Waste reduction through repairing and repairability

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The specter of things not being able to be repaired haunts us everywhere we turn.

Products, especially electrical and electronic ones, bar old desktop PCs and tower PCs, are made in such a way that they can only be opened with special tools, not available to mere mortals, such as you and I, and even small repair shops, or not at all. This means that they have to be thrown away when something goes wrong with them, even if it is but a minor problem, as they simply cannot be repaired. ifixit_manifesto

Even with shoes and boots we have reached the stage now and even if they are properly sewn the so-called shoe repair shops of today can no longer, in the main, actually sew leather uppers to mid sole, and final sole, etc.

Proper waste reduction cannot and will never be achieved by simple reduction of packaging and such. It will require for us to return to the way things were, and were done, in the past. It is in the ways of the past wherein lies our future; in having good that can be repaired, by either DIY or repair shops.

Reducing packaging is something that needs to be done, but that is a different story, in the same way that reuse has to become part of our lives again. Recycling means that we have failed in our waste reduction efforts.

Goods of all kinds and products need to be designed – again – so that reuse is obvious and where appropriate with repairability. Most good and products once could be repaired, often by the user, and this must become the norm again. We just cannot go on this way in tossing (valuable) things out simply because they cannot be upgraded or repaired. It is madness.

We all know, I an sure, why it is that things today cannot be repaired. Obsolescence has been factored in with wound three years or so (some even shorter) lifespans in order to force us to buy new all the time. With a finite Planet and finite resources in many cases this is total and utter insanity.

When I was growing up – and yes, I am showing my age now – everything (well almost everything) could be repaired, and often by the user with a little skill and knowledge. The wireless (most still had tubes back then), the TV (if you had one), your shoes and boots, etc. But no longer today.

We have not advanced at all, methinks. In fact, I believe, this all shows that we have gone backwards rather than forward. By now everyone should be able to repair everything themselves, almost. But this is not the case. Call this progress?

Only when things become repairable (again) will we ever tackle our waste problem.

© 2012

Do not let waste go to waste

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” goes the mantra and it sounds simple, doesn't it?. But, apparently, it’s not.

LandfillWaste management companies that operate recycling units find a great number of problems in the US, and not only there.

First of all it appears hard to get many cities and towns to embrace recycling and then it is difficult to get homeowners to figure out which plastics go into which bin.

In addition to that it is expensive to build out the infrastructure needed to separate materials, and ship them to customers. And, to make matters worse, recently the prices that buyers are willing to pay for cardboard, used paper, metals and plastics have fallen, on average, by about a third.

Those recyclables are treated as commodities and they are global in nature. When the French or Germans stop buying things, the Chinese stop making things, and when that happens, they need fewer boxes and the price of recovered paper in the US falls.

And it not only affects, obviously, recovered card and paper but also plastic recyclables. All of this, primarily, goes to China bundled to be processed there and if they don't want to buy it then the bottom falls out of the market.

But should it really be a market such as this? I think not. The materials should be reclaimed and processed into new products at home, thus creating real green jobs.

Councils in the UK provide a collection service for many, if not most, recyclables, and you don't even have to sort the plastics and glass, etc. They do it for us.

However, and here come my caveat, I have observed that there are times when the glass does not get separated properly, or not at all, by color and that means that it is useless bar for one purpose and that is for use in industries specifically created to deal with broken mixed glass where the glass will be ground down into building sand.

Bottles, as I have said time and again, should never be broken down (unless and until they are broken) and should be reused by the bottling industry. They are far too valuable to be broken up.

I have been observing that much of the recyclables, even though they are being collected meticulously by the councils from the homes and businesses, are actually landfilled.

This has two reasons for sure. One being that there are no storage facilities to await a rise in world commodity prices and the second being that often the materials collected have been contaminated in that the wrong items are in the bins (and this is especially the case for the large commercial collections).

It would appear that education is required on many levels when it comes to waste and recycling and how recyclables are being collected.

A lot of waste from households could and can be turned, with the right equipment and mindset, by councils (and enterprises) into valuable products, and that without ever leaving the country. This creates jobs and products for sale.

One opportunity, done by many already, is the processing of organic waste (food, yard waste, etc.) to make soil, mulch, organic fertilizer and also renewable energy.

Difficult-to-recycle waste plastics can be turned into crude oil, essentially reclaiming the hydrocarbons used to make the plastic. Waste can also be converted into ethanol and renewable chemicals, and there are some companies which turn household garbage into transportation fuels.

If we want to tackle our waste problem when we must look at waste with different spectacle and we must also stop exporting the stuff to places such as China and elsewhere.

We must bite the bullet and do the reprocessing at home for it creates jobs and much lower footprint as far as the transportation of the goods back to the consumer is concerned.

But we must also manage waste in such as way that all those things than could actually be reused – and I am not talking here about reuse at home, as I normally do – such a bottles and glass jars going back to be refilled.

© 2012

All males in (drone) strike zone regarded as combatants

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

All males, regardless whether adults, teens or children, in a drone strike zone are regarded as combatants, according to latest orders

pedetor drone_webAccording to the latest from the Obama administration and the Pentagon all males in a strike zone of a predator drone are going to be considered hostile combatants and this regardless of their age.

This now means that the USA is, openly, conducting war on children in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not that the Pakistanis have completely realized that they are also part of the Afghan “conflict” (mustn't call it war as it is regarded as a conflict only and thus the rules are different) even though the term Af-Pak conflict or even “war” is widely being used.

And, because it is a conflict and not a war the Geneva Convention is regarded by the US administration not to be applicable and the same was the case with the Iraq war which also was regarded as a conflict. This is the very reason why the term “illegal enemy combatants” was created and the Guantanamo facility does not appear to contravene the Geneva Convention.

In the same light it appears that the Pentagon and the Obama regime have decided that killing small boys is fine also as they may grow up to be proper fighters against them.

Nothing like preparing for the future. The Nazis were doping the same when they murdered Russian children in order so they could not become real partisans and fight them in the forests.

Then, however, the USA called foul and condemned the actions – and rightly so – of the Wehrmacht, Waffen SS and General SS. Now they, much like their Zionist friends, do the very same.

Interesting hose the rules change...

© 2012

Olympic legacy

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The 2012 London Olympics are over and the Paralympics are about to begin but what about the legacy?

While the opening ceremony was impressive, to say the least, and Team GB's medal haul as well, the closing ceremony went from the weird to the outrageous and them from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Now the question comes as to the legacy of those games and it may have to be a wait and see before we can judge.

However, so far local people have not benefited one iota from the run up to the games and the games themselves, and jobs for local people just could not be had for love or money.

An entire community has been displaced, namely that of the Romani-Gypsy, who have been living there in peaceful coexistence with local for decades and more, as well as many businesses, and the Gypsy People were forced into an entirely unsuitable area where they don't want to be and where the locals of that areas also don't want them. Those are the casualties already. One can thus but wonder as to the legacy and the benefits to and for the people of the area.

Not that the removal of Gypsies, so they be out of sight, before Olympic Games is anything new; Hitler did exactly the same in 1936 and that was the beginning of the Gypsy deportations into concentration camps.

As I said before it may have to be case of “wait and see” as to what the legacy will be but if other cities that have hosted Olympic Games in the recent past is anything to go by it will be little to no benefits to the locals.

All they got was disruption and trouble and inconvenience and the taxpayers, especially the little man, is the one who carries the can, once again.

Who is going to be benefiting from the sale of the main stadium to whichever football (soccer for our American cousins) club who is going to buy it? We can bet that most of the money will end up in the pockets of a very select few.

Will local people on the social housing list benefit from any of the homes in the Olympic Village? No very likely and the area is probably anyway one of those that is being earmarked by the ConDem coalition to be cleansed of all poor people and the latter to be rehoused in ghettos elsewhere.

Those new homes in the Athletes Village would be far too good for the riffraff and considering that the area is next door to Yuppi Land, aka Docklands, it is more than likely that one will try to entice some more of those rich folks, this time to the Borough of Newham.

I cannot wait to be proven wrong on the matter of the legacy of the Olympics and of all – or most – of the homes in the Athletes Village going to those on the social housing list, but I just cannot see it.

© 2012

We need a new system, not a new government

Politics as if people and Planet mattered

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

It is often being thought by people that if they just would get a new government, a different one from the present one, or a new president (as in the USA), or what have you, it will change things but it will not.

We do not need a new government or president but a complete change of the system. The old system is exploitative of people and Nature and is destroying the base of our very existence.

Government and corporations are not interested in people and the Planet but only in profit and power and we must put a stop to that. Can we do it? Yes, we can!

The way the system runs at the present moment, politically and economically, it is harming people and environment and it is threatening to destroy the entire Planet; and this is something that we, if we are all honest, cannot allow. It is, in fact, threatening our very existence.

This problem is not only found in the so-called developed world but everywhere for everything is now being based on capitalism, on ever more growth and expansion, fueled by greed and the exploitation of the working class.

But, will many say. We cannot work without government and without the system. Yes, we can! Government is not even a necessary evil, it is evil and not necessary.

But, in order to archive this everything must be brought down from a national level to a “small is beautiful”, local, and block, level while, at the same time, also looking at cooperation with everyone everywhere.

However, primarily, we must bring everything down (again) to a local level and to time before big government and government in general.

Although we have been taught that a (democratic) government is necessary for a society to function that is all a blatant untruth perpetuated to enslave us to the system and the rulers. There is no need for any top down government of any kind.

I am sure that we have all seen, by now, where that system has gotten us and it is irrelevant as to whether it is called democracy or whatever. Any government of this kind creates a ruling class, and elite, and a governed class, a proletariat. The latter being often treated like children, or worse, imbeciles.

The time has more than come for men to truly become free (and this also includes women and children) and to throw of the fetters of this kind of oppression by those that we – in the majority at least – believe to be our servants.

What we need is a new system and not a new (kind of) government. This can only be achieved from the bottom up and on a local, on a micro level. No “elected representative”, no political party, can do this for us. We must do it ourselves.

Sin Fein! Ourselves Alone!

© 2012

Google Chrome Internet Browser

Google Chrome Internet Browser user review

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

There was a time that I had a serious issue with Google's Chrome Browser but the latest version that I have now in use must be the best Internet browser that I have used ever, probably. And I definitely never thought that I would say that.

The only thing that I still am not happy with, in comparison to the Firefox Browser, is the fact that it does not organize the bookmarks in the same way.

My previous issue with the Google Chrome Internet Browser was that it took ages to load, for me at least, but now it is fast, and what is best, extremely stable.

Google's Chrome Browser is based on the same code as it Firefox, namely the Mozilla one. It does not, and that has to be said, have the same amount of add-ons and extensions that you can get for Mozilla Firefox but...

Mozilla Firefox is still my main Internet browser but Ii tend to have more than one running at the same time, often Firefox, Chrome and Opera. The latter, it must be said, has developed, in the latest build, a stability issue when using sites such as Facebook, and the latest Firefox also has issues with some sites.

Another brilliant feature in Chrome is the fact that it can turn web pages into PDFs with the print command of Ctrl+P and then choosing the “Save as PDF” function. Every browser should come with that function as this is great for anyone who wished to keep stuff for future reference and for reading later, offline.

So, as you can see, at least anyone who remembers my previous articles about this browser, I happen to have changed my tune quite substantially as to the Google Chrome Browser (and not, they did not pay me... chance would be a fine thing though).

© 2012

Park pride

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

This year urban park visits are up by 13% and 93% of the population agreed that having open green spaces close to where they live is important*, proving the significance of quality local green space and acknowledgment of the commitment made to these spaces over the past decade.

Despite the economic struggle that green spaces have encountered this year, awareness raising campaign Love Parks Week has over 900 free events listed and will be reaching out to communities across the UK with 1.3 million people expected to join the festivities throughout the week, which display exactly what parks and green spaces can, and do, offer to communities that need, use and love them.

Mark Camley, Director of Park Operations for the London Legacy Development Corporation said, “The range of activities planned across the country for Love Parks Week is great news for parks and park users. Parks are the most democratic of places providing spaces for activity, relaxation, education as well as offering great health benefits. This year’s launch of the Inspire Program will be a fitting tribute to all the celebrations in 2012 bringing people into parks by staging events linked to the excitement of the Games. I’m excited to say that only a year after the hosting of the 2012

Games, we expect the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to be reopened and host a range of events and activities as part of Love Parks Week 2013.”

Love Parks Week is now in its sixth year and is a campaign which aims to raise awareness and call for continual reinvestment of green spaces. Paul Bramhill, CEO from organizing parks charity GreenSpace “These results prove that quality, easily accessible green space really counts, particularly

to those in urban areas where it can provide escapism from every day troubles and good old fashioned family fun at little or no cost, whilst also strengthening communities, making them a more desirable location.”

Bramhill continues “The challenge we are faced with is maintaining these much loved quality green spaces with diminishing budgets. Continual erosion of funding to the sector could result in a decline in visits and therefore a potential increase in crime, obesity, chronic stress, unsociable behaviour, not forgetting the effect on the environment. We need people to understand the risks and stand strong for their parks.”

This year the campaign is also running a Park Health Check asking people to think about and assess the quality of their local park and has also created a Love Parks Club both encouraging a greater sense of stewardship.

Public parks, in Britain came about as a result of the Public Health Act in the mid-19th century to improve the health of the nation, and especially the working classes and they are as important in this respect today than they were then.

Furthermore, parks are of great importance for people who, for many different reasons, decide to holiday ay home, engaging in staycation, as a means of taking the kids and themselves out into some green space in the neighborhood.

Being involved with caring for a large municipal park myself I have personally seen the increase in use of parks and open spaces in Britain in the last couple of years and even more so now where travel is becoming more and more expensive and holidaying abroad is out with many.

© 2012

Is modern technology creating a culture of distraction?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Are all the modern devices and digital conveniences we have at our disposal – from the web and social media to smart phones and tablets – making us more distracted and less able to concentrate? And is this harming our ability to think and be creative, and therefore by extension harming society as a whole? It’s a question that rears its head from time to time. One of the latest expressions of this fear comes from Joe Kraus, a serial entrepreneur who is now a partner with Google Ventures and gave a presentation recently about his concerns, offering an alternative concept he calls “Slow Tech.” But is this really something that we need to be afraid of?

In his presentation, Kraus argues that the incessant demands of cellphones and social media, not to mention email and other forms of distraction, are making it difficult for us to connect with other people – including our families – and also endangering our ability to think about anything other than the next jolt of stimulation from the devices we have all around us, which he compares to the constant stimulus of a slot machine at a casino. As he describes it:

“We are creating and encouraging a culture of distraction where we are increasingly disconnected from the people and events around us, and increasingly unable to engage in long-form thinking. People now feel anxious when their brains are unstimulated.”

“We are losing some very important things by doing this. We threaten the key ingredients behind creativity and insight by filling up all our ‘gap’ time with stimulation. And we inhibit real human connection when we prioritize our phones over the people right in front of us.”

Many people have what Kraus would describe as an “unhealthy relationship” with their mobile phone in that they are pulling it out (the phone, not anything else you might think of) to check things or to make sure that they haven't missed an important call or SMS.

Others are even worse, as far as I am concerned, where in the home the mother will text her offspring and the other way around while they are in the same house, just, maybe, in different rooms. For G-d's sake get an intercom if you wish but talk to each other.

This seems to be something that we are losing, however, especially the younger generation and one can even see kids sitting on a park bench and instead of talking to each other they are sending each other (they are sitting next to each other) text messages.

Is multi-tasking just a myth?

The effect of all of this is that we are increasingly distracted, and less able to pay attention to anything for a reasonable length of time, and this distraction is a “worsening condition.” We may think that we are getting things accomplished or multi-tasking but brain studies show that multi-tasking is a myth, and in reality we are just trying to do too many things at once and overloading our brain’s ability to concentrate.

Sociologist Dr. Sherry Turkle said that we are lonely but fearful of intimacy and that digital connections offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. We expect more from technology and less from each other.

This explains the constant desire for virtual contact and that contact gets in the way of real relationships, at least so according to Kraus. Here is where, to some extent, I have to disagree with him for I have found some good friends through the likes of Facebook and other forums that went before though often fake ones but after a while you find out who are real friends and who are not.

Turkle also wrote about how the Internet doesn’t help form real relationships, but fosters a kind of fake intimacy. Nicholas Carr argues in his book “The Shallows” that the internet and social media are making us less intelligent – and less interesting – and are actually changing our brains in negative ways. However, I am not sure on either of this but we must not just deal with things in a virtual world but have real interpersonal relationships again. Talking to people, face to face, if possible, or at least on the phone.

I would be the first to agree that time without a phone or computer is a valuable thing, and that it’s good to take long walks and think big thoughts and most of my best ideas for articles come when I am out and about (away from the computer) though not the cell phone.

Personally I don't have problems with the mobile telephonic device in my pocket as I am not someone who has to be on the thing all the time. Phone calls are, in the main, done from home, as far as I am concerned, and that mostly via Skype, and that to landlines in the same way as Skype to Skype, and, yes, I do rely very much on such technology as it makes my life easier and cheaper, as far as telephone calls are concerned. You see, I don't talk much (joke) and my calls to Germany or the USA can be in the region of one to five hours.

As to the new media changing us and our brains for the worse? I have my doubts about that, just as I have my doubts about Nick Carr’s argument that the Internet is making us dumber and less interesting, or that Facebook or any other social network is making us lonely.

Is there a need for moderation when it comes to phones or the internet or social media? Of course there is, and social norms are developing around those things, just as they developed around the horseless carriage and the telephone and plenty of other modern inventions. One of the devices that has historically drawn the most criticism from scholars and theologians for its corrupting effect on humanity seems to have worked out pretty well – it’s called the book. If we can figure that out, I’m sure we can figure out how to handle cellphones and status updates.

We need to find a balance to life and the use of technology therein and I think everyone must find it for themselves.

Modern technology has much to offer to us, such as citizen journalism and such like, but we must know how to discern the bad from the good and teach our children well. But teach them to discern and not what to think.

© 2012

No need for unemployment

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

If you are unemployed it is not because there is no work. All you have to do is look around you and you will notice that what I am saying is correct. There is work enough but no jobs.

There is a housing shortage in the USA as much as in the UK, and other, so-called, developed, nations; there is crime; there is pollution. We also need better schools and parks; better villages, towns and cities; and still...

whatever our needs are and those of our communities, they all require work, much work, to be done.

And as long as we have unsatisfied needs, real needs, there is work to be done.

So, ask yourself: What kind of world and society do we live in that has work, lots of work, that needs doing, but has no jobs. It is a world where work is not related to satisfying our needs and that of our communities but a wold where work is only related to satisfying the profit and greed of businesses and their shareholders. It is a world where workers are exploited for greed.

This country (and in your mind's eye enter the name of your own) was not built by the huge corporations or government bureaucracies. It was built by people who work and worked. And, it is working people who should control the work to be done and the means of production.

Yet, as long as employment is tied to somebody else's profit and greed, the work needed will not get done and the workers are but wage slaves.

The system is the problem, the economic one as much as the political one. The system where profits come before people and their needs and the need of the community.

It is no good improving the system or changing the government. The system is broken and cannot be fixed or upgraded. We need a replacement for the system and not a change in government. We need a system, economic and political, that considers people and the Planet.

© 2012

Ethel Gloves Garden 4x Work Gloves – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Ethel4XGlovesLovingly crafted from bamboo and synthetic leather (no suede here), this beauty is the little black dress of the Ethel collection.

The sleek, black front provides an elegant contrast to the caramel-colored palm and reinforced fingertips.

  • Material4x™ palm guaranteed to last

  • Moisture-wicking bamboo top of hand

  • Extended cuff

  • Reinforced fingertips

  • Machine washable

These Garden 4x gloves by Ethel are made from bamboo fiber materials, synthetic leather for the palm which looks like suede but is not. They are vegan, anti-microbial, wick away moisture and offer more stretch than ordinary fabric. They also look good.

Ethel work gloves are designed for the female rather than the male but the Garden 4x gloves would also not look wrong worn by a man and neither, though not reviewed, would the Ethel Leather or the Bamboo Colors.

The material is said to have been tested to show that it lasts 4 times longer than other gloves, and I cannot, so far confirm as to yay or nay, the palm, said to be extremely puncture resistant, gave access to bramble and other thorns quite freely.

However, when tackling brambles with awareness it is possible, without any injury or hurt, to actually strip the thorns off the stalk and then use full grip to pull the runners out.

The Ethel Garden 4x gloves are also a very smart piece of kit for the equestrian person and will make working with horses and livestock a lot more safer and kinder to the hands.

If I would still be handling horses and other livestock I certainly would make those gloves my choice but as I no longer do but am an avid cyclist, as being a non-driver, they will do a great service in that field and be a lot longer lasting and thus cheaper than those that are sold for cycling in the specialist stores.

Ethel, based in the USA, makes a range of different kinds of work gloves, primarily for the garden, and the female, and the entire range is now available via Bulldog Tools in the UK.

© 2012

Police interrogate family for allowing children to play outside

If you let you kids play unsupervised outdoors in the US the cops may come knocking

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

children playing outsideA family in the United States has been harassed by social services and police for the egregious crime of allowing their children to play outside. This is yet another example of how the nanny state is running wild in America. So far, in Britain, this is not happening, as yet, and children can still go outside and play, even unsupervised, without the law coming down on them and their parents.

A mother in Virginia was interrogated by police four times and visited by social services twice after her children were spotted playing outside unsupervised.

The mother related to the owner of the website “FreeRangeKids” that she is being harassed by authorities because she is one of only two families that allows my children to play outside at all in our neighborhood, which is very safe, according to her.

When she allowed all of her four children, and they were all together, to go play in the field adjacent to their house where she could literally see them outside my kitchen window her 10 year old came running home to tell her and their father that a cop had stopped and was interrogating their oldest daughter.

This was not after dark but at 4pm on a Saturday.

So her husband walked out to see what was going on, and the police officer even wrote up a report, stating that the children were left outside unsupervised.

When the mother asked the police officer if the children, two teens, a pre-teen and a 5-year-old, were causing trouble, the officer responded, “No they were very respectful kids, I just wanted to make sure they were okay because it was odd seeing them outside unsupervised.”

And still, even though confronted with very respectful children who were just playing, he wrote up a report citing the parents for allowing their children to play outside unsupervised. Since when has playing outside for children become illegal?

Parents are being harassed by police and social services for caring for their children in ways which a sane society would consider normal and healthy.

Back in 2010, we reported on the case of a father of two who was harassed and investigated by Child Protective Services and police for feeding his daughters organic food, refusing to make them drink fluoride-poisoned tap water and not having them injected with mercury-laden vaccines.

Society, in America for definite, has gone totally insane when it is becoming illegal to let one's children play outside unsupervised.

Wake up Americans and take your country back from the idiots in politics and law enfarcement.

© 2012

Costa Farms Supports National Indoor Plant Week

Grower to help raise consumer awareness of the role of indoor houseplants as natural air purifiers

gI_113183_O24U Peace LilyCosta Farms, the world’s largest producer of indoor houseplants, is lending its media support to promote National Indoor Plant Week from September 16-22, 2012.

The week-long celebration is designed to raise consumer awareness of the value and benefits of live indoor houseplants.

Since launching its national public service campaign, ‘O2 for You: Houseplants with a Purpose’ in 2008, Costa Farms continues to spread awareness on how live houseplants can cleanse indoor air from chemical pollutants (volatile organic compounds) emitted from products and materials found in our homes and offices.

“National Indoor Plant Week is a natural fit with O2 for You: Houseplants with a Purpose,” says Jose Smith, president and CEO of Costa Farms. “Our mission is to communicate the benefits of indoor houseplants to cleanse the air, beautify our environment and provide better health and well-being.”

benefits of houseplantsCosta Farms is supporting National Indoor Plant Week through a public relations campaign that targets national television, newspapers, radio and social media programs.

According to event founder Mark Martin, from Interior Tropical Gardens, this grassroots initiative was established to promote the many attributes of indoor plants. “Research indicates that certain varieties help purify interior spaces and improve productivity in offices where we spend most of our day. We like to say that the ‘oxygen arrives when the plants do.’”

Studies from the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) have found that levels of indoor air pollution can be 2 to 5 times higher - and in some cases 10 times more polluted than outdoor air.

Mark R. Sneller, Ph.D, indoor air quality expert and author of Greener Cleaner Indoor Air agrees. “These findings are of particular concern because the EPA estimates that most people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors. It’s been proven that many houseplants help clean the air by absorbing common indoor pollutants.”

Smith emphasizes that with such a powerful message, “Our industry needs to clearly communicate to consumers that live indoor houseplants are nature’s air purifiers that release oxygen, remove carbon dioxide and VOCs from indoor spaces, and brighten up any room with beautiful color and foliage.”

To make it easy for customers and consumers, Costa Farms’ O2 for You branded plant tags and brightly colored POP merchandising will provide instant brand recognition and houseplant care information throughout the month of September.

During National Indoor Plant Week, Costa Farms will be implementing online contests and creating sharable content through their Facebook page and Twitter account to educate consumers that plants are just more than a pretty face.

For more information on National Plant Week visit http://www.nationalindoorplantweek.com. To learn more about Costa Farms visit http://www.costafarms.com and http://www.o2foryou.org.

Costa Farms is the largest producer of indoor houseplants in the world. Founded in 1961 by Jose Costa, Costa Farms is a third generation, family owned business that globally stretches over 3,800 acres and employs 2,800 people. Along with thriving indoor, bedding and perennial plant divisions, Costa Farms operations are located in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina, and abroad in the Dominican Republic, and Far East.

Full Disclosure Statement: The GREEN (LIVING) REVIEW received no compensation for any component of this article.

This article is for your information only and the GREEN (LIVING) REVIEW does not (necessarily) approve, endorse or recommend the product, service or company mentioned.

KeepCup wins 2012 Melbourne Award

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Melbourne, Australia : On Saturday, August 19, 2012, KeepCup was awarded the 2012 Melbourne Award for its contribution to sustainability. KeepCup was lauded for its efforts to change community behavior and inspire individuals and businesses to work towards making the city more sustainable. The City of Melbourne recognized KeepCup as an inspirational local business success story that demonstrated the growing demand for sustainable consumer products. In just three short years, KeepCups are sold in over 32 countries around the world. The City of Melbourne benefits through KeepCup's leadership in global efforts to reduce disposable consumables waste.

KeepCup_Melbourne_AwardIn her acceptance speech co-owner and founder Abigail Forsyth acknowledged the contribution of the City of Melbourne to KeepCup's success, beginning with a Small Business Development Grant in 2008. She also acknowledged the Laneways Project as instrumental in creating an atmosphere ripe for the entrance of a business like KeepCup, injecting new life into Melbourne’s coffee tradition, and enabling coffee businesses to grow and flourish.

She said: “We estimate that use of KeepCups sold to date will divert over 1 billion disposable cups, that is, over 40,000 tonnes of waste, from landfill. This represents about one million trees otherwise felled for three minutes of drinking pleasure. KeepCup is a design led solution and our core mission is reduction of disposable waste.”

“This seems like a lot until you consider that 1.5 trillion disposable cups will be manufactured and discarded over this period. We are a behavior change organization, KeepCup asks people to think about the way they consume and, through positive incremental change be emboldened to more equitably and effectively share the earth’s resources.”

“Receiving this award is a timely acknowledgment that many small acts can and do, make phenomenal difference. We hope Melburnians will take this to heart, as Melbourne hosts the World Barista Championships in May 2013, it is a wonderful opportunity to show off a city where you can get a fantastic coffee almost everywhere you go – hopefully consumed in a reusable. Melbourne’s continued commitment to sustainability at every level really enriches what it means to live in the world’s most liveable city.”

KeepCup is the only, if I am not mistaken, reusable cup, available in a couple of sizes, that actually fit under the machines in the coffee shops, as they are, and thus there is no need for the barista to decanter from one cup (often a disposable) to a person's reusable one.

All too often when people bring their own (travel) mugs to the coffee house the procedure is just that; the barista will take a disposable cup, make the coffee and then put it into the customer's reusable cup, resulting still in waste in the form of a disposable cup. Not so with the KeepCup and hence a “well done” to them all.

© 2012

Freebies for gardeners

How to get free gardening tools, supplies, and ideas because gardening is even more fun when it is free, in the main

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Yes, it is possible, to some extent, as you can make many things for yourself from what others would consider waste, etc.

Free compost

The first step, of course, is to make your own compost at home from your food and yard waste. Why send it to the council yard to be processed where you – often – have to pay to get compost back, though, and I will get to that in a minute, there are some municipalities that give away compost from their facilities for free.

Many communities also maintain large compost piles from yard waste the waste management department gathers from residents. Call your council or public works department to find out if your town offers free compost to its residents. As I have said above, some councils do while some will charge you a fee for it.

Free compost bin

If you don’t mind a compost bin with a rustic appearance, you can make one from discarded wooden pallets. Building sites, warehouses, and many other places regularly discard pallets, so ask if you can take them away. While it once was only damaged pallets that were thrown out nowadays it is pallets per se, and often you can find even those wooden “bins” in which bricks are delivered.

If you use pallets then wire together four pallets for a closed bin, or three pallets for an open model. If you get hold of one (or better still more than one) of those wooden “bins” then make those into a compost bin.

Some councils, in the UK at least, give away composers that look like the those Daleks featured in Dr. Who, while some allow you to buy them at a very reduced rate.

Old plastic dust bins with the bottoms cut out also work very well as composters.

Free containers

Container gardening is, in my view, the way to go, and that also and especially includes the growing of vegetables. Forget the ordinary raised beds; use builder's bag, the tonne bags, filled with soil, instead. You keep waste out of landfill and have great deep root growing beds that are easily maintained.

Other items of trash also make great planters and I could go on and on about this. But a few more examples. Old bathtubs from fly-tips are, for instance, employed in my garden too for growing of a variety of things, as are abandoned shopping carts.

To be honest, anything that is or can be made into a container can be used as a planter, as long as you remember to drill drainage holes into the bottom.

Free manure

Many stable yards have manure available for free just for the hauling away and some will even deliver to you if local in order to get rid off the stuff. Remember, however, that fresh manure MUST NOT be used immediately and must be allowed to rot down for at least a year or two but it can be added to the compost heap to help you stuff break down faster, as it has lots of heat.

Also, add manure as compost booster to help your leaves break down that you collect in fall.

Free mulch

Check with your local council or public works to explore the possibility of free mulch. Utility companies must often trim trees, and can drop the shredded remnants in your driveway rather than pay a dumping fee and the same is true for many a tree surgeon. Just ask them when you see them.

Free seeds

A lot of garbage is often being talked as to hybrid seeds and their seeds. I have successfully grown beans, for instance, for the seeds of F1 hybrids and had better results from those from the seeds than from the original plants.

The claim that we often hear and see that the seeds of hybrids are either sterile, will not properly germinate, or whatever, I have found not to be true in the main and hence I would suggest you save seeds, regardless, and try.

Free plants

Starting plants from cuttings or divisions is even easier than growing from seed. If you haven’t had luck with plant propagation in the past, pin down a branch from your favorite shrub and cover it with soil. The mother plant continues to nourish the new plant until roots form. Check for roots after six weeks.

Free row covers

Row covers cost money when you want to buy them. However, dry cleaning services usually send your garments home encased in a large plastic bag. Try to get as many of those that you can from friends, family and others and reuse those bags as row covers (long row cloches) by stretching them over supports that you have made from bent wire or such. As this plastic material is a little on the thin side layer several sheets for added protection from late spring frosts.

Free garden cloches

While heavy glass bell jar cloches of the Victorian style look lovely as a garden accent few gardeners can afford to buy enough of these protectors to cover every plant. In addition to that they are (1) breakable and (2) the glass bobble – for lack of better word – on the top is a problem as it concentrates the sun's rays and often burns plants. Hence you will see most serious gardeners knocking that glass ball off the top.

However, you can easily make your own cloches, even though they may not look as good, from items of waste. Cut the bottoms off 2-liter soda bottles and gallon milk jugs to help transplants adjust to the garden. Remove the caps on hot days to provide ventilation.

Free garden tools

Well, DIY is here the order of the day rather than someone or some company putting tools your way unless you are lucky like me, as a writer, who gets tools for review.

However, quite a few things you can make yourself. You really do not have to buy a dibber. One of those is easily made from a broken broom or other wooden handle, and a little whittling.

Many other wooden garden tools can also be made in this way, such as a diblet, whittled from some other “sticks”.

Use Popsicle sticks for row markers by writing the name of the plants on the wood by means of a marker pen.

Wire weeder handmade from wire coat hangerA wire weeding tool, a copy of the “Wonder Weeder”, can easily be made from a piece of fence wire or a wire coat hanger, by hardening the wire by means of vice and small hand drill, and then forming it similar to the one in the picture.

Milk jugs and other plastic bottles can be cut into a variety of useful garden tools including, if you can get some of relatively hard plastic material, into trowels, scoops and such like.

Tin cans too can be refashioned into tools for the garden such as soil scoops and the like. You can find ideas for this all over the Internet.

The Internet is also a great source for much free gardening advice & literature and quite a few of those books and publications, especially the older ones, are free for the download as PDF documents.

Otherwise there is a wealth of other information out there for the taking and the asking that our parents and grandparents could have only dreams of, and all for free. Well, basically...

© 2012

Repair, don't replace

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Nice idea, I know, but presently very difficult to do indeed and this is where our waste problem stems from.

Not so long ago – it was still in my lifetime – (almost) everything was made in such a way that it could be repaired. The throwaway society had not arrived as yet. It was, however, beginning to do so when I was in my early to mid teens, initially with the throwaway beer and soda bottle, then still glass.

Our current way of doing things is, simply, not sustainable. And, while continuously having to buy new, as the old cannot be repaired, may grow the economy and fill the pocket of the corporations we must consider that the Planet, our Earth, is finite. It cannot grow any bigger and most of the resources used in the making of all those goods and products that we consume at such an enormous rate also do not regrow. They too are finite and when they are gone they are gone.

Industry and most people do not seem to consider this fact and truth at all and way too many people simply reply when it is mentioned that industry and our governments will find an answer so that they can carry on living with ever more. There is no answer to non-renewable resources having gone. When they are they are; period! And the sooner we all realize that the better and we may still have time to adapt and change our ways.

Changing our ways in this instance means that we must demand that products and goods are made in such a ways that they can be fixed by users and/or small repair shops on the high street. That's how things once were and still the economy was doping fine, in general, thank you very much.

Most of our current way has little to nothing to do with growing the economy but everything with growing the profits of scrupulous corporations, and repairability, as it used to be, will cut down on their profits and the dividends of their shareholders. This is what it is really all about.

If we had repairability of everything – or almost everything – again and made products indeed in such a way that they could be fixed by the user (at home) or in small workshops on the high street the economy would be much better and the waste problem would also be solved to a great extent.

But industry and the powers that be are not interested in this solution, as we can see time and again. All they do it pay lip service and give great talks as to waste reduction and all that. They are, however, not interested to make any real changes and we can see that also in the perpetual talk about “recycling” while forgetting to encourage, and even teach, people to reuse.

© 2012

The boogie man in your pocket

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Telecom people say to hang on to the dumb old cell phone, such as the simple Nokia, Eriksson, or what have you, for as long as you can. Those are the best phones as they are too simple to be hacked. Smart phones are not so smart, it seems. This was something that was obvious to me already before anyone said so.

Aside from the fact that smart phones are, apparently, relatively easy to hack users also are seriously stupid when it come to the way they use them.

When you use them on Facebook you do not have an auto-responder set up that tells the world, the wife and the kids, that you are on holiday (and where) as that is an invitation to burgle your house. But, you would not believe it, people actually do that, in the same way that people do that with their email and voice mails, or on their telephone answering machines at home. I mean, hello, you are sending any burglar and would be burglar a message.

In addition to that far too many people have their location sounder on on their smart phones and other devices which broadcasts not just their location to the powers that be but also to everyone on the Net when they use Facebook and such like and when the location if a holiday destination well, here goes the message to the criminal fraternity again.

As far as I am concerned I want a simple cell phone that is just that, a telephone, with just the additional capacity and capability, as they all have that, of sending and receiving the occasional SMS.

No GPS, not Sat-Nav, no app for this or that. Just a phone with SMS facility is all I want and need and, in all honesty, that is the same for most people.

However, we are being brainwashed into believing that we have to have those smart phones with email and all that jazz.

If I want to go somewhere I use a map (and a compass if need be) as I have yet to find a Sat-Nav that actually gets the location of anything right. Using a map, generated on the Net (saves buying the book things), always gets me to my destination no problem. But then again, I do know how to use a map.

© 2012

Were the American Founding Fathers Christians?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Sure they were, I hear now many say. But the truth, in short, is a different one and they were not.

founding-fathers Most Americans in school, and also and especially homeschooled children, are being taught that the Founding Fathers of 1776 revolution and the establishment of the United States of America were devout Bible-believing Christians.

However, nothing could be further from the truth than such claims.

With one or two exceptions all of the Founding Fathers were deists and not, repeat not, Christians. In addition to that almost all, if not indeed all, were involved in the highest echelon and ranks of the Freemason Craft.

We must get away from the notion that the United States of America were founded on Christian principles and as a Christian country. This is not even remotely true.

Quoting, as it is often done, to substantiate this claim as to the US being a Christian country, the “under God” part of the Pledge of Allegiance does not hold any water whatsoever either in this department. Those two words were only added to the Pledge in the late first half of the 20th century and they were not part of the original version. There the sentence goes “one nation, with liberty and justice for all”.

For more than fifty years and probably a great deal longer the American people have been sold a lie by right-wing Christian groups and sections of the GOP and not just as far as the issue of the Founding Fathers being Christians and the country having been founded as a Christian nation.

Wake up, America! Wake up Americans!

© 2012

Ostalgie – The longing for the GDR

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

One might think that this longing would never have come up and that it would be a malaise from which only the former elite would suffer but the fact is a different one.

ostalgie_sml Ostalgie is, in fact, widespread amongst people from the German Democratic Republic, aka East Germany, and it has even afflicted some from the West.

It is not something that the rulers of the “united” Germany – or “reunited”, as they would regard it as – are very happy about. Apparently a ban on it, on Ostalgie, has been considered, making it illegal. No, I am not kidding.

Various vendors on the Internet, and there are also real shops in existence, do make a good business from this form of nostalgia.

But, it is more, I would suggest, than a nostalgia per se. People genuinely, a great majority of former East Germans, long for what the First Worker and Peasant State on German Soil offered in way of community, and which, in capitalism, in the rat race in Germany, has gone to the wall many years ago.

While people may not have a desire to see the return of the Stasi, etc., they do, nevertheless, miss what the country was and represented despite, or maybe because, of now several decades under capitalism in a “united” Germany there are many who wish for a return of the First Worker and Peasant State on German Soil that was the German Democratic Republic. They have had, it would appear, their fill of western democracy and freedom where corporations and profit count more than people and their needs.

Sure the system, and most admit that, as it was administered in the GDR, was far from perfect, but people were more central in all things and not profits and dividends. The rat race, as in capitalism, did, basically, not exist.

In the “unified” Germany the people found that the streets were not, as they had believed and as it had been suggested to them, paved with gold and that all the adverts did not match the reality. In fact, the “New States”, what was the GDR, despite money supposedly being “pumped” into them, more or less became backwaters and unemployment – something they did not know in the GDR – became rampant as one socialist business after the other was shut down.

Fascism too has begun to rear its ugly head again in those areas, finding a breeding ground especially amongst the young people who were, and still are, out of work and who have difficulties seeing a future for themselves.

Unemployment is still running rampant in much of what was the GDR and despite all the promises made when reunification was forced through most of them have not, as yet, been delivered.

On top of that, and because of this, many communities have been broken apart and in other areas, such as in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg, an old working class quarter, yuppies have moved in because it was cool to develop places there.

The influx of the rich folk, the yuppies, have – one – made property prices and rents unaffordable for those that have lived there for generations and – two – also made living there more expensive in general.

Entire homogeneous neighborhoods are being destroyed and its original residents displaced. And, looking from the outside in, as it were, one can but wonder as to whether this is the purpose of this redevelopment: to break up the old communities and displace its residents so that a reemergence of a revolution for a new GDR may not happen or at least not easily.

Anything East German and especially of it politics have been made, more or less, illegal in the “united” Germany, such as the Free German Youth, the Young Pioneers, the SED, and roads that were named after fighters of the working class have been forcibly renamed, such as the Otto Grotewohl Street and the Ernst Thaelmann Place in Berlin, and the city of Karl-Marx-Stadt, which was given the name it had during the Nazi time, Chemniz, to name but a few.

However, fascist organizations can exist up to and even being involved in violence against foreigners, communists, Gypsies and those that believe in freedom. So much for Germany being a democratic open society. About as much as Vlad the Impaler having been a saint.

The German state and capitalism not only destroyed old communities and displaced its original residents, it also is cold and impersonal and most neighborhoods are not communities. No one takes an interest in his or her neighbor and many people fall by the way because of this. West Germans, in the main, as people in many other western countries, are only interested in more, more and still more. In the GDR things were different in that respect and in others.

You could, that it true, only buy a limited, in capitalist views, amount of goods and products and it did not matter whether you went to the little corner shop or the HO or Konsum; it was all the same price.

Thus there was less of a rat race, if it even existed, and of a keeping up with the Joneses, and most people, despite capitalism's propaganda to the contrary, were content with what they had.

It is for that and a couple of other reasons that Ostalgie exists and, so it would appear, it is getting stronger even. And this does not please the powers that be in the Reichstag one iota and, as I have said, the talk has been even of making Ostalgie, the longing for the GDR, illegal.

If the “free” democratic Germany is so much better than the First Worker and Peasant State on German Soil that was the German Democratic Republic, as those in the Reichstag believe, why then are they so frightened of a little Ostalgie?

© 2012

Why earthworms are important to keep around

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Why Earthworms are Worth Keeping Around_smal Earthworms help keep the soil healthy and this is something that is far too often forgotten by people when they see the casts on their lawns making the grassy area look unsightly.

Most homeowners will do anything to keep pests and other insects off their lawn, but earthworms are different. Through their ability to break up soil and thatch, form nutrients, and produce organic fertilizer, earthworms are one type of insect worth keeping around for a healthy lawn, and not just for a healthy lawn.

Earthworms are essential for the health of most soil types and a healthy soil is indicated by its ability to distribute water and nutrients to the roots of plants to make them grow. Because earthworms naturally tunnel through the soil to break it up; creating space for air and water to flow through, soil containing earthworms will not become compact or harden.

Since earthworms also consume thatch for food, this keeps thatch problems down to a minimum. Thatch, which are rough patches of grass, make it difficult for water and fertilizer to penetrate the soil and reach the roots of plants. Insects and other lawn diseases can also establish havens around thatch, making earthworms even more vital to keep around.

They also make a great organic fertilizer

In addition to getting rid of thatch, earthworms also consume other organic materials, such as leaves and dead plants. This allows them to produce castings, or feces that they leave behind in the soil, creating nutrient-rich organic fertilizer that keeps the soil healthy and plants growing. It also means dead leaves on your lawn will decompose at a faster rate.

It is important to make use of earthworms as producers of organic fertilizer for the soil as they are also cost effective. Fertilizer in general, especially if you need to use it more than once a year, can be quite expensive and, on top of that, it is often made from petroleum products and other chemicals.

Worm castings contain 50% organic matter and 11 trace minerals, which can be difficult to find and expensive to purchase. So, not only do they cost significantly less, but you can save yourself from spreading smelly fertilizer on your own.

Earthworms rid the soil of disease and soil pests

Soil with high earthworm populations have been shown to have low numbers of nematodes, which are pests that live in the soil, posing harm to plants as they consume the roots.In order to maintain a steady population of earthworms, limit the amount of chemicals that are used. This means chemical-based fertilizers and weed killers will need to be kept at minimum in order for earthworms to thrive. Also, rake a thin layer of compost across the top of the soil in the spring. This gives the worms an immediate source of food to start with before burrowing into the ground.

Despite their unappealing looks, earthworms should not be considered a pest! Far from it. Their populations typically do not go out of control and even in large numbers they can prove highly beneficial to improving the soil quality.

Be sure, however, to verify that the worms in your yard are actually earthworms. There are some invasive species of worms that can harm the soil by consuming the soil nutrients and plant roots. So ensure that only beneficial earthworms exist in your yard.

Because worm castings and thus worm compost is so great for your garden many people actually do worm composting, using earthworms in special composting bins to create this rich valuable compost.

© 2012

Organic pesticides and bio-pesticides

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) defines the word pesticide as a substance intended to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate any pest, including insects, mice and other animals, unwanted plants (weeds), fungi, or microorganisms like bacteria and viruses.

Pyrethrum1 When it comes to environmentally friendly pesticides, there are two types: Organic pesticides and bio-pesticides.

The EPA does not have much of an idea, it would seem though, for anything used against unwanted plants, e.g. weeds, is not called a pesticide but a herbicide. One of those days those guys will understand that as well.

Made with natural ingredients, organic pesticides are used to kill insects and other pests. While organic pesticides may be “all natural” and made without synthetic chemicals, it is important to note that they still can be considered toxic and very often are serious toxins.

Some organic pesticides may be highly toxic to specific animals but not to humans. Also of note is that organic pesticides may be harmful to beneficial insects like the ladybugs pictured above eating the aphids (the bad guys), as well as insect pests.

Nicotine is an organic pesticide that will kill aphids and such but it is harmful to beneficial insects; pollinators, bees amongst them.

Biopesticides on the other hand, are safer for both humans and the environment and reduce the risks associated with pesticide use because they suppress or prevent rather than destroy pests. Biopesticides are either biochemical such as insect pheromes or microbial, which are derived from microbes such as fungi or bacteria. Milky spore is an example of a microbial bio-pesticide.

Biopesticides focus on a specific action rather than a broad one that wipes everything out, persist for less time in the environment, and leave little to no residue behind.

Another type of bio-pesticides are nematodes and I have tested a number of them and found them to be working, including those against slugs and snails. Only thing to remember is to repeat apply them in the case of snails and slugs and also that they do not work against slugs and snail that travel in.

A further type of things could be regarded as bio-pesticides and that are plants that will repel (or act as an attractant, thus being sacrificed for the plant they are to protect) as it is done in companion planting. Pyrethrum is one of those plants which seem to repel black fly. In addition to that from this little daisy the organic pesticide pyrethrin has been derived. However, the compound is a neurotoxin and must be treated with care.

Ladybirds also could be and are being considered as bio-pesticide when used targeted to act against a variety of pests, predominately aphids.

Companion planting is one of the best ways to repel or divert pests from your plants, especially when it comes to growing food crops, in addition to so-called mechanical ways, such as the right kind of netting.

© 2012

Reuse: The stepchild of waste management (in our homes)

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

For some peculiar reason, despite the fact that the 3Rs of waste management are “reduce, reuse, recycle” most people and even governments only seem to understand them as being “recycle, recycle, recycle” and reuse is, literally, being ignored like a poor stepchild or orphan.

It would appear that many people do not understand the difference between reuse and recycle either and will refer to, say, my glass jars that I reuse, or repurpose, if you will, as drinking glasses as to the jars having been recycled into such glasses. This is, obviously, incorrect. They are reused or, if one wants, repurposed; not recycled.

When we reuse something, albeit for a purpose slightly different to the product's original intended one, we do not change it or its structure, and thus we use no energy.

Recycling, on the other hand, uses lots of energy. Energy to collect the “recyclables”, many of which should be reused; energy to sort and get them to the recycling plant; energy to break the materials up; and then still yet more energy to make new products. In other words, recycling is a very energy intensive process.

Reuse, as we have already seen, on the other hand, requires no energy use (or very, very little) but your own and your imagination.

In addition to reuse by us as individuals a more commercial reuse should be brought back in that glass bottles and jars should be taken back by the stores for reuse for their original purpose. This used to be done with all lemonade, soda and beer bottles some decades past and is, indeed, still being done or again in some countries. Glass jars were also taken back during World War Two in Britain and in all cases there is and was a deposit on the things. It is, thus, not rocket science.

Next to reducing our, especially packaging, waste REUSE must be our priority in managing our waste; at home, at school, and at work.

Recycling is very far down on the list for, when you have to resort to and choose the last option, namely recycling, you have already lost the game.

Reuse must be, if reduce has not worked, and industry is still over packaging things, the way to go and our primary choice. We must relearn, and the great majority of people today indeed seem to need to, the thinking of our parents and grandparents and their parents and grandparents, of considering packaging waste in the form of glass jars, tin cans, and nowadays a variety of other things, as a resource. A resource for reuse and upcycling.

So, instead of throwing out a glass jar we reuse them as much and as long as possible, until such a day when we have a system in place where stores take them back. And the same, though only as far as reusing, goes for tin cans, bicuit tins, single-side printed papers, cardboard boxes, packaging card, plastic containers, etc.

They all must be candidates for reuse and upcycling and the limit as to what they can be reused for and upcycled into is only set by our imagination.

So, let's get reuse out of the orphanage and give it a loving home.

© 2012

The average kitchen sink harbors more germs than a toilet

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Recent research shows that second to dishcloths and sponges, the kitchen sink is one of the most common places to find a wide range of bacteria, including E. coli.

Most people have heard the standard bacterial comparison between a toilet seat and a cutting board. However, not as many realize that there are many other sources of bacteria lurking all around the house without anyone even knowing.

The researcher behind these findings, Dr. Charles Gerba is a professor and microbiologist at Arizona University and has been studying in this field since 1973; so these results should be taken as an authority source.

Aside from the obvious bacterial hangouts in the toilet and common practices to avoid spreading bacteria (flushing with the toilet lid closed); Gerba reveals that there is an overwhelming amount of bacteria in the kitchen that people don’t seem to be aware of. The danger this poses is significant due to the amount of food that’s prepared in the kitchen. If people are unaware of the danger, then the chance of falling ill is significantly increased because there is no bacteria removal or prevention in place.

The counter-top, kitchen sink and cutting surfaces are among the worst bacteria breeding grounds and special attention should be paid to these areas to ensure a clean, germ free environment is created.

Gerba noted that E. coli was more abundantly found in the sink than in the toilet after it has been flushed. This will immediately spark concern for those with large families and children as nobody wants to see their loved ones getting ill.

It is rather alarming to realize just how much bacteria can form in a damp environment, especially as there are remnants of food for the bacteria to consume. However, there are some basic steps you can take to stop this; using vinegar and lemon juice will remove the majority of bacteria, however, stronger pathogens will still remain.

This is, yet again, a reason why I believe that the Romani-Gypsy system of using separate bowls for different tasks, such as washing the dishes, washing vegetables, meats, etc., makes more than just sense; it is essential.

A Gypsy man or woman would never use the sink itself for the washing of dishes nor foods and even though the original part of rule of using different bowls comes from the days of old and of the itinerant life it has been carried over also into those that live in houses.

For that very reason no dogs or cats will ever be permitted – at least they are not under the rules, though alas, some, nowadays break those rules – into the living quarters. Those two types of animals in particular are a source of many pathogens.

The sink would also not be used, by those who adhere to the rules strictly, despite the fact that dishes and food are not washed in it, to wash anything else, often not even hands. For that too a separate bowl would be in use, as for other washing, when on the road, though today, in a house, the basin in the washroom will be used for washing hands.

No food would ever be cut on the counter-top either and in the old days every utensil or item of food that would fall onto the floor would be discarded and destroyed. With today's stainless steel utensils washing is a way out but it is a case of thoroughly washing and not just rinsing.

Dishes should be washed, in my opinion, in hot water with the addition of vinegar and salt to the washing up water containing the dish soap.

While the likes of the EPA claim that vinegar and lemon juice, and other natural cleaners do not kill all pathogens, other research had shown that vinegar, tea tree oil, lemon juice, salt and others, do kill 99% of all known germs and pathogens.

Important, in order to avoid contamination is also that hands are washed thoroughly before food is being prepared and if anything else is being touched that this process is being repeated. While it is true that a little dirt does not hurt and actually boosts the immune system E. coli and other such pathogens are not fun.

© 2012

Corner Shop culture resonates more than price for super-savvy consumers

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Photograph taken for Upavon Village Web site. Whilst the recession has created a nation of price hunters as many scramble to save money on products and services, companies with a longer term strategy of retaining and attracting customers should instead look to provide first class customer service. Business for Ma and Pa stores in small and large American towns is, apparently, booming again as consumers opt for good service and people who are helpful.

It’s no surprise that this period of economic uncertainty has borne an army of bargain hunters, but it has also created a more competitive business environment, meaning customers are now looking for better service for their money from the companies they do business with. In fact, even in a negative economy, customer experience is a high priority for the new breed of super-savvy consumers, with 60 per cent often or always paying more for a better experience and 59 per cent willing to try a new brand or company for a better service experience.

Whilst the economic climate remains challenging, the attitude towards ‘value for money’ has changed. For many consumers, the emphasis seems to have shifted in the direction of value and what value means rather than just selecting the cheapest deal.

Many people now view value for money as including the entire service they receive, and most are frustrated with the money-saving approach taken by companies who outsource communication to overseas call centers.

Localism also is part of this equation and many of the environmentally conscious consumers are looking to give their High Street a boost rather than traipsing to the large, often out of town, supermarkets and even hypermarkets, where customer service, if existent, is distant.

Good customer service with friendly staff who know me and what my requirements are in a store to me, as well as to the new breed of consumer, is of greater importance than price. One of the many reasons also that I like shopping in Charity Shops and the local high street stores rather than at the big impersonal places.

Such stores once were the mainstay of the local trade and everything way purchased, in the main, via such independent local shops in our villages and towns and the areas where we lived in the cities.

It would appear that we may be, and heavens be praised, are on the way back to such small independent retailers in the high street and elsewhere and that people will go there rather than to the big stores.

If I go to my local hardware store and want something and he hasn't got it he will, generally, offer to get it in for me by next week or such, and I will rather give someone who is prepared to do that my business than a faceless corporation in whose stores, when they haven't got something you may just get a “sorry, we are out of stock and don't know when we will be getting it back in”.

Alone for the sake of the Planet we also need to return to the old-fashioned, even though may be run rather high-tech, corner shop and for groceries even the kind of store where I can go and buy everything, almost, loose. It once was the case and it should be possible again despite all the health and hygiene claims.

Yes, it is convenient, especially when you are working all week, to go to a place where you can do all your grocery shopping in one place and even buy a cooking pot, or a paintbrush or a book, CD, DVD, at the same time but... the question is... how good is that for the Planet?

Let's really hope that the Ma and Pa stores are going to make a proper comeback and that rather yesterday than tomorrow.

© 2012

City Bikes Manufacturer Linus Bikes Comments on New York City’s New Bike Share Program

As New York City prepares to launch their first public bike sharing program, Linus Bikes comments on the program itself and future bike sharing programs

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Linus_bike_sml Bohemia, NY : On August 16, City Bikes Manufacturer Linus Bikes commented on the first New York City bike sharing program called Citi Bike. Citi Bike is poised to launch with 7,000 strategically located rentable bicycles across parts of New York, making this the largest program to date in the United States. Following a recent expansion of city bike lanes, the program is designed to be an alternate form of travel for the millions of city residents who make daily use of mass transit.

As detailed by the BBC, New York City’s Department of Transportation estimates that half of the daily commutes in the city are less than 2 miles. With an initial launch of 7000 bikes and 420 stations, Citi Bike is placing rental stations in areas with “heavy foot traffic, like Grand Central Station.” The program will initially be focused on lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, with the city already planning a large expansion for 2013. The rental bikes are “armored, high-tech velocipede drones; outfitted with GPS for trip tracking, front and rear lights that glow upon pedaling, heavy-duty tires and a thick frame.”

Linus Bikes representative China Reevers comments, “This is certainly one of the most ambitious bike sharing programs to date. New York has certainly done their homework, and introducing a fleet of bikes to the populace will hopefully add to the city’s clean air initiative, promoting a healthier option for a daily commute. This combination of a greener planet and healthier living is what Linus Bikes is all about.”

While the green movement continues to grow, cities are taking an increased interest in other transit options as other cities embrace bike sharing programs. Reevers adds, “Doubts about the viability of bike sharing programs should diminish as these programs gain popularity and expand. If New York’s Citi Bike program can prove to be successful, it should only pave the way for future bike sharing programs. Our bicycles aren’t only for commuting but they are to help encourage a healthy lifestyle.”

Linus Bikes is a California-based bicycle manufacturer that specializes in creating vintage style city bikes and commuter bikes. Not simply a bicycle company, Linus Bikes sells a complete line of accessories for the environmentally conscious and for those who have a fondness for European style bicycles and the great tradition of European cycling.

As usual, it would seem, America is very much hanging behind Europe, even the UK, in creating cycle hire schemes for use by people in a particular city. They are a good idea, I am sure but... and here comes the but...

On the other hand while cycle rental schemes are a nice idea what we need more of in our cities and towns, and also along rural routes, are proper cycle paths in the way that they are implemented in many of the countries of continental Europe. Britain, alas, is missing them also, and this means that, aside from potential accidents, the takeup of such schemes is not going to be great, however good and cheap they may be.

Proper cycling infrastructure in urban and rural areas is what not just might but what will increase the use of bicycles instead of the car and that would also happen (again) in the USA.

A bicycle, especially if there are proper cycle lanes and paths, can cover distances in towns and cities much faster than any motorcar. The speed for the latter is, on average, in our cities and towns, well below that of a bike that is not even ridden fast.

That is the very reason why you see so many bicycles in use in the towns and cities in countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, etc. Those countries have created a special infrastructure for cycling and motorists also do not see cyclists as a menace, as they do in, for instance, Britain, where many motorists would like to get rid off cyclists on the roads.

We need cycle routes, cycle lanes and cycle paths all across our cities, towns and rural areas; paths that are separated from the motor traffic, as they are in many other places, and this is equally true for Britain as for the USA.

With the right infrastructure that will make cycling a pleasure and safe the uptake would skyrocket and even without it, though that shall not be an indication that it is not needed, we are seeing, in many parts of the UK, a constant increase in the use of bicycles for commuting, for running the kids to school, for going to the shops and for visiting friends.

Aside from keeping us fit a bicycle also has other benefits. It uses not gasoline or diesel, is non-polluting and does not need a parking space and with the latter getting ever more expensive, it saves money all round.

© 2012

Building adaptation achieves 80% reduction in running costs

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Dr Jerry Harrall of SEArch architects describes how simple, low invasive design techniques such as using extruded polystyrene as external insulation transformed the cost of living and quality of life for residents of a 200 year old house in High Wycombe.

Dr Jerry Harrall “For some, the clock is ticking towards zero carbon goals. For others, it’s already become a reality. The good news is that it doesn’t require complex building methods or even high tech equipment to achieve significant improvements in the energy performance of existing building stock.

Greening-The-Box™ offers a suite of building techniques developed by SEArch (Sustainable Ecological Architecture Ltd) applying straightforward, low invasive design methods to enable existing buildings to operate without reliance on fossil fuels.

Greening-The-Box™ High Wycombe is the first private dwelling to benefit from such adaptation techniques, resulting not only in remarkable cost and energy savings but, according to the homeowners, an improvement in their quality of life too. When a client uses words such as “uplifting” and describes their new environment as providing “serenity and tranquillity”, you know you are on to something!

I believe the environmental and cost benefits are just as impressive, including:

  • 100% reduction in CO2 emissions of 18 tonnes/year (17,878kg CO2/year)

  • 80% reduction in running costs (a very considerable £2,000 reduction in the first year)

  • 100% reduction of fossil fuels use.

Providing further credence to the building’s enhanced performance, the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) produced a rating of 89A, a highly notable performance when most housebuilders are working to ratings of lower than 80 for new dwellings. The pre-design SAP rating was 49.

So how was this achieved? Let’s go back to the beginning. The High Wycombe project is a 200 year old detached house. The owners were looking to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, cut energy bills and at the same time have less of an impact on the environment. Their ambitions were to design out the need for an oil fired central heating system, and put in its place a naturally heated environment as well as a natural ventilation regime.

Perhaps surprisingly, just five key changes were needed to make the existing building fit for a low carbon future:

  • enveloping the house externally with STYROFOAM™-A extruded polystyrene insulation

  • increasing internal thermal mass of walls and floors

  • increasing the southerly glazed areas

  • decreasing the northerly glazed areas

  • modifying the layout to encourage natural ventilation.

Insulating the envelope

In its pre-adapted condition, the absence of any external insulation to the solid external walls and below the ground floor slab meant that both building elements offered little resistance to heat transfer; it was a difficult building to keep warm. The average rate of heat loss, or U-Value, was calculated at 2.17W/m2K.

STYROFOAM™–A insulation from Dow Building Solutions was specified for the project for both environmental and performance reasons. The material is not only UK-manufactured, but is blown with carbon dioxide giving it a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of less than five. The material also has an Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) of zero and is ideal for external use where moisture resistance, rigidity and strength are key requirements.

Post adaptation, the introduction of 200mm of STYROFOAM™-A insulation to the external fabric and below the floor slab reduced the rate of heat loss by a very considerable 620% to just 0.35W/m2K. Thermographic images show minor surface temperature variations over the STYROFOAM™-A clad external fabric and junctions with minimal heat loss detected. In comparison, thermographic images of the adjacent, twenty year old property indicate significantly higher levels of fabric heat loss with noticeable variations across different building elements.

Increasing thermal mass

Adding such high levels of insulation also contributed to the effectiveness of thermal mass within the structure. The pre-adapted, un-insulated thermal mass of the building was calculated as 0.68MJ/K/m2. Post adaptation, the property’s thermal mass marginally increased by 9% to 0.72MJ/K/m2, a small incremental increase.

Despite the small increase, the thermal mass acts as a highly effective heat-sink and helps to moderate internal ambient air temperatures throughout the year for both heating and cooling; introducing STYROFOAM™-A externally means the thermal mass becomes that much more effective.

Residents now enjoy a relatively stable ambient internal air temperature of around 21⁰C without the aid of a central heating system. Instead, supplementary heat contributions are achieved with a low grade, self-regulating electric under-floor heating system, a wood burner and secondary heat from household appliances. The 35KW rated under-floor heating contributed 1200KWhr of heating load over the first twelve months; this is anticipated to reduce over the second year due to drying out.

Adapting fenestration

To the south of the building, the potential for solar heat gains through the fenestration was increased by creating a larger area of direct south facing glazing which now measures 9.3m2 in total, an increase from 3.9m2. This represents a 72% increase in south facing glazing areas with a net solar heat gain contributing to the overall heating load.

In contrast, the north elevation glazed area was reduced from 11.3m2 to 6.1m2. This 50% reduction in glazing combined with the higher specification replacement glass (24mm low–E double glazing), reduced the heat transmittance through the north windows collectively from 34 W/m2K to 11W/m2K. This resulted in a 68% reduction in the rate of heat loss from the north windows alone.

A change in the view!

As an additional touch, who would have thought that simple changes to layout could result in dramatic changes? Simply by putting bedrooms on the ground floor and principal occupation rooms on upper floors, solar receipts could be increased and elevated daylight levels enjoyed where they are needed most.

Finally, as well as relatively simple changes to the building structure, 5.5KWp of roof mounted photovoltaics (PVs) were added, generating 4,200KWhrs in the first year and displacing 3,106kg of CO2.

Blueprint for the future

What has been created at Greening-the-Box™ High Wycombe is a pragmatic, affordable and replicable solution which will no doubt be of great interest to those working hard to get the Green Deal out of the policy papers and into our homes.

A highly inefficient 200 year old building has been transformed into a genuinely low carbon, low impact household which offers a perpetual environmental legacy. It’s been achieved by employing simple design techniques and by using materials which are already widely available in the UK, and as such offers a potential blueprint for the benefit of generations to come.”

For more information on Greening-the-Box™ visit www.searcharchitects.co.uk. For STYROFOAM™-A product details visit Dow Building Solutions at www.styrofoam.co.uk.

While it appears to be the case that the use of extruded polystyrene achieves great results in retrofitting existing, even rather old buildings, to a high environmental standard, polystyrene in itself, as far as I am concerned is and remains a problem. There is no green polystyrene in the same way as there is no green concrete.

I am sure that there are many other methods that could be employed which achieve similar results using (more) natural and renewable materials that using the likes of polystyrene the manufacture of which is harmful to the environment as is the material itself.

As said, while the results may be good, also for the environment in the form of CO2 reductions and such like, the material is not and thus, in my opinion, other materials could be found and other methods to achieve similar results.

© 2012