Jan 062011
home-made Christmas tree ornaments

Our Christmas tree was a small live sapling in a pot, and we hope to be able to use it again next year.

In our in our house we’ve decided to start a tradition of leaving Christmas decorations up till January 5, which means that we can continue to enjoy them throughout the “12 days of Christmas” (yes, the traditional period of “Christmastide” only begins on December 25).  Appreciating this duration in our season of Christmas might even help avoid the commercial and materialistic extremes of what Bill Bailey has called the “primary gifting period”.

This all means that we took down our tree last night, which is the reason for writing about Christmas ornaments now even though its too late.  Things like this could work really well for Easter too, so publishing it now gives you all time to have a go yourself. Continue reading »

Jan 042011

I’m sure you’ve experienced the frustration of trying to extract a small gadget from it’s plastic clamshell packaging.  If not, then you have avoided one of the great curses of our high-tech culture.  These tough plastic cases are fused together in a factory, in an apparent attempt to prevent any purchaser from actually being able to access their new toy.  Trying to open such packets invariably leads to a furious anger which, I was delighted to learn, is known as “wrap rage”.

This large clamshell package with two cardboard inserts was simply to hold a 1 metre audio cable until I had it at home!

Beyond being almost impossible to open, this sort of packaging leads to a deeper fury about resource management.  Hard plastic clamshells add weight to products while they are transported, so their distribution costs more energy.  If they are ever actually pried open, they are immediately rubbish.  Hopefully they will be recycled, which still requires further energy, but too often the refined transparent plastic is just sent to landfill.

A while ago I was on a holiday and decided to play a video off my laptop.  I was able to connect the computer to the large television display, but my gadget travel-bag didn’t include the required audio cable.  Since my laptop speaker is poor, I went and bought a short wire to do the job.

The cable was only 1 metre long and would have fit in a small paper bag, but instead it was housed in a typically enormous clamshell package.  Being on holiday meant that I was not suitably armed to penetrate such a sturdy exoskeleton, and much wrap rage ensued.

I had seriously entertained the idea of asking the shop assistant to open the plastic and deal with the rubbish in-store, and I think I will make that my policy from now on.

Recycled cardboard packaging, with natural string and paper loops holding cable in place.

Buying an HDMI cable recently threatened to be a similar experience, but became an epiphany when I saw a cardboard box gleaming out from between the garish plastic clamshells.  Not only was the box recycled and recyclable, but the cable was made from “components which comply with the Regulation of Hazardous Substances directive” in a factory that has an “Environment Management System certified under the international standard ISO14001”.

They even donate $1.50 from each pack sold to Landcare Australia, who empower volunteers to “breathe new life into waterways”, “bring back trees”, and “restore wildlife habitats”.  Even if only half of these claims are true, this  is an exciting future for wrapping gadgets.

Oct 062010

As I began looking at what goes into food I was surprised by the ingredients in packets of chips.  It turns out that different flavours vary wildly in terms of ingredients and additives, and there are general patterns that apply across many brands.  Perhaps the most surprising thing of all is that good old plain salty chips are remarkably simple and natural! Continue reading »

Sep 202010

I have not written much here about food.  In fact, the only post that would come close was a report on the success of our verandah-garden some time ago.  Recently I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about food and what goes into it, which all started with some research into those little numbers that typically appear in the “ingredients” list on the side of food packets.  I was sure that lots of those numbers stood for fairly ordinary food items, but I had a suspicion that some of them were hiding nasty un-foody chemicals.

It is fairly easy to identify the numbers which are simply shorthand for regular ingredients, as their names are familiar.  Number 330, for instance, is nothing more mysterious than citric acid.  Trying to sort out the more unpleasant additives is a much more difficult challenge.  Chemicals must be approved before they are allowed to be used in food, but there are some officially approved additives which can be linked to health problems.  The difficult part is that most of these cases are only documented anecdotally, and it is easy to find conspiracy theorists who massively over-react to the more sensible data.

The best discussion of harmful additives, exploring the science as well as many personal anecdotes, is the Food Intolerance Network website.  They have a handy summary of additives to try and avoid, which I have printed off and placed in my wallet.  I’m not claiming this list to be the definitive judgement on food additives, but it is a good enough starting point for me to perform an experiment every time I go shopping for groceries.  I’m trying to find out how easy it is to live without eating “bad numbers”.

bread loaf on cooling rack

Making food from scratch is the best way to be sure of what goes into it.

I  have to admit that I’ve been surprised by the ubiquity of unpleasant additives.  Preservatives are especially widespread, and can be found even in many “health” foods.  There are some particularly interesting “results” of my experiment that I will be writing up and sharing here over the next little while.

Perhaps it isn’t obvious why I’ve chosen to write about food in this “Changing the World” category.  However, I believe that global health and personal health are related.  It seems apparent that sustainable interaction with our natural environment will maintain the most abundant way of living.  There’s little sense aiming for a planet that will support life to the full, if we’re eating ourselves to death or depression or distraction.

Sep 062010
Shaving with a straight razor

Two years ago my quest for the most eco-friendly shave led me to the Straight Razor.  I bought a reconditioned 70 year old razor to give it a try, and was soon convinced of its supremacy.  Although they are sometimes called “cut-throats” by people who wish to denigrate their safety, there is no better way to shave.

Razor on shaving soap box.

My 70 year old reconditioned razor, with wooden soap box and shaving brush.

I wanted to share my findings and some of the useful information that helped get me started, but thought it best to wait until I was sure that I could actually use a straight razor day after day.  It didn’t take me long to decide that my straight razor was here to stay, but shaving with it became such a normal everyday activity that it hardly seemed newsworthy.

But then, on a weight-restricted cycle adventure, I temporarily switched back to disposable razors.

It was terrible.  The silly plastic handle felt all flimsy in my hand.  The shave was sloppy.  The pathetic little blades got all clogged up after every stroke.  The plastic safety frame made it difficult to trim edges, and didn’t stop the razor from cutting me regularly.  On top of all this, I had to throw it into landfill after just a few shaves.  The experience convinced me that straight razors certainly are worth writing about.

Continue reading »

May 102010

Although we are developing a healthy distaste for it, petrol remains a necessity for most of us.  This is unlikely to change until technologies like the GM-Volt become more available. Anyone trying to minimise their negative global impact must therefore seek the most socially responsible petrol from a set of fairly unpleasant options.  I posed the question to myself this way: “how can I buy the least evil petrol?”

In (mostly) free market economies we have a lot of power as consumers, as suppliers will follow demand.  By carefully selecting the goods and services that we consume, we can exercise our power of demand and literally alter the behaviour of much larger entities such as multi-national corporations.  This is why it is important to seek socially responsible petrol. Continue reading »