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Reflecting on a less wasteful year

This has been an odd year. For the first half of it, we were living in a thatched cottage in a Northamptonshire village. For the second half, we have lived in a thatched cottage in an Oxfordshire village. The two villages are so vastly different that I have a vague sense of disconnection – as if the two halves of the year have been lived by different people (the fact that the second half of the year has been six months of a persistent, but low-grade depression has been a contributing factor, of course).

But one thing has definitely been a constant: my exploration of ways to live a more ecofriendly life has spanned the year. And it is something I hope to continue improving. Here are some of the small changes I’ve made:

  • Ditching the clingfilm. I have made waxed fabric wraps – some with pine resin, and some without – to replace clingfilm in our kitchen.
  • Reducing waste – thanks to the excellent kerbside collection services provided by our local council, we have been able to make a dramatic reduction to our non-recyclable waste. Recently, we didn’t put our bin out on non-recyclable collection day, because it was empty. That was a first, and it gave me such a buzz.
  • Ditching the cotton pads. I made reusable fabric replacements for the cosmetic pads that formed part of my daily skin care routine. I also learned a valuable lesson about them: tie them into a sock for washing, and don’t put them in the tumbledrier – they are small enough to get caught in filters and stuff.
  • Making my own self-care products. I haven’t bought deodorant, body lotion or salve (the sort you use for minor abrasions/scalds) in ages. I’ve made my own. I am using up the stock of lotions and potions I have in my dressing table, and then I plan to replace those with ones I’ve made myself, too. I’m not yet brave enough to try making my own shampoos or body washes, because Mr Namasi has a tricky skin, and I don’t really want to subject him to failed experiments.
  • Growing food. I am a pretty useless gardener, but there is a community garden in our village, which I joined as soon as we moved here. This has given me access to company, new skills and freshly grown vegetables.

    Making more preserves
  • Making (more) preserves. This is not a new skill. I’ve made pickles, jams and so forth before, but somehow being in a country village has reawakened that side of me. And the sense of well-being I get when I open the larder cupboard to see a fully stacked top shelf is palpable.
  • Shopping differently. There is a buying group in our village that buys from a wholesaler of ethical products (foods and non-foods) with reduced packaging and so forth. I joined the group, and then found myself in the role of admin as the previous incumbent is moving away. We order every second month, and therefore tend to buy in larger quantities. The delivery is made as part of a set route, which has a positive impact on our collective carbon footprint.
  • Less stuff. This year, Mr Namasi and I opted not to exchange Christmas gifts. We also asked our sons not to give us anything. We had to downsize considerably when we moved here, and we still have more stuff than we need. We have decided to focus more on shared experiences. So we will explore the countryside and visit various places of interest.

Looking ahead to 2019, I’ve decided to really test myself. I’m going to see if I can get through the whole year without buying anything new. Of course, this doesn’t apply to food and other essential consumables. I am already a regular user Facebook marketplace, Freecycle, Vinted and online spaces of that ilk. I am also a regular visitor to charity shops. For 2019, I’m going to see if I can limit myself to those spaces. These are my options:

  • Make it myself. I have the skills to make a wide variety of things from furniture to clothing.
  • Repair what I have. I have the skills to repair many things myself. There is also a repair cafe in Wantage, where I can take any small appliances that break down, to see if they can be repaired.
  • Buy secondhand. Charity shops, Facebook marketplace, and any number of other spaces exist for this purpose.
  • Borrow from friends. So often, when we have an event to attend, it involves buying a posh frock that might only see one wearing before being relegated to the back of a wardrobe. Perhaps my friends and I can do the occasional swap shop thing to get more life out of a fairly expensive purchase. This applies to hats and evening bags/clutches/purses (choose your word) too.
  • Do without.
No more manis

One other thing I’ve decided to give up on – and hear me out on this one – is professional pedicures and manicures. The manicure thing isn’t going to be a biggie. My hands are too busy for prettying up, so I tend only to have a manicure once every couple or years or so, for a special occasion. The pedicure thing…. that’s a different matter altogether. I can’t abide unkempt feet, so I have always taken good care of mine. Every Sunday night, while Mr Namasi plays ice hockey, my ritual has been a soak in the tub, with a facemask, followed by a DIY pedi. Since I developed polymyalgia rheumatica earlier this year, I have been unable to twist my hips and knees enough to take proper care of my feet, and so I have treated myself to (more or less) monthly pedicures to supplement the limited work I can do on them. But my conscience has been bothering me terribly. You see, manicures and pedicures involve vast quantities of cotton pads and – for some inexplicable reason – clingfilm. I also have concerns about the various products used. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to achieve it, but I am going to have to step back up to the plate on my foot care routine.

I hope that this time next year, I will be able to reflect back on a 2019 that has been even less wasteful than 2018. Are you in? Shall we hold each other to account come year-end?

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Litter picking part deux

33 bags of litter

I recently posted about a litter pick on one of the roads leading to our village. The response to that was good enough for us to take another run at it. Since the second event differed fairly significantly from the first, I thought I’d write about it, in case it should prove useful to anyone considering organising a local litter pick themselves.

Last time, the local contractor provided us with a box of grabbers, gloves enough for everyone, litter bags and hi vis waistcoats. I assumed that this would be the case for round two as well. It wasn’t.

When we arrived to collect the kit, nothing had been set aside for us. In spite of an exchange of emails confirming everything, no record had been made anywhere that we were coming. Fortunately, because we were a small group, they were able to rustle up enough grabbers for us, and we were given more than enough bags. But that was it. No gloves and no hi vis. The gloves weren’t the end of the world: most people have gardening gloves. But the lack of hi vis was a distinct worry. The road we were working has no pavements. In fact, on one side of the road, there isn’t really even a verge to speak of. Since there is also a blind bend, there was no question of sending people out there without making them as visible as possible to oncoming traffic.

I posted a few frantic messages in various social media spaces and was able to beg and borrow enough hi vis waistcoats to go round.

In March, the spring foliage was only just starting to come in, and the litter was much more visible and accessible. This time around, the foliage was much denser, making it more difficult both to see and to retrieve the litter. You would think that that would mean we collected less, wouldn’t you? Not so.

Last time, we had a team of about six people, and we collected 15 refuse bags of litter in two hours, over a distance of less than half a mile. This time, we had a team of 10, and we collected 33 bags of litter in two hours within the same sort of distance.

We found fewer unusual items on this outing, but the prize probably goes to the heavy tractor tyre, filled with sludge, which had to be dragged up out of a deep ditch. There was also a pile of about 8 black bin bags filled with builders’ rubble – dumped about 100m further along in the same ditch – which we were unable to retrieve. We’ve reported both the tyre and the builders’ rubble to the local contractor, and we hope that they will be collected soon.

Last time, the day was cool and overcast. This time, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and the mercury was cheerfully high. So hats, sun screen and a water supply were definitely needed.

The most common items retrieved were plastic bottles, drink cans, food wrappers and glass bottles.

Lessons learned, hints and tips

  1. Place your booking for the litter picking kit with your local provider. Find out if there’s a formal process you can go through to make sure that you don’t fall between the cracks.
  2. Order enough kit for everyone. Even those who tell you they have their own grabbers. They probably have one of those doohickeys designed for picking up things about the house. They really aren’t strong enough to drag a recalcitrant, half-buried soda can from the undergrowth.
  3. Make sure you know what you’re getting from the contractor. If gloves and hi vis gear aren’t included, ask around: many people have their own and may be willing to lend theirs to you. Don’t shrug off the hi vis gear. It’s absolutely vital that your team is as visible as possible – especially on country lanes with no pavements.
  4. If you’re working country lanes, it’s better to work during the months when the foliage is sparse. The litter is more visible and easier to retrieve. Also, you’re less likely to disturb the home of a small animal which might have young. In the warmer months, when the plant growth is more dense, it’s perhaps better to stick to working residential roads and public spaces.
  5. It’s best if your team works in pairs or small groups, especially if you’re working country lanes. Two people are more visible to passing traffic than one. And if one person gets hurt or stuck, it’s good to have someone on hand to help out. Also, if you find larger items (like tractor tyres or TV sets), it might take more than one person to retrieve it.
  6. Have your team tie their filled bags off and leave them by the side of the road, then collect them all up at the end. If people have to drag filled bags to a central point as they fill them, it means they have less time to actually pick up the litter. It’s also more exhausting. It follows from this that the litter pickers should carry enough spare bags with them that they don’t need to come back for more each time they fill one.
  7. Advise people to wear hats, sunglasses or protective eyewear, and sunscreen. Of course, if they choose not to, that’s their prerogative. But it doesn’t hurt to take along some sun screen for people to use, just in case. When it comes to hi vis, though, I would put my foot down if you’re working country lanes: if you’re not prepared to wear it, I’m not prepared to let you take part.
  8. Provide water – and put someone in charge of distributing it up and down the line of workers.
  9. Take along some kind of cream to treat nettle stings. I didn’t do this, and I wish I had.
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Great British Spring Clean

You’ve heard me complain about it before: over the course of the last few years, the roadside litter situation in Northamptonshire (and beyond) has significantly worsened. The plant growth along the A45 in recent months has been festooned with so much plastic that it takes my breath away. It’s particularly noticeable during the winter months, when there is no foliage to conceal it. Fly tipping is also on the increase, and in addition to the sort of litter that is thrown from the windows of passing cars, our roadsides have become dumping grounds for electrical appliances, sofas, tyres and all manner of other detritus of human existence. The ridiculous part of this is that I live within an easy drive of four drive-in recycling centres, all of which are closed two days a week, but those closures are staggered, so that there is always at least one of them open on any given day. This is one of my hot button topics.

Waiting for someone to do something, and whinging because no-one was doing anything didn’t seem to be working as an approach. So I decided that – being someone myself, as luck would have it – I would do something about it.

I live in the sweetest little village and, while the village itself is relatively clean and attractive, the roads leading to it are not. The subject of the state of the roads surrounding the village comes up fairly regularly on the community FB page. I was a little nervous, because we’re comparatively new to the village, and sometimes people can be resentful when Johnny-come-lately types start sticking their oar in. But the initial reaction was positive, so I decided to go ahead.

I contacted the local council, and learned about the nationwide Great British Spring Clean. I don’t know where the initiative was publicised, but I hadn’t known anything about it until that point. I had to get a bit of a wiggle on to schedule our local village litter pick within the time scale, but we managed it. Norse, which manages our local refuse and recycling, was very supportive and helpful. They provided me with gloves, bags, grabbers and hi-viz vests for all the volunteers. They also supplied guidelines and suggestions.

On Saturday morning, armed with grabbers, sporting our natty hi-viz vests and wearing protective gloves, we headed off to tackle one of the roads leading to and from our village. The group size vacillated between five and six people as some left and others joined, depending on their availability. As we worked, several passersby thanked us for our efforts, and asked to be included next time. The subsequent reaction on social media spaces has been positive enough to warrant a repeat.

Fly tipping

Some of the items we collected had clearly been there for some years, if the prices printed on the beer cans were anything to go by. Do you remember when beer cost 65p a can? Many cans and bottles so hidden by the plant growth, that we only became aware of them when we stepped on them and heard the tell-tale sound of plastic or metal crunching underfoot. The thing I was most concerned about was plastic wrappers and packaging – the sort of stuff that can throttle an animal. There was plenty of that.

We allocated two hours to the task, during which time we collected 15 bags of litter. We also encountered a pile of garbage that had clearly been fly tipped, and which included many items too large to fit into our bags. This pile we moved to the roadside where it could be seen and collected by the team due to pick up the bags.

Among the more unusual items we found were:

  • a pair of handcuffs, in their pouch – consensus was that they were the real deal, rather than the kinky bedroom games sort, what do you think? See picture.

    Handcuffs – real or kinky?
  • a washing up bowl – perfectly intact
  • Best Dad in the World coffee mug – also perfectly intact. Do you think Dad was demoted?
No longer the best Dad?
  • three chisels (not all in the same place)
  • a toaster
  • a television set (excuse the blurry photo)
TV set

We finished up at 12:30 and adjourned to the local WMC for a pint together. The mood was very positive, and people were keen to do it again.

I highly recommend it. If you’re hesitating for some reason – perhaps (like me) you think that someone else would be a better candidate – take a deep breath and make the call to your local council.

And yes, I get it – you pay your taxes and the local authorities are supposed to use that money to do this stuff. And perhaps the reasons it hasn’t been done are valid, and perhaps they aren’t. The fact remains that until something is done about it, you have to live with the litter. Waiting for ‘someone’ to do ‘something’ doesn’t seem to be a viable approach. And, if nothing else, this is a great way to connect with the local community.

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Re-using that plastic: bottle caps

Let me start this post with a reminder that the overall idea is to reduce the amount of plastic we use. That will inevitably reduce the amount of plastic waste we generate. The ideal is a zero plastic lifestyle.

It surprises me that I actually have to point this out, but reaction to previous posts in the series makes it clear that I do: none of the ideas shared in this series about reusing plastic are meant to encourage readers to go out and buy products in order to get their hands on the plastic items needed. Quite the contrary. If you decide you’d like to build a greenhouse out of 2 litre pop bottles, I can almost guarantee that you won’t need to buy a single bottle of pop yourself. Put a call out on your local Facebook group. Send an email out to your friends and family. Go door to door down your street, and chances are you’ll have enough bottles to build a double storey house… although I wouldn’t recommend it.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, we can move on to the intended subject of this post: the reuse of plastic bottle caps. This is the last in this series. From next week, I’ll be looking at something other than plastic for a while.

The real bummer with plastic caps is that they are less widely recycled than the bottles they seal. Please check to see whether your local recycling service recycles PP (pop bottle caps) and HDPE (sometimes used for milk/fruit juice). If they don’t, you’ll need to separate them out from your trash. If you sling a bottle-with-cap into the recycling in an area where the caps are not recycled, there is a good chance that this will be seen as ‘mixed plastic’ and will be removed. At that point, landfill is a very real possibility.  If your local recycling centre doesn’t recycle this kind of plastic, there are some charities that do. Do a quick Internet search to see if there are any such services in your area.

So, what are we going to do with the little blighters?

Bottle top floor tiles

Some of the projects I shared in my post about reusing pop bottles, include the lids, so I won’t repeat those. But do have a quick (re)read to see whether there’s anything there for you. Other ideas include:

I have also seen ideas for Christmas decorations, and even jewellery. And, if you’re anything like me, each new thing you see will foster ideas of your own. What I love about this era is how much people are willing to share their skills and ideas. There’s a generosity among creative people that warms the cockles of my heart.

Until next time.

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Reusing that plastic: fizzy drink bottles

Fortunately, the plastic used to make fizzy drinks bottles (PET) is widely recycled. But we are trying to reduce our output, so this post will focus on alternative uses for them. And they are legion!

Sadly, bottle caps (PP) are less widely recycled. Many of the projects shared here include the caps, and I will look at some separate uses for them in a separate post.

Lighting

In places without an electricity mains supply, drinks bottles have been used to provide indoor lighting, using the principle of refraction. In my native South Africa, this technique has made an enormous difference to children in informal housing settlements, struggling to complete homework by the light of a kerosene lamp (which is both unhealthy and dangerous). Obviously, in a wealthy country like the UK, the call for this lighting method isn’t particularly great. It also helps to have some sunlight to refract, and we know that there are times of the year when that is in short supply here. However, if you’re an outdoorsy, roughing-it type, you might find it useful. So here‘s how to make your own.

As a variation on the theme, simply strapping a headlamp to a drink bottle filled with water will create an instant lantern. As long as you remember to point the light inward towards the bottle, of course, so that it can be refracted! This works very well with milk bottles (HDPE) too.

Based on this concept, the ‘Liter of Light‘ project has transformed lives in some of the poorest parts of the world, as well as those hit by natural disaster.

Gardening

The humble plastic bottle can also be pressed into service in your garden. They can be used for wall gardening (see picture), hydroponicscloches, and seedling propagation. They can be pressed into service to keep the slugs away from your veggies, the wasps away from the outdoor living space, and the mozzies away from your blood. Do, however, bear in mind that traps for ‘baddie’ insects might also kill some of the good guys, so do weigh up the pros and cons before installing them willy-nilly.

They can even be used to build greenhouses (or summerhouses).

You can use them to make bird feeders for both seed eaters and nectar drinkers (and probably insectivores, if you put your mind to it).

You can make a sprinkler and a bird shower. I’m not sure whether those two belong in the gardening section, to be honest. Pets and children are just as likely to enjoy them!

Air conditioning

Like the lighting solution, this one might not have as much application to the UK as to some hotter climes. But feast your eyes on this brilliant use of recycled plastic bottles, a board, and the laws of thermodynamics, to make an air conditioner that uses no electricity.

Crafting activities

Madonna and child – reclaimed materials (and polyfilla)

This is a rather miscellaneous list of craft activities which involve plastic bottles:

As you may know, plastic bottles formed part of the Madonna and child figures (see picture) made during the workshop I conducted in December. I have also seen extremely complex and sophisticated fairy villages made using plastic bottles as a base.

It seems, from the practical and functional to the whimsical and purely decorative, there is a use for these bottles.

Until next time.

 

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Reusing that plastic: plarn

Someone (several someones, actually) recently drew my attention to a video on FB, showing how to fuse several layers of plastic shopping bags together with an iron. The video then went on to demonstrate how that fused material could be used to make several different types of bags, including a durable shopping bag.

The comments on the post were chiefly of the “so I just spent x minutes of my life learning how to use x hours of my life turning a bag into a bag” ilk. I’m never sure whether to cry or roll my eyes when I read reactions like that. I want to shout “You’re missing the point!!!!!

I would like to point out that the primary goal of this series of posts is to reduce the amount of plastic we throw away (and let me just take this opportunity to say – yet again – that there is no such place as ‘away’).  Re-using that plastic to make something useful and durable, is the means by which we work towards that goal. There’s no single idea that’s going to suit everyone. I’m just presenting a few that might prove helpful. Obviously, there is no point making something so useless, impractical or ugly that it will wind up in the trash anyway.

Today I’m going to talk about turning those dreadful shopping bags into ‘plarn’ – a sort of plastic ‘yarn’ that can be used for knitting or crochet. And I don’t mean the thick, reusable ‘bag for life’ things. I mean the ones that we comparatively recently began to pay 5p for in the UK. Drive down any of the highways, byways and country lanes in the UK (and we’re not alone in this) for evidence of the problem these bags present. They’re snagged in the hedgerows, they’re floating in puddles, they’re flying on gusts of wind, they’re dotted about countryside.

So… to the en-yarn-ifying. There are so many existing videos and instructions on this front, that I’m going to draw on those, rather than reinventing the wheel. This video clip will do as well as any other, because it has the added bonus of linking to a pattern to crochet a carrier. Here’s a flat text-and-sketch post describing the same process.

Other methods include cutting bags into continuous spirals instead, but the above method makes for a more robust end product.

And I totally get that going to all that trouble to make a bag when you already had a bag to begin with, does seem a little like overkill. So here’s an astonishing thought: don’t make a bag. Make something else. You will not believe how many ideas and suggestions are already out there!

  • Make a bedroll for a homeless person to put their sleeping bag on (or for yourself to take camping)

    Plarn bedrolls
  • Or a mat on which to store muddy boots.
  • Or a cover for the back seat of the car for when Fido has taken an impromptu swim at Salcey Forest (and by ‘Fido’, I might mean Jessie, my very own, beloved half-Akita who leaps into any body of water without provocation).
  • Make some placemats
  • Or an outdoor plant hanger thingy
  • Make an organiser to hang behind the front seat of the car, where you can keep the essentials
  • In fact, here’s an entire directory of patterns using ‘plarn’ (plastic yarn), and…
  • Here’s a website dedicated to its use

Until next time.

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Re-using that plastic: Doorstop

Yesterday, I posted about the various steps we can take to reduce our plastic. I promised that I’d provide some upcycling/reuse suggestions. This is the first: you can use plastic jars to make doorstops.

This is actually a commissioned project that I worked on this very morning, so it’s hot off the press.

You will need:

  • A fairly large empty plastic jar, preferably with lid
  • Something to weigh it down with
  • Some kind of covering for the jar
  • Glue or a needle and thread to hold everything together

That’s all a bit vague, isn’t it? Have a read through the rest of the process and you’ll get the idea.

The jar

When I was 10 years old, one of our ‘housecraft’ projects was to make a doorstop. This involved using 4 needles to knit a cover for a 500ml Coke bottle. By dint of (ahem) clever embroidery and the placement of pompoms, the covered Coke bottle was transformed into a (ahem again) ‘beautiful’ Poodle. The bottle was half filled with sand to weigh it down before its Poodle cover was stitched in place.

The thing is, a Coke bottle has a pretty small base, which doesn’t make for much stability. Also 250ml of sand doesn’t weigh a lot, and can’t hold a door in place in the face of a determined Eastern Cape easterly wind. I’m here to tell you that the wind will move the door anyway. The bottle will fall over, and the sand will leak through the knitting and your mother will not be impressed. This is not the desired outcome.

Instead, choose a large jar with a broad base. I chose this one. I didn’t even take the label off. It does have a lid, even though it’s not in the picture. We’ll come back to that.

 

The weight

We have already established that 250ml of sand isn’t going to do the trick. So what is? Well here is why I was so vague before. You could use sand – just more of it. You could use plaster of paris. You could use stones. You could use discarded weight plates from your neglected garage-gym. You could use gold bullion. Heck you could even use water, as long as you have a lid for your bottle. Water weighs 1kg per litre – that’s pretty respectable.

I used plaster of Paris purely because I had some available.

Once you’ve added weight to your jar, you can put the lid on. A couple of pointers here:

  • If you’re using water as your weight, I suggest you seal the lid in place with silicon or hot glue or plumber’s tape or some such
  • If you’re using plaster of Paris, wait until the plaster has set before putting the lid on – setting plaster is exothermic and needs room to breathe

The cover

Now, because this is a commission, I got a bit fancy here. You can do what you like. You could even leave it as it is, if you prefer. Or you could paint it.  Or decoupage it. Or cover it with wallpaper.  You could wrap it in a cast-off item of clothing, knotted at the top.

This is what I did.

  • First, I measured the circumference of the jar (at its widest point)
  • I cut a piece of calico wide enough that it would overlap slightly when wrapped around the jar, and long enough so that it would extend slightly beyond the top and the bottom of the jar. Because I used a piece of calico that had come off one of those pine-and-calico wardrobe thingies, the piece I cut was already hemmed on two sides. Win. If you want to hem yours, go ahead. If not, don’t.
  • I then, you’ll be astonished to learn, covered the jar with the calico. I used hot glue. You could sew yours, and slide the jar in.
  • I folded the top of the calico over the closed lid of the jar and glued it in place. I did the same at the base. You could catch it with a needle and thread, if you prefer.
  • Because I want my client to be able to pick the doorstop up easily, I decided to give it a secure handle. I used some of the tapes from the aforementioned pine-and-canvas wardrobe thingy for this. I cut two lengths that would be long enough to go under the base of the jar like stirrups, with enough left at the top to tie secure knots. I glued the straps across the bottom of the jar, laying them across each other like the strings around a parcel. Then I tied them all together at the top. Note: the are no joins at the bottom – that wouldn’t be secure. I’ll come back to those loose ends in a bit.
  • I cut a piece from a scarf I had picked up from a charity shop. It’s in blues and oranges, with a lovely pompom fringe, and I’ve been dying for an excuse to use it for a project. I cut it long enough so that I could fold it over the base as I had done with the calico, while leaving a cheerful pom-pom-y fringe at the top. The scarf was wide enough to go around the jar and then some, but I didn’t I cut the extra width away, because the more of an overlap there was, the more pompoms there’d be. Win.
  • I wrapped the scarf around the jar. When it overlapped, I just kept going. Then I glued the end in place.
  • I folded the excess over the base. This time I used a needle and thread to catch it all together. Then I cut a circle of calico, which I placed over all that untidiness. Just for a little touch of why-not-ness, I blanket stitched around the edge of the calico circle. I need to make a note about this base. Please see the * at the end of the post.
  • Now for the finishing touches. I gathered the top into a bunch, including the loose ends of the calico tapes, and tied some coloured tape tightly around it like a ponytail. I used the four loose ends of the calico to make two loops, which I stitched (glue might not hold the weight), so that the new owner can hook a finger or two through them to move the doorstop.

And here is the completed doorstop, earning its keep. You can make yours as plain or as fancy as you like. You could give it ears and googly eyes and turn it into a creature of some kind. Let your imagination run riot. Have fun. 

* The base of the jar I chose is concave, which means that it remains stable in spite of the fact that I folded quite a lot of fabric over the bottom and glued it in place. If you’re using something with a flat base, you’d be better off not folding fabric under, but cutting it off level with the base, gluing it in place, and then adding some kind of trim around the bottom.

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Plastic and you (and me)

You have almost certainly heard of the proliferation of plastic pollution that is slowly suffocating the planet. Especially if you watched the final episode of the BBC’s Blue Planet II, narrated by the one and only David Attenborough.

When plastic was first invented, the fact that it was virtually indestructible was a major plus. Now that we’re unable to get rid of the stuff, and we’re finding it in remote locations, and in the gizzards of animals who live far away from human habitations, we’re a little less convinced. The problem is, it’s so damned convenient… in the short term, at any rate.

I’ve seen a few threads lately, where people have been happy to report that they put all their plastic into the recycling, so their consciences are clear. And, of course, they should be. Sadly, the authorities taking care of that recycling have not always been entirely transparent or above board in their disposal techniques. Part of that is because the volume of plastic we’re generating is just too great to be coped with. Especially since China has decided they’re no longer going to be the dumping ground for the world’s garbage.

So now what? What can I do? I’m only one person!

You’re absolutely right, of course. And, as coincidence would have it, so am I. In fact, everybody is only one person. And what you can do is no less than what anyone else can do. Here is a list of some measures you can introduce to reduce the amount of plastic waste you generate.

  1. Take your own bags when you go shopping. Those plastic shopping bags are an absolute scourge! And don’t use those really flimsy plastic bags provided for fruit and veg (they just rip, anyway!). If the supermarket has a weigh-your-own option, just stick the label to one of the pears/potatoes/whatever. Or weigh the loose items, pop them into a reusable bag, and hand the printed label(s) to the cashier. If they don’t have such an option, the cashier is perfectly capable of weighing loose items.
  2. Switch to nappies/diapers that are plastic-free, and ideally reusable. There is a growing supply of these, and you’ll save money in the long run. The volume of disposable nappies being thrown away is a major contributing factor in plastic waste, particularly in the USA.
  3. Carry a reusable bottle with you – preferably not a plastic one – and refill it, rather than buying bottled water. This, of course, only works if you’re somewhere where the water quality can be trusted. You can also use your refillable container instead of the dreadful little plastic cups in waiting rooms up and down the land (particularly the NHS – what up with that?)
  4. Take your own container when you go to a restaurant, if you’re likely to take your leftovers home with you. If your restaurant refuses to play ball, take your future business elsewhere, but chances are they’ll have no problem with it.
  5. Stop using straws. If possible, go without altogether. But if you absolutely have to have a straw, it is possible to buy reusable ones. I will grant you that they’re not cheap. I will also acknowledge that it isn’t always easy to get bars and restaurants on board with this one. I recently asked for my drink to be served without a straw, but it arrived with one anyway.
  6. Rethink the way you pack your lunch. Reusable containers are the way forward.
  7. Lobby your government and your supermarket to do something about excess plastic packaging on foods, or shop somewhere that doesn’t pre-package everything up the wazoo. Some customers have resorted to removing the plastic packaging and leaving it at the store. The good news is that this approach makes the supermarket take ownership of the amount of plastic they’re generating. The bad news is that they’re likely to dispose of it in the cheapest way possible, which is unlikely to be to the benefit of the environment.
  8. Take your own cup to the coffee shop if you’re ordering your coffee to go. Yes, I know that most coffee places use paper cups, but those lids are plastic. You might even get a discount for taking your own cup. If your current coffee place doesn’t offer a discount, take your business somewhere that does – the little independents are usually pretty switched on.
  9. Switch to detergents and household cleaning products that come with a refillable option. This a growing trend, so check your locality to see if there are any outlets near you that will allow you to take and refill your own containers, charging by weight for what you take.
  10. If there is a choice between a plastic bottle and a carton, take the carton. If there is an option for a glass container, take that. This applies to all sorts of products, including food and drink.
  11. Use matches instead of plastic lighters. Or get a refillable metal lighter.
  12. Steer clear of plastic cutlery. I know that’s not always possible when you grab a meal on the fly from the roadside services. But perhaps you could get into the habit of keeping a metal spork in your car, and one in your desk drawer.
  13. Avoid microbeads. Don’t assume that it’s just beauty products that contain them, either. Some of the heavy duty hand cleaning products used in workshops and by gardeners contain microbeads too. Check the label for polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and nylon. There are alternative products available, and you can even make your own – Pinterest is your friend!
  14. Consider making your own household cleaning products. Once again, Pinterest is your friend. It’s less complicated than you might expect.
  15. Re-use your plastic items. Over the next while, I’ll be posting a few ideas and suggestions for crafty items you can make, using reclaimed plastic. Watch this space.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive. It’s also not always possible to do all these things. But let’s have a crack at it.

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Fly tipping in reverse… or why the Upsycho needs a van

Since moving into full time Upcycler mode, I have developed a distinct tic. Every time we drive past a skip, I practically give myself whiplash, trying to see if there’s anything useful being chucked out. There often is, but sadly, I can’t usually fit it into my car. I drive a great big monster of a Volvo S80, but its boot (trunk) is smaller than most and its back seat doesn’t go flat. Both for the same reason: there is a built-in fridge in my car where the middle back seat should be. Go figure.

A while back, I was taking Jess for a walk, when I spotted a broken pine TV stand on top of the bins (trash cans) of a house not far from mine. I helped myself to it, popping a note through the letter box, in case they hadn’t meant to chuck it out. It became two dog beds.

Two dog beds

In the summer, I took my Mom birding at a local sanctuary, and we spotted a pile of trash dumped by the side of the access road. It included two plastic crates that I was sure I could use, but my Mom was so horrified at the mere suggestion, that I didn’t retrieve them. I’m so sorry I didn’t, because they would have made great dog beds and plastic is a terrible product to send to landfill because it doesn’t biodegrade.

Last month, for several days in a row, I saw a very nice armchair dumped by the side of the road on my way to work. Sadly, I just knew it wouldn’t fit in the car. A real pity, because it was crying out for an Upsycho makeover. Eventually, the council must have removed it because it (and the rest of the junk dumped with it by a fly-tipper) disappeared.

Two weeks ago, I spotted a tea trolley, dumped on the exit ramp from the local Sainsbury. It was a blind bend with no safe place to stop, so I promised myself that I would go there on foot next time I visited the store, and retrieve it. Someone beat me to it. I hope it was someone who was able to do something useful with it.

Just a few days ago, I spotted a metal item sticking out of the undergrowth beside the A509. It was during rush hour traffic, so I had a full second or two to take in some sort of square section frame and circles. I went back yesterday to investigate.

Half buried in the undergrowth

I dragged it out of the undergrowth and across the road to my car. Such a simple sentence to type. Not such a simple thing to do. The road had been deserted when I crossed it empty handed. But now that I was trying to make it back across the road, carrying two unwieldy metal structures, everybody seemed to want to travel to or from Isham! Finally getting across the road to a clear patch, I laid them down to see what they were.

My hard-won treasures

I hadn’t anticipated that right-angled assembly and I had no tools with me to take them apart. Getting them into the car was no mean feat.

Getting them into the car was no mean feat
My Volvo S80 was not designed to do duty as a workhorse

Getting them to my workshop was the easy bit. Once there, I stood them upright and inspected them. I was quite surprised at how tall they are. Over two metres. Perhaps 220cm. One section is bent (top left of the picture below), and there is some rust to remove. Other than that, the frames are in pretty good nick. Obviously that fabric will have to go, but I have plenty in the stash to replace it with.

Over 2m tall!

What I don’t understand is why someone dumped them where they did. It can be a dangerous stretch of road. Plus, they could just as easily have taken them to our recycling plant, which has a special section for metal waste. People are weird.

Watch this space to see what becomes of my fly-tip-retrieval.