Saying NO to disposable cups

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hello all!
Sorry I was away for so long - been in nomadic mode for the past 2 months, with lots of moving in and out - had the internet, but my brain wasn't available to sit down and write.

During these travelling times, I lived out of a suitcase, which I enjoy because it makes me realize how easily I can live without some items, and which objects are absolutely necessary (more on this later).

Also, there was a lot of working in coffee shops.
Being the being that I am, naturally I always try to ask loud and clear for drinks FOR HERE, IN A REAL MUG, IN A REAL CERAMIC MUG PLEASE, several times if necessary. Sometimes I'll ask them to put fruit juice into mugs, if they don't have real glasses made of glass.

Some might argue that real mugs take water & electricity to wash and dry. Sure enough - actually if anyone has studies and numbers to forward me I am very interested in this issue.

The way I think of disposable cups is the following:
- plastic cups take hundreds of years to decompose & are a product of the fossil fuel industry, which I do not wish to support.

- the majority of "paper" cup are lined with polyethylene (PE), also petroleum based, which prevents both composting and recycling [scary to think that very hot drinks are being poured directly in contact with PE before being drunk(?) by us]. Also, paper cups rarely travel without a brand new sleeve of corrugated cardboard, a lid made of plastic (usually #6 = Polystyrene or #7= Other), and/or a stupid straw (#5 = Polypropylene PP)

- "compostable" cups (made from plants, etc) will compost only if they are thrown on a compost pile; good luck with that. I live in a pretty progressive town and composting is still far from being a common sight, especially at the city level. If these cups end up in the regular bin, they'll take as much space as the regular plastic ones (most people, me included, do not always crush), which is a burden on the public waste management system, which is paid for with public (our) money.

- the more we say NO loudly , i.e. express our refusal as customers to be part of the problem, the more companies will have to take our opinion into account, because these material choices will start impacting their own logistics.

- ceramic mugs / glasses can last centuries (millenia!) if properly taken care of.

- getting a drink and producing zero waste is a wonderful feeling.

I try to go to independent local coffee shops instead of (inter)national chains, to encourage local businesses and economies. But it's also important to talk about the big chains, for when they make little moves their impact is huge. So, because Starbucks is the largest coffee house company in the world and because their employee benefits are not bad, I want to end with this tip for Starbucks customers:

Starbucks has amazing mugs.
Large, comfy, beautifully shaped ceramic mugs.
All you need to do is ask for them.

Take care!

ps: the interesting context that made me go to Starbucks in the past few weeks (I used to never go), is the gentrification of my neighborhood - yet another problem. Basically, the closest independent coffee shop increased their prices all of a sudden, becoming more expensive (!!), & with no info on how they compensate their employees.

pps: the one problem with the Starbucks mugs is that most of them seem manufactured in China. Making / buying local mugs is not difficult, and I wish there was a push in that direction.

ppps: I am not endorsed by any company. noooo.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Sugaring is an ancient oriental waxing method using a mix of white sugar, lemon juice, salt and water (plus honey if you feel so enclined).

It was a total pain for years, having to purchase waxing strips from the store (the only ones I can use are full of chemicals, available only in certain countries, and expire/dry up if stored for too long), or gathering the courage to use the noisy, painful electric epilator (here come my army of rotative tweezers, muahaha).

Sugaring proved a pretty perfect alternative:
- all natural ingredients
- either biodegradable or no waste (lemon peel - ideally salt & sugar are bought in the bulk section)
- ingredients available almost everywhere (if you are travelling and have access to a kitchen, no need to carry hair removal tools / strips in your suitcase).
- cheap (enough quantity for half-legs & armpits would cost $0.76 with organic lemons & celtic sea salt - I used regular lemons and the cheapest salt, so it's even less)
- extremely pleasant to use - sweet smell, warm/soft texture, no noise, hurts much less than other methods
- no loose hairs clean-up needed afterwards - just dispose of the wax ball

YES, you have to get the hang of it.
I made 10 small batches before understanding how to get the texture right, but it was SO worth it.

You will find my final recipe below (cause, why not share the joy).
I also suggest watching as many online videos as you can (search for oriental wax, or cire orientale in French), just to understand basics of preparation and waxing technique.

Another few cents: make it cheap if you need to; but getting the best ingredients, even if only applied to your skin, can do not harm, and it will encourage healthy agricultural practices and businesses, for probably less than a dollar.

A warm hug to the three oriental ladies who consulted their moms to help me.
I hope this post will make them want to try it at home again!


Ingredients (this is enough for half-legs + armpits):
- 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
- water (just enough to cover the sugar in the pot - water not above the sugar, just wetting all the sugar)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Cooking Process:

1. put sugar + water + salt in a small pot > stir with a spoon to melt as much as you can (I think this mixes the salt well and prevents to get unmelted grains of sugar in the final mix)
2. put the pot on medium heat > wait until it boils > at this moment add the lemon juice and stir a bit to mix it in
3. let it boil without changing the heat, until it starts changing color > when it is BLOND (not white, not reddish brown), remove from fire
4. pour in a small bowl (make sure the bowl can handle the heat!) > let it cool down until it's really viscous (stir a couple times with a spoon to test) > when it is so viscous that you can almost make one ball with your spoon, it's ready!!!

Using the wax:

1. Here is the first big breakthrough that I had after 10 tries:
it's much better to leave the 'base' wax in that bowl as it is, and only take out small balls as you need them when you start waxing. If the 'base' becomes too hard, just warm up the bowl in the double boiler until it softens enough to be scooped out.

2. Scoop out about a tablespoon of the wax. (use a spoon, and help it with your fingers - don't worry, it's sticky but comes off the skin very easily too). It should still be a bit warm (don't burn yourself!!). Tip: dip your fingers quickly into the remaining half-lemon, it prevents the wax from becoming too sticky and then you can start kneading it with your fingers. [Also, in case you scoop it too early, do not panic: the wax will be extra liquid/sticky, but just keep on kneading, and at some point you'll see you can peel it out easily and cleanly.]

3. Kneading: second big breakthrough: DO NOT KNEAD TOO MUCH!!!
You just need a few kneading cycles with your fingers - the wax is transparent at the beginning, it will become more opaque, but don't wait until it's completely opaque (that's too late and you'll just be making salt-water taffy  :)
Basically STOP kneading when you feel that you have a soft material that can be spread easily, and is a bit sticky, not totally dry.

4. START HAIR REMOVAL (good tutorial on the gesture at the end of this video) and the wax will actually become perfect AS YOU ARE WAXING. It's handy to have a square of all-natural, unbleached wax paper lying about, for dropping or disposal of the wax ball.

5. IMPORTANT: always keep that partially used half-lemon next to you. Dip your fingers into it to wet them with a bit of lemon juice, when you manipulate the wax. It helps keeping it not too sticky.

WASHING UP: gently warm water will dissolve everything; let the pots, dishes and utensils you used sit in warm water for a bit - the sugar will melt and be very easy to clean afterwards; any remainders of wax on your leg (even the failed experiments that can end up covering half your calf) can be easily washed away under the shower.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

A few weeks ago I introduced you to IR4 (Industrial Revolution #4): 10 principles for future design and manufacturing.
Today, here is the first of a series of 'ideal objects', where I either feature objects that already follow the principles of IR4, or imagine what a popular mass-produced item would be if it was IR4 compliant.

So there you have it: the IR4 Converse Chuck Taylor sneaker.
I am not endorsed by Converse.
I chose this shoe because it is a great example of a simply made, daily item which is manufactured in great quantities - internet claims that 750 to 800 million pairs have been sold worldwide [when you quickly search for these number online]. Also important to note, it is a vegan shoe!

So, tons of potential: a few changes in its manufacturing process could have a big material and human impact.

The pair I own has the following characteristics:
- made in Vietnam
- cotton canvas upper
- cotton canvas lining
- natural rubber sole
- metal eyelets
-synthetic shoelaces (polyester?)
From the multiple pairs I have worn out, the shoe gives in at the junction between the sole and the upper. The eyelets are intact but have to be thrown away.
Its IR4 counterpart, would be something like this:
- made in USA (or your local country)
- undyed hemp canvas upper (grown in the USA)
- undyed hemp muslin lining (grown in the USA)
- natural guayule rubber sole (grown in the USA)
- embroidered eyelets made of undyed hemp thread (grown in the USA)
- undyed hemp shoelaces
Nothing mined. Local crops which require zero or low inputs of water & pesticides. Completely biodegradable. Super strong.

Utopia sounds so simple.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Regular jeans are probably the most widespread, mendable item still owned in the western world. By 'regular' jeans, I mean: made of strong, non-stretch cotton twill

Unsurprisingly, the current mending renaissance is happening big time through the denim world. Check out the beautiful repair corner of the japanese clothing brand Kapital, or the mending gallery from the stitcher Darn and Dusted.

This made me think about a major principle of the repair/re-use economy (if we ever manage to create one): it just can't exist if the objects exchanged are not of the best quality. Things cannot and will not be repaired if they aren't sturdy enough to handle that repair, and/or if their beauty and quality isn't worth the time it will take to mend them. One more reason to acquire thoughtfully, and encourage the making of good goods.

Current repair happening in the home shop:
LEFT LEG repaired by the people at our dry-cleaning place - with a sewing machine, for $10.
RIGHT LEG repaired by yours truly - by hand, with love. 
LEFT LEG FRONT: almost exactly matching thread - wow
LEFT LEG BACK: denim patch (probably less comfortable, but strong)
RIGHT LEG FRONT: cotton thread colors available in the house
note: the big black stitches are temporary basting holding an unfinished patch above the knee 
RIGHT LEG BACK:  the soft, double cotton canvas patch.

Still working on an extra patch covering the thigh.
Can I just warmly express how enjoyable an activity this kind of mending is?
The stitch isn't complicated, you make progress fast, and the peaceful rhythm of stitching is absolutely calming. I used this sashiko tutorial.

Just let go, and listen to the radio.


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Saturday, January 10, 2015

It's on!
After reading some excellent pages on minimalist wardrobe websites such as Into-Mind, Project 333 and Un-Fancy (thanks to a friend who pointed them to me), I have finally decided to take stock of my wardrobe. 

The goal being (and this is totally personal):
1) identifying useful-successful garments and understanding why, so as to make better informed acquisitions in the future
2) identifying useless-unsuccessful garments and understanding why, and then getting them out of the house by donating or selling them
3) understanding the minimum number of garments I can function with

It was a scary thought.
Like diving into a messy pile of reasonned vs. impulse purchases, more or less successful attempts at a redefinition of myself, things that had just accumulated and never got worn, things that had gotten overly overly worn, items I was clinging on for the wrong reasons, and a heavy sprinkle of memories.
On the other hand I knew I had been pretty good (verging on the obsessive) in the past few years about buying ethically and locally made clothes, and mostly natural fibers.

To make the process less daunting I made it playful: got all the draft paper I could put my hands on at home, cut it into cards, and sat in front of the wardrobe with a pen.
Made a card for each item of clothing I had, with the same 5 pieces of information:
I figure that once all created, the cards will be a useful tool to sort through the wardrobe (put them all on a table, start sorting)

This made me realize how crucial the information on the inside labels is (and also how some brands get away with never telling you where the clothes are made). It's a tricky one because I dislike labels intensely: very often they itch, are made of a synthetic material different from the clothes themselves, and are stitched inside a garment's seam (so if you want to remove them you'll need to close a hole afterwards). Food for thought - form to be improved.

Also, there were items I couldn't find a name for ('hum, this is too thin to be a sweater, too structured to be a t-shirt, too light to be worn over other clothes, too full of zippers to be worn under clothes, gosh what is it?' - surprise surprise, it never got worn).

Still in the process of compiling all that info.
More wardrobe-editing posts to follow.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

It seems we need a total change of paradigm.
So many of us are making so much effort to navigate the current material world, every day, because it's too polluting, too socially unfair, too wasteful.

Consumption needs to change for sure. But production needs to change too.

Very roughly (and condensed by yours truly from wikipedia), there have been three successive industrial revolutions already:
- from the 1750s, with steam power, ship transport, textile, steel
- from the 1820s, with electricity, oil, the reciprocating engine, automobiles, railroad transport - global production doubled its pace
- from the 1970s, with the internet, microprocessors, computers - delocalization became possible, plants moved out of industrialized countries, the financial & communications sector flourished, social inequalities rose.

I believe we now need Industrial Revolution #4 (IR4): the generalization of environmentally and socially viable low-tech solutions, made as locally as possible, in the context of necessarily frugal consumption.

1. minimum material - i.e. do not over-engineer, use the minimum amount of material that will do the job safely > saves material

2. least harmful material - choose the material with the least embodied energy, the most renewable source, the least risk on health > protects the environment and its inhabitants

3. least processed material - use materials as raw and mono-material as you can find them, avoid using or creating composites > makes waste sorting, recycling and upcycling easier; lowers costs.

4. most local labor force - employ the qualified people nearest to you, or train the people nearest to you > supports local economy, reduces carbon footprint, reinforces & creates communities

5. no harming of labor force - do not kill, abuse, or exploit people; offer compensation sufficient to make a decent living, make the job safe in terms of materials, processes, and schedules; ensure a caring, supportive environment > honors basic human rights and relationships

6. equitable distribution of revenue - strive to create horizontal partnerships instead of vertical ones, give back cooperatively the profit created cooperatively > expresses respect for all types of work, makes everybody engaged in the enterprise

7. function, safety, sustainability, over aesthetics - do not let aesthetics / fashion / future media coverage have an influence on your design process strong enough to make you weaken your commitment to making good objects > prevents going back to the situation we are trying to get away from.

8. full biodegradability OR full reusability of parts - do not think of objects are individual finished goods, but as a temporary assembly of ressources, belonging to a vast material cycle > allows for composting; otherwise makes waste sorting, recycling and upcycling easier

9. maximum repairability - planned-obsolescence is forbidden. > reduces labor and material waste, maximizes return on investment into product, creates repair service jobs

10. no harming of animals - do not kill nor abuse living things; avoid animal material if you can, otherwise make sure what you take from them does not prevent their best livelyhood > respects all forms of life

Naturally not ALL things can be made following these principles, but if we try to at least transform all the ones we can, we might end up in better shape.

Wishing you IR4 new years to come.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Last year we didn't have a christmas tree. This year we thought it would be fun to have one, but didn't want to kill a tree or purchase anything new.
So here it is !!!
Our uplight transformed into a tree, using only stuff that was lying around the house:
- the structure is made of reed, jute string and white paper tape
- the ornaments are made mostly of draft paper and used giftwraps (tissue paper, cardboard & ribbons) that we have been keeping over the years; the ties are made with cotton thread from our sewing kit.
It was so much fun to make - pinterest was great to research origami and celtic knots tutorials.
The rest was just imagination, memories from childhood crafts, and making do with what was there.
Happy Holidays !!!


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Finally finally I took the step of purchasing small reusable bags for fruits and vegetables.
(found them at this store - they are supposed to be tool bags (?), according to the owner)

These are the bag-within-a-bag kind: they are replacing the thin plastic bags that are offered to pack fresh produce in the supermarket - we were getting absolutely overwhelmed with their number (as opposed to the thicker ones, which we had already managed to reduce by bringing in reusable shopping bags).

I got 5 of them to start with. They are 8 x 10 inches (20 x 25 cm), which comfortably fits 5-6 oranges / apples at the time - the amount I usually get when grocery shopping.
So excited about this.
However mine seem made of 100% cotton with a cotton string, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were imported from faraway (cost was around $2 each).

Advantages over plastic:
- no noise
- soft to the touch
- can be washed with all your other clothes in the laundry
- super strong
- lasts for years and years and years
- no pollution / waste during its use time

If you wish to have a really sustainable version of these, I recommend making your own out of hemp or linen muslin. Cotton is just too much of a pesticide and water intensive crop (unless you get it organic, from non-irrigated fields), whereas hemp is truly good (grows without any chemicals and cleans the soil naturally).

I was too lazy and impatient to make them myself, but that's really not an excuse (a lot of the ugly state of the environment today is directly linked to the fact that we're lazy and impatient). Apologies.

UPS will take your packing peanuts

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It seems that UPS stores will gladly take off your hands:

- packing peanuts 
- air-filled plastic pillows
- cardboard boxes

I just dropped off a bag full of polystyrene peanuts (which I couldn't have disposed of properly at all - polystyrene foam is a bitch, and even specialized recycling places will not take peanuts) and air-filled bags, along with the big cardboard box that contained them. They were all taken in with a smile.

I suppose they will get reused directly to pack things again. 

I heard of this tip while browsing the web,
made a quick phone call to the closest UPS store to confirm that was true,
et voila!

ps: do make that phone call beforehand though, to make sure your local store does that as well.

A Pattern Language

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I cannot thank my friend Charlie enough for showing me this book.

It is THE BIBLE for anyone interested in real space-making, architecture design & urban planning (which is all one thing stretched at different scales).

By real, I mean with the principal purpose of creating a sense of place for human beings, as opposed to a lot of design nowadays which is preoccupied with other things (the market, fashionable gestures, editorial potential, expression of ego / money, etc.).

How does it work? Very simply, it's made of 253 chapters, each describing a pattern of human space-making that has been observed accross time & civilizations, occurring frequently enough that it seemed worthwhile saying: "hum, this has been working for hundreds of years, maybe it's a successful move worth learning about." A lot of them link back to human behavior and the human body - in terms of scale but also our 5 senses (makes sense, right?).
The 253 patterns are ordered from the biggest scale (metropolitan regions) to the smallest scale (your personal belongings), and rated with degrees of certainty (some patterns are unquestionnable, some are more tentative).
Each is illustrated with one or more photographs, as well as sketches.

It's not a book you read in one go, but more like a reference which you leaf through whenever you have a question (how long should I make my kitchen counters, what is successful outdoor seating, etc.)

It was written by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa & Murray Silverstein, and published in 1977. After all these years it is still the same treasure trove of knowledge and founding principles that will allow you to start your own thinking / experimenting. Its only drawback would be that the book is all black and white, and some photographs are pretty old - although what they illustrate isn't obsolete at all.

SO, as New Year gift to the good people of this world, The Bare Necessities has undertaken the task of creating A Pattern Language pinterest album illustrating all 253 patterns, with contemporary examples in full color. Under each photo you'll find a short quote summarizing the essence of the pattern.
Happy space-making!