CHRISTMAS CARDS???

Don’t be silly, of course I’m going to send cards this Christmas. Life is gloomy enough already with Covid threatening to reduce our annual celebrations to a forlorn plate of turkey twizzlers and a lonely slice of chocolate log. Sure, I do send fewer than I used to but it’s my way of telling people far away that I still love and cherish them.

And anyhow, not sending any cards really hits charities who rely on the income. But we need to think about what kind of cards we send.

So charity cards are good, better still buy recyclable charity cards direct from the charity and avoid card shops and supermarkets who absorb much of the profit.

But you know all that, and you know to look for the FSC logo, don’t you? Approval from the Forest Stewardship Council should reassure you that the card is from an approved source, shouldn’t it? Ho hum.

It should reassure you… it should…

Survival International, where I usually get my beautiful cards, don’t actually credit the FSC any more – in spite of the fact that the card they use is fully certified. This is because of a shocking discovery by Greenpeace. Briefly, a logging company (Rougier) is chopping down a vast area of rainforest in southeast Cameroon. They are doing this as an official partner of the World Wildlife Fund (ironic, huh?) and crucially, without the consent of local Baka “Pygmies” who have lived there in harmony with the forest for centuries. In other words, they are destroying the home of a tribal people.

And because of their partnership with the WWF, Rougier can use the WWF Panda logo and is FSC certified. Clever, eh?

I don’t think Survival will mind me nicking this image from their website if it encourages you to shop there… they really do sell the most ravishing cards around, and it’s an amazing charity that was founded by Robin Hanbury-Tenison to protect indigenous peoples. The artist who took this wonderful photo is Yuliya Vassilyeva.

Beware greenwashing. Yes, beware greenwashing.

But if you’re happy with the ethics of your chosen supplier and you accept FSC certification, look for FSC 100% or FSC recycled – there’s a lot more information here if you want to find out the whys and the wherefores.

Secondly, avoid cards with embellishments – ribbons, badges, glitter – all these make it FAR more difficult to recycle. Really, is anyone going to sit at home in January taking off the bits and bobs? Yeah, I might, but then I’m obsessive!

Next, avoid cards with batteries. Batteries are the devil (I’ve written about them before). And do you honestly think your cousin’s Yuletide is improved by hearing Twisted Sister singing Let It Snow when she opens her card?

Foiled again!

Finally – don’t buy shiny cards with patches of foil. I do not believe them to be recyclable, although I found any amount of websites declaring that foil on cards was recyclable with little supporting evidence. There has been a study that seems to show that foil is sustainable but since the study was commissioned by the Foil Stamping and Embossing Association, I’m inclined to regard it as a little on the partial side… call me an old cynic but I once worked in the advertising industry…

And then I found a website called Johnsons Cards who have the grace to tell anyone who passes by that “foils are actually a very thin polyester film carrying a foil pigment.” Ah, it’s our old pal, polyester. A polymer derived from petroleum. Not biodegradable at all, then.

In the interests of further research, I had an online chat with Suzanne, a dear little brunette avatar at The Foil Printing Co. Here is most of it – I’ve added a bit of punctuation and respelled most of it to make us both look slightly more literate. It’s a marvellous exercise in obfuscation and marketing speak.

Welcome to LiveChat

avatar

Suzanne – Customer Service Advisor (That’s her above. Isn’t she a cutie?) : Welcome to The Foil Printing Co. If you have any questions just drop us a line. We’d love to chat!

Me: What is foil made of when it’s attached to card?

Suzanne: the foil is a metallic foil that is applied onto the card with a soft lamination that is required for the foiling and this leaves a smooth velvety feel to the item.

Me: Is it actually made from metal? I’m researching for my school project. (I know, I lied. Sorry.)

Suzanne: no sorry shinny foil

Me: Shinny foil? (Shinny!!! Sorry, I couldn’t resist including that misspelling!)

Suzanne: Yes which is called metallic foil.

Me: And what is that made of?

Suzanne: METALLIC FOIL SAMPLE PACK Our metallic foil sample pack has been crafted with an eye for perfection by our talented marketing and design team. It includes everything needed to reassure you that placing a foil order with us will result in some of the most fantastic foiled items you will have laid eyes on. To give you a full rundown you’ll receive samples of all our most popular foil options with our soft touch matt laminate. You’ll also get samples of all our coloured and traditional paper options along with examples of the thicknesses we offer. Since we have over 300 different foil print combinations, you can play mix and match with nearly everything in the sample pack to end up with the perfect foiled print. Ordering your sample pack is a piece of cake. Just give us some info about how you found us, add it to the basket, then checkout. You’ll be able to provide us with the postage details then. / Sorry cannot state this / Description about foiling above https://thefoilprintingco.com/uk/blog/post/metallic-foil-printing-what-colours-can-we-foil/ (Yes, this really was her answer. The oblique slashes indicate a new line within the same paragraph which I can’t replicate here.)

Me: I don’t want to order samples. I’m researching foil cards for a project about Christmas cards. What do you mean, sorry cannot state this?

Suzanne: Read the blog I have attached that explains a bit (it doesn’t, it just tells you about the many colours of foil printing) – cannot say what the foil is made from.

Me: Why, don’t you know? Just trying to understand. Metallic doesn’t mean made of metal? (Remind you of anything? Like “plastic free teabags” not meaning plastic free teabags?)

Suzanne: Do not have the details for this, sorry.

Me: Who can I ask for information?

Suzanne: We do not have the manufacturer specifications

Me: Oh, I see. So you aren’t the manufacturer?

Suzanne: No, we just apply this to the items required.

Me: But it says on your website that foil printing is recyclable, so it’s quite surprising that you don’t know what the foil is made of.

Suzanne: We buy the foil in and do not have the manufacturer specifications sorry.

Me: But your website clearly states that foil is recyclable.

Suzanne: Sorry, do not have any more information about the foil other than what is on the website page.

Me: Hmmm. I think you aren’t allowed to tell me. Bye bye.

Suzanne: Thank you for your time today and have a good day. 

Suzanne has closed the chat.

Ho hum. AVOID FOIL AND SHINY CARDS!!!!

Is that all?

Pretty much – but save the stamps. They can make money for charities – and they’re getting scarcer since the advent of email.

And after Christmas?

I’ll give you some tips about how to dispose of them then. FFS, that’s enough for now about Christmas cards!

Other news

I haven’t posted for ages. Sorry. Blame Covid gloom.

But I did do something rather exciting. Yours truly was asked to give the opening keynote speech at the LSBU Sustainability and Climate Change Action Event a couple of weeks ago. (London South Bank University). I was so nervous I couldn’t focus on anything else for weeks beforehand, I’ve never been a speaker anywhere before, let alone a keynote speaker.

It’s now up online https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCaCRAzfseM&list=PLwuMjzwXhzSeHdfWrMwvFD9Peuv_Iljo5&index=1&t=3260s and if you want to watch my contribution, the lovely Neil Basing introduces me at 23:40 and I start waffling on at 24:10.

Incidentally, don’t just watch mine. There are some wonderful contributions from other people who know a lot more that me. People with PROPER qualifications.

And finally… Her Ladyship poses…

Miss P with what was once a football.

And thanks to Annie Spratt at unsplash.com for her photo of cards which is visible on the website but not on the emails.

Clarification

I promise I won’t email again, three in a day is testing your patience. But I’ve had quite a few emails, messages, posts on FB and now a comment from Beth Parker = all saying the same sort of thing – they can’t get there as it’s too far away.

The event is Virtual, like all events these days. I thought that would be clear enough but clearly not clear for some. So if you register online, you will get instructions as to how to view it online.

Here is the link again. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/lsbu-sustainability-climate-action-event-series-part-two-tickets-113894178554

The event begins at 9.00 am on 4th November. My keynote speech commences at 9.30 am on the same day. View on your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. I will be in my office chatting to my desktop and feeling rather odd.

Sorry if you have been confused. And I promise, if I have to email you again today I will walk up Croagh Patrick on my arthritic knees in penance.

And many thanks to those of you who have already let me know that you’ve registered!

OOPS – AMENDMENT!

Many thanks to John and Katherine Littlewood, my friends in Italy, for so quickly pointing out that I listed the LSBU event as being on 3rd November.

It’s not – it’s 4th. That just shows you how obsessed I have become with the US election.

Here is the link again. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/lsbu-sustainability-climate-action-event-series-part-two-tickets-113894178554

And two emails from me in one day surely counts as a bumper day?

Stay safe! (And good luck, Joe!)

ANNOUNCEMENT!

What are you doing this Wednesday morning (3rd November) at 9.00 am GMT?

Come to the London South Bank University virtual Sustainability and Climate Action Event. Yours truly is giving the opening keynote speech at 9.30am, followed by Q&A.

You can register online here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/lsbu-sustainability-climate-action-event-series-part-two-tickets-113894178554.

It’s free, it’s easy to register, and it’s a 3 day event with lots of amazing speakers. You can take part in the Q&A by sending questions to the moderator.

So take a break from the American election and come to the event. I’d love to have your support.

And that explains why I haven’t blogged in a while. I’ve been fretting over my speech! Thanks.

MORE ON TEA BAGS!!!

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.)

The kind of packaging that makes you think it’s free of ALL plastic …

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…

Photo by an_vision on Unsplash

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…

The beloved friends, Piper and Barney, love harvest time as it means the occasional fat juicy rat to chase out of the grain barn.

Mystery credit

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.

TEA BAGS

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.

Barry’s tea. Irish of course. Beloved by my Beloved.

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.

Silky pyramids

I had no idea how many different makes of tea were out this till I started researching. This was made from biodegradable corn extract and it’s so pretty I had to include it. Available from Madame Flovour.

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…

…Heating plastic

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.

  1. 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?
  2. Some bioplastics (polyethene terephthalate or PET bioplastics) aren’t actually biodegradable. They are recyclable, but they will never become compost.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. According to the same study, “biopolymers exceeded most of the petroleum-based polymers for ecotoxicity and carcinogen emissions.”
  6. 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.

Even the admirable Clipper Teas who have tried so hard to green up, and who are very open about their packaging materials, use a biodegradable plastic called PLA (polylactic acid) to seal their teabags. Now PLA is not toxic – except during manufacture, and very few of us are exposed to that process. However, it has a very low glass transition temperature and I question whether PLA is as stable as we would like:  “even things like a hot car in the summer could cause parts to soften and deform“.

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.

Don’t say I don’t bust a gut researching for my readers. These fish shaped teabags are HAND SEWN and available from Etsy. 3 for £7.99 apparently it’s a motivational gift!

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.

This is not my teapot, I snuck the pic from the Boulder Tea website because I couldn’t get a shot of my teapot without a silly reflection of me with camera… But this is the very model. Marvellous.

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.

Here she is!

My consolation. Miss Maris Piper Desirée Boulangère Keane O’Neill. Her mother was Chips, her Grandmother was Tayto. She comes from a long line of very distinguished tubers.

JUNK MAIL & JUNK BUMF

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.

My feelings on 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.)

In addition…

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:

UNWANTED LANDFILL

And if LOTS of us start doing that, it might make a difference. Anyone fancy trying it with me?

Meanwhile…

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.

Straw dog with a question in her eyes. “Where is my tea?”

Photo credit

Thanks to Pau Casals on Unsplash for the header photo. It won’t appear on the emails, but it does appear on the website and I try to credit all photos properly.

STORAGE

Do you have storage? If so, there are four possible reasons you might be shelling out for space in which to stow your stuff.

  1. You live in a teeny-tiny home and genuinely need to fish stuff out on a regular basis. In which case you are forgiven.
  2. You are moving house and need a place to stow your furniture. In which case, your storage arrangements are no doubt temporary.
  3. You are a criminal and need somewhere anonymous to stash your AK47s, ill-gotten gains and victims. In which case, stop it.
  4. 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.

And finally…

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.

Dog between delphiniums, a perfect choice on a hot day.

Meanwhile, stay safe. And pass this on.

PEAT or PEAT MOSS

Garden centres are opening, wey hey!

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.)

I had to learn a new skill to draw on this photo. Ooh.

Leave peat where it is!

Why?

  • 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!

I know, I know, this is not an azalea, it’s a rhododendron. But it was such a nice photo by Brian Taylor on Unsplash

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.

My garden. No peat. The hot pink in the centre isn’t a camellia, it’s Cretaegus “Paul’s Scarlet” – yep, common old hawthorn to most of us!

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.

https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/peatlands-store-twice-much-carbon-all-worlds-forests

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!

Look, no plastic! And a 5 Kg bale will expand to 70 litres when rehydrated! I call that a bargain. (And great IT skills for drawing on the picture.)

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.

I swear to you, I grow this rose in a pot. It’s called Fellowship, and it’s the divinest thing you ever saw. Move over, azaleas, this beauty flowers in June and July.

Thanks

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.

How beautiful is he!

SHOPPING…

“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?

Dahling, don’t you just LOVE all those classy bags????
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

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!

Bicester Village, strangely empty because I took the photo on 21 March before we went into lockdown but clearly, business was right down even then.

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.

Sweetie, it’s simply iconic!

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.

Each of those small yellow blobs is a huge truck. I lost count of how many of these buildings like this there are in Magna Park, Milton Keynes

Where are we supposed to grow crops?

Our desire for stuff means our homes are full, so our towns are desecrated with storage units.

Appropriately, the colour of the rape flower.

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.

End notes.

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.

She’s a bit of a back seat driver, if I’m honest.