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Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Low Carbon Oxford Week

Welcome to Low Carbon Oxford Week!

This afternoon I'll be talking rubbish again.  I've been invited to the lovely Turl Street Kitchen in Oxford as part of the Low Carbon Oxford week's festival of fun, frolics and trans-formation, aiming to encourage more and more people to improve their understanding of carbon footprint and to take action to lower the carbon footprint of their own lifestyle.

I'll be talking about my book, how and why I came to write about rubbish and my own mission towards  a zero waste lifestyle.  We will be sharing expertise and low carbon tips, and there will be games and prizes! And … I'll be on the look out for top tips for reducing food waste for my next book. Come along and share your ideas and see what more you could be doing to live more with less - 4.30-5.30pm and again from 6.00 pm to 7.00 pm at The Turl Street Kitchen, Oxford -  today 17th June 2014.

There are lots of free talks going on all week, there's a mini festival tomorrow in Bonn Square tomorrow afternoon from 12 noon to 4pm with music, up-cycling, local producers and a bike workshop.  There will be an 'ask the expert' session too, which is a chance to share tea and cake and chat with people from the Environmental Change Institute.   I'll be there too and you can pick my brains about all things rubbish and/or how to write and publish a book.

This weekend Oxfordshire will have its very own eco-festival at Hill End Farm.  You coming?  And are you coming by bike?

It's ok…the bike is optional!

Have a great LCO Week 

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Everyone's talking about Brazil!

I'm ridiculously excited about watching the opening match of the World Cup tonight. (Yes … the football one - other World Cups are available).  Brazil v. Croatia, and I've actually seen the stadium where they will be playing.

Arriving in São Paulo, I was about two hours late.  The lovely Pousada Zilah, where I was staying had arranged for a taxi to collect me.  Would it still be there, I wondered?

Efficient unloading of baggage meant that I was swiftly through the airport and out into the arrivals hall, and there ahead of me was the sign with my name on, accompanied by a flood of relief, that I didn't have to think for myself and work out where I was going in this vast city.  The moment I indicated my presence to the taxi driver, he politely excused himself to make a phone call…

"I've got her," was what I managed to understand, before he asked me if I minded talking to what I guessed was the Pousada Zilah.

"It's ok, we were just worried.  Were were expecting you here by now."

"I'm sorry. My plane was late," apologising as if to my Dad.

The lovely Pousada Zilah

How do you convey the enormity of São Paulo? A metropolis that's home to 20 million people who like their cars.

"The traffic's not too bad today," is what I think my taxi driver commented (think A40 out of London at 5.00pm on a Friday night). We are trying conversation.  He is telling me stuff in Portuguese and I'm trying to reply in very poor Spanish with the occasional smattering of Italian.  But we get by.  We pass a supermarket with a fuel station and he asks me if I mind if he gets petrol. Someone is blocking the exit and he gets stressed.  I try to reassure him that I'm in no hurry - I'm just taking it all in.

Back on the road again we pass a football stadium - it's not the Arena Corinthians - this one's finished.  The conversation turns to the World Cup (I think).  And I think he's looking forward to it.  He likes his football.

We turn off a main road into a quiet avenue and a few turns later we pull up outside the Pousada Zilah. In this haven in the midst of the vast city, I taste my first Brazilian coffee.  There's birdsong and the smell of freshly baked cakes and the sweet aroma of papaya and melon.  And there's an atmosphere of calm. Desiderata.

I find a message on Facebook from my fellow UK delegate, Lorna.  She's with friends in São Paulo and they are going to meet me here around lunchtime - maybe 1pm or 2 at the latest.

At 3.30 pm I hear someone mention my name at reception.  It's one of Lorna's friends.  We introduce ourselves. He tells me he was stuck in traffic and doesn't seem that surprised that Lorna and the others aren't here yet. We chat about life in São Paulo.  We chat about traffic.  I wonder why so many people drive in this huge city.  There's a metro.  Does anyone use it?

The problem with the metro is that it doesn't cover all parts of the city.  There's a new monorail being built, one of the infrastructure improvements for the World Cup, but it's not finished.  Later we drive past the monorail - or at least the end of it.  It just stops - looking like a scene in a disaster movie.

There's a worry that once the World Cup has been and gone the monorail project will be abandoned.

Lorna and friends arrive.  "Traffic," they say.  It makes me wonder how São Paulo functions on a daily basis.  Does everyone make their meetings with a three hour window of possible arrival time?

We head off to Ibirapuera Park.  Once again we are negotiating traffic.  Everyone else is going to the park too, clearly.  And to add to the stress (which is thankfully passing me by as I'm loving the magical mystery tour around the city) we are trying to follow one of many little black cars, can't tell you what kind of little black car.

They're link ants, they're everywhere.  You spot one, then you spot another and another and soon you see there are hundreds of them all around you, bustling about the place.  But which ant is your ant?  Ahh!

Eventually we realise we've lost 'our' little black car, so we head to the nearest car park at one of the entrances to the park, and we'll phone.  Seems, though, that everyone else in this big city is doing the same thing and we can't get a signal.  We play SMS tag as we wonder through this oasis.  This is big time family fun.  There are skate parks, bike tracks, climbing walls, rope courses.  There's ice cream and there are coconuts. There are clowns and acrobats.  There's basket ball, there's football, there are tennis courts. There's the lake. And there are trees everywhere.  Beautiful trees. 


We head off to take the children home and then we are going for pizza.  More magical mystery tour around the streets of São Paulo.  Darkness falls quickly and we are surrounded by bright lights of high rise buildings, twinkling neon as far as we can see.

We finish the evening at a birthday party - a friend of friends of friends of the people I have just met today, but it's Saturday night and I must come and see a Brazilian party.  There'll be great music, there'll be dancing, there'll be a few beers (and they don't even think to tell me about the great view from the balcony).

I'm beyond tired.  I haven't slept for forty hours, but this is São Paulo, there's music, there's laughter, there's dancing and I love it!

#Brasil xx

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Just how much plastic do we need in one bathroom?

I came across this campaign today run by The Story of Stuff.

I had no idea until I read this that things like face cream might contain tiny beads of plastic.  These plastic microbeads are abrasive and so are used as an exfoliant, to wash away the dead skin particles.  Yes wash away.  There lies the problem.  These particles are, by design, made to be washed down the drain, which means they are going to end up as pollutants.  Did no one think about that as a problem when they came up with the idea?

Our consumer culture is doing us no favours as well as harming the environment.  People invent these things, without thinking through the consequences for the environment.  That's why it is so important that we help the next generation to see the effect on the environment as being the most important part of any business or product.  'Do no harm' needs to be at the forefront of our minds as we find, develop and trial new things.

I hate the thought that many of us who care about the environment may have been using such harmful products without realising.

It makes me wary of buying any cosmetics.

At the beginning of this year my sister asked me to help her with a clear out of some cupboards.  She said she'd 'got it down to three boxes of odds and ends' that she couldn't face going through and knew that she'd likely have put it all in the bin if she didn't have a zero waste sister!  I sorted through the boxes and found homes for everything - mainly through reuse and recycling schemes run by charities.

But I did bring home a bag full of various cosmetic products - bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel - some half full, some with just a small amount in.  I did suggest to her that she could use these up and then recycle the bottles in the normal curb side recycling collection.

"But I've got a bathroom full of the stuff already!" she protested.

So I said I'd use it up myself.  I used to think I was frugal about making sure I use every bit of a product, even rinsing out the bottle as the last use of it.  The more you use up and the longer you make it last, the better - I think - as all these things take energy and raw materials to make and transport to the end user.  But when I got back home and looked at what I had in my own bathroom, I was dismayed to realise just how many plastic bottles with varying amounts of content I had accumulated.

So, I made a pledge to not buy any more cosmetic products until I have nothing left.  We're now in June, I've bought nothing, yet I still have a whole tub full of cosmetics.  I may well get to the end of the year without buying any more, and when I do finish up my current stock and recycle all those plastic bottles, I'll be thinking very carefully about what I buy in future.

I don't know if the products I already have contain plastic within them.  How do I find out if they do, I wonder?  And if they do… what do I do with them?

All these cosmetics are staying in the plastic tub.  They are coming out one product at a time and being used up before selecting the next one.  I guess that means I can be careful to read what's in them (if I can read the tiny print) but what do I do if I don't like what I find?  It seems I can make no difference now, having bought or acquired the stuff.  It just goes to show how important it is that businesses are ethical and considerate in their research and development, because once something is made - it is sometimes too late to undo the harm.