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Photo: Didem Tali
Seng Super is a co-founder of La Chhouk, a Cambodian creative fashion initiative that makes clothing out of recyclables. The group, which includes gay and straight designers, hopes to both encourage people to reduce trash and also “show people that LGBT individuals are capable of creating beautiful things.”

Never underestimate the power of a creative mind to make something lovely out of something ugly. I remember surprising myself with how much I loved certain luminous oil paintings of factories spewing out air pollution. The sad Depression-era photos of Appalachian poverty also have a certain beauty. These works draw you to them without any undertone of “poverty is good” or “pollution is good.”

In Cambodia, young designers aren’t repurposing plastic to praise it but, you might say, to bury it.

Didem Tali writes at the South China Morning Post, “Members of the recycling collective La Chhouk started with a dress made from brown rice sacks decorated with beer bottle tops and broken CDs which was later worn by a Miss Cambodia runner-up at an international beauty pageant.

“Most visitors to Cambodia are eager to see the ancient temple complex of Angkor or the beaches of Sihanoukville, but there is one sight they may want to shield their eyes from: mountains of plastic bags, bottles and styrofoam boxes. …

” ‘Plastic waste is everywhere,’ says Seng Super, a 22-year-old Cambodian designer. ‘It’s in the streets, rivers, lakes. It’s very upsetting.’

“Seng Super studied at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. He was born in the 1990s, a time when millions of Cambodians were beginning to lift themselves out of extreme poverty, bringing environmental degradation in its wake.

“For many young and urban Cambodians, pollution is a huge concern. So when it was time to prepare for the university’s annual art show in 2014, Seng Super and his classmates decided to create a project that would challenge people to rethink their wasteful ways. The result, La Chhouk, is a creative fashion initiative geared towards making clothing out of trash and other recyclable materials. …

“Seng Super and his classmates wanted not only to challenge the way Cambodians think of waste, but also capture their attention in the most remarkable and elegant way. Using only recyclable materials they found in the trash, they created several flamboyant dresses of the sort usually worn by traditional apsara dancers. …

“Many people thought the goal was too far-fetched and ambitious – especially as none of them had any training in fashion. That is why the designers named their collective La Chhouk, which means ‘lotus’ in Cambodia’s Khmer language.

“ ‘The lotus is a beautiful flower that can grow in muddy or dirty waters,’ Seng Super says. ‘We thought it was a beautiful metaphor for what we wanted to do with trash and our dresses.’ …

“Last year the members of La Chhouk were given a vote of confidence for what many regarded as a wacky project when Em Kunthong, first runner-up in the Miss Cambodia 2016-17 beauty pageant, opted to wear the dress for the Miss Earth environmental awareness beauty competition held in the Philippines.

“ ‘This dress represents the perfect Cambodian woman,’ Seng Super says … ‘She’s empowered, close to the Earth and strong like a bull. She has the soul of a wild cow, which is a very important element of Cambodian identity and culture.’ …

“Since the creation of that first apsara dress, La Chhouk has gone on to design dozens of other dresses inspired by Cambodian culture and mythology. In a recent project called Saving Wild, they sought to bring attention to animals facing extinction in Cambodia, such as the Indochinese tiger, river dolphins and various bird species. Seng Super designed dresses representing these animals using plastic waste.

“The project is ongoing, and the collective recently held an exhibition in collaboration with the WWF and Tiger Beer.

“The collective’s members still hold down day jobs to pay the bills, and work on their recycled fashion projects in the evenings and on weekends.” More here.

Hat Tip: @BeingFarhad onTwitter

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Photo: South West News Service
Pat Smith, married mother of two, grandmother, and owner of a B&B in Cornwall, cleaned plastic from 52 English beaches in 2018 and is still going strong.

Doesn’t 2019 feel like the year that environmentalism will pick up more proponents than ever? Thanks to activists and journalists, people are really up in arms about the plastic that’s defacing our beautiful beaches and about what fossil fuels and giant agribusinesses are doing to the climate. Humanity seems to take steps forward and then take steps back, but I feel like this is a forward year.

Consider these three anti-plastic, anti-litter stories.

Maddy Foley writes at Inverse about the origins of plogging, which is a “mash-up of ‘jogging’ and plocka uppa, the Swedish word for ‘picking up.’ …

“Plogging first emerged in 2016,” she says, “started — or at least branded — by Erik Ahlström, following his move from a resort town to Stockholm. Ahlström was reportedly struck by the amount of trash he passed by during regular runs — so he began picking it up along the way, often sporting medical gloves. Soon Ahlström was organizing community runs throughout the city, marrying environmental advocacy with sensible amounts of exercise.

“The practice supposedly grew from the long-standing Swedish philosophy of lagom, the Goldielocks of lifestyle tenets. Meaning ‘not too much, not too little.’ Lagom values moderation; it heralds the pleasure of existence, without being seduced by the lure of consumption.

“In plogging, those tenets translate to picking up some trash (not every single piece), while jogging (not sprinting). It’s about being out in the world, while accepting that it’s become a world beset by trash.” More at Inverse.

There’s also a nice story at Public Radio International’s The World about Ripu Dama, a long-distance runner in India who caught the plogging bug and who recently spread the word on a run through Europe.

Marco Werman reports on Dama’s efforts in India, “Dama, who is being called ‘India’s first plogger,’ is spreading a message of physical activity and environmental protection in Mumbai while participating and organizing clean ups — documenting everything on social media @ploggersofindia.

“ ‘I’m a runner. I run marathons and ultras. When you’re a runner and you run in the mornings, the thing that you observe most is trash and plastic. So [members of my running group and I] were already cleaning up individually. In 2017, we came across the term “plogging” and we thought “this is exactly what we do.” It was kind of becoming a global trend.’ …

“Dama hopes to make an impact on the younger generations. … ‘Schoolchildren take it up like fish to water. And that’s been the biggest high out of all of this. When we are doing this activity in our local parks or somewhere and kids see us doing it … they just come and join us and the habits that get inculcated at this young age will last a lifetime.’ ” Listen to the PRI interview here.

But wait! You don’t need to be a runner or a kid.

As Ed Riley writes at the Daily Mail, an English grandmother walked 52 beaches in 2018 cleaning up plastic, and she has no intention of slowing down.

Pat Smith, “founder of the environmental campaign group Final Straw Cornwall, said: ‘Doing 52 beach cleans in 2018 was my New Year’s Resolution and it’s finally done. I won’t stop as our beaches need me.

” ‘A lot of the rubbish I have picked up consists of everyday items. These things are used by all of us and it is shocking to find them polluting our beautiful beaches. …

” ‘I’m driven to try and protect our living planet for my children and grandchildren, and I will continue to do everything in my power to achieve that. …

” ‘I grew up in the generation where plastic use was at its worse. … [But] even though it was everywhere, we had no plastic at home — we would walk to the shops or get the bus to get groceries.’

“Mrs Smith said that she was often joined by other volunteers who were determined to keep our beaches clean. But she said not everyone understood, and on some occasions, she would be mistaken for doing community service.

“She said: ‘People don’t understand I’ve been doing this voluntarily. We should all take responsibility for picking up the litter, as well as ensuring we don’t drop litter in the first place.’ ” More at the Daily Mail, here.

If you are ever in Cornwall, you might consider staying at Mrs. Smith’s B&B. She sounds like a good person to know.

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Photo: Sophia Evans for the Observer
The Maidment family in England are focused on making their daily lives as free of plastic as possible and spreading the word at Plastic-Free Hackney.

It seems like only yesterday that a guy in the 1967 movie The Graduate told Dustin Hoffman’s character that his future lay in plastics.

McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Ah, yes. Plastics had a future, all right. In the blink of an eye, they have become a nightmare for the planet, refusing to disintegrate in landfills, clogging oceans, cluttering city streets.

There are many things made of plastic that we may always need. I’m thinking of certain medical uses. But what about all the things we use that really don’t need to be made of plastic. Can we make a dent in those? Here’s a family in England that’s trying.

Nosheen Iqbal reports at the Guardian, “Bettina Maidment … is the founder of Plastic Free Hackney, a campaign to rid the east London borough of single-use plastic and has been serious about committing her family to plastic-free, zero-waste living for two years now. First to go was milk cartons. ‘That was an easy switch, we got a milkman.’

“Then came bamboo toothbrushes, swapping out supermarket shopping for the local greengrocer, and making deodorant, cleanser, moisturiser and handsoap at home. She opens her fridge to reveal shelves of glass jars and reusable containers; her larder is stocked with lentils, pasta, porridge and the like, bought in bulk and stored in glass or canvas bags. …

“She is not alone. As public anger grows over the environmental impact of single-use plastic, trying to live plastic-free and more sustainably has become a mainstream concept.

“ ‘There was a huge uptick in the conversation after Blue Planet about how to reduce plastic use and it remains, by quite a margin, the single biggest topic area people call us for,’ says Julian Kirby, lead campaigner on plastics at Friends of the Earth. ‘In my experience, the amount of public concern for this environmental issue is unprecedented,’ he says. ‘It’s been phenomenal.’ …

“ ‘My interest was piqued online and I saw how other people were doing it and slowly started reducing my waste.’ She opened an Instagram account [@plasticfreehackney] to document the process of going plastic-free. …

“For Kiran Harrison, 43, who works as a massage therapist and storyteller in Worthing, West Sussex.the impetus to go plastic-free came around the time her son, now nine months, was born. She visited her local cloth nappy [diaper] library, where parents can loan reusable nappies, and gradually began swapping out the plastics in her home. …

“Support from a fast-growing zero-waste community in Sussex has also helped; a plastic-free, zero-waste food store has recently arrived in Worthing.

“ ‘Some people are cynical about how you can sustain a lifestyle like this,’ she admits, ‘or cynical about making a small contribution when big companies produce so much waste, but I’m not down with the “what’s the point of doing anything, we’re all doomed” brigade – it’s far too apathetic for my liking.’

Harrison’s top tip is to ‘do things gradually so they become a habit. Trying to do everything at once is overwhelming.’

“Friends of the Earth, which established a UK network in 1970, launched its #plasticfreefriday campaign [last] February. … According to a UN report published in June, the proportion of plastic waste that has never been recycled stands at 90.5% – a figure so alarming that it was declared the winning international statistic of 2018 by the Royal Statistical Society.

“Waleed Akhtar, an actor from London, … uses beeswax wraps rather than clingfilm for his sandwiches and carries a reusable water bottle, bamboo cutlery, Tupperware and a reusable bag everywhere he goes. … ‘I used to drink bottled water every day, but I did a play called Fracked!, and a monologue in it about the impact of water bottles on the environment kicked it all off for me.’ …

“THE STEPS YOU CAN TAKE …
“Use a reusable water bottle …
“Carry a reusable cup …
“Switch to solid soaps …
“Say no to disposable cutlery …
“Brush with bamboo.”

Some of these are super easy to do — like handing back plastic forks and spoons the takeout restaurant puts in your bag. More at the Guardian, here.

For past posts on this challenge, search SuzannesMomsBlog on the word plastic. A sample of articles: a bike path made of recycled plastic in the Netherlands, a plastic-eating microbe, a trash wheel that rounds up plastic on waterways.

This beeswax cling wrap is washable and reusable but quite expensive. I’ll let you know what I think after I’ve tried it.

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Our New Year’s Eves are quiet these days. We watched an Agatha Christie on television and went to sleep. But I’ve been saving a suitable tile from the New York subway system since my October trip to visit my sister, so here it is and Happy New Year!

2018 was not a good year for my sister, who was diagnosed with a bad brain cancer in July. But it was also a year we learned to be grateful for things like a clean surgery and cancer treatments without bad side effects. My perspective changed.

My perspective on the nation and on the future of the planet and my own role in it has also been evolving. I began to suspect that, other than our Bill of Rights, our country may not be as special as we thought. After all, all countries think they are special. And even the Bill of Rights can’t survive unless we commit to protecting it and interpreting it justly. Surely none of those rights were intended to lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent Americans every year. Perhaps 2018 was a turning point.

I’ve also been giving more thought to my role in global warming. Do I make too many unnecessary car trips when I could walk or take public transportation? Do I serve the family too much meat, especially beef? Should I find a way to plant more trees? I know I need to stop sneaking around the local laws against plastic bags and find a sustainable alternative.

I will be writing more about initiatives to protect the planet and will be looking for ideas to apply in my own life from you and from websites like 1MillionWomen. By the way, I learned about 1MillionWomen from a wonderful book called Climate Justice, by Mary Robinson. I hope you will put it on your list. It shows how the poorest communities are the first to feel the crunch of global warming and how, if we pay attention to those communities, we will also be taking arm against the sea of troubles that threatens us all.

Even better, the book shows how extraordinarily effective ordinary people can be when they have simply had enough.

 

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Photo: CBSLocal
New York City hopes that donating reusable water bottles to high school students will make some advocates for reducing waste. The campaign is part of the city’s ultimate goal of sending zero waste to landfills by the year 2030.

After reading an inspiring book called Climate Justice, I signed up at the website 1 Million Women to get ideas for reducing my carbon footprint. One thing the site suggests is to boycott fruits and vegetables that have unnecessary packaging. You know, like those Japanese pears in plastic foam holders. Such gestures are small, but they add up if a lot of people pursue them.

In New York, meanwhile, schools are trying to wean students from plastic water bottles by giving them nice reusable ones.

CBSLocal reports, “After a recent push to ban plastic bags, straws, and bottles in New York, some local leaders are working to get the city’s high school students involved. …

” ‘When you think about it, you’re not gonna be wasting all that plastic,’ [student] Daisy Palaguachi said.

“More than 320,000 bottles made by S’well were donated to all New York City high schools throughout all five boroughs [in September].

” ‘The goal is really to extend our mission to rid the world of plastic bottles and we couldn’t help but think the best way to do that is to tap into the city’s future leaders,’ S’well Vice President Kendra Peavy said.

“The company partnered with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office of Sustainability for the new ‘Bring It’ campaign. They’re asking students to ditch the plastic and spread the word to their families and friends.

“ ‘To empower them with actual tools that they can bring and take to make better and more informed decisions,’ Mark Chambers, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, said.

“The city says its goal in doing this is to try and get rid of 54 million single-use plastic bottles.

“ ‘About 167 water bottles are used by the average American every year, and so it’s important to say by using a reusable water bottle we could displace that many from going into the waste stream every year,’ Chambers said. …

“ ‘Knowing that you’re making a small change can turn into something bigger in the future,’ student Alexandra Capistran said. ‘You don’t have to spend all your money buying water bottles every day.’

“Sunset Park High School now also has a newly installed water bottle filler for that very purpose. … The bottles donated [would have cost] $19 to $35, and the campaign is part of the city’s ultimate goal of sending zero waste to landfills by the year 2030.”

More at CBS, here.

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2048

Photo: Gemeente Zwolle
The plastic bicycle path in Zwolle, the Netherlands, is a test for building roads from plastic waste in the future.

I don’t know if it’s because, historically, they’ve had to protect their land from the encroaching sea, but the Dutch seem to be repeat innovators. This blog has covered a lot of new ideas from the Netherlands. (3-D printed houses, anyone? Wind power for trains?) Today’s post is on a possible use for discarded plastic bottles.

Daniel Boffey writes at the Guardian, “The world’s first plastic bicycle path made of recycled bottles, cups and packaging has opened in the Netherlands, as part of a pilot that could see similar roads open up across the country.

“The 30-metre path, made of recycled plastic equivalent to more than 218,000 plastic cups, is expected to be three times as durable as an asphalt alternative. It also contains sensors to monitor the road’s performance, including its temperature, the number of bikes that pass over it and its ability to cope with the traffic.

“The prefabricated sections of cycle path are light and hollow making them easy to transport and 70% quicker to install. Cables and utility pipes are able to be easily fitted inside, and the path is designed to drain off rainwater. … It is believed that many of the benefits of the paths will apply to plastic roads.

“The path’s inventors, Anne Koudstaal and Simon Jorritsma, said: ‘This first pilot is a big step towards a sustainable and future-proof road made of recycled plastic waste. When we invented the concept, we didn’t know how to build a plastic road, now we know.’

“Asphalt concrete is responsible for 1.5m tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, equivalent to 2% of global road transport emissions. …

“Earlier this year the EU [European Union] launched an urgent plan to clean up Europe’s act on plastic waste and ensure that every piece of packaging on the continent is reusable or recyclable by 2030. … Each year, 25m tonnes of plastic waste is generated by Europeans, but less than 30% is collected for recycling.”

The idea has real possibilities, but the concerns of groups hoping to end the use of plastics altogether need to be addressed. “Plastic Soup has warned that small particles of the plastic could find their way into the living environment due to heat, wear and run-off.” More at the Guardian, here.

I’m just glad people are trying to find solutions to some of the damage that human activity has done to the planet. The issues are in the news right now as both great powers and small, climate-impacted countries are meeting in Katowice, Poland, to improve on the Paris Agreement.

By the way, if you are on twitter, do follow Sweden’s 15-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg), who is speaking truth to power in Poland: “I will not beg the world leaders to care for our future. I will instead let them know change is coming whether they like it or not.” I just read that Venice is likely to succumb of sea-level rise. Greta’s urgency is warranted. Young people give me hope.

And read a wonderful, inspiring book by former president of Ireland Mary Robinson called Climate Justice, which connects human rights and poverty to the effects of global warming and offers hope in the shape of brave, ordinary people.

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Modern reusable nappies are available in cotton, bamboo, and hemp and have more designs than the diapers of old.

When John and Suzanne were babies, disposable diapers weren’t very reliable, and I rarely used them. I chose a diaper service that delivered clean ones every week and picked up dirty ones. I not only thought cloth diapers worked better, but I thought I was doing something good for the environment. It was only later that I realized that all the hot water and bleach the diaper service used wasn’t good for the environment either. My four grandchildren all used the Pampers/ Huggies type of diaper.

In England, where they called diapers “nappies,” Tess Reidy explains at the Guardian that reusables are coming back. But the change involves doing your own washing.

“If the idea of cloth nappies conjures images of towelling squares loosely held by a large safety pin, think again. Modern versions have come a long way and are now available in bright colours and a variety of materials, including cotton, bamboo, microfibre and hemp.

“Growing consumer concern over plastic waste, and a more pragmatic desire to save money, means boom times for the reusable nappy industry.

“ ‘There is increased awareness of the impact of disposable nappies – they are a single-use plastic. It started with coffee cups, then disposable wipes, and the jump from wipes to nappies is clear,’ said Wendy Richards, director of UK online provider The Nappy Lady. She says the number of people using the service has grown by 80% in the past year. The business has doubled its staff since the start of  2018.

“About 25% of a disposable nappy is plastic and three billion nappies a year end up in landfill. Some councils in Britain now give new parents vouchers worth up to £55 [$72] to help pay for a set of reusable nappies. …

“Data from Nottinghamshire county council’s nappy project finds that using real nappies and washing them at home saves £200 a year compared with buying disposables. ‘This could help UK parents save as much as £360m a year, while helping us move towards a zero-waste society,’ said Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green party. …

“Social media platforms have also helped spread the word. Kasia Reszel has a two-month-old son, Julian. …’ We do one wash a day and it’s pretty easy. You rinse before putting on a longer cycle and wash at 60C [140F].’ …

“Upfront costs can, however, be a deterrent. With full nappy starter kits ranging from £100 to £350, some low-income parents are wary. …

“According to Charlotte Faircloth, sociology lecturer at University College London, it is often socially aware middle-class parents who have the luxury of worrying about natural styles of parenting. ‘Other people are more concerned about meeting bills,’ she said.” More at the Guardian, here.

I got curious to know whether safety pins were still used. Not necessarily! Look at the array of new fasteners here.

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