Washing up woes

Water

By: Mel

Who would have thought a simple domestic chore could turn into the cauldron of contention? I remember once asking a friend (we took turns washing up) whether they would mind rinsing them afterwards as I noticed that although there was plenty of soap going into the washing up process, little of it was being rinsed off. My simple request was met with a barrage of insults and a note that I should be grateful that any washing up was done at all.

washing-up_1886717aEgo aside, he got the message after seeing how unsatisfactory scummy dishes were to actually eat off. Back then soap was more of a concern than water but as ever my attention is on water and how much we squander in every day tasks. I have a friend now who washes dishes under running water and never fills the sink so for a few knives and forks and a plate or two, endless litres end up down the drain. And, based on the first rather hot response, I find myself yet again in a quandry as to how to approach the subject.

On the matter of water and it’s sustainability I had along conference call to one of the top thought leaders in Australia who is responsible for helping companies become more sustainable in their use of natural resources. He has found over his three years of intense work in this hotly emotional and economic issue that huge results can be achieved if we make simple shifts in our resource usage habits. So I am trying to lead by example, using the hot water tap to fill watering jugs with the cold beginnings of the flow, until the hot water runs through. Then I fill a third of a sink with biodegradeable washing up liquid and wash from the lightest soiled item to the heaviest. All items are then rinsed in another sink a third full of hot water, to finish the process.

Dishwashers are light on water in comparison with how many items they clean but not all of us has one so the vigil over the sink and how much water gets thrown away each day is something to consider. But how to broach the subject? Thanks for washing up but please don’t waste the water?

Straws and things

Plastic pollution

By: Mel

I had lunch with the head of the Plastics Federation last week and listened to him discuss innovations in plastics that will revolutionise the health industry. For better and worse we live in a world where plastic rules because pretty much everything we buy and use is imprinted with a plastic relationship somewhere in its life span.

Another of the conversations that arose during the lunch was the environmental monitoring that is taking place on the coastline to assess plastic pollution and where it comes from. Running in tandem with this research is a study that monitors the amount of decomposing plastic washing up on the shores.

Plastic-Bottles-TrashHe studies these micro particles of plastic, which is anything less than 10mm in size, to assess its levels of toxicity and the likely impact on the shoreline’s eco-system. Sea life is massively affected by plastic pollution and the impact on various species is devastating.

The environmentalist was very concerned that the reason for the huge amounts of plastic pollution that is showing up on our shores is because of the assumption made by consumers that if it is biodegradable, it means the packaging can be thrown away rather than recycled, with the empty promise that it will eventually decompose somewhere along the line.

What we don’t get to engage with (yet) is the result of the plastic pollution that comes as a result of this practise. I was holding a straw, just about to unwrap it and pop it into my drink when he pointed to me and said “We get a lot of those washing up. They don’t biodegrade” And there I had a vision of a sea with waves crashing, with millions of little straws forming part of the wake.

There are many pictures of the island of plastic floating around in the Pacific, and straws are just a miniscule component of the plastic trash heap. This is the problem. A possible solution could be in the form of a giant philanthropic gesture by global plastic manufacturers to join together to tackle the plastic island and recycle the whole lot into useful items? This is possible because a lot of plastic can be recycled and turned into an incredible array of items which can be re-used and re-distributed.

The journey we are on to tackle our pollution issues and become more aware of the chain that leads to mass pollution is just beginning and it involves each one of us. The relationship we have with plastic is unavoidable but the quantities we consume and how we dispose of it can also be tackled much more consciously.

There are some wonderful innovations being created from recycled plastics and more than 70% of what we use can be reconstituted.

Even with that in mind, on my immediate list of no more ‘need to’ haves are straws, cling film (because you can re-use the plastic skin covering vege packs for exactly the same purpose) disposable lighters, razors and plastic pens. And then I am going to keep all the plastic items I have and turn them into something weird and wonderful and then hand it over to be reconstituted into flooring or clothing and then a whole other cycle can begin.

What happens at the end of this cycle we will not know just yet because we are still invovled in it and are engaging in the process of becoming a society that pays attention to these little things that we have some measure over.

If we ignore the little things, experience will testify that they will eventually add up and morph into a big thing. In this case does it have to be life punctuated by trash heaps?

Brands looking ahead

Climate crisis

By: Mel

News from the upcoming Climate Change Talks due to be held in Cancun at the end of the year is that there is a lacklustre response from the 179 nations invited and key players- think China and the USA are not really fired up by the hope of reaching any agreements on setting a standard for carbon emissions. The Telegraph quotes Jonathan Pershing, the US chief negotiator, as saying “There is less agreement than one might have hoped at this stage,”.

The-Future-of-Brands-and-Humanity_2While the USA and China can’t reach an agreement and continue to do business as usual there are areas around the world struggling to recover from natural disasters as a result of climate change. It is highly debatable whether we are in a position to stop the heating of the planet by a further 2 degrees in time but carrying on utilising resources and polluting the planet as we are is not sustainable.

I am currently at the Brands and Branding for Good conference in Johannesburg listening to brand leaders discuss their attempts at becoming more sustainable, from closing the loop on waste, recycling drives, energy efficiency and social development of impoverished communities.

A lot of the stories are incredibly inspiring and I am wondering whether it may be a great idea for a marketing manager to run a country as we are after all part of brand South Africa and in a broader light – a brand called the World.

The natural resources of this planet have been valued at around seven trillion dollars and yet the graph displaying availability of resources is showing a steep decline – there is no upward curve predicted. In the face of staggering data and a planet in crisis it is astounding that the governments are not all pulling together to do what is necessary. There are huge corporations who don’t give a damn and continue to put profit before sustainability and they are the kings of greed.

What will it take to shift this mindset? Does it have to be a disaster? I am always looking but I don’t see one government or leader of a government standing up for the natural resources under their custodianship. It is left to small NGO’s and environmental organisations that are always strapped for cash to promote the message and they seem to be tarred as ‘extremists’ of sorts. So it remains with us, the consumer to choose who we buy from and to demand good governance in terms of resource management, and to vote with our pockets however small the change in them may be.

Building Mania

By: Mel

I think all builders should be charged a noise pollution and botheration tax and the money be shared amongst the residents of the neighbourhood, who have had their peace and calm utterly shattered.

buildingI chose my flat because of its quiet location and lovely view so that I can actually get a day’s work done from home. For the past five months there has been nothing but banging, crashing and thumping, with belching diesel fumes making their way into the open windows, along with the yells and shouts of the builders and the rumble of endless trucks, cranes and cars trundling up and down this quite cul de sac every day.

The neighbours pets are freaked out, and there has not been any consultation with the residents regarding the process that is taking place. I call it a ‘process’ because ‘creation’ would be too blossoming a word to use for the monstrosity being built, born as a result of out right greed. It a huge brown bricked colossus already at two stories and a third level is about to be added.

A whole section of the road’s properties have had their views ruined and it is a rather ironic that we also have to endure the process of this construction, literally watching each day’s work remove yet another chunk of the horizon.

Building is highly resource intensive and there is a lot of waste generated that gets trucked away – to where we are not sure. Vast quantities of fresh water is wasted in cleaning up the mess left behind by the builders. I have been watching this happen every day and it has brought to my attention the many other forms of water wasting I see on my journeys around town. Take for instance a garden service or gardener – tasked with cleaning the front of the home or office in question – usually a paved area – using a hosepipe for the task. Hundreds of litres of fresh water is used to get rid of whatever matter out of place is lurking that ruins the aesthetics of the place.

Fresh water is a scarce resource and South Africa is going to face a water crisis if the level of understanding around the use of water is not raised dramatically and with that, very measurable targets for reduction of use along with incentives to recycle waste water are put in place.

I’ve been wondering if it would be possible for large scale builders to be tasked with bringing their own tanks of recycled grey water to building sites and to recycle all left over building materials to be used in communities that need homes built.

Municipalities should encourage the installation of grey water systems for all developments, blocks of flats and big houses with bountiful incentives so that the beautiful fresh water we do have is not literally poured down the drain.

It is very easy to open a tap and I have seen instances in restaurant kitchens where huge quantities of water are used to wash a single glass. Washing up with the tap running wastes hundreds of litres of water, per wash. Simple maths shows that this kind of water wastage, in one household alone, can add up to millions of litres over a lifetime. Think of the collective impact of the water wastage that takes place in a city.

Water is life and it impacts the health of everything on this planet. Let us all be a lot more conscious about how we use our water and what can be done, at every turn, to conserve it. What can you do today to become more water wise?

The End of the Line

By: Mel

I went to a press briefing about the soon to be released documentary feature film called The End of The Line. There were a number of sceptical journalists present at the breakfast but after the half hour of footage that we were shown the mood had shifted considerably – to one of stark enlightenment and an urgent desire to do something. The facts about the fishing industry are difficult to comprehend but thankfully the director and author of the book The End of The Line have taken the trouble to bring them out into the open.

fish_and_diverWhat you will see will make you seriously think twice about the type of fish you eat – especially Tuna. To me this was a horror film. The fish that are being slaughtered in alarming quantities are wild creatures and they bleed just like any mammal does when being killed. Modern technology has enabled the big fisheries to track, totally pen in and then literally scoop out vast quantities of fish – all the ‘by-products’, turtles, dolphins, sea birds etc that are caught within the pen die too and then they are just dumped back into the ocean, dead. The waste and the cruelty are beyond staggering and I spent most of the time looking into my lap as some of the scenes were too gruesome for me to absorb.

As Charles Clover – the author of the book The End of the Line says, “Angels weep at the signs of the destruction”. The divide between politicians and scientists is very noteworthy in the realm of the international fishing business. Scientists set quotas on stock so that species have a chance to recover. Renegade fisheries ignore the quotas and politicians try and keep the big business side of things happy so they ignore the scientists warnings and set quotas that keep the fisheries happy but that will inevitably ensure that fish stocks decline and rapidly at that.

The result will be a fished out ocean and it is not something that will happen in the far distant future. Already Mitsubishi – the Japanese mega company is stockpiling Blue Fin Tuna as it is on the extinction list. This shows what consumer demand – with no knowledge of the impact down the line – is doing to the ocean.

Your choice of fish has a direct effect on marine biodiversity so please check with the Sassi fish guide to see what fish you can eat without contributing to further decline in the fragile populations. Let’s start a movement and name and shame restuarants that serve fish that are on the endangered list. You can also speak to the chef and find out where he gets his fish from, ask how it is caught as well. Educate as many people as you can about fish that are on the endangered species list and insist they be removed from menus of restaurants and hotels.

Ask where the fish was sourced from and start drawing the line about capitulating to the decimation of species just to satisfy your palate or be ‘trendy’ in what you choose for dinner…

See www.wwf.org.za/sassi for a fish check list To check the status of any fish text its name to 079 499 8795 www.endoftheline.com The End of the Line will be screened across South Africa at Nu Metro cinemas and Ster Kinekor on the 22nd October – I really urge you to see the film as it is a serious wake up call.

Cats

By: Mel

News in the world of pet remedies is the creation of a product that helps induce a sense of wellbeing and calm in domestic cats. Stress and strain affect our animals, be it in the form of loud voices, banging doors or the actions of frenzied children holding on to tails and feet. Dogs maintain a level of joy throughout, easily cajoled with some quick loving, but cats can be a bit more tricky. The cats that I live with respond in the way most cats do, they ignore the issue and get on with it.

cats-in-boxes4I have tried to seduce my cats with catnip but they remain wholly uninterested in any mind altering states this herb could offer them. So I am keen to see if the active ingredient in this new treatment – valerian – will hold any charm for them.

I have just returned from a short trip away and when I returned home today my two cats did not greet me when I came in. They usually do, but as it is a sublime day out there, the lure of the garden is too great. A few hours later while I was busy saving the fish in my tank from expiring as a result of the attentions of an overzealous fish –sitter, who had radically overfed them – I heard my older cat come in the door.

He announced his presence with a loud miaow and as I went to greet him noticed he had brought me a ‘gift’ from the garden. A beautiful brown snake all tied up in knots. And there lies the dilemma, I – a vegetarian – have a deep connection and love of a hunting carnivore, who expresses himself by bringing me gifts of semi -alive creatures that I then set about rescuing and trying to revive.

Maybe some valerian will calm down his need to hunt or maybe the little creatures will be sought after but not removed from their places of safety by claws and a paw. Maybe I need some valerian too.

On the subject of cats, why do so many people feed cats fish?

Oily issue

By: Mel

A whole lot of chemicals and surfectants have been used and in almost as big a quantity as the ‘spill’ it was used to treat. Certain underground environmental activists were already highlighting the dangers of these chemicals when they were first being used and the PR agencies weren’t talking about it, but as can happen to reason being spoken by what the status quo considers ‘extremists’, EVOSWEB_013_oiled_bird3not often heard. There is no environmental super hero out there. If this is ever a job of a super hero let that incredible creature appear and set right the wrongs of negligent progress. It is still cheaper to burn oil at $100 per barrel, than to invest in renewable energy resources. Red tape hinders renewable energy opportunities in South Africa, despite the abundance of sun and wind which could be utilised to feed into the grid. The gap between those that want to make a difference and can, with those who should but don’t – is a chasm at this stage and I wonder what the bridge is, that will join them. Does it have to be a disaster that builds it?

GM woes

By: Mel

A freezing north wester wind is blowing and I’m contemplating Spring and the portent of new life. The lovely seedlings I planted over the weekend – including beans, peas, lettuce and basil are looking woeful and burnt and I can only hope they recover and grow into the leafy greens they are meant to be. This has got me thinking about GM crops and the green light that has been given to grow them in South Africa.

Worldwide there is serious debate as to the long term effects of these crops on the eco-system we depend upon, not too mention how this food affects the human body. But it seems that the voice of reason is split in two. On one side we are told they are necessary to feed the billions of people on this planet and on the other side – we can’t possibly live with the long term effects of them because in reality we have no idea how they will affect us or the fragile ecosystem under fire from climate change and species depletion.

Time magazine has just run a lead article on the pros and cons of eating organic food and eventhough they don’t come right out and say it, eating organic food is the better option, for people and for the animals who give their lives to feed us.

Monsanto-287x300Monsanto is the big machine behind GM crops and their defence against criticism is generally wagered by litigation lawyers who are employed to fight any voice of dissent. If you think about the food chain as we now know it, from factory farming of cows and the battery hens that are bred in gross and cruel conditions it seems only a part of ‘progress’ that now the vegetables too are being manipulated.

If the powers that be are intent on forcing these rules what can we do about it? Start by growing your own vegetables, cutting down on meat and finding eggs that are not produced by battery hens who are being fed GM grain.

As consumers we have to insist on proper food labelling so that, given a choice, we can avoid what we don’t want or believe in. When the north wester wind stops I will head out into the garden and salvage what I can and keep trying because this is what I can do and the more of us who try, the better chance we have at choice.

Pause for thought

By: LIB editor

I was shown an interesting site a few days ago that draws statistical information from a variety of big agencies worldwide http://www.poodwaddle.com/clocks2.htm . Despite its hilarious name the information that you are able to view – in real time – gives pause for sober thought. It is easy for us to not be connected to the bigger picture because of the hurried way in which our lives are lived. When I saw these numbers roll over, particularly in the energy and environment categories it made me stop to think, is there anything that we can really do to bring ourselves back from the brink of extinction based on our consumptive habits?

work clockIt is so easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the issues facing us as a globe and a case in point is the catastrophic oil gash in the Gulf of Mexico. It is no longer making headline news. In particular the background story is being underplayed and that is BP’s negligence and cost cutting measures which led to the rig being constructed in an unstable way. The long term effects are unquantifiable at this stage, but for sure the environmental destruction and economic destruction that is being experienced is huge.

WWF has predicted that three planets will be needed by 2030 if the current rate of consumption in energy and animal products, as well as water resources continues unabated. Some of us won’t be alive in 2030 but those who have children will need to consider what they can do to ensure their imprint on this planet is renewable, sustainable and will leave behind a legacy their children can gratefully accept.

We all have a responsibility to pay attention and do everything we can to change habits that are wasteful. One person in a collective can change a mindset and groups of people working together can create change that becomes exponential. As Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.

From pieces to peace

By: LIB editor

Goals,goals, goals. Personal goals, party goals and environmental goals and amidst all the fanfare and the predictions of an oracle octopus where to next?

I had the pleasure of meeting a man who has been a political activist most of his life and who now champions activism around environmental issues, particularly the use of pesticides in farming.

Muna leads IZWA (Institute for Zero Waste) and systematically tackles outmoded policies in government to help bring about real change in their policies on agricultural practises.

IZWA enabled Helen Hoekstra to film and interview farm workers in the rural areas about the terrible effects of pesticides on their health in her documentary, Food ForeThought (contact IZWA for a copy).

They work with the chemicals that are used on the crops with little or no protective clothing and eventually the toxicity of these chemicals destroys their health. But just because you and I don’t work with them on a daily basis doesn’t mean we too aren’t affected. As a result of this knowledge I am looking at the sparkly fresh produce – that is not organic – paraded in supermarkets in a whole new way.

There are no labels saying this head of broccoli was sprayed with x/y/z chemicals to bring it to you bug free. Surely we should be told what is being used on the fruit and vegetables we buy so trustingly considering certain pesticides are still being used by some SA farmers that have long been cause for concern. There will be an article about this in the next newsletter.

pipe cleaner peaaceOn a lighter note it is heartening to see the enthusiastic campaigns out there aimed at maintaining the raised spirits of South Africa – I heard on the radio yesterday that it is “official” – 85% or South Africans feel happier after the World Cup. How do the other African refugees and immigrants feel though – those labelled ‘Kwere Kwere’ as they face very real threats towards them from angry township residents?

This is a major cause for concern and yet it is the calendar that may offer a solution in the form of another noteworthy day ahead: Nelson Mandela day on Sunday 18th July.

The call to action is to contribute 67 minutes of community service to a community in need or assist an organisation that works tirelessly with disadvantaged communities and promote charitable endeavours.

There are many extraordinary initiatives out there, all it takes is for you to search your heart and find out which one inspires you to contribute. I was thinking along the following categories to help make my own personal choice: Animal Shelters and Charities, The Aged, Abandoned Children and The Environment.

Come to think of it all these categories give labels to those with voices that are not often heard. It seems to me it is very much a time of needing to hear each other and reach out to those who have been disempowered. The earth contains us all and she is under great stress, our most vulnerable communities are too. The call is to do what I can to make a difference to a person’s day not just on Nelson Mandela Day but on every day.

An ancient proverb puts it well:

If there is light in the soul, There is beauty in the person, If there is beauty in the person, There will be harmony in the house, If there is harmony in the house, There will be order in the nation, If there is order in the nation, There will be peace in the world.