12 objects to stay clean

Thursday, August 28, 2014

This is the result of my trying to reduce to the max when it comes to the realm of keeping a clean body.
Remember the object diagram

Each circle represents a realm of objects, from the most necessary to the least - a very personal ordering of course, for other people this might be different.

I am starting with CLEAN, just because. ('Begin anywhere', John Cage said)

Here are the 12 object types which I still need and use today in order to be clean.
1. soap
2. toothpaste
3. toothbrush
4. dental floss
5. big towel
6. small towel
7. cotton swab
8. toilet paper
9. tissues
10. pads
11. liners
12. nail file
I say 'object types' because some of these come in numbers (alternate towels, hundreds of cotton swabs, etc).

It's neither perfect nor totally frugal, nor waste free yet. But I am happy about the absence of plastic bottles (hurray bar soap).
Details in upcoming post!

magical hands

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Just saw this exhibition about mexican clothing designer Carla Fernández.

Few thoughts:
-  the most amazing part was to watch videos of craftswomen and craftsmen all over Mexico, most of them from various indigenous groups, each specializing in a technique of embroidery / dying / weaving / etc. The things people manage to make by hand, with the simplest tools (for example the backstrap loom made of light wooden sticks), are wonderful. I saw felt being chiselled in a way so fine (and so environmentally benign) that it would put any lasercutter to shame.

this thread is marked with a simple wooden roller dipped in color

- Carla Fernandez is a good story teller with an interesting path - even though her process is not in itself that revolutionary (- similar to the luxury goods industry in France for example, Hermes bag model, takes time & costs lots; also similar to Frida Kahlo's approach to clothing), I especially appreciated her going back to time-old mexican rectangular patterns and showcasing her co-designers / makers so prominently.

- unresolved questions:
1. when you produce 'fashion', does that imply a loss of meaning - i.e. the work of these craftsmen becomes decorative / subservient to market aesthetics, whereas traditionally it was infused with meaning? e.g. an asymetric tank top adorned with traditional pompoms

2. despite a discourse valuating crafts and ethics, is subscribing to the codes of current fashion (the exhibit showed mostly skinny, predominantly white models wearing the clothes), while preserving the good old social pyramid (white designer, indigenous labor, hip urban stores & international clientele) really that radical? In this interview Carla Fernandez manages to talk in consecutive sentences about 'a broad responsibility to our planet' and then that her collections are being sold all over the globe ('Mexico, USA, London, and Japan'. hellooo, carbon footprint?).
 photos from http://carlafernandez.com

3. what prevents us from wearing the clothes OF the indians directly? without the need to 'adapt' their patterns to something that would be called the 'fashionable' or 'contemporary' world. Historic or traditional clothing can be free and fresh and amazingly contemporary on its own. and sometimes much more functional.

the gift of trash

Thursday, August 14, 2014

 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 data found on 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.

paper tape

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

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?

the age of low tech

Monday, August 11, 2014

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:


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.


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.


Friday, August 8, 2014

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).


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.

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.


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.