All you need is one

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018

Drinking the hipster way

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018

ALDI Gardenline Foldable Saw – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018

Solar power installations suck away the light of the sun

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

But back to Woodland, NC.

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

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

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

Solar farms as plant killers

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018

Unbranded vs branded products

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018

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

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018

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

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018

Zero waste myths: should we really be avoiding plastic?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018

Rekindling our connection to print and paper

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018