Elderly should do community work or lose pension, said peer

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018

Paper planners, diaries and notebooks in the digital age

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018

The peace sign is 60 years old this year

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The symbol of peace, the peace sign, is 60 years old this year (2018).

The peace sign is 60 years old this yearIt could be seen on VW mini-buses and other vehicles of the Hippie generation, on the helmets of some soldiers in Vietnam, at Woodstock, and many other places. Sixty years ago Gerald Holtom from Britain created this, the world's best known symbol. The circle and the three lines since stand for peace and reconciliation even though the inspiration itself comes from British military “language”.

Certain groups, especially so-called evangelical, and born-again, Christians claimed and still claim that this symbol was and is the sign of the Antichrist as it is an upside down broken cross. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The British graphic designer and artist Gerald Holtom created this emblem in 1958 on behalf of the British Anti-Nuclear War Initiative who were looking for a suitable emblem for a protest march. On February 21 of that year Holtom presented his scetches.

Later the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) which had grown out of the Initiative and other similar organizations this emblem as their logo. That's why in Britain this symbol is also called the CND-symbol.

With Holtom's sympol on their banners peace activists marched from Good Friday to Easter Sunday 1958 from London to the nuclear weapons facility at Aldermaston in order to protest for peace and reconciliation and against all manner of war, nuclear especially.

The idea for the symbol Hortom took from the sign language of the military, namely flag semaphore alphabet of the Navy which is used to communicate ship to shore, and shore to ship, as well as ship to ship, my means of flags. Each letter is represented by a specific way in which the flags are being held. Holtom worked during the Second World War on the Norfolk coast and had learned this communications medium. For the peace symbol he used the two letters N and D for “Nuclear” and “Disarmament”. The two letters, superimposed upon each other, for the symbolic chicken foot, with the circle representing the Earth.

In a later explanation as to how he came upon the symbol be had a different story, possibly trying to distance himself from the military-based alphabet employed.

As Holtom did deliberately not copyrighted his design it has traveled the world, basically, and is being used all across the world as a symbol for peace and against war. It is, nowadays, also being found not just in anti-nuclear war and anti-war protests in general but also at many other demonstrations for a variety of related issues.

Aside from this sign there are a couple of other “peace signs” and probably the oldest and best-known is the stylized white dove with (or without) the olive branch. Already in the story about the Flood in the Bible, on European coins in the 17th century and in fairy-tales the white dove takes the role of the messenger of good news or of peace. After Pablo Picasso in 1949 put the white dove onto a poster for the Paris Peace Conference it became symbol for peace.

© 2018

Don't weed them – Eat them

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

How to use and benefit from Dandelions

Dandelion-clipart1We are now entering the season where people will start to do battle again with the weeds in the garden beginning, no doubt, with the humble Dandelion. But if these maligned yellow-blossomed plants pop up in a yard or garden, there is a much better way to “control” the problem and that is by eating them. But, even though they are edible, do leave the flowers as they are some of the first nigh-nectar flowers the bees will need after winter.

Every part of the Dandelion is edible – leaves, roots, stems, and flowers. And the plants are nutritional powerhouses. The greens are rich in beta-carotene, fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, B vitamins, and protein. Their nutrition profile compares favorably to kale and spinach and trounces iceberg lettuce, the most widely eaten salad green in the United States.

It may sound strange to forage in the backyard for dinner, but wild greens were once a dietary staple around the world. Many cultures still eat them regularly. Apparently many people in France deliberately grow Dandelion in their gardens as a greens while we in the UK, the USA, and some other places, try our very best to eradicate this beneficial weed.

Some North Americans have caught on to Dandelion's “superfood” status. High-end farmers' markets and boutique grocery stores often sell them in small, expensive bundles. But thrifty consumers can gather Dandelions from lawns and urban meadows for free. However, not all Dandelion greens are equal. It pays to know when and how to safely pick them.

On the other hand why not harvest those in your own garden and why not, like many French gardeners do, grow them deliberately. I have been doing that for years now. I tend to remove them, as far as possible will all of the roots from where I may not want them to planters where I want them to grow.

I get great pleasure out of people – I work in a public park and garden – asking when I am weeding: “As a professional gardener...” and I already know that nine times our of ten the continuation of question will be “...what do you suggest I'd do with the Dandelions in my garden?” To which I, invariably, reply “eat them!” The looks on the faces, generally, are priceless.

Once I said that and got the usual “but aren't the poisonous, seeing they have milky sap”, etc. when a French lady stood nearby who then, when the questioner had gone, commented that she did no understand the Brits as regards to their obsession as to getting rid off Dandelions as the French grew them on purpose and used them.

The entire plant is, by the way, edible, from leaves, over stems to flowers and roots. The French use the leaves in place of rocket salad leaves or the older ones sauteed with garlic as a side dish. The Greek dish “Hortes”, meaning simply “greens” is made of Dandelion and some other wild leaves, including stinging nettle.

How to harvest Dandelion greens: First, be sure to identify Dandelion correctly, because it has a few doppelgangers. Look for smooth leaves shaped like jagged teeth. The plant's name comes from the French dent-de-lion or “tooth of lion”, that's why the German name is “Loewenzahn”. Dandelions' thick stems are hollow and filled with milky sap. Catsears – Dandelions' most ubiquitous look-alike – are often called False Dandelions. They are distinguished by hairy leaves with round lobes and wiry, branched stems. Catsears are edible, but the leaves are not as palatable as those of the Dandelion. Also it must be remembered that not every Dandelion looks alike in the shape of their leaves. Some are wider and bigger, some thinner and smaller.

When harvesting Dandelion leaves pick them from lawns, or other areas, free of pesticides or herbicides only. Avoid areas near building foundations, streets, and driveways, where the soil's lead levels tend to be highest. And always wash the greens well. Alternatively, or in addition, you could, like many French gardeners do, plant Dandelions on purpose.

For the most tender and least bitter greens, herbalists advise foragers to harvest before the plant flowers. However, it can be tricky to find the leaves before the blossom appears. Raw Dandelion greens will probably taste bitter to most people, regardless of when they are harvested. The key is to look for tender leaves and learn how to prepare them based on taste preferences.

The bitterness, however, is no reason to lose out on the benefits of this nutritious plant. There are plenty of tactics to tame the bitterness of Dandelion greens. Moreover, food preferences are malleable and based on exposure. In addition, many health experts believe bitterness is an important, often- neglected key to optimum wellness.

Bitter foods for better health: Bitter compounds are plants' way of protecting themselves from being eaten by mammals. Bitter plants are more likely to be dangerous to humans, so we are acutely sensitized to the taste. However, bitter plants are also more likely to be highly nutritious, because hytonutrients have a bitter, sour, or astringent taste. It is no coincidence that kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and other phytonutrient-rich foods are bitter.

Unfortunately because of consumer preference the food industry has largely bred bitterness out of our food. As a result, we lose out on more than just nutrition. Bitterness is important for liver health. It stimulates the liver to produce bile, which aids digestion and nutrient availability. Bitter foods also modulate hunger.

Eating Dandelion is an excellent way to benefit from bitterness, and Dandelion's curative powers go beyond its bitter taste. It has been used as a medicine for thousands of years for numerous conditions. In fact, its Latin name Taraxacum officinale means the “official remedy for disorders.” What kind of “disorders” is not specified.

Dandelion cures: Native Americans boiled Dandelion and drank the water to treat kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn, and stomach troubles. The Chinese use the plant to treat breast and stomach issues and appendicitis. In Europe, it has been used for fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, and diarrhea.

Modern scientific studies are scant, but research has confirmed Dandelions as a folk-remedy diuretic. It is prescribed for edema in Germany and may be safer than other remedies because it replenishes potassium. Preliminary animal studies suggest that Dandelion may help normalize blood sugar and fight inflammation.

Recipes for the use of Dandelions can be found in large numbers in certain books and, nowadays, all over the Internet. My personal favorite is the way we used to eat Dandelion leaves as children, in a sandwich just with butter, salt and pepper. Or, if really decadent, then a good mayonnaise is substituted for the butter. Another is sauteed as greens, with garlic in oil and spices.

Here a link to a more sophisticated recipe using Dandelion greens: https://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/fresh-dandelion-spring-salad-recipe-zerz1802zmos

© 2018

Aldi unveils measures to slash plastics waste

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Aldi unveils measures to slash plastics wasteDiscounter Aldi will scrap 5p carrier bags by the end of this year and ensure all packaging on its own-label is reusable, recyclable or compostable before 2022. All I wonder is why it is going to take four years to do something like that.

Aldi has signed up to a new cross-sector initiative from WRAP aimed at transforming the UK's plastics system.

In place of carrier bags, the UK's fastest growing supermarket will offer customers bags for life as reusable 9p bags made from back-of-store plastic waste.

A new taskforce of internal and independent experts has been set up to help Aldi drive innovation in packaging, the company confirmed.

Aldi has also given its backing to a national deposit return scheme for plastic bottles. It will assess the feasibility of how such a scheme could be implemented.

The latter should not really surprise anyone as Aldi, being German by origin, thus hailing from a country where such a scheme – or schemes even – has been in operation for many years already. As per usual Britain is lagging way behind other European countries in that matter.

Aldi UK's chief executive Matthew Barnes said that the chain is committed to bringing its customers along the journey in its ambition to lead the industry on plastic waste reduction.

He also called on Aldi's rivals to work together in order to drive industry-wide change. In support of this aim, Aldi has signed up to a new cross-sector initiative from WRAP aimed at tackling plastic waste.

This latest announcement builds upon a long-standing commitment by Aldi to reduce its environmental impact. Aldi has already removed all plastic stems from its cotton buds and banned all microbeads from its products.

On the cotton bud thing I must then be the only one who has not noticed any change as yet, because I have not. I love Aldi, so don't get me wrong, and those are all good steps but so far I have not noticed – at least not in my local store – a change to the cotton buds. Then again, it may still be some old stock that is knocking around. Just saying.

© 2018

Take back the tap

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Take back the tap: Let's put and end to the big business fraud of bottled water

Take back the tapCorporations like Nestlé are wasting your money, and not just Nestlé. All bottled water is a scam and to a great extent the water actually comes from the same source that you have in the kitchen, the faucet, the tap. At times it may have been filtered to remove chlorine and the taste of it but it is still nothing but tap water and you pay hundreds of times as much for a bottle than you would if you fill up your own at home.

Industry marketing from corporations like Nestlé, and others, means that more people are buying bottled water than ever – even though about 64 percent of the bottled water comes from municipal water systems. That means that people buying bottled water are paying much, much more than they would for that same water from the tap. Bottled water is literally more expensive than gasoline – and about 2,000 times more expensive than tap water.

Bottled water companies profit from misleading advertising. People and the environment lose and this advertisement targets people of color, women, mothers, children and lower-income groups.

Industry marketing strategies designed to promote the safety of bottled water to people who historically lack access to safe tap water (especially recent immigrants) prey upon those who may mistrust tap water and communities concerned about obesity and sugary beverages.

The truth, however, is that tap water, generally, is more rigorously tested for safety than is any kind of bottled water and many of the bottled water that is marketed as “spring water” actually sprung forth from the same source as the water in your kitchen, namely the tap.

While it has to be said that in some areas in the USA, one of the richest countries in the world, the municipal water is not very good (and also not very safe when one considers some areas) but in general tap water is safe and a great deal cheaper – and safer – than bottled water.

The abstraction of water for bottling, often from municipal sources, prior to going into the general consumer stream, put a great strain on often already overstretched water resources and in some places, where the abstraction happens from aquifers, it puts water for people, animals and crops at risk but still Nestlé even is permitted to abstract water in times of drought in places such as California. They would otherwise sue the state for damages. Industry comes always first in capitalism.

Companies such as Nestlé also greatly benefit from public disinvestment in water infrastructure, as the chairman of Nestlé Waters stated in 2009: “We believe tap infrastructure in the US will continue to decline. People will turn to filtration and bottled water for pure water needs.” Well, that is definitely what they hope, aided and abetted by the senators and other politicians that they have paid off.

According to the CEO of Nestlé in a statement some years ago water is not and should not be a human right but should be for the corporations to make profits from. That is how callous those capitalists are. Every bit of Nature and human need is there only for their exploitation and profit.

On the water from we can fight them by refusing to fall for their tricks and filling up our own reusable water bottles at home – and at refilling stations, where they exist, and more and more are coming “on stream” – and thus not giving them our hard-earned money and making them rich.

Then we must demand from the powers-that-be in our countries, powers that often better would not be – that water infrastructure, including waste water, as much as other utilities, are taken (back) into public ownership and if that means outright expropriation. Vital utilities and services such as water, energy, health, transportation, and many more, should never be in the hands of private business, but in the hands of the people as a whole, either as co-operatives or in the hands of the state.

© 2018

The problem with consumerism

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

consumerism1We do this not because it is the only way to meet our needs but because we live in an economy which requires us to consume more every year or it implodes and can't meet anyone's needs.

At the moment the entire global economy seems to be built on the model of digging things up from one hole in the ground on one side of the Earth, transporting them around the world, using them for a few days, and then sticking them into a hole in the ground on the other side of the world.

We have, by now, more or less, been programed to perform in exactly that model, and all so that the economy can keep growing without manufacturers having to come up with new products really. And that is aside from all of the, mostly unnecessary, packaging.

Consumerism has so much become part of the (new) capitalist model that it is destroying the Planet right before our eyes but we either, because of having been programed in that way already, are not prepared to go another way, cannot see another way, or, and that is more often than not the case, feel powerless to do anything about it.

It has been said that capitalism carries the seed of war in itself like clouds carry rain, but to that we should add that it also carries the seed of planetary destruction in itself in the same way.

So, what is the answer? Simply put it is that we need a new system. The capitalist economic model of perpetual growth via predestined and pre-programed obsolescence can no longer – in fact it never could – function on a finite Planet.

Is socialism the answer? Maybe, then maybe not, as it would very much depend on the model that is being applied. The socialism and communism that we have, mostly, seen in the past – with a few exceptions – have not been proper socialism or communism but state capitalism and whether it is private capitalism or state capitalism, it still is capitalism.

Though, having said that, due to lack of resources mostly, many of the socialist countries, such as the German Democratic Republic, however, produced consumer goods that were made to last, in the main, such as, per example, the RG28 kitchen machine, made in the GDR, that still, after 40 years, is doing its duty in many a kitchen. The reason? It is made well and repairable, even by a user with some tinkering ability.

It has to be said, also, that until about the 1980s most products, also in the West, were made more or less in a similar way in that they could be easily repaired and the repair economy also existed. Today, if repair is possible, it is made so expensive that the real option for most people is to toss the old and buy new. The system is designed in that way nowadays and that deliberately. It is called built-in obsolescence. In other words the system is designed in such a way – and the products – that after a given time they either break down and cannot be repaired, or repair being too expensive or, in the case of computers, are no longer hardware compatible with software, and thus have to be replaced. This is how the current economic model functions and that means that we, the consumer, have to buy the same product, with some modifications, over and over again.

In fact it is not a problem with consumerism that we have, although there is an element of that in it as well, but a problem with the economic system which is designed to grow through us, the consumer, having to, as said above, the same product, with some modifications, over and over again, because of (1) that the products are made to break down and (2) that they have also been designed not to be repairable or repair being too costly.

By means of this model the economy grows, but to the detriment of the Planet as well as our finances. And does the economy actually really grow when this is the case? While, on the outside, it may appear to do so in all honesty, as we have to buy the same thing over and over again, it does not really make for real and honest growth. Just for well massaged figures, so to speak.

Unfortunately, as long as the system is skewed like this we have very little choice, unless we can afford it, to buy in the way we are being forced to do. The alternative, though much more expensive, is to buy well-made, ideally made in our own respective countries, products. Products that are made to last and that can be repaired and hand-made goods. But who has that kind of money as that does not come cheap?

Well-made, and especially hand-made, is not cheap because a great deal of work time goes into making each and every product, and this even more so with hand-made than with just well-made. That is the difference between mass-produced goods produced outsources in countries such as China and others. Already mass-produced goods in our own countries are more expensive and that is due to labor costs, and years ago that would have also been due to quality, though that is no longer necessarily the case.

Most consumer goods, nowadays, are produced as consumables, to be used once or a couple of times and then discarded, because they are either outdated, worn out, broken and too expensive to repair, etc., and we have to buy new. That is, however, the way the system is skewed against, us, the consumer and the Planet. It is all about quick profit for the corporations at any and all expense in human and environmental costs. That is why the system needs replacing, not just changing or “repairing”. It can't be repaired because it is not broken; it was designed this way.

© 2018

Philanthropy is a scam

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Philanthropy is a scamCapitalists are fooling the world with the hoax of Philanthropy

Philanthropy is a scam as it allows the (super) rich to influence global affairs and gain political power with no consequences. We can see time and again in the case of George Soros and his “foundations” and NGOs supported by the OSI when it comes to projects for Roma in Eastern Europe (none in the West need to apply) which he uses to gain access to and political power in those countries, such as Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, etc.

Capitalists use philanthropy as a tool that links charity, capitalism and development by investing in “fixing” complex historical problems in poor countries (and communities) to expand privatization and their agenda being only limited by their own resources.

They intervene in public life but are not accountable to the public, are privately governed but publicly subsidized, reinforcing the problem of plutocracy, the exercise of power derived from wealth

NGOs and foundations make it seem as if capitalism were the solution and not the cause of the world's problems especially the disparity between the poor and the rich.

Neoliberal practices are imported that ultimately harm locals who are pushed out of their own land or pay higher prices for public services.

For example supposed philanthropic projects in Congo involving Bill Gates, Monsanto and Howard Buffet proved to be devastating as local farmers will be forced to use GMO seeds and fertilizers only benefiting private companies. A model that is being replicated all over the world.

Will this kind of “charity” fix the system that allowed capitalists to become so rich? Don't for a moment believe that. It will not fix the system; it will perpetuate it. They need to have the poor, be it Roma – and that case also Antigypsyism – or others in order to be able to perpetuate their operations. They have no intention to fix anything in the situation of, say, the Gypsy People for if they would fix the problem then there would be no need for them to continue to operate in that field.

Philanthropy, just like much of the “charity” work today, has become an industry that can only continue to exist and gather funds, most of which end up in certain people's pockets, if the situations on the ground are not alleviated too much. Very much in the vein of “Mother” Theresa (of Calcutta) and her attitude to the poor and the sick. Her real attitude, I am referring to, and not the one presented to the world.

Philanthropy and many other NGO work has become an industry and poverty is being made profitable be that in regards to the homeless, the Gypsy, refugees, and so on. That is why only that much is being done and no more. A little like Margaret Thatcher when she said that for wages to be kept low the country needed a million plus unemployed, the charity industry needs the poor and marginalized and can't do too much otherwise it would lose its reason to exist.

© 2018

Uses for empty plastic containers in your garden

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

HarvestingTubs1Plastic bottles to garden cloches: It all, obviously, depends on the size of the bottles but I, personally, use everything from 1 liter (over 3inch pots) to bigger ones – for seed raising. The large one gallon water bottles that, after events in parks and such, are so often tossed out, I use as cloches for bigger plants in the garden itself.

The standard PET bottles of one and even two liter, with their bottoms cut off, fit nicely into the rim of or just over the standard 3inch pots and leaving the top intact and thus removable gives a chance to, when needed, give to air to the mini-greenhouses thus created.

Milk jugs can also be used in the garden as cloches, and they even, as they are opaque, are better for the plants to some extent, as they prevent scorching.

Plastic buckets: The buckets that I am talking about here are those in which various products come for the catering trade, whether it be mayonnaise, oil, or marinated herrings. Most are about a gallon in size, some are bigger, some also smaller, and they make for great bucket garden planters but, obviously, as well can be used as buckets for any number of tasks in and around the garden, as many do have handles, some steel wire, some plastic.

Uses for empty plastic containers in your garden1I have seen several market gardens where all the produce is grown in such buckets and so why should we not make use of those rather than have them go for, if they do, recycling or, as is mostly the case, to landfill. A couple of good sized holes drilled into bottom and the sides around the bottom for drainage and ready you are.

While it is true that many of those containers can be recycled they are not in some areas, or not all, even if they are put into the recycling bins. Thus us finding ways of reusing them is the better option. It also saves us gardeners money.

Harvesting containers: Plastic milk jugs of the 4pt and 6pt size, with a section cut out but the handle left in place and intact, make for great little daily harvesting “buckets”. They also can be carriers for small hand tools for the gardener. If you would want to you could slide one or even two of those onto a belt and then be able to work hands-free.

Harvesting or deadheading tub: This is made from the bottom section of a 4pt plastic milk jug (British) and for a belt loop a length of plastic from another jug was riveted to it. Costs were just a little time and a couple of rivets. (see main photo).

Harder plastic bottles such as those from cleaning products can be made into soil scoops, funnels, and many other things useful in the garden (and also around the home).

Those, together with lotion bottles, also can be upcycled and converted into holsters, whether belt-worn or just as pocket protectors, for carrying the likes of secateurs (pruning shears), trowels, as well as sharpening stone(s) for scythe. But the uses are only limited by your imagination.

Personally I am always looking for new ways to repurpose and upcycle such container for use in the garden, around the home, etc., as in fact with much of the waste products that I come across. One just has to think laterally a great deal and sometimes get inspiration from homeware and gardening equipment catalogs. That is how the idea for the harvesting tub from plastic milk jugs came about.

The same I did with various upcycled milk jugs that are on my kitchen windowsill and hold all manner of things such as the dish brushes, etc. The idea came from plastic homeware items from a catalog. I don't buy if I can make it myself, is my motto, and thus such things can be rescued. Problem is only that there is only that many that you can actually reuse yourself, even if you make cloches for the plants in your garden. OK, I guess it depends on the size of your garden.

Waterers: PET and other plastic bottles can also be made into garden waterers, stuck into (spout down), or embedded in, the soil (bottom cut off for the former) and filled (and refilled) with water (as needed). Obviously the bottle needs some holes in it so the water can trickle out.

Whether in the home, the workshop, the garden, or even the home/office, there are reuse and upcycling possibilities for plastic bottles and other plastic containers galore and the possible uses would be enough to fill a book at least.

So, let's reduce the plastic waste that there is by making use of those items that come our way rather than even sending them for recycling. A bit like with glass jars that can be used for storage and such it means what you can reuse and upcycle you do not have to buy. A win-win situation for you and the Planet.

© 2018

Buying for the landfill

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

cobaltWith a great number of products the wear out is pre-programed. This deliberate limited lifespan is called “planned obsolescence”. There are some tech people who actually claim that many electronic devices and also white goods have a chip “implanted” that starts counting down a set time span after the device has begun to be used which shuts it down after that set time. But may that as it be (or not be). Fact is that there appears to be a predestined limited lifespan of our devices in order for the companies to be able to be selling us the same products again, and again, after a short space of time rather than, as used to be the case when products were made to last (almost indefinitely with care) and were repairable, having to bring out better versions or other products, in order to stay in business.

It would appear that the producers of light bulbs decided that the lifespan of the original ones was too long – almost indefinite – and that that would have to change. They seem to have been the first with this lightbulb moment for the capitalists. So they changed the design of the elements and, voila, it would only work for a limited time. In the same vein as when the new owner (a West German capitalist) of once people-owned glass-works in the GDR that made unbreakable (yes, they even had the patent for it) glass he immediately had all the machines removed with the words: “I am not going to make something that does not break.”

As a result of this capitalist model we have the modern “throw away society” because the manufacturers of those products also make it (almost) impossible to open the devices and repair them. That is also part of the plan. And in addition to that they now “sell” us a supposed sustainability of those products – that we have to toss after they no longer work – as they are, so they tell us, fully recyclable.

Whether it is light bulbs, nylon tights, printers, mobile telephones – most of those, and many, many other products, already have their expiry date preplanned. The consumer shall be induced to rather buy a new product than to have the old one repaired. Often, as indicated, this is (almost) impossible and where it is possible to costs can be several times higher than the purchase cost of a new one.

The deliberate foreshortening of the lifespan of an industrial products in order to keep the economy in motion is called “planned obsolescence”. Already in 1928 an advertising magazine wrote candidly: “A product that does not wear out is a tragedy for business.”

In the 1920s a cartel was set up to limit the lifespan of light bulbs and from then on everything went slowly downhill bar for say in the GDR where products were made not to wear out. Why? Because of scarcity of resources and because it was not a capitalist state.

Even after the light bulb story many products were still well-made and repairable, to some extent even by the user in the DIY-mode. Things begun to change after the Second World War. It was here that companies made big money due to military contracts but after those profits began to fall off. Realizing that this was due to the fact that the products they supplied to the military ended up destroyed in action they came up with the idea (no, not of another war, though that was not far behind either) to find ways to limit the lifespan of products other than what would be called “consumables”.

Slowly, however, people in general are getting fed up with this model and are beginning to demand – once again – products that last. The manufacturers, though, are responding rather with the “sustainability” model I mentioned earlier, that is to say the claim that their products are entirely recyclable and thus the consumer does not have to worry about buying new then the previous one breaks as everything goes back into the loop. That is not the point though, is it.

Whether or not the everything in a product is recyclable and even if everything goes back into the loop of making new products the impact on the environment, not to speak of our pocketbooks, is not elevated really. Recycling of electronic goods, and recycling in general, is a dirty business which is why most countries have outsourced it to countries where the environmental codes are lower to non-existent and where there are also no protections for the workers in this industry.

With China now refusing to take much of our recyclables the nations of the so-called West are in a quandary as what to do and are looking – no, not so much at reducing waste and making long-lasting products – to other, poorer countries where they can dump their recyclables.

However, nothing is going to change unless either the political model changes and capitalism is tossed on the landfill itself, the landfill of history, or consumers vote with their feet and wallets. What must become obsolete are not products but the system that created this willful “planned obsolescence” and the idea of infinite perpetual economic growth on a finite Planet with finite resources.

And while we are at limited resources let me, just for a second, touch upon the batteries, the rechargeable Lithium-ion ones, that our devices devour rather also quite often. The rare earths required for this, including cobalt, and others, are not just mined in a way that ravages the Planet and which are polluting, but which also ravage children who work as slaves, often literally, in those mines (and the factories making the batteries). But then, oh well, seems to be the attitude of so many, it is not in our countries and it is far away.

© 2018

US trade war with EU

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

US trade war with EUThe recently announced punitive tariffs by the US President Donald Trump on imports of steel and other goods and products is primarily aimed, no doubt, at countries of the European Union, including Great Britain. Also the, though prior to Trump's watch, issues with Volkswagen and other German automobile manufacturers was the beginning of such a trade war considering that, aside from Japanese cars German ones are the most sold ones in the country.

What the POTUS does not seem to realize, and that is the very problem with Donald Trump in that he does not seem to realize much of what the real political world is like, is that a trade war has also other protagonists and also that the world stock markets might not like this idea. He seems to forget that running a country is different to running a company. Not that he has been very successful with many of them either.

Unlike his assertion that trade wars are good they are the opposite and the US may be shooting itself in the foot with such actions. It is quite easy for European and other countries to boycott American products in retaliation.

The best answer to the US' trade war against, primarily, the EU should be to get back together with the Russian Federation and literally give the US the middle finger, for the EU sanctions against Russia were, more or less, imposed on the EU by America. There are two sides who can play a game such as this.

Yes, the US has military stationed in EU countries but even Donald Trump would not be that stupid to use them should the EU retaliate in the trade ware department. Just saying.

© 2018

Bioplastics and biodegradable packaging

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

bioplasticsA more sustainable solution? Maybe and then again maybe not.

Plastic packaging is all over the media at the moment and that in an incredibly negative light. Consumers have growing concerns about how plastic packaging is managed at end of life, and are worried about leakage into the ocean. This has brought in a focus on what can be done about plastic waste.

The most obvious option is to reduce the amount of plastic packaging, but simply from a cost point of view this has already been on the agenda for brands and retailers for many years. What we are mostly left with now is packaging that has been carefully designed for its function - but not always with end of life considerations.

So, what is the solution? Most logically, several steps must be taken:

1. Reduction of amount of packaging where possible;

2. Rationalization of polymer types used in packaging to simplify the sorting and recycling process;

3. Design packaging with understanding of how it will be handled at end of life;

4. More recycling infrastructure, funded and ultimately subsidized through Extended

Producer Responsibility schemes; and

5. Consumer engagement to ensure as much packaging as possible is captured for recycling

What could the role of bioplastics and biodegradable packaging be in all of this? Should we completely switch all packaging so that it is made from “bioplastics” and which is “biodegradable” so that it will disappear once disposed of and will be made from renewable resources?

The short answer to this is “no”. Bioplastics will certainly have a part to play in the future and in some instances today, but we need to make sure the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of such materials is more beneficial than oil based plastics. Oil is not going away anytime soon, and while we are still refining huge quantities for fuel, should we not make use of the plastic that can be produced from its by-products?

As for biodegradable packaging, this is a minefield of confusing messages and lack of transparency. Packaging that will readily degrade in a home composting system, or in the ocean, is great in theory, but ensuring it can do that and deliver product protection is not easy. Many food products need protection from oxygen and moisture, and material that easily breaks down cannot always achieve this. There is a balance to be found to produce polymers that will maintain integrity during product lifetime (which many include many months in warehouses or on shelves) but will readily degrade once the packaging is no longer needed.

Then you come to packaging that is compostable, but only in an industrial composting facility. This then brings same challenges as any other material that is collected for recycling, if not more, because the consumer now must understand a whole new category of packaging which needs its own special disposal route. For example, imagine the confusion if some drinks bottles needed to go in the regular plastic recycling bin while others went in the composting collection. In some closed, controlled systems this may work, but we must be mindful of how material is handled at end of life.

So in some instances a biopolymer or biodegradable pack may have a more positive environmental impact, but very careful consideration is needed before using these materials. It should not be assumed that just because “bio” is in the name, it is better for the planet.

Plastics are wonderful materials, which when used correctly can have massive positive impacts on our lives. There is no better time than now to think hard about the various options, whether that be designing for end of life, improving recycling infrastructure, or replacing current materials with biodegradable or compostable ones. The answer is not always straightforward.

The problem is that many so-called “bioplastics” are not as readily biodegradable and especially not compostable as they are claimed to be. In a marine environment they will not degrade and compost but simply break down, just as “ordinary” plastic packaging material, into microplastic particles which end up in marine life and the food chain.

As said above plastic can be very useful indeed and there is, if I may put it like that, good and bad plastic. There the the (good) products that we can use for many, many decades and which are made of a single kind of plastic that can, at the end of the product's life, be recycled – in theory at least, whether it happens is another story – and then there are the bad plastic products, which include many of the packaging materials that are either non-recyclable or very hard to recycle because, often, they are made of more than one plastic and often, in the case of foils, several different plastics laminated together.

The Tupperware box, the reusable plastic water bottle, such as De Dopper, and the reusable plastic coffee cup, such as KeepCup, are actually your friend, and the Planet's friend, and not the enemy, as are many other kinds of plastics. Not all plastic is bad. It all depends on the type and the use. The current hype about plastic being bad is totally out of context. The problem is what we do with the plastic and the real culprit is us and the single-use plastic products.

It would be better if we would, to some extent, go back to (more) natural materials but for many applications there simply is not another option.

© 2018