Needs and wants and being frugal

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

21034533_1455313397883264_6962462607872370993_nVery often wants are mistaken for needs and on other levels a want culture is being and has already been created where even the smallest child screams that he wants that because he needs it.

Parents must start here by putting a stop to such demands but instead of doing that they just give in to each and every demand of the child believing that the child would be disadvantaged if he does not get what he wants. By allowing this to happen they are responsible, and this has been going on for some decades already, of creating, and having created, the entitlement culture that we have today.

Also to blame are, obviously, but to some extent only for the power lies elsewhere, the advertisers whose commercials create in the viewer, child and adult alike, depending who it is target towards, the belief that they need this things shown to be happy or more fulfilled, or whatever. That it costs them dearly more than likely on more than one level the person in whom this desire is aroused rarely recognizes.

The true difference between needs and wants are that needs are, to an extent, but a few, wants, on the other hand, can be and are legion.

The child wants this or that, be it a toy, or whatever, the parent gives in and gets it for him and then, how long does the interest in whatever it was last? If it is a bicycle then, maybe, almost for ever, but when it comes to toys and such, often no more than a couple of days after which he gets “bored” with it and demands yet another one.

Oh, I was a child myself (obviously) and, although the “I want” better was not something that was said in a demanding voice or reinforced with a tantrum, and “I want” actually was better not said at all; more a “I'd like that?” or “Can I have one of those?” and it might happen. Though most of the time it didn't and I would be told to go and do some jobs and earn the money to get it. We didn't have much in the way of money coming in when I was a kid and I learned to appreciate the value of things.

I did just that in the case of roller-skates. Every kid on the block, almost, had a pair and I just needed to have a pair too. Oh yes, I needed a pair though a need it definitely was not but. Found some jobs to do for people against payment and I managed to get the money together and bought a pair. That was a bad move. Why? Because I just could not get on with them at all and after a few tries gave up, put them away, and they were never even looked at again. That also taught me a great lesson.

Over time I learned that what I really needed was different to that what I wanted and soon learned that the fancy stuff that everyone wanted to have I actually did not need – and also could not afford to have and want. That does not mean that over time I have not bought some (more) white elephants. Some of my kitchen gadgets speak for it, such as the deep fat fryer (used probably four or five times), the juicer (oh what a rigmarole cleaning it), and one or two others.

But there were those toys that I made for myself like my catapult, or that wooden tractor that an “uncle” had made for me and that got repaired so many times. How I loved that tractor and to this day I wish I had kept, just for the sake of it. Those really got used. Same as tin can stilt, wooden stilts, and so on. Well, and not to speak of the bicycle that I was given. It may have been a secondhand one but to me it might as well have been the most expensive one in the world. Those things I used day in and day out.

The catapult (slingshot) for instance was with me every day and I practiced with it every spare minute and hunted with it for the pot. We also made our own toys out of bits of wood, things from the forest and things found in the trash and we played more with those things than we ever did with store-bought toys. And I think we also looked after the things we made for ourselves or which someone had made for us much better than after those gotten from a store – with the few exception of expensive things that we bought ourselves from hard-earned money.

The same goes for fashion, aka clothing, whether the Nike (or whatever brand may be in fashion at the very moment) baseball cap. The gimme-hat from the country show, that often are given out for free, are just as good only that you are advertising a brand of tractor or something of that nature. OK, it might not have the right “street cred” but so what. It meets your need for a hat and that's what counts.

Saving money is the main part of being frugal and if you can’t make something yourself then look at getting it second-hand/used and this is the same with clothes as with other things such as a bicycle or whatever.

When I was a kid we all wore hand-me-downs that came from other peoples’ children and also many of our toys came that way too if we did not make them ourselves or got them made for us. There is absolutely nothing wrong with good second-hand clothes or other goods.

While clothes from the charity shop may not be the latest fashion they more often than not are good quality and that at a small fraction of the cost. With the exception of certain clothes, such as socks and undergarments, all my stuff comes from charity shops and my wardrobe is well stocked; overstocked in fact.

I take the greatest pleasure on the frugality front though in making things I need and want from things that otherwise might be thrown away or which have been thrown away and I do take that, probably, to the extreme. But so be it, as far as I am concerned.

Anything and everything that can be reused, reworked and upcycled is on that list. Reuse here applies to reusing an item of waste that can be used for this or that purpose, which would be more repurposing than reuse, as much as something that someone has thrown away and which still works well, such as in the case of a multi-tool that came into my possession in that way.

Reworking and upcycling is a somewhat different kettle of fish to reuse and it all depends of what comes my way here, be that items of waste at home or stuff found, but I look at everything with an eye for doing just that and see what I can make from it and out of it for my own use or even, hopefully, for sale.

So much of what the general population sees as “waste” is transformable into something useful or into art. Personally I prefer the useful side rather than that of artworks but, if all else fails, then artworks are still better than landfill, especially if it is something decorative that one might actually want to have in the home or office.

© 2017

#GreenLiving #greenlivingtips #needs #wants #frugality #makingdo #children #lifelessons

The Rs and the U

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Paper napkins are not recyclableWe have always told, and still are being told, that there are three Rs when it comes to “going green” and that those are “reduce, reuse, recycle” but, in fact, there are more than just those three, or at least there should be. And then there is also the U for upcycle. Recycle should come at the very bottom of the list, and that is why I have put it here.

Reduce: Just use and buy less. Also, obviously, reduce your waste, especially the stuff you send into the waste stream. When it comes to food and food waste use everything and leftovers are used the next day. That's the way our parents and their parents did things. It works, would you believe it. Oh, and guess what, reusable cutlery, plates, cups and such are meant to be washed after use and used again.

Return: Producers should take back what they sell. This is not going to happen very soon, of that we can be certain, even as far as packaging, and over-packaging goes.

Reuse: Almost boring, but we throw too much stuff out too soon. Reuse also must include not just continued use of what we have but reusing and repurposing items of waste such as glass jars and much more. There often is another life for many of so-called waste products.

Repurpose: That is taking reuse to another level in that the product is used for another, often “higher” purpose.

Repair: Fix and mend things rather than replacing them.

Rework: Taking an item of waste and making something new, which could include changing the shape of the original waste product but does not have to be and is akin to upcycling.

Refurbish: This is a little like repair but may go a lot further than just simple repair, that is to say fix and mend.

Refill: In Ontario Canada, 88% of beer bottles are returned to the beer store, washed and refilled; just south of the border in the USA, the number drops to under 5%. In many countries of Europe beer bottles are also returned, washed, sterilized and refilled; alas not in the UK. Apparently, according to government, it was never done in Britain and thus could never work here despite the fact that until the end of the 1970s this was done, last with lemonade bottles and until not so long ago – and in some cases still – with milk bottles.

Rot: Compost what is left over, turning it into valuable nutrients.

Refuse: Simply refuse to accept this crap from the manufacturers any more.

Reducing and reusing also saves money, as do many of the other Rs, aside from being good for the Planet they are good for your wallet and bank balance too. If that isn't an incentive I don't know what ever would be.

And now for the U, even though this one should come well before this stage and that is:

Upcycling: This is the process where (at least) some of the shape and properties of the original waste product are retained and where another useful product is produced from it. Though at times it might also be a decorative item or a piece of art.

Upcycling ideally, however, should be about turning an item of waste into a useful item and product rather than a work of “art”. Although there are times when making artworks out of such waste is the only answer to throwing it and that is still better than doing that.

Recycle: Yes, I have put recycling at the very bottom of the list, and not just of the Rs because of the way recycling, at least commercial recycling, generally, works. The problem with recycling is that it, actually, destroys the “waste” product and more often than not this product is not recycled but downcycled.

Glass is a prime example here where in the majority of instances, aside from being broken into fragments anyway in the first case, it is ground down to make road aggregate, a glass sand, rather than new glass. In other words they are turning it almost into the material that glass is made from in the first place, namely sand. But, as all the colors are being mixed together it is not possible to make new glass products from them, or so they say. Why not make multicolored glass tumblers and such?

Many other “waste” products in commercial recycling also are downcycled rather than properly recycled into what they originally were, hence recycling should always be the very last resort to turn to when everything else has failed. But, for some unexplainable reason, there is no infrastructure there for a proper reuse and upcycling economy, so to speak, and everyone concentrates in commercial recycling on what actually is downcycling.

That is why upcycling has to become a main part of the equation also and especially on a commercial level, from small independent craftspeople to SMEs as recycling does recycle very little and mostly downcycles the materials. This may be good, to some extent, for the large operators and their shareholders but not for the Planet.

Some of us may have already seen the little gadget and “trick” about turning PET bottles into string that makes for an extremely strong rope. There is potential in small and larger scale recycling or upcycling of such bottles (yes, in this instance the original shape is not retained) and using the material thus garnered to make ropes, but also woven products such as mats, and others. And that is just via one simple method.

Just some food for thought, maybe.

© 2017

Himalayan salt lamps

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

salt_lampHimalayan salt lamps are not made with salt from the Himalayas for starters. They also do not release any negative ions or anything like that. They look pretty when lit by a light bulb or a candle, but that is about all.

Claims that salt lamps release any appreciable amount of negative ions have been shown to be untrue, and from a scientific point of view, not possible. You simply cannot alter the chemistry of salt using a light bulb or candle flame. But they can be quite pretty, so enjoy them for that reason, but don't get sold on any unproven therapeutic powers.

The so-called Himalayan salt is more than a bit of a misnomer as it does not actually come from the Himalayas but from the Pakistani Khewra Salt Mine in the Punjab region of Pakistan which is nowhere remotely near those mountains.

What goes for the lamps also goes for the so-called Himalayan salt that is claimed to have such great health benefits. Hello folks, it is just rock salt, only difference is that it is orange due to iron oxide, in other words "rust". This rock salt, aside from the color, is no different than any rock salt that you may buy in the shops, except that some cooking salt, as well as table salt, which is all rock salt unless it is sea salt, has iodine added.

While some self-proclaimed health experts will now scream that iodine is bad and should not be added, etc. ad infinitum, what is it that you would (hate to) take in the event of a nuclear accident or such? Yes, you got it, iodine. In fact, the iodization was done for health reasons. Iodised salt is table salt mixed with a minute amount of various salts of the element iodine. The ingestion of iodine prevents iodine deficiency.

So, just to recap on Himalayan Salt: it is rock salt that does not come from the Himalayas and is orange in color because it contains iron oxide, which is another word for rust. It has no negative ions and is not different to any other rock salt, such as you ordinary table or cooking salt, whether iodised or not. Don't fall for the clap-trap of the snake oil salesmen and -women.

© 2017

British festivals are utter rubbish!

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

festival rubbish1The UK's biggest festivals churn out over 1,600 tons of all kinds of rubbish. Put into perspective that is as heavy as:

2500 cows, 250 T-Rex, 200 elephants, 20 Space Shuttles, or 15 Blue Whales. That is rather heavy, isn't it? And a load of rubbish that does not have to be.

June 2017 – An 800-strong clean-up crew descended on the Glastonbury site following the exit of 200,000 revelers, to tackle around 1,650 tons of waste – the most extensive cleanup effort in history!

Those 1,650 tons of waste include:
- 5,000 abandoned tents
- 6,500 sleeping bags
- 400 gazebos
- 54 tons of cans and plastic bottles
- 41 tons of cardboard
- 66 tons of scrap metal
- 3,500 airbeds
- 2,200 chairs
- 950 rolled mats

But it doesn't need to be this way:

For campers & attendees, why not consider the following:

  • Only pack what is absolutely essential - Remember to only take the bare minimum
  • Take home the tent - clean it up and save it for another festival, recycle it or donate to a homeless or refugee charity.
  • Put your rubbish in bins and recycle points
  • Bring reusable cutlery, crockery and cups
  • Share transport or use public transport

Food & drink providers can support the environment through:

  • Use biodegradable cups and food containers
  • Implement recycling rewards for customers such as half price drink in exchange for 20 recycled cups
  • Bring compost bins and recycling facilities
  • Give discount to those carrying and using their own reusable cups

While the festival season is slowly coming to an end for this year with the next two big ones being the Reading and Leeds festivals which will be finishing off this summer of music, I would like to ask both attendees and merchants to actively consider their impact on the environment, by making small changes. Together we can all make a big change. It is not rocket science.

© 2017

Londoners turn their bottles into beats for a Party in the Park

Revellers across the capital this weekend power a party to help keep parks green

x-defaultLondon, Monday 21st August (Press Release): London’s parks were left a little bit greener this weekend – as park revellers traded in their empty bottles for music beats.

Arriving unannounced into the capital’s most popular parks, the Kopparberg ‘Recycling Rig’ made its first stop across a number of hot spots, including London Fields, Victoria Park and Finsbury Park and powered music in exchange for empty cans and bottles.

Set to hit the road again across the bank holiday weekend - Londoners are being openly invited to a Kopparberg party in return for their environmental efforts. Taking place at East London’s Number 90on Saturday 26th August, attendees will be able to sample complimentary Kopparberg fruit ciderand lager and enjoy exclusive DJ sets from Pixie Geldof and DJ Yoda.

Built from up-cycled materials including reclaimed wood, the three-metre-high truck features a total of 30 music speakers, which are powered by the empties handed in by Londoners. The more that are handed in, the longer the music plays. The Kopparberg Recycling Rig is trading empties for retro playlists including remixes of popular classics and summer inspired hits hosted by a resident DJ.

Rob Salvesen, Senior Marketing Manager at Kopparberg says, “We have noticed that London’s parks have often been left in an untidy state on a summers day. As one of summer’s most popular drinks, we’ve launched the Kopparberg Recycling Rig, which is encouraging us all to do our bit, whilst having a good time too. This reflects a saying we live by in Kopparberg town, called Fanga Dågen, which translates to life is what you make it.”

Source: W C Communications

From plastic lotion bottle to tool holster (Reuse Recipe)

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Those plastic bottles that held hand lotion, or sun lotion, or the larger ones that held cleaning product of one kind or other, lend themselves very nicely to be upcycled into belt pouches/holsters for small tools like secateurs, etc.

lotion bottles to holsters1_webAnd it does not just have to be lotion bottles. There are also plastic cleaning material bottles that can thus be upcycled. Lotion bottles are somewhat smaller/shorter than the cleaning ones and thus the former need a belt loop of sorts added. The larger bottles can have it incorporated. One could also use purchased metal belt clips and attach one of those to the thus created holster.

The lotion bottles also make for useful “pocket protectors” in that they can be slipped (with the tool or without) into a back pocket or such. Those are also extremely useful for the DIY-er for screwdrivers, spanners and such, so as not to damage the pocket(s).


  • Plastic lotion bottle (or similar)


  • Xacto knife (Stanley knife in UK)
  • Cutting mat/board (I use an old plastic cutting board from kitchen)
  • Scissors

How to:

  • Using the Xacto knife carefully cut off the bottom of the bottle
  • With the scissors trim the cut off area (if it is a larger bottle then you may wish to cut it similar to the one on the left in the photo)
  • For belt wear you could cut slots in the back through which to thread the belt or, alternatively, using some other plastic stock from, say, plastic milk bottle, you could create a belt loop (see Harvesting Tub). (If you don't have rivets to use then a couple of small short bolts, nuts, and washers will do that equally well).

And, voila, ready...

© 2017

Urban gardening: The real green revolution

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

urban gardening1Urban gardening, the gardening in the towns and suburbs, is highly political. Anyone who belittles this movement blocks his own view of this societal change.

If one would want to measure the success of a movement on the number of those that claim that it cannot possible be any good then the Urban Gardening Movement has during the few years that it has been in existence come a long way already.

Unfortunately there are some writers in newspapers and other media who belittle this to the extent that the state that those who long for the countryside and for gardening and farming should move to the countryside because towns and cities have been sealed, poisoned, and so on. They find it laughable that people are planting Marigolds in front of their doors or tomatoes on their balconies.

But many of those writers have actually no idea, it would seem, what this urban gardening and urban farming is all about. It is not about just growing food for oneself but to actually grow food for the people in the city, and in some cases those urban gardens are created in such a way that everyone can have the food for free (or almost for free) and the movement is growing regardless.

Urban gardening does not mean annexing of ground for private use but free access for all to grow food. It is a fact that the almost 500 urban community garden in Germany, for example, are some of the few places in the gentrified towns where people from different social strata meet in the public realm and interact by creating such gardens and working them.

Those urban community gardens are an innovative contribution to the restructuring of the living together in towns and cities where there is an increasing delineation between the different classes (and I do use the word class/classes here deliberately) which produces a great many risks for our living together in those spaces.

While growing produce for use by all, in community gardens “managed” and worked by all, by people from different strata and classes in the city, is one part of it such gardens also and especially aim to overcome the borders that have been created between people of different groups in society, in our increasingly gentrified towns and especially cities.

Through gardening together in reclaimed public spaces collective forms are created that can be seen as part of an ever strengthening commons movement even and especially in our towns and cities. Those forms could be the basis for new political framework to change society and all for the better.

Though not everyone may be realizing the potential that the urban gardening movement has to change the political structure and through it society as a whole. The powers-that-be, however, are well aware of its potential and thus use the media to belittle those that participate in this, whether in the form of community urban gardens or simply by trying to be somewhat more autark by turning their front and back yards and their balconies, etc., into spaces in which to grow at least some of their food.

People who are independent – to some extent – from the markets and people who join in community of whatever kind are perceived as a threat by the powers-that-be and thus every attempt possible is being made to discredit them in they eyes of the majority not as yet involved.

© 2017

Smallholder farmers need seat at climate table

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

DachaShort-term, reactive solutions are not enough to help smallholder farmers cope with climate change, according to a 2015 report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“If we are going to sustainably improve the livelihoods of the developing world’s smallholder farmers in the context of a changing climate, we need to ensure that their priorities are understood and reflected in policies,” says IFAD’s Vice President Michel Mordasini.

The report, prepared by IFAD, suggests that practical technical interventions, such as enhanced seeds and accurate weather forecasts, are not enough and that ultimately national policies, a legal framework, strategies and budgets will shape the opportunities for large numbers of rural women and men to adapt to a changing environment.

The report points out that smallholder farmers know best the realities they face, and if they are not adequately involved in policy processes, they risk losing out and being sidelined in decisions that directly determine their ability to cope and adapt. The report highlights IFAD’s support for policy dialogue between governments and farmers, including special provisions to ensure that the adaptation priorities of women, young people and indigenous peoples are also heard.

The report presents five country case studies of how IFAD is strengthening the enabling environment for farmers trying to cope with climate change. One of the featured case studies is from Sudan.

“In Sudan, IFAD is supporting the development of 300 community adaptation plans that enhance resilience of women and men,” says Khalida Bouzar, Director of IFAD’s North Africa, Near East and Europe Division. “IFAD is building capacities of technical staff at local and state levels and strengthening their understanding of climate change adaptation and natural resource management, promoting arrangements that help reduce resource-based conflicts, as well as supporting policy through the development of a Sectorial Adaptation Strategy relevant to the livestock sector. This strategy will in turn be implemented through the community adaptation plans, as we believe that while climate change is a global problem, climate action is a local solution.''

IFAD is also working to support governments in embedding smallholder adaptation priorities in national policies. In Mozambique, for example, IFAD is working with the Centre for the Promotion of Agriculture to support the mainstreaming of gender and climate change adaptation into national policies on horticulture, cassava and red meat production.

“IFAD stresses the importance of reinforcing national institutions in dealing with climate impacts on smallholder farmers,” says Margarita Astralaga, Director of IFAD’s Environment and Climate Division. “In the Gambia we support policy makers learn from the experience of countries facing similar challenges.”

The report highlights the importance of global processes, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC), as opportunities to keep smallholder adaptation priorities in the limelight.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since 1978, we have provided nearly US$17 billion in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached about 453 million people. IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized United Nations agency based in Rome – the UN's food and agriculture hub.

But what IFAD actually does is concentrating on small farmers in the Third World – no, I am not playing the pc game by calling those countries “developing countries” – but seem to have little if any time for smallholders in the so-called developed world. They have to fend for themselves without anyone carrying the flame for them.

All the smallholders and small farmers the world over must be given a place at the climate table, so to speak, for it is, in fact they, and not industrialized agriculture, that will mitigate climate change and feed the world.

We need more small farmers and smallholders rather than large farms to feed the world and to capture carbon and prevent agricultural pollution reaching air and water courses, especially when the farming is done on a more or less organic level.

A look needs to be taken at how the small farms in Russia are working as to feeding the country and how more of such farms everywhere could really change food security. To get more such farms, however, would mean a serious land reform where those that truly are prepared to farm in a sustainable way to create food security for the nation (and the world) will be given land. This land can only come about, though, by expropriation of the large farms and also, such in the UK, the large, often unproductive, feudal estates, and the sooner this is being done the better.

© 2017

Are we living in a fake democracy?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

14883678_1319724531373984_2297869749991571431_oPlease see that question as a rhetorical one as the answer is not only yes, yes, and yes, but that we have nowhere, and I repeat and mean nowhere, democracy. Not in a single country of the world at this present moment.

Being permitted to vote every four or five years for the next captain and crew of the ship only to have it continue on the same course towards the abyss is not democracy. The truth of the matter is that we are not even living in a fake democracy; we do not live in any democracy at all.

As Mark Twain said, if voting would make any difference they would make it illegal. And as they have not made it illegal in all those years it must mean that it does not make an iota of a difference.

The fact is that not a single country that claims to be democratic and have democracy is and has nothing of the kind. They who claim that and they who believe that have no idea what democracy actually means in reality.

With every year that passes, another corrupt politician or political scheme is exposed. With increasingly right-wing political parties serving the interests of capitalism over the basic humanitarian needs of the people, is it possible that our system, for democratic it is not, is rigged against the majority in favor of an elite minority? I think the answer here is also a very loud and definite yes.

We only need to look at the European Union and especially with regards to the way they are dealing with Greece. Predominately the reason for having made it is difficult as possible for the Greek government under Syriza is that the great majority of Euro-Zone member states wish to remove the radical left Syriza from power in Athens.

Other methods of the EU are also more than undemocratic, even in the way democracy is seem by most at the present time, in that they, if there has to be, in a country, a referendum will, should it be a negative outcome, as in Ireland with regards to the Lisbon Treaty, force the member state to keep holding a referendum until the outcome is a positive one. If people still believe that we have democracy anywhere then they must be rather daft.

Now, let us look what democracy actually means. It means “the people govern themselves” as the word democracy comes from the Greek “demos” which has two meanings, in the same way that the second part of which the word is made up, “kratos”, has a second meaning. “Demos” means either “the people” or “the village” and “kratos” means either “govern themselves” or “pulls the cart itself”. So it is either “the people govern themselves” or “the village pulls the cart itself”. In both cases it is the people who do the governing, if you get the meaning.

And now someone show me any country where such democracy exists, where the people actually govern themselves. Such a self-government of the people also means that there is not state. The state and its apparatus are diametrically opposed to true democracy and it is this that we need to understand before we can even look at establishing democracy.

Democracy came from the village and to the village it must return, I wrote a while back, and this because true democracy can only work in small groups, in the village or the city block, which must become the village in the city. You can read my articles on this subject of democracy needing to return to the village here and here.

© 2017

Sloyd spoon carving

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

smal_spoon_paper_birch1_webLet's first quickly look at the meaning or etymology of the word “sloyd”. It comes from the Swedish “slöjd which is translated to mean sleight of hand, skilled or crafty, in other words, handcrafts or made by hand. Often it is put together with green woodworking but just means handcrafts and no more. Nowhere does it actually mean that the wood has to be so-called greenwood, that is to say wood that is freshly cut or laid up for no longer than 18 months.

Many a tutor in spoon carving will teach methods and often quite elaborate ways. But do we really need that? Personally I do not think so. It actually often gets in the way. The piece of wood will tell you what it wants to become and, within reason, it is much better to follow this rather than to work against it.

Often many things are made to appear so much more complicated than they actually should be and you can look at all the complicated ways that some people do things and how they, more or less, try to achieve what I would call “production runs” with everything looking almost the same. You only get that when you force your will upon the piece of wood, and I would always advise against that.

I always suggest the KISS system; keep it simple stupid. The most important thing is (1) to develop your own way and (2) to allow the piece of wood, as I said, with in reason, to be your guide via the grain structure as to what it wants to be and now it wants to look when done.

This requires, as so often in forestry and working with wood, the development of “the eye”, the skill to see what a piece of wood is destined to become by the way it is shaped, and then by the way the grain runs.

Yes, you can impose your will onto the piece of wood but often that means, possibly, weakening the grain structure at times. Best to follow the grain as much as possible and by doing so producing entirely unique pieces. This goes as much for carving spoons as for other treen goods.

© 2017

The photo above shows a spoon made from Paper Birch which fought me all the way but is an indication for letting the wood guide you as to shape, etc.

Matching neighborhood skills

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

20139988_1539078376130193_5453055660688507791_nThere was a time when everyone knew their neighbors and that not only in a village and they all knew who did what for a trade or who was good in this or that and, even more important, everyone was prepared to help one another.

Today, however, we barely acknowledge our neighbors let alone know them or know who in our community – what community? – we can go to for help in this or that matter.

There was a time when everyone knew that “Uncle” Erik just down the road was a barber, though he may be working in some other job now, and would be prepared, at his place or at your home, to cut the hair of the family. Or there was Old Bill (no, not the police) who did all manner of woodworking, or James, the mechanic, who would be prepared to fix this or that, including a car, on the weekend.

The community that government so often speaks of no longer exists and in many cases the very destruction of it, such as in the working class areas and the villages, was aided and abetted by the very government that keeps harping on about it and, more often than not, throws every conceivable spanner in the works when people want to bring community back into their areas. Obviously people that do things for themselves are a threat to the powers-that-be (but should not be, the powers I mean) on a local as much as on a central level.

If we, the people, want really and truly resurrect the community in our areas where we live then it is up to us to do it. Government is not going to do it. It will more than likely do its damnedest to prevent it, although in a clandestine and subtle manner.

Get to know your neighbors. Most of them are not going to bite. Start by acknowledging their existence. Smile, say “good morning”, “good day”, or whatever. Some may blank you initially but do persist. The day will come when they don't just reply but may actually engage in conversation. And then the ball starts rolling.

There is no community and can be no community if and when we do not know our neighbors and engage and interact with them.

When I was a youngster we had real community in our villages and even in especially the working class districts in the towns and cities. The drawback of that was though that when you got home of an evening your parents already knew what you had been up to during the day, good or bad. Everyone popped in and out of each others' homes, even if only for a natter, a cup of tea, to borrow some sugar, or whatever and everyone looked out for everyone else's children as if they were their very own.

You knew who had this tool or that you could borrow, who could fix your bicycle if you could not do it yourself, or who had a long ladder. You knew which skills everyone had in the community and also how prepared they were to help out, either for a fee or on a barter trade basis. People swapped garden produce and seeds, books, you name it and all the children called the adults uncle or aunt.

In the working class areas of the towns and cities it was, as already mentioned, equally the same and they were like little villages in that respect. Then again, those districts arose from villages and many still had that feel, to a degree, and definitely as far as community was concerned. That many of the men (and later also the women) working in the same factories and workshops probably also helped to cement this community and community spirit. And then, in Britain and elsewhere, came the redevelopments to improve the areas which was, more often than not in fact, social cleansing, and in London it is really in full swing more today than ever. Communities have been and are being broken up and people dispersed far and wide, as nuclear families and not as a whole community.

But it is up to us to build and rebuild our communities into real living and thriving ones, whether or not the powers-that-be like it or not. Attempts of this building and rebuilding of community are growing in many places, such as via the Transition (Town) Movement or their German equivalent, the Kietzwandler. But those are but a few of many. This aside from those that create alternative communities and even entire towns and villages on a new model, or new models.

As far as Transition Towns in the UK are concerned, aside from its small town of Totnes in Devon, where the movement sort of, started, it would appear that the greatest successes are had, for some strange reason, in the more urban areas, including and especially in inner London, such as Transition Town Brixton. In the more affluent areas, such as rural and semi-rural Surrey, etc., this ideas, and others of this nature) seem to be getting nowhere and are falling on deaf ears.

So what do I mean by matching neighborhood skills and why it is a good idea?

It means matching the skills, trades and what-have-you to the needs, so to speak, that members of the community may have. Need a plumber? Joe at No.10 is a professional plumber, so give him the job instead of calling in an outsider. Thus the money stays in the community. Need you PC fixed? Call on young Richard just a round the corner who knows how to do it and who builds his own systems. And this goes for every job – well, almost – that someone in the neighborhood may need doing and even the almost is with a great caveat for there may be more skilled people out there in our neighborhood, or people with skills, than we may be able to guess until we actually find out.

If we all use local skilled people to do the jobs that we may need doing the money stays in our community or it may even be done on a barter trade and thus does not go into the pockets of some boss somewhere. It is the same if you get your vegetables, eggs, etc. from local farms rather than the supermarkets or purchase other things from local makers.

Not only do those who perform the tasks benefit but we may actually get the job done cheaper and better that if we would go to an “outside” firm and at the same time we get to know those in our neighborhood and create some form of community cohesion (which can serve as the foundation for a real community).

One of the biggest problems today is that people have become very insular and shut themselves off from those around them. We hardly, if at all, know our neighbors and often do not even acknowledge them when we see them, out an about. But we can all change that in that we act differently. A smile, a “good day”, and such cost you nothing and if the other person does not reply still keep doing it. There will come the day when – suddenly – they will respond and the first steps to getting to know one another and to building some neighborliness and community are taken. That is the first step to Community Building. But, as said, it is just the first step. The rest really follows on from that. A blueprint for building community to give I do not think to be possible but a Community skills database for the purpose of sharing and caring but also allowing people to make some income is a great step in this direction also.

Such a database would match skills with needs and vice versa and can go a long way to bringing people together through mutual beneficial actions and thus can lead – and we should surely hope so – to real community where we go to our neighbors, close or not so close, to get things done or to learn skills rather than calling in outsiders.

But, in order to set up such a database and to match neighborhood skills with possible neighborhood needs requires that we get to know our neighbors first of all, at least the organizer(s) of such a database and matching service. So, let's go and do some matching and through this build communities in our neighborhoods.

© 2017

Nation wakes up to coffee cup recycling on-the-go-go

Veolia’s coffee cup recycling bins brew up a solution

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

NoPapercupUnderpinned by insight into coffee cup disposal habits and with trials supported by partners such as Costa and Starbucks, Veolia, the UK’s leading resource management company, is rolling out a national coffee cup recycling solution.

With 84% of takeaway hot drink consumers still using disposable cups, Veolia’s coffee cup solution aims to collect takeaway cups as soon as the consumer has finished their drink to reduce cup contamination and increase recycling rates.

The solution is now available to existing customers nationwide and to potential new customers, as part of a packaged service, and offers multiple service options. These include a specialist designed in-house recycling bin, a bulk collection option and a post back service – which is available to all business types nationally.

By capturing cups before they enter the general waste stream Veolia’s solution aims to get a higher quality of material that can be reprocessed into a new product. And the public is onboard.

The latest YouGov research shows a staggering 88% of the public would use a purpose-built bin to ensure their disposable paper cups is recycled. Almost half (47%) would even be willing to hold onto their cup for longer if they knew they would pass a purpose-built bin, and nearly a quarter (24%) would go out of their way to use one. As a result, Veolia is calling for more disposal locations, such as train stations, university campuses and offices, to step-up and help solve the coffee cup conundrum with them.

For regular takeaway hot drink consumers, those that buy at least four drinks a week or more, the most popular location for cup disposal is at work. In fact, over half (52%) cite the office as a disposal location, with ‘on-the-go’ locations such as train stations, service stations and on trains, the second most popular (40%) and then in coffee shops third (31%).

Estelle Brachlianoff, Senior Executive Vice-President at Veolia UK & Ireland, comments: “Over the last six months a lot of activities have been taking place with our customers, such as Costa and Starbucks to overcome our biggest challenge – contamination in the cups. As a result, we’ve worked on a solution that will separate the cup from the general waste stream as soon as the customer has enjoyed their drink – and we’re thrilled to see so much public support for cup recycling.

“Coffee cup recycling is now happening across the country but I’d like to take this opportunity to further encourage a mass collaboration between designers, manufacturers, vendors and consumers as we all have a part to play in making all of our packaging more environmentally friendly and ensuring our resources are kept in the loop for longer.”

Once the consumer has ‘Tipped-it, flipped-it and stacked-it’ – a process to ensure any remaining liquid is drained and the lid, sleeve and cup are separated – Veolia undertakes a further separation process to guarantee all rogue items have been removed. This is key because it will help to ensure a higher quality of material that can be reprocessed into a new product.

After the cups have been debagged, separated, checked for quality and contamination, and baled up they go on to further treatment at paper pulping facilities, which recover the fibers and separate the polymer plastic lining. Working with a number of outlets, the fiber could potentially be used to make a multitude of products such as egg boxes or cup holders given back out in stores or alternatively used in the manufacturing of cellulose-based insulation for homes.

OK, so much for what Violia UK says and now let's looks at the way the world really works, at least according to what I am being told by other experts in the waste management industry.

Violia UK is claiming to have a facility that can separate cardboard from the polymer liner of those cups. If that is the case than this is the only such plant and no one else in the waste industry heard of it being possible.

I know that I am a skeptic and rather sarcastic with regards to this but when 99.9% experts in the industry tell me that those “paper” cups with their polymer linings cannot be recycled and that separation of the two components is not possible I find the claims of one or two companies questionable in the extreme.

As I have said it is either the case that Violia UK has a facility that is capable of doing the things that the vast majority, bar one or two, claim cannot be done or somewhere along the line someone is rather economical with the truth.

It would be better by far if the beverage industry would get away from those cups and people would carry their own. There are enough alternatives available.

© 2017

Paper Saver – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Paper Saver is – probably – the most eco-friendly notebook ever

Paper_Saver_notebook.jpg.662x0_q70_crop-scaleThe Paper Saver comes without paper inside, because it's meant to be stuffed with old, discarded printouts from your home office.

Having received my review sample I have to say that it is – in my opinion – a brilliant idea and probably beats any recycling of single-side printed paper and so many pages come as just that. They are used once, such as press releases, and then, generally, though not at yours truly's place, discarded.

The idea is so simple and effective that one can but wonder that it has not been done before. Along the lines of this principle, I have, for years, made A6 pocket notebooks, though with card covers and staples in the center.

The market for eco-friendly notebooks has become, over the years, a large and hot one. Mostly it is a case of beautiful covers enclosing thick piles of 100% recycled paper. No company, however, has taken its eco-minded ethos quite so far as Paper Saver.

Paper_Saver.jpg.650x0_q70_crop-smartAustralian startup, Paper Saver, uses no new paper at all, not even recycled, having figured out an ingenious way to put unwanted, surplus paper to good use – and we all have plenty of that lying around; I know that I have all the time, but I also reuse all of that anyway and always have.

The Paper Saver Notebook is a basic imitation leather cover with a stainless steel binding, nylon bookmark, and elastic, akin to the one used with Moleskine or Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks, and “derivatives”. The basics of this is a folder similar to magazine files – the so-called string binders – with the difference that there is only one metal “rod” instead of several in the case of those files.

Unlike “normal” notebooks the Paper Saver comes with no paper inside – because that is where you are meant to put your own sheets. Just grab a stack of accidentally printed paper, or paper that has already served its purpose in your office (40-50 sheets of either Letter size in the US/Canada or A$ in the rest of the world), and push it into the binding. Fold the other half over and you have got a half-blank notebook of 80-100 pages, ready for scribbling and sketching. Once you fill up those pages, pull out the whole wad of paper, flip it around, and start over again. Personally I would fold the pages in half first to have a fold before inserting the stack through the binding.

Once you have finished your first notebook you pull the wad out again and then you can, if you so desire, send the lot for recycling though most of us, more than likely, would wish to hold on to those notes. I know I would and will. Then add a “new” stack of one-side printed “waste” paper and ready is another notebook.

The idea for the Paper Saver grew out of architect founder Jon Yong's frustration with the sheer quantity of draft designs that were printed and discarded as soon as changes were made. He created a homemade Paper Saver nearly a decade ago before realizing that others might enjoy such a device.

While the Paper Saver, in itself, may not be made of recycled materials and components it will, however, if used correctly, keep paper being dumped in landfill. As the cover of the Paper Saver is faux leather it is also vegan-friendly; another positive.

This is a clever concept with potential to make us all feel slightly less guilty about the fact that 50% of paper used in North American offices, for example, ends up as garbage, and that a about 27% of waste in landfills is paper products. Rather than using yet more resources on recycling and shipping, it makes sense to extend the lifespan of paper that has already been made.

In addition we may also have to ask how much so-called 100% recycled paper really is post-consumer waste and how much of such a claim is actually greenwash.

At present the Paper Saver is in stores only available in Australia but can be purchased via the Internet. Two sizes are available; one for the US-Canada in the letter format and the other, for the rest of the world, in A4. In Canada or the United States, the Paper Saver is only available in black. In Australia and the rest of the world, cover colors include teal, brown, and red.

Very well designed and well made. Really looks the business for business – no pun intended – and at AUS$ 22 (around £14 or €15) is not going to break the bank either considering that this will – probably – be the last notebook you will ever (have to) buy, saving you money and also saving paper.

If you do not like writing on blank sheets of paper Paper Saver offers free downloads of printable lines and grid patterns.

Rating: 5 out of 5 plus an extra 1 point for ingenuity.

© 2017

The repair, reuse and upcycling economy

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Bike repair tools1_webTaking possessions to be repaired, be it bicycles, clothes, shoes, or anything else, instead of throwing them out and replacing them is green gold. But reuse and upcycling should and must also be and become part of this economy. For it is not “just” repair that we must be looking at.

In the reuse sector we would have the secondhand stores, charity shops and even flea markets and car boot sales. While in the upcycling sector all those that rework – upcycle – items of waste of all kinds.

The little unassuming repair shop on the high street may not look like a major disruptive force. However, being able to extend the lifespan of your possessions by getting them fixed is one of the most effective green direct actions that are available. The problem is though that often neither the shops nor the repairability of the products are available.

Repair shops are often few and far between and those that there are, such as some of the so-called “shoe & boot menders” are not very capable in that department when it comes to things that cannot be done by the machines that they have, such as sewing back a midsole to leather uppers, for instance.

In addition to that there is the problem that many goods cannot be repaired as they have actually be designed in such a way and furthermore that for those that may, possibly, be repaired the costs of repair is several times that of buying the same product new. Here we are faced and confronted with a dilemma that needs to be overcome.

Making all the stuff that we buy requires raw materials and energy. Across the European Union now, recycling and recovering energy from waste when it is burned, only captures around 5% of the value of the original raw material used to make all the products in the first place. But consumption in 2030 is predicted to be twice that of 2010. A very troubling prospect given that it is already responsible for between 50% and 80% of total land, material, and water use.

The cycling community is at the forefront of the repair economy. An increase in people using their bikes and an abundance of independent bike retailers offering repair services (there are 2,500 retailers across the UK) means repair is booming. The reason for that is, though, that bicycles can be repaired and that, theoretically, quite easily.

When it comes to the bicycle much of the repairs and more can be done by the user with a little knowledge, including rebuilding “new” from old. But again here often the cost of spares is astronomical. And properly adjusting, say, Shimano gears, can, even at a repair shop, take several hours and thus the labor charges here can make getting a new (cheap) bike almost cheaper than the repair. I have been quoted more than once – I was just checking really – around £75 for that job. That is one of the reasons that I have converted all my bikes (yes, plural, but most are rebuilds from abandoned bicycles that have been found in parks and open spaces) to single speed by simply removing the gears and setting the chain onto one of the cogs in the back cluster.

What is missing sadly, is proper repair services for clothing and also for shoes and other goods. The few small attempts by certain sectors do not make up for the lack of the repairers we once used to have, in both clothing, shoes, boots, and leather goods.

Neuroscience research claims to have shown that our consumption of low-cost consumables, including fashion, activates dopamine receptors in the pleasure region of the brain and it is difficult to compete with our hard-wiring. Repair needs to not only make environmental and moral sense, it needs to make us feel good, too. But that is just what it should do, anyway.

Personally, unless I am hard-wired in a different way, and that is why I do not buy into the neuroscience research, find it much more pleasurable to be able to extend the life of something that I have rather than buying new. But then, I am strange.

In addition to repair, as said, we need to also accommodate the other parts, that is to say reuse and upcycling, into the economy and also, maybe, the teaching of repair, reuse and upcycling as part of that economy.

Repair, in some way, is also reuse as you continue to use the item repaired, while reuse can be secondhand, and that's where the particular stores and shops come in, but also reusing things found and items of what generally might be considered waste directly by us as individuals and households.

Upcycling is going a step above simple reuse, as far as items of “waste” are concerned, as it may come in a couple of forms. The first one is the simple reuse of something for a higher purpose, such as, say as glass jar becoming a drinking vessel. The next level is the transforming an item into something new, without, necessarily, destroying the shape and such while the third, which still is not recycling (though that word is always, erroneously, used there) but is close to it, is taking the material and reworking it into something new, combining elements from more than one items, and such.

The simple reuse, as mentioned earlier, like reusing a glass jar that had some produce in in as a storage jar, and that of the upcycling such as glass jar into drinking vessel (and those are just examples) is something to that most can do at home in the way that our parents, grandparents and their parents did. While it is not part of the economy – so to speak – it is a way for us to save money that we can circulate into the economy in another way.

The other upcycling, reworking, etc., again is part and must be part of the economy. This is what is done my craftspeople, artisans and such who make things from waste and material that others have declared to be waste.

But, as far as repair is concerned, the first thing that needs to happen is that industry actually starts producing again goods that can be repaired and for which spare parts (and repair) do not cost more than a new product.

Just by way of an example allow me to tell you this true story: Some years ago I was using an Epsom PC printer that cost then £35 to buy. It lasted about six months (well within the warranty period of a year). When I contacted Epsom I was told: “The waste ink reservoir is full. You are printing too much with it, Sir.” They were not going to honor any warranty because of that claim from them and as to repair I was told: “Yes, can be done. Part will be £70 and labor, not counting sending it back and forth, £75”. When I told the person from Epsom that I could buy more than four new printers of that make for that money I was told: “Well, I would suggest anyway that you buy a new one.”

That kind of attitude from manufacturers has to change first of all and products, all products, must become repairable, at a reasonable cost, again, though ideally they should also be repairable by a user who likes tinkering around. It once was that way with most things, today though it is exactly the opposite. Often goods cannot be opened even without specialist tools, if even then.

Only when that happens again and when repair is actually economically will we also see the return of the repair shops of all kinds to the High Street, and the not so high one, and the true repair economy, that we once had, will return.

In addition to that a change of mindset amongst the people is required and it has nothing to do, in my view, with any hard-wiring the neuroscience research claims, but with the fact that people have been brainwashed into a perpetual consumption mode, to buy everything new. Then again, as long as repair is not possible or simply not economical what else is one to do when something breaks?

But the mindset is a problem. We can see that every time a new iPhone, or whatever, hits the market. People will queue for hours and hours to be the first to get this new model even though they still have the previous one – in some cases less than a year old and still working perfectly – simple because they have to have it.

Well, that shall be all in the food for thought department on this subject for this time. I have talked enough, I think.

© 2017