Modern life is rubbish* – Part 6: Fur

*Post title stolen from Blur album of same name equally stolen from stencilled graffiti painted along Bayswater Road in London, created by an anarchist group¹.

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“Leading the pack, of course, was the Duchess of Cornwall, who unlike the virtue-signalling younger royals, is far too wise and sensible to care what anyone thinks of her, hence presumably her smart tweed suit finished with a fur-trimmed hat” via DailyMail 16.3.18

Why is it that society never seems to learn? Just when you think an ethical argument is won, it rebounds and smacks you round the chops. Be it Fascist politics (argument won circa 1945) currently on the resurgence in Italy, via populist movements throughout Europe and arguable the USA (see here) or the use of animal fur in fashion.

I hate to use examples from the right-wing press or even link to their webpages but seeing is believing and the Sarah Vine article linked to in the photo above is truly unbelievable. You have to read it for yourself and see the celebrities in their furry animal skins. It is an intentionally provocative piece but what is most shocking is that the author is the spouse of Michael Gove, the controversialist government Environment Secretary.

I thought this was an argument won many, many years ago. In fact about 20 years ago, few designers would dare to use it. The National Geographic² magazine claims that fur is back in fashion as:

Animal skins are being embraced by designers amid a push to make the lives and deaths of captive creatures more humane.

This cinema-infomercial was originally commissioned by Greenpeace and I remember it’s striking visual message well from the 1980s: (WARNING: Graphic/disturbing content)

The tag line that: “It takes forty dumb b***hes to make a fur coat but only one to wear it” still sticks in my head. Many of the top luxury, fashion brands shun fur; recently Versace announced they would no longer support the fur trade which should have been the last word on the matter. They would be joining Gucci (2017), Armani (2016), Michael Kors (2017), Tom Ford (2018) and of course early adopters like Calvin Klein (1994), Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood (all ceased fur use in 2007) and Stella McCartney (2001).

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Celebrity Katie Price wears pink (mink, fox, rabbit and racoon) via Mirror online16.3.18

So what the hell has changed and why the celebrity endorsements? I have self-confessed pet-loving kids in my class this winter wearing obscene Canada Goose snow jackets featuring coyote fur trim. I asked one child if she had a pet dog… I had to stop myself from going further (other than an audible “yuck” but I wanted to know if she would ‘wear’ her dog’s skin). The truth is, it’s all about marketing and complacency. Celebs wearing products endorse their use (possibly get paid to promote a designer or brand) and naiive, impressionable and wannabe trendy youngsters and should-know betters (genuine celebs like Meg Ryan, Drake and Daniel Craig) extend their use and profits. The rest of us are complacent by not being firm enough about our opposition because the Nine Shocking Facts about Fur are still as relevant and globally true today as they were 20 years ago. There was an outraged response last November when retailers (ASOS, Missguided, House of Fraser) were found to be selling real fur labelled wrongly as faux-fur/polyester on the high street. So why aren’t we equally outraged by this latest example of real fur fashion?

…we shouldn’t be complacent. Since banning fur farming here, the UK has imported at least £650m worth of fur. The majority of this fur is from farms overseas where the animal suffering is just as bad, if not worse, than the cruelty we deemed unacceptable in this country. It makes our government’s claim of having “some of the best animal welfare standards in the world’ ring rather hollow when it transpires that, in the case of the fur trade, we’ve simply outsourced our animal cruelty to countries like China, Poland and Canada. ~ The Independent 24.11.17

Maybe we are being too sensitive to shock people out of their complacency:

Modern technology hasn’t made the lives and deaths of fur-bred animals more humane at all. Fashion and textiles technologists are genuinely looking for alternatives not just for fur but also leather, wool, feather down, mohair, angora and silk. Animals are not ethically (at any rate) a commodity to be used to wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any way.  Shame on these so-called celebrity endorsements for taking society back a step or three and their resurgence of this unsustainable, cruel and archaic practice!

Further: Do More

Read Animals used for fur – via Peta.

Read Fur in fashion’s past and faux fur in its future – via Fashionista.

 


¹http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Life_Is_Rubbish

²https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/09/skin-trade-fur-fashion/

 

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Top 5: Eco-documentary movies

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We live in a predominantly visual society.  I have posters in my art room with a wide variety of visual arts information; arts related jobs, an infographic that illustrates the contribution of the visual arts to the UK economy and all the soft skills that can develop through studying visual arts. Yet, kids still say things like ‘what good is art in the world, generally?’ There is such a push on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), you’d assume that the future can only be shaped by certain school subjects. I find myself pointing out that the products of STEM subject innovation are interdependent on visual input; the difference between a car assembly robot and WALL-E for example. They watch so much video online through social media, much of it devoid of intelligent thought, I suggest they just turn it off (all of it) for maybe an hour to see if their imaginations can be enlivened.

So, to get them thinking visually, I point out that their frequent viewing of You Tube or Netflix should involve something thought-provoking and well-made visually; not necessarily about art or photography or even popular movies. So I suggest an ecology-themed documentary instead! I considerate it part of their wider-education in visual culture. To prepare for an hour without visual stimulation (such as WWF Earth Hour next Saturday),  here’s my Top 5 eco-documentaries:

1 Earthlings

2 Before The Flood

3 Cowspiracy

4 An Inconvenient Truth

5 BlackFish

Hope you enjoyed this little list, and you’re encouraged to make your own Top 5 list. Meanwhile: Support Earth Hour by switching-off between 8.30 and 9.30pm on Saturday 24th March, 2018. Just text EARTH to 70123 to donate £3 this #EarthHourUK.

 


 

 

The Ebb and Flow of Plastic Waste

 

Video: Independent Newspaper/Caroline Power Photography

The PM this week announced a 25 year plan for the UK to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042¹. Plastic waste such as the carrier bags, food packaging and disposable plastic straws that litter the country and pollute the seas would be abolished. Much was made of supermarkets stocking plastic-free aisles (and interviews with retailers complaining about damaged food and odours; the primary functions of the plastic trays and coatings).

“In the UK alone, the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls.” – Theresa May

Can we really be prepared to wait 25 years for legislation and compulsory action? The shocking video from The Independent (see above), BBC’s Blue Planet II and environmental studies featured elsewhere illustrate a vast sea of plastic pollution but what about the hidden plastics buried in land fill sites? A manufacturer on Radio 4’s Today programme was challenged on his production of single-use plastic; his response was “We’ve tried to make biodegradable products. They don’t look as good and they’re expensive.”

So it is a consumer and economics issue? Do we really need to pay more or are we bothered by blue rather than black plastic trays protecting our giant Italian pears? If present trends continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills. That amount is 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building (source: National Geographic²).

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cc Ben Kerckx

You may be interested in the attempt by my family and I to live plastic-lite for a month (read about it here). We attempted the plastic challenge (encouraged by the Marine Conservation Society #plasticchallenge) for the whole month buying only packaged goods in HDPE, PP or some PET plastic that my local curb-side recycling will take! Our five supermarket shops during the month took place at different stores and we pledged not to buy rather than compromise from the very start. The rationale is that consumers can insist on packaging that is widely recycled, then big corporations can be forced to adapt to our (and our planet’s) needs. You may be interested in trying something similar, so here is my advice…

Product Alternative Source
Multiple use shopping bags Jute shoppers Unicef – includes funding for 2 measles vaccinations for children per bag
Plastic for loose vegetables Paper bags Amazon – various sizes about 40p each
Plastic toothbrush Bamboo toothbrush Ethical superstore UK – eg. medium bamboo
Single-use water bottle Washable/reusable multi-use bottle Three value 1L Tritan bottles from Amazon
Toilet rolls/packaging Recycled paper and compatible plastic packaging (no, not reusable paper!) This was difficult to source but Suma produce this which can be acquired through Amazon
Storage for berries, meats and cheeses Glass, metal and other jars and boxes Often jars/metal storage comes with a plastic lid which you would take to loose produce sections, deli counters or traditional butchers. These have a BPA free lid and use a small amount of plastic but are reusable and washable.

Greenpeace’s solutions for plastic packaging:

  1. Prioritise reusable packaging and develop systems based on reuse
  2. Make sure packaging is 100 percent recycled, as well as recyclable or compostable
  3. Share information about the plastic they use, reuse and recycle, so progress can be measured
  4. Support bottle deposit return schemes, where a small deposit is added to the cost of packaged drinks, which can be reclaimed when the container is returned.

This problem isn’t simply going to disappear. We cannot wait 25 years for legislation to force retailers and manufacturers as change is only one decision away.


Further reading

¹The Independent – Theresa May vows to eliminate UK’s plastic waste by 2042, 10th January 2018

²National Geographic – 91% of Plastic Isn’t Recycled, 19th July, 2017

BBC News – UK faces build-up of plastic waste, 1st January 2018

BBC News – What are supermarkets doing to fight plastic? 14th January 2018

A month of plastic-lite living

In June the Marine Conservation Society encouraged us to take up a “plastic challenge”, asking us to give up single-use plastic for a day, a week or even the whole month. See their website here. This blog post explores the challenge a little further with some solutions to the issues that arose.

My family and I attempted the plastic challenge for the whole month buying only packaged goods in HDPE, PP or some PET plastic that my local curb-side recycling will take! Our five supermarket shops during the month took place at different stores and we pledged not to buy rather than compromise from the very start. The rationale is that consumers can insist on packaging that is widely recycled, then big corporations can be forced to adapt to our (and our planet’s) needs. In addition, in preparation is the end of May, we replaced our plastic shopping bags with jute (natural materials) and our own paper grocery bags for loose items.

Why cut down on plastic?

Plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats facing our oceans. Up to 12 million tonnes of plastic is entering the oceans every year. This is affecting sea life – one in 3 turtles and 90% of seabirds are now estimated to have ingested plastic. Plastic is even ending up in the seafood on your plates. Coca-Cola produces an estimated 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles every year – and billions of these will end up on beaches, in landfill and in the sea. Send Coca-Cola’s CEO an email here.

A single plastic bottle takes hundreds of years to break down in the ocean, which is dangerous to wildlife. It could be swallowed by a whale or a shark, while its bottle top might be picked up by a seabird who then feeds it to its young. If it’s not swallowed whole, the bottle will break into smaller and smaller pieces, which can then can be ingested by creatures ranging from zooplankton to whales, which mistake it for food. Slowly but surely it will turn the ocean into a kind of toxic plastic soup. — Greenpeace Connect, Summer 2017

#plasticchallenge

The five supermarkets we went to during June were: Asda, Lidl, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. All are guilty of over-packaging; presumably for the convenience of warehouse storage prior to shelf display. We bought loose vegetables and placed into our own paper grocery bags; every time we went to checkout we got quizzical looks but we were keen to explain the plastic challenge and every time we were commended by the staff who said they would pass on to managers and what a great idea. Any processed, packaged food was scrutinised for the materials logo:

recycle-logos-1So we felt that by getting some items (ready-meal curries for example) in a PP tray would be ok as the curb-side collection take this plastic. As we soon found, on collection day all of the PP plastic was left behind in our front garden (even stuff previously taken).

Although this was a bit of a set-back, it was an even more tricky shop when trying to avoid food items we would normally buy not available in a recyclable form. Such as Alpro yoghurts. Tweeting about it directly to Alpro was very satisfying:

Alpro were very positive, they may even have something in development for June 2018! We did have trouble finding toilet rolls in paper packaging, all the supermarkets we went to use a plastic film that is not recyclable. We even had a look at other supermarkets in the area in case they had something; Tesco, Aldi and the Co-op. Nothing. This was our first compromise; day 12 of the challenge and we had little choice as we were totally out of supplies!

This was a great response on Twitter:

So we will certainly be prepared next June! We found Morrisons the best for frozen food packaging (cardboard boxes rather than sleeves with plastic/film lid inside). Lidl was the only one to supply brown paper grocery bags for bread (even though plastic supplied for loose veggies). Only the Co-op sell recycled toilet paper; and this is in a plastic package. This is shocking. All of the supermarkets need to be a bit more plastic-conscious; people always agree and usually have a positive comment about the habitat of wildlife so it is really should be  a case of ‘the customer is always right’. If a supermarket wants to be the first to put environment as priority they need to take adapt Greenpeace’s solutions for plastic packaging:

  1. Prioritise reusable packaging and develop systems based on reuse
  2. Make sure packaging is 100 percent recycled, as well as recyclable or compostable
  3. Share information about the plastic they use, reuse and recycle, so progress can be measured
  4. Support bottle deposit return schemes, where a small deposit is added to the cost of packaged drinks, which can be reclaimed when the container is returned.

Further: Get involved

Try the #plasticchallenge next June and support the Marine Conservation Society’s efforts – information here.

Greenpeace is leading the way in a campaigning against plastic waste; targeting one of the worst global offenders: Coca-cola. Sign their petition to affect change at Coke here or donate for their plastic appeal here.

Advice from EatDrinkBetter on reducing food packaging here (image at top credited to this website).


 

Modern life is rubbish* – Part 5: Plastic

*Post title stolen from Blur album of same name equally stolen from stencilled graffiti painted along Bayswater Road in London, created by an anarchist group¹.

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Plastic debris is strewn across the beach on Henderson Island, an uninhabited atoll in the Pacific. Photograph: Jennifer Lavers/AP via The Guardian

What a chuffin’ mess. The wonders of plastic have changed our lives, but what has been the environmental impact? How much is buried in landfill, floats out to sea or is unintentionally consumed? What can we do?

I hope The Guardian don’t mind me reproducing the above photo especially as I will include links to their articles on Henderson Island, a tiny landmass in the eastern South Pacific. It has become one of the world’s most polluted places despite being one of the remotest.  Marine scientists have discovered the highest density of anthropogenic debris recorded anywhere in the world, with 99.8% of the pollution plastic.² The follow-up article featuring the McCreadie family’s response and subsequent attempt to cut out plastics³ for a one week period has elicited this post about modern life and what action we could take.

In June the Marine Conservation Society will launch its “plastic challenge”, asking us to give up single-use plastic for a day, a week or even the whole month. See their website here. I am going to attempt the plastic challenge for the whole month and encourage you to try the same! If consumers can insist on packaging that is widely recycled, then big corporations can be forced to adapt to our (and our planet’s) needs.

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Helping you make a choice in plastic packaging

One of the things I didn’t realise was the actual component materials that plastic packaging comes in. I use our local curb-side scheme, filling a large green tub every fortnight. However, some of these plastics aren’t recycled locally and should have gone to  a recycling centre. They may even end up in landfill despite having been placed in the green tub! During June, I will avoid single use plastic altogether. Here is a handy guide:

recycle-logos-1 1. PET or PETE (Polyethylene terephthalate) is single use plastic used for pop and water bottles. Can be recycled into fleece textiles but not refilled as harmful chemicals leach from the material and could be carcinogenic. AVOID.

2. HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) is thicker, more durable plastic used for toys, benches and weather resistant products. Can be recycled.

3. V (Polyvinyl Chloride) aka PVC is dubbed the “poison plastic” because it contains numerous toxins which it can leach throughout its entire life cycle. Almost all products using PVC require virgin material for their construction; less than 1% of PVC material is recycled. AVOID.

4. LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) is a non-rigid plastic used for shopping bags, detergent bottles and some clothes. Not widely recycled so best to AVOID.

5. PP (Polypropylene) is widely used for yoghurt pots, bottle lids, crisp packets, margarine and butter tubs. This is widely recycled in the UK. Can be recycled.

6. PS (Polystyrene) is an inexpensive, lightweight and easily-formed plastic with a wide variety of uses. It is most often used to make disposable styrofoam drinking cups, take-out “clamshell” food containers, egg cartons, plastic picnic cutlery, foam packaging and those ubiquitous “peanut” foam chips used to fill shipping boxes to protect the contents. Polystyrene may leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen, into food products (especially when heated in a microwave). Chemicals present in polystyrene have been linked with human health and reproductive system dysfunction. AVOID.

7. Other (BPA, Polycarbonate and LEXAN) is used to make baby bottles, cups, water cooler bottles and car parts. Compostable plastics, made from bio-based polymers like corn starch, are being developed to replace polycarbonates and will say Compostable or PLA on the base next to the No. 7 logo. These are ok, otherwise AVOID.

How to shop without single-use plastic

The Marine Conservation Society can be provide a starter pack for members including jute shopping bags, cotton bags etc via their online shop. The plastic challenge is not about being completely plastic-free but avoiding wherever possible. I have replaced plastic bags with these from the UNICEF site as the money for each bag goes toward 4 polio vaccines. All loose vegetables will be placed in paper grocery bags from Amazon rather than the pre-packed plastic ones in store.

I am sure I will discover just how reliant we are on plastics during my plastic-lite month and will tweet about it with the hashtag #plasticchallenge. I expect each shopping trip to have it’s own challenges and discoveries! Perhaps you would be willing to do a day, week or whole month too?

Further: Do more

Plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats facing our oceans. Up to 12 million tonnes of plastic is entering the oceans every year. This is affecting sea life – one in 3 turtles and 90% of seabirds are now estimated to have ingested plastic. Plastic is even ending up in the seafood on your plates. Coca-Cola produces an estimated 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles every year – and billions of these will end up on beaches, in landfill and in the sea. Send Coca-Cola’s CEO an email here.

 


¹http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Life_Is_Rubbish

²38Million pieces of plastic found on uninhabited island, The Guardian 15th May 2017

³Could you cut out plastic from your weekly shop?, The Guardian 27th May 2017

 

Eco shoe review – Vegan Dr Martens

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Occasionally, I include a review of my latest footwear especially if they’re particularly techie or Eco influenced. So I have to write up about Dr Marten shoes; these are the synthetic non-leather versions.  The soles come with the familiar cushioned PVC with yellow stitching and there are three lace-holes. Now you’re probably thinking: ‘so what, they’ve been around for years’ and I must admit that this particular shoe design has been something of a classic and I have owned several pairs. Their reemergence for me is down to the ease of accessibility to the vegan version (non-leather) and the ecological advantage of non-animal exploitation.

Although I have had many leather versions of this shoe, just over a year ago I adopted a vegan lifestyle and bought some Next men’s shoes made from a non-leather material. They look ok but don’t ‘give’ in the same way as leather so are a bit stiff, especially at the heel. It seemed that vegan shoes online and in boutique shops are so, so expensive due to hand-made etc and I suppose low numbers of sales. However, Amazon and Vegetarian-Shoes are  retailing them at the equivalent price of leather ones.

Wear and tear in the art room wise, they have stood up to acrylic paint, plaster and clay. Worse (as with the non-vegan design) is the effect of drawing pins on the sole but this is also part of the advantage when on your feet all day – no aches! I put a waterproof spray across the uppers of mine and even tried some polish but it doesn’t sit well on the material. A recent trip around London with 48 students clocked up a healthy 12 mile walk (!) and they faired very well at that too.

Ladies and gents versions available from these retailers:

Vegetarian-Shoes

Amazon


 

Eco T-shirts review – cotton & the rest

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I occasionally dip my blogging toe into eco-design especially as I think that we should be teaching about technology that should improve design and vice-versa. I have previously reviewed shoes made from recycled materials, super-durable boots and low energy technology. In this post I turn my attention to the humble t-shirt.

What is an eco-design t-shirt?

I’ve been buying ‘ecology’ shirts since they were first available on the green marketplace back in the ’80s. I know you’ll say in the ’60s and ’70s the hippy kids were wearing hand-knitted reclaimed wool t-shirts (!) and self-made potato print designs but I was that kid too and I still have the scars. Initially I’d say eco-design shirts were predominantly of the protest/message variety. I had a “Plant a tree in ’73” when I was small which was probably a freebie and dated to maybe 1978. The first one I remember selecting for myself was after joining Greenpeace and featured a very arty illustration of a blue whale in full colour on a white cotton shirt. This was pre-Katharine Hamnett’s typography laden designs of the mid-80s with their associations of Madonna and Wham.

 

This was also an era before the widespread availability of unbleached and organic cotton. This has become relatively cheap to use now but how about other textiles with equally green credentials such as bamboo and hemp? How do the designs fare and what about wearability and durability? Here’s the top 5 in reverse order…

5. Patagonia Logo T-shirt

 

This hard wearing, durable and comfortable shirt features a prominent logo and says: ‘eco-warrior’ all over it. Made from organic and sustainable cotton with phthalate-free inks. Added bonus is that Patagonia donate 1% of sales to sustainable non-profit organisations around the world.

Comfortable and surprisingly long lasting, you’ll get sick of the logo before the shirt.

4. Friends of the Earth Crowd Pleaser

Organic cotton (Soil Association verified) with PVC free inks. Bonus: made from renewable energy from wind and solar power. Certified by the Carbon Trust, these t-shirts have achieved 90% reduction using a combination of low-impact organic farming, efficiency in manufacturing and transportation and the use of renewable energy instead of the fossil fuel based grid electricity. A single Earth Positive t-shirt saves around 7kg of CO2 in its production. – See more at: http://www.foeshop.co.uk/crowd-pleaser-grey-t-shirt-mens.html#sthash.WOS9rYp4.dpuf

3. Braintree Hemp Plain
A relaxed, basic and down to earth plain T-shirt essential for summer dressing. A mix of 55% hemp 45% organic cotton jersey.

Pro: plain and logo less.

Con: slightly itchy material. It’s hemp, what did you expect?

Added bonus: if you’re hot and sweaty don’t wear through airports as you smell like you’ve been on visit to the Body Shop or worse, to a Dutch cafe.

2. Papanui
Bamboo

The perfect casual t-shirt for people who appreciate quality. There’s also a little secret in the fabric: the wicking, temperature regulating performance & antibacterial properties of bamboo t-shirts make them popular as high performance athletic base layers.

Also available without the logo.

1. Vivienne Westwood ‘Save the Arctic’ shirt

Vivienne Westwood continues to communicate the threat of climate change. “The status quo will kill us. People don’t realise how quickly we are marching towards a possible mass extinction. Once the global temperature goes up beyond two degrees, you can’t stop it. Current predictions are that we will see a rise of more like 4C or 6C, which would mean that everything below Paris would become uninhabitable.”

Profits from the ‘Save the Arctic’ t-shirt sales are donated to Greenpeace. They are made of organic, unbleached cotton (white is the natural colour as it grows) from a 20 year old cooperative in Peru. All the growing, processing and production of the t-shirts is fully certified by G.O.T.S. (Global Organic Textile Standard). Bonus: proper fashion.