How to keep cool in the summer heat without cranking up the AC

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Chorley_Park-awnings.jpg.860x0_q70_crop-smartMany, when the temperatures soar in countries in the “West”, with the USA in the lead, rather crank up the air conditioning which is no good for them, their wallet, nor the Planet. The simple act of opening a couple of windows in the house to create a draft, the way our ancestors cooled the house, does not even occur to them. So up goes the air conditioning but the clothes remain, often, all firmly in place and even the windows firmly closed.

In many countries of the world they have a different attitude to that and that is, aside from using window shutters and awnings to reduce the sun reaching the interior of the house they rather strip off and in many cases, during the warm season, their children go bare all the time, as do some of the adults, the latter at least indoors.

siesta_boy1Tip #1 in my department, therefore, is when the temperatures sore and it gets uncomfortably (humid) shed your clothes, all of them, and all of you. It is good for all of us but especially the children as their bodies, apparently, do not control the temperatures too well. That is why we so often see red-faced kids during hot weather and them being cranky. When unclothed their bodies, and adult bodies actually too, can perform better as to temperature control. I grew up that way and can vouch for it. The standard attire for Gypsy boys in days of old was, and not only in the heat of summer, nothing, and that was not even that long ago (and in some places it still is).

Adding family nudism to the inventory, so to speak, to beat the summer heat might be a good idea on more than one level. You may even find that neither the kids, nor you, really want to be be going back to wearing clothes again for much of the time.

Tip #2 Open windows to create a through draft. Don't, however, create an invitation for burglars by keeping windows, especially on the ground floor, open during the night or when you are out.

If you want to avoid bugs and other flying critters entering through an open window or door think fly-screen. Screen doors and window screens used to be very common not so long ago and, in fact, they are still in use in many homes.

Tip #3 If possible install shutters or other blinds and use them to keep the sun at bay indoors thereby keeping the temperatures lower. Even heavy drapes will keep some of the heat of the sun at bay. Also, awnings are very useful over the windows, as was common once.

We seem to, strangely enough, have forgotten all those old ways simply because of the advent of the air-conditioning and rather run that expensive thing which costs us dearly in many ways, by way of money and also the destruction of the Planet.

© 2018

DIY watering can

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Transform a milk jug into a watering can

Milk jug watering canThis project will have you saving your milk container to create a kid- friendly watering can. But, obviously, it can also used by an adult.

Children love to water plants. Generally this is good news, and watering is a helpful chore the children can take on in the garden. Sometimes, though, overenthusiastic watering can be bad news – plants can become waterlogged and seedlings can rot away. Sometimes seedlings can be damaged in a deluge. For children the standard watering can with seven or more liters can be a little on the heavy side. This DIY watering can with a rose head could be the ideal solution.

Made from a plastic milk bottle or similar container, it is free and a great way to upcycle your junk into something practical. It is easy to make and holds just the right amount of water, so it is not too heavy for young children, as I said above.

Materials

2-3 liter (maybe 4 liter even if can be had) plastic milk or juice bottle with lid

Small drill bit (3-4mm), gimlet or bradawl

Instructions

1. Start by washing out your milk bottle.

2. Use drill with drill bit (you could use a gimlet instead, or even a bradawl) to make small holes in the bottle's lid. Make sure the holes are big enough to allow the water to come out freely.

3. Remove the bottle top to fill your new watering can with water, pop the lid back on, and you are ready to go. The handle on the bottle makes it comfortable to hold, and if necessary, a gentle squeeze can help the water come out.

© 2018

Make you own hanging basket liners

Make you own hanging basket linerYou can make an efficient, hanging basket liner, white or whatever color, that costs next to nothing.

This kind of hanging basket liner will keep your plants in place and moist and it, generally, comes for free, and will last for years, unlike the coir, moss, or even fake moss ones.

You can choose to make drainage holes or not, depending how well your plants may like having their “feet” in water. Considering, however, that generally, hanging baskets, when with bracket attached to wall of house, are in the so-called rain shadow, and thus do not get watered naturally by the rain having no drainage holes in the liner saves you watering on a daily basis.

There are many options for recycling plastic bags for use as handing basket liners. Compost bags of various sizes, as well as others, are suitable and the colors may vary from white, to blue or black. It all depends. On the other hand, other bags you can use might be transparent, which even allows you to see the growth of the roots and thus can see whether plants may get root bound. Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) is a candidate that gets root bound in pots or handing baskets quite quickly, which then meas either re-potting or splitting.

As the bags you may be using will not be designed to fit a hanging basket as a liner you will have to do some cutting and some folding and tucking, but it will be worth it alone for the fact that (1) you don't have to buy a liner every year and (2) you keep some plastic out of the waste stream (for some years at least). The important thing is that it works and well worth it. A win-win on so many levels.

© 2018

Huskup – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Huskup imageReusable and plastic free, Huskup brings takeaway coffee back down to earth

Durable, biodegradable and entirely free from plastic, Huskup is tackling the UK’s disposable culture one flat white at a time with a brand new reusable coffee cup made from rice husks. Using the outer hull of the rice grain, a natural and robust material that would otherwise be burnt at the mill, Huskup is harnessing an abundant waste product and giving the planet a helping hand even before the first coffee is poured.

Responding to the disposal of 7 million takeaway coffee cups every single day and the nation’s ever growing commitment to cut plastic waste from their lives, the Huskup takes the humble rice husk from earth to earth. Each cup is dishwasher safe and tough enough to withstand temperatures of -30c to 120c, yet the reusable cup can ultimately return to the soil at the end of its life and biodegrade naturally.

Free from melamine and BPA, Huskup is setting a new standard for reusable coffee cups and is ready to make every hot drink on the go that bit greener, from coffee shops and canteens to the workplace and beyond. Saving energy, materials, money and waste using an all-natural bi-product of one of the world’s most prolific store cupboard staples, the Huskup is set to make a big impact with one small change to the morning routine.

The Huskup comes in 12 different designs and can be purchased from www.huskup.com, priced at £10.95 each. Cheap they are not, in comparison to other reusable coffee cups, that is for certain, but then they are also made from a different material in a different way.

Bath-based Huskup was founded in 2018 to harness one of the world’s most abundant food waste materials, the humble rice husk, and begin a new chapter in takeaway coffee with a cup that is both durable and biodegradable. Entirely plastic, tree and toxin free, the Huskup contains no melamine or BPA, meaning that no nasties can make their way into drinks. These eco-friendly cups are also tough enough to take on the dishwasher and safe for reheating coffee in the microwave, but will simply decompose and return to the earth at the end of their lives. Launching with 12 designs, having teamed up with like-minded independent artists to create products that represent the Huskup ethos, these reusable cups are ready to bring takeaway coffee back down to earth.

While the material of the Huskup is free of melamine it has the feel of that plastic material, or that of Bakelite, for those that remember that material, but the material is not even, actual plastic. In my opinion the scope for this material itself, a plastic-like substance that is made from natural ingredients which harmlessly return to the soil, goes beyond just coffee cups.

As far as biodegradability is concerned Huskup are certified to the compostability standards, European EN13432 including the following elements:

1. Biodegradation - materials turn to soil through microbial action

2. Disintegration - the materials fall into small pieces

3. Eco-toxicity - seeds can germinate in the resulting compost - i.e. it is useful for plant growth

4. Heavy metals - the compost is safe to go onto land

The manufacturing process takes the waste rice husk and mixes that with some natural starches – and those are, alas, trade secrets. The cups are then molded and formed into the huskup. No melamine or other plastic binders are used.

The lid and the band around the body of the cup are made of, what in my opinion, would appear to be silicone.

The cup appears to be extremely sturdy and, as I said before, feels like a melamine or Bakelite product, but is neither. It should last for many, many years and when it finally has to be replaced you do not have to have a guilty conscience as to its disposal. That still does not mean that you should thoughtlessly toss it at the end of its life into the countryside.

The only, for some it sure would be, major turn off is the fact that the product is “Made in China” while the company is British. The reason, though, probably is that rice husks are more common in China (and elsewhere in Asia) than, obviously, in Britain and hence the product is Made in China.

Web: www.huskup.com

Twitter: @huskup_eco

Instagram: huskup_eco

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/huskup/

© 2018

Why children benefit from fewer toys

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Children play better when they have fewer toysRenown child educator, Maria Montessori said “Play is the child's work.” With that she meant that children are not just playing when they play, but they are working. Play is an important part of child development, and the types of toys that a child interacts with shapes their understanding of the world around them. Toys are the tools children use to accomplish their work, but it is best for the amount of toys that a child has to be limited.

Through play, children practice cooking, cleaning, going to work, fighting, taking care of the baby. I other words every adult activity they see around them. This kind of playful practice, performed over and over, makes them more confident. Play also helps children cope with problems ranging from big traumas to little upsets and helps them process the new information they receive every day.

Toys help children play. They also help children self-entertain and become independent. Therefore it may seem logical to assume that more toys provide more entertainment and help the child work, but that is, apparently, not the case.

Here are reasons why it is best to keep toys minimal and simple:

Children with less use their imagination more. Without many toys, children use their craft of pretending to imagine the scenario in which they are working. Studies show that Einstein was right when he stated that “the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” They also, might, make their own toys. We certainly did as children.

Children maintain focus. Fewer toys mean fewer distractions teaching the child to focus on the task at hand. Toys that provide excess stimulation have been linked to various attention deficiency related problems.

Children interact more with others. Communications skills are not innate; they are learned. Having less stuff allows for less to get in the way of social interactions. When children pretend together, they communicate together and pretend play is the most beneficial play.

Children learn to respect what they have. A child is more likely to value their work when they know they do not have replacements.

Children are more educated. When you choose toys like books, blocks, art supplies and puzzles, children work on skills like reading, building, drawing, and writing. Such toys can incorporate lessons about the world that the child is immersed in rather than distract them from it.

Children become resourceful. Kids learns to use what they have to get the job done and to make things and toys up as they go along.

Children learn to share and share. As parents, we want our children to put people over possessions and to not be greedy. Interacting with others without objects coming between them allows children to value people over things.

Children learn mastery. As a child focuses on a certain toy, they learn to master it and to be proud of their accomplishments.

Children realize they cannot have everything they want. As it goes, “you can't always get what you want, but you get what you need.” Parents may worry that not giving their child what their peers have may make them unpopular or feel under privileged, but it teaches them that a persons identity is built by character, not possessions.

Children appreciate nature. Children have tons of fun outdoors once they are out there, but it may be hard to get them outside if they have endless entertainment inside the home. Outdoors also the building material for homemade toys can be found.

With less, as in fewer toys and games, children learn to be happy with what they have. What a child needs most is love, and they will learn that love and happiness cannot be bought.

Fewer toys also means less clutter in the child's room or the playroom, or wherever they play with their toys and it is all easier for them (and you) to clear up after.

If there are a few toys too many then put them away and only let your children have a certain number. If and when they get bored with them you can circulate them around and refresh with the others.

When I was a child toys, much like clothes, were very much in short supply growing up relatively poor by most standards, even back then, but it did not matter to us. As far as toys and play was concerned we made many of our own toys or had them made for us, from wood, mostly, and much of that wood “natural”, that is to say it cam from the woods and hedgerows. Other “real” toys were those that we found lost or thrown away by others, whether toy cars, stuffed cuddly toys, or whatever. But most fun, I seem to remember, we had with those toys that we made ourselves and such and with the imaginary play using sticks, for instance.

© 2018

How eco-friendly are barbecues?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

0d2a551c159ec5aa5b34bb0e123e6427--barbecue-party-summer-barbecueNot very unless you use charcoal from local sources.

As the season is upon us, once again, it is time to talk about it.

Gas barbecues are certainly cleaner than charcoal but whether they are better, and especially greener and more eco-friendly, is another question. Presently the gas we use for those, be it propane or butane, is fossil fuel and thus non-renewable, charcoal on the other hand, if from sustainable sources, is. But for those determined to stick with old-school pit mastery, the central message is: check your fuel and especially check the origin of it. Far too much charcoal that is being used comes from far away and often from tropical rainforests.

This edict is inspired by a recent report from forestry NGO Fern.org “Playing with Fire: Human Misery, Environmental Destruction and Summer BBQs”. It is definitely not the cheeriest of summer reading but it certainly is eye-opening. Small-scale charcoal production has the potential to be a lifeline in rural economies all over the world. Sadly that is not happening.

The allegations against charcoal go much further than pollution. Somalian charcoal is linked to funding for Al-Shabaab. The trade in Brazil and Nigeria is linked to human rights abuses, including, in some cases, not just child labor but child slavery, much like with the mining of cobalt, illegal logging and increased emissions.

Thus it is best to buy homegrown charcoal with a good supply chain and suppliers of guaranteed homegrown and home-produced charcoal do exist. But in the UK we run a charcoal deficit. We only make 5,000 tons versus the 60,000 we go through every summer.

If you are shopping on price, and there are some who will, no doubt have to, alas, that charcoal will arrive typically via Felixstowe on a giant container ship from Namibia, 5,000 miles away, of from other, far away places.

Charcoal producers, in Namibia, and elsewhere, are paid by the tonne, and it is easy to chop down a large, protected tree, so charcoal is fueling deforestation. A 2010 investigation, “Namibia's Black Gold?”, found charcoal producers and their families living under plastic sheeting without access to running water or sanitation. And this kind of conditions prevail everywhere in those places.

Not that you would guess all this when you pick up a bag of charcoal from a supermarket. You are unlikely to see any country of origin on the bag. You should always look for an FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) symbol if possible. But that symbol and certification often is also not worth the paper that it is printed on.

Charcoal is excluded from EU timber regulation which requires all timber and many timber products to be legally sourced. So were it included, it would make it a criminal offense to import illegal charcoal from Namibia (and elsewhere).

Seasonal products, apparently, can get away with dodgy supply chains because they hold our attention for such a short time. Not just for us, as consumers, but also, it would appear, for any regulators. Too the detriment of ethically and locally produced product, and, obviously the Planet and the workers.

Thus, as with beanpoles and pea-stick, buy charcoal wherever possible from local producers, from coppice workers. Also local lumpwood charcoal is better in many other ways, and that includes the lighting of it. It should not require any BBQ-lighter fluid or blocks of any kind and should start just by using paper or other tinder.

Considering that the lighter fluid or bricks are petroleum product do you really want gasoline or kerosene with your food?

© 2018

Spear & Jackson Precision Snips – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Spear & Jackson PRECISION SNIPS
SK5 steel blades for lasting sharpness
with a built-in locking catch for safe transportation
and storage
SRP: £6.49

Spear & Jackson PRECISION SNIPSDon’t be fooled by their diminutive size; these Precision Snips with their long narrow blades are perfect for dead-heading, says the website and promises the advert.

Well, hmm, perfect for dead heading, they say. The accuracy leaves much to be desired as does the strength of the blades; in my tests, at least. In other words, impressed I am not. OK, those snips only cost about £7 but why where something else would work equally as well, namely a pair of (old) scissors.

Alternatively get a decent pair of garden scissors, such as Fiskars, but an ordinary (old) sharp pair of scissors repurposed for the garden will do just as well, as those snips, if not better even. The only advantage, maybe, that this pair of snips has is the fact it has the spring in the middle like a pair of secateurs has. But I have found that a pair of scissors has better accuracy also.

There are many “special” garden tools that you do not need – nay, not even want – to buy, and this one falls firmly into that category, but is just one of many.

Oh, I guess you now want to have my rating for this product. Hmm, zero would just about sum it up. A pair of scissors or snips from Poundland would offer a better deal. I know the company won't like me after this but so be it.

© 2018

The real reason behind austerity

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

austerity-isnt-working-2The real reason behind austerity is to erode hope, to increase inequality and to make people's lives so hard that they do not have a chance to demand better. Nay, not just that, but that they even do not dare to demand better for fear of falling every deeper into poverty.

It has nothing whatsoever to do with reducing the country's dept and all that jazz. Portugal did not follow that idea put forward by the EU and others and, erm, no, the country did not fall off a cliff; the economy grew.

Austerity is about putting people into poverty because poverty is the ultimate form of control. Because people who are poor are, more often than not, dependent on government or other agencies for help and thus are controllable.

The aim of the neo-liberals, on whose dung heap those ideas have grown, is to make the poor ever poorer and also put the middle class into the poor bracket, wherever possible, while the elite gets richer by the minute.

Also, people who are poor but are working will not risk taking industrial action, that is to say strike or such, for fear of losing their job, which in turn could lead to losing their home and even losing their children.

In this context we also have to and must see the attempt by the neo-liberal establishment to outlaw, basically, cash and the use of it. Without money in the form of cash people also have no chance to do any extra, unofficial work, or make a little money from hobby crafts, selling surplus garden produce and such. Neither can they be trading on craft and other markets as card terminals would not be within their scope.

The end of cash will also, to a great extent, mean the end of markets in villages, towns and cities, selling produce and other things, as the majority of the market traders would also not be able to afford the use of card terminals.

The entire reason for the neo-liberal idea of austerity is to make the poor poorer still, to make the middle class poor, and to make the rich ever richer and by privatizing every public service making increasing the values of the shares of the corporations and the dividends for their shareholders, mostly the already very rich. It has nothing to do with the economy not with the reduction of the public debt.

Austerity is the tool by means of which the neo-liberal elite is turning most of the people into obedient slaves, who dare not revolt for fear of becoming poorer still.

© 2018

Upcoming GDPR regulation used to spam

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

One cannot call it any other way.

GDPR-graphicIn the last couple of days, aside from the ones I have been/am subscribed to, there are emails arriving from organizations, PR companies, and whatever that I have never heard of and never been subscribed to any of their mailing lists.

It would appear that the upcoming GDPR law taking effect soon in the UK is being used to send mails to people in the hope that they will subscribe to mailing lists. Therefore, before clicking on any link asking you to confirm that you would want to continue to hear from them ensure that you actually ever have been subscribed to them, and want to continue to do so. So, just check before you click and (re)subscribe.

© 2018

Russian backyard agriculture

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

dascha russian homesteadAround 35 million backyard gardens are in private family possession in Russia and the government supports this with a legal right to a free, tax-free piece of land from 1-3 ha (in some regions even up to 6 ha).

In 1999 those backyard farms produced 50% of all the milk, 60% of all meat, 77% of all vegetables, 87% of all fruit, and 92% of all potatoes and all that organically and sustainably. The entire country can in this way be feed without any real problems.

According to information from Russia the situation has gotten better still even since that time as more and more of such small backyard farms are coming “on stream”. The surplus of what is grown and now used by the householders and their family and laid up for winter and for seed, is sold on the local markets. That is, actually, one of the obligations that comes with being given free land.

Apparently, however, neither in the EU, nor Britain, nor the USA, this system could be implemented, so the powers-that-be (but probably shouldn't be) claim. Honest now, let's face it, we can't possibly allow people to be able to grow their own food on free land with a small house that the government also pays for – more or less – as is the case in Russia, and then sell surplus on the local markets. That would way too much cut the profits of the corporations.

Just imagine what would happen if people could do that and be able to grow all the food they and their families could possibly eat and then sell surplus as well. The whole idea of neo-liberal people control by controlling their food – and what goes into it – would go out of the window and that just would not do.

© 2018

Spear & Jackson Select Stainless 3-Piece Mini Tools Set – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Spear & Jackson SELECT STAINLESS 3-PIECE MINI TOOLS SETSpear & Jackson Select Stainless 3-Piece Mini Tools Set
• Mirror-polished stainless steel heads for rust resistance, easy clean and minimal soil adhesion
• Bi-material, soft grip contoured handles for added comfort
• An ideal set for container gardening
SSP incl VAT £17.99

A small but perfectly formed set of three miniature Select Stainless hand tools: hand trowel, transplanting trowel and three-pronged cultivator, ideal for working in the confined spaces of pots, planters and baskets.

While, originally, intended for use by adults in confined spaces of pots, planters, baskets and otherwise in container gardening, the set is also ideal for the little ones to be introduced to proper gardening, whether in containers or raised bed, by being given proper tools and not plastic things.

Personally I always suggest to refrain from giving a child inferior tools when introducing them to gardening. The plastic play tools do not cut it if you really want them to take gardening serious.

I particularly like the serration on the left-hand side of the trowel as, aside from giving a cutting edge, so to speak, if and when the soil is a little compacted, it also can be used to open bags of soil, compost, etc.

A real nice handy set of tools for the adult gardener pottering around in pots or, and especially, for the young gardener.

© 2018

Technology-addled children have trouble holding a pencil

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Technology-addled children have trouble holding a pencilChildren have been found to have trouble holding pencils, due to so much time on iPads and other such devices

Experts say that children lack the muscle strength required to write.

All number of things – from intricate finger movement to hand-eye coordination – have to go right before someone can actually write.

Children spend so much time swiping iPad screens that they cannot hold a pencil anymore. Senior paediatricians in the United Kingdom say that many children start school lacking the muscle strength to grip a pencil, which affects their ability to learn how to write properly.

Technology-addled children have trouble holding a pencil2Sally Payne, head pediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust, told The Guardian: "Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago. Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not able to hold it because they don't have the fundamental movement skills."

"To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers. Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills."

I would also say that they haven't got the faintest idea what a pencil or pen is in the first place having spent probably several years already playing around on their parents' and probably even their own iPads or such devices.

Developing finger, arm, and shoulder strength is something that happened naturally in the past, when children drew, colored, cut paper and did crafts for entertainment and participated more actively in household chores. But the spread of handheld devices has changed the nature of play.

As Payne said, "It's easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes. Because of this, they're not developing the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil."

And the ability of proper finger skills and hand-eye-coordination is not just important for writing by hand but also and especially for so many other tasks.

While some may say that handwriting belongs to an antiquated education system and is no longer relevant to today's texting, typing generation, this problem goes beyond not being able to form words on paper. This shows that kids' actual physical development is being stunted by too much sedentary screen-swiping, and that's very alarming. If a child's hand isn't strong enough to hold a pencil, imagine how weak their entire body must be, if the child has spent that much time sitting still, rather than running around the backyard or climbing trees.

While cursive, aka joint-up, writing might not be too important – I never got on with it myself – learning to write by hand and actually doing so is very important indeed, also for note-taking in class, as that action transfers the knowledge better than typing.

We should not be too quick to write off handwriting as a useless skill. Even if we do not write on paper as much as we used to, subjects like math and geography and art will always require the use of one's hand, particularly in early years. And who knows what schools will be like by the time today's kindergarteners reach university. Some lecture halls are banning laptops from classrooms, not only because they are distracting, but also because students are known to retain information better if it is copied down by hand. And that is because this “copying down by hand” is actually more a case of rewriting the words of lecturer into the student's own, thus already taking the material on board without even thinking about it.

We are doing our children a great disservice by handing them an electronic device (too early) before they have mastered other much more important skills than typing or swiping a finger across a screen. They also will not always be able to have a device handy later when needing to write something down, or the device may be out of power, etc. So what then?

On the other hand being unable to hold and push a pencil due to lack of muscle strength and coordination ability may also impede other activities, including the proper use of cutlery and using a knife for cutting tasks. I dread to think what kind of generation we are creating.

© 2018

Uses for chopsticks in gardening

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

How to use chopsticks in the garden and in gardening indoors and outdoors

Uses for chopsticks in gardeningEvery year, billions of disposable chopsticks are manufactured in China and shipped across the globe to Asian restaurants and take-out restaurants and with almost every tray of sushi bought in supermarkets and other places you get a set of those as well.

Those chopsticks are made out of a variety of woods, including birch, spruce, cotton wood, or bamboo.

Before even considering using them in the garden and in gardening, though that is what, mostly, we will be looking at here, the first reuse of them is as what they are, namely chopsticks.

I have a couple of sets of those sets at home in the tin cans on the windowsill in the kitchen that hold the various items of cutlery. There is a tin for spoons, for knives, etc. and one of them has also got some (wooden) chopsticks in them (for use). I also carry a small set, in a leather wallet, for on-the go.

While I in no way support deforestation in the name of stuffing our faces with dumplings and Vietnamese Crab Fried Rice, I do appreciate, however, creative ways to reuse and recycle items that are otherwise discarded into the trashcan or at the very least stuffed into a kitchen junk drawer, as is all too often the case also with those chopsticks.

In Japan (and also China now, I believe) a trend was started a while back of “bring your own chopsticks” – much like the “bring your own cutlery” that has been advocated in the West, and this is certainly something that should be encouraged.

So, before reuse of such chopsticks in the garden think of reusing them as what they are and when you want to use chopsticks at home then use those. Or when going out where there is the chance that you may indulge in some Asian food then carry your own set.

Having said that I am well aware that often getting yet another set is unavoidable as in some cases they are prepacked with the meal you purchase and you have no choice and control over this.

Right, now for the reuse of chopsticks in the garden and gardening

Dibblet: A dibblet is one of those small dibbers for separating seedlings and replanting them. Some people use a small stick, a pencil or pen, or such while others spend money, actually, buying a special dibblet. Use a chopstick instead. Works great.

Seed Flags: After you have planted your seeds, it is time to make a label so you know where you have planted what. The best marker is a good old flag: Use colored tape, cut it into a fun flag shape, wrap it around one end of a chopstick, and use a marker to note the name.

Seedling Support Stakes: When seedlings coming up, and are getting tall they may need some support. Insert a chopstick into the dirt next to the plant, and loosely tie a piece of twine or string around it to help keep the plant upright as it grows.

Row Planting Guide: Want to make sure you plant your rows straight? Cut a piece of twine or string a few inches longer than your row will be, or just have a lot more string than you will actually need to have one you can use again and again. Tie each end to the tops of two chopsticks. Stick the chopsticks into the ground at either end of the proposed row so that the twine is suspended like a bridge. If you use more twine than you might need for shorter rows just wind then remaining stuff onto one of the chopsticks. You can use your trowel to dig into the ground directly below the twine, making a perfectly straight row.

Mini “Greenhouse”: Stick three chopsticks into a pot or individual seed starting cell, and fit a plastic bag over the top and you have an instant small propagator.

The above are, obviously, only a few ways in which you can reuse and make use of those chopsticks in the garden and gardening and I am sure many readers can come – and have come up – with other ideas in addition to those presented here.

© 2018

The state of Yugoslavia stood in the way of the strategic plan of the USA

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The state of Yugoslavia stood in the way of the strategic plan of the USAThe aim of the US government, through the CIA and proxy-warriors of the CIA, was to eliminate the state of Yugoslavia as a geopolitical power factor, as a regional power. Yugoslavia, as it stood, as a large state, did not fit in with the desires of the United States and thus it had to be broken up. It stood in the way of the strategic plan of the USA the way it was.

The state Yugoslavia, as it was, stood in the way of this strategic plan of the USA for it was a country had some weight and some prestige and also had one of the largest and strongest armies of Europe. Thus it had to be eliminated as a homogeneous nation, although made up of many nations, and broken up. That was the aim of CIA dark operations. Those even included the arming of certain groups – mostly the Muslim fighters, such as in Bosnia, many of which were actually foreign operators from other Muslim countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Another of the CIA's clandestine operators tasks was the surveillance, and if necessary elimination, of a supposed Serb terror group whose aim it was to sabotage the plans for Bosnian independence. The problem here was that the group "Surpreme Serbia", as it was called, never existed.

While it is true that the Serb side has committed atrocities the Bosniaki side probably even more and was far better in ethnic cleansing, as were the Kosovar Albanians. In that case a British commander stated on record: “We have come out in the defense of the wrong group”.

In the case of Kosovo, as well as, to some extent, in Bosnia Herzegovina, a main aim of ethnic cleansing was targeted at the Romani (Gypsy) population, a fact very often ignored. In Kosovo the Roma mahalas were systematically attacked and the people forced out, after which the homes were either taken over by Kosovar Albanians or destroyed.

Other operatives that were “at location”, from British military personnel, especially officers, liaison officers, as well as intelligence officers, talk of the same US shenanigans, as well as security personnel for the convoys. The weapons that were supplied by the Saudis – for the Muslim mercenaries – paid for with CIA funds, and several former CIA officers in that region report of the same. And those Islamist mercenaries were directly paid from CIA black funds.

Black ops, as they are often called, of the CIA went basically from one region of Yugoslavia to another, after mission accomplished in one, in order to destabilize the country and cause it to fall apart by “encouraging” those regions targeted to strive for independence.

As far as Kosovo is concerned the troubles are far from over with it, basically, being the largest US military base in the Balkans and the actions of the regime in Kosovo, against Serbs (and Rom) being sanctioned, for lack of a better word, by the US military administration.

In the same way that Yugoslavia, as a state, stood in the way of the geopolitical interest of the USA so it was with Libya, with Iraq and is also the case with Syria. Whenever a country stands in the way of the global strategic interests of the USA destabilizing is being applied and if that does not work civil war is being created. And when that does not work, as in the case of Russia, weird and wonderful incidents are being produced by America and its “allies”.

© 2018

Don't try to impress people with what you can buy

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

20604260_2114171278607919_4510769526560386680_nDon't try to impress people with what you can buy. Instead impress them – or at least try to impress them – with what you can do and make. Make from natural materials, from trash, and whatever, and thus don't have to buy.

Also with what you can do without, I would add to that. People are always totally amazed that I do not have a television, for instance. How can you not have a television and stay informed, they ask at times. Others wonder in a question as to whether I don't get bored not being able to watch TV and what I do with and in my spare time. First question here is: “what is spare time?”, for of that I do not have much. I am far too active with all manner of things. And, also, have they never heard of hobbies and books?

But, let's get back to the things that you can do (and make) for yourself instead of buying them. I am more impressed what someone can make and do then what they can buy. There money won't get them anywhere should the time come when the proverbial hits the air moving device, if you get my meaning.

Being able to make (do) and do – and do without – is what counts, as far as I am concerned, and that more and more so today where we have already over-consumed our quota of the Earth's resources and with recycling and the circular economy being but, in the main, a serious case of greenwash.

Instead of buying to impress, and buying more and more, we should and must, in fact, reduce our consumption – maybe even reduce to impress, but then again why impress or try to impress in the first place – and make do, repair, reuse, make our own, ideally from waste in the form of reuse or upcycling, and make our own from scratch from natural materials and/or from waste.

In my house absolutely nothing matches, as far as furniture and such is concerned, and many things, such as coat racks, and others, are made by myself from waste materials, natural materials or a combination of both. Found objects become decorations in one way or the other and on goes the list. And why not? Shabby chic is now seriously the in thing and such decorations are very much part of it.

Making furniture from pallets – and similar wood – was once the domain of the poor student and the hippies but today it is more or less big business and pieces of furniture made from such wood fetch high prices. But, with a little knowledge and skill, and some tools, you can make those yourself rather. The same goes for so many other things too.

That is rather the way how I like to impress people – although I do not set out to impress them – and not by buying expensive things.

© 2018

All you need is one

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

29513116_287094908492162_7131041815685215326_n“A man with one watch knows what time it is. The man with two is not quite sure.” Unknown

So many homes are clogged with duplicate items, which are supposed to make things easier, but end up contributing to clutter and cost. But can downscaling to just one of each really be done? Maybe, maybe not entirely. It all depends on the individual's and the individual family's situation.

If you do have children who attend school then you can't just have one pair of school trousers, and one shirt, and pair of underpants, for the child unless you can wash and dry this each and every time that they need washing so they can be ready again the next day.

The same goes for someone who has to have clean clothes for work every day. Here too just having one set would not work. It is a little different if you are working somewhere where you are being issued with a uniform, and that in a couple of sets.

In most cases you will need two sets, whether this is as regards to bedding or clothes, especially underwear and socks. It would also not be very environmentally healthy, so to speak, to do your washing every day and use a tumble dryer, for instance, so as to have the clothes clean again next day.

Just having one, good, pair might work with shoes but not necessarily with anything else. You can reduce some of the clothing pile, even to a very minimalist level, if you add family nudism to the equation.

If your children are homeschooled and thus need no clothes for going to school, as they don't go to school, and can do their lessons at home in the altogether then you win even more in that department.

The one section in the clothing department you can do away with altogether, at least for the males, and that is underwear in the form of underpants. Science has shown that they are actually bad for boys and men alike.

In addition to that the idea that you only need one and only owning one item or pair of something goes against our cultural, and possibly even human, tendency to stockpile multiples for future times of need, even though most of the time those extras add more clutter, cost, and work to our lives than benefits.

Personally, I have to say that I am guilty of this, but many of the things stockpiles are consumables and it saves having to dash out to the stores when you run, say, out of toilet paper to have another couple sitting there in the cupboard.

In some departments it is possible to pare down to single items or just two of them, in others this simply does not work. With clothing this would mean that daily, more or less, you have to do the washing and then, probably, use a dryer, such as a tumble dryer, to dry the clothes so that they are ready for the next day. It does not make for savings and neither is that good for the Planet; the opposite rather.

As far as some items are concerned the question also is why own them at all. The television, as far as I am concerned, is one of those. If it has only entertaining and childminding duties then it is best not ever given houseroom in the first place or gotten rid off now. It is also not called program for no reason. It is a means of programing us and especially the kids who do not have as much discernment as adults should have.

In addition the toy department can be reduced – though ideally in cooperation with the children – as too many toys do not make for better play either. In fact the fewer toys kids own the better and more imaginary the play is.

While, as said, it can be possible to have just one items of something, as far as clothing is concerned this is not, and also not very environmentally friendly even if some may think it. Constant washing is not good for the clothes, requires water and energy, not speaking of detergent, and if the drying has to happen on the quick, via a dryer, then that costs additional energy and extra wear on the clothes.

Owning less in a way is a good idea as there is less stuff and clutter in the house, making it easier to find that single item as it is easier to designate a specific location in which to keep it. But in many cases the single items just is not going to be possible.

There are many minimalists and aspiring minimalists who believe that they are doing the Planet a service by cutting down almost to the bone but this is not always the case and what do you do if your single set of clothes that you have washed that evening is not dry for the next morning? Just one of the possible dilemmas.

You also wouldn't, necessarily, want to pare down too much on practical items like dinner plates, cutlery, etc., since that could create more work, and this is the same with regards to owning just one set of everything in regards to clothes. However, having ten shirts, ten pairs of pants, etc., as some seem to have, really is not necessary. Nor are hundreds (OK, I may be exaggerating) toys for the kids.

As far as clothes go good reduction and reduction in use is possible if you, whether you are an individual, a couple, or a family, embrace nudism, at least at home (and on the property) as a lifestyle. Also your health and that of the kids will benefit from such a change.

© 2018

Drinking the hipster way

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The HipsterWay1There definitely was a time when you used a jam jar or other glass jar as a drinking vessel you were looked down upon and was surely regarded as being seriously poor or a strange eccentric.

Jam jars and other glass jars were the common drinking vessels of the poorer classes for many, many decades and more and the very term of “having a jar”, referring to having a drink, even in the pub, probably originates from that. More than likely they even brought their own appropriate jars to the pub.

Robert Tressell in his book “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” mentions on more than one occasion, I believe, of the workers drinking their tea during their break from jam (glass) jars.

When I was a child drinking glasses in our home were reserved for guest and all the family, though especially the children, drank from glass jars of various sizes for various purposes. Cheaper also to give children a jam jar, for instance, and have him drop that and break it – at least in those days – that a real drinking glass which would cost money to replace.

Personally I have kept this habit and my (personal) drinking glasses are all reused glass jar of different types and kinds and even the water bottle that I use by my desk is a glass jar, in that case a reused Bockwurst glass from Aldi.

Nowadays it has become the hipster thing to do to drink from glass jars (again) and many fashionable bars and coffee shops serve cold beverages and smoothies in glass jars to their customers.

But, hold it! No ordinary reused jar will do. No way, Jose! It has to be Mason jars. And they do the same at home but also there, in their own four walls, it has to be bought Mason jars. Reusing jam jars they could not possibly do. What would others think. Empty jars are for the recycling bin. One has to do one's part as to recycling. It would not do to reuse those jars. (Sorry, my sarcasm has got the better of me again.)

As drinking from glass jars – canning jars – has become so very trendy why not go the reuse route and make use of those that come with the products you buy.. After all you have paid for them through the purchase price. Much better for your wallet and for the Planet than buying – rather expensive – canning jars for the same purpose.

© 2018

ALDI Gardenline Foldable Saw – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Gardenline-Garden-and-Camping-Saw-AALDI Gardenline Foldable Saw
Length approx. 18cm
Carbon steel saw blade with 3-sides ground teeth, ABS handle with TPR grips
Thickness: 1.2mm (Blade)
Price (when available) £ 4.99

I purchased this saw, more or less, to try it out as to how it would perform and not, like often, given this as a review sample. Having used it on both old and green wood, including rather hard cherry, I must say that it performed if not as well then at least almost as well as some rather expensive makes of saws of this kind, at a fraction of the cost.

Gardenline-Garden-and-Camping-Saw-CI would certainly say that this saw is ideal for gardening, pruning, camping, clearing trails, hiking, tree trimming and light coppice work.

Blade safety lock with a safety locking mechanism that double locks, so to speak, as it also locks the blade once on the way down, thus making the closing of the blade safer reducing the risk of closing it on the hand.

Unfortunately, as with all ALDI special buys offers, these saws are always only available now and then and then only as long as stocks last which, at times, may last for a couple of days or a couple of weeks depending on demand.

Obviously, the question is now as to how this saw holds up in sharpness and other things in comparison to other, more expensive ones of brands that I am not going to mention here.

© 2018

Solar power installations suck away the light of the sun

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Solar power installations suck away the light of the sunThe council of the US town of woodland rejected the installation of a small solar array along of Highway 258 by reasoning that those photo-voltaic installations suck away the light of the sun but not only that.

Had it been in Texas I might have understood it better considering that one of the Lone Star State's lawmakers things along the same light as regards to solar and when it comes to wind turbines then, according to him, we have to be really careful as those stop the wind from blowing in the end – as wind is a limited resource – and eventually will stop the Earth from spinning.

But back to Woodland, NC.

Woodland is a sleepy little town nestled in the open spaces of North Carolina. It has 388 inhabitants and between the white farmhouses the Highway 258 snakes along. Along this highway, at the verges, the 21st century was meant to arrive in the form of a solar array. For the inhabitants of the little town a nightmare.

The company – Strata Solar Company – applied to be permitted to install a solar farm along Highway 258 but after protest were raised by the community against those plans the council of Woodland refused to grant permission.

In a town hall meeting residents could voice their objections before council made its decision and enables us a view into this strange way of thinking by many and not just in that community in the USA.

Solar farms as plant killers

A spokesperson for the citizenship called Bobby Mann stated the fear that solar panels would suck up all the energy of the sun. His wife Jane told the audience that she had seen areas where around solar arrays all plants had died because they no longer could get enough sunlight. A former teacher who used to teach science expounded her theory that plants could not longer photosynthesize because there would not be enough sun.

Furthermore, she said, the clusters of cancers in the area could be not coincidence. No one could tell that solar panels were not causing cancer. They did, she stated.

Others claimed that properties near solar arrays would become worthless and would turn the place into a ghost town as everyone would be moving away.

Strata Solar Company tried to counter those arguments and stated – rightly so – that solar panels are only using the light that reaches them and that, on no account, are they cancer causing. But to no avail. The council voted three to one against granting permission for this small solar farm.

Unfortunately the attitude of many lawmakers in the US government is about the same. They too believe that solar panel make the sun go dark and that wind turbines suck all the wind and might even stop the Earth from spinning. No, I am not joking.

© 2018

Unbranded vs branded products

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

unbranded vs brandedWe have been led to believe, through clever advertising and marketing, that branded products, be it cornflakes, cellphones or whatever, are better than those that do not have a brand label, especially not a “recognized” one. But is that really the truth?

The Lacoste T-shirt, or what other brand name one, more than likely is exactly the same as one that does not have the logo on it. Many brand garments, as well as other products, are the same as those without the big names on them, with the only difference of having the logo embroidered or otherwise attached.

This goes also for, as already indicated, many other branded products, and I would like to come here with two examples.

One of them is a ruggerized cellphone. I got mine at Aldi for around £50, under Aldi's “Workzone” label, and found it to be the same that a coppice worker in the area had that cost him a little over £80. Now there is a JCB cellphone that looks similar, though I could say exactly the same, that cost almost £150 or even more. All in JCB color and with the JCB logo but, and I believe you may have guessed it by now, it has got exactly the very same phone inside as does the Aldi one and the one the coppice worker had.

The second example be my bread maker, also from Aldi, under the “Ambiano” label for £50, which is the same, and I do mean exactly the same bar for the names, that under a variety of top brands is sold for between £95 and £145. So, what that does that tell us?

It tells us that brands, nowadays, at least, mean very little to nothing in the main. Having said that there are probably some, especially if the products is not “Made in China” where they can and will be made for anyone, where the price is worth paying as it is something different. But for many household goods, and electronics, what's on the label is not always what's inside the product, and the same, under a different label, can be had for a quarter if not even half the price, and still the same quality.

Those are not copies of a brand product copied in China (then they would have the brand name on them, wouldn't they, otherwise copies don't work) but those are the same inside. Only on the outside they are different.

It can be safely taken as read that many brand names today – if not even the majority – are not about quality but about ripping off the consumer by suggesting better quality only.

© 2018

The label “natural” on food and other products means absolutely nothing

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

135774b2cc69e2eThe word “natural” helps sell $40 billion worth of food in the USA every year and the label means nothing, absolutely nothing. It is worth less than the paper it is printed upon.

Nothing makes people in many countries of the so-called developed world buy a food product quite like the fabulously ambiguous word "natural."

The top 35 health claims and food labels include words most anyone who has been to a supermarket in the past five years should recognize – ones like "natural," yes, but also "organic," and "fat free," and a couple more such as "carb conscious," "100 calories", etc.

These phrases helped the food industry alone in the USA to sell more than $377 billion worth of masterfully marketed food items annually, according to data from market research firm Nielsen.

The list of lucrative food labels is long, and, at times, upsetting. While many of these labels are pasted onto food packages for good reason. It's imperative, after all, that consumers with celiac disease be able to tell which food items are gluten free, or that those with milk allergies be able to tell which are made without lactose.

Some, however, if not even most others, are utterly meaningless. Take food labeled with the word "natural," for instance. Actually, remember it, because it's probably the most egregious example on supermarket shelves today. The food industry now sells almost $41 billion worth of food each year labeled with the word "natural," according to data from Nielsen. And the "natural" means, well, absolutely nothing. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't even have an official definition or delineation of what "natural" actually means. The only thing the FDA has regarding the word is this statement, on its website:

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

One can, probably, safely assume that many other countries have no definition for it.

Natural is hardly the only misleading adjective the food industry is swinging around these days. The word “organic” (or “bio” in German speaking countries) too, while a bit less nebulous, still means a good deal less than one might think. Often it means very little indeed.

Several others, including ones that reference antioxidants, proteins, calcium and other vitamins and minerals, are confusing consumers by tricking them into believing certain food products are healthier than they actually are, a recent study found. And the trend is only likely to get worse.

Aside from the above, though not food related, there are the labels “green”, “environmentally friendly”, and a few others, that also do not – always – mean what the consumer assumes they mean. That also goes for the Label “Fair Trade” or “fairly traded”.

And when it comes to wood products we all too often encounter then more or less entirely worthless label “FSC certified”. That certification is not worth the paper it is printed upon. All those labels serve but one purpose – or maybe two – namely to sell products and to confuse the consumer and lead him or her to believe that they are buying something good for them or good for the environment.

© 2018

Co-op unveils 50% recycled plastic bottles for own-brand water

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Co-op unveils 50 recycled plastic bottles for own-brand waterThe Cop-op has announced that all of its own-brand water bottles will be switched to contain 50% recycled plastic, as part of a plan to "test the water" on how shoppers will react to a change in design. The bottles will be 100% recyclable and sourced in the UK

The switch, set to take place later this year, will reduce Co-op's plastic consumption by almost 350 tonnes annually. However, the new 50% recycled-content bottles will appear darker and cloudier than traditional bottles, and the retailer will gauge whether shoppers will be deterred by aesthetics.

The bottles will be 100% recyclable and sourced in the UK and form the latest in a line of commitments by the retailer and its 4.6 million active members to improve resource efficiency. Members have already backed an ambition by the retailer to ensure all product packaging is easily recyclable.

What part of single-use bottles being a problem does the Co-op not understand. It is irrelevant whether the bottle had 50% recycled content and is 100% recyclable. The bottle is the problem... Hello! Earth calling Co-op.

Earth to Co-op, Earth to Co-op, are you receiving? There are two points you are missing. The first is the water in the bottle which is not better that tap water but you charge a nice hefty price for having it put into the plastic bottle and then the plastic bottle.

The government may have announced the idea of something like the deposit and reverse vending machines are they are found in Germany but even, it would appear, the Co-op is not all that happy about it.

Dearest retain industry, if you do not want to pay for the clean up then do not create the problem in the first place. It is simple. Earth out!

© 2018

Zero waste myths: should we really be avoiding plastic?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Zero waste myths_ should we really be avoidingnbspplasticFirst of all it also must be said that “zero waste” is a myth itself. There is no such thing as “zero waste”. It will never be possible. Having said that, however, does not mean that we should not reduce waste, especially in way of packaging, and waste that occurs also through planned obsolescence.

Images of ocean plastic pollution are causing so much revulsion that many people are switching to some supposedly more “environmentally friendly” materials to try to reduce their impact. But does this actually work? How much greener are the alternatives?

Also, there is plastic and then there is plastic. Single-use plastic, in my opinion, is a bad idea. We should, with the exception of may be a few things, avoid any kind of single use altogether. Other plastics, for plastic products intended to last for a long time, are a different story and here the material, quite often, is the appropriate one, unless we return to (more) natural materials.

Plastic vs Paper: It is easy to see how paper bags are seen as and appear to be more environmentally-friendly than plastic ones. They are made from trees, which grow in nature, and can biodegrade, in fact compost, when they are finished with.

Research, however, consistently finds that paper bags have a far higher carbon footprint than plastic ones, because the process of making them uses so much energy, and not just energy but also lots of water. Trees may be in harmony with nature, but the process for mashing them up into paper is not.

True, paper bags can decompose, but it is not exactly zero waste to use so much energy producing something that is not designed to last. And if you are careful to reuse and recycle a plastic bag, it should be possible to prevent it ending up as litter or in the ocean, whereas every single paper bag will have made a hefty contribution to global warming, regardless of where it ends up. The best option, of course, is to avoid the problem of single-use waste altogether by using reusable bags.

If you are a business and you want to offer something to customers who have forgotten their own bags, consider doing as Arjuna Wholefoods in Cambridge does, which is to invite people to drop off their old plastic bags to be reused. Alternatively, bags made from recycled materials is the next best thing. Just please don't hand out new single-use bags for free, as this does not reflect how much it costs the Earth to produce them.

As for the idea that paper is “more recyclable” than plastic, this has now been repeated so many times, that it has become almost fact. While it is true that paper can be recycled, the quality of it degrades in the process. Plastic can also be recycled, although some types of plastic are easier to recycle than others, and packaging that mixes plastic with other materials can be more tricky to recycle (single-use coffee cups are the most well-known example of this), but also here, in the main, the quality deteriorates and to make good new plastic from recyclables a great deal of virgin polymer needs to be added to the mix. So, there is no such thing – generally – as 100% recycled plastic, with a few exceptions, maybe. .

So, when it comes to recyclability, there is not that much to be gained from choosing paper-based products over plastic ones, and anyway, it is actually a big mistake to be overly focused on how recyclable something is, when most of the impacts of the stuff we consume is in the process of producing it, rather than what happens to it at the end of its life. This is true regardless of the material, but in terms of paper, we need to factor in how much carbon it takes to produce it.

The best way to lower impacts from packaging waste is to reduce the amount of packaging that we buy, and where possible, buy products packaged in recycled materials. Though it has also be said that often we, as consumers, do have little choice as to the amount of packaging of any kind, be this paper, cardboard (often laminated with foil), or plastic except by voting with our wallet and not buying over-packaged products. This can be a difficult undertaking, however,

Plastic vs Metal: Stainless steel tins and bottles are something of a zero waste style statement. There is no doubt that they look good, but the process of producing metals like stainless steel and aluminium releases scary amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. This means that reusables made from metal will need to avoid a lot of waste before they save more resources than it took to produce them.

The choice is really up to each of us: Option one would be stainless steel (or other) products, which are very high impact to produce, but highly durable, or option two would be plastic bottles and containers, which are more environmentally-friendly to produce, but tend to wear out somewhat more quickly, so that you may end up using more of them in the end. This is essentially a judgment call, based on your personal routines and how much waste you expect to avoid by using your reusable bottle and containers.

Single-use cups vs reusable cups: Several studies have looked into how many times a reusable cup needs to be used before it saves more resources than it took to produce. As they are carried out by academics, there is no simple answer – it depends on which type of reusable cup you are using, which type of single-use cup you are trying avoid, and which environmental impact you are considering – but it seems to range from 5-16 times. So, if you would otherwise expect to use at least 17 single-use cups, consider investing in a reusable one. For top marks, see if you can pick one up in a charity shop or other kind of secondhand store.

Glass jars vs plastic packaging: The jury certainly appears to be out on this one still. Glass tends to lose points compared to plastic because of the high carbon emissions involved in manufacturing and transporting it (think of how much more glass weighs) but can redeem itself by being more efficient to recycle than certain types of plastic. Glass jars, for instance, if we want to be thrifty in the way our grandparents and their parents were, also have a great reuse potential for us, whether as storage jars for all kinds of things or as drinking vessels, etc. And the reuse thought should always come well before any thought of recyclability.

If you can and will reuse or refill jars, the that is your best option. Otherwise, there is, apparently, no clear justification for always choosing glass jars over plastic.

Plastic bags vs cotton or other textile bags: Its a bit of a mystery why cotton has gained a reputation for being an environmentally friendly material. It takes 20,000 liters of water to make 1kg of cotton, and much of it is sourced from countries where water is extremely scarce. Worldwide, cotton production causes pollution and biodiversity loss. But there are alternatives to cotton and cotton bags, such as hessian, aka burlap, canvas, and others, including, though it is oil-based to some extent, woven and non-woven polyester bags.

When it comes to plastic there are – if I may put it this way – good plastics and bad plastics and I am not putting so-called bio-degradable into the category of good necessarily either. Also, as far as plastic water bottles, the reusable kind I mean here, are concerned not all leach chemicals. It all depends on the plastic. The Dutch designed (and produced?) “de Dopper”, as an example, does not, and is also of a rather ingenious design.

The biggest problem is plastic packaging and the over-packaging of products, often products that do not need to be packaged in such a way at all. That is where the changes have to happen and we must force industry to make the change.

© 2018

Rekindling our connection to print and paper

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Rekindling our connection to print and paperI have always been a paper guy – preferring to sit down with a good book in hand, not a digital device. And on the writing side, at least as far as notes and drafts of articles, etc., are concerned a pen & paper guy. Digital just does not do it for me and, in fact, is not good for note taking and such at all, and that also according to scientists.

The paperless office isn't here yet and personally I doubt that it ever will be, considering how long it has already been talked about. I still prefer printed material, particularly for longer documents and books as, apparently, do many other people, and not just those of my age and I admit that I am getting a little long in the tooth.

Among some young people the typewriter – yes, the typewriter, would you believe it – even the mechanical – is making somewhat of a comeback and the Russian security services have, because of cyber hacks and other such issues, gone back to typewriters for sensitive material, though in their case to the electric ones.

Did you know that we comprehend and recall more effectively when we read or write with paper vs digital communications? Students surveyed have said they perform better when reading on paper rather than a screen. We also have more emotional connection with hardcopy print because of the physical material, even if you are a “tablet reader”, which I am not. Although, due to the fact that I am amassing some old books in PDF form I am considering getting one solely to be able to more conveniently read such rather than trying a 200 or 300 page book on the PC screen. I find that far too tiring.

When it comes to reading – and I tend to do a fair number of book reviews – I prefer paper copy over electronic and, in fact, refuse to review digital copy, especially if this is of a printed book. In the latter case mostly for the reason that you cannot judge the quality of the book from a pre-print PDF, in my opinion. The feel of the book, in my view, is as important, at least when it comes to physical hardcopies, as the text.

When it comes to writing, especially notes and article drafts there, to me, is no alternative to pen and paper. At times this may be just literally on the back of an envelope, other times in my own little note-taking system while at other times it is in proper notebooks. Also, when we use pen and paper, whether notebooks or other forms, such as I do with a stack of specially folded sheets in a wallet, for our thoughts, articles drafts, or whatever, the data is secure in that no power failure or other technical glitch can destroy it. It is safe from anything but fire and the shredder. A main battle tank could run over my notebook and I will still be able to retrieve the “data” from it. There are also no batteries to fail or any such kind of problems. One of the many reasons that I stick to pen and paper for many things.

While being no Luddite, as you can see, with this article being on the Web and typewritten on a PC I have never lost my connection with pen and paper though, thus I hardly, myself, have to rekindle it. Alas, my handwriting is not the beautiful cursive kind but capital letters. I have tried cursive but it is too slow for me and I can print write much faster, thus following my train of thought.

And, as far as reading is concerned, I have, so far, never, owned an e-book reader though am currently considering investing in one to read larger PDF files. In general, however, it is only the printed book that will ever do it for me. There is something about the printed book, handling it and turning the pages and all that. There is something special about it in the same way as there is something special about writing by hand, even if it is just in capitals, as in my case.

© 2018

Elderly should do community work or lose pension, said peer

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

elderlyLord Bichard, an ex-chief of the Benefits Agency, said in October 2012, and while I know that this is almost six years ago, that the elderly should get rewards and fines to make sure they are taking a more active part in the world.

While, as I have said, this is almost six years ago, attitudes of the regime in Westminster have not changed one iota. It must be remembered also that this comes from a member of the House of Lords, an elderly person who clocks in in the morning to generally sleep on the benches in the House (if that) and gets £300 for just clocking in.

The crossbench peer, who also chaired an inquiry into the murder of two Soham school girls, suggested the same tough attitude towards benefit scroungers should be taken with older people.

“Older people who are not very old could be making a very useful contribution to civil society if they were given some incentive or recognition for doing so,” he told a committee of MPs.

“We are prepared to say to people if you are not looking for work, you don't get a benefit. If you're old and you're not contributing in some way, maybe there should be some penalty attached to that. These debates never seem to take place.

“Are we using all the incentives at our disposal to encourage older people not just to be a negative burden on the state but actually be a positive part of society?”

His remarks were condemned, and rightly so, by pensioner groups as “little more than National Service for the over-60s".

Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said: “This is absolutely outrageous. Those who have paid their national insurance contributions for 30 or more years are entitled to receive their state pension and there should be no attempt to put further barriers in their way.

“We already have one of the lowest state pensions in Europe and one in five older people in Britain live below the poverty line.”

All through their working life those elderly will have paid in to the social security pot in order to receive their pension and it is not a hand-out, in the same way that other social benefits are not, but something that the working person has paid in for. Thus it is his or her due and not something made out by government to be some charity from the side of government.

The attitude seems to be that if you do not work – in the way that the powers-that-be see work – then you have no right to eat. I am waiting when they are going to extend that thought to children too young to work. Maybe I best not give them any silly ideas as they have already far too many of their own.

A similar song, if not even the very same, is also being sung in countries such as Germany, and a couple of other EU nations. First of all, just like the UK, the retirement age is being raised, and it would appear almost year by year now, and then they, like in the UK, make noises that pensioners should still be productive thereafter in charity work or such so as to still contribute rather than “scrounge” from the state.

Countries, like the UK, and others, that are run by neo-liberal thought, can, with attitudes like that prevailing in the corridors of power, really no longer be seen as civilized. Those that they would like to refer to as savages – on the other hand – in may departments are much more civilized than seem to be our nations.

© 2018

Paper planners, diaries and notebooks in the digital age

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

diary-147191_1280One would have thought that paper planners, diaries and notebooks would, by now, have died a death with all the digital “alternatives” available on the PC and online. But they have not – which is also a good thing – and I doubt that they will.

I have tried a fair number of digital “alternatives”, to planners, diaries, etc., both on the PC and online and found all of them rather wanting as, in the main, they cannot be adapted and adjusted to how I want to do things. I do have, I have to admit, Google Calendar but rarely use it, to be honest. I do, however, make use of the calendar in my Thunderbird email program (Open Source Outlook equivalent) for some appointments, and to remind me of birthdays. Otherwise, though, it is pen and paper all the way for me, with the occasional journal note for the diary printed from the PC.

Seeing that so many so-called Millenials and some a little older than that returning, in droves, to pen and paper, and even fountain pens in some cases, seems to point to the fact that they have had the same experience. Furthermore is “pen and paper” also far more secure as it cannot be hacked and will far less likely be searched by (US) border agents.

There is something special about a proper day-to-a-page bound paper appointment diary and the paper notebook. Something that, in my opinion, no digital application or device can ever fulfill. Life without a proper notebook – or more than one actually – and a paper diary are, to me, unthinkable. I also use the diary like a daily journal and that is what may make them special to me and I also keep them on their own shelf as something to revisit at times. Something that you cannot do – at least not as far as I am aware – with any online calendars and other such programs, not even those that are on your PC.

Furthermore I can use my paper diaries, notebooks, and whatever, at any time, anywhere, with no need for batteries and such, and even if the diary or notebook should get run over by a Main Battle Tank – rather unlikely but one never knows – the information contained therein would still be retrievable without much ado. Yes, admittedly, they are a little bulkier than a smartphone or even a tablet computer but then they are more reliable and almost indestructible, short of fire.

Personally I also have another little note-taking system that is a leather wallet with reused A4 sheets of paper folded in a special way to create an A7 size. This gives me, as generally the backside of the page is printed on – as I said reused paper – eight pages of A7 per A4 sheet. And there are four of those in the wallet. Enough, generally, for a day's worth of notes and such.

For general notebooks there is no need to go and spend a lot of money for a Moleskine or such. It is quite simple to make one's own by reusing paper such as one side printed sheets and even the backs of larger envelopes, held together by whatever means.

Also, often, it is possible to, part way into a year, find diaries, A4, A5 and even A6 ones, that are reduced to very low prices. Such a blank diary, especially a day to a page one, makes for a great, almost free, notebook. By buying those diaries up cheaply for your notebook use you also keep them out of the waste stream, whether this is actual recycling or more than likely landfill. Considering that they are made of different kinds of material, aside from paper, the landfill will generally be the way that they would go and thus, by using them as notebooks, we can avoid that happening. I always tend to get a couple when the opportunity presents itself.

I known that there are some to who the use of paper – nowadays – is an anathema, believing that it is better for the Planet not to use paper and that using digital, especially “in the cloud” is better and more environmentally friendly. Alas, this is not the case, and that already on the energy level. As to paper and trees I have written and spoken about so many times that I will not repeat myself.

© 2018