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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.

010219-beeswax-reusable-wrap

 

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nerisgarden

Photos: Lucy Sherriff/PRI
Neris Uriana, the Wayuu tribe’s first-ever female chieftain, stands in her garden. With her leadership and new water-saving techniques, the northern Colombia tribe is finally able to grow food year-round.

I’ve been reading articles by my friend Ann Tickner on Jane Addams, best known for founding Hull House in Chicago in the early 20th Century. Addams, an international peace activist who influenced the thinking of world leaders after WW I, was a more extraordinary woman than I realized in third grade, reading one of those little orange biographies in the school library. She was a model of all that women can be if they choose.

In South America, there’s another surprising example of female leadership that I just heard about. It’s in an indigenous tribe, where the women are making sure that the people achieve their potential while living in harmony with nature.

Global Post reporter Lucy Sherriff writes at Public Radio International (PRI), “For years, the Wayuu tribe in La Guajira, a remote area in northernmost Colombia, was run by a male chieftain. But 13 years ago, male elders decided to appoint a woman as its leader. After the success of being led by a female head, the community changed its governance traditions and now exclusively appoints women to lead.

“ ‘When I first started, I didn’t know anything,’ Neris Uriana, the tribe’s first-ever female chieftain, told PRI. ‘But over time, one learns how to lead, the required skills you need to be head of a community.’

“Neris Uriana was elected in 2005. She was already involved in providing support to the community’s mothers, and Jorge Uriana, along with other elders, believed she had the qualities needed to lead the tribe. It was a first for Wayuu communities in Albania, in La Guajira.

“ ‘We had had some problems with communicating with leaders of other tribes and in our own village,’ explained Jorge Uriana, who was the community leader until 2005 and is Neris Uriana’s husband.

“Jorge Uriana explained that traditionally, Wayuu men negotiate and resolve disputes but that some male leaders can come off as confrontational and even aggressive at times.

“ ‘Whereas women, when they speak, they address the human side. They tend to be more peace-loving and more humanitarian in their outlook.’ ”

Excuse me, I have to stop here and marvel: that is exactly why Jane Addams and her contemporaries in the peace movement are considered the founders of what is known today as feminist diplomacy.

Back to my story.

” ‘We wanted to turn the way things were on its head. We wanted women to use their way of dialogue to resolve our conflicts, and we wanted to transform our culture,’ [said Jorge Uriana].

“ ‘I realized I had a commitment and an obligation to my people,’ said Neris Uriana, who will lead for as long as she likes (or until someone else steps up). ‘I really trained myself in leadership, and now, I feel like I am able to really achieve great things.’

“Marta Pushiana is one of the many women who have become more involved in the tribe’s community since Neris Uriana’s appointment.

“ ‘Now, we have a female leader; more women are taking more responsibility in the tribe. Before, we always had to stay at home and look after the children and cook and clean,’ said Pushiana. ‘Now, the men share those responsibilities with us, so that women have the opportunity to work, to help build, to be involved in leadership. The whole dynamic in the tribe has changed for the better.’ …

“Although Wayuu tribes have traditionally treated women as equals to men and have a more matriarchal culture than other nonindigenous Colombians, few tribes are led by women, and even less — if any — have permanently pledged to only appoint women. …

“Since Neris Uriana took up her position, she has introduced a long-term agricultural initiative to help sustain her community, rather than continually living hand to mouth. Neris Uriana sought the help of outsiders to teach her and other women in the tribe about irrigation, crop cycles and land use, so they could have ample produce throughout the year. The women also use their ancestral knowledge of lunar cycles to plant food and strongly believe the can use their connection with the Earth to sustain themselves.”

Oh, my, I am in love with these people! Read more about them at PRI, here.

A woman from the Wayuu tribe who is part of the female chieftain’s food initiative waters the saplings. The initiative has been such a success that the tribe now produces surplus food and sells it to other communities.

watering_plants

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Photo: http://www.a-r-e-d.com
The Mobile Solar Kiosk, invented by Rwanda’s Henri Nyakarundi, is one of 10 renewable energy startups highlighted by Africa.com.

Great ideas for renewable energy are blooming in Africa, where it’s important that energy be both accessible and affordable. Africa.com recently rounded up ten of the most promising technologies.

“Africa has an immense energy crisis,” says the website. “In a continent with a population of close to 1 billion, over 625 million people are without power. According to the International Energy Agency, that makes up 68% of the population. This is ironic considering the fact that Africa has an abundance of natural resources available.

“For instance, the continent has a large coastline where wind power and wave power resources are abundant and underutilized in the North and South. Africa has much greater solar resources available than any other continent because it is the sunniest continent on earth.

“Energy is an essential factor for the reduction of poverty and economic growth. Major sectors like agriculture, education, communication, and technology all require abundant, consistent, and cost effective energy to spur the much needed development of the continent.

“Currently, many African nations already have small scale solar, wind, and geothermal plants that provide energy in rural areas. These modes of energy production are becoming very useful in remote locations, because they bridge the gap created by the excessive cost of transporting electricity from large-scale power plants. …

“Here we look at ten startups that are utilizing the vast amount of the continent’s renewable energy potential. …

“Mobile Solar Cell Phone kiosk is an alternative solar-powered mobile kiosk that charges phones and connects communities in Rwanda. It was founded by Henri Nyakarundi — a Rwandese who lived in the United States — after struggling with charging his phone whenever he went back to Rwanda or Burundi for holidays.

“He also noticed that even though many people had cell phones, they faced a challenge with charging their devices. It is estimated that over 70% of the population in Rwanda own a cell phone; however, at the same time, World Bank estimates that less than 25% of the Rwandan population has access to electricity.

“Prompted by this need, Henri sketched his first design on a piece of paper. He devised a solar-powered kiosk that can be towed by a bicycle and provides concurrent charging for up to 80 phones. The Mobile Solar Cell Phone Kiosk uses a franchise model that is low income and motivated by entrepreneurial objectives.”

Others on the website’s list include M-Kopa, which “sells solar home systems to low-income earners by allowing them to pay in installments over the course of a year using mobile money”; Shakti, “a South African startup that provides an alternative energy solution to thousands of households that do not have access to electricity”; electric vehicles; LED lights; and “batteries in a bottle.” More at Africa.com.

(I need to mention that the website seemed to slow down my computer, but no real damage was done.)

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Liz Maw is the CEO of Net Impact, which has 300 chapters worldwide guiding students and professionals who aim to align their worklife with their values and make positive change.

A high school classmate of mine posted an article about her daughter’s nonprofit on Facebook recently, and since I’m interested in this sort of thing, I looked it up.

Net Impact is an organization of 100,000 members in 300 global chapters that “take on social challenges, protect the environment and orient businesses and products toward the greater good.” It provides students and professionals with guidance to align their jobs with their values.

From the website: “Liz Maw joined Net Impact as CEO in 2004. During her tenure, Net Impact has tripled its chapter network to more than 300, formed partnerships with over 50 global corporations, and developed multiple new programs that engage students and professionals in sustainability. …

“In 2011, Liz was named one of the 100 most influential people in business ethics by Ethisphere. Liz is also a Board Member of the World Environment Center.

“Prior to leading Net Impact, Liz’s professional experience included strategic consulting to nonprofits with the Bridgespan Group, as well as fundraising and direct marketing for nonprofit organizations.”

I liked this explanation of what the nonprofit is all about. Sounds good to me. “Net Impact mobilizes new generations to use their skills and careers to drive transformational social and environmental change.

“Many people want to make a difference, but turning good intentions into tangible impact can be hard.

“Net Impact is an accelerator. Our programs — delivered from our headquarters, as well as globally through our student and professional chapters — give our members the skills, experiences and connections that will allow them to have the greatest impact. …

“Our emerging leaders take on social challenges, protect the environment, invent new products and orient business toward the greater good. In short, we help our members turn their passions into a lifetime of world-changing action. …

“We believe that the business sector is a critical part of driving social and environmental change, and thus engage with a variety of big and small companies on our events and programs.”

Net Imapct’s next Path to Purpose conference is October 26-28 in Atlanta. More on that here.

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Photo: Frasers Property
Fairwater, developed by Frasers Property, is the largest geothermal community in the southern hemisphere.

These days there’s a lot of talk about “sustainable” daily-living practices and “sustainable” business practices. But let’s be honest: some practices are more sustainable than others.

One monitoring organization that sets a high bar is the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA).

Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore wrote recently at the Guardian about projects the council has approved: “In 2016, a new master-planned estate in [Blacktown, near Sydney] became the first residential community in New South Wales to be awarded a top, six-star Green Star community rating by the Green Building Council of Australia.

“Not only that, Fairwater, developed by Frasers Property, is the largest geothermal community in the southern hemisphere. Houses are cooled or heated by a refrigerant that pumps air underground then back to the surface, using less power than air-conditioning or heating and saving residents of a three-bedroom house $500 to $600 a year.

“ ‘There’s this avenue of mature trees with this massive lake and lovely terrace houses – yoga by the lake, cycling paths, all these people walking,’ says the GBCA chief executive, Romilly Madew. …

“Green-star buildings produce, on average, 62% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and use 51% less potable water and 66% less electricity than average buildings in Australia, according to GBCA’s 2013 report The Value of the Green Star.

“Since launching in 2003, hundreds of buildings around the country have been certified for the rating system and 120,000 people are now moving into Green Star communities. …

“The key is looking at the project holistically, says Madew. ‘It’s about going back to that old adage of community: people, walkability, liveability, places for the kids to play. [We want to] change the way people think about how they live.’

“Developers, ultimately, ‘are there to sell house and land packages – so they’re not going to be successful unless they’re building something people want to buy. Take “sustainability” out and ask what [buyers] want. They want something close to amenities – schools, public transport, shops and parks. And a home that is cheap to run.’ ” Read about other sustainable projects in Australia here.

Hat tip to ArtsJournal.com, a great source of stories.

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Wouldn’t it be strange if China, the smog capital of the world, started assuming leadership on environmental causes like global warming, clean air, and … sustainable fish farming.

The PRI radio show Living on Earth recently explained how China was tackling the latter challenge.

“Consumer demand in both the U.S. and China for safe and healthy farmed fish is shaping aquaculture practices in the world’s most populous country. And fish farmers are using traditional Chinese medicine as well as high-tech monitoring systems as they strive to keep their fish healthy and their farming practices transparent. Jocelyn Ford reports from the Hainan Province. …

“HAN HAN: With such a huge population in China, if we didn’t have aquaculture, if we totally relied on the wild fishery. I guess we would already running out of all these wild fish, maybe 10 or 20 years ago.

“FORD: That’s Han Han, the founder of the China Blue Sustainability Institute, China’s first non-governmental, environmental organization focused on sustainable fishing and aquaculture. Today, aquaculture accounts for one of every two fish that land on the dinner table worldwide, and it’s growing faster than other sources of animal protein. China is the global aquaculture leader, and because of its expertise here, it wants to help other countries. …

“Aquaculture is expanding globally at about five percent a year, and that’s a plus for some of the Earth’s most pressing environmental issues. For example, compared to a pound of beef, a pound of fish has only about one-seventh of the carbon footprint. But large-scale aquaculture has created new problems. Naturally, farmed fish need to eat. And gone are the days when Chinese fish farms were all organic. Qi Genliu is a professor at Shanghai Ocean University.

“QI: Traditionally we used grass to culture grass carp.

“FORD: That changed with the growth of the fish feed industry and the need to feed carnivorous marine fish [and keep them disease free with antibiotics]. …

“The founder and president of The Fishin’ Company, Manish Kumar, started coming to Hainan to build a coalition for a safer, more environmentally sound and sustainable tilapia industry [using traditional herbal medicine instead of antibiotics]. His company is sponsoring trainings, and offering financial incentives to a few model farms that invest in improvements. The idea is, others will follow suit if they see it makes financial sense. …

“FORD: His ideas include increasing omega-3 levels in the tilapia, the fish oil that may help lower risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis. To help reassure customers who are nervous about what their fish are eating, next year he’s planning a state of the art oversight system that involves cameras, QR codes, and consumer monitoring.

“KUMAR: We will now proceed to do something no one in the industry has done before. Put a camera system into the farm area. A customer buys a bag of fish. You have a QR code on the bag. Run your smartphone through our QR code on the bag, and you will have a chance to see the actual farm that raised this fish in your bag. And how it’s being raised.

“FORD: Customers can see the type of feed, and the plant where the feed was made, and the insomniacs can watch the fish grow 24/7. Manish Kumar says the extra cost will be negligible. As the largest supplier of tilapia, he expects to be able to take advantage of economies of scale.”

More at Living on Earth, here, where you can learn more about the use of Chinese herbal medicine to ensure the fish stay healthy.

Photo: Jocelyn Ford
Harvesting tilapia for export on an internationally certified farm in China.

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Could food delivery by bicycle be the wave of the future? Wayne Roberts, Canadian bicycle delivery maven from grade 7 to grade 12, thinks so.  Here’s what he wrote recently at the Torontoist.

“Bicycles never used to be thought of as central to the food system, but the Internet has allowed this particular wheel to be reinvented as a prime tool for localizing food systems while reducing traffic jams, cutting global warming emissions, and providing jobs.

“This innovation comes to light on account of Uber’s recent decision to reduce the fee it provides to UberEats bicycle couriers,” which has caused  controversy.

“But there’s another issue that got revealed here, which is the transportation system best suited to strong neighbourhoods and a vibrant and resilient food system. …

“The trip that’s a real killer from a space, energy, and hassle point of view — even worse than the short trip from the local warehouse to the local retailer — is the brief car trip from the customer’s residence to the retailer and then back home again. …

“If you want to calculate the embodied energy involved in moving food, the energy to move a two-ton car four miles to bring back 10 pounds of groceries is by far the most polluting trip any grocery item from anywhere has ever been on. …

“Putting food stores and restaurants back on main streets that are walking distance from densely populated neighbourhoods could be good for many reasons: good for fitness, getting to know neighbours, and building neighbourhood cohesion, which in turn is good for child safety and local response to emergencies. …

“To be resilient, cities need to localize as many services as possible to make them independent of outside control when it comes to the basics of life. Getting access to food is one of the basics, and the means of doing that should be as localized as the food and companies that get it customer-ready.

“The last mile needs to be in the hands of the people who live there.”

More at Torontoist, here.

Photo: Kat Northern Lights Man from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

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