nkosChoice

It’s probably the best weapon we have to make changes, but it’s also the probable cause for many of the problems that we face; I know it’s all a bit philosophical for me and I don’t blame you if you don’t read any further, it’s just another hippy rant; so be warned!

I used to live a pretty comfortable life, earning decent money and owning a third of a successful and flourishing business; I wasn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I was able to afford most of the things that took my fancy. Given the choices available to me I happily spent my money on the latest and greatest technology available, with scant regard for the true cost of an item, i.e. the resources that they consumed in their manufacture and the on-going harm that they may do during their life not to mention in their disposal; my electricity bill was the least of my worries and landfill was something to do with the composition of a photograph! This attitude spread to the model of car I drove and the way I drove it, holidays that I took, my choice of food, furniture, fun and my lifestyle in general; very little was done with regard for anything other than myself. In short given the varied choices made available to me, provided by the clever manufacturers and marketing front men, I often made choices that were based more on style than substances. I was a dream customer because I wanted choice and because of the choices I made.

About eight or nine years ago I decided that it would be nice to have an allotment, grow my own so to speak; the concept was gaining popularity again due to the likes of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and I convinced my aging farming neighbour that I would be able to help him out with his vegetable plot in return for a small patch for myself. My sister also had a great passion for growing things and as she started to live a more sustainable lifestyle in Spain and I became hooked on the concept as I helped out on holidays and planted her fruit trees and dug her garden over to make it more productive.

I made a good choice.

As time went on and after a fantastic first growing season, I started to read a little bit more and with the eighty year advice of my farming friend my little vegetable patch flourished and I started to rush home from work to get on the land; the satisfaction that I got from working with the earth seemed to fill a gap that I was unaware existed. Propagating, planting, weeding, watering and harvesting seemed to take away the everyday stress of my normal working life; I was so successful that I even started to supply work colleagues with the surplus crops as the glut came on; this soon ended up in doorstep deliveries to a wider circle of friends and I was even know to take a bag or two of runner beans and tomatoes to client meetings. All of this was done gratis; I wasn’t doing it for the money, rather the selfish pleasure of feeling good about giving. I have to admit that as my chilli’s did exceptionally well, that and the fact you can only eat so many and cropping was far better than I could have imagined, I sold a few at the local garage.

Meeting Gosia about six years ago spurred me on even more, her Polish background and the simpler life that she was born into inspired me to make even more changes in my life and my past avarice slowly slipped away and the choices I made began to be influenced by something more meaningful than a label, a logo or an advert.

Ok, you’re doing well if you got this far, more than 600 words, way past my norm and no pictures or links! Make yourself a brew and take a break, there is a possibility it may go another 600.

It’s worth pointing out that these changes hadn’t actually cost me anything; in fact I had started to save a bit of money, even if it was at the expense of my time, but time is the one thing that is free to spend and the sense of achievement was far more gratifying than making a quick short term feel good purchase of yet another gadget.

But at the end of the day, even with all the changes we had made, we still had to stay on-board the merry-go-round of modern life; going to work, paying the bills and consuming more than we probably needed to, we even did what every government wants you to do and borrowed some money, although our reason was better intentioned than just buying more things, as we purchased our plot of land in Poland; we may have slowed the fairground ride down, but it still kept turning.

So when, through an unexpected twist of events, the company had to be sold we were given an opportunity to make a really big choice; clear out and try and make a new more sustainable life in Poland, or cash in and improve our lifestyle in the UK, thankfully I didn’t want a new Land Rover, so after taking a year to tie up all the loose ends we headed off Poland bound; another good choice.

As you will imagine this led to a whole host of choices that many people never have in their lives and we consider ourselves lucky and privileged to have the opportunity to make them, so we wanted to make sure that we made the right ones when building the house and straw bale construction, composting toilets, grey water irrigation systems, wood burning boilers, solar water heating and a closed circle method of farming and maintaining the land are all big choices that we made; it has to be said that it’s a lot easier to make these choices when you start from scratch, so hopefully we have made the right ones.

I hadn’t intended this post to be so biographical, it’s just gone in that direction; which probably isn’t such a bad thing, although I suppose I have only really pointed out the big choices and changes we have made. The point I was hoping to make was that we should all consider the choices that we have when they are presented to us in daily life, no matter how small they are.

Choosing glass over plastic, paper or cloth bags over polythene, water from the tap rather than the bottle, flushing the toilet only when required, using more eco friendly cleaning products, choosing items on merit rather than marketing, buying local instead of driving to the supermarkets (I’m talking about your butcher and baker rather than the local Spar), making food from scratch and dropping your reliance on fast food, composting everything you can (you will be surprised what you can add to the pile), walking or cycling instead of driving and when you do drive then doing so in a more sensible and therefore economical way, buying second hand clothes and furniture (or antiques if that sits better with you), turning lights off when they are not in use, filling the kettle only as required and trying to resist the urge and impulse to buy something new unless you actually need it; OK I’ll stop!

If we stop to think, just for a moment, then we can ultimately make very big changes collectively by making very small choices; we can also change the way that things are sold and marketed to us. Believe me if the manufacturers see a change in the way that we purchase then they will change their strategy to meet that demand, you only have to look at the plethora of green, environmentally friendly products that are available now; because one thing’s for certain and that is that the world will keep on turning with money as its fuel, I’d just like to see a change in how we spend it to power the rotation.

Ok that’s it, you will be pleased to know that my little rant is over and if you got this far I owe you a beer, served out of a returnable glass bottle:)

One last thing, I would like to say thank you to the shape of things to come who planted the seed in my head to write this post in the first place, that and my urge to provide a wider explanation to why I keep going on about plastic bottles, although I feel she puts it far better than I do.

One green (PET, HDPE,PVC, LDPE, PP) bottle standing on the wall

(Edit 19th March 2013) I have edited a link on plastic types as my previous link pointed to a defunct website, so it’s possible some references may not make sense.

I know I’ve posted about this before but the issue of recycling has been highlighted to me again as I try to infuse my hippy doctrine on my unsuspecting family in Yorkshire.

After spending a couple of hours rearranging the shed, sorting through a couple of week’s worth of items for recycling and checking the local council’s website for information on where to go and what can be recycled, I set off with my first boot load of tin cans, glass, paper and plastic; all of which can be recycled at the local facility according to the North Yorkshire County Councils web site.

True enough, tin cans, glass and paper could all be recycled, but I failed to find the plastic recycle bin; so they all went in the general rubbish wheelie bin that I found close by.

It then struck me that the reason that they may not have a plastic recycling facility is that it probably costs too much to separate the many different types of plastic that are used in manufacturing; why do we have to have so many?

Checking out the lifewithoutplastic website and reading what the various plastics are used for and indeed the dangerous chemicals that some plastics contain, it seems that the number of plastic variations could quite easily be reduced e.g. PET and HDPE have very similar uses, so why manufacture both? Why can’t an industry standard be decided upon, making recycling easier and no doubt lower the risk to humans with regard to leaching chemicals; with a little bit of new technology thrown in for good measure I’m sure they could reduce the risk to human health.

Of course this is a very simplistic view to take and the cost of making the changes would be sited as the reason why it will never happen, but I’d be ready to put money on it that the cost of separating the various plastics (over time) far outweighs the cost to the manufacturers and the strain on out thinly stretched resources. So why should we be paying for it through extortionate council tax bills, when the cost could be more easily borne by the multimillion pound manufacturer?

I guess it’s the same old story, the might of big business and the money and power that goes along with it ultimately wins over the protesting populous, as big business will always have the politicians’ ear; it’s no surprise. But here’s the thing, threaten public health, create a health scandal about the industry and the manufacturers would have to fall line; the horse meat outrage is a great example of this, not to mention the many food scares we have had in the past. So maybe that’s what we need, a direct link to the public health relating to the use of multiple types of plastic; perhaps if we all approached the NHS with back problems brought on by bending down sorting the recycling, or eye sight exertion trying to differentiate the PET from the HPDE, or maybe even conclusive proof that the chemicals used in their production, or ones that may leech out whilst in use, are a risk to our health. Maybe then the government would have to step in, demand a new plastic standard, put the onus on the manufactures and save us all a lot of time and money.

This would of course mean that very thing would cost a penny more; the industries answer to the share holders, but in my mind that wouldn’t be a bad thing and in truth a very small price to pay. You may even find over time that we ultimately go back to a better time when liquids are only available in reusable, recyclable glass bottles and good old paper bags become the norm rather than the unrecyclable LDPE bags that we consider as the norm.

I visited the village butcher the other day and asked him how business was now that people have started to question the source of their food; he said it was like going back thirty years; not a bad thing?:)

Missing, Missing post, (Too chilly for chilli?) Found it :)

Even if you have heard it all before 🙂

It’s all very hectic here in Yorkshire; don’t be fooled into thinking that I’m having an easy time of it up here; with a demanding sister and two nephews I’ve turned into chief cook and bottle washer. Add to that, shopper, wood chopper and fire maker, baker, pastry chef, mechanic, plumber and all round handyman.

Eager to post something I came across a draft that I started back in Poland, which stayed there as I was hoping to add some descriptive photos to make things a little clearer; but it never happened as the temptation of a cheap flight drew into my new life servitude! I guess I’ll find out if she reads my blog now 🙂 If I never post again then please alert the police and ask them to search for a shallow grave somewhere in the Dales!

But onto my post, the missing post, the one that nearly got away.

It is that time of the year, it seems, that everybody who grows their own has started to go through the seed catalogues, looking for the old favourites or something new or unusual, maybe even looking for something that is resistant to a disease that afflicted the previous year’s crop. Part of this process is planning when to germinate the seeds and creating planting guides in your calendar to ensure that your future food will be ready to plant out around the time of the last frost, which can save you lots of time and most likely money.

Sadly I lack this type of organisation, I just dig out the seeds that I collected from the previous years crop and try and remember what needs to be planted when. I do of course pop down the local garden centre (our good friend Halina works there) and pick up any seeds that we are short of and as long as I remember to only grow what we actually like to eat we don’t have to spend too much.

So today, as I was reading a great new (to me) blog that I discovered yesterday: Shape of Things to Come, I started to think about chillies; no real connection to the blog, just a bit of a random thought. Then I remembered about an old plastic plant pot, that I found in the summer, with a label on it declaring that it once contained chillies that I had germinated in February 2008. Of course not having any organised records indicating if this was a successful planting or not, I may be going out on a limb, but I’m willing to take the chance and will be searching for my chilli seeds soon.

I would tell you that I have already planted them, but without Gosia to remind me where the seeds are my first job is to construct the question in Polish so that I can enlist the help of Gosias mum to help me find them 🙂 I will report back as soon as they are in the ground, or should I say pots.

But if you have the urge and a few spare chilli seeds then why not plant some now? There are a number of ways to germinate the seeds, in a tray similar to tomatoes or, as I prefer, in pots; three seeds to a 10cm pot. This allows me to grow them on longer before they need individually transplanting into bigger pots and I can easily monitor any seeds that don’t germinate; reseeding as required.

Once covered with a light potting compost, moistened with a water sprayer, I cover them with black plastic and secure this with a rubber band. This keeps the moisture and warmth in and the dark environment encourages germination. You should see some seed movement after about 14 days then you can then replace the black plastic with clear plastic to create a mini poli chilli pot (any ideas on what else to call it?) and grow them on until they hit the plastic. Once you have freed them of their artificial roof, grow them on until you think they warrant a separate pot; or if later in the year harden them off before planting them out. As long as the last of the frost has passed they will be happy outside.

(Insert photos here)

Now back to outside, once you have hardened your little plants off; this is done by putting them outside on good days and bringing them back in at night over the period of four or five days, you should be ready to plant them out.

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And if you happen to have any old plastic water bottles knocking around now’s the time to put them to good use. Cut round the base, a couple of inches from the bottom and you will be left with a handy tray for growing more seeds, a container for nails and screws or even a paint pot (suggestions on an postcard please)

This then leaves the top of the bottle to cover the delicate new plants creating a mini greenhouse to help things along whilst the weather warms up. Forgive the photos above, it’s the only ones I could find; from my allotment in 2007. The first one also shows my bean tepee, but more about that when I start planting out later this year.

Chillies will also grow well inside and I encourage everyone to grow at least one plant; you never know when a recipe will demand a few of the firey little capsicums and you will save yourself the trip to the shops as well as a good few quid. On top of that you can also dry any chillies you gather throughout the season, crushed up they become chilli flakes and if you have the patience the seeds can be ground down to make cayenne pepper; three things you will never have to buy again. Bush varieties work especially well inside and they are prolific croppers, I’m not too good and remembering name of varieties, but just ask at your favourite garden centre, or buy online.

Now you may be thinking that it is far too early and too chilly to start on my chillies, which of course it might be, time will tell. But having witnessed Gloria, my bougainvillea, burst into life after I gave her a trim about a month ago, I’m certain the window sill will be an ideal spot to get some early crops going; I have nothing to lose as the seeds are all home grown and I will only be using about thirty in this experiment, leaving me many hundreds more to try with if things go wrong. So I better start learning my Polish and find the seeds 🙂

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Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle

Having just read Petes blog post on recycling I thought I would throw in my tuppence worth, not that Petes observation surprises me, on the contrary its just another example of what really happens behind the facade that many of us hide behind, fooling ourselves that we are doing our bit for the environment by separating our waste. How many of you actually thought that those lovingly sorted piles of rubbish stayed that way as they made there happy journey to the appropriate specialist recycling factory to be turned into something that may have worth once again. The sad fact is that unless it has some value and can be treated and traded as a commodity then there is little chance it will stay in its allotted pile and will simply end up in landfill or be incinerated.

Stonehead made a similar observation to Pete and added further posts to explain the issue in more detail (just search his blog for recycle), and one of the points I think he makes best is that if we all followed the mantra ‘refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle’ we might not create so much waste in the first place. He goes on to point out that the refuse part of the mantra seems to have been dropped and the emphasis is on recycle rather than reduce; after all if we refused and reduced how would we keep the economy in growth!

And that to me seems to be the problem, the emphasis is always on growth and ever increasing targets, making more and more money so that we can spend it on more and more things in the blinkered belief that it will make us happier, but it’s only a temporary fix and we are destined to be disappointed when the next model is released or your colleague buys one that is better and you are left with an inferior product.

But I’ll try not to get on my soapbox because its a sentiment that is echoed all too often, just read the BBC website for a great example of our excess http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20968076 published today, or take it even further and read this article from last year http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17829665 I could also point you to a dozen other websites that take the matter seriously and you could spend the best part of your life just reading about how the planet cannot sustain the growth that business needs to survive, but I doubt it would stop the rot; even if you were better informed.

No instead of that I’ll ask a question that has gnawed away at me for a little while now, even more so as I have walked the dogs and I have too much time to think, and it goes back to the original theme of Petes post about the recycling of plastic bottles. Why does the world buy bottled water? Of course many parts of the world don’t have access to clean,safe drinking water, but in most parts of the western world and most definitely in the UK we have mains drinking water, or council pop as we used to call it, out of the tap . We all pay for it and yet refuse to drink it, reserving it for washing and flushing. It just doesn’t make sense to me, to go to Tesco, or whoever your favourite retailer happens to be, and give them your hard earned cash for yet another plastic bottle full of something that no doubt came from a bigger industrial sized tap with a bottling plant attached. Only to then fill half of your rubbish bin with the empty plastic bottles!

Of course in the past the only bottled water available came in ornate and embossed glass bottles and generally from natural sources, and if you subscribed to this lifestyle you had to be able to afford it. And that just the point, the marketing boys jumped in and told the masses that you too could live the life of the rich and famous and drink water from a bottle, omitting the facts about the environmental damage as only marketing people can, and sold a whole continent into drinking water out of plastic! I wonder how much of the plastic waste in the world is down to bottled water?

Out of interest I thought I would check on the environmental impacts of glass and plastic, to see if one was better than the other and whilst you might think the obvious answer if glass it’s not that simple; although it does have many advantages. Glass can be recycled indefinitely and at worst when it eventually gets broken down and used as aggregate it is at least inert; after all it’s just melted sand. It also preserves food better and does not leach chemicals and I’ve even read in the past that you can store water in glass bottles for many years.

Plastic on the other hand can only be down-cycled, i.e its chemical integrity deteriorates with each stage of recycling and a bottle will never be a bottle again; it will probably end up as a chair or a plastic casing for a TV and it’s useful life is unlikely to make it past that. It also has a tendency to leach chemicals over time and if you place your plastic bottles too close to other chemicals there is a good chance that they will taint the contents.

So it sounds simple, glass is the better option? Well yes, unless you count the cost in money; once you look at the transportation cost of a much heavier glass bottle, in the globalised market that we live in, coupled with our desire to have it all at the lowest possible monetary cost, the answer is plastic!

Of course if we go back in time, or move to Poland, business is still run at a (relatively) local level; the soft drinks firms and breweries still work with glass and the good old fashioned deposit system, compelling you to go back with your empties, turns the tables on plastic once again. Because if a glass bottle is reused its cost reduces; not only environmentally but monetarily, and there is no getting away from the fact that beer tastes so much better from a bottle 🙂

My only hope is that as the worlds oil reserves deplete and the cost of producing plastic (dervived from oil) increases, then we will have no option but to return to glass.

As you may imagine I could go on, but I think I’ve probably exhausted you if you got this far; but I will leave you with one final observation as I drink my Tatra beer out of a returnable glass bottle at a cost of 1.90Pln (38p,$0.65, €.049) If I go to Tescos (yea right) then I would pay almost double that for a can of Carlsberg (or any choice of tinned European beer)

Thankfully beer doesn’t come in plastic bottles yet, or there would be a real environmental disaster!!