for the most sustainable choice of suitable bags while you're doing that.

Did I forget anything important about we should think of when choosing reusable bags?  Let us know in the comments section.

Next time I'll be looking at other single use plastic items that are easy to do without.

Monday, 19 February 2018

No More Plastic Carrier Bags!

Collection point for plastic carrier bags, when they can't be used any more.

Hello again. It's great to see not only people from the UK, US and Canada are reading this blog, but also people from France, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates and Brazil. It would be lovely if you could leave a comment telling me a bit about yourself and what you find interesting or helpful.

This week I shall be thinking about plastic waste and possible solutions.

You may have watched the final episode of Blue Planet II and been among the many people who were shocked to see albatross parents unwittingly feeding their chicks plastic and mother dolphins potentially exposing their new-born calves to pollutants through their contaminated milk. You may only have heard about it, but since that episode was shown everyone seems to be talking about the huge problem that plastics are causing in our oceans and elsewhere.

In many ways plastic is a marvellous material with so many uses. It's strong, waterproof, harder to break than glass and can be flexible. Unlike metal containers it can go in the microwave. As a rule it's cheaper and more environmentally friendly to produce than paper and metal products.

Plastic is causing problems because it lasts for a very long time.

Another part of the problem is that so much plastic is now being produced for containers and wrappers that will only be used once and which some people simply throw away.

In some parts of the world there are no waste collection services or recycling systems. Some places are too remote to be reached by such services if they did exist in their country.

The volume of plastic produced is making it hard to cope with. China doesn't want any more of our waste plastic, so we must find ways to cut back on the amount we use. According to reports there's already a backlog of plastic waste building up at UK recycling plants and the same will be happening in the US and many other countries.

To stop this becoming a continuing crisis we must do everything we can to avoid single use plastic where at all possible. Avoiding waste of any kind is usually a good idea.

Before watching Blue Planet II you may have heard of dead turtles, whales and sea birds found with their stomachs full of plastic bags, which it's thought they mistook for jelly fish.  Some of this is happening in British waters because of plastic bags from British beaches. The problem is a worldwide problem but it's one we can do something about.

Step One is to reuse any plastic bags we already have until they are no good.

Step Two is to recycle all our old, normal plastic carrier bags. Most supermarkets have a collection point for carrier bags. Branches of Sainsbury's and Waitrose near me do.

Bags that can be recycled in this way might have this logo on them

Step Three, when we've used up our stash of plastic carrier bags is to consider how many reusable bags we might need and what is best for our purpose.  I'll look at that next time.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Stop and Take Stock

Lenten Lilies, or a close relation

Many Christians all over the world are now observing Lent.  Traditionally Lent was a time for fasting, especially going without meat because meat was in short supply at this time of year. The Church turned this into a virtue saying that going without was a way to learn self-control and instigated a 40 day period of fasting to correspond to Jesus' time of fasting in the Wilderness, which in turn reflected the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the Wilderness after fleeing Egypt.

Lent is 40 days plus Sundays. Sundays don't count as fast days because Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, so that is always a day for rejoicing.   In church today our vicar suggested that the Sundays in Lent could be seen as a glimpse of Easter to come. She also suggested that rather than use Sunday as a day to over-indulge if we've been struggling to keep off chocolate, biscuits, alcohol or whatever all week, we might do better to reflect on how we'd been doing in the week, where we might have struggled and why, so that we could consider how we might do better next week.

So I'd like to encourage you to join me in taking a little time on Sundays to take stock by reflecting on how well we did at fighting Climate Change in the last week and how well we managed to live in a way that did as little harm as possible to anyone or anything.  Hopefully we'll also manage to have a positive effect on the people around us and maybe our environment as well.   These are all things I hope to look at over the coming weeks.

So how did I do?