Monday, 29 April 2013

Death by plastics ~ what are YOU doing about it?

Rubbish picked up from our own beach
I recently saw a film trailer which shocked and sickened me more than anything I have seen in recent years.  I challenge you, the reader, to click through and watch it for yourself.  It is about what is happening on Midway Island, a remote place in the heart of the Pacific: the Laysan albatrosses who use this island for nesting and rearing their young ingest objects of waste plastic mistaking it for food - and feed it to their chicks.  Very many of them do not survive...
Now take a look at this short video of the plastics that wash up on the beach - not just big stuff that can be picked up and carted somewhere out of the way, but numberless tiny fragments that wash in with every lapping wave to form a line along the sand - this is being ingested by every living thing that feeds there - micro-plastics for dinner...
It's heartbreaking - and irreversible.  It simply can't be cleaned up.  At best a portion of the bigger stuff can be removed, but the tiny fragments are there to stay and their volume is increasing all the time - or can someone tell me that the production and usage of plastics had reduced?  Dream on!  We must apply the brakes.

Our glorious beach - it could be anywhere in New Zealand - imagine it infested with fragments of micro-plastics!

My heartfelt view is that this horrifying phenomenon, which has always been completely foreseeable and preventable, can only be addressed by individuals taking responsibility for their own part in it.  Never mind that the film about the albatrosses shows a situation remote from our own shores: if we are to have any influence over the headlong course to ruin that we are all ultimately a part of each of us needs to have a good think about our own patterns of waste and indifference and start with how we live and what we do and do not buy - then act, not just now, but consistently and forever.

I have written a number of articles which relate directly to this topic which I list here complete with click-through links - in the hope that they will provide useful points of reference for readers.  Believe you me, I have been living what I recommend:
Packaging is one of the worst offenders:
There is absolutely no need to buy plastic-laden items for gifts on any occasion:
We don't actually need to buy the amount of new and pre-packaged stuff that is commonly available - we simply don't need to buy, or even to have, the amount of stuff that we think we do: we can make our own or mend and make do with what we already have - or share and swap what we have with others.  I've written lots of articles in this vein which can be found on these pages:
I'm sure that lots of readers would say that the world economy would collapse if we all reduced our consumption of new and ready made goods in the way that I suggest.  My view is that we can't afford not to - this planet is the only home we have and the results of our wasteful way of life are rapidly accumulating on all sides; they look set to overwhelm not only us, but multitudes of blameless creatures and other life forms as well.  Those of you who have seen the children's cartoon movie, "Wall-E" will recognise the scenario, especially the opening scenes - of deserted cities piled mountainously high with waste.   

For the sake of this Good Earth, when you are out on your walks if you spot litter pick it up!   I would not believe for one moment that anyone reading my articles would drop rubbish themselves!  I've written about one of my litter collections here:
Polystyrene foam is one of the worst offenders as it it not known to ever decompose - just rapidly disintegrates in to smaller and smaller particles.  Pick it up if you can.

I'm about to start on a campaign of letter writing to businesses whose products I buy which are packed in plastic, and to my supermarkets suggesting they offer packing in paper rather than plastic bags.

I'm sure you have your own ideas of what could help.

If I sound somewhat militant here it is because I'm upset - I can't watch the video about the birds without crying.   
The cry of "My God, what have we done!" must be followed by "What can we do?" - and then doing it - now and forever.
I feel deeply about birds so will close with this poem:
Everyone Sang
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields;
On - on - and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun;
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away… O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless;
The singing will never be done.

Siegfried Sasson

A young shag rests on our beach

No more plastic bags for our bread ~ I make my own out of nylon fabric and flannelette

~ Article updated 8th July 2015 ~
Regular readers will be familiar with my on-going campaign to reduce the use of plastics - especially in the kitchen where this is such a pervasive commodity.  

I have taken that commitment one step further in making freezer bags from nylon fabric - the sort that is suitable for shower curtains.  Yes, I know nylon is a form of plastic, but it is way more durable and less troublesome than any form of plastic bag.  The plastic bags we have used in our freezer were mostly for storing home-baked bread, which just seemed wrong, so I started this project with that in mind. 

Here is one of my new bags which I use for bread.  The seam allowances are deliberately on the outside to prevent food particles from lodging in them.

The bags shown are structured to take the shape of the loaves without leaving 'empty' corners.  In this respect the structure of the design is more complicated than need be - it could just as well be made up as a two-sided bag.  However, for the record, these blue bags are made from five pieces: two side panels; one other panel which is the length of two more side panels plus the base; and two pieces for the handles which are used to tie the bag closed.

A simpler construction of a two sided bag would work just as well.  These can be cut out of a single piece of fabric.  Instructions of how to make these can be found in my article:
I pack my freshly baked bread into two layers of bags to keep them as fresh as possible.   The first layer is a plain cotton cloth bag so that the bread doesn't 'sweat' in storage.  The bags shown in the photo below are flannelette, although calico or plain linen as used in tea towels would be a more suitable material.  They are now ready to go into the nylon bags for extra insulation which prevents moisture loss and air exchange: this:

The inner bag is folded over neatly inside and the outer bag is lightly tied:

Washing these bags is simplicity itself: I reverse them and put them in the washing machine along with other things.  Pegged out on the line they dry very rapidly.

The photo below shows a slightly different prototype which had a single tie rather than handles, which I later changed, but the bags are the same ones:

And there they are in the washing basket, all fresh and clean and ready to be be used yet again:

Later note ~ 8th July 2015:
I've had these same bags in constant use since I made them two years ago, and find them just as satisfactory as ever.  The only part of these bags to show signs of wear are the tie handles so they are lasting very well indeed.

My other articles about managing plastics usage can be found via the links below:
My standard bread recipe, which I have been using for years, is here:

    Ear plugs for hearing protection ~ and not just for builders

    Our ears are miraculous creations, yet delicate and easily damaged.  Once hearing is lost it is usually permanent

    Building is noisy work: numerous tools from hammers to saws, as well other machinery, and the movement of heavy materials all contribute to a noisy environment which is hazardous to hearing.  Noise-induced hearing loss is a very real issue for builders as well as those who work in close proximity.  It is therefore not surprising that deafness is an issue for the painters who work alongside them.

    Builder Andrew McCurdy, who was working on the nearby re-roofing project, wore protective ear muffs for much of the time as well as ear-plugs.  He took them out to show me: 

    These ear plugs protect his hearing from harsh noise such as that made by impact drivers (a form of screwdriver), which make a sound like a ratchet amplified.  Ear plugs are made of silicon and contain tiny noise filters which you can just see in the photograph above.  Sound reaching the ear drums is reduced by about 26 decibels.

    That's the impact driver on the right

    I asked Andrew what he could hear while wearing the ear plugs: the answer was 'most things'.  He can hear what is going on around him - very important on a building site, engage in normal conversation, and even hear the birds singing.  They are comfortable and easy to wear.  I think these ear plugs are brilliant!  I can see that they have a much wider application than for those working on building sites.  In fact, they are now on my wish list!

    Ear muffs used by construction workers are Grade 5.  These provide important hearing protection but have their limitations: they cut out most noise but mean that voices cannot be heard, and they cannot be worn if one is wearing a dust mask, safety goggles or hat.  Also, they are easily dropped off a scaffold!  

    The ear plugs were supplied by Pacific Ears who specialise in hearing protection, and were fitted by one of their audiologists.  Once individual moulds of the ear canals are made the ear plugs are laser-cut in silicon.   

    Different sound ratings and types of ear plugs are available for different requirements. 
    As can be seen on the web page below, two of the special uses for ear plugs are for musicians and shooters!  You can select what you want: sound reduction which is 'flat' over the whole frequency, or which excludes some parts of the frequency range more than others. 
    Ear plugs cost from around $200 to over $300.  In comparison with the cost of hearing aids which can never reproduce anything like the degree and ease of naturally good hearing and which cost several thousand dollars each this seems a very worthwhile outlay.  It's a simple case of protecting what we already have!

    My personal interest in getting a set for myself relates to generalised sensitivity to noise rather than hearing protection per se.  Although I rate my hearing as probably about average I often find that background noise affects me adversely, especially in the kitchen as well as when out shopping.  In these sorts of situations I would LOVE to be able to turn the sound down! 

    Monday, 8 April 2013

    Democracy and climate change issues ~ the 2 most widely read articles I've written:

    Two articles I have written have been read beyond my wildest expectations - without extra promotion beyond their initial launch and far beyond New Zealand shores.  

    For the interest of those readers who may not yet have come across them here are the links:
    [Click on the titles]


    This article covers the course of political events which have followed the devastating earthquakes in Christchurch and the surrounding Canterbury region.  Step by step democratic processes have been set aside and replaced by an autocracy.  How on earth has this happened?  How on earth has this been allowed to happen?  Read the article and you can see for yourselves.  The implications are global: if it can happen here it can happen anywhere.  How is our present government getting away with it?  It shouldn't be able to happen but it is.  In my view a huge fuss should be made about this nationally, even internationally, by citizens and politicians alike.  Christchurch people have already made a great deal of fuss (to little avail), but politicians outside of the government have been strangely quiet.  Some have been vocal, but only a few.  We need more!   This article is my contribution.  

    The article is fairly lengthy so does take time to read, but the information is there.  (Originally published on 12th October 2012)


    Since its publication in December 2009, climate change has become an established fact, and its progress in the form of rogue weather patterns and threats to a wide range of habitats often remarked on in news bulletins, yet the challenges it presents to all of us remain much the same: the challenge of how we respond to it.  This article includes my thoughts on how this can be constructively addressed - without hiding from practical realities. 

    Readers who have read the first article may be relieved to know that the main content of this one is fairly brief!