Plastic Free Friday!

Earlier this year Friends of the Earth launched Plastic Free Friday. Buoyed by public awareness of the dangers of excessive plastic consumption, Plastic Free Friday asks us to ditch the single use plastic for at least one day a week. Sounds simple, right?

Plastic pollution has been a key public concern in recent months/years, with the award-winning series Blue Planet commended for raising public awareness across the globe. The 5p consumer levy for plastic bags, started in England in 2015, was a turning point in consumer awareness; making most of us at least more conscious about our plastic footprint. The number of plastic bags handed out by supermarkets in England in 2014 stood at 7.64 billion – 200 million more than in 2013. Since the levy, the use of single-use bags has decreased by 90%. Now a report by the UN states that more than 50 nations have pledged to cut their plastic pollution. The report also outlines 35 potential plastic substitutes, presenting solutions to the problem of single use plastic.

As well as being a global concern, plastic pollution is something we are all responsible for. Friends of the Earth’s campaign is a great starting point for cutting down on single use plastic. Here are some tips and tricks to get you started:

1. Take your own shopping bags to avoid the single-use plastic ones.

2. Morning tea drinker? Check that your tea bags are plastic-free or switch to loose leaf. Several tea bags use polypropylene to seal the bags.

3. Pack your own lunch box to avoid buying a sandwich on the high street, and remember to take your re-usable mug for caffeine on the go. ECOlunchbox have a great range of plastic-free lunch box solutions.

4. Buying dinner? Buy fresh, loose veggies from the market or supermarket. See if there is a wholefoods store near you that sells loose food cupboard essentials to carry away in brown bags or your own reusable containers (rice, spices etc).

5. For post-work cocktails, tell the bartender to ditch the straw. Or at home (or even to take one with you) Poppy Bee make reusable stainless steel straws to replace their plastic cousins. Poppy Bee UK sent me their straws to try out (see said Friday night G&T above) and I am definitely a convert. They are the only LFGB certified reusable straws on the market (i.e. strictly tested for safe human use) and come with a cleaning brush, as well as being dishwasher safe. Buy them on Amazon.

Join the conversation at #PlasticFreeFriday

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Fair Trade Clothing – The Pros and Cons

A guest post by Michael Williams
Fair trade clothing is a growing niche within a larger offering of ethical clothing. As a concept, the primary focus is on equality and fairness for the people involved in production.

Although this article focuses on Fairtrade, there are other factors that buyers of ethical products need to consider, these include organic clothing, second hand clothing, recycled clothing, and clothing that protects factory workers, such as those accredited to the Fairwear Foundation standards. It is important not to automatically assume that because a clothing product is Fairtrade certified, it is also organic, sustainable, and ethical in ways outside the remit of the Fairtrade Foundation.

What is Fairtrade?
Fairtrade is a global movement that has been in existence for a number of decades, with the aim of improving the conditions for workers of raw materials in less developed nations. It also looks to provide better pay and more opportunities for these people. It does this by using a minimum price that the raw materials must be bought for, with a “social premium” added on top to help fund schools, and other projects that improve the lives of those in the local community.

Fairtrade is governed by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) and its network of “fair trade organisations” in different countries. In the UK, this job is given to the Fairtrade Foundation, who provides certification (the labels you see on Fairtrade certified products).

Fairtrade’s remit focuses mainly on the working conditions of producers of raw materials, like cotton, rather than environmental standards or working conditions in factories. Fairtrade also prevents the use of some pesticides, which has a secondary environmental benefit, but the primary motivation for this is to protect the workers’ health. It’s important to be aware that when you see a Fairtrade label on a cotton t-shirt, for example, it will only be the raw material fibre that is certified Fairtrade, not necessarily the whole garment (i.e. not the manufacturing process).

What isn’t Fairtrade?
Fairtrade isn’t a magic label that solves all of the world’s problems. It is a great tool to work towards that goal, but shouldn’t be considered in isolation. When considering ethical/sustainable clothing, you should also consider these factors:
• Is it Organic?
• Is it produced in factories that have good environmental records (eg. do they use renewable energy/minimise their pollution)?
• Are the factory workers protected?

When you buy a Fairtrade product, don’t assume these 3 things are protected too. The Fairtrade label only covers the workers that produce the raw material, although it would be nice to think that it’s probably more likely at least something is being done within the supply chain for these other elements.

What makes clothing “Fairtrade”?
Fairtrade clothing is made from materials that are Fairtrade certified, nearly always this means cotton. However, it doesn’t mean that it contains only 100% Fairtrade cotton, for example many clothing products are made blends such as 80% cotton, 20% polyester. Given that synthetic materials can’t be grown on a Fairtrade certified farm, this means that only the cotton will be Fairtrade.

The Pros
• The Fairtrade brand is one of the most well known ethical labels in the world, so you can be sure it’s genuine.
• Fairtrade clothing is usually of a higher quality (to match the higher price).
• This higher quality often feels and fits better.
• Fairtrade clothing can be useful for businesses to help them be more socially responsible.
• Some environmental benefits from less pesticide use.
• You get a warm fuzzy feeling when you buy it.*

The Cons
• Fairtrade clothing usually costs more (but you might be ok with that).
• Despite its growing demand, the supply is still lacking. You will have to look a bit harder to find Fairtrade clothing.
• Fairtrade isn’t a magic pill; you need to look at other ethical factors too.
• The minimum price for raw materials is often below market values, making it redundant (the farmers will get the market rate if it’s higher).
• You get a warm fuzzy feeling when you buy it.*

*The Warm Fuzzy Feeling
When you buy ethical products, including Fairtrade clothing you get a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling inside, knowing that your purchase has done some good in the world. Except consumer purchasing doesn’t necessarily make a big impact. Sushil Mohan discussed the limited impacts of a single consumer purchase in his book: Fair Trade Without the Froth.

Conclusion
Fairtrade is a great way to improve the imbalance within the global supply chains, by no means is it a magic pill, and it should be considered within the wider group of ethical accreditations. It costs a little more, but if you’re looking for ethical products then this difference probably doesn’t matter to you. Whilst it’s not perfect, it is definitely better than nothing.

About the author
Michael Williams is a writer and marketing professional with a keen interest in sustainability and the environment. This work often sees him writing bids for organisations, particularly assisting with their social value offerings.

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How your cashmere jumper may be causing desertification

goat-cashmere
It’s nearly Christmas so if you haven’t got your Christmas jumper out yet you’re sure to have spotted others wearing theirs. Whether you’re wearing, giving or receiving knitwear this winter though, it’s worth giving a thought to where that jumper came from. It’s all too easy to think that stuff just ‘appears’ in our favourite shops, but the supply chains behind these commodities can be long and complex. Cashmere is particularly pushed by retailers at Christmas as a luxury, yet increasingly affordable, product. But how many people know where cashmere comes from? I’d like to tell you the story of cashmere, and the journey might not be as plush as you imagine.

Cashmere fibre comes from a specific breed of goat. Traditionally it has been very difficult to get hold of cashmere, as three to six goats are needed to make just one medium sized sweater. Only twelve regions in the world have the right temperature and terrain to accommodate cashmere goats, the best spots being in Mongolia, China, India and Iran. To survive freezing temperatures, the goats develop a thick protective layer of hair, over a downy coat of super fine hair (the cashmere). Unsurprisingly, cashmere has long been an exclusive, luxury item. Until now that is, when you can pick up a cashmere sweater at the supermarket for £30-£40, but how?

Much of our cashmere used to be spun in Scotland, but by 2004 restrictions on cashmere imports had been lifted and spotting demand, China rushed in and flooded the market with cheap cashmere sweaters. There are now more than 2000 cashmere companies in China who source their cashmere from one of two means. PETA warn that many Asian cashmere goats live in atrocious conditions on factory farms. Others, whilst left to wonder free, are having disastrous effects on the environment due to their large numbers. There are simply too many living in the same place but farmers have found themselves in a vicious cycle. Stripping the land of pasture leaves nothing for the goats to eat and undernourished goats produce less fleece, forcing farmers to put more and more animals on dwindling land . It’s a problem found in other areas of livestock rearing and agriculture, but few solutions have been raised.

The Alashan Plateau, which extends from the Tibetan Plateau northward into Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, was home to 2.4 million Gobi goats in the 90s and now accommodates 26 million. As well as their grazing potential (eating 10% of their body weight a day), the goat’s hard hooves pummel away at the rest of the land. What should be grassland areas are turning to dust and desert at the rate of 400 square miles a year, disrupting the ecosystem and causing severe dust pollution. According to a study, 80% of this desertification can be attributed to overgrazing livestock. Already desertification is causing millions of rural Chinese to migrate from their villages because the land cannot sustain their livelihoods.

So what can consumers and retailers do? “Our industry’s challenge is to change this unsustainable system and put new, sustainable practices in place,” says Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at Kering. “Companies need to recognise that their business depends on natural capital and also impacts many livelihoods at the base of their supply chain.”

In the world of fashion, cheap often is far from cheerful. For ethical alternatives try the Oxfam Online Shop for second-hand cashmere (even cheaper than the supermarkets!) or check out Brora and Izzy Lane, both of which source sustainable cashmere.

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The Health Hazards Lurking in Sanitary Products

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I need to talk about tampons. Not the prettiest subject but that’s probably why we don’t talk about them very much. And why I haven’t thought about them very much.

Sanitary products have been around since the 1930s and women everywhere are forever grateful, but the materials they are made of have barely changed in that time. Conventional products are made of Rayon – the man-made fibre created from cellulose wood pulp (cue the slaying of many trees), non-organic cotton (bad for farmers, waterways and wildlife) and synthetic materials like polypropylene (non-biodegradable). That’s not to mention the widespread use of plastic tampon applicators that take 25 years to biodegrade, littering our seas in the meantime.

So I think it’s safe to say sanitary products are bad for the environment, but that’s not all. Conventional products are also treated with a whole host of nasties. These can include chlorine to increase absorbency and make the products white and chemical fragrance. Rayon and viscose fibres can shed in use, leaving behind dioxins that cling to the vaginal wall. Not something I want in my intimate parts. The World Health Organisation claims that dioxins are highly toxic, interfering with the immune system and hormonal balance. The crazy thing is there is no in-depth scientific research on the impact of using these sanitary products (or is it that surprising really?) but for those of us who like to avoid toxic chemicals wherever possible there are alternatives.

TOTM make organic tampons and sanitary towels, 100% free from pesticides, chemical fertilisers, perfume and bleach. They only use cardboard applicators and their products are 95% biodegradable. Healthier for the planet and the women using them, they offer a subscription service so you can have supplies sent straight to your door (or you can submit one-off orders). A box of 10 regular applicator tampons cost £2.80 – more expensive than cardboard applicator Tampax but about the same as their fanciest pearl compak.

I’m converted.

Go to www.totm.com

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The Growing Market for Green Roofs

If all roofs were green, cities could disappear from a bird’s eye view. Green or living roofs (by which I mean a roof laid to grass or wild flowers) are so more than just a talking point. They have a real purpose; greening city landscapes, providing biodiversity, improving air and water quality and reducing sound transfer. They could also be a way to limit the damage of future floodwaters because green roofs can retain 70-80% of summer rainfall in contrast to traditional drainage systems that are unable to cope with the increasing rain water levels. Green roofs store the rainwater in plants and substrate; releasing the water back into the atmosphere through evapotranspiration. I predict we’ll be seeing more green roofs in the future and not just on commercial buildings and garden sheds, but on residential housing too. I’m therefore happy to present Sky Garden – the UK’s leading independent green roof specialist. In the rest of this post they talk about the exciting project’s they’ve worked on (including the roof of a salad factory and Gloucester services) and the different systems they can offer.

All the vegetation in Sky Garden systems are locally grown and use recycled materials where possible. From the organic material and recycled brick in substrate, to the high density recycled polypropylene in our modular trays.

Green Roof Projects

Kanes Foods
Green roof kanes

One of our most exciting projects in recent times is the 6,000m² wildflower green roof on the construction of a new salad factory local to Sky Garden in rural Worcestershire. The building was designed to minimise the impact to the local environment and blend into the surrounding Cotswold Hills. The wildflower meadow on the curved roof contains specifically pre-grown wildflower blanket with species local to the Cotswolds.

British Horse Society
British Horse Society Courtesy of Kier Group copy

The iconic 2200m² sedum blanket system on the roof of the BHS offices just South of Birmingham was for employees to offer guidance on everything you need to know about riding, horse ownership and working in the industry. The ‘doughnut’ shaped building with an ancient oak tree taking centre stage offered many complexities however has since become one of the iconic sedum roofs in Britain.

Gloucester Services
Gloucester-Shoot-04 copy

The service station on the northbound side of the M5 between J11 and J12 was constructed to be different from typical service stations. The 4,000m² state of the art bio-diverse living roof is designed to disguise the new service station as part of rolling Robinswood Hills. The wildflower seed mix was chosen to match the abundant grasses and wildflowers in the area such as the Self Heal, Yellow Rattle and Birdsfoot Trefoil. The roof helps to support and preserve the pollinating insects as well as the heritage of our native British wild flora habitats.

Green Roof Systems

Sky Garden offers a variety of green roof systems to cater for every need. All the vegetation is grown by our experts at our local Gloucestershire nursery. We currently offer four standard green roof systems.

• Sedum Systems – The traditional green roof system can be either a sedum blanket or sedum plug plant green roof system. Sky Garden’s sedum blanket is a pre-grown mat of mature sedum plants compared to the sedum plug plant system being individual sedum plugs planted across the roof.

• Wildflower Systems – Sky Garden’s wildflower system includes a wildflower blanket that is sown with a seed mix of 38 species of wildflowers and grasses to create a vibrant array of colour on your roof.

• Bio-diverse Systems – Sky Garden’s bio-diverse system, also known as a ‘brown roof’ system, mimics the surrounding environment that has been lost due to development in order to reduce the ecological impact as much as possible. Often left to self-seed, the substrate is contoured to allow for a variety of native species to establish.

• Modular Systems – The modular system is made up of pre-formed cells that easily ‘click’ together to create a complete green roof quickly and without fuss. Each recyclable polypropylene tray has build in water retention and includes a filtration layer, growing substrate and sedum plants.

All green roof systems follow a similar template. A protection fleece layer adds an extra layer of defence to the waterproofing layer. Drainage and water retention layers designed specifically for living roofs. This includes a filter fleece layer to prevent blockages to the drainage of excess water. A substrate layer created from recycled brick with organic material allows for nutrient and moisture retentive growing medium. On top of this would be your vegetation layer, whether it’s a pre-grown blanket, seeded or plug planted.

For more info see www.sky-garden.co.uk

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