8.17.2014

new layout

We'll be testing new layouts in the coming days, sorry if things look not-put-together for a while. Don't hesitate to send feedback about this if you feel so enclined.
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8.14.2014

the gift of trash

photo by Ryan Hyde
This type of situation has been happening to me a few times now and shows how FAR FAR AWAY from societal awareness we are when it comes to wasteful habits:

I was eating at a burrito chain, sitting inside the restaurant after having carefully chosen the meal that came in a paper plate only, using my own metal cutlery and fabric napkin. Realizing I had forgotten to take tortilla, I returned to the counter and asked for a single tortilla. The behind-the-counter lady threw one on the grill for re-heat, and then proceeded to grab a piece of aluminum foil to wrap it.
Swiftly I interfered and told her that I didn't need the aluminum, since I was sitting a few feet away and would eat it right away anyhow. She stopped mid-way with a question-mark look, when a behind-the-counter guy who had overheard me came forward, grabbed the tortilla and asked: 'you don't want aluminum?' I repeated 'No, I don't need it, I am going to eat it right away'. Looking at me straight in the eye, he took the tortilla, pulled out the aluminum foil, and proceeded to wrap it very intently, saying 'no, no I will wrap it for you'. He then triomphantly handed me the tortilla doubly wrapped in aluminum and paper, with a big smile on his face. During this gesture in slow motion I was caught between incredulity - at how somebody could disregard so blatantly a request I had expressed 2 or 3 times clearly - and how absurd it was, that they were thinking they were doing me a big generous favor by handing me a totally unecessary piece of one of the most polluting metals on earth.

(enter this graph, created from the embodied energy ranking from greenspec:


See that lonely point floating up high, waaay above all other materials? - yep, that's aluminum. and yes, this is including recycled aluminum)

I also remember the flight attendant who pushed new plastic glasses on me as I was saying I could perfectly well continue using the one I already had, 'oh but darling we have plenty here, let me give you a new one.' Oh thank you madam for your great generosity. I love plastic so much, you're making my day.

The sad thing is, these people were really trying to be nice. They were really expressing care in over-wrapping or providing something for me. And the awful fact is, our current material situation forces them to apply this ancient, timeless show of human kindness to very unhealthy objects.

Seriously. I'd rather eat cold tortilla.

8.13.2014

paper tape


In my country, Scotch® has sadly become a generic name for adhesive tape.
Meaning, when I learned to talk and designate objects with words, the only word I had for adhesive tape was 'scotch': 'I wish to make a gift wrap for this, where is the scotch?'

Also the only kind of 'scotch' that I was ever aware of being used by normal people was either clear, translucent, or brown for heavy-duty, and seemed made of plastic, smelled a particular smell, and you needed a blade to cut it, mostly under the form of a 'scotch holder', itself made of plastic (my parents owned a heavy one - the master scotch holder - which was filled with sand and sounded like the sea when you tilted it. But I digress.)

Then at the ripe old age of twenty-nine I happened to walk into a U-Haul store to get moving boxes.
And discovered paper tape.

It sounds like a small thing. But you wouldn't believe the epiphany that this was.
Paper tape is strong.
Paper tape can be cut with only your fingers.
Paper tape does not make a horrible screech when pulled out of the roll.
Paper tape is friendly to the touch.
Paper tape seems made of simpler, less polluting materials than clear tape

[from what I gather, clear tape can be made of plastic film or cellophane - the latter being 100% biodegradable but involving a polluting production process. I want to read this article about the chemistry of adhesive tape. Not sure how the adhesive itself fares environmentally, need more research]

Also I was angry at having to accept that a company had managed to monopolize the very definition of what an object was/should be - up to its name, and successfully pushed its materiality onto my life without my being aware of it.

How many more ingrained habits do I have, that were created by a company to sell goods?

Oh, and the ever important question: do I even really need to use tape, any kind of tape, in my life, or could I just do away with it?

8.11.2014

the age of low tech




Just ordered this book and very impatient to read it.
Philippe Bihouix (an engineer specializing in metals) describes so clearly the core problem with our consumption right now. Here is a summary:

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Sorting our trash in the right bins does not redeem our current consumption level.  
Why? Because the idea that we'll reach a circular economy of total recycling is nothing but a myth.
- First because of dispersive use: we don't know how to salvage metals that are used in their chemical form (in colorings, inks, plastic additives). 
- Second because of downgraded use: thousands of metallic alloys get blended together during recycling, therefore can only be reused in lower quality steels. 

The highest you go on the hi-tech scale, the more you are consuming rare ressources. All these metals are used in a partially dispersive way. On most metals we are between 0 and 5% of recycling capability - not true for 'great' metals such as copper, aluminum, but on the other precious ressources we are moving towards absolute dispersion, with the ultimate phase being nano-technologies. Hi-tech goods (smartphones, computers) as well as the technologies used in renewable energy production (windmills, solar panels, hydogen powered-car) are of great concern. 

This doesn't mean we should stop recycling and go back to fossil fuels.
But we need to aknowledge that the technical solutions currently offered to us are simply beyond realistic implementation, and that we'll only get out of this through the bottom, i.e. by embracing low-tech.

Which would look something like this: reviewing and editing our needs, so that we choose the reduction of our material consumption, rather than wait until it happens against our will. Then, filling these needs with objects which prevent recycling waste: objects more simple, more monomaterial, easily disassemblable and reassemblable, more modular, more reparable, with all that this implies at a societal level.

The thesis of the book is that we are capable of reaching a level of comfort and civilization which is technically sustainable. Not going back to the stone age necessarily, but maybe to the medieval age - with the dentist.

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So great to find somebody who can articulate and document a situation that you've personally been trying and struggling to express for a while. 
Hopefully this will be translated in english soon.

8.08.2014

powder


I don't know why it took so long for me to realize such an obvious thing: whenever possible, buy the powdered or dry form of items for which it really doesn't make much difference.
Purchasing the water content of diluted ingredients just doesn't make sense.

The density of water is about 60 lb / cubic foot (about 1000 kg / cubic meter).
1 gallon weighs about 8 lb (3.8 kg) and takes up 231 cubic inches (3,800 cubic centimeters)
Think of all the energy spent in transporting mostly water (80% of liquid laundry detergent, according to this article).

  
Laundry

Some will argue that powder leaves unmelted residue on clothes.
That is very true and there is a very simple fix: dissolve the laundry powder yourself before adding to the wash. I use an empty yogurt container and a used plastic knife (I usually dislike those intensely but they are perfect for this use). A few stirs and voila! you're done and it was fun.

Bonus: if it's not liquid, it doesn't need to come in a plastic bottle. Your waste can be reduced to just a cardboard box. One less landfill issue to worry about.


Food 
Recently glossed over a rather scathing article about almond milk and other plant-based milks (which are my bread and butter, pun intended). They are right about the purchasing of mostly water. You know what? One can also buy powdered almond, coconut, etc. milks. The box seems expensive because it's so much at a time once dissolved, but I bet it's worth the investment.


Paint



I love Milk Paint which comes in small packages of powdered color (pigments mixed with milk protein and lime) to which you just need to add water. Seems like a safe and environmentally friendly option.

So yeah. Dry goods.

1.07.2014

unbuilding vs. building




Discovering this simple list, assembled by philosopher Michel Onfray, was a moving moment:
it was the first time somebody was putting words on an obscure fight (call it opposition, although I don't like the black-and-whiteness of the term) which I had been struggling with since architecture school, but couldn't really put my finger on, since nobody was clearly addressing it.

We're surrounded by SO MUCH of UNBUILDING.
And the voices of BUILDING are still so few and small. Hope we'll be able to join.


9.15.2013

objects we can stop mass-producing right now #1: pencil holders

cleaned-up jam pots on my desk

A pencil holder needs to do one thing: hold pencils.

Which means, pretty much anything, ANYTHING will do the job quite right as long as it's able to more or less contain things: re-used metal cans, glass jars, cardboard tubes, etc.
Plus: a lot of these look good too. AND, you can throw them away with the regular trash if you move out!

So basically, any company manufacturing 'professional' pencil holders could stop right away, the world wouldn't miss them, and an entire branch of useless mass-produced objects would disappear (and the associated waste stream at the same time).


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6.16.2012

espadrilles

Espadrilles worn in the Andes
photo by chaquetadepollo

If you wear shoes this post may interest you.
(if I don't get a billion views this time...)

Espadrilles are an old type of summer shoe which you can see a lot in the South of France (apparently they originated in the area around the Spanish border).

- Sole = jute rope
- Upper = cotton canvas

Doesn't this equate to 'great human-made object fullfilling a basic need with benign environmental impact and full biodegradability'? (if you really push I'll agree that the impossibly virtuous version would be locally grown organic jute soles + locally grown organic linen canvas, but here I'm making myself sick).

There seem to be some traditional makers left [see the awesome manufacturing process here].
I am yet to see a pair without the addition of vulcanized rubber on the sole though.

Fun fact: as if to explain their decline in the 20th century, French Wikipedia writes the bizarre statement: '[The espadrille] has now become unfit as a walking shoe'.
I suspect this sentence was inserted by a malicious Nike exec.

6.10.2012

make do

 
Hello world!

I've got so much posting backlog it's not even funny.

An important piece of news is that The Bare Necessities is now part of a larger entity called Make Do - a creative endeavour to make with what we have.

Check out our work and don't hesitate to write comments, suggest collaborations, etc.
Oh, and thanx for bearing with the in-progress Make Do website. It felt better to put projects out there whenever there was time to publish them, and we're starting to like the 'tweaking-as-you-go' process.

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4.01.2012

soap

Hey good people. Haven't written in a long time, so busy with work.

Today, another of our David vs. Goliath battle: BODY WASH vs. BAR SOAP

I don't know if it's the same for you; as a child growing up in the eighties, I was washed and learned to wash myself with bar soap, and that was pretty much it for the first decade of my life. Then, somewhere in the nineties, shower gels started being the way to go. Waaaay cooler, adieu slippery soap and minuscule leftover bits. The modern man wants a sexy, tropical shower experience smelling like passion fruit, in a civilized vertical bottle.




I was trapped into this marketing dream until very recently myself. Awake now.
Been having a few conversations with co-workers, about how plastic packaging makes us feel guilty ('where the fuck does the freaking bottle GO after I've dumped it in the trash while closing my eyes?'). More and more I want to try to have all the stuff I buy and use be biodegradable or compostable. And stop giving my money to Procter & Gamble, in exchange for garbage I'll have to dispose of myself.

Cause let us be clear: when you spend $3.99 for a bottle of mainstream shampoo, you buy:
- 1 month-worth of liquid shampoo (containing potentially harmful chemicals)
- a bottle-shaped 100 years-worth of soft plastic, which society will have to dispose of one way or another. This might include having a poor chap wearing a mask and gloves dig into your pile of garbage at the sorting factory, the killing of baby birds on Midway Island, bringing your own personal addition to the Giant Garbage Patch, etc.

I have this secret dream that one day I'll gather up the time to make pretty cardboard packages and send back to L'Oreal each one of the plastic bottles I've finished using.


Meanwhile, I am switching back to bar soap, preferably without palm oil. I found Aleppo Soap (not a brand, but a type of soap made in Syria). Ingredients: olive oil, laurel oil, water, lye. 100% DISAPPEARS after use.

For $3.59, you buy SOAP, and you get...SOAP. That's it.
Easy switch, no?


Note: the one I just got isn't totally perfect, as you can see on the photo it's wrapped in an extra thin layer of cellophane (yuk), but I've seen soap bars in other places which have no / or just a paper wrapping. Next time will aim for that.

Btw, this particular Aleppo soap smells deliciously of jasmine, suds just as much as the old gels, and gives this clean feeling on the skin that only bar soap manages to create.