My last post about teabags generated so many emails and quite a bit of comment that I thought it worth following up…
The general theme was supportive (phew!) but a large number of people told me they had already switched to plastic free teabags.
The depressing news is that there is no such thing. Unfortunately for us and for the kind of clarity which is in such short supply these days, it’s perfectly legal for companies to use the phrase “plastic free” because this, in food labelling terms, is understood to mean plastics made from petroleum and you’d be forgiven for thinking this meant all plastics. It doesn’t. It’s verbal obfuscation. (If you’re new to the blog, PLA and bioplastics are fully explained in my last post so I won’t bang on about it again.)
My friend Liza in particular told me she was drinking tea made by a local company which was most definitely labelled as being “plastic free”. Ho hum, I thought.
So I wrote to them. Here is our correspondence.
ME Hi. I’m looking for a plastic free teabag and yours sounds just the thing. Can you tell me what material you use to heat seal the teabags?
THEM: Hi, thanks for contacting us. Our tea bags are made from corn starch and when they are heat sealed together it is the starch/glucose bonding together. The tea bag itself has no taste or aroma and does not affect the great flavours of our teas. Our time out tea bags are packed with high quality unground ingredients, packed into a clear bag made from eucalyptus and both are biodegradable/compostable. Our tea boxes are printed with vegetable ink on a mixture of recycled and FSC card. We even use a brown paper parcel tape which uses a potato starch glue.We hope this answers your question and would love for you to try our lovely teas.
ME: Thanks very much for your reply, it was kind of you to go into so much detail. I am just concerned about one thing – by corn starch, I understand that this is the base material used to make bioplastic, or PLA. Is this correct? And my research seems to point to the fact that whilst bioplastic is fully biodegradable, it is not actually compostable. So if you live in an area which doesn’t collect food and garden waste, it has to go into the general rubbish, because it won’t properly degrade in the compost heap (if you’re lucky enough to have one!). I found this on the Yogi Tea website. “Our envelopes are also made of FSC®️-certified paper, but unfortunately we have to use small quantities of plastic “for heat sealing”. This is very painful for us, but for reasons of quality and hygiene and the current state of technology and research, there is no other option. Even if other tea competitors may claim the opposite, we feel openness and transparency towards our customers. A 100% plastic-free, heat-sealed tea bag outer packaging is currently not available on the market.” Can you clarify? I’m just looking for a teabag that contains no plastic at all – petroleum based or bio! I do realise that companies like you are fallling over backwards to try and minimise plastic pollution, but if I can’t find a completely plastic free teabag, I shall move entirely to leaf tea.
THEM: “Hi, no problem getting back to us, we always like chatting tea and we have worked so hard at removing all plastics from our tea ranges. You are correct that corn starch is also known as PLA but it contains cero (sic) plastic and no petroleum. It does prefer to go into an industrial compost i.e. council collection and unfortunately in this county we are still waiting for this to happen, but we compost at home ourselves and if we find a bag not fully composted when we turn out our compost for use, we just pop it back in and wait for the next year. If it does go into landfill at least there is no plastic to leach out into the ground and landfills don’t bury the products immediately, which means the tea bag has a slight chance to start breaking down with the microbes found on site. There is also a chance that the general waste will go to an incinerator, which makes energy, and these teabags won’t have any plastic released into the atmosphere. If you are still not convinced with corn starch tea bags, we have a large selection of loose teas available, all packed in natureflex, which is 100% plastic free material made from fast growing Eucalyptus trees and they seal without any plastic and are 100% home compostable.”
No names, no pack drill
Look, they’re obviously a really nice company trying very hard to minimise their impact so I’m not going to name them. But all the same it’s disingenuous to claim that their packaging is ‘plastic free’, so I won’t be buying any of their tea any time soon. Meanwhile, hats off to Yogi teas for their honesty.
And it’s still leaf tea for me, because I keep finding shredded teabags in my compost from at least three years ago that have failed to decompose…
In other exciting news…
Yours truly was approached earlier this year by London South Bank University. Would I be willing to give a keynote speech at one of their series of Sustainability and Climate Action Events?
Well, dear readers, I was speechless. Which is not a useful state to be in when asked to actually open your gob and say something half intelligent.
However, when I’d picked myself up off the floor and apologised to the dog (she gets a fright when I fall over), I said yes. So I shall be opening the three day event on 4th November at 9.30 am – put it in your diaries and tune in. It is of course virtual like everything else during these covidious times but that does make it a lot more accessible for everyone. Here’s the link – it’s free to register and attend. https://www.lsbu.ac.uk/whats-on/consumption-economics-education-wellbeing-event
And I have to admit that I’m very excited as well as nervous – actually, I find it difficult to think of much else as the date draws near. Eek!
And last but SO not least…
For those of you who read this blog online, I would like to thank Ian Wagg on Unsplash for the lovely picture of teapickers in a tea plantation. For those of you who read this in email form, you won’t have a dickybird what I’m talking about as the header photos are not published on the email versions. No idea why.
No, I can’t believe it either. Here we are in the middle of a pandemic and I’m writing about effing teabags, for heaven’s sake!
But I must write about them, because as far as I am aware, almost all teabags are made with one kind or plastic or another, and millions of teabags are chucked in the compost every day.
Just to give you an idea, the annual tea consumption in Ireland averages out at 4.831 POUNDS of tea per person, and here in Britain we’re not far behind, glugging down 4.281 pounds each every year. I personally make up for at least 14 non-caffeine drinkers, as I ADORE tea.
And it’s not just tea – think of all those little sachets of herbal teas! Millions and and squillions and gazillions of bags containing plant matter of one kind or another are disposed of daily. And they look as though they should decompose, don’t they?
Ay, there’s the rub.
How tea bags are made
There are various types of tea bags, but the most common is the pressed teabag – in other words, those square or round ones you’re most familiar with.
Here’s a great video from the BBC showing the manufacturing process – if you can’t be arsed to watch it, here’s the low down. Abacá, or Manila hemp, is mixed with water into a sludge. So far, so organic, if you forget about the air miles clocked up getting the hemp to the factory. Oh, and the millions of gallons of water.
This sludge is mixed with flock made from a specialist plastic which is rather like cotton wool. Then a layer of wood pulp is added, having been broken down by yet more uncountable gallons of water. This is to stop the teabag dissolving in your mug.
Finally, it’s dried at 100º and stretched to a fabric just 0.1mm thick. How on earth anyone dreamt it up in the first place is beyond me, but I admit it’s an impressive piece of technology so long as you don’t give a fig about the consequences.
Some of these tea bags use a staple to close the top of the bag but they still have a seam that needs sealing and that’s why they need plastic. The plastic is the seal.
Oh, and don’t forget that white tea bags are only white because the paper is bleached. Nice.
The other type of tea bagis the silky pyramid and a lot of the more poncey teas use these. They’ve become increasingly popular due to the fact that they’re not full of the dusty old shite that inhabits many a teabag. You can actually see the contents and the quality tends to be higher.
The catch is that they’re rarely made of silk. It’s all a question of words… Silky just means “like silk” and this can mean that the teabag is either made of plastic or of what is called biodegradable plastic. And I will tell you more of this when we’ve gone through the process of…
Plastic has a very high melting point, so boiling water doesn’t melt it. But there is a second temperature called the “glass transition” temperature – this is far lower than the melting point. This is when molecules in polymers start to degrade. Just because you can’t see it breaking down don’t mean it ain’t happenin’!
Most teabags are made from PET or food grade nylon. PET’s long name is polyethylene terephthalate but don’t try saying that after three glasses of wine. The ‘glass transition’ temperature of PET is a great deal lower than boiling point. But we boil water for tea… so you can be absolutely sure that those polymers in your tea bags are not leaching molecules into your cuppa?
No, I don’t know what the glass transition rate of food grade nylon is, there’s only so much science I can take in without my head swivelling and my eyes starting from their sockets. But I do know that …
Micro- and nano-plastics are causing increasing concern for their long term effect on the environment and the food chain. It’s worth quoting Aussie businessman and marine ecologist Andrew Forrest again: Nanoplastics… the very, very small particles of plastic, carrying their negative charge, can go straight through the pores of your skin. That’s not the bad news. The bad news is that it goes straight through the blood-brain barrier, that protective coating which is there to protect your brain.”
According to a study published by the American Chemical Society, “steeping a single plastic teabag at brewing temperature (95 °C) releases approximately 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into a single cup of the beverage”.
We now know that plastic never goes away. Even when it finally seems to disappear, the tiny nano plastics will always be plastic.
Is biodegradable plastic the answer?
Don’t get me wrong. Bioplastics are a huge improvement on petroleum based plastics, but they’re not without problems, and for all sorts of reasons.
Biodegradable isn’t the same as compostable. Compostable means you and I can chuck it into that pile of grass clippings and it’ll break down. Biodegradable can mean all sorts of things – most bioplastics will ONLY degrade in the high temperatures of industrial composting facilities. There aren’t nearly enough of these, thus bioplastics frequently get sent to landfill. With the best will in the world, can you be certain that your biodegradable teabags will actually BE degraded?
Some bioplastics (polyethene terephthalate or PET bioplastics) aren’t actually biodegradable. They are recyclable, but they will never become compost.
Bioplastic MUST be disposed of properly – and this means separately. If it is mixed up with actual plastic it can contaminate a whole batch, rendering that batch unfit for use. This buggers up the whole recycling process. Then where does the batch end up? In our old friend, landfill, making methane. And when you carefully put your bioplastic interdental picks in the recycling, can you be certain the council dump has the kind of sophisticated machinery needed to sort it from the plastic tray that came with your strawberries?
According to a study at the University of Pittsburgh, biopolymers are worse polluters than ordinary plastic, because of the use of agricultural fertilisers and pesticides. And of course, they take up land which could be used to feed people.
According to the same study, “biopolymers exceeded most of the petroleum-based polymers for ecotoxicity and carcinogen emissions.”
A corn starch teabag can still make its way to the sea and into the belly of a fish before it degrades, tricking the poor old fish into feeling full when it’s not. That’s how fish starve to death.
Hmm. A fresh brew is considerably hotter than a hot car!
But I cannot stress this enough. I am not a scientist, and I have to work very hard to get through some of these studies. I may get things wrong, and I welcome any contributions and information from people who genuinely understand these things.
We can’t uninvent plastic…
…but we can stop using it when it’s not necessary. Tea bags are not necessary. If you drink actual tea, you can convert back to loose leaf tea just as soon as you’ve finished that last teabag. Same with herbal – there are plenty of loose leaf infusions on the market now.
Look on the bright side – loose leaf tea is almost always a higher quality. The stuff in teabags is usually dust and “fannings“.
You don’t need to worry about a gobful of leaves either. The greatest teapot ever invented is the Chatsford which has a handy basket thingummy to put the tea in. I bought mine 34 years ago in Scotland and the delightful lady said, “You’ll never have bad tea from a brown teapot” and she was right.
I’ve lectured enough. Time for a cuppa. Stay well, stay safe.
Meanwhile, apologies again for the long silence. I find it very difficult to get going in these strange times, and sometimes the science needed to write these pieces makes my head hurt.
Do you regularly get a load of junk mail? If so, it might just be your own fault.
There seems to be three kinds of junk.
leaflets from local marketing, like pizza leaflets/Chinese takeaway menus/local garage adverts etc that occasionally get shoved through the letterbox. Less so these days, I’m happy to say.
stuff that companies send you after you’ve purchased something from their website. Once a company has your address, you can be driven demented by months of unwanted catalogues trying to persuade you to buy more socks or another set of drill bits…
those awful packs of gubbins wrapped in plastic that fall out of the weekend newspapers. You know, the kind that advertise things you never knew you needed, like heated knickers for the hard of hearing, or electric hoes for unwanted beard growth.
The first is easy to stop. A notice saying ‘NO JUNK MAIL’ on the front door works wonders. The second is easy to stop, but it requires you to Do Something About It. The third I’ve got an idea about. Press on, dear reader, it’s at the end.
But really, it is all shit that NOBODY needs. Whole forests are sacrificed for it, it frequently arrives in plastic envelopes, and I hope by now you know how I feel about superfluous plastics.
Most people don’t read their junk mail, according to my research (which, er, involved asking a few people I know… très scientifique, non?) They chuck it in the recycling or, worse, in the bin where it goes to landfill. Landfill, the scourge of our age.
Whilst it isn’t our fault if companies send us their advertising material the minute they find out where we live, it is up to us to do what we can to make them stop sending us their wretched and unwanted blurb.
Basically, if we keep getting the same stuff month after month, year after year, we have only ourselves to blame.
So do NOT throw those catalogues out. Here’s how to stop junk mail. It’s the tried and trusted Keane method.
Purchase a nice fat marker pen. Any bright colour is good. Then write the following words on the envelope:
RETURN TO SENDER.
NOT KNOWN AT THIS ADDRESS.
PLEASE DELETE FROM RECORDS.
Then pop it in the post box. It might not work the first time, but repeat your action and the stream of unwanted mail will eventually dry up. It’s the equivalent of unsubscribing.
It’s always worked for me. I once moved into a new house in London and I counted 33 names receiving post at my address. 33!!! Great piles of mail daily plonked onto the mat. Catalogues, mainly. One by one, I wrote the above instructions on the envelopes and posted them back. A year later, the problem was gone.
One company, however, was particularly persistent and clearly didn’t take any notice of politely worded instructions. So, in addition to the above instructions, I stuck a large white label on the back of the plastic sheath and wrote the following in bright red marker pen:
“I DO NOT WANT THIS SHITE COMING THROUGH MY LETTER BOX.
WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO GET THE MESSAGE?”
They stopped sending after that.
(Feel free to substitute the word “garbage” for “shite”. Not everyone loves my Portsmouth/Dublin lexicon.)
I now even send back catalogues I would enjoy (in other words, flowers, bulbs, seeds) unopened. Well, most of them. I confess to drooling over the Sarah Raven catalogues. No-one can be perfect all the time. But there really is no excuse for companies sending out endless hard copy when virtually everything these days is online. I mark them ‘return to sender’ on the front, and on the back I write (in green, of course!):
PLEASE STOP SENDING HARD COPY. I’M ALREADY A CUSTOMER – LET’S START THINKING ABOUT THE PLANET.
Back to that newspaper junk…
I’ve had an idea about a cheap way to protest. I’m going to buy 100 x 1p stamps, and I’m going to post those bundles back to the newspaper. They’ll have to pay the excess. I shall write the following on the back:
And if LOTS of us start doing that, it might make a difference. Anyone fancy trying it with me?
I very much hope everyone out there is staying safe, and that you aren’t suffering too much from the effects of Covid. For myself, I have no idea when we’ll get back into the theatres again, it’s looking pretty dire for my industry. But I keep busy (distraction is vital for sanity!) and will be posting more regularly again now that life is cautiously returning to something resembling what we once knew.
And before I go, here’s a picture of my darling little dog, Piper, after an exciting roll in the hay.
Do you have storage? If so, there are four possible reasons you might be shelling out for space in which to stow your stuff.
You live in a teeny-tiny home and genuinely need to fish stuff out on a regular basis. In which case you are forgiven.
You are moving house and need a place to stow your furniture. In which case, your storage arrangements are no doubt temporary.
You are a criminal and need somewhere anonymous to stash your AK47s, ill-gotten gains and victims. In which case, stop it.
You have too much stuff.
Okay, I’ll concede – you could be someone who has to attend a huge number of fabulous social events where photographers jostle to snap you on the red carpet, and thus you need extra space to store your innumerable evening gowns. In which case, you still have too much stuff.
Let’s be clear. The kind of storage I’m talking about is
personal storage, not work stuff that you need from time to time. And no, I’m sorry, drug-smuggling and gun-running are NOT proper jobs. Stop it right now.
the kind of storage you pay for, not the boxes gathering dust in your loft/under your bed/at the back of the garage.
Storage drains your bank account and blights the country with horrid buildings. Endless empty spaces that contribute nothing to the wellbeing of the country. Here’s one.
Wouldn’t it be nice to stop enriching real estate developers who build these kind of excrescences?
According to their own website, Big Yellow Group, Britain’s largest storage company, has 100 sites in the UK. Their revenue for the end of year March 2020 was £129.3m. And there are plenty of other big players, such as Safestore, LoknStore, Public Storage, not to mention all the sheds, garages, farm buildings leased out to people with Too Much Stuff.
Yep, there are literally thousands of storage spaces, their owners only too willing to take your money to rent you – what? Empty space.
These buildings cover the country with yet more concrete where nothing will grow and nothing is made. Once the building has been built or adapted, maintenance costs are minimal. Jobs are few and low-status. These are businesses that produce a big fat nothing – only revenue for investors.
So while you’re stuck at home, use your Covid captivity to start going through some of your excess and popping into boxes to deliver when the charity shops open again. Empty that storage container and discontinue payment.
And please… don’t go out and replace it all with more stuff. I know the government wants us to shop our way back to economic normality, but it wouldn’t do us any harm as individuals if we were to buy less but better than rush out to fill our houses (and containers) with more tat.
Oh, just a quick request. Don’t drop off all your donations on day one of the charity shops opening, because I’ve got about 42 boxes already packed and ready to deliver that day.
Sorry for the second long silence. I’ve been loth to bombard you with my enthusiasms and obsessions when you’ve all got quite enough to think of with lockdown and Covid.
And for no reason other than sheer sentiment, here’s a picture of Piper, my constant companion, having a rest from gardening a few weeks back. She thinks Covid is MARVELLOUS because I am at home all the time instead of touring. Thus she can happily nod off in the flowerbed instead of maintaining her usual vigilance to check if I’m getting the suitcase down again.
Poor Pipes, she has no idea that I’m secretly planning to tour again. God knows when, but we must hope.
First though, it’s been a longish old time since I bothered you all with my efforts to persuade you to a greener, less wasteful lifestyle… Apologies if you thought I’d given up on this. But quite frankly, apart from the fact that I’ve been drooping mournfully about the place like an ageing tulip, I’ve also felt somewhat reluctant to foist my blog on a world grappling with this coronavirus mullarkey. Haven’t you all got enough on your plate without me droning on about waste?
And then there’s the constant cloud of discouragement that hovers, ready to consume me. On good days, I get a ton of things done, other days I can’t lift my arse off the chair till 4pm. Then I hurtle about the place, trying to make up for the hours of dazed indolence. Much like many of you, I suspect, I wonder where I’m going to get any energy… and whether it would be any use to have any energy in the first place… and what I would use it for were I to find it…
But there IS going to be a world beyond coronavirus, although it will not be the same as the world we knew a couple of months ago. We need to keep working towards that. The climate crisis isn’t going away, even if it is getting a break while we stop burning so much fossil fuel. So let’s try and look ahead with hope, and plan with determination.
Meanwhile, the garden has been saving me, and as garden centres cautiously open up again, it is to the garden I turn for SYDN inspiration. Lots of you are keeping busy the same way. Heck, my pal Adèle who is not one of nature’s gardeners (and lives in an upstairs apartment) announced that she was planting up pots and window-boxes with gusto. If she’s gardening, it’s a good sign that the rest of the world is too.
So before you start ordering bags of peat, let’s just look at the cons and cons.
(Incidentally, it may well be that you all know that we shouldn’t be using peat in the garden. I thought everyone did, but a quick chat with my nephew’s well-educated and clever wife made me realise that not everyone knows how BAD it is to buy peat. We’re constantly bombarded with information and we can’t take it all in.)
Leave peat where it is!
Peat bogs are brilliant at storing carbon, and we are finally beginning to realise that the more carbon dioxide in the air, the worse it is for planet earth and all its inhabitants. This from Natural England – “Globally peatlands store approximately double the amount of carbon that is stored in all the world’s forests, an estimated 550 billion tonnes.” In fact, they store TWICE as much carbon as all the forests in the world put together..
It takes many thousands of years for a peat bog to form, and yet it can be destroyed in decades.
Peat bogs are incredibly abundant in wildlife which is specially adapted to that particular environment: a complex ecosystem all its own.
Peat bogs are essential for managing floodwater. And it rained like billy-oh all winter. It flooded too, and far too often those floods are caused because peat bogs have been degraded. Upland bogs in particular retain water which is then slowly released. This reduces the flow of water downstream and minimises the risk of flooding. I don’t need to remind you that there has been an awful lot of rain and flooding in past years. Wouldn’t it be nice if that stopped!
There has been enough destruction and degradation already. Germany, for instance, has drained or destroyed almost all its peat bogs.
The National Trust makes the excellent point that peat is a great archaeological resource, keeping “a record of past vegetation, landscapes and people”. Think of all those mummified peat bog people…
But I want to grow azaleas!
A good number of popular plants will only grow in acid soil, and peat is acid. Rhododendrons, azaleas, blueberries, camellia… all gorgeous and highly desirable. And even I have to admit that the charm of preserving a dead body for centuries in a peat bog is not as attractive the prospect of planting a glorious rhododendron to hide the gas tank.
So the first thing you should be aware of is that if you live in an area that has alkaline soil (like me), nothing you can do will change that. Even if you’re as rich as Jeff Bezos, you can employ any number of folk with diggers to remove your topsoil and replace it with peat moss – but it will eventually revert. And your lovingly planted camellias will fade and die.
If you’ve moved into a new area and spring in your neighbours’ gardens reveals a resplendent palette of bright rhododendrons, then you can (a) feel safe in the knowledge that you can plant them in your garden too and they will prosper and (b) improve your soil with an excellent alternative, namely coir. More of which later.
But I only want a couple of bags!
Yeah, you and thousands of others. According to Dianna Kopansky, the UN Environment peatlands expert, the world has lost 35% of its peat bogs since 1970. I can do no better than quote from the UN website itself.
When drained or burned for agriculture (as wetlands often are) they go from being a carbon sink to a carbon source, releasing into the atmosphere centuries of stored carbon. CO2emissions from drained and burned peatlands equate to 10 per cent of all annual fossil fuel emissions.
And the brutal truth is that the horticulture industry – both here and in the rest of the world – still relies far too heavily on peat as a valuable addition to their growing mediums. Amateur gardeners account for about two-thirds of the peat consumption in the UK. Commercial agriculture (eg. mushrooms, lettuces) and landscaping account for the rest, golf courses in particular…
And peat use is sneaky. You’ll find it in some of those bags of topsoil you buy, and in some of the bags marked ‘compost’.
Only if the bag is marked “PEAT FREE” can you be certain that you’re not contributing to the degradation of our peat bogs. Which brings us neatly back to the subject of…
Coir is the waste product of the coconut industry. Once the delicious coconut ‘meat’ has been harvested, the long fibres are removed to make matting, ropes and excellent little scrub pads. This leaves the short fibres and dust which, for centuries, coconut workers piled up into great mounds, unused – until one day someone had the bright idea that this waste product would make an excellent compost.
And it does. It absorbs water more quickly than peat, and does just as efficient a job at helping to break up heavy soil.
Of course, it isn’t without problems of its own. One thinks of the travel miles, the plastics used to bag it up, and the heart sinks. Really, nothing is better than your own home-made compost but that’s not always possible and coir is at least renewable and thus sustainable.
(Incidentally, it’s not the only substitute for peat, but this is not a gardening blog and you can search for these things yourself.)
But just in case you’re tempted to plant azaleas in coir-filled pots all round your garden, I have to warn you that they won’t prosper as coir is a perfect pH – neither acid nor alkaline. For more about the benefits of coir, this is a very useful article from finegardening.com.
Frankly, if you want some drama in a pot, roses are a much better bet. They flower when you are likely to be outside having a barbecue, unlike azaleas which are very dull once they’ve finished flowering in spring.
To you for reading this, especially if you pass it on. And please stay safe and stay healthy.
And thanks also to Tomas Robertson from Unsplash for the photograph at the top. This will be mystifying to those of you reading this in email form. For some unknown reason, WordPress sends the emails without the top picture. Ah, the vagaries of technology! Anyhow, if you’re interested, it’s a beautiful and evocative picture of a boggy Scottish landscape with a ruined croft. And huge thanks to Unsplash for providing free pictures, without which this blog would be unaffordable.
Finally, my dog, Piper, declined to be photographed as we are in mourning for Nigel.
(For readers in other countries, Nigel was a hugely popular golden retriever who faithfully padded after his friend, Monty Don, week after week on Gardener’s World. His sudden departure this week made the national news and me cry.)
So here’s a picture of a Great Spotted Woodpecker that came to my birdtable.
“What??? Shopping???” I hear you cry. “Has the woman lost her wits? SHOPPING? None of us is shopping now, in case you haven’t noticed, you great lummox!!!”
Well, of course I had. But firstly, I hope this finds you all in full health, and living the quiet life.
Strange times, eh?
We’ve all been upended by this ruddy coronavirus, haven’t we? I’m at home now having got 2/3 of the way through a theatre tour which was of course cancelled, or rather, postponed. But to be quite honest, I’d started to feel heartsick with worry for my old man. So I’m surprisingly relieved to be home with the people I love, preparing for what looks like a long siege.
And so are most of you. It’s not been too bad this far, apart from the occasional clutch of alarm when some twazzock comes and stands right behind you in the queue at the chemist – and then coughs… Yikes! But modern communication means that we can stay in touch with family and friends and my WhatsApp groups have been extremely busy with all sorts of hilarious nonsense.
But we are going to have to change our lives, and one area we can change is in our constant desire for the acquisition of stuff. Listen, I’m not oblivious to the joy of a new dress, buying a pretty antique vase, or bringing home a souvenir from abroad. However, especially in the light of the present circumstances, it seems a rather shallow pleasure.
Can we learn to live without shopping? Can we learn to only buy when we need, and to buy quality over quantity? Few of us will have the money to purchase anything for the next while, so can we make it the habit of a lifetime?
Shopping as a pastime
We’re encouraged to think that shopping is a lovely way to spend the day. Hmmm.
I live near an excrescence known as Bicester Village where you can get wispy little designer frocks in a size zero reduced from £3000 to £1500 and other high end “bargains”. Honestly, Bicester Village is full of Shit You Don’t Need! People come in droves and at Christmas, the queues down the A41 are shocking. Coachloads, families in cars, minibuses from other parts of the UK. Imagine what the traffic is doing to the air, all that fossil fuel being burnt! All that pollution!
I’ve been there – reluctantly – to get the odd gift. Am I lucky in being able to say that going to Bicester Village brings me no pleasure? I think so but…
The rise of designer shityoudon’tneed…
There was, I think, a massive turning point in the 1980s when the French designer, Philippe Starck, looked at the old toothbrush and the workaday lemon squeezer and thought, “Mais regardez cette vielle chose, c’est terrible!” Or something along those lines. And lo, squillions of these gadgets became (and continue to be) an ornament to all fashionable bathrooms and kitchens.
Suddenly, everything had to be designed, re-thought, beautified and made stylish.
Especially us. Magazines urge us to make ourselves over, to rethink our living spaces, to order that stylish kettle, the latest iPhone, an Arne Jacobsen egg chair. We must purchase new and fashionable table linen, Christmas china for once-a-year Yuletide glory, 50s retro furniture., etc. Throw out that brown furniture belonging to your grandmother! Buy new towels to match your tiling! Heaven forfend that you should have last season’s bag / trainers / eye-shadow!
And where will your old stuff go? The charity shop – okay, good. Bonfire – hmmm, not so good. Landfill – BAD.
Temptation at every turn
Even online, we’re greeted by Satan and his harpoon with every click. Amazon suggests “other books I might like”. Sahara, which sells lovely clothes for older women who resent beige (me) and don’t want to blend into the background (me again), sends me regular emails featuring photos of my kinda clobber. It takes strength to resist. I don’t always succeed.
In the chemist, BOGOFS and other bargain offers tempt the most hardened shopper. Ooh! I think, 3 supersize bottles of body lotion for the price of 2, must get those! A year later, I’m still working my way through bottle no. 2.
At the supermarket, tempting delicacies attractively packaged and arrayed at eyeline level to distract me from my carefully written shopping list. Even when I stick to the list, my old man subverts my good intentions when he “just happens to pass M&S” and stocks up on dainty morsels in plastic trays. He’s mad for those fishy mousse thingies, so we end up with a fridge groaning with grub, and me grouching about waste.
And at this very moment, the fear of empty store cupboards has led people to madly shop for loo roll (grr) and food, much of which is expected to be thrown out as people have bought far too much fresh food.
Chatting last Friday to the stallholder of a local market stall (a judicious 2m apart, I hasten to add) he said, “You wouldn’t believe how much people are buying, at least 3 times more than usual. Dunno how they’re going to use it all.”
But shopping gives us a kick!
Much has been written about how the brief rush of pleasure we get from shopping can become addictive. I’m not going to go into it in depth here, but here’s a nice summation from the Priory website. (The Priory is an addiction clinic in the UK.)
When we make a purchase, our brain releases endorphins and dopamine. For some, this momentary pleasure can lead to compulsive shopping, as the instant reward and motivation to re-experience the ‘rush’ starts to outweigh self-control and practical financial considerations.
Oh, the pleasure of shopping doesn’t last.
But debt lasts…
Today, Sofology the sofa shop is offering interest free credit on purchases over £500. That’s today, 27th March 2020, when the world is in meltdown and people are losing their jobs and their income right left and centre. Here’s a bit of blurb from the website.
We don’t think you should have to wait or save up before you can feel at home on a sofa you love. With our range of payment options, you can select the option that works best for you, and order the sofa of your dreams today.
I only mention Sofology because their current advert annoys me. This sentiment is echoed all over the internet and what’s left of the high street. Why should you save up for something? If you WANT it, you MUST HAVE it! You’re ENTITLED!
Because you’re worth it!
Somehow, during the 67 years I’ve been breathing the air on Planet Earth, shopping has transmogrified from buying what you needed to ordering what you deserve.
When I was a child, you might need anything from a loaf of bread to a new outfit for a wedding, but if you didn’t need it, you didn’t purchase it. Now, thanks to L’Oreal grasping the zeitgeist with ruthless brilliance, we think we are worth it – whatever “it” is. We accumulate stuff simply because we imagine it enhances our sense of self-esteem. My very glamorous mother had one lipstick, I have five. Some women have many more than that. Young people are encouraged to buy ultra-cheap clothing, wear it once and then chuck it. OMG, can’t be seen wearing the same thing twice!
The visual blight
Our desire for stuff has blighted our countryside with vast distribution centres the size of towns.
Where are we supposed to grow crops?
Our desire for stuff means our homes are full, so our towns are desecrated with storage units.
Is this really how we want our towns to look?
Our lockdown opportunity
So now we’re all holed up at home in unsplendid isolation, and shopping has been transformed overnight into a risky necessity. Wouldn’t this be a really good time to address our habit of acquisition, and abandon shopping for the sake of shopping? And when we come out of our siege, could we make sure we don’t rush headlong for the shops and start the whole damn cycle over again. After all, you can bet the Burghers of Calais didn’t make a dash for Carrefour the minute Edward III spared them in 1346. They’d have gone home to their families and thanked providence.
I hope everyone stays safe. Thanks to all the new people who’ve joined. I shall try and keep an optimistic tone to this blog as life is tricky enough as it is. Some are saying that this pandemic could slow climate change quite considerably, proving that it’s an ill wind and all that mullarkey. But I think we’d all rather that it wasn’t this particular ill wind!
If you’re reading this on the website, the photo at the top is by Erik Mclean on Unsplash. If you’re reading this at home, there’s no picture at the top. Don’t ask me why, blame the vagaries of WordPress.
Unattributed photos were retrieved from t’internet by yours truly by cunning means of screenshot and cropping.
Please continue to share and do tell your friends about the blog, but only if you’re standing 2 metres away.
Obligatory animal pic
Piper loves going for a drive. She won’t be doing that for a bit.
Now for something COMPLETELY different. We’re all working hard to reduce our plastic, and our carbon footprint, and now and then we need a break from being virtuous. Besides, I don’t want this blog to get too preachy, so here’s a piece of SYDN I hope you never have to worry about. And I think it’s pretty fascinating.
Okay. Think of the softest pashmina you ever felt. Nice, wasn’t it? Soft, warm, and oh so caressing. Imagine if it was quite a bit softer, softer and finer. That’s not a pashmina, it’s a shahmina, made from even finer fibres than a pashmina. Gorgeous. OMG, can something so fine be THAT warm?
Now imagine it finer and softer still. As fine as the thinnest, flimsiest silk and yet warmer by far. Finer even than the softest vicuña woven for the King of the Aztecs. So fine that a huge shawl can be pulled through a pinkie ring.
That, my friends, is a Shahtoosh. The word gossamer was surely invented to describe it. Made from the finest fibres in the world, plucked from the beard and belly of Chiru – a Tibetan antelope. You have to be a master weaver to be able to handle those unbelievably delicate fibres. Naturally, rich people love ’em.
I’m rich, I want one!
Sorry, you can’t have one. It’s illegal to sell or even own one in most countries. This is because the Shahtoosh is the textile equivalent of the Elephant’s Tusk, or the Ocelot Fur Coat. Just as it takes more than one ocelot to make a coat, it takes between three and five hides to make one shawl. You see, the endangered Chiru has to be killed for its coat. No, the fur can’t be sheared or combed, the animal must be killed. Deaded. Deprived of life. Just for its underhair.
Why can’t you breed them?
The Chinese have tried, but it’s been a complete failure. The Chiru have very poor survival rates in captivity. They breed at incredibly high altitudes which humans cannot manage for long periods of time. It’s life at these high altitudes which makes them develop their super-thick coats, and they need an enormous amount of space to forage for food in such a hostile environment.
Any relaxation in the law makes it a great deal harder to enforce the prohibition on making, selling or owning a Shahtoosh. Not even the finest forensic examination could tell whether the shawl came from a wild or captive animal. Just to clarify – pashminas and shahminas are mainly made from the hair of the Changthangi, or Cashmere goat. This is perfectly acceptable because the goat sheds its coat in spring and can be combed. The Shahtoosh can only be made from the fleece of the Chiru and this animal cannot be sheared or combed. And as these animals are protected, they must of necessity be poached.
So legalisation and herding would undoubtedly lead to a rapid decline in the population of the Chiru because forensics wouldn’t be able to tell if the animals were from herds or from poaching. The bitter irony is that captive breeding stimulates poaching. Why go to all the bother of trying to raise herds and live in such an inhospitable climate, when you can just take a smart hunting rifle with telescopic sights and pick off a few animals to ake home?
Ok, it’s a niche piece of SYDN. But one day, you may come across a Shahtoosh and I guarantee that you will recognise it now you’ve read this far.
My encounter with a Shahtoosh
We had a very wealthy old lady round to supper, a friendly acquaintance of my other half. I didn’t know her well, but she’d donated heavily to a charitable project he was involved in, and supper was our way of thanking her. As she was leaving, I picked up her ‘shawl’ to hand it to her, and my jaw dropped. It almost floated into my hands. I was horrified.
“How many animals died for this?” I said, without thinking.
She had the grace to look embarrassed.
“Don’t ask!” she said. “I didn’t know when I bought it.”
There was nothing more to be said, so I handed it to her quietly. She was our guest, she was in her very late 70s, she’d been incredibly generous elsewhere, and I wasn’t going to bring five rare antelopes back to life by haranguing an old lady.
She’s now been dead for some years, and her Shahtoosh probably went to the charity shop. I hope someone got it for a tenner and it’s been keeping them warm all these years later. It would be horrible to think that five antelope died for their coats to end up in the tip.
But I shall never forget that wonderful, ravishing fabric. I felt like Edmund in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe when he eats the White Witch’s Turkish Delight. I wanted – no, I lusted – after one of my own. But I will never own one.
Still being made…
Yes, I’m sorry to say they are still being made secretly in Kashmir because they are in high demand. Rich people love them – you know, the kind of people who instal a gold toilet in their bathroom. And it’s MUCH easier to get away with than a mink coat because (a) not many people know about Shahtooshes and (b) they just look like a beautiful fine bit of fabric.
Sometimes human beings are so disappointing.
What you will save…
Online research tells me that these tender stoles sell for about £4,000-£5,000.
As lovely as any antelope…
Picture credits. I couldn’t find any snaps of Chirus on free websites, so I snuck the pics from the https://www.tibettravel.org/ site. And no, I don’t get a kickback if you do book a holiday with them! The scarves at the top are mine, some are pashminas, some aren’t, but I needed something colourful.
I am researching something serious for next time. Keep the faith, and keep sharing.
Yes, yes, of course you have. Me too. In fact, I’ve got seventeen Bags For Life, because I keep forgetting to bring them to the supermarket so I have to buy a new one, simply proving that I’m a forgetful twazzock of epic proportions.
In fairness, plastic bags are only the teensiest, tiniest part of the problem of plastic pollution, but we have to start somewhere.
And they’re everywhere. Here’s a by-no-means comprehensive list of single use bags you can stop buying. You have to hand it to the packaging manufacturers and their marketing departments, they’ve worked REALLY hard to make us think we need different bags for every occasion!
Sandwich bags. Lordy Bill, there are so many other ways to keep your sarnies fresh – in a wax wrapper. in foil or greaseproof paper – or even a plastic box you can use again and again.
Snack bags. Yes, there are such things and they are entirely separate and distinct from sandwich bags. Big Bad Bag Corp would like us to believe that we need BOTH snack bags AND sandwich bags. OMG, imagine the confusion if you put your snack in your sandwich bag and your sarnie in your snack bag! You might eat your BLT double decker thinking it was a piece of fruit and then you’d have nothing left for lunch! Gastronomic confusion would reign supreme!
Freezer bags. These are not particularly practical. They flop in the freezer and either stick to the surface or wrap themselves round whatever they’re sitting on. Boxes stack so much better and can be reused indefinitely with care.
Ice cube bags. Yes. Ice cube bags. I ask you. ICE CUBE BAGS!!! Which you have to tear and shred to get the ice out and then throw away… Oh puh-leeeeeeeeze! Use an ice tray!!!
Slow cooker liners. Whaaat? People actually COOK their FOOD in a PLASTIC BAG, without wondering what petrochemical-type contaminants might be leaching into their food? Yikes. The packet says “Keep pots clean – seal in flavour”. Accept it, making stews means you have to wash the pot afterwards. Just soak it overnight, or leave it on simmer full of water for a while, and that should make the crusty bits come off the side.
Roasting bags. Again, another ruse to sell you something completely unnecessary in the belief that somehow it will save you time and effort. It means you miss all the gorgeous, gooey cooking juices under the meat. If you want to protect the top of the dish from burning, use a saved butter wrapper and mould that round your chicken or yer chops or whatever. And if you really want to seal in your roast and keep your oven clean, you can make a ‘bag’ from a large piece of greaseproof paper. Eezi-peezi.
Wastepaper bin liners. Are you a hotel? Probably not. And even if you are, stop it. Put a piece of newspaper at the bottom of the bin if you must. I hate the way hotels put those flimsy liners in their bins. Thousands and thousands of these get dumped every day with just a tissue or a couple of bits of cotton wool in them. If hotels equipped their chamber staff with rubber gloves and a damp cloth it would be a great deal better for the environment. (I now travel with a plastic box for my waste cottonwool etc., and instead of using the bins in hotel rooms, I take it home and dispose of it there.)
Dog poo bags made of plastic. No excuse, chaps, been here before. You can get biodegradable bags everywhere in which to pop those plops.
Customs bags. You know, the ones they make you put your costmetics in to go through the machines at the airport. Get one, and keep it for next time. And the next. And so on.
What about big bin bags?
As to big bin bags, I’m resigned to having to use them. The hazards of being a garbage collector are enormous – they never know what foul stuff they’re picking up, whether it’s diseased, or full of rodents, insects, toxic waste, hypodermic syringes, broken glass etc etc… So until such time as garbage collection is mechanised, bin bags are vital for providing at least a small level of protection for these workers.
But most plastic bags are unnecessary, and if you need to be reminded of how plastic never disappears from the planet even when you can’t see it, read my piece on cling film/Saran wrap. If that doesn’t give you the holy horrors, I don’t know what will.
Nice and short this time, eh!
All photographs taken by Yours Truly, most of them in Sainsbury’s of Bicester. I think we can all agree that I’ve done a MARVELLOUS job. Okay, they’re a bit shite, but frankly I haven’t yet got used to the embarrassment of going round shops and photographing things like a weirdo.
My current challenge
I’m on tour, which means eating microwave meals at the theatre every day. I’ve challenged myself to do this without single-use plastic and am reporting my progress on my Twitter feed. It’s quite bothersome but because I am such a geek, I’m rather enjoying the challenge. @DillieKeane if you’re interested. Also @ShitYeDontNeed.
And finally… Here’s a picture of a hound, but not Piper this time as she is fed up with me for going on tour and refused to pose. Sorry, Pips, I shall be home the whole summer and we’ll make hay (and definitely jam) together and you can play hide and seek in the dahlia forest.
Meanwhile, this is Barney, our beloved Labrador, in the Drug Chair. It’s called the Drug Chair because there are strange aromatic medicaments in the upholstery that cause whoever sits there to go to sleep during interesting television programmes which means the rest of us have to watch them again.
Or mainly, almond milk. Yes, that surprisingly pleasant milk-substitute beloved of Clean Eaters everywhere.
As more of us drift towards a meat-free life, it beckons temptingly. You’re almost elevated to dietary sainthood the moment you whisper with a shudder, “Oh! I don’t do dairy, do you have any almond milk?”
Yes, it’s hugely popular, not just with vegan converts and bearded hipsters, but those unlucky enough to be lactose or dairy intolerant. When I was young, no-one had ever heard of lactose intolerance. I suppose people just suffered in silence and wondered why a milky coffee made them fart like an ancient Morris Traveller.
However, there is nothing virtuous about almond milk. Nothing at all.
Are Californians drinking dirty water?
On average, it takes 12 litres of water to grow one almond. 12 litres! Almost as bad as avocados…
Most of the world’s almonds come from California, so there’s quite a carbon footprint too. According to the Almond Board of California, and they should know, the state “produces about 80% of the world’s almonds and 100% of the U.S. commercial supply. Almonds are California’s #1 agricultural export.”
It’s also the most extensively irrigated crop in the state, in spite of the fact that poor old California has had an appalling drought since 2010.
All trees that produce crops of any kind need a constant supply of water, so when there’s no rain, farmers irrigate their crops with water taken from wells drilled deep down into the aquifers. These are layers of permeable rock containing groundwater.
In normal times, aquifers are refilled with rain. But after 10 years of drought, the higher aquifers are empty. So farmers are drilling deeper and deeper. This means the quality suffers. Why?
Salinity increases the deeper you go. Salty water isn’t good for the soil and it’s not nice to drink.
In some built up areas, groundwater basins are contaminated by industrial chemicals.
Near the coast, salt water flowing into yet more aquifers doesn’t help crops – and again, it’s not good for drinking.
It gets scarier. In an op-ed for the LA Times, the distinguished scientist and hydrologist Jay Famiglietti, claims that California is at risk of running out of water.
What drought really does…
We think of drought this way – it dries up what we can see in front of us – brown grass, curling leaves, failed crops etc.
What we don’t realise that it affects the land in a much more frightening way.
There is huge subsidence in the vast San Joaquin Valley, where most of the almonds are grown. The aquifers are slowly collapsing deep underground, and when aquifers collapse, so does the ground we stand on. Land that sinks – no matter how slowly – is dangerous for roads, bridges, levees, buildings – infrastructure of every sort.
In turn, this makes the mountains ranges running alongside the valley higher, and this increases the likelihood of earthquakes.
Remember, this is in California, which you might call Earthquake Central. This massive subsidence been identified as the largest human alteration of the Earth’s surface. Wow.
In fairness, this is a process that has taken 150 years of sucking the water out of the ground to create farmland out of marsh. But the rush to cash in on the almond milk boom has led to almond acreage in California increasing by over 80% in the decade between 2009 and 2019. Trees need much more water than cabbages.
About 1.6 million colonies of honey bees are placed in California almond orchards at the beginning of the bloom period to pollinate the crop.
After almonds, honey bees move throughout the United States, pollinating over 90 other crops and making honey.
This is what’s known as migratory beekeeping, and it leads to bees being stressed.
Actually, the term, “migratory beekeeping” makes me cross because it’s wilfully misleading. Bees are most definitely NOT migratory, In normal circumstances, they feed on a wide variety of nectars.
What it means in reality is that hives are trundled from crop to crop as each needs to be pollinated in turn. While the bees are being driven, perhaps hundreds of miles, they’re in closed cartons, unable to fly.
In addition, transporting them from one monoculture to another deprives them of a balanced diet. Almonds are grown in great monocrops – acres and acres of nothing but almonds. Come on, you’d get sick if you ate nothing but chocolate for three weeks and then moved on to baked beans for a month, followed by a fortnight on eggs. This is basically what is required of these “migratory” bees.
Shunting them about the country also increases the risk of spreading parasites and diseases, not only amongst managed hives but also among the depleted wild bee populations they might just encounter round the edges of these monocultures.
In fact, all crops are more effectively pollinated by a mix of honey and wild bees than by honeybees alone. But there are no other foods for the bees, so the farms rely 99% on these “migratory honeybees” with virtually no extra input from other pollinators.
Slave bees, more like.
And then there’s insecticides, upon which almond growers are so dependent. A study last year which looked at the toxic combination of insecticides and fungicides on bees in almond orchards reported the following:
increased larval mortality,
increased deformed brood
a significant number of colonies completely dead.
The decline of bees around the world should make this a matter of deep concern.
While I’m at it, let’s not demonise farmers. They’re making a living, and many of them are at their wits end as to how to improve farming. The safety of bees, the absurdity of monocultures and the use of groundwater needs to be dealt with by legislation at state and national level.
But St Gwynnie of GOOP drinks it!
Yes, the fragrant Gwyneth Paltrow, the not-as-vegan-as-you-thought goddess with the noxiously idiotic lifestyle website GOOP, apparently has a smoothie made with almond milk every morning – whether or not she is detoxing! So it must be the superest of super things evah, hey?
Oh yes, the internet is awash with any number of clean eating influencers promoting the virtue of replacing dairy with almond milk.
So how nutritious is it?
Go to the Alpro website and you will find this list of the benefits of drinking “almond original”. My comments in italics.
Naturally Lactose Free
Vegetarian (er… isn’t that the same as 100% plant based?)
Naturally low in fat
Naturally low in saturated fat (Surely that’s just a subheading under “fat”?)
Low in sugars (But since you can get unsweetened almond milk, I think we can assume the these sugars are added…)
Rich in Fibre (except all the nut is taken out)
A source of calcium. Contains vitamins B2, B12 and D.
Source of calcium and vitamins D and B12. (Sorry guys, you just said that!) Vitamin B12 contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
Search as I might, I can’t find any evidence to say it’s any better for you than old-fashioned cow’s milk or, for that matter, any other non-animal milk.
Lactose intolerance and veganism
Some people are lactose (dairy) intolerant. Others hate the milk industry and make a moral choice not to drink it. For both groups, doing without milk is a serious nuisance. And this isn’t a perfect world and frequently we have to make quick choices that we know aren’t good for the planet.
But if you do decide to change from almond milk, and I hope you do, oat milk and coconut milk seem to be a wee bit less damaging, even though they come in Tetra Paks which are much less eco-friendly than you might think. (But that’s for another time…)
Better still, make your own almond milk. Buy almonds grown near you (they’re grown in Australia, Europe, Asia and North Africa) and get bottling. Here’s a handy recipe to start you off. Chefs don’t like the pulp, I gather, but there are any amount of recipes out there for using the by-product. Or use it to make an exfoliating scrub.
My final question…
Is it worse for me to buy cow’s milk delivered in a glass bottle which will be used again and again (yes, we still get ours like that!) or a Tetra Pak of almond milk that goes on fouling the planet long after you’ve finished with it?
Note to the rest of you. My brother Frank is an eminent surgeon, and therefore a proper Man of Science. And yes, I could have asked him before publishing, but I don’t think it hurts to show my areas of ignorance and my efforts to redress this! And besides, I’m off on tour any minute, and want to get this out there!
Meanwhiles, welcome to all of you who have joined recently, and thanks to chuttersnap on Unsplash for the photo of the almonds at the top. Honestly, without the wondrous Unsplash’s free photos, this blog would be very dull to look at.
But of course, the best picture of all is the one of the… yes… wait for it… the One And Only beloved Mutt who has a starring role in this blog.
Quite rightly. She is a very eco-minded Person-Dog as she loves to lick the plates in the dishwasher before the cycle starts, thus extending the life of the machine. She firmly believes that hygiene is less important than waste.
My last post garnered a few useful recommendations from my excellent readers, so rather than sit on them for a few months I thought I would pass them on. Strike while the iron is hot. Thanks to you all, it’s bloody brilliant to know that there’s a host of other eco-worriers out there doing their bit.
As my dog is a person-owner (I wouldn’t dream of saying it the other way round, I am Piper’s slave!) I have been using bio-degradable poo-bags for some years. You can get scented ones but that is er, gilding the, er, lily, surely? I never have trouble getting them from pet shops – but Shirley Jordorson recommends the ones you can get on ecovibeuk. Just make sure that they are entirely plant-based.
However, even the best and most bio bags don’t necessarily degrade within a year if they’re buried beneath vast piles of other garbage at the dump. You need light and oxygen to compost stuff, so disposing of the bag correctly is important. Do try and use those dedicated dog poo bins. The contents are taken to commercial composting facilities where high temperatures ensure both the bags and Rover’s whoopsies are properly composted.
Better still, if the Mutt poops in your back garden, have a shovel handy and tip it down the loo without a bag. Yes, really.
Catherine Read recommends her pal’s website, Sea Green Soap which looks delightful. At the moment, you have to go through her Facebook page to purchase, but it’s worth having a peek especially as she has some doggy soap on offer!
Last year, I went with my two NSDs (Non-Step-Daughters) on a morning’s soap-making course. I have to say it’s not rocket science. It was good fun, but the main thing I remember was that our teacher wouldn’t let us use the rose oil as it was too expensive. Never mind, we’re still using the soap and it’s lovely.
My old pal Kristin got in touch to sing the praise of coconut fibre scourers. “They’re fantastic. Biodegradable, non-scratch etc. Highly recommend them.” Thanks Kristin! I am ordering some from Ecovibe – plus a number of other interesting, non-plastic cleaning products I’ve discovered on their COMPLETELY BRILLIANT website. And they plant a tree in Australia with every order over £30.
And just in case you’re wondering, yes, those sponge scourers are made from polymers. In other words, plastic. Get with the coconut scrub pads, folks!
Gas gas gas…
Finally, Shirley recommends switching for your power to Good Energy. They don’t supply you with 100% renewable, they actually have rather a complex system of trading energy, but the thrust of what they’re trying to do is to significantly increase the amount of energy we use from renewable sources. And they own a number of wind and solar sites.
Shirley says, “The supply costs a bit more , but they are a lovely friendly company, who take the time to give you a personal service.”
Frankly, the energy companies we’ve used in recent years have been so appalling I would be happy to pay a bit more. I’ll see what the old man thinks.
Time also to give praise to some companies that are doing wonderful things. Shirley reminded me of 4Oceans (I’m wearing the bracelet right now, thank you so much, I was incredibly touched to get it!) They’re taking plastic from the oceans and making bracelets from them – mind you, they have taken so much plastic from the oceans it’s hard to imagine that there are enough wrists in the world to wear the squazillion bracelets they could make. Still, it’s a heroic and laudable enterprise, so hurrah for 4Oceans.
Shirley’s second valediction goes to Revive Eco, a little Scottish company run by two young Scots lads who are turning waste coffee grounds into a substitute for palm oil. I’d never heard of them but will be keeping an eye out for them in future. Have a gander at their blog – they’re pretty amazing and I wish them huge success.
I’ve had lots of recommendations on the Facebook page and also in comments here, but this is long enough already and I want to get this out to everyone before I head to Memphis… yes, ratcheting up that carbon footprint. But it’s not for a holiday, it’s for the funeral of my other half’s brother, and sometimes you must put family before good intentions and worthy behaviour. So this comes from a very sad version of me, because he was a lovely man and we were enormously fond of one another.
I thought I would start 2020 on a positive note, so I asked my colleagues for their eco-recommendations. (For those of you who don’t know me in my other life as a cabaret performer, I work with a group called Fascinating Aïda and as we’re all working together right now, it seemed like a good idea to sound them out.
Me – Who gives a crap!
I never believed I could get excited about loo roll, but 2019 saw a deep and profound change in me and all I can say is this bamboo marvel is the dog’s bollocks. It’s quite expensive – however, it is so densely rolled that each roll lasts MUCH longer than yer usual gubbins. We ordered 10 boxes back in March for all the family (3 households, 9 people) and we still haven’t had to order any replacements. Order 10 boxes and you get a a hefty discount.
Apart from anything else, this exemplary company donates 50% of its profits towards building toilets for people who don’t have them. Bravo!
If you’re wondering why you should stop using conventional loo roll, here is the gen in brief. It destroys forests. Ancient forests. Here‘s the longer piece which was my first blog. I’m sure you’ll be just as horrified as I was after doing the research.
Of course the downside of the discovery that bamboo can replace so much could lead to more deforestation for endless bamboo plantations, much like the palm oil plantations despoiling much of Indonesia etc. But we’re not there yet and so here’s my hurrah for Who Gives A Crap.
It takes a few days to get used to this – it’s a bit odd and claggy. Colgate and their rivals have, after all, worked very hard to make their products deliciously irreplaceable. But their plastic tubes are the work of the devil and Georganics toothpaste comes in recyclable glass jars with metal lids! Better still, for peppermint haters (Adèle) there is an orange flavour for your oral delectation.
Top tip – if you’re ordering online, order in pairs. I ordered three, thinking I was being clever. The third arrived all lonely in a box perfectly sized for two…
Our Company Manager, Fiona McCulloch, recommends these, I can’t speak for them myself as I’ve gone over to bamboo toothbrushes, but they’re worth exploring. Yes, they are plastic, but the idea is that they last you three months and then you send them back to LiveCoco where they are properly recycled.
She also recommends the search engine, ECOSIA, which I use instead of Google. Ecosia is a remarkable German company that donates 80% of its profits to tree planting schemes, and to date it has planted very nearly 80 million trees worldwide. It’s also keen on privacy and doesn’t store your searches. Just click on the blue link and follow instructions – the search engine will be planted on your browser and every link buys a leaf or two.
Note for my sister Anne who is pretty much fossilogue when it comes to computers, clicking on the link means when you see a word highlighted in blue, move the cursor (the little flashing black line) onto that word and click. It should open a window which brings you to the desired website.
Miss Liza Pulman recommends…
Produce bags are a great idea, so long as you remember to bring them to the supermarket, and so long as the supermarket sells loose veg, not in plastic bags. Where I live (an eco-wasteland) you wouldn’t find much use for them – mushrooms, tomatoes, broccoli etc., all come with packaging of some kind but baby steps are better than no steps. You can put these bags straight into the fridge too.
Jaimondo (our Tour Manager) and I are very keen on these silicone sponges which last for ever and you can chuck into the dishwasher for regular cleaning. Silicone is not quite the miracle eco-product that some people claim, and we shouldn’t all be hurtling to use it in every situation but used judiciously, it’s pretty amazing. For more information on silicone, read this excellent and very thorough article from Life Without Plastic.
We have both gone over to bar shampoo – no plastic waste – and we’re both happy with it. Mine is from Lush. Jaimondo purchased his at the Health Food Store and when he got it home he was horrified to see it was from New Zealand, so he’ll be buying a bit more local next time. Ain’t that a great example of how easy it is to do the wrong thing when trying to do the right thing!
Just one more…
The world is finally beginning to wake up to the horrors of fast fashion. My pal Margaret Allen has written a fascinating piece about it on Medium which is worth a read. But life without the occasional new item of clothing is a bit dull and I am not entirely immune to the charms of shopping.
Enter Turtle Doves, an amazing company which makes new lamps for old, or rather, new garments from old. It takes secondhand cashmeres and makes new jumpers, throws, cardies, wraps, mitts, wrist-warmers etc. Absolutely beautiful and fun too.
Dame Adèle says she has no special recommendations but we can attest that she has, in many ways, been living Secondhand September all year round for decades. I don’t believe she has purchased any new clothes since 1602, being an obsessive haunter of charity and thrift shops, and all her Christmas presents came from the Oxfam bookshop this year. All hail our very own Secondhand Rose!
So that’s enough to set you on your way, if you weren’t there already. I said I would include a picture of my Christmas tree (tinsel free) so here it is.
I wish you all a very peaceful and fruitful New Year. May 2020 bring harmony and hope. Please continue to follow this blog, and to share it with friends and foes alike. Thanks to Katya Austin on Unsplash for the photo of the thumb in foliage up top. And here is Miss Maris Piper Desirée Boulangère Keane O’Neill seeing in the new year with a bath.
Jeez, I am such a spoilsport. What kind of killjoy would say that lovely, sparkly, Christmassy tinsel was shityoudontneed? Oh my, what a downer!
Before I go on, I’d like to welcome all the new folk who’ve joined in the last couple of weeks – thanks SO MUCH for following this blog and please do share and spread the message if you think I have anything useful to say!
And apologies for such a long gap since my last blog. It’s been a bit busy chez moi – for those of you who don’t know, I am currently doing a show in London and it seems to take all my energy!
Back to tinsel…
Ok. I propose a tinsel amnesty. You have tinsel. It’s almost Christmas, your tree is already up, lovingly be-tinselled. Just don’t throw it out when Christmas is over, for heaven’s sake. Use it again and again, and don’t buy any more. Make sure you take it ALL off the tree before you dump it.
Oh, but if you have pets, do make sure it’s out of reach. Cats in particular love tinsel, they adore playing with the stuff. YouTube is chocablock with adorable videos of puddy tats playing with tinsel.
Cute, except that sometimes they eat it, and it causes a blockage in their stomachs. Or it can cause something called “a severe linear foreign body“. The tinsel string can either loop around the base of the tongue so it never gets properly swallowed. Either that, or it can get strung from the stomach down through the intestines. As their insides move and attempt to pass the wretched stuff down their inner tubing, it gradually abrades the tissue and can end up slicing right through it. Result – rupture, pain, terrible injury, surgery, death. Etc. And all for a tatty bit of sparkle.
But the worst thing about tinsel is what it’s made of.
Plastic & mylar
Yep, it’s our old friends, plastic and mylar foil, the same stuff that some helium balloons are made of. According to the American Chemical Society, it was originally made of shredded silver so one has to assume po’ folks wouldn’t have been draping it over their trees. Since when it has been made of copper laminated with silver, then aluminium (which was flammable – whoops!), and more recently lead foil with a shiny tin surface. Apparently lead was the best, because it hung wonderfully, unlike our modern floaty stuff, but the risks of lead poisoning were too high so now it’s made of plastic. PVC, actually.
I’ve written enough about plastics on this blog to bore you all, so here’s just a quick reminder. Plastic never stops being plastic – it just shreds smaller and smaller and smaller, so small that a billion nanoparticles can fit on the head of a pin. We have yet no idea how appalling and dangerous to health this may turn out to be. Just because you can’t see nanoplastics doesn’t mean they’re not there and they’re not threatening our world. (You can read about it in more depressing detail on my recent blog about cling film.)
Tinsel isn’t biodegradable We’ve all seen those sad Christmas trees left in the street for the garbage trucks, sometimes with whole strands of tinsel still adorning the branches. Well, when you throw out your tree, it will go to the dump where the tree will eventually turn into compost, but the tinsel won’t.
When you think about it, Christmas itself is pretty ghastly for the environment… trees chopped down for decoration, posh nosh racking up huge food miles, packaging and wrapping and delivery costs, Christmas jumpers made from God-Knows-What, useless gifts, single use wrapping paper, glitter (just as bad as tinsel), and tons and tons of wasted grub…
And don’t talk to me about Melania Trump’s Christmas on steroids… how many trees in the White House? 58 in the public areas alone. Sheesh!
But it’s tough to completely buck the trend and I really am not a grinch. I still send cards. I wrap my presents. I have a Christmas tree and every year I get the same pleasure as my pretty decorations come out of the box, added to one by one and saved from year to year. I’ll post a picture next time but as I’m not home right now, it’ll have to wait.
So I’m only anti-tinsel. And lametta. And as I said at the beginning, if you have it, you might as well use it. Just don’t feel the need to add more.
Oh, and please make sure it all comes off the tree when the decorations come down.
And have a merry Christmas.
And to end my piece this time, before the obligatory dog picture, here’s a picture of a festive tomato that I grew this year. Well, I’m not sure how festive it is, but I consider it to be an immensely cheery fruit.
And here is the Girl Of My Heart herself in a particularly Christmassy picture taken in 2017.
This hideous invention goes by a number of names – plastic wrap, shrink wrap, food wrap, and yes, I do have a roll of it in the kitchen. It’s our very last roll. It’s been there since before Christmas 2016, because I hardly ever use the stuff these days. I clearly remember purchasing it because I also bought a cling film dispenser (also plastic) that meant you could cut a nice clean edge on it.
“How handy!” I thought. I now think, “What a twat I was!”
So if you have a roll of this stuff, please, let it be your last too.
But my food will go off!
Indeed. When exposed to air, moisture, light, and warmth, food will go off. Microorganisms – fungi, bacteria, mould, yeast etc., break food down for their own benefit. The presence of oxygen will simply accelerate the work of these busy little bees, which is why we need to cover food.
So why say no cling film?
The usual problem…
Yes, it’s plastic. Single use plastic. You use it once. Then you chuck it away. (Yes, I’ve tried washing it but that’s not the answer.)
According to a case study done at the Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, “the average person produces half a pound of plastic waste every day.” Phew.
A lot of that plastic gets washed into the ocean. Scientists from the Sea Education Society estimate that there are 580,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre of the Atlantic, which is a depressing thought.
After it has bobbed about in the sea for a while, plastic starts to absorb the smell of food, with the result that seabirds, fish and sea mammals think it’s food.
Take seabirds, for instance. They have evolved over millennia the ability to sniff out krill, the shrimplike crustacean that lives in the oceans in the Southern hemisphere in such millions. Krill emit a strong, sulphurous smell of dimethyl sulfide (DMS). This smell comes from the algae that krill eat, which also smells of DMS.
Well, wouldn’t ya just know that our plastic waste is a perfect place for that algae to thrive. So sea birds, whales and other marine life gobble up these pieces of plastic, mistaking them for krill. Scientists have described this as an “olfactory trap” which is causing marine death on a massive, unimaginable scale.
And then we eat the fish which are full of microplastics.
Danger to humans
Plastic is made to last for ever.
Yes, that’s for ever. As it breaks down into ever smaller and smaller pieces, it becomes invisible to the naked eye. But it is still there. We are eating it and taking it in in our drinking water. Americans, for instance, gobble down between 39000 to 52000 microscopic particles of plastic per year. Yikes.
And it’s not just in the sea. In the Pyrenees, a scientific study discovered that there were 365 microplastic particles per square metre falling out of the sky every day. And yet the Pyrenees is supposed to be a relatively pristine area, lightly populated, with no industry to speak of. It’s at least 100k from any obvious source of microplastics. So we’re breathing them in as well as eating them. Yikes, yikes, and thrice yikes…
It gets worse
There’s something even more scary than microplastics, and that’s nanoplastics. As plastic goes on degrading and shredding, the particles get tinier and tinier. It’s reckoned that a billion nanoplastics can fit on the head of a pin. Science is only just catching up with these babies.
Studies have shown that when aquatic organisms ingest nanoplastics made of polystyrene, these can be passed through cell walls. What will happen when those nanoplastics accumulate in our lungs, in our blood vessels, in our brains?
In a recent TED talk by Australian mega-businessman, philanthropist and marine ecologist, Andrew Forrest PhD, he described plastic as “an incredible substance designed for the economy… the worst substance possible for the environment… it never stops being plastic.”
He goes further, and it’s worth quoting him at some length because he’s done the science and can explain it better than I can. (And his sister’s a very old pal of mine and I know he won’t mind.)
“The breaking science on this… which we’ve known in marine ecology for a few years now… Nanoplastics… the very, very small particles of plastic, carrying their negative charge, can go straight through the pores of your skin. That’s not the bad news. The bad news is that it goes straight through the blood-brain barrier, that protective coating which is there to protect your brain.”
“Your brain’s a little, amorphous, wet mass full of little electrical charges. You put a negative particle into that, particularly a negative particle which can carry pathogens – so you have a negative charge, it attracts positive-charge elements, like pathogens, toxins, mercury, lead. That’s the breaking science we’re going to see in the next 12 months.”
So do you still fancy using one-off plastics?
Sorry, but that just doesn’t happen with shrink wrap. Firstly, it clogs the machines. Secondly, you can’t recycle it with plastic bags at the supermarket because removing the phthalates, the various complex chemicals that render the cling film stretchy, is impossible.
Anyhow, recycling plastic merely delays the eventual moment when the stuff hits landfill, because plastic can only be recycled so many times. Aluminium, on the other hand, can be recycled an infinite number of times.
Hurrah for tinfoil!
There is SO much more I could say about plastic, but I’ve depressed myself enough for one day. I’ll save it for another piece. Let me leave you with a question, however. If turmeric and paprika can leave ineradicable stains, and other foods leave their smells in plastic containers, it suggests that plastics aren’t as impermeable as you might assume.
So if plastic can absorb colour and smell, can the chemical transfer can also go the other way? How certain can we be that the chemicals used to make the plastics aren’t leaching into our food? After all, manufacturers of plastics are not required to declare what additives are contained in any plastic, and there are literally thousands of those possible additives.
Wouldn’t it be better to wrap leftovers in greaseproof paper or foil? Or in a bowl covered with a plate? Or even in a lidded plastic box you can use time and again?
Meanwhile, the celebrated primatologist and general good-eco-egg, Jane Goodall, said, “Every single person makes some impact on the planet every day.”
Could you let today’s impact be a resolve never to buy cling film again?
Once more, apologies for the intermittent nature of this blog. I’d set myself the task of publishing one every two weeks, but lately I have been chained to the piano, trying to write new material for my next theatre show. And to be honest, it’s tough work, reading and distilling all the research needed to back up my case. Much of the time, I feel I’m whistling in the wind and it’s just pointless, but then I think, perhaps if enough of us whistle in the wind, we might just be heard and start to make a difference.
So please do share this with friends and family. If you enter your email address and click on the blue follow button, you’ll get an email every time I publish a new piece, which is not more than once every two weeks. I promise you won’t get smothered in unwanted emails!
Unnecessary dog picture
Meanwhile, since we all need cheering after that diatribe about plastics, here is the mutt looking particularly feral after rolling in the hay.
I promise, this is a short one. But you need to read it. And yes, there is a picture of my dog at the end.
Okay, here goes!
Why you should never never NEVER buy a plastic bottle containing water.
It takes beween TWICE and THREE TIMES the amount of water contained in the bottle to make the bottle in the first place.
Most of us in the Western world have potable – i.e. drinkable – tapwater. What in God’s name might possess you to buy more?
See those bottles of “vitamin enriched” water? You want extra vitamins? Eat more fruit and vegetables. Protein water? Eat some walnuts. Fruity waters? Mmm mm mm, love those chemicals!
Comparisons are odious
If you live near a discount supermarket, you can unfortunately bulk buy the evil stuff pretty cheaply. On mysupermarket.co, a bottle of Evian Natural Still Water (500ml) will set you back 60p. So it costs £1.20 per litre for a single bottle. Compare that with the average price of petrol (and I’m taking the low average here) which is about £1.20 per litre. Really? You’re willing to pay the same for water as you do for petrol?
If you buy your water from a kiosk or a fast food shop, you’re paying even MORE than that.
Yes, you pay twice. You get water in your taps because you pay for it through council tax or rates, and then you pay again because you buy it in plastic bottles.
Profit before people
The bottling companies take water from springs and aquifers, or underground layers of permeable rock saturated with fresh, or slightly salinated water. Water extraction on a grand scale is storing up all sorts of problems around the world. Just google “Nestlé water scandal” and you will find pages and pages of information. But just for a couple of examples, they’ve been taking the water from the land belonging to a First Nation community near Toronto, so much so that some homes have no water at all and must buy water in for cooking, washing and the toilet. Nestlé also continued to take water from the San Bernardino National Forest in California all through the seven-year drought. So the big question is – how good do you feel about dehydrating the land so you can sip water during meetings and lectures?
We drink many English waters, French, Italian, American… think of the travel miles and the consequent pollution!
“But I recycle my bottles!”
Just because you carefully dispose of your empty bottle in the right bin doesn’t mean it isn’t going straight to landfill. Actually, it’s highly unlikely to be recyled. 91% of plastic isn’t recycled, according to the National Geographic.
Even if your plastic bottle does get recycled, it can only be recycled a limited number of times as the polymer degrades a little every time. Bottle caps can be recycled just the once before they’re recycled again into fabric. Then when you’ve finished with that piece of fabric, it goes to landfill. For ever.
“I’m dangerously thirsty!”
Dehydration? Oh, give me strength. You’re only likely to be dehydrated if (a) you’ve been drinking Mezcal slammers since last Tuesday, (b) you’re engaged in vigorous sporting activities. (c) it’s very hot or (d) you just floated in on the Raft of the Medusa. You do NOT need to rehydrate on the bus or halfway through a movie. You will live without constant slurpings of water. There’s an awful lot of nonsense talked about hydration, indeed there’s a total absence of scientific studies proving you need eight glasses of water a day. In rare cases, too much water can be extremely bad for you causing hyponatremia, or water intoxication which is very dangerous.
Enriching the bastards…
Every time you buy a bottle of water which you could get free out of your tap, you are spending unnecessary money making Nestlé and other companies like them even richer and more capable of raping the planet.
You know what? Give up bottled water and after a week, you won’t miss it. It’s not nicotine, you know.
And if I haven’t convinced you yet, how about this…
Or this… spot the bottletops in the gullet of this dead albatross.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, scroll on down as there are quite a few more. And do please share with your friends and foes alike. Even better, follow – just click the follow button and enter your email address. You only get an email when I publish a new piece which is not very frequent at the moment as I am busy writing a new show for (and with) Fascinating Aïda. And I don’t share my mailing list with anyone.
So please do try and get this information out there. It’s so important that we start taking responsibility for what we do. It’s simply not good enough to wait for bloody Government to take action.
TRIGGER WARNING: this piece contains the word “moist”. Steel yourself, chin up, best foot forward, and read on.
Quick digression 1
I’ve been on holiday. And I’ve been massively down in the dumps for reasons too complicated to write here. The state of the world hasn’t helped. So I took a break from doing this because it’s a lot of work. But I am back at the helm now, trying to persuade you to save the world one product / idea at a time. (For the record – I’ve found St. John’s Wort very effective.)
Back to wipes!
A wipe, in short, is a moist towelette that has been impregnated with chemicals and cleansing agents. And lordy lordy, there are moist towelettes for every occasion. Here’s a list of available which I do not claim to be anything like comprehensive.
Whiteboard wipes for the office/school. So no-one gets to be blackboard monitor and experience the joy of bashing the cleaner thingy with a ruler and seeing clouds of chalk fill the air. Shame.
Wipes for electronic cleaning. I just use a slightly damp duster.
“Washlets” for people with a neurosis about their botty hygiene and too lazy to wash themselves with soap and a flannel.
Sterile moist wound-cleansing wipes that meet current HSE regulations. Actually, I’ll concede that these are necessary.
Antibacterial wipes for the food industry. Vinegar and a very hot clean cloth would do just as well – the moment after you wipe a surface, bacteria in the air will settle back down on it.
Wipes for removal of adhesives, sealants, oils, paints & grease. Remember Grandad’s oily rag? Same thing but it comes in a plastic packet and you throw it it away immediately.
Facial cleanser wipes. FFS, what’s wrong with make-up remover and cotton wool? *** see note at end… cotton wool ain’t so good after all, apparently…
Intimate wipes for feminine cleansing. Grrrrrrr – yet another way to make women feel insecure about their femaleness.
Baby wipes. Water and a soft cloth infinitely preferable, but we’ll get to that.
Toddler wipes. Yes, different from baby wipes. So a mum with a toddler and a newborn is suckered into buying two different types of wipes.
Pet care grooming wipes. My terrier, Piper, wouldn’t thank you, a good rub in horse manure is on her Christmas Wish List.
Washlets, and other moist toilet tissue. In other words, botty wipes for using in tandem with dry toilet tissue – or perhaps instead of?
Cage cleaning wipes for pets’ cages. Never heard of a hose?
Individually wrapped restaurant wipes. Bring back the finger bowl!
Jumbo ear wipes for cats and dogs. Yes, honestly!
Glass and window wipes. Newspaper and vinegar is so much better!
And there are more, but you get my drift. You are paying for a small wet flannel with chemicals. A small wet flannel which you will then throw away.
Every single one of these (except the sterile ones for wounds) is replaceable by a small WASHABLE flannel (or towel, cut up t-shirt, piece of ancient sheeting etc) WITHOUT chemicals. A small wet flannel which you can pop into your washing machine and use again. And again. Etcetera.
Quick digression 2
Yes, I know it’s hard to concentrate on anything other than the crazy political situation here in the UK. My friends in other countries are just as glued to the horror as we are. However, my opinion is that environmental destruction is by far the most important issue the world has to face, so do tear yourself away from Brexit for a moment and bend your mind to wipes!
What is a wipe?
In the past, cloth was always woven or knitted with yarn that interlocked or interwove. Not so with wipes. They are not flannels, nor are they tissues for that matter. They are made by pressing a mass of separate fibres together to make a single sheet of material. A huge range of different fibres are used, but as far as I understand it, natural fibres are necessary for the absorbency and non-biodegradable plastic derivatives are added for strength.
Yes, plastic. Almost all wipes contain plastics, which then degrade down to microplastics. And those don’t go anywhere. They will linger in the sea and the soil long after we are all dead. Recent reasearch shows that earthworms don’t prosper in soil containing high proportions of plastic contaminants.
“Scientists found that worms placed in soil loaded with high density polyethylene (HDPE) – a common plastic used for bags and bottles – for 30 days lost about 3% of their body weight, compared with a control sample of similar worms placed in similar soil without HDPE, which put on 5% in body weight over the same period.”
If you don’t care about that (you should, because healthy soil is vital for growing the crops that feed us), then you should care about the fact that YOU are now almost definitely host to microplastics. It’s almost definitely in your poop, for instance. The threat to human health is only now beginning to be understood.
The life of a wipe…
… is a great deal longer than the few seconds of its use, as fatbergs have conclusively proved. The plastic based fibres will take HUNDREDS of years to decompose. Photographs of fatbergs don’t really show the scale of the horror, so here’s another image of waste to haunt your dreams.
Just in case you’ve emerged from 10 years with a contemplative order of Visitandine nuns (a rare breed), a fatberg is an agglomeration of gubbins and goo that gathers in sewers and constipates our waste disposal systems.
Wipes are estimated to make up 93% of the contents of these fatbergs. The rest is mostly other debris, like tissues and poop stuck between wipes. And fat. Tons of fat glueing it all together. That’s the fat you pour down the sink instead of letting it cool and disposing of it with your food waste… grr!!!
Should you assume this is a big city problem, on 8th January this year (2019) a vast fatberg the size of 6 London buses was found under a children’s playground in dear old Sidmouth.
Sidmouth, if you’ve never been there, is a charming, sleepy, seaside town in Devon on the South Coast of the UK. The population is about 13,000. It has never done anything more contentious than hold a yearly folk festival when a few thousand crusties descend on the town for a week of music, cider, decent ale and country dancing. In other words, the least likely people on the planet to be hornswoggled into using pesky things like wipes.
So if little old Sidmouth can produce a gigantic fatberg, WTF is lurking under us all right now?
The taxpayer. You and me, baby. You are paying for the wipes, and then you’re paying a specialist company to get rid of it, lump by festering lump. They are massive health hazards. Do you want waste water full of poo flooding into your gardens. Can you imagine the health hazard to EVERYTHING in the area? You, your family, your pets, your neighbours, the wildlife…
About 300,000 fatbergs have to be removed in the UK every year. This costs the country about £100m. I think you will agree that this money could be put to much better use elsewhere, don’t you?
Add this thought – because people can’t be bothered to wash their cleaning cloths – it’s so much easier to chuck ’em! – some poor devils have to clean all this hellish detritus away.
Ho hum. Compostable claims are deeply debatable. Even the company Natracare, which aims to provide personal hygiene products without any damaging ingredients, admits on its website that you shouldn’t flush compostable wipes down the lavvy. This is because the wipe isn’t going to decompose quickly enough to avoid attracting all that fat and poop and thus help create another fatberg and start the whole revolting cycle all over again.
And search as I might, I cannot find any evidence of genuinely compostable wipes, because the packaging always seems to be made of plastic. If they weren’t kept inside some sort of plastic packaging, they would dry out which would entirely negate the point of the ruddy wipes in the first place.
So it’s all very well making the wipes biodegradable, but if the packaging is plastic another problem is created. Because you CANNOT divorce the contents from the packaging.
Moist wipes are impregnated with all sorts of chemicals which I’m not going to go into now because each brand of wipes is different and it would take me till the end of eternity to research them all. And you would hate me for boring you.
But these are chemicals over which you have no control. And you are wiping your baby’s bum/your face/your hands/your arse with these chemicals. All extremely sensitive areas. There are strong links between baby wipes in part contributing to food allergies in children, and allergic skin reactions and dermatitis caused by other sorts of wipes. I myself broke out in a horrible rash when I foolishly used some cleansing wipes some years ago.
And if you’re still not convinced, even the well-meaning company, Water Wipes, which prides itself on making the purest baby wipes going and aims to make a 100% biodegradable wipe by 2023 (!!!), advises that you should NOT use wipes on newborns and young infants… So why do they make them then, if they think it’s wrong to use them?
You could purchase a pile of cheap towelling flannels, and then use the creams, unguents or solvents you actually need – not all the other chemicals they need to keep the little rags stable and moist. Then you can throw them in the wash after use. And then use them again.
What you will save
Quite a lot of money, depending on the number and type of wipes you are in the habit of purchasing.
Your sensitive skin
And finally, a Piper story…
I might as well fess up. I once used three small packets of wipes in one hit.
It was in Sheffield, where I was gigging at the Lyceum. Piper, my Patterdale terrier, was on tour with me and I took her for a walk in the nearest open space I could find, which was the other side of the railway. The dear little minx rewarded me by rolling in some freshly plopped fox poo.
The whiff you get off fox poo is unspeakably mephitic. Think dead rat mixed with asparagus wee with some notes of rancid ham and cheese. It was the smelliest smell I’d ever smelt.
Walking back throught the station was mortifying. People jumped in alarm as their schnozzles were suddenly assaulted by the sudden stench. They checked the soles of their shoes. They clasped their hands to their mouths in wide-eyed horror, they staggered back and reeled hither and yon. Unfortunately, light brown fox poo shows up beautifully on a long, black, curly coat so it was pretty easy to identify the culprit. Normally, Miss Pips elicits coos and clucks as she’s a pretty little thing, but folk recoiled as if they’d seen Beelzebub by the news stand.
I did the only thing I could think of. I purchased three packets of wipes and sat by the Sheaf Square fountains and wiped her down as best as I could. Then I took her to the theatre and we both had a shower.
So I do understand that there are times when only a wipe will do. I hadn’t set out to disgust Sheffield, after all.
Follower Rowena Card sent me this brilliant and impassioned message.
“I would take issue with one point and that would be your suggestion that instead of makeup wipes you advise simple cleanser and “cotton wool balls”, however these too can also made from synthetic fibres/nylon/plastics, depending where you source them from.
May I respectfully recommend to reusable cotton/bamboo makeup pads. There are thousands available online and you can even make them yourself. I have many which I use, reuse and reuse again and again, for several years now and these work out much better for the environment and your purse too….!“
I said to the teller when I collected my new bank card: “If you see it used for tap ‘n’ go payments, consider that my card has been stolen and cancel it immediately. I will only use it with my pin.”
She clearly thought I was a geriatric technophobe. “Don’t worry,” she said, brightly. “You can use it easily. Just tap where you see the sign and it’ll register payment.”
“You misunderstand me,” I replied. “I don’t want to use it that way. I know I have to have one of these cards, but I will not use it without identification. You can easily register suspicious change of use – so if it’s used for tap and go, please assume it has been nicked.”
She nodded in a vague, humouring sort of way, and I now realise I should have written to the bank to reinforce my instructions because they took no bloody notice. When an over-enthusiastic waitress at Côte Brasserie took my card and tapped it for me (naughty) before I could shout, “STOP!”, the card was not only accepted but the bank failed to cancel it. Grr.
I find the prospect of a cashless society deeply sinister. Yes, I use my Visa card and my bank card, both regularly. But I am still wedded to cash. And I hate the idea of a future without it.
Without cash, you will never, ever make an un-tracked purchase again. Every store, every coffee bar, every train operator, every website you use will know who you are, what branch you shopped at last and what your preferences and regular habits are.
Without cash, you’ll never have a jar on the dressing table where you throw your loose change of an evening. Mine mounts up surprisingly quickly and softens the financial hammering that Christmas brings.
Without cash, some joys will be forever lost. You will never be able to slip a twenty pound note into your goddaughter’s birthday card, or see a child empty out his piggy bank and have all that fun piling coins and counting his loot – learning basic numeracy and the point of saving at the same time. Heck, even the tooth fairy will die for lack of employment.
Without cash, you will never again be able to make sure the wait staff get their tips because you’ll be forced to put the gratuity on the card. We allknow that there are publicans and restaurant owners who don’t pass the tips on to the people who earned them, God rot their hornswoggling arses.
Without cash, you will always have to pay VAT where applicable, and the tax man will know every transaction you ever make. You’ll never be able to bung fifteen quid to Jobless Dave Down-The-Road for mowing your lawn, or buy a shirt off a friend in a quick easy exchange – here’s your shirt, here’s my tenner. Neighbour Molly won’t be able to supplement her paltry pension by giving friends occasional lifts to the airport.
Without cash, the Government will know ALL your spending habits. Do you trust the Government?
Without cash, we are sleepwalking into financial enslavement.
Sure, the tap ‘n’ go system is quick and convenient. Who hasn’t fumed and chafed behind one of those infuriating old biddies whose arthritic fingers struggle to retrieve 5p coins from her purse?
But how convenient is it really? If you know you have a certain amount of spending money per week, it’s much easier to go over the limit when you’re not handling the actual moolah because it doesn’t feel like spending!
Skinny vanilla spice latte grande plus a ham and cheddar croissant? That’s £6.54. Purchase that 5 days a week, 49 weeks a year, and you’ve lashed out £1,602.30. Did you really mean to spend all that? Did you know it’ll get you two weeks all inclusive in a pretty 4* hotel in Turkey with nearly £300 spending money left over?
Business loves contactless payment, because you are so much more likely to make those kind of small, unnecessary, spontaneous purchases you never did when you had to use your last tenner. Those spontaneous purchases nibble away at your income while businesses thrive on them.
“You could have your wallet stolen!” cry the devotees of a No Cash Life. Of course. And you can have your card or phone stolen too. Tap ‘n’ Go means you don’t have to sign or provide a thumbprint. No ID required.
Come on, how safe is that when you can spend up to £30 a go? Yes, you might have all your cash stolen, but the most that any of us can usually take out in one go is £250. A pickpocket could spend £250 on St Pancras Station concourse in twenty minutes. A nonchalant reliance on the card’s reliability is woefully misplaced – research has shown conclusively that not all cards refuse payments larger than £30 – a payment over £100 was accepted in one case. Now do you feel secure?
A criminal can take payment from your card when you’re distracted by something else – an accomplice who drops their bag, perhaps. All they need is their own mobile payments machine. Yes, they would have to use a different terminal to avoid the bank’s fraud detection, but clever fraudsters will know how to get round that. Now do you feel secure?
Or perhaps they might use a mobile phone to take a payment reading from a credit card. They can send the data to another phone and make a payment on that second device. All that’s needed is proximity – the fraudster needs to be near the victim. Now do you feel secure?
Or the criminal might nick your card, load it onto their iPhone and use Apple Pay to spend spend spend and in much larger amounts than the £30 per transaction limit. How much do you really trust your bank to check verification and monitor the possibilities of fraud at every level? It transpires that Apple Pay is by no means as safe as you thought, and an efficient crook can do terrible damage to your finances.
Now do you feel secure?
Business, government and hygiene fanatics.
The advantages for government are obvious.
Minting coins and notes is expensive
Money can be forged
Money can’t be tracked
Your every transaction – in or out – can’t be tracked
Similarly, the pluses for business are clear. Sales increase when consumers pay with a card. People are less likely to make small purchases if they don’t have much actual dosh in their pocket.
Businesses love going cash free because the accounting is infinitely simpler when the software does all the hard work. Yea, I say unto thee, go cashless, ye businesses, sack thy bookkeeper and minimise on staff costs! Tough if you’re the bookkeeper, of course…
You can’t blame them. Who wants to trek to the bank with bags of money and cheques every day? But that’s their problem. I’m concerned about the rights of the individual.
We are only at the beginning of the technological revolution. Yet already giant companies know far too much about us. Have you watched “The Great Hack” on Netflix? You should. It describes how a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, harvested deeply personal data through Facebook and manipulated enough of the population to change their mind about their vote through targeted “advertising”. Targeted lies, more like.
If companies such as Facebook already know so much about us that they can focus advertising on an entirely personal level, just wait until governments have the same information.
Governments know too much about us already. We are a watched society. Already, there is approximately one surveillance camera for every eleven people in this country.
In the Uighur autonomous region of Xinjiang, China, a new form of Big Brother is being trialled with chilling success. The Uighurs are Muslim, you see, and apparently some governments think that all Muslims are potential terrorists who need constant monitoring. Facial recognition technique, biometric information, patterns of behaviour – all these are used to build up profiles to identify potentially restive citizens.
It’s estimated that there may be as many as a million Uighur people in detention camps. For what? Not turning up for flag-waving ceremonies, or being a little too fervent at Friday prayers, perhaps. Even having a relative abroad brings suspicion.
So think of the Uighur region as being the first really enormous laboratory for complete population control, This is achieved by means of behavioural prediction and algorithmically-assisted surveillance.
Remember this: we are only at the beginning of the technological revolution.
But I only bought a book…!
Ah, but what kind of book? Or books? History books covering the rise of the labour movement? The purchases are registered in your history. Dangerous.
Never mind that, we’re not quite there yet. Where we have already arrived at is what has been described as “surveillance capitalism” by Shoshana Zuboff, the Harvard scholar and writer.
Basically, every time we do anything online, whether we’re buying towels from John Lewis or playing “What Your Colour Choice Says About You” on Facebook, those companies log everything they can glean:
political leanings or lack thereof
Everything that constitutes our lives, in other words. How? Because we handed over the information free of charge.
Think of those Amazon emails you get… “Based on your last purchase of orthotic insoles, you might be interested in these bunion correctors.” Amazon aren’t interested in your wellbeing, your flat feet or your painful hammer toe, they just want to sell you stuff. They remind you when you didn’t buy something, and they remind you of what you looked at last. It’s not to help you, it’s to train you into buying from them without you realising what they are doing.
Shoshana Zuboff sums it up. “It is no longer enough to automate information flows about us; the goal now is to automate us. These processes are meticulously designed to produce ignorance by circumventing individual awareness and thus eliminate any possibility of self-determination.”
In other words, commerce wishes to control and direct your desires and your spending. Commerce doesn’t care if you get horribly into debt. Commerce yearns for you to buy that extra pair of shoes, or that miraculous sticky tape that makes power tools adhere to walls, or that set of cheerily coloured storage boxes that mean you can stash yet more unnecessary purchases away in your overcrowded home.
And commerce uses third party trackers
It is scary stuff. And when Governments get their act together, as in the Uighur province of China, we will be little more than completely controlled cogs in a rapaciously capitalist society.
Cash is freedom
We have to go on using cash. All of us.
Mind you, there is no guarantee that the demand for cash will ensure its preservation. Governments around the world are beginning to move against cash in a big way.
The moment we become entirely cashless is the moment governments have as much, perhaps even more, access to our life profile than Facebook, Google and Amazon. Government will monitor everything its citizens do, and by abandoning cash we are sleepwalking towards totalitarianism. God help us.
80% of all Sweden’s financial transactions are now cashless.
Hong Kong’s Octopus card, once merely an RFID (Radio Frequency ID) transport payment card like the London Oyster card, can be used to pay for:
The MTR (Hong Kong’s subway system)
7-Eleven (and its competitor, Circle K)
Fast food outlets
It is predicted that Australia will be entirely cash free by 2022. (Ironic, really, when you consider that Australia produced Pat Cash.)
The cashless society is coming and we must resist it.
Cash is our last freedom. Let’s not give it up without a fight.
And if you are stuck behind me in a queue in a few years time and you cluck in annoyance because my arthritic fingers can’t fish out that tiny coin, don’t curse. Thank me for sticking with the inconvenience.
Cash is freedom. I cannot emphasise it enough.
What you will save…
The last scraps of your privacy from predatory commercialism.
A noggin of freedom from government surveillance.
Your ability to earn a buck on the side.
These pieces are of necessity a great deal shorter than they could be, because I’m trying to distil a ton of information into a fairly brief piece. So I sometimes skim over certain subjects and try to avoid tangents wherever possible. I can address these in the comments section afterwards if they’re raised by readers.
But I thought it worth mentioning that I’m obviously in favour of some degree of underground economy and when I was preparing this piece, I wrote a long defence of it. In the end, I cut it, for your sake as much as mine. So I will say just this; I know that the underground economy diminishes the Revenue’s tax intake. However, I believe it is a necessary freedom from control, and this has to be balanced against the social obligation of the tax system.
In addition, I don’t think cashlessness will stop racketeers, extortioners, pimps, drug peddlers or any other kind of felons from going about their vile business. They’ll extort your property instead of your money, and they’ll store their ill-gotten gains in gold and other valuables, like crypto currencies. Viz; Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s astonishing act of state overreach when he recalled India’s two top banknotes, giving that mammoth population just 50 days to cash in their notes. He was convinced that a vast proportion (33%) of the notes would never be returned because they were being hoarded by criminals and cartels. In fact, 99.3% of the notes were returned, proving that criminals are smarter than he thought.
The irony is that I am now going to ask you to follow me (!!!) if you’re enjoying these pieces. All you have to do is enter your email in the box at the top of the page and click the follow button. You will then receive an email every time I publish a new piece (every two weeks). Nothing more. No targeted advertising. I won’t try to sell you anything. And I don’t make any money from this at all.
But without Piper…
… life would be a good deal drearier. She sits in my office all day, my little pal. What would I do without her?
I love avocados. I’ve loved them ever since they were the exotic luxury food of my teenage years when Mum served them with prawn cocktail at her fancy schmancy dinner parties. I loved them even better when there was a sudden avocado glut in 1975 and I was working as a secretary in Shoe Lane, you could get four for 12p at Leather Lane street market. Bliss!
And, oh glory, they are so GOOD for you! No wonder demand has skyrocketed in recent years. Most fruits are chocabloc with carbs in the form of fructose, but avos are brimming with the best kind of fats – monounsaturated fat being its principal fat. Not only that, they’re high in Vitamin C, sodium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, vitamins E, B1, B2 and D, And they contain a shit-load of fibre too!
And so adaptable!
Smash it on toast for a simply spiffing breakfast!
Pulp it with honey, oatmeal or yoghurt and spread it on your face for super glowing skin. What’s that if not a win win, a face mask you can eat afterwards? (Perhaps not…)
Whizz it in the blender with cocoa powder and maple syrup and lo! You have yummy scrummy chocolate icing for your vegan cake…
Mums listen up – the delicately flavoured, creamy avocado is perfect for baby’s first solid food!
All hail, the mighty avocado, the superfood’s superfood!
Except I think we should think about them a little harder because they’re currently not very good for the planet.
A quick digression
Some people will be disappointed that I’m not addressing the issue of meat. This is for a couple of reasons, but mainly because I’m reluctant to bore you with the obvious. Perhaps I assume too much but I think enough is widely known about the horrors of the meat industry and the methane emissions from cattle. People are turning to vegetarianism – a good thing – in droves without my help. What this blog is for is to raise awareness of other issues that might not be so well known.
Secondly, I’m a meat eater myself. I eat less meat than I did, which is an improvement, but I’m not going to preach what I don’t practice. I admire people who give up meat for ethical reasons, and maybe I’ll join them one day, but like St. Augustine, I say to myself, ‘Lord make me pure, but not yet…”
Finally, I don’t believe there’s a moral high ground anywhere, least of all a moral high ground with Yours Truly standing proudly atop it, but I’ll come back to this point later.
Back to avos
Avocado trees evolved in rainforests, so they have relatively shallow roots. Most of their moisture intake comes from the top 30cm of soil. They don’t have ultra fine roots which can seek out tiny water droplets which are bound tightly to the soil. So they need a lot of water. Various figures are quoted: 2,000 litres per kilo, according to the Water Footprint Network. In very dry areas, much more than that is needed. To grow one single fruit, it takes about 320 litres of applied water – i.e. not rainfall or moisture naturally occurring in the soil.
I’ll repeat that. THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY LITRES of applied water to grow just ONE fruit. Try that with a watering can!
And yet it’s being grown in large quantities in incredibly dry areas. California, for instance. Yes, California, which suffered more than 7 years of drought from 2011-2018. They’re grown from Monterey down to San Diego County, in spite of the latter being identified as “abnormally dry” by drought.gov. Unsurprisingly, the current California crop is the smallest in more than ten years.
They’re commercially grown in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Peru. Not all the areas are suitable for large scale fruit farming and it can have a devastating effect on surrounding areas.
Take Petorca, Chile, where the situation can only be described as desperate. Aquifers have been raided to extinction. Where there was a river, there is now a dry bed. Small farmers in the area can no longer keep animals or cultivate their land. Locals have to use water brought in on trucks. This water is frequently contaminated and has to be boiled before they can drink it. Many people are moving away, especially the young, thus unravelling the social fabric of the area.
But heaven forfend that the hipsters and health nuts should forgo their smashed avocado on toast for breakfast!
It’s not just in Petorca that things are bad. The demand for avocados – particularly in the US – is now so huge that farmers in Mexico are turning away from traditional crops like cucumbers and melons (which need much less water than you’d think) towards avocados – yes, avocados are the new green gold! In the state of Michoacán, Mexico, avocado plantations have increased by 200%. In fact, in 2017, the avocado business was worth $2.9 billion dollars to Mexico. That’s BILLION.
And that kind of money makes people do all sorts of terrible things, even if they don’t mean to do harm.
Wanna be an avocado farmer?
It’s cheap to start an avocado plantation. The start up costs are extremely low. All you have to do is chop down a bit more of the forest. Hipsters, come on down – they’re turning the forests into guacamole!
The trees prefer medium and sandy soil – the kind of soil that loses its nutrients easily. So lots of chemical fertilisers tend to get applied. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potash. In alkaline soil, iron needs to be added.
They’re prone to attacks from insects. Fruit-spotting bugs, mealybugs, mites, helopeltis, Queensland fruit fly, red-banded thrips, swarming leaf beetles and red-shouldered leaf beetle (doncha love the on-trend touch of those red shoulders!)
Oh, and they get diseases too. Root rot, bacterial soft rot, stem-end rot, cercospora spot, black spot, pepper spot, anthracnose…
Bring on the chemical sprays! Cue more environmental degradation…
According to Greenpeace Mexico, “the lack of coherence between the public policies linked to land use and forest resources is allowing the transformation of the area’s ecosystems into avocado monocultures.”
Farmers are rapidly thinning out the pine forests to plant avocados trees. This is potentially disastrous. Is there anyone on the planet who doesn’t know that large scale deforestation is a calamity in the making?
The kind of profits that avocados can generate have attracted the attention of the cartels. In Mexico, a drug cartel known as los Caballeros Templarios, (the Knights Templar) have obtained full and detailed information on every avocado farmer in Michaocán through their State Committee of Vegetable Health. Civil servants can just as easily terrorised into compliance as farmers or pushers. So the Templarios know exactly how much land the farmers have and how much fruit they produce.
The farmers get a phone call. There’s a price: 10¢ per kilo produced, $115 per hectare of land. Exporters must pay more – $250 per hectare. Those who refuse to pay face kidnapping and death.
Packaging and transport
Consider too, how the avocado arrives on your plate.
They’re harvested unripe, and when they get to the packing house, they have to be hydro-cooled in their bins to remove any residual heat. Then they’re washed with sanitiser and polished, and once they’ve been sorted, weighed and individually labelled, they’re packed in single layers in trays, crates, or cartons which are loaded onto pallets and taken to the cooler until the transport is ready.
The avocado is a sensitive bugger. They need a very particular temperature and the humidity must be just right, or they’ll spoil. So their stowage space must be cool, dry and well ventilated. It’s an awfully long way from Peru to the fashionable cafés of Seattle and Toronto and London – and that means a lot of cooling, a lot of electricity. And a lot of pallets and crating and packaging materials which have to come from somewhere – more waste.
We really don’t know enough about how avocado workers are treated, but I don’t suppose the cartels in Mexico care about them all that much. In Chile, water rights are available to be bought and resold to the highest bidder, so you can happily ruin the lives of your citizens by drying out the land.
And you wouldn’t want to be a trade union leader in Guatemala. In the last 12 years, 68 trade union leaders and representatives have been killed. Murdered, to be precise. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Factor in the attempted murders, kidnappings, death threats and instances of torture and you really wouldn’t want to stick your head above the parapet to fight for better conditions and pay.
Moral high ground
So you see where I’m going. Is it better for me to eat an avocado from South America which has
drunk 320 litres of water
contributed to pollution, deforestation and aridification
contributed to human misery on an impressive scale
earned a shitload of airmiles
created a lot of packaging waste
… or a pheasant shot here on the farm? Or a lamb raised by our pal, a good and caring farmer up the road and whose land is better suited to raising sheep than growing corn?
And shouldn’t all these be occasional luxury foods and not daily staples?
The choice isn’t ever that simple, I know, and it’s not a particularly fair comparison. But it’s one of the reasons I’m unlikely to become a vegetarian this side of Christmas.
If you must…
… buy fewer or buy Spanish. Spain is the only European country which produces avos for export. It would be sad never to taste an avocado again, so try and find out where they come from.
And yes, it’s very healthy – but you can get all those nutrients elsewhere.
Mercifully, I gather that in the hippest millennial circles, avocados are now considered SO last year – thus demand is slipping slightly. OMG, can you IMAGINE the SHAME of eating something unfashionable?
Just in case you feel a little relieved at this news, it appears that the Chinese middle class have discovered the delights of what they call the alligator pear and imports to China are rising. God help the poor old planet if the masses start demanding them too.
Many thanks to Malachy O’Neill for his excellent research.
No, not gobshite, Gob Shite. Terrible stuff for wonderful teeth.
It’s a comfort, surely, to know that when Armageddon comes, we will greet the inferno with marvellous teeth. No tombstones needed; each grimacing skull will reveal 32 of our own home grown ones in splendid condition.
We’re dog-whistled into being neurotic about our teeth. Fear of not being kissably perfect is the Stuff Of Nightmares! Our hygienist gives us grief about careless brushing. Adverts for whiter teeth, veneers and crowns abound. Experts at distinguished institutions such as the Mayo Clinic assure us that oral health is essential for our general health. So far so good.
It’s the racks of gizmos and products for advanced tooth-cleaning that greet us at the supermarket and the pharmacy that I have issue with. If plastic straws and plastic Q-tips can be banned, why aren’t people hollering about these babies?
To my shame, I have a lot of Gob Shite. Look, here’s more.
I have been buying these unthinkingly all these years and God alone knows how much stuff is gone into the dump from my dental care routine alone.
The recent report in the Telegraph revealing that all our careful recycling is almost pointless should scare us into really re-thinking our use of ALL plastics. Yes, folks, much of our patiently sorted and recyclable waste is going to landfill and incinerators.
I feel particularly bad about the number of vibrating toothbrushes I’ve binned. Especially as until relatively recently, I never thought about taking the battery out first… (See my piece on why this is BAAAAAD practice!)
Mind you, I can’t really blame anyone who does bin these without thinking. WTF do these recycling symbols on the back of the packet mean?
The wheelie-bin with the cross through it is the symbol of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive of the EU. I read the Wikipedia page on the subject and it’s bloody confusing. But I think it means it has to be recycled properly – in other words, the battery has to be removed before binning it. This instruction should be in big black capital letters on the packet!
The initials CE apparently stand for Conformité Européene, which is French for European Conformity and means the gadget has passed certain tests expected in its category.
The third symbol is the most confusing of all, because a lot of people think it signifies that it means “recycle this”. Nope. This is called the Green Dot. (I know, it’s not green in the picture, another source of confusion…) This does not mean that the packaging can be recycled, will be recycled or has been recycled. It is merely a symbol used on packaging in some European countries and it shows that the producer has made a financial contribution towards the recovery and recycling of packaging in Europe. And no, we don’t have any idea how large this financial contribution might be, or whether they are taking steps to change their packaging. In other words, it’s meaningless. It’s just a feelgood symbol for the manufacturers, akin to the squillionaire banker who tosses 50p to a beggar and feels he has done his charitable best.
So what can we do?
It’s sobering to think that every single toothbrush you have ever used is still out there somewhere, buried in landfill or bobbing about in the ocean.
We have to start buying bamboo toothbrushes. However, the ironic bit about these marvels is that the truly compostable ones are made with pig bristles, which is an anathema for vegetarians and vegans. Personally, I wouldn’t have a problem, but reports are mixed on their effectiveness. You can buy them here at www.lifewithoutplastic.com.
So the most effective brushes have nylon bristles. One make – Eco-Bru – actually recommends that we remove the bristles (recyclable BPA-free nylon) when the brush has passed its best and pop them in the recycling prior to chucking the brush. Oh Lordy, another task. I suppose they mean well and at least the handle won’t be around to haunt future generations.
Another irony – makers of sustainable toothbrushes got very excited about using Nylon-4 for the bristles. Nylon-4 is a petroleum based plastic that biodegrades in months. However, there are only a few manufacturers of nylon-4 around so ethical toothbrush makers are forced to use less friendly plastics. Brush With Bamboo uses only 38% nylon, the rest is made from castor bean oil. All hail, the humble castor bean! Who knew?
And a final irony – they’re not yet in all the shops so you may have to order them online – more packaging waste! However, although our local Boots doesn’t sell them, I found two in Superdrug yesterday. Only two, but it’s a start. I bought them both. Which I guess means that Bicester is out of bamboo toothbrushes.
The other truly organic way to clean your teeth is either with a neem stick or a miswak stick (pictured). Both are types of twigs that apparently contain hygienic properties ; you nibble off the bark, then chew the interior to loosen the fibres, and finally you brush your teeth. Sounds like an awful faff and I’m not sure I’m ready for them. You can buy them on Amazon, but most seem to come from abroad. More postage, more packaging.
I also came across something called a toothwak… it comes with replacement bristles which screw in and seems to be the only truly biodegradable brush. But I’m not sure I like the look of that see-through panel of film… looks like plastic to me!
Yep, we have to stop buying conventional toothpaste. Last year, leading brands in America alone sold 423,500,000 units of toothpaste. That’s 423,500,000 plastic tubes heading for the bellies of sea creatures.
There are plenty of alternatives – all you have to do is search for “plastic free toothpaste” and a host of options will appear on your screen. I’m not going to list them all, but you could try Denttabs for instance. And Lush sell something called Toothy Tabs. Click on the links to purchase. And no, I’m not making money on your clicks.
When I finally finish my stack of shaming plastic picks, I shall move on to these brilliant yokes which are made mainly from corn starch and are vegan-friendly.
Yes, an awful lot of dental floss is made using plastics. It’s so depressing, really it is. And it comes in plastic containers. So we have to change. There are many options out there, however. Try The White Teeth Box; their floss is 100% biodegradable, and the little bottles are glass and metal.
Entirely unnecessary if you clean your teeth properly. It kills the good bacteria in your mouth as well as the bad. And where does the bottle go afterwards?
An even better plan
Keep asking for these products in your local chemist and supermarket because at the moment, you can only get many these items by post. More bloody packaging! If they haven’t started stocking them, ask when they plan to do so. Ask if you can go on a list to be informed when they do start stocking the items you want. Nudge, niggle and nag.
What you will save
Um, probably nothing much financially. But the planet will be awfully grateful.
Sorry there has been such a long gap since my last blog. I’ve been writing my musical and these pieces take a LONG time to research and write. And then there are two dogs to be walked… so to sign off, here’s a picture of the photogenic Miss Pips and her glorious plastic-free teeth. Meanwhile, do please keep sharing the blog, I’m hugely grateful for all help.
Credit – photo at the top of a perfect smile by iamSherise on Unsplash and heavily cropped by me. Sorry!
If I hear this again, I’ll scream. “Your blog is all very well, but it’s pointless trying to do anything to save the planet until China and India go green.”
Three people have said this to me, and I’m already sick of it. It’s a cop out. A bloody cop out. We all have to try. All of us. Every day. Of course India and China need to get on board, but that doesn’t give us the excuse to go on polluting. It’s like defending the fact that you poop in your front garden because your neighbours have 100 lodgers who poop in their front garden.
Just roll this thought around your mind. James Anderson, Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at Harvard, says that we have five years left. In those five years, we have to transform industry as rapidly as possible – it’s not just a matter of cutting carbon emissions, its a matter of removing it from the atmosphere completely.
Five years. (And we all thought we had the luxury of a decade…!)
Here’s another thought to mull over. Anderson says, “The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero.”
So don’t mull too long, or that five year period of grace will be over and the world we live in will become a very uncomfortable place.
James Lovelock, the eminent scientist and long a hero of mine, originally earned his fame when he came up with the Gaia hypothesis. This posits the theory that the Earth – which he calls Gaia – is a single self-regulating super-organism, and that we are a just part of it, much in the way that the bacteria on our skin is a part of us. That’s a very inadequate little explanation of a great big theory but it will have to do for now.
Lovelock believes that we human beings have multiplied too much and that Gaia is now trying to get rid of us. Catastrophic weather changes, storms, typhoons, desertification etc., and the heating up of vast areas of the world, thus making it uninhabitable are becoming the norm.
So can we do anything personally? He thinks not, and I don’t know if we can, but I passionately believe we should try. We in the West are largely the architects of the Armageddon to come, so we bloody well have to try. Here are some suggestions.
Eat less meat
Eat more locally produced food
Have fewer children
Heat our homes less
Write letters – to government and companies and councils and anyone else you feel needs a nudge.
Note that I don’t proscribe anything completely. I believe that to be unrealistic. Changing the habits of a lifetime is hard work.
And gestures towards greenness are often just that – gestures. For instance, I own a diesel car, and I can’t do without the car as I live in a country village with a lousy bus service. I could get rid of it and replace it with an electric car instead. But it would be a pointless gesture, because it would mean that someone else would then own that car while I polished my halo. Much better for me to own that car and drive it as little as possible. If I’m running errands, I try to get them all done in one trip every few days. If I have to go anywhere farther than our local town, I go by train if at all possible. This means I’ve got my mileage down by several thousand miles per year. No, not perfect, but trying hard.
So don’t come to me with the China argument again, because it’s an excuse of the flabbiest kind. An excuse to go on living our indulgent, destructive lives, and that is true Shit You Don’t Need.
Oh, and by the way…
Letters can work. Proper letters, mind you, not emails and armchair clicktivism. A letter is counted as FAR more significant than an email. That’s because it’s a bother to write the letter, find the correct address, buy a stamp and walk to the postbox. It’s estimated that every letter of protest represents up to 10,000 similar opinions. So imagine if 1,000 of us wrote the following to our outgoing Prime Minister…
Dear Mrs. May,
Whilst I welcome the fact that you have committed the UK to a legally binding “net zero” emissions target by 2050, I believe this is not ambitious enough and we should be “net zero” by 2025.
Yours sincerely, A Person.
That would represent ten million opinions. It might make a difference. And at least when Armageddon comes, you can say you tried.
And no, buying a bag-for-life isn’t enough. Try harder.
Here endeth the rant. And here is a picture of Piper who emits a tiny amount of methane, but counters this by eating our leftovers with a will. She is very fond of my cooking and does not tolerate waste.
Unfortunately, she does not tolerate my tapestry cushions either. She believes them to be woefully old-fashioned, and thus they need to be destroyed.
Yes, I mean it – the Houses of Parliament are shit we don’t need. Nothing we can do about it individually… yet. And no, I’m not suggesting that we don’t have a House of Commons and an Upper House – I mean the building itself is
no longer fit for the job
engenders the wrong kind of politics and therefore
breeds the wrong kind of politicians.
We need politicians. But just look at the shower of twazzocks representing us at the moment! Before you bombard me with protest, I know there are some excellent LOCAL MPs who serve their constituencies well. This isn’t a rant about particular politicians, nor is it a party political broadcast on behalf of a particular. But our politics is not healthy at the moment, and a fresh start might be a wonderful way to start the healing process.
The building itself
The whole Palace of Westminster has to close – and soon – because it needs a vast overhaul. It’s infested with rats and mice, and there are regular sewage leaks in the basements. Serious water erosion has damaged the building, and as recently as 4th April of this year, business was suspended in the House of Commons when water started leaking through the ceiling.
All this is merely cosmetic. The real danger is that the mechanical and electrical systems are old, and the patch-and-mend regime that has kept the place going for decades is no longer enough. The wiring is so ancient that the whole place could go up in flames any day.
The only way this Victorian masterpiece can be restored is by a total evacuation of the building for at least six years, and it will happen soon.
In the meantime, both Houses and all the personnel must find another home. Why not a new PERMANENT home?????
There is seating for 427 in the House of Commons, but there are 650 MPs. The House of Lords can sit 400 peers, but there are about 800 of the blighters. The bloody chambers are simply not big enough, and that’s not going to change with new wiring, is it?
The two-sided chambers are built for confrontation, not consensus. In fact, the House of Commons has two red lines down the length of the floor and these were designed to be two sword lengths apart so that an enraged member of HM Opposition couldn’t plunge his epée into the Minister for Transport on hearing, for instance, that said Minister had spent £13.8m on an imaginary fleet of ferries. (Though who could imagine such a thing in real life?)
MPs shout, boo, catcall, and behave like deranged schoolkids denied their Ritalin. A circular chamber wouldn’t guarantee decent, grown-up behaviour, but it would help take the heat out of room if they weren’t always glowering at one another across two sword-lengths of floor.
A place can have too much history. When the House of Commons sits, the Speaker proceeds in wearing a black and gold robe, his train held up by a flunkey in ruffles and pantaloons, and in front of them both is another flunkey carrying the 5-foot mace. (I’m sure the flunkeys have fancy titles with outdated spellings, like Ayncient Searjeant of Ye Olde Mayce, and Seynyor Toadye of Ye Goldeyn Robe, but I can’t be arsed to look them up.)
Oh, and if you ever touch the mace, which is a long, fancy golden stick, your buttons are torn off and you are forced to eat your chop alone in the Members Dynyng Roome for 13 days. All right, I made that up, but it is taboo to touch the mace and the Speaker will throw you out for being in contempt of Parliament. Cromwell called it a “fool’s bauble” and whilst I don’t often agree with the Butcher of Drogheda, it’s a fair description.
The trouble with the Palace of Westminster is there is too much bloody history; nearly 1000 years in fact – Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the building dates from 1097. It’s an 8 acre warren of inexplicable complexity and arcane rules dating from the Flood. There are more than a thousand rooms, over three miles of passages, 100 staircases, and about 30 bars. (One of those bars is for bishops…) Oh, and the bars are heavily subsidised by you and me…
New MPs spend their first months lost and confused about where to go, what to do, and wondering whether it’s okay to go into one room or another or if they’ve trespassed into forbidden areas … I’m not the first person to point out that the Palace of Westminster is more like a very exclusive private members club than the seat of Government. (Mhairi Black, the youngest ever MP, caused uproar when she refused to eat in a segregated part of one of the canteens where kitchen staff and MPs were not allowed to sit together. Bless her!)
The trouble is that once you start accepting these kinds of rules, and you buy the idea that MPs are too grand to eat with dinner ladies, it eats into the soul, a canker of aggrandisement. MPs learn the obscure rules and bone up on Erskine May (the guide to parliamentary procedure). It’s as though they become members of a secret society, developing a Kremlin mentality where the only thing that matters is Parliament itself.
Given that the whole lot of ’em have to move out for a £5bn refurb, why not move them to a new, purpose-built parliament with circular debating chambers and enough seats for the bums of both houses?
Build it in Birmingham
Why not? It’s in the centre of the country, it’s cheaper than London and it’s our second city. Easier to reach for almost all many MPs too – even Penzance is 14 miles closer to Brum! It’s also a brilliant city, and it would take a good deal of the pressure off London. Many other countries have their “capital cities” away from their main cities – Australia, South Africa, USA…
… when the £5bn refurbishment has happened (and it’ll probably be £8bn and take 3 years longer than anticipated…) it can be reopened for tourism, history tours by schoolkids, office space, weddings, barmitzvahs, and it can earn a living for the nation. And it could possibly host the odd State Occasion, if we allow it.
If I had a regular radio show, I’d call it “What Would You Un-Invent” and I’d invite guests on to suggest things they think humankind was better without. Okay, it’s not a snappy title, but it’s a flipping brilliant idea.
I’d interview myself first, of course.
“So, I’ve got Dillie Keane here. Dillie is an ecobloggista who sits at her desk and frets about the future of the planet. Dillie, what would you un-invent?”
“Thanks Dillie. Excellent question, but not easy to answer because there are so many candidates, wet wipes being high on the list. However, as it’s my own programme and I shall be back next week to interview me again, I’m going to plump for sell-by dates.”
“Super! And when were sell-by dates first used?”
“In the 1950s, actually. A bright spark at Marks & Spencer dreamt it up…”
“Ha, bright spark, Marks & Sparks! Very good.”
“Do try to be serious. As I was saying, it was introduced for foodstuffs in their storerooms, but it had to wait for another 20 years before it made it to the supermarket shelves.Now food dating is everywhere, and it scares people into binning perfectly good food every day. For instance, that Pret a Manger pasta salad dated yesterday which is in the bin beside you.”
“Had you remembered to put it in the fridge overnight after you decided you weren’t hungry after all, you could have happily eaten it today.”
“And when that salad, along with all the other mountains of unused food that people can’t be arsed to eat, rots quietly away in landfills, it emits loads and loads of methane which as we all know is a major contributor to Climate Change. And now, of course, food dating is mandatory in Europe.”
“Right! So, given that food dating is mandatory in Europe, is this a good thing, Dillie?”
“A highly questionable law, in my humble opinion, Dillie! But it’s also widely adopted outside the EU – entirely voluntarily! So you don’t just have to be an EU Quangocrat to be a meddling twat.“
“Oh dear, we’ll have to cut that. Can’t allow use of the word “twat”. The phone will be red hot with listeners from the Home Counties who don’t give a damn about Climate Change but who DO hate bad language.”
Food dating = food waste
According to WRAP, a UK based charity which aims to reduce waste (amongst other equally noble aims), we throw out £20 billion worth of food waste every year in the UK alone. That amounts to a staggering £810 per family per year. This is food classified as “edible“, as opposed to bones, pips, rind, etc., which is defined as “inedible”. (Incidentally, if you give your leftover steak to your dog, that’s not counted as food waste.)
It’s even worse in the USA. According to Climate Central, an extremely respectable independent organization of leading scientists and journalists, 40% of food produced for consumption in America is chucked out every year. This is equivalent of $165 billion dollars worth of food each year. Blow me down, but that’s an awful lot of greenhouse gas being created.
Nowadays you hear a lot about how cattle are poisoning the planet with their farts. In fact, food waste produces 34% of all methane emissions in the USA, which is not far off equalling the methane emissions from ruminant livestock (42%) – cows, sheep and buffalo – which are the chief flatulent culprits. Worldwide, the figure is much lower – ruminants contribute between 14-18% of methane. And Methane heats the planet WAAAAAY faster than CO2, though to be fair, CO2 hangs round a lot longer.
This isn’t an argument that we can relax about meat-eating, but it shows there is no moral high-ground. Rotting vegetables and fruit are every bit as pernicious as rotting meat.
What’s more, this habit of chucking good food is making us poor and the supermarkets very rich.
Who to blame?
Simple. All of us in the super-wealthy “West”. We should be ashamed.
We plan badly; instead of organising our meals in advance, we impulse buy and guzzle as our whims dictate.
We’re visually tricked into buying food we don’t need. Supermarket psychologists know exactly where to place yummy treats that aren’t on our list. “Whoops, didI really need those choccy puddings?”
Supermarkets simply ADORE selling us too much food – that big bag of carrots, for instance. Too often we only use a portion of it and the rest turns to mush in the bottom drawer of the fridge.
Some of us (me for instance) have terrible food anxiety. I am genuinely paranoid about not being able to feed the family. Who knows, six years of the Irish famine may have imprinted in the family genes? This isn’t just fantastic speculation – there is a growing theory that cultural trauma can be transmitted down the generations. Luckily, my anxiety over food waste is even greater than my fear of starvation.
And just because I think this point is worth repeating over and over again, we chuck food because we are BAMBOOZLED into doing so by the bloody date on the bloody package.
So let’s just note the difference between the various terms, because these can be confusing.
Sell-by (or display until)
This just means the the shop has to sell the item by a certain date. It doesn’t mean the food has gone off. It does NOT mean you have to get rid of it if it’s in your fridge. But it’s confusing. As a result, garbage bins get another helping of food, glorious food. This is from Business Insider.
“Here’s a little secret about those “sell-by date” labels you see on food packages… consumers should know they’re not safety dates, according to the US department of Agriculture.”
Not only that, they are not required by law – not in the UK, anyhow. They are added for stock control only.
Best By (or Best Before)
Again, this doesn’t mean the food has gone off by the date on the carton. It just means that it’s at its optimum on that day. Do remember, however, that prepared foods have so many preservatives in them that the “best by” dates might not apply.
This is the most unsettling of all. You’ll see it on tins of food, packets of dried lentils and all sorts of other comestibles that have an incredibly long shelf life. The not-so-subtle message is “Use by… or else!”
A great mystery…?
So how come people didn’t all die of food poisoning before packaging was stamped with proscriptive dates, and before refridgeration? Time for some bullet points. (I’m very fond of a list, as you have probably already divined.)
People bought fresh on an almost daily basis.
Everything was cooked from scratch.
People had noses, eyes and tongues in those days. We seem to have lost ours.
Whoops, not only was that a lovely short list, but I have just looked at my face in the mirror and I DO have a nose, two eyes and a tongue! So do you!
A few ideas for avoiding waste!
Another list, oh joy! (You may be thoroughly waste-savvy already, in which case, don’t read on. But I’m constantly surprised at how unconfident people are about food… and I’m covering my back so that no-one can accuse me of encouraging them to give their family salmonella…)
Use your eyes. If it’s a funny colour, or is growing a grey, green and bubbly coating, don’t risk it. Scrape that bit off and taste the underneath part. If it tastes ok, it’s ok. (The only thing I share with Teresa May is that I scrape mould off jam and eat it. All right, I have also run through fields of wheat but I did a lot more while I was in the field than she ever did, I’ll wager.)
If it has separated or curdled, it’s probably off. Before pasteurisation, our grannies used sour milk or cream to make soda bread and stroganoff. However, since pasteurisation and homogenisation, milk doesn’t go sour like it used to – scientists can tell you why, but I can’t, and sour milk these days is horrid. (Note for no reason – this soda bread recipe is the dogs’ bollocks and it uses fresh milk!)
Use your nose. If it smells wrong, chuck it.
Still not sure? Use your tongue. A tiny taste won’t poison you. If it’s sour when it shouldn’t be, bin it.
Oddly fizzy? Bin it.
Tinned food lasts a lot longer than the date. Because of food labelling laws, (grr), manufacturers have to pluck a date out of the air to give a rough guideline but that’s all it is. We have all found a tin of beans or whatever at the back of the cupboard dating from prehistory. So open the can, have a gander, if it looks ok, stick yer finger in it and have a lick. Does it taste like it should? It’s fine.
Dried foods – pulses etc – last really well. Ignore the dates. If you see tiny crawly insects, these are weevils and you must chuck ’em.
Cheese gone hard isn’t bad. It’s just not as nice as it was. If it’s Cheddar or another hard cheese, grate it on top of pasta. If it’s a soft cheese, melt it on toast under the grill. If it’s got a greenish tinge, cut that bit off and eat the rest. (Pregnant women – check all cheeses on the internet for safety. The NHS website, for instance.)
Leftovers are fine. Don’t chuck ’em unless you have a labrador. If you don’t have a greedy mutt and are in doubt over how to use leftovers, consult Jack Monroe’s brilliant website, Cooking on a Bootstrap. You’ll find some excellent ideas for leftovers. And check Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall too – he’s very excercised about food waste.
Is the food squidgy when it should be firm? Wrinkled when it needs to be plump? Soft when it should be crispy or brittle? Probably edible, in spite of being not especially appetising.
Leftover rice? Bacteria (B. cereus, which sounds ridiculous when you say it) goes bonkers in cooked rice left out in the open. Refrigerate or regret! And if you haven’t used it the next day, don’t risk it on day two.
Can you see lots of wriggling white things? OMG, you should have chucked it LONG ago! Unless, of course, you are partial to Casu Marzu, a now illegal Sardinian pecorino cheese that’s deliberately infected and only eaten when crawling with maggots. I’ve got a fairly strong stomach, but the very thought of this makes me giddy with revulsion. Still, each to his own…
If your loaf of bread has gone a bit stale, spritz it lightly with water and toast it. Or keep it in the freezer and bring it out slice by slice because it freezes really well. Stale bread makes yummy croutons, bread & butter pud, and breadcrumbs. If it’s gone green, sing Goodnight Irene and chuck it. And buy less.
We all fail. When I send the Beloved to do the shopping with a list, he comes back with cheddar when I wanted mozzarella, more dips than you can shake a stick at. Honestly, he has no idea of how much hummus two people can get through in a week. Then I’ll rush to the shops without warning him, come home with a bag of fruit, only to find he’s bought two melons, a mango, a punnet of blueberries, a box of nardicots and a bunch of bananas.
(Note: nardicot was my favourite new word of 2014. I’d never noticed the word before but suddenly it seemed to be everywhere. I’d always called them easy peelers.)
My friend Margaret (frequently mentioned here) tells me that following recipes can be a recipe for food waste, because you buy special ingredients that you don’t use again. So it’s great to read that some of the more responsible food writers are keen to help you use your leftovers wisely.
Foods you can safely eat after the use-by date
Crisps and packeted snacks.
Cake (especially made with butter rather than margarine).
Dried pulses – lentils, barley etc.
Goat’s milk (you won’t believe how long it lasts).
Eggs. Older eggs make better hardboiled eggs – much easier to peel. Worried about them? Try the float test – if they sink to the bottom of a bowl of water and stand on their end, they’re super fresh. If the sink and like on their side, they’re a bit older, but still fine. If they float, they’re bad bad bad. Another method is to crack them open one by one into a cup before using – it’s very frustrating to have to throw your cake mixture out because you dropped a stinky old egg into the batter. And yes, you will DEFINITELY know a bad egg when you see it and smell it. Black, and smelling like the entire congregation has just blown off.
Vegetables of any sort. You can rescue slightly wilted leaves, or tired cauliflower/asparagus/celery etc by popping them into a bowl of cold water in the fridge. The transformation will astonish you.
The Three Grand Exceptions
Never mess with chicken. Salmonella in chicken develops quickly and will make you VERY sick. Use all meats quickly, and follow guidelines on the packet. Best of all, don’t buy it at all unless you intend to use it by its recommended date.
Never mess with seafood. Only cook from fresh.
Never mess with ordinary pork. Ham keeps, bacon keeps for ages. That’s because cured pork products are, er, cured. Preserved, in other words. Fresh pork isn’t.
The best rule of all…?
IF YOU DON’T NEED IT, DON’T BUY IT!
To help yourself stick to this rule, always go the to supermarket with a list. Do not deviate from it. Do not buy that tempting tub of mackerel paté, or that bumper packet of drumsticks you just trollied past – it’s not on your list! Plan your meals, and buy what you need. Resist the lure of BOGOF offers. This doesn’t have to exclude treats, but it’ll keep your bills down and your food waste to a minimum.
Better still, if we ALL do this, it’ll make the supermarkets slightly less obscenely wealthy. Don’t forget – it is not in their interest to make you buy less or waste less. And you will start to trust your own judgement on whether your food is good or not.
Isn’t that something to aim for?
What you’ll save
£810 a year?
Testing my theory to the max, I tried an experiment a couple of weeks ago. I found a tub of taramasalata in the fridge which was 34 days out of date. Yes, THIRTY FOUR DAYS!!!! The seal on the tub was perfect, and when I opened it, there was not the faintest hint of a “wrong” smell – and it looked scrummy. Taking my life in my hands, I ate two large teaspoons of the stuff. It struck me that if anything was going to make me ill, it would be processed cod’s roe. It was delicious.
The next day, undisturbed by any digestive cataclysm, I ate two more large teaspoons.
I’m still here. No sickness. Which makes me wonder… what the hell do they do to our food??????
It has always puzzled me that a woman might want a Hitler moustache where her pubes should be. If I were going down for the first time on a woman, I’d be somewhat put off by meeting Adolf en route for the Mound of Venus.
Hang on a minute, what do I see…?
Yes, my merry men friends out there! This is for you too! It doesn’t matter whether you’re straight or gay, whether you’re pressurising your girlfriend to wax, or having it done yourself to make your todger look bigger. You NEED this because you’re part of the conspiracy against pubes. (It’s true… the Boyzilian / Brozilian is reputed to enhance the size of a man’s wedding tackle. Give me strength…)
Let’s be honest. A partner who’s put off by a stray pube or two isn’t worth bothering with, particularly if the partner is a bloke. You really have to wonder about a man who wants you shaved like a baby. Pervy? Yep, a tad. Watching too much porn? Very probably.
Listen, it’s complicated when all that puberty stuff kicks in. I remember well the panic when I looked down in the bath and saw – whaaaaat? – HAIR!!! I didn’t have one of the world’s more sympathetic mothers, but I rushed to her in panic and she gave me the usual brisk reassurance that this was perfectly normal. And it was. Still, it took me a while to adjust to my weirdly changing body.
It’s also normal to get used to it, and it’s normal for boys to get used to seeing it. They have hair too. It’s what bodies do and it’s for a reason. We’ll come to that.
But we aren’t perfect. Even supermodels hate things about their bodies. And one of the essential routes to contentment is the ability to accept ourselves as we are. I don’t mean we shouldn’t tidy ourselves up or that we should forgo makeup (horrible thought!) but there are certain things about being human that we might as well get used to, pubic hair being one of them. (Are you listening, chaps?)
You’ve got a new bikini, you’re off to a sun-drenched isle, and you’re self conscious about those little wiry hairs that seem to have a will of their own. By all means, get a bikini wax to tidy up the edges. If you need a Brazilian because your monokini is so small, I wonder why you bother wearing one at all.
Reasons to be cautious
Risk of infection. Are you 100% certain that your salon uses the best sanitary practice?
Not just infection… you have a higher risk of catching sexually transmitted diseases after grooming your basement area. Things like the herpes virus and genital warts can spread through little nicks, cuts and abrasions.
A viral infection known as MC (molluscum contagiosum) is on the rise, and it is increasingly associated with waxing. You get small, raised, quite hard little spots on the skin (papules). It’s not dangerous, but it can be horribly itchy.
Small scale studies have noted a correlation between a higher incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and “grooming” of pubic hair, with the numbers going up again for what they term “extreme grooming”. On the upside, you’re less likely to suffer an invasion of crabs, but it doesn’t seem like a fair exchange if you’re risking herpes, HPV, syphilis, molluscum, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and HIV.
Sometimes you get ingrown hairs after a waxing. A hair curls round and grows back into the follicle. Sometimes it doesn’t even bother popping its head outside, and just grows sideways into the skin. It can cause little red pimples which can easily become infected. This beauty website has a whole page devoted to ingrown hairs caused by waxing – and one of the tips they recommend to minimise risk is to exfoliate the area regularly, and to make sure you do it two days before your waxing… Yowza! Sorry, but that sounds like another way to be very sore indeed! And no, waxing again is NOT a cure for ingrown hairs.
Is your beautician experienced enough? After all, it’s a sensitive area. It can get quite swollen down there if the practitioner is new or, worse still, careless. The internet is awash with bad waxing stories.
Just in case you think you can do it yourself inexpensively at home, there are plenty of horror stories about this too, like this girl who not only drew blood but stuck her butt cheek o.
Fancy scarring after waxing? I thought not. Again, just try googling and you will easily come across a fair number of awful stories.
Are you sure the wax used at the salon is of the best quality? Or that it wasn’t used for the client (or clientsssssss) before you? (Eww!)
Do the beauticians double dip their sticks while you’re squeezing your eyes shut in anticipation of that painful strrrrrrip! Ugh! Bad, dirty or cheap wax can make you very sore.
The list goes on! (I just thought it was time for a picture!)
Did you get a Groupon voucher for your Brazilian? If so, ask yourself why…
Your therapist may have to touch your labia to pull it to get the correct degree of skin tautness. Hmmm. Dunno about you, but I feel quite uncomfortable about this. Only my lover and my doctor belong down there.
It can be sore for hours.
It can itch like crazy when it’s growing back, and when it does, it’s TORMENTING. Do you really want to be spotted furtively scratching your muff to relieve your itching?
During lovemaking, a lot of rubbing goes on. Hair acts as a cushion, reducing friction, making the action easier. This is especially useful in the first throes of lust when people are at it like rabbits. (Sorry. My family are reading this and I’m sure they think this is TMI…)
Finally, it means yet more bloody product going to landfill. Sticks, cotton wool, lotions, soothers, wax etc.
You’ll be forgiven for thinking that I’ve had direct experience. I have, and weird it was too. The waxiste spoke no English – we were abroad – and all I wanted was a bit of a tidy up. An old fashioned bikini wax, in other words.
Oh my, she had those old pubey babies off on one side before you could say whoaaaa. So of course I had to have the other side off too. I didn’t want to walk lopsided, after all.
Would I do it again? You must be joking. I hated looking down there and seeing a Hitler tash. I’m a grown woman, for heaven’s sake. I’d almost have preferred the “Hollywood” – except I wouldn’t…
Why hate pubes???
Medics will tell you that pubes are there for a reason. Or possibly even several reasons. Mainly, they act as a kind of natural shield against bacteria, allergens and other nasty microorganisms or pathogens that might affect your lady garden. There’s also a theory that the hairs trap the pheromones that help us attract and find a mate, but that’s getting way too sciency for me!
So if you’re thinking of moving over to lasering, ask yourself if you really want to be bushless. Laser isn’t without risk either – skin irritation and pigment changes are the most common side effects.
If you do go ahead with full deforestation and it goes wrong – your chuffbox gets all sore and covered in red bumps etc. – you can always book in for a vajacial. Yes, there is such a thing. It’s an actual facial for your vadge. This involves a full cleanse, a soothing mask treatment, and a bit of tidy with a pair of tweezers to remove those naughty ingrown hairs! Again, more product, more expense – jeepers, is it worth it?
Just in case you still need convincing, even Vogue magazine announced last year– The Bush is Back!
What you’ll save
Prices vary, but anything between US $60-120 (£50-£100) seems to be the norm for a waxing. Don’t forget – you gotta keep doing it, anything between every 2-6 weeks. Say that’s eight waxings a year adding up to an absolute minimum of £400 (US $480). Wowza.
My pal Margaret Allen came back from Paris and informed me that Parisian women like to trim their pubic hair to the size and shape of the new (smaller) metro tickets. Should you decide to travel to Paris and desire that particular waxing, you must ask the beautician for “le ticket de metro”. Who knows, it could double as an Oyster card in London. It would be a good fitness aid as you’d always have to jump up to flash your groin at the card reader.
Here is a picture of Piper after a haircut so severe, she refers to it as the day she was given an all-over Brazilian. It was 13th August 2016, and she was scalped by someone who shall remain nameless but who had promised a bit of a trim. A BIT OF A TRIM???? This is a picture of a traumatised dog. I kid you not, I honestly believe she thought I wouldn’t recognise her, and she was really distressed for weeks. She has only allowed me to release this horrid photo because she feels it might act as a warning to young shavers everywhere.
I have noticed the weird paragraphing in the emails that get sent out to followers and after two hours chatting online to Adam Leone at WordPress, I hope to have solved the problem. Incidentally, he and I have started following each other’s blogs as there’s a definite feeling of shared interests, and you might be interested. https://carrottopsallotment.com/
Secondly, do please share my blog with friends and relations and even people you hate. Especially them.
Q1 When you tuck in to your salmon steak, are you aware you’re eating a migratory animal?
Q2 Can you imagine what would have happened if businessmen in London and elsewhere had come up with the bright idea of caging swallows and selling them as food?
Yep. You’d have had every
twitcher, every member of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds, every
bird-fancier the world over protesting in kagoule-clad FURY at the idea of
caging these beautiful migratory creatures that fly huge distances to nest in
our eaves every summer and give us such joy as we watch them wheeling about the
And yet, when those business
consortia started stuffing salmon into sea cages, where was the effing protest?
Did you hear a sodding squeak of dissent? Where was the RSPF when it was
needed? Nowhere, because there is no such thing as the Royal Society for the
Protection of Fish.
Let me just say now that if
you want jokes, don’t read on, because I cannot be funny about this. We complain
about the nasty side of farming, the barbaric way that animals are treated. We
sign protests to make farmers kinder to chickens and we’ve even seen the middle
classes massing at ports to end the shipment of live animals.
But caging an animal that has
the urge, the overwhelming drive to migrate, is a very particular form of
cruelty that makes me weep with fury.
The salmon is a wonderful,
almost miraculous creature, a streamlined swimming machine that starts as a
tiny, pink egg, tucked under a bed of gravel in a river by the female. Not just
any river, her river.
Once it’s mature enough, (providing
it survives at all, that is), it leaves the river and swims out to sea. After
anything between one and four years at sea, the salmon will return to the very
river it was spawned in, to breed and begin the process again.
Just think about this miracle.
They leave their home river as young grilse, and then migrate over 3000k to the
great feeding grounds north of the Arctic Circle. When they’re mature enough,
their astonishing homing instinct impels them back to precisely the same spot
where they were buried in the gravel as an egg. Just imagine the ridiculously
impossible odds of doing such a thing – and yet these glorious creatures do it
year after year.
This is a miracle I’ve known all
my life. My grandparents lived in Ballina, County Mayo, and anyone Irish will
tell you that the salmon from the River Moy is the finest in the world. We
visited them each summer and every single year, Granny would have salmon for us
the night we arrived, the dish of kings to welcome us home. It was the season
for them, there was enough for everyone in the area, and yet it was still
regarded as the very greatest of treats.
In the following days, I
would be taken to see the salmon leppin’, as they said it then. We’d walk down
from Grandpa’s house to the River Moy in County Mayo, and watch these wondrous
creatures hurl themselves into the air and up the weirs and falls, swimming
with herculean strength against the fierce downward rush of the river, great crowds
of them flying above the spume. An astonishing sight, and a yearly ritual for
the locals to turn out in crowds to watch them.
So this is personal.
The democratisation of luxury
The first caged salmon could
not be sold whole, only as steaks. That was because they were so badly damaged
as the fish frenetically tried to get out of the cage to follow their genetic
programming and migrate, biting chunks out of one another in the effort to
(But they’re only fish! So much more important to make sure that smoked salmon is no longer the preserve of the wealthy!)
Three or four generations
later, the urge to migrate is bred out of them. So why do I say these
non-salmonid salmon are shityoudon’tneed?
Salmon are “farmed” in vast nets which are tethered offshore, so they have to be fed, as they cannot swim round and feed themselves. They’re carnivorous, so other fish are ‘harvested’ to feed the salmon. Anchovy, herring and sardine shoals from other seas are thus depleted. Oh the bitter, bitter irony, that fish farming should contribute to overfishing!
The food is dropped into the net, and not all of it is snapped up by the salmon on its way through. It then falls through the holes in the bottom of the net, and onto the seabed below where it rots.
A company called Protix is breeding insects to replace fish meal, but this doesn’t replace the fish oils also needed. Research is going on in this area by other companies.
The food they are given is
different from the crustaceans they should normally feed on – and which gave
them their marvellous pink flesh. In nets, that flesh just turns a sort of grey.
So they are fed with dyes, otherwise people wouldn’t believe they were
purchasing salmon. And some of that dye ends up on the seabed too.
When salmon noodle around in
nets instead of powering through wild, cold seas, they acquire sea lice. These
feed on the head, skin and blood of the fish. Yes, lice are flesh eaters. Fish
with sea lice can a) can die if infested with too many and b) aren’t terribly
attractive to the average shopper, so these must be treated with chemicals.
Guess what? Some of those
chemicals sink to the sea bed too. Oh, and since great populations of fish
crowded into nets are ideal breeding grounds for sea lice and other parasites,
the actual population of sea lice has gone through the roof, particularly in Scotland, so the wild fish in the area become infested too.
Oh, and where do the dead lice end up? Rotting on the sea bed. Hmmm, it’s quite a graveyard, that ol’ seabed.
Incidentally, Steinsvik are developing a drug free system to get rid of sea lice called the Thermolicer. The little critters don’t like sudden changes of temperature, so the fish are bathed briefly in lukewarm water and the lice fall off. All well and good. But how stressful is it for the poor goddammed fish…?
This from the website: “The fish are crowded and pumped through the Thermolicer and then back in the same cage or to an empty cage.”
Have I put you off yet? It gets more unpleasant still. Salmon crowded into nets also get diseases, ulcers and tapeworms amongst a list of unpleasant conditions, so antibiotics and other therapeutants are used to combat this. Antifoulants and disinfectants too…
It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to realise that this cocktail of…
dead sea lice
faeces (whoops… did I mention that salmon need to poo?)
…is a pretty toxic combination.
It smothers the
seabed below and all around, and gradually kills everything … all the kelp,
starfish, bottom feeders, crabs, flatfish, scallops, anemones etc that make up
the incredibly complex and beautiful ecosystem that is a seabed.
Yep, salmon farming is not
only unusually cruel, but it pollutes like billy-oh.
Do the fish suffer? Do they
feel pain? It certainly suits us to think they don’t.
The scientific jury is out on the subject, but fish certainly respond to stress in a way that suggests they feel pain. Dr. Lynne Sneddon’s work at the University of Liverpool has ensured that scientific opinion is beginning to drift towards the conclusion that they do feel pain.
Most of the stocks of “Atlantic” salmon have actually been crossbred – Scottish salmon with Norway salmon. Jeez, we can’t help messing around with genetics, can we?
Just a thought… can they actually be described as “Scottish”? Hmmm…
As if this wasn’t enough,
sometimes the nets don’t hold. A violent storm, human error, some faulty
equipment perhaps… the nets break open and suddenly the area
is flooded with thousands and thousands of fish that compete for food with
the wild fish, so food stocks are depleted leading to underwater famine.
Worse still, these escaped farmed salmon can cross breed with the true wild salmon, which has the effect of diluting the genetic information. So what happens is this: the year old salmon (known as a grilse) bred from this hideous mismatch leaves its river knowing that it MUST go somewhere, but where? It gets lost. One more nail in the coffin for true wild salmon.
Edit – dated 17.05.19 – Reader Eoghan Brady let me know the following “Just to clarify a grilse is an adult salmon who returns after a year and will be small,a smolt is a young salmon that’s going to sea ,usually 2-3yrs old ,a parr is a young fish before they become smolts.” Thanks, Eoghan.
Oh, and seals get caught up
in the nets sometimes. So they get shot. More than 40 licences to shoot seals
are issued in Scotland
every single year to salmon farmers.
The bigger ecosystem
Before salmon farming, there
was a lovely little industry in the Highlands and the West of Ireland. A load
of little B&Bs hosted fisher folk with expensive rods, thigh-high wellies
and dreams catching the biggest fish of the season. Gillies – folk with deep
and intimate local knowledge of the local area and the habits of salmon – took
them to the best spots for landing their prizes.
Gillies are proud of their art – and it is an art. If you’re a veggie or a vegetarian, you might not agree, but the gillies and fisher folk I have met all loved and respected the salmon, and would never wish to do it harm. They just wanted to take a few from nature for the one of the great gastronomic treats the human being could enjoy.
The B&Bs too – they welcomed the fisher folk with their wet weather gear and their wet kit and their day’s delights and disappointments. Hot baths, hot whiskies, hot meals… and a cracking breakfast before the next day’s rigours. The angling industry has supported thousands and thousands of jobs.
That’s all going and it is also a part of the ecosystem. Salmon farming doesn’t bring local employment. A skeleton staff can operate a salmon farm owned and run for the profit of companies in London and Oslo etc. Actually, campaigners claim that 99% of Scottish Salmon farms are marketed and branded as “Scottish” but are actually owned abroad. What do these foreign consortia care if they destroy a species?
It is no longer a matter of question as to whether salmon farming is causing the extinction of wild salmon. The collapse in numbers of salmon returning home to spawn is terrifying – both in Ireland and Scotland. And farmed salmon themselves are not safe – just a day ago, hundreds of thousands died from an outbreak of algae on Loch Fyne. All those corpses to dispose of safely… hmmm…
Salmon farming in open nets really is the devil’s own work. I’m not keen on battery chickens, but at least a farmer with a battery chicken business can spread the chicken poop straight onto his fields, thus cutting out the need to purchase expensive fertilisers.
The democratisation of luxury
should be regarded with a very wary eye. Salmon was never made cheap and
available so that the poor were able to join in the fun. It was farmed solely
to make some rich people even richer. Certain foods should always be luxury
foods. Caviare, saffron, crab, Bar-le-Ducjelly, for instance. Salmon
should be on that list.
But I buy organic…!
Ah… did you think you were in the clear, buying organic farmed salmon…? Yeah. So did I. What an eejit I am. Look, the subject of salmon farming is enormous and hugely complex. I am in grave danger of boring you to death, and my sister Anne has complained about the length of my pieces. So let’s just say this – I will come back to you on the subject of organic farmed salmon. Rest assured, however, it’s not great.
Meanwhile, I hope you will consider buying less, or better still, NO salmon in future – smoked or otherwise.
Finally… (yes, really!)
Here is a picture of my dog. I need cheering up. And so do you, I shouldn’t wonder.
Please forward this and tell your friends about my blog, particularly this piece. If I’ve published your photo and haven’t paid, please get in touch and I am happy to discuss terms or remove them if the price is too high. And thanks to Caroline Attwood on Unsplash for the photo at the top.
In which Dillie The Lazy Cow (DK1) has a tricky conversation with Dillie The Annoying Goody-Goody (DK2)
DK1 FFS. Who’s idea was it to put this in?
DK1 Mine? You mean yours?
DK2 Okay, mine. Whaddevah… Anyway, as I was saying, about batteries…
DK1Wot! Not content with taking away my luxury toilet paper and banning me from using shower gel, you’re telling me I can’t use batteries now?
DK2 Just listen for a minute, would you!
DK1 But I neeeeeed batteries! I use lots of them! They are essential to my life!
DK2 I know. The TV remote, your mouse, the smoke alarm, toys, the car, the golf buggy, your vibrator, etc. etc.
DK1 Yeah yeah yeah. So?
DK2 Do you recycle them?
DK1 Um, sometimes… Why?
DK2 Because batteries contain many toxic chemicals and heavy metals. These can include lead, antimony, calcium, cobalt, tin, selenium, nickel, cadmium… etc. Cobalt is particularly pernicious as although it’s associated with the transition to cleaner energy, it also has a history of child exploitation and human rights abuses in the Congo.
DK1 Nasty. But what has that to do with recycling?
DK2 If you blithely chuck out dead batteries with the rubbish, those poisons go to the tip or landfill. The casing of the battery corrodes and the contents, sulphuric acid and lithium and lead for example, leach out into the groundwater and into the food chain. If those tasty morsels got into your body, you might glow in the dark.
DK1 I’m an actress, I can think of nothing more FAAAABULOUS than being my own spotlight! Give me a real reason to worry.
DK1 Ok, not so nice. I can see I’ll have to go vegetarian.
DK2 Are you sure? The impurities in the water are absorbed by plants and fruit and then you eat the plants. In other words, mercury soup and aluminium apple sauce. Either way, they get into your body. Not great for the digestion. Or the kidney, the liver, the skin, or your asthma. Or your children. Not even fruitarians escape.
DK1 Golly. Would my water taste different too?
DK2 Many of those toxins don’t actually have a lot of taste – so they can sneak into your whiskey and water and not be noticed.
DK1 Nobody could accuse you of optimism, could they?
DK2 You may mock, but there’s more. Primary lithium batteries ignite very easily. Imagine the number of lithium batteries being crushed by heavy machinery in landfill sites. One exposed battery catches light and whoosh! You’ve got a fire that “can burn for years underground.” Here in the UK, fire and rescue services have to deal with approximately 300 significant fires in waste dumps every year, and a significant number of those are started by lithium batteries. Think of that toxic air… incredibly toxic. Nice.
DK2 Blimey is right. So are you going to recycle ALL your batteries now?
DK1 Yes, all right, all right. Don’t go on.
DK2 And will you switch things off when you’re not using them to conserve battery life?
DK1 Yes, yes, yes, okaaaaay!
DK2 And what about that natty little cook’s timer that doesn’t have an off switch?
DK1 I take the battery out when I’m not using it to make it last longer.
DK2 Good girl.
DK1 Don’t patronise me, bi-atch…
DK2 Wouldn’t dream of it. By the way, did you know that serious injuries and deaths caused by swallowing batteries is on the increase in a big way?
DK1 Tsk. Who swallows a battery?
DK2 Little kids with little fingers taking little button batteries out of toys. Granny’s arthritic fingers drop the tiny hearing aid batteries…
DK2 Toddlers and crawlers love little shiny things! It’s even been reported in the Daily Mail!
DK1 Gosh, it must be true then!!! But surely Science is moving on?
DK2 Not fast enough to sort the mounting battery problem.
DK1 So what’s the solution?
DK2 Buy better batteries. Cheap batteries run down quickly – spend more on them and they last longer. Rechargeable whenever possible. And always always ALWAYS recycle.
DK2 Doh… At the supermarket in the UK! Or the toxic waste station in the USA. Doesn’t matter where you are – just type “BATTERY RECYCLING” into Google with your postcode or address, and your search engine will tell you where your nearest recycling point is.
DK1 So this piece should really be called ‘Batteries in the garbage’?
DK2 Have it your way.
WHAT YOU WILL SAVE
And finally, by public demand…
Before you go…
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We all love helium balloons, don’t we? Pretty floaty things that cheaply cheer up a dreary event room for hire… Personalise them and someone will feel a little warmer around the heart – Happy 80th Birthday Grandad! Dennis and Dave’s Wedding! Poppa’s Little Princess! Give your loved one a heart shaped balloon for Valentine’s Day… awww….
And then, when we’ve had a few glasses of wine, there’s the added fun of undoing the balloon and breathing in the helium, and speaking in a weird high voice for a few sentences. We’ve all done it, it’s ridiculous and very very funny.
Except I now feel a little bit guilty about that innocent bit of fun, because now I know that helium is an incredibly rare and marvellous gas and maybe I shouldn’t be using it so flippantly.
Helium… hmmm… this is one of those subjects that makes me wish I’d paid more attention to my science lessons in school. But I was a giddy musical geek who gave science up as soon as I possibly could. So bear with me.
Eek, it’s getting a bit sciency!!!
Helium is one of six noble
gases. The noble gases are all called noble because they are incredibly stable,
and helium wins first prize as being the most chemically inert element yet
discovered. It won’t blow up or become corrupted with other gases. If helium
were a person, it would be the Dalai Llama:
stable, adaptable, brilliant, admirable, noble, but unrepeatable when
it’s gone. (That’s entirely my flight of fancy – please don’t tell any
scientists you’ve met. And if you’re a scientist, pretend you haven’t read it.)
It’s also the second lightest of the gases. Hydrogen is lighter, but you wouldn’t want hydrogen balloons at your party. Students of 20th Century history will know of the terrible tragedy of the Hindenburg, the German passenger airship that blew up in 1937, killing 36. The jury’s still out on what actually started the fire, but certainly the hydrogen used to lift the dirigible was highly flammable.
Strangely, in spite of being the second most abundant gas in the universe, here on planet earth, helium is one of the world’s rarest elements, making up about 0.0005% of the earth’s atmosphere. It’s harvested from underground, from fields of other gases as a by-product of those gases.
Helium’s lightness is its
downfall – or perhaps I should say, it’s upfall – because the minute it hits
the surface of the earth it vamooses into outer space. Gravity has no
effect on it. Whoosh, and it’s
gone. That’s why it’s so brilliant for
It’s put to better use in MRI scanners, where it acts as a coolant for the superconducting magnets that produce those astonishing images of your insides, and which have become such vital diagnostic tools.
It’s a key component of the tanks that deep-sea divers wear – mixing it with oxygen helps prevent them getting “the bends”. Without it, the Large Hadron Collider wouldn’t exist. Not only that, I’ve had to end my dreams of making my fortune smuggling radioactive materials because I’ve discovered that Helium-3 can aid in detecting neutrons from a long distance. It really is the most miraculous stuff.
Since helium is so scarce and
non-renewable, scientists and manufacturers are very keen that we don’t waste
it. Only 14
plants around the world produce helium for sale, in the following countries
(and in order of quantity produced) – USA, Qatar, Algeria, Russia, Poland and
Australia Some of those plants only
produce tiny amounts.
The USA did have huge
quantities which had been stockpiled in the Federal Helium Reserve, but the
stocks outstripped the demand for so long that in 1996, the US Government
decided to get rid of its surplus, and cheaply.
However, as more and more uses have been found for this wonder gas, it’s become more expensive. From 2007 to 2017, the price went up by 250%.
In July 2017, the blockade of Qatar by a large group of other Arab countries meant the second largest supplier of helium was suddenly unable to sell or shift it out of the country. The blockade continues.
If that can happen, one can
assume that those few other sources might not be much more reliable. Algeria
is hardly a model state. We live in an age of political instability. In August 2017, the EU was so
concerned about stocks of this vital element that it added helium’s name to the
list of Critical Raw Materials.
And who’d have thought that the President of the United States
might threaten trade wars all over the place?
This is all in spite of the
fact that a huge reserve of helium was discovered in the Rift Valley, Tanzania
in 2016. You’d think people in the know would have been rejoicing and
dancing in the street, but they’re still worried. Supplies have not yet come on stream, and the
price of helium rose 10% in the month after the find.
Sadly, Tanzania is bedeviled by corruption and political instability. The democracy established in 1994 that made the country so attractive to international investors for thirty years has proved tragically fragile, and the current president, John Magufuli, has rapidly transformed the country into a dictatorship of the usual depressing brutality. You know the kind of thing – corruption, people disappearing, mutilated bodies turning up on beaches.
Okay, the quantity of
helium found in the Rift Valley is very considerable, and it gives the world a
great big breathing space (in a funny high voice). But more and
more uses are being found for the gas.
Yes, there will be more helium deposits found. Higher prices of the gas will encourage more
gas fields to harvest it from ever tinier deposits instead of letting it escape
into the atmosphere as happens now. Labs are finding ways to recycle it, and
there is always the prospect of mining for it on the moon.
But wouldn’t it be a bitter irony if we couldn’t have a vital MRI scan in 20 years time because we’d squandered so much of this marvellous stuff on party balloons?
What you will save
It depends if you’re planning Macy’s parade or having a party for three-year olds. Hobbycraft online offer a Helium Balloon bundle for £28. For that you get a helium canister, 10 white latex, 10 neon and 10 assorted balloons, a packet of Unique Party Iridescent Curling Ribbon, and 6 Black Foil Balloon Weights. No information is given about what to do with the empty canister, the iridescent curling ribbon and the foil weights… hmmm…
Helium balloons come in three types. Foil (known in the US as Mylar), latex and Macy’s parade. The foil balloons are nasty little bastards, and have caused an enormous number of serious power cuts (or in the current rather ugly language, power outages). It’s cos they float away, innit, and when they come into contact with power lines, they can cause a power surge or a short circuit. Result – fires, melted electrical wires, power cuts, possible injuries, damage to properties, and enormous inconvenience all round.
If and when they bypass the power lines, they just float on up and up and up, expanding as they go. At about 7,000 feet, they often explode, or float into the countryside. Death Valley is apparently littered with thousands of spent party balloons. Lovely. Especially as they’re not biodegradable. So many reasons not to buy the little buggers.
I can’t leave without mentioning Lawn Chair Larry, the Californian daredevil who strapped a load of helium-filled weather balloons to an aluminium garden chair and shot up to 16,000 feet, drifted into LAX airport airspace, and finally came to earth on Long Beach having done a ton of damage to some power lines en route? Here he is, lifting off…
Just in case you’re tempted to do the same thing, the notoriety destroyed him. He seems to have only had sporadic employment, and finally shot himself through the heart in Angeles National Forest.
Ooh, the things I have found out since starting this blog…! I dragged that photo (sorry, but at least I’m fessing up) from a website called findagrave.com. It was uploaded by Scott Michaels, I’m presuming he was the photographer and I’ve written him a nice email to tell him I’ve used his snap and I’ll pay him if necessary. What interesting hobbies some people do have!
Are you planning to eat your underpants? Suck your jeans? Bandage a nasty cut with your freshly washed sweater?
No? Then you do not need Dettol® Antibacterial Laundry Cleanser.
This is the ultimate three-card trick of the laundry world, the cleverest, most pernicious con-job I’ve seen in a long time. Talk about inventing something completely unnecessary…
I am racking my brains to think why you might need hygienic clothing.
Are you working in a research lab under the strictest of conditions? In which case, the lab will have its own routines, procedures and special clothing that keep the lab sterile. Same with a hospital.
Are you looking after someone ill? You still don’t need antibacterial laundry cleanser because believe me, if the patient is THAT sick that they need totally sterile conditions, they won’t be at home under your care, they’ll be in an Intensive Care Unit.
Do you work with livestock? Have you just chucked up all over a favourite blouse? In which case, soaking the soiled articles in a bucket overnight, rinsing and then washing in a modern machine with modern detergent should do the trick. Repeat the process if there’s still a whiff or a stain.
Look, clean clothing is nice. We all enjoy putting on a crisp, freshly laundered shirt. But it’s a shirt. It’s not dinner. It’s not a bandage. It doesn’t need to be hygienic.
The power of
Dettol® are really onto a winner here, because this product is being sold as a third component of your wash. Yes, they advise you to use it IN ADDITION to detergent AND fabric conditioner. (I assure you, there’ll be a piece here on fabric conditioner later, fret not.)
Here are the ingredients. I don’t pretend to understand them individually, all I know is that they are yet more ENTIRELY unnecessary chemicals being put into the poor overloaded sewage system.
Per 100 g Liquid,
contains 1.44 g Quaternary Ammonium Compounds, Di-C8- 10- Alkyldimethyl,
Chlorides and 0.96 g Quaternary Ammonium Compounds, Benzyl-C12-18-Alkyldimethyl,
Chlorides, Contains 5% Non-Ionic Surfactants, Disinfectant, Perfume, Butyl
Phenyl Methyl Propional, Hexyl Cinnamal and Citronellol.
That’s a lot of chemicals to get out of the system to make our tap water drinkable. Even if you insist on drinking bottled water (and I most sincerely hope you don’t), it’s nice to know you have potable water to make your tea and boil your vegetables in.
New products make waves
As far as I am aware, this is a new product on the market. I haven’t yet discovered any other anti-bloody-bacterial bloody laundry bloody cleansers for sale. (Let me know if I’m wrong – I can always edit!) But I have a ghastly feeling that now this has come on sale, the suits in the other detergent/cleanser companies will be cacking themselves in fright because Dettol® have stolen a march on them.
“Say, Chuck! Have you seen this new product, Dettol® Antibacterial Laundry Cleanser?”
“OMG, Sir, I just saw the cutesie-cutesie ad on TV last night for the first time and I shat my pants, it was such a great idea!”
bob, and it’s for moments like that that we NEED to be selling an Antibacterial
Laundry Cleanser of
worry, Sir, I’ve authorised the Research and Development Team to get working on
our own product!”
“Good man. We’ll strike the fear of laundry-related disease into the public.”
This product is a perfect example of Steve Jobs’ theory that we, the public, don’t know what we want until we see it in all its glory.
There are various marketing strategies that companies use, but the cleverest inspire either Lust or Fear. The iPhone was such a glorious piece of technology it made us weak with lust. On the other hand, this new laundry product reminds us that we are scared rigid about bacteria and socially terrified of being smelly.
Here’s some of the blurb from the Sainsbury’s website.
“Dettol Laundry Cleanser is an additive that kills 99.9% of
bacteria giving odour-free freshness : 1. Kills 99.9% of bacteria, even below
20ºC so that you can be confident that your laundry is hygienically clean every
time, whatever temperature you wash at (proven to work in rinse cycle
temperatures as low as 15ºC) 2. Gives odour-free freshness for up to 12 hours.
It doesn’t just cover up malodour but eliminates odour causing bacteria at
towels, children’s clothes, underwear, socks, bedding …and more…”
To kill viruses** Soaking: add 1 cap to 2.5L of water and leave to soak for 15 mins **Laboratory tested on influenza H1 N1; RSV; Coronavirus; Herpes Simplex Type
the various fear-triggering words in there…
…all designed to make you worried about something you NEVER thought of before – the fact that your laundry might emerge from the wash like creatures from the deep… contaminated and riddled with viruses!
Listen. You get your clothes out of the washing machine and dry them – tumble drier, washing line, heated towel rail – it doesn’t matter which. During the drying process they will come into contact with the air which is full of all sorts of microscopic bugs that we can do NOTHING about and which mainly do us NO harm.
Maybe a fly lands on your t-shirt while it’s drying. Are you going to wash it again? Don’t be daft.
You pop your knickers on and, whoopsie doo! A wee fart escapes. Are you going to wash them again? I no nink no.
You do your trousers up and the dog jumps up to say hello. Are you going to put them back in the machine immediately? Don’t be ridiculous.
And if you’re not completely convinced, here’s this from the
Causes serious eye damage.
Ah. That’s not so good. Here’s another.
Harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects.
We are washing this stuff into the sewage system???
Oh, and there’s yet another empty plastic bottle at the end of it which is going to go… er… where? Landfill, of course!!!!
Time was when Dettol® was a comforting product. Mum always had a bottle under the sink so that if a kid got sick on the bathroom floor, or the cat pooped in the kitchen, she’d clear it up, mop the floor and then go over it with a bit of Dettol®. She dabbed cuts and grazes with it too. The smell was clean and hospitally and safe. That’s not so surprising, as it started its life in hospitals where it was used in surgical procedures to clean cuts, wounds etc.
Now, it’s owned by Reckitt Benckiser, a British multinational consumer goods company, and it’s just another brand trying to make a buck in an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace. Long term responsibility towards the planet doesn’t figure in the world of retail sales, I guess. Shame on them.
YOU DO NOT NEED HYGIENIC CLOTHING. I REPEAT, AND I MAKE NO APOLOGY FOR SHOUTING, YOU DO NOT NEED HYGIENIC CLOTHING. YOU DO NOT NEED THIS PRODUCT!!!
I hadn’t bargained with a worldwide pandemic when I wrote this last year. A couple of folk have contacted me to say that in the light of Covid-19, Antibacterial laundry IS necessary after all – but I’m relieved to say this is not the case. Covid-19 is a virus, not a bacteria, and therefore CANNOT be destroyed by an antibacterial product. I’ve checked with various NHS websites and this is from the government website.
Wash items in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Use the warmest water setting and dry items completely. Dirty laundry that has been in contact with an unwell person can be washed with other people’s items.
Do not shake dirty laundry, this minimises the possibility of dispersing virus through the air.
Clean and disinfect anything used for transporting laundry with your usual products, in line with the cleaning guidance above.
Remember when you were a
kid and you went to a bonfire night party and you stood by the huge fire?
Remember how your front was always roasting and your back was freeeeeeeeezing?
Patio heaters are even less
efficient than that.
My googling tells me they cost anything from about £100 to £570. They heat the open air. The open air is a very big space. It boldly goes all the way to Alpha Centauri and beyond. And when you’ve heated a bit of that air, you have to buy another gas bottle to heat more air.
And yes, I know that there’s an atmosphere between us and the great emptiness of outer space, I’m just trying to highlight the sheer futility of heating the outdoors. Especially as spring is finally here and the urge to sit outside gets stronger and stronger, and you suddenly become aware of all kinds of garden gubbins filling the shops: gazebos, swing seats and all that kind of mullarkey.
Of course patio heaters come in all shapes and types. There are wall mounted, ceiling mounted and freestanding heaters. There are tabletop heaters, and halogen bulb electric heaters. There are fire pits, chimineas and every kind of stylish wood burning brazier which even I will admit I find attractive. It’s a deeply primaeval need that impels us to huddle around a fire with a bunch of mates clutching a beer and a burnt sausage.
However, it should be emphasised that whilst it is not a great idea to heat the outdoors at all in an overheating world, the ones that do the real damage are the ones with the gas bottles because they have special horrid qualities all their own.
Time to give a big shout out to…
In 2008, Curry’s actually stopped selling patio heaters because of ecological concerns. (If you’re reading this anywhere else in the world, Curry’s is a huge electrical retailer in the UK with 295 superstores and 73 high street shops.) This was a highly significant move on their part. If only all those pubs and restaurants with outside heaters would follow suit.
Curry’s decision came after a report the previous year by the EST (Energy Saving Trust) who found that the average patio heater emits around 50kg (110lb) of carbon dioxide per year. So it doesn’t just heat the air, it emits that horrible CO2 that does so much damage to our lovely world.
Just in case you want to dismiss the EST as a bunch of spoilsport eco extremists, it’s actually an independent, impartial not-for-profit organization funded by the UK government and the private sector. Its purpose is to advise on ways to save energy. When the Chief Executive announced the findings of their research, he said, ‘Why don’t people just wear a jumper?’ Bless him. A man after my own heart.
Clothing and fabrics have come a long way. If you can afford a patio heater, you can afford a decent fleece or a duvet coat. There are intelligent fabrics around these days that ensure that we don’t need to be cold ever again. Well, not in the normal way of things; I’m assuming you aren’t living in Trondheim or half-way up a Himalaya. Textile manufacturers have studied the business of keeping warm and there have been astonishing innovations in materials that will make sure you don’t freeze. (And no, I’m not going to get into the subject of polyester, etc., right now.) Fabrics can breathe, they can let sweat out and keep warmth in. You can even get clever gloves that allow you to play with your iPhone without taking the gloves off. Like your mum said, wrap up warm and you’ll be ok.
Why would you want to heat the air? Why in the name of sanity would you want to sit outside when it’s too cold to sit outside without a patio heater? Why, in an overheated, still overheating world, would you want to heat the air?
What you’ll save
Let’s just go for the top of the range, shall we? The Stainless Steel Goliath gas flame heater is £570. You can get cheaper, but surely you want the best? For £570, you get just one of these babies – the stainless steel one which, for no fathomable reason, is more expensive than the black or white version. Oh, and just remember, the gas will need replacing. I don’t know about you, but replacing gas bottles becomes an awful faff after a bit.
But, hey, it is a stylish piece of design and will heat your front, your sides AND your back, so long as you keep rotating.
Let’s just imagine what you could buy with £570 instead – and never have to struggle with changing the gas…
How about this marvel for starters?
Normally this retails for £296.95 but at the time of publishing, this is going cheap for a mere £193.02 including VAT from Alpine Trek. Buy now to avoid disappointment!
Just in case you’re like me and always cold, why not add a fleece underlayer? This vibrant Arc’teryx garment is known as a Covert Cardigan. Yes, like a secret cardigan for rugged types, because as we all know, cardies can be a bit ageing. Not this splendid article though! This will set you back £140 at the Arc’teryx shop (ooh, doncha love that super-kool apostrophe!) in London where it is currently available in Kingfisher blue. Just click on the link to order it.
You will have plenty left over to purchase these amazing electric gloves. So whether you’re guzzling frankfurters in a chilly back garden, hunting moose in Alaska, or simply suffering from arthritis, your hands never need be cold again! Worth every penny at £119.99 from Amazon.
Total spend so far – £453.01. And all of these items so much more portable than a patio heater!
You still have financial room to purchase a full set of thermals from Blacks, the excellent camping and leisure shops. You’ll want two sets – one in the wash and one on the body – so that’ll set you back £30 (£15 each).
To be honest, I’m finding it difficult to spend the full £570 – so far, the total spend is £483.01 so you’ve still got £86.99 left… How about 84 bars of delicious Kendal Mint Cake, a very popular choice amongst climbers for restoring energy in adverse weather?
Now add this beautiful paisley scarf from John Henric of Sweden, a snip at £45 (currently reduced from £89 – don’t say I don’t find you bargains!)
Pictures of meat coming up. Both cooked and uncooked. I thought it best to mention.
So you are finally left with the princely sum of £5.99 which is just enough for two packs of Black Farmer Sausages which are my absolute favourites and which have the added bonus of being gluten free!
Other things you can do
Does your local pub/café/restaurant have patio heaters? Perhaps you might instigate a gentle and polite chat with the publican/owner/restaurateur and encourage them to either turn them off completely or at least use them a great deal less. If it turns out that they have them on to keep smokers warm, perhaps you could point out that smokers might smoke a bit less if they think they’re going to freeze to death before lung disease carts them off to Paradise. Thus, you will be contributing positively to the health of local smokers. There you are, you see – two good deeds in one!
should I do with my old patio heater?
The gas cylinder can be taken back by the company you got it from. The rest of the heater needs to be taken apart, and probably by someone who knows how to do it. The stainless steel/cast iron/aluminium parts can be recycled as scrap, other components can’t be recycled and its ultimate destination is landfill, I’m sorry to say. Yep, it’s yet another bloody potential pollutant. So if you’ve got one, just leave it on the patio till someone invents a way of disposing of the whole thing.
A final question…
Should we give up barbecuing?
Blimey, what a thought.
Imagine the cultural impact on
Australia and South Africa if barbies and braais were banned!!! Whole nations would be in crisis! I don’t want to be responsible for national
trauma, thank you.
Seriously, “I don’t know” is my straight answer, but my feeling is that barbies are probably less damaging given that we use our barbecues for a far shorter time than we use the patio heater. Once the chicken legs or veggie brochettes are on the plate, the fire dies down or the gas is turned off… but then we stay out all evening under that bloody patio heater, emitting CO2 like lunatics… it’s not really in the same league, is it?
And besides, the Beloved likes nothing better than transforming a humble chop into pure anthracite and wrapping his gob round it moments later. There’s no way I’d be able to make him relinquish his role as The Great Blackener of Meat. One has to accept one can only do so much.