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.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Dawson's Heights

A few weeks ago my friend Pablo and I wandered through Dawson's Heights estate in Dulwich and got chatting to three boys called Orien, Neo and Joe Joe. The boys were super sweet and chatty and wanted to show us around all of their favourite spots, here are some photos that Pablo took from that day.

Standing on the highest floor of the estate you really get a sense of being on top of the world, simultaneously connected to and really far away from the rest of the city, surveying the landscape like a king - in the words of Orien (in the middle): “Sometimes I feel like I should have a crown!”.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Redevelopment - a poem

Balloon Woods estate in Nottingham (now demolished)

The below poem was written by my gran, Ruth Johns, in the 70s. It’s based on her experience of helping lonely mums (displaced from Birmingham to a high rise estate in Lichfield) to get the local council to approve the setting up of a playgroup for young children in what was the only possible venue - a disused army nissen hut. She says that there were no play spaces designed for the estate children when it was built, despite young families making up the majority of people being housed there.


Concrete and glass

tower in the sky:

Warning of man's

failure to see

-- reality

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A leap of faith

At the end of WWII, Britain had been decimated by the blitz, the population had increased by almost a million people in 6 years (all of which needed somewhere to live) and the country was knee deep in debt. If the country has ever really needed ‘strong and stable’ leadership, it was then. No one expected The Labour Party to win by a landslide in 1945, least of all Winston Churchill, but win they did - as the people voted on a limb on a promise of change and the possibilty of a more equal society. It was the biggest national shift in voting behaviour in history, and the first time The Labour Party had ever had a majority in parliament.

It certainly wasn’t all perfect, but between 1935-1941 one million council houses were built, a tax-funded system of benefits for the poor, sick and disabled was set up and the NHS was established as a pioneering project in nationalised healthcare. By 1979 (with Margaret Thatcher in number 10) 42% of the population were living in council-owned homes, but more often than not these were badly designed, poorly constructed and in sore need of attention.

Lynsey Hanley’s book Estates: An intimate history explores how politics and policies have shaped our attitudes to social housing over the last 70 years and asks the question: when so many people today will happily rely on the state for health care and education, why has the social housing project been such a failure?

Finishing this book last night,on the eve of election day, reminded me again why it is that I’m voting Labour. There’s no point wading deep into the metrics of inequality here when so many have done it before. We all know that the housing crisis is one of the biggest dilemmas facing whichever government is in power. House prices are skyrocketing as homelessness is increasing. Right now there are over a million people on the waiting list for a council or housing association home, but the government aren’t building homes: they’re letting private developers do it and flogging the lot on the international market to investors.

A lot has happened between 1945 and 2017, but with the country heading to the polling booths today, it’s hard not to draw parallels between then and now. Austerity measures, climate change, the housing crisis, Brexit and the recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester has many people, myself included, feeling worried and uncertain about both our own security and the future of Britain (and the world) generally. The wave of populism that has seen Jeremy Corbyn exceed expectations during the campaign means that the polls are showing a tantalising diminished Tory lead. Like how the actions of the government in the mid 20th century are still shaping our society now, Brexit and the decisions made when it comes to housing need and the NHS could shape the economy and society for generations.

Finding ourselves at this crossroads, it almost seems too dangerous to hope that once again the public might take a leap of faith, but whilst the future is being decided it’s nice to revel in it for a little while.