The history of plastic, and why it matters

 

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In my garden: Indigenous South African Clivias

 

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“We made it. We depend on it. We’re drowning in it”. This is the opening statement of an article on plastic in the June 2018 edition of National Geographic. The statistics, facts and figures come hard and fast, the kind of worrying information that we’ve become accustomed regarding the impact of plastic waste on our environment. “How did we get here? When did the dark side of the miracle of plastic first show itself?” is one of the questions raised. And it is significant that something once regarded as a ‘miracle”, a solution to many of our problems, is now demonized to the point that in 2013, scientists writing for Nature magazine declared that disposable plastic should be classified as a hazardous material.

The history of plastic matters because it reminds us of how our individual and global needs are often met by technology, and how plastic did and still does offer many vital and positive uses.

 

Laura Parker, who wrote the article, presents some interesting facts and background information. As far back as the 19th Century, we see the noble beginnings of plastic in its very early use in the form of a celluloid (derived from plant cellulose) billiard ball, designed as an alternative to the original billiard ball which at that stage was made of a scarce natural material: elephant ivory. Many years later there are untold numbers of ways in which plastic has featured in ours lives and influenced world events. World War 2 in the 20th Century was war on a whole new level, with the aid of nylon parachutes and lightweight airplane parts. Since then plastic has helped us to make great strides in areas as diverse as medicine and medical apparatus, travel by road, air and into outer space, and even the now-hated plastic water bottle, used to deliver clean drinking water to people in poor rural areas.

 

The Darker side of plastic crept in perhaps as more and more uses were discovered, and cheaper manufacturing processes were realised. In the early 20th Century the ”plastic revolution” took hold, as chemists discovered that they could create plastics even more cheaply and abundantly by using the waste gases emitted by petroleum oil refineries. It seemed that anything and everything could be made from plastic, with the added benefit that it was cheap to do so. A whole new world of possibilities had opened up and in 1955 a photograph in Life magazine appeared, titled ‘Throwaway Living’ featuring an American family celebrating the convenience of plastic cutlery, plates and cups. Single use plastics were already becoming a thing.

 

Quoting directly from the article: ” Six decades later, roughly 40 percent of the now more than 448 million tons of plastic produced every year is disposable, much of it used as packaging intended to be discarded within minutes after  purchase. Production has grown at such a breakneck pace that virtually half the plastic ever manufactured has been made in the past 15 years……The growth of plastic production has far outstripped the ability of waste management to keep up: that’s why the oceans are under assault. ”

 

It is important to note is that all plastics cannot be arbitrarily labelled as ‘bad”. In many of it’s forms it fills essential functions and continues to save lives daily. On a positive note it is worth remembering that the plastic waste issue is gaining attention and that genuine efforts are being made to address the problem by individuals, corporations and whole countries. May this move continue from strength to strength.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No man is an island: why Affirmation is important

 

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Trout dams at Dullstroom in Mpumalanga, South Africa. I spent a beautiful few days there earlier this month.

We all need to feel appreciated and recognized for our efforts from time to time. We need feedback from others to know that our endeavours count for something, especially when we feel that the wheels are turning too slowly and that the things we want to achieve seem out of reach. Our family members, friends and those we consider our peers are often the mirrors which reflect back to us our place in this world, and while we should never let other’s opinions make or break us, there is no doubt that people matter, in the sense that we sometimes simply need to know that what we are trying to do is not going unnoticed. At TheFreeDictionary.com, ‘AFFIRMATION’ is described as ‘a statement intended to provide encouragement, emotional support, or motivation…‘ 

Our need for recognition and support is echoed in ‘No Man is an Island’, a well known proverbial expression coined by John Donne in the 17th Century. The phrase expresses the idea that human beings do badly when isolated from others and that we have a need to be part of a community in order to thrive.

 

All this was brought home to me whilst reading through the readers comments one of my recent posts and enjoying and appreciating the the positive feedback I received. One of the comments in particular, from hilaryhunterwriter, stood out for me. It ended with the simple statement: “Keep up the good work” and somehow this short sentence inspired me to just that. Suddenly I felt a unexpected pride at my efforts and in that moment it felt like what I had written was elevated to something more special than before. And perhaps that’s the critical issue: that it sometimes takes someone other than ourselves to recognize what we are doing and the impact that we have, because we often fail to see it at those times when we just can’t see the wood for the trees.

 

A few weeks ago I visited a close, slightly younger family member who has in a short space of time been through several operations including reconstruction surgery and has been on cancer treatment since. Despite having to deal with devastating emotional shock and invasive treatment, she has continued on her way towards physical and emotional recovery with astonishing energy, positivity and determination while the rest of us look on in awe. I decided to tell her once and for all that I think she has been amazing and that I admire her hugely for the way that she dealt with everything. This resulted in a long and rather tearful hug on both sides, as more words of love and appreciation tumbled out. I left with a feeling of lightness of spirit and somehow relieved that I had spoken from the heart in this way, even at the risk of becoming emotional. I think that this lightness and sense of relief came from knowing that what I had expressed had been ‘sitting’ with me, needing to be said, and that there is no time like the present, especially as Tomorrow is Promised to Nobody. But maybe that’s a subject for another post….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be inspired: 5 beautiful reflections for the later months of 2018

 

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In my garden: Purple Iris

 

 

I originally posted this in January of this year, my first post of 2018, and I thought it was a nice way to get started: something positive and grounding, a bit of gentle, uplifting ‘kickstart’, something to ease us into whatever the new year might bring. A new year promises many things and of course we always wish for the best: we look forward with a sense of hope and excitement, and sometimes there is fear and trepidation, especially if we are anticipating difficult times ahead.  Nevertheless we look to embrace the possibilities ahead, the promise of a fresh start and the urge to move forward to dream bigger, do better and be better. Fast forward to the last week of August of the same year and we find that a lot has happened since that fresh first month of January. Ironically it is at this later stage  we may well be needing a dose of that positivity that we started the year with.  Even if we have done well with our New Year’s resolutions (if we set any) and other goals we may have created for the year, life presents us with ongoing challenges and we find our coping mechanisms being stretched more and more and we may feel those frustrations and disappointments piling up. And that’s when we need to step back, take a breathe (in AND out) 🙂 and take a moment to get some perspective and perhaps, some inspiration. I have reblogged This Post because I think it is worth revisiting. It helps me on a bad day and it reminds me of our bond with nature: that we are part of nature, and also that we have choices about how we deal with things when it all gets a bit much. Please enjoy:

 

 

1.“The One you are looking for is the One who is looking.” (St Francis of Assisi). Beautifully explained in this post.

 

2. ““There exists a deep ecological tradition in Vedic culture by which human settlement, forests and water resources are carefully balanced. To achieve that balance, nature’s welfare and human welfare cannot be separated each other.”  Chris Terry explains the Vedic ecology at the core of the Small Farm Training Centre, in an article from the Huffington Post.

 

3. “Really, to have a life of doing you need to not do.” (Will Rosenzweig talking about the Tao). Read about the four levels of non-doing, and how it may sometimes be necessary to be detached from things that you care deeply about.

 

4. “Animals move; people can learn about movement from animals. House pets stretch all day long, creating space in their joints. Animals sit in different kinds of positions. Monkeys and apes do things with their hands. Perhaps as humans we need to reclaim our four- leggedness. Getting down on all fours stimulates the pranic flow. Sitting in chairs tightens the hamstrings and the lower back. Animals don’t sit on furniture; they have not built things contrary to their nature.”  (Denise Kaufman). From the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (London & New York: Continuum, 2005) Edited by Bron Taylor

 

 

5.”Whats in your cup? ….When life gets tough, what spills over for you?” from  “The journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buy in bulk, Re-use your packaging, Reduce waste

Spices, ground and whole
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Nude Foods in Zonnebloem, Cape Town is a bulk wholefoods store, offering a plastic-free shopping experience. They sell high quality wholefoods, fresh organic produce, home and body products, minus any wasteful packaging . In their own words: “Our bulk wholefoods, health foods, and earth-friendly products are all non-GMO, plastic-free and sold by weight. Our goal is to make plastic-free shopping easy and accessible to the everyday shopper, whilst supporting local suppliers and other waste reducing initiatives”. The process is simple: scoop out from their bulk bins into your reusable container, weigh, and pay. As well as the self-service bin section, they have pantry items, household products and choose-your-own organic veg. In the war on waste that is gaining traction here and elsewhere in the world, shopping experiences like this one comes not a moment too soon.

 

 

In Johannesburg I frequently shop at Food Lover’s Market (FLM) for bulk buy fresh produce, olive oil, and some of my dry goods such as seeds, nuts and dried and spices, ground and whole. In the words of FLM Stoneridge: “Shopping is as much about the experience as it is about the things you buy. Food Lover’s Market have taken this principle to heart, re-creating the ambience of an old-fashioned marketplace in a modern theatre-of-food setting. Visiting the stores truly is an experience like no other.’
 While both Nude Foods and FLM offer unpackaged ware in self-serve bulk bins, there are some clear differences between the two. Nude Foods is very specifically a plastic-free grocery store, offering non-GMO, healthy and affordable wholefoods and earth-friendly body and home products, all sold by weight. They are also relatively new:their Facebook page was created on 5 September 2017. May they go from strength to strength! By contrast, FLM is a franchised, well established retail outlet with many branches, and it offers a huge variety of mainstream, conventionally packaged foods including the ‘big brands’ that one sees in all the well known stores. Also, importantly, they do not actively supply reusable packaging, other than the refillable glass bottles at the bulk buy area which supplies olive oil. Many people shop at FLM no doubt not particularly to avoid wasteful packaging, but simply because it’s convenient for them and they can find their familiar big brand items there. (I’m referring to the FLM outlets which I frequent here in Johannesburg… I would love to know what other people experience elsewhere in the country)
 I frequently find myself in the minority when I shop at FLM, with my reusable cloth drawstring bags and my containers which I wash out after use and reuse each time I shop from their deli section or fish counter. I’m not bothered by this though. Rather, I’m grateful that these options are open to me, even if it requires the effort of constant rinsing and reusing and of course having to carry various bits of packaging around with me when I shop. And if I fall short sometimes, or don’t find what I need in unpackaged, then packaged it is. I have realised that driving my car up and down looking for perfect Zero Waste solutions is a waste of my valuable time, not to mention the carbon waste emissions thanks to all the added driving. I’ve given up feeling guilty about the compromises, knowing that I will continue to do my bit as far as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a gizmo in my pickles: the problem of hidden plastic

 

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In my garden: Bullrushes in seed

 

There they were: lovely glass-packaged, tasty looking tidbits, all glossy and tempting in their see-through casing, just waiting to be opened up with that nice Pop which you hear when you first unscrew the metal top. I was unpleasantly surprised and slightly shocked to find a cheap looking piece of whitish plastic, all leggy and holey, looking a bit futuristic and not remotely related to food.

 

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The jar of pickles was a gift from a thoughtful family member and I was very pleased to receive it. The very same company makes a delicious red pepper chutney which I buy often. I like the brand: made locally in South Africa, using nice simple packaging, and always in glass. Their products are available on many supermarket shelves, but they are not really one of the mainstream brands, retaining a bit of a ‘niche market’ feel. So I like to support them. The last thing I expected was to find this plastic gizmo thingy when I first unpopped the lid. It took me a few moments to realise what it was: a little mini-sieve that fits in the neck of the jar so that the brine or oil can be poured out, leaving the whole pickles behind. I fished the ungainly little thing out thinking, “well at least it may be recyclable”. But that’s not the point. I object because:

  • It adds nothing to my life: I have plenty of reusable metal sieves and strainers at home if I need help in separating solids from liquids. I appreciate that others might find this quite a handy little tool, but I do not. Especially not in plastic.
  • I should have been given the option as to whether to purchase this item or not. If the manufacturer had thought to include in their labeling, “For your convenience this item includes a plastic mini-sieve”, I could have made an informed decision. (OK, this situation was different in that it was a gift, which makes things a bit more tricky)
  • I am doing my best to reduce the amount of plastic that I bring home from the supermarket, and I do not appreciate unwelcome packaging surprises which now become my problem to dispose of.
  • But most of all, I am generally just tired of irresponsible food packaging. Surely the manufacturers could have done better in this case!!? …Could they not at least rather use a more sustainable source of material than plastic? What about a nice, once-off little metal sieve as a promotional item to offset and enhance their product? This could have gone a long way towards showcasing themselves as an environmentally and health conscious brand who are setting themselves apart from the plastic brigade. And especially for an extraneous, non-essential item like this one which a lot of people will end up throwing in the trash, intentionally or otherwise: rather create something more hard wearing and attractive, not just another cheap, forgettable piece of plastic.

 

It feels like high time for food companies to dig deep and really consider the environmental impact of what they are using to package and label their products. And at the end of the day to think about the impression that their choice of packaging may be creating of themselves as a brand. Hopefully in the near future we will see more legislation in place to rule out this kind of irresponsible food packaging. In the meantime, I’m off to enjoy a light lunch: cup of tea, tuna salad, and pickles 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Create your eco-wardrobe: in praise of pre-owned

 

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Favourites in my wardrobe: all purchased second hand.

 

Contrary to popular belief, we don’t experience summer 24/7 here in South Africa! Some parts of the country such as Durban, a coastal city facing the Indian Ocean, is pretty warm year round, but here in Johannesburg, being inland and high lying, not so much. Just ask the thousands of visitors who arrived here without coats or jackets in June 2010 to experience the opening of the Soccer World Cup in Johannesburg! We are currently in the late stages of our Winter 2018 now. A touch of warmth in the afternoon breeze, the days becoming longer, and in the garden the winter loving Chinese Greens are beginning to flower and bolt in response to the warmer weather.

 

 

But not yet the time to pack away the winter woolies that I was folding up this morning as I started on an early Spring Clean. I have always loved knitwear, specifically in natural fabrics such as wool and cotton: cardigans and pullovers are a staple in my wardrobe, including for the summer when temperatures can drop quite a bit some evenings. For me there is nothing nicer than the soft warmth of a cosy pullover on a chilly day, or a light cardigan when the weather is cool, but not yet cold enough to go all out with scarves and coats.

 

 

I buy a lot of my clothing second hand (aka: pre-worn, pre-loved) and this is purely my preference from an eco-friendly standpoint and not because I can’t afford to buy new 😉 All the above (see pic) were purchased second hand within the last 3 or 4 years, from one of two Hospice shops which I frequent here in Johannesburg. All very affordable: from 5 ZAR up to about 60 ZAR. (On the Woolworths online website a new knit top for women can cost you several hundred ZAR, and even more for wool rich items.

 

 

Details of my Wooly Babies as pictured above, left to right (NOTE: some labels incomplete or missing):

  • Woolworths, made in SA, : lambswool, nylon, angora
  • News, made in SA, : polyester, nylon
  • Woolworths, made in SA, : wool, viscose, polyamide
  • 100% Shetland wool
  • No details (no label)
  • Made in Cambodia, : cotton, acrylic
  • Smith & McGregor, : lambswool
  • Marks & Spencer, : made in China, : 100% wool

 

Lucy Siegle at theguardian.com explains it as follows: “Rewearing old clothes also displaces the need to make new virgin fibres – manufactured with oil-based petroleum or using cotton – both with hulking environmental impacts (also add in dyeing, finishing and the use of factories with dubious ethics). Buying pre-worn saves clothes from landfill and gives us an ethical way of satisfying a lust for new clothes without embracing fast-fashion culture”.

 

 

Environmental concerns aside, I also find that the quality of many second hand knitwear items is just of better quality, more unique and authentic (those one of a kind lucky finds are still out there), more likely to be natural rather than synthetic, and definitely less costly than buying new. And if I can apply just one or two of those points as a reason to buy, then purchasing second hand over new wins every time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of the To-Do list

 

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Winter in my garden: Origanum gone frosty

 

I find there is something immensely satisfying about crossing off completed tasks on a to-do list. Whether it’s something big like finally completing a passport renewal, or making that difficult call to someone I’ve been avoiding, or else a small matter like clearing out a shelf in the garden shed, that sense of personal satisfaction is always there. My feeling on completion can vary from a simple pat on the back to one of immense relief and even of validation and accomplishment, especially for one of those really frustrating, painful or time-consuming tasks that we sometimes have to face.

 

 

I have learnt to acknowledge that allowing myself to fall behind on my task lists is just not good for me. I end up dealing with some level of discomfort, whether its mild irritation at myself or (on a bad day) questioning my ability to deal with even simple things decisively and without procrastination. The Free Dictionary.com defines procrastination as “to postpone or delay needlessly” and more specifically “To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness”. (Obviously not a good thing… 😦 )

 

Completing my listed tasks and ticking them off allows me to clear the way forward, from where I can (guilt-free) move on and give my attention to things that I would rather be doing. My task lists can be a great way for me to feel that I have structure in my daily life, but on the flip side they can also become a kind of mental and emotional clutter if I fail to give them attention (aka procrastinate)

 

I have learnt to not underestimate the importance to complete the tasks on my to-do lists. I have realised that they may symbolise something more significant than simple ‘tasks’. I know that I end up feeling anxious and disorganised if I have too many ‘things on my plate’ no matter how small and simple these might seem at a glance. Completing my listed tasks and ticking them off feels like a way for me to clear a way forward for myself, from where I can (guilt-free) move on and give my attention to things that I would rather be doing. My task lists can be a great way for me to feel that I have clarity and definition in my daily life, but on the flip side they can also become a kind of mental and emotional clutter if I fail to give them attention (aka procrastinate)

 

Something as simple as completing tasks on a list can represent something powerful, such as the acknowledging and respecting of the commitments you set for yourself,  respecting your time and respecting yourself in general. Respecting the fact that your preferred way to spend your precious time and energy is on the things that you really  value and probably include quality time with the people that you care about.

 

If you’re an avid list-maker like me, here are a few points that I try to abide by:

  • Remember that you don’t have to write down Every Single Little Thing. Try and get into the habit of doing things as they cross your mind. Example: dialing my dentist takes about the same time it takes me to write down “make dental appointment” for the umpteenth time! Sometimes it really is simpler and better to Just Do It.
  • If you are looking for inspiration for something like a home decorating task, you might find yourself week after week writing out “choose paint colours for kitchen wall”. Commit yourself now to starting a Pinterest board, and then go online and start pinning those pretty pictures Right Now as we speak, to get the ball rolling. Or if you prefer a hard copy, make sure that your next weekly shop includes stopping at the hardware store or the paint wholesaler where you can pick up a few paint swatches to bring home.
  • Are you including things on your list that you end up regretting later? Are you taking on someone else’s task, so that every time you see it pop up on your list you find yourself wondering why you agreed on in the first place? Remember to be careful of over-commitment, especially if it’s a favour for someone that you’re about to agree to.
  • Love your Lists♥! Or if not, at least do your best to honour them. Just take that first step.
  • Important to remember: 1-Its YOUR list, and 2-Your time is precious, and so is your Peace of Mind.

 

 

 

 

 

Inspired by Nature: “Be as Water”.

 

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Winter in my garden: Succulents, rocks and fallen leaves

 

“Nothing in the world is more yielding and softer than water; yet it penetrates the hardest. Insubstantial, it enters where no room is. It is so fine that it is impossible to grasp a handful of it; strike it, yet it does not suffer hurt; stab it, and it is not wounded.” Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940–July 20, 1973)

 

Bruce Lee understood the power of nature. His “Be Water”quote (on YouTube) from the TV series Longstreet, is one of those perennials that remain relevant and powerful, and continues to attract seekers of peace looking for meaningful sustainable ways to meet life’s challenges. Even as a young man (he was only 32 when he so sadly passed away) he was committed to do so much more than be the physical powerhouse and world renowned actor that he became.  He was a family man and a seeker of truth. To quote his daughter Shannon Lee, he was a “teacher, family man, martial artist, philosopher, and innovator who became a cultural icon because he actively lived his philosophy of self-actualization.”

 

Read more Here on the moments of clarity and conviction that led up to him becoming spiritually inspired and moved by the qualities of water in all its potential, from the power of its gentleness and yielding to the power of its force and magnitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creative Reuse: the beauty of upcycling

 

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In my garden: winter annual Pansies

 

“There is no such thing as away. When you throw something away, it must go somewhere.” – Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff

 

Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value. (wikipedia)

 

RECREATE is an interior design studio based in Cape Town, South Africa, where they specialise in turning “trash into treasure”. By salvaging worn out or otherwise unwanted items from various sources including homes, warehouses and rubbish tips, they source discarded pieces which are then upcycled into beautiful new creations with a brand new purpose. Nothing goes to waste, and even their packaging materials, labels and business cards are reused, recycled and repurposed.

 

 

 

Read here for more on Recreate’s commitment to their craft and feast your eyes on some of their gorgeous creations.

 

In 2018 the market is abundant with beautiful and innovative designs, excellent craftsmanship and the reuse of  unusual and unexpected items such as fridges, bicycles, and kitchen sinks. And with a few tools at home and an inclination towards DIY you may even surprise yourself! Here and here are some fun and inspired ideas on creative upcycling at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connected to nature: Its part of our Humanity

 

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In my garden: Pelargonium Angel-eyes

 

British naturalist and environmental writer Michael McCarthy explores the powerful feelings nature can stir in us in our day to day lives: “They are surely very old, these feelings. They are lodged deep in our tissues and emerge to surprise us. For we forget our origins; in our towns and cities, staring into our screens, we need constantly reminding that we have been operators of computers for a single generation and workers in neon-lit offices for three or four, but we were farmers for five hundred generations, and before that hunter-gatherers for perhaps fifty thousand or more, living with the natural world as part of it as we evolved, and the legacy cannot be done away with.”

 

In his book The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy,  Michael Mcarthy writes about his passion for nature beginning in his difficult early childhood and continuing into adulthood, and he presents us with some hard facts about our dwindling natural resources. He expresses his deep concern for the future of our natural world and his insistence that as a “resource” nature is far more than an exploitable asset but a true source of joy and connectedness.

 

“Our origins are of the earth. And so there is in us a deeply seated response to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity,” Rachel Carson, a 20th century marine biologist who was truly in love with nature, and unselfconscious in her “preoccupation with the wonder and beauty of the earth.”

Both of these wonderful, devoted pioneers believed that despite everything we are still essentially nature’s children, and that the natural world is not separate from us, it is part of us. They believed that if we truly look out with our hearts and our minds to the beauty and realities of our precious world, we will connect more and more with our own ‘loving nature’ and become less tolerant of the neglect and destruction that is so commonly part of what we call progress.

Read more about their research and writings on Maria Popova‘s wonderful website: Brainpickings- an inventory of the meaningful life.