Testing the Waters: Greenpeace takes the Plastic Problem to Parliament

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You’ve probably heard – plastic pollution is the eco-topic of the moment. It seems every environmental NGO or campaigning organisation is riding in the tailwind of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet (can we please record him speaking about every world problem before he sadly passes? It seems he alone has the magic touch for reaching the masses).

Greenpeace recently published a report named ‘Testing the Waters: Microplastics in Scottish Seas’ off the back of research carried out by the Beluga 2 in the remote seas of Scotland. Last year, Greenpeace scientists took samples from the waters, froze them on board, and transported them to the University of Exeter where Greenpeace have a base of scientists who were poised, ready to analyse. As you can imagine… the conclusions ain’t good.

  • Microplastics were found in almost two thirds of samples from 27 different sites
  • A huge variety of plastics are ending up in our seas, the biggest culprit being polyethylene – the plastic used for milk bottles, household cleaning products and plastic carrier bags
  • Research has shown that the presence of microplastics in seawater can have physiological and behavioural consequences for marine organisms

If this is what has been unveiled in remote Scotland, can you imagine the scale of the plastic problem elsewhere on the planet? 

On Thursday morning, myself and other Greenpeace volunteers visited the Houses of Parliament to listen to MPs and, campaigners and experts speak about the findings of the report.

Greenpeace volunteers at the Houses of Parliament

From left to right – Michelle (Camden), Lucy, Ferghal and Lauren (all Shoreditch), me (Southwark), John and Sam (South West London)

The event was sponsored by Robert Jenrick – Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, and Tory MP for Newark, Nottinghamshire.

He also happened to be the person I asked “do you work here?” as I frantically tried to find a loo before the event kicked off. He seemed thoroughly unimpressed, and to which I could not give less of a fudge. Are politicians beyond giving helpful directions?! Anyway, that’s by the by… he supports the idea of a plastic tax – and he’s the guy who can make it happen – so I can get on board.

Robert Jenrick MP

Robert Jenrick MP

Other speakers included:

  • Professor Brendan Godley, Conservation Scientist
  • Dr David Santillo, Greenpeace Scientist from Exeter (who studied the water samples for the report)
  • Fiona Nicholls, Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner

Whilst eating an exceptionally good pain-au-chocolat and enjoying the sun by the Thames, I had a good chat with Luke Pollard – Labour MP for Plymouth. Being by the sea, marine conservation is something he and his constituents feel extremely passionate about. We talked about a potential ULEZ, but for the coastline around Plymouth. You heard it here first.

I left the event feeling positive about the potential for a plastic-free planet. Tory, Labour, Greens alike, this is an issue that is beyond party politics. And everyone seems to want to seize the energy of the present moment to drive this win for the environment home. We got dis!

If you haven’t already, please sign the following petitions:

  1. Greenpeace – Plastic-Free Supermarkets
  2. 38 Degrees – Introduce a tax (levy) on throwaway plastic
  3. Marine Conservation Society – STOP the plastic tide!

 

 

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Suffragette: the mother of all vegetarians

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I don’t blog much these days. I’ve decided from now on, I’m only going to blog when I’m really inspired. And it doesn’t get much more inspiring than this…

Today is the 100th anniversary of the day women got the vote for the very first time (6th February 1918). 

It’s pretty important that we remember how rad these women were, and it’s also pretty important to remember that 100 years really isn’t that long ago and we still have a lot to fight for; we cannot be complacent because there are certain people in this world that would send us back there if they could. “But what have the suffragettes got to do with environmentalism?”, I hear you ask.

They were vegetarians. 

(I first learnt this fact when watching BBC’s ‘Back in time for dinner’ – did anyone else watch it?! It was very interesting, especially for someone who loves their food.)

There are a number of varying theories as to why the suffragettes often ditched meat. Some say that in prison, they would advise each other to become vegetarian because the meat options on offer were so appalling.

But I like the links that theorist and vegan cook, Leah Leneman, has made between the suffragette movement and vegetarianism:

  • “the psychological identification of women with animals as victims of male brutality “
  • “the empowering idea that women confined to a homemaker’s role could still help to create a new and more compassionate world by adopting a vegetarian diet”

Edwardian feminists were against brutality of all kinds, including the slaughtering of animals, as it was a negative characteristic of the male gender that they wanted to disassociated themselves from. In late 19th-century America and Britain, many suffragists were heavily involved in the temperance movement and antivivisection, and vegetarianism was a dietary extension of that. Meat was a product of violence and, as a lot of suffragettes considered themselves pacifists and were against the first world war, they wanted to steer well away from it. As Leneman states: “the vegetarian movement had the same overall goal, and therefore it is not surprising that so many suffragists should have adopted a vegetarian diet”.

The suffragettes believed that if they were able to influence political decisions by casting a vote, they would make the world a kinder, more just, and more compassionate place. It is this belief that attracted so many other women to the suffragette movement.

Women still stand by this today. In fact, I believe that only by getting more women into positions of power (be that in parliament and in big business) will we be able to solve the world’s problems, especially when it comes down to environmentalism. As Friend’s of the Earth state, women’s empowerment is often considered the only driver in reducing global population growth. Ultimately, gender equality is vital if we are going to save the planet.

Read all about it, in FOE’s book: Why Women Will Save The Planet.

 

 

Eco Interview: Dr Linda Thomas of Linda Thomas Eco Design

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This week I was beyond thrilled to find out that one of my closest friends got engaged to her university sweetheart and soulmate. So naturally, this has got me all excited about all things ‘wedding’.

Weddings, however, are not the most eco-friendly of occasions. For me, the wedding dress in particular – worn for just that one occasion and costing so much in both money and materials – is the epitome of excess and consumerism… However, there are some designers out there who are filling the void where eco-friendly wedding dresses should be, and providing beautiful alternatives for the sustainably-savvy bride.

I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram recently, as one often does, when I spotted a post by 2 Minute Beach Clean which caught my attention. It was a photo of an incredible dress made entirely out of recycled bodyboard covers…

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WAVE of WASTE Dress: 
Dress Linda Thomas Eco Design
 Photography Symages photography, 
Board collecting and organising: BeachCare of Keep Britain Tidy
Hair: Clair Swinscoe Studio Couture
Make up: Rebecca Rose Robinson Make Up Artist
Model: Emma Adams

 

I had to message the designer, Linda Thomas, to find out more about her dresses and what inspires her…

Have you always been a dressmaker?

I was brought up with my Mum always dressmaking and I was always creating something. By about 10 years old I was using my Mum’s sewing machine and I can remember making earrings from black plastic bags as my earliest upcycling project!

What inspired you to move into the world of fashion?

I won Young Designer of Nottingham when I was a teenager for a Black and Blue Angular Velvet Dress. I had two strong yearnings: one was to help people, and the other was creativity. In the end, I realised I could still be creative on the side if I went to Medical School, but I couldn’t be a doctor on the side if I went to Art College. I did carry on creating but it was more than a decade until I returned to making clothes.

Why upcycled clothing?

There was no question that I would be an eco fashion designer as there would be no beauty for me in designing something damaging the Earth, but the reason I chose upcycling was due to the shocking problem with waste all over the world. In the UK alone there are still 1.5million tonnes of textile waste going to landfill each year. In Bristol alone, 20 tonnes of textile waste is sorted through by Bristol Textile Recyclers every day. Although there are exceptions, the production process of the vast majority of new fabric has likely damaged the environment and been involved in oppressive conditions for people the world over.

What materials do you work with and how are they sourced sustainably?

When I’m not working with broken bodyboards, I usually upcycle with quite luxurious materials like silk and cashmere. I source these materials from local charity shops and sometimes from vintage pieces. Sometimes my clients have a favourite damaged garment and I can salvage some material from it for something new.

Do you strive to be eco-friendly in your personal life too? Is your wardrobe sustainable?

In my personal life everything changed 12 years ago when I was pregnant with my son. I read an article in The Ecologist about non-organic cotton. Up until then I thought that was pure and natural, to realise it was one of the most polluting and harmful crops on the planet shocked me. Despite a passion for clothes, I decided to give up on regular shops and only buy pre-loved or new eco clothing. During the last decade it has got easier and easier to do that. We are a family of eco warriors and we continue to learn new things. We don’t fly, which has led to amazing alternative journeys. We grow and buy organic food which is always more delicious. We follow the motto refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. We are a cycling and walking family, but we do own a now quite old hybrid car for longer journeys.

Your recent work has involved working with beach cleaning projects, tell us a bit about your eco-collaborations.

This last collaboration was with BeachCare of Keep Britain Tidy. I had seen their pile of bodyboards the year before and wanted to do something about it. I didn’t realise I was going to make quite so big a dress at the outset. I am a fairly new member of Surfers Against Sewage 250 club and I am hoping to be able to contribute, not just money but also my expertise, to help look at all of the different plastics contaminating our Oceans. A lot of people think of bottles as plastic but don’t realise all polyester and nylon materials are also plastic and lead to microplastic pollution that also enters the sea, even just from washing those clothes. I am already brewing up my next project in my head…

Wave of Waste Dress - Linda Thomas Eco Design

What makes you a guilty environmentalist?

I don’t like the term ‘guilty ‘as it is such a negative emotion. I have to be very conscious about my showering time. I find it easy to go into flow states and lose track of time. The other thing I am very aware of is that we still have stuff in our black bin. So much stuff seems to come in plastic packaging and that makes me feel sad and responsible. There are still many foodstuffs that I hate the packaging for…tofu for one!

You can find Linda Thomas Eco Design on her website.

Instagram : @linda_eco_design

Facebook: Linda Thomas Eco Design

 

Eco Interview: Russell, founder of Cushn Company

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Last weekend I went to the wonderful Crafty Fox Market – a grouping of South London’s finest arts and crafters – when it came to Peckham’s Bussey Building. And it’s there that I met Russell, founder of CUSHN COMPANY, who makes cushion covers and pads using textile waste from the creative industries.

Cushn Co has a simple, sustainable vision: to stop textiles from going into landfill by processing the offcuts from fashion and costume houses. Russell also uses end of roll and ethically sourced fabrics to make plant hammocks and will soon be launching a flower vase. 

I thought this was a genius idea (and the products look amazing), so I asked Russell a few questions…

What gave you the idea for Cushn?

Over my career in fashion styling and costume design, I have made a lot of bespoke items for different adverts and performances. Being left with offcuts and scrap fabrics from each job, my studio started filling up as I couldn’t find anywhere to recycle them. My friends who run fashion houses and costume studios, had no suggestions on how to deal with this waste and all of them just chucked it in the bin and sent it to the dump. The reality of this waste problem being industry-wide, made me feel pretty sad, but also determined to provide a solution. 

Where and how do you get your materials?

We have partnerships with costume designers, fashion designers, theatres and sewing classes. We recycle offcuts in part exchange for end of roll luxury fabrics. The offcuts are processed to make cushion pad filling, which has a consistency comparable to feather down. The larger fabric pieces and end of roll materials are used to make the cushion covers, plant hammocks and other sustainable products. We currently use organic cotton for the pad outers and are looking into sourcing a lower impact fibre like hemp or bamboo instead. We are constantly trying to reduce our environmental footprint and always love suggestions of how we can do this. If your readers have any suggestions on how we can improve anything we do, we would love to hear from them.  Our goal is to become a zero landfill, no carbon studio, not just zero landfill products. We dream of offering a circular economy service to the garment industry and stop all waste. 

Do you strive to be as eco-friendly as possible in your day to day life too?

I imagine most people have found it easier to be ethical at home, compared to at work – I know I have. That’s why at Cushn Co we are constantly trying to reduce our plastic dependancy and carbon emissions, amongst other initiatives and are always up for hearing advice on ways to be greener. We love cycling everywhere and we are always looking fora materials and fittings that are more sustainable than we currently use. On a more personal level, I live a veggie life, leaning towards vegan, and buy food from the local green grocers that uses no packaging. I think one of the most powerful ways to make a positive change is to choose where you spend your money. Living in a culture where profit comes before all else, I believe your buying power should be used to promote good companies that care about more than the bottom line. I want my hard earned pennies to support ethical companies and help them grow to a point where they can influence the wider market and make bigger changes.

Do you have an Achilles’ heel? What makes you a guilty environmentalist?

Plastic is the one thing I still haven’t been able to completely remove from plant hammocks. They have to be plastic lined so the plants can be watered. The plastic we are currently using is factory seconds that are twice recycled. First used by students to make composition garments and then deconstructed and used by us. I have been experimenting with making starch-based plastic, but I haven’t got a waterproof version just yet. Hopefully this will come into fruition next year, after a bit more R&D. My other weakness is leather shoes. I avoid animal products where I can, but sometimes I just can’t get the vegan footwear in the styles I want. 

Where can people find you? 

Our studio and shop is at 146 Columbia Road and we are open every Sunday for the flower market. Please come down and say hi. We love to hear tips and suggestions from our customers, in person and online. You can find us on social media @cushncompany and on the Cushn Co website.

Plastic-collecting seismic ships: the beginning of fossil fuel eco-adaptation?

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Here’s a sentence that might shock you:

My Dad works for an oil exploration company.

Yep.

You might be thinking a number of things, this may include:

  • “Do you get on with him?”
  • “How did you become so eco-minded?”
  • “What does he think of your blog?”

And the answers to those questions are

  • Yep, he’s my dad 🙂
  • I grew up mainly with my geography teacher of a mum, who has always erred on the side of conservation and taught me to love and preserve nature
  • I think he likes to read my blog from time to time – and I get the vibe that he admires what I do to help the planet.

Truth is, he became a geologist before oil got its bad rep, and my grandpa was a successful geologist before him. I suppose working in the fossil fuel sector seemed like the best thing to do at the time.

Anyway, Dad works for Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) which ‘provides images and 3D models of the subsurface beneath the ocean floor that oil companies use to find oil and gas reserves worldwide.’ But recently, he told me that an unfortunate downturn in oil prices has led to the redundancy of 4 of the Norwegian company’s seismic ships used for oil exploration. This, of course, was fortunate from an eco-perspective. Essentially, there is not enough demand for oil exploration.

So PGS has thought of ways of adapting these vessels and developed a concept for efficient, large-scale collection of plastic in the oceans. Taking advantage of the ships’ air compressors and capabilities for handling large towing contraptions, they would be used to float plastic to the surface of the water and, essentially, skim it off the top.

In PGS’s terms: The air compressors are used to pump air through a ventilated hose, towed at approximately 50 metres water depth between the seismic ship and the support vessel. The air bubbles attach to the submerged plastic which then rises to the sea surface, just like bubbles are attracted to a straw in a glass of sparkling water. The processing unit at the end of the collection spread separates organic materials from plastic. The latter is compressed and packaged into super-strong synthetic skins. Once full, each skin section is marked by GPS and AIS, ready to be collected and towed to a processing facility for recycling.

“There are well-known garbage geysers in different oceans of the world and our plastic collection concept is intended to take advantage of the currents in these systems and collect plastic before it eventually sinks to the seabed,” says Jon Erik Reinhardsen, President & CEO of PGS.

Pretty neat, huh?

Each year, eight million tons of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans – equivalent to dumping the contents of one rubbish truck into the sea every minute. If no action is taken, this is expected to double by 2030. Another mad stat while we’re at it, which I learnt whilst on Greenpeace’s ship The Esperanza:

If this plastic problem continues, by 2030 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

We’ve seen a lot of eco-adaptation from fossil-fuel based industry in the news lately, with Volvo announcing that it will be going 100% electric or hybrid with its car production by 2019. Could this be the start of fossil fuel companies changing in order to survive… or, in the case of PGS, is this a greenwashing attempt born out of the need to do ‘something’ with an otherwise wasted resource? Either way, it’s better that these floating hunks of metal are put to use clearing up at least some of the mess they have created, whether indirectly or not. Let’s not forget that plastic is made from oil, so PGS should be taking responsibility for this new-age form of oil spill. And if this project is approved, it’s only good news for Greenpeace’s #EndOceanPlastics campaign. Now to make those engines solar and wind-powered…

The ultimate baselayer from Paramo Clothing

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Golly, it has been a while! And it feels so good to be back on the blogging bandwagon.

I gave up all forms of social media for lent this year. I’m not religious but I like the idea of giving up something that is inarguably bad for me and taking up something soul-nourishing instead. The later part of that was going to be me picking up the guitar again, but I failed miserably there. 40+ days without social media was mostly total bliss. It was freeing and I spent far more time reading and listening to podcasts instead of finding myself scrolling mindlessly through Instagram. However, I did feel a bit out-of-the-loop as I began to realise friends’ Facebook conversations continued without me, events were popping up that I couldn’t access the details of, and I couldn’t share anything I felt particularly passionate about. Since Easter Sunday, I’ve been trying not to slip into my old ways… and so far, I’m using social media at far healthier levels.

But now I’m back and I think it’s time I talked about Paramo, because what they do as an outdoor clothing brand is something pretty special.

I first mentioned Paramo in my post 3 Sustainable and Ethical Clothing Brands to Write Home About where I was blown-away by their use of recycling, refusal to use PFCs in the creation of their waterproofs, and their fair trade practices, employing vulnerable women in Colombia to make 80% of their clothing. Having created a partnership with the Miquelina Foundation, Colombia back in 1992, the brand ensures that 200 women are employed, 400 women are trained, and 200 children attend nursery, each year. The cooperative has also built over 130 houses so far, giving the women an opportunity to buy property at a fair price.

So when I received an email a couple of weeks ago from the lovely Fiona at Paramo asking me if I wanted to try out their new Women’s Grid Technic Hoodie, I said a big fat YES.

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I chose it in classic black and dark grey but you can also go for a pink combo. I wore it to The Castle Climbing Centre in Stoke Newington because they have this rad outdoor bouldering area, and it was a bit chilly so I could test the temperature-control fabric.

Paramo call this fabric Parameta G, and they state that it’s an ‘incredibly versatile Directional polyester fabric which can provide either cooling or insulation when needed’ as it wicks your sweat away from your skin. I can testify to that because as I warmed up on the boulders, I didn’t feel myself getting too hot or breaking a sweat as much as I would have done wearing my normal cotton hoodie. The soft fleece is designed to stick close to the skin which makes this an ideal baselayer for dynamic physical activity such as climbing or cycling, as there is no excess material to get in the way.

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I love the addition of the close-fitting ‘ninja’ hood as it makes this baselayer easy to wear underneath a helmet when climbing or cycling.  I also liked the subtle asymmetric zip, designed to stop the zip from rubbing your chin, and the understated branding which is iconic of all Paramo’s clothing.

All in all, I’m beyond chuffed with my first piece of Paramo and I’m keen to test their NikWax PFC-free waterproof jackets next!

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Macmillan earns its green stripes

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divest-logo

I started working at Macmillan Cancer Support in August this year. I might not be working for the environment lobbyist or think-tank that I was aiming for, but I enjoy every day at this charity and being happy in the work place is totally underrated for such an important thing. Besides, it could well be a case of ‘the grass is greener’…

Speaking of green, Macmillan’s branding, as you may already know, is coloured in a series of greens. But how ‘green’ is Macmillan as an organisation?

I recently joined Macmillan’s Eco Committee, and I was overjoyed to find an outlet for my enviro-energy within the workplace. It’s not the biggest group going, considering the size of the organisation as a whole, but it’s had its successes and I’m keen to see it grow. I started my involvement by going to a Lunch & Learn called ‘Is your pension fuelling climate change?’ back in November. It was hosted by the Eco Committee and Share Action, an NGO dedicated to getting organisations to divest their pensions. What I learnt was that the answer is yes. BOO.

But then it turns out that it’s actually extremely difficult to divest your pension entirely from fossil fuels, unless you have the money to afford a financial advisor….. aaaand most of us don’t. Especially, if like me, you work for a charity. Aaaaaaand, there’s a dilemma here because a lot of charity workers are ethically-minded and would likely divest if they were aware of another available option.

Today, some long-standing members of the Mac Eco Group, ShareAction, and me – went to meet with our pension provider Legal & General at their offices to talk through their proposed ethical option, the Future World Fund. Ed Davey from the Prince’s International Sustainability Unit was there too, as he is on the admirable mission to get the royal household to divest!

So, what I learnt from our meeting with Emma Douglas and Meryam Omi of L&G – who have been fighting from within the company since day one – was that the Future World Fund is far from ideal. But it is a great first step.

“When you choose your fund, you are financing your future – you have a say and a stake in the world” – Meryam Omi, Legal & General

Amongst other things, the feature that sparked the most debate was the fact that the fund would still involve some investment in fossil fuels. It would exclude coal to a large extent, and have increased investment in renewable energy, but it would be far from pure divestment. However, Anne-Marie of ShareAction made the point that it is not currently realistic to divest entirely, as we live in a world still so dependent on fossil fuels. In ShareAction’s view, divestment needs to be a transition coupled with engagement with energy companies to allow a chance for change to come from within the sector. I can see where they’re coming from; it’s a don’t run before you can work scenerio… perhaps? Either way, it’s incredibly frustrating for those who want to see change fast.

We discussed in details the VAST national problem of financial illiteracy. As individuals, we are not seeking knowledge on our pensions. As pension providers, they’re not making this knowledge easily available. And, as employers, they’re not taking any responsibility to teach their employees about the ins and outs of pensions. Even at charities… where you’d think we’d practice ethics?!

The new auto-enrollment laws have not helped with this. Now, every employee is signed up to a pension automatically so there’s no need to actively seek information on pensions… for a lot of people.

One easy way to help reduce financial illiteracy from within the workplace would be to make it mandatory for all employees to read a document or, better still, watch a short video introducing how pensions work and their options for making their investments more ethical. At Macmillan, this would be easy to implement into the ‘New Starter Checklist’ that all new employees have to complete within their first month. And if information on the Future World Fund was made obvious and accessible at that point, I believe that it would be a no-brainer for most.

*The Future World Fund should be ready to roll out to all members of Macmillan staff by April. This will be at an extra cost – but worth it when considering the real issue of future stranded assets!