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.