Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Finished with my MA!

On the 4th December I finally handed in my MA project. For this project, I spent six months researching the topic of social housing in the UK. For the purpose of this piece I chose a local angle by focusing on one particular ex-local authority estate in East Dulwich, using that estate to explore the wider issues around social housing, and particularly the Right to Buy policy.

Take a look at the website I created for my piece here, which includes some photography and video.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Facing the elements

In the UK we have a well documented tendency to talk about the weather, often in negative terms.

Like Goldilocks said, when it's hot, it's too hot, and when it's 10 degrees it's too cold. Whilst I recognise that this is often as much conversational glue than anything else, it can lead to an undue negative outlook on the day - especially during the winter. "Brr" said the barista today as I ordered a tea, "it's bloody freezing". "I know, it's horrible" I replied, on-cue. But as I was cycling home wearing my waterproof jacket and ski gloves with cold, fresh wind blowing in my face, I thought is it really that horrible?

The problem with this negativity is that it often comes hand in hand with a defeatist attitude, and this is especially true when it comes to doing things outdoors. We'll decide not to go to the park/climb a mountain/go for a run and instead opt to hide in a warm pub and wait for it all to blow over.

The thing is, we actually have relatively mild winters here in the UK and provided we wear the right clothing (especially waterproofs) there's not really much we can't do. As Alfred Wainwright once said, "there's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing," and as a man who spent a lot of his life in the one of the UKs wildest and wettest landscapes he should know.

Anyway, in my experience choosing to embrace the winter rather than avoid it is often pleasantly surprising. Last February, we drove to Devon to do a 10k run and on the day itself it was sunny, and even warm. This year, I'm heading to Manchester in January to visit a friend and I'm hoping to get up to the Peak District, then in February me and Kristy are aiming to climb Snowdon.

It will inevitably be cold, yes, but it will make the warm pub afterwards that little bit sweeter.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Banish the Vanish! Zero-waste stain removal

A few weeks ago I had a bit of an accident and put mine and my housemates WHITE laundry through the wash with a pink lip balm. The lip balm melted everywhere and there were waxy pink splashes all over the clothes.

My housemate understandably wasn't too impressed so when she called me from Sainsbury's and said she was going to buy a Vanish stain remover I didn't want to resist even though I knew it would come in plastic and be full of chemicals.

We tried several washes using the Vanish and the stains just didn't want to shift, so when I saw this stain removing laundry soap in Karavan I had to give it a go. It cost £8 which isn't cheap and I'll admit I wasn't too optimistic about how well it would work.

The first thing I tried it on was my housemates (previously pristine) Tommy Hilfiger pants. I wet the stain, rubbed some soap into it and scrubbed fairly vigorously with the brush. It was clear straight away that it was working as the stain got much less visible, and I decided to leave the soap sitting on the fabric for a few hours before putting through the wash. Once they were out, the stains were completely gone - I couldn't believe it, and it doesn't come with any unnecessary packaging or chemicals.

I guess everything happens for a reason, and now Sting in the Tail can add melted pink lip balm to the list of stains that clay soap is effective on and I've learnt always check my jean pockets before putting a wash on.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Coffee to-go

Sitting on the U-Bahn one day in Germany we saw a builder drinking coffee out of an old jam jar, which we thought was a pretty great idea to bring home.

The glass holds the heat very well and once the lid is on, the jar is leak proof.

I'm not sure I'd use this for hotter drinks like herbal tea or black coffee as the glass might break or become too hot to hold, but for a slightly cooler drink (like this oat milk latte) it's a good alternative to a disposable take-away cup. The barista even almost managed some latte art on the top!

A Plastic Ocean documentary

My resolve to live plastic free slipped a bit last week when I was on holiday in Berlin, it can be tough to avoid plastic packaging when you're not familiar with what's in the local shops, don't speak the local language and eat out more often than normal - I did at least carry around my reusable water bottle and coffee cup.

We got back yesterday, and that same evening went to a screening of A Plastic Ocean documentary as part of the Peckham & Nunhead Free Film Festival. Here are some facts from the film.
  • In the last 10 years, humans have created more plastic waste than in the last century
  • Each year 63 billion gallons of oil are used in the US to make plastic bottles alone
  • The US alone throws away 38 Billion bottles every year
  • 80% of plastic waste in the ocean comes from land, so even if you don't live anywhere near the coast the chances are your plastic waste has found its way into the sea.
  • 50% of all plastic is single-use and has an average use time of 12 minutes
  • In parts of the ocean there is more plastic pieces than there are plankton, meaning that plastic is being consumed at all levels of the food chain. 
Read more facts from the film here.

What the film stressed was that we can start to remediate the problem of plastic pollution, but first it's VITAL that first we stop creating it in the first place.

My trip to Germany was quite enlightening in this respect. In Germany when you buy a glass or plastic bottle you pay a small deposit which can then be cashed in at the bar where you bought your drink or the supermarket. This system means that people are incentivised to think about how they are disposing of their waste. Now, in Germany 87% of total waste is recycled.

I'd love to see them enact something similar here in the UK, but Brexit might mean that environmental standards could slip without EU regulation.

With this in mind, it's more important than ever for people in the UK to take it upon themselves to educate and be conscious of their own waste!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

plastic free day one: toothbrushing

Have you ever stopped to consider that every toothbrush you've ever owned still exists somewhere? It's a weird thought.

My latest plastic toothbrush was looking a little worse for wear so I decided to activate stage one of my plastic free journey and buy this bamboo toothbrush from Humble Brush.

It cost £4.50 which is about the same as a pint of lager, or 5p a brush if you use it for the recommended three months.

It might not have all the bells and whistles of a plastic toothbrush (who uses the tongue cleaner anyway) but this brush is comfortable to hold and use and I actually prefer it to my plastic one.

Now I just have to use up my supply of Arm & Hammer before I venture into the world of low-waste zero-plastic toothpaste, something I'm apprehensive about as I'm quite attached to my whitening toothpaste.

So far I'm considering Tooth Fairy from Lush (which comes in a plastic pot but is part of Lush's recycling scheme), or I might attempt to make my own if I'm feeling brave.

If anyone has any recommendations, please drop me a comment or a tweet!

'low-waste plastic free'

So I've decided to have a go transitioning to what I'm going to call a 'low-waste plastic free' lifestyle. It might be a bit of a mouthful compared to the more commonly known 'zero-waste' but I wanted to try something that seemed (in my mind at least) to be a little bit more realistic.

Why just plastic?

I've been interested in zero-waste for a while, but as soon as I start reading about people that can condense their yearly waste into one small jar I feel really overwhelmed. It's well documented that our lifestyles in the West are extremely wasteful, and although these days a lot of household waste is recycled before it goes in the bin, instinct tells me it's better to avoid rather than mitigate the impact of waste.

I am ultimately trying to cut down on all my waste, but to make this challenge more manageable I'm going to focus on plastic. The impact of plastic waste specifically has interested and bothered me for a while. Why?

  • Plastic is made from petroleum. 'Nuff said.
  • Plastic packaging is recycled less frequently and successfully than others. Do you know what those numbers in recycling symbols on plastic packaging actually mean? Me neither. This post does a good job of trying to explain it. But confusion over this means that a lot of people aren't recycling properly. Just in my personal experience I've noticed that a lot of people think it's fine to put plastic bags or cellophane wrappers into their kerbside plastic recycling bins, and this often simply isn't the case. Which brings me to my next point.
  • Lots of plastic isn't even recyclable in the first place. I'm not an expert on this but a lot of the stuff I've seen people try to put into plastic recycling says that it's not even recyclable on the wrapper. Some things, like plastic bags, are recyclable but these need to be processed separately, and even if there is somewhere near you that will accept them, you'll need to make a special trip to get it there. I think that people would be shocked at the amount of everyday plastic items which can't be recycled.
  • It's cheaper to make new plastic than use recycled. Last year Business Insider reported that making new plastic has become cheaper than using recycled. Whereas glass and aluminium have a fairly cyclical use (tin can is recycled into a tin can) plastic is turned into all sorts of things different from it's original use.

Obviously, it doesn't make sense to throw all the non-recyclable plastic in my house away immediately, so a phrase that someone once told me about veganism applies here “it’s a journey not a destination”. I hope to share this journey here.

This infographic from the European Commission is a good place to start when learning about plastic waste and recycling.