Plastics: From Cradle to Grave and Resurrection – my thoughts on a recent conference

Plastics – from Cradle to Grave and Resurrection

I attended a conference (that I helped organise) about Plastics – the aim was to look at the whole issue rather than a single item. It covered recycling, micro plastics and health impacts as well as some regulatory issues and new research.

Despite following a lot of the news (and there seems to be a lot of news at the moment) I still learn quite a lot. There are issues with the Packaging Recovery Notes – (the tax that has to be paid for anyone buying large amounts of packaging) and the amount issued compared to the amount recycled in this country (apparently prices are currently going through the roof). I learnt that there is such a term as bin juice for all those liquids that get left in the bottom of bins. Even though all councils collet plastic bottles the recycling rate is only 59% – but still we think that recycling isn’t easy enough. However, on the downside, there is very little recycling of film, even though in theory it is possible to recycle it to be used in a number of common applications.
61 million tonnes of PVC are still produced annually – even though there are alternatives that are less harmful to make and to dispose of for most uses. This might be because there are fewer and fewer uses for chlorine, the byproduct of making salt.
One of the biggest causes of microplastics is from car tyres, but also detergents, clothing, pharmaceuticals, paints and personal care products are also significant sources.
There was also the suggestion that most innovations that are highlighted are focussed on ‘virtue signalling’ and not actual solutions, something that I found interesting in one talk that was otherwise quite dull.
But it wasn’t all bad news.
I learnt about chemical and enzymatic upcycling of plastics to get back to reusable monomers. This was a very interesting idea, as most recycling ends up losing some of the original polymer and is often for less valuable uses. This even gives the option of removing those additives from some of the hard to manage black plastics.
And then, there is the government funding that has been allocated through Innovate UK and the Circular Plastics Network ( accessed 28/06/19). It looks as though there are lots of new ideas out there following the Innovate UK funding announced last year.

My new bins – first impressions

The suggestion was made – ‘wouldn’t it be cool if you could watch insects in real time with the same magnification as with your macro lens?’  And yes, it would be but does such a thing exist, can you get closer than a few metres to look at insects with a pair of binoculars.  Enter the Pentax Papilio in either 6.5x or 8.5x magnification.

The online reviews were very good, but I have to admit, that I was a bit skeptical of the one that said they could count the segments on the antennae of a butterfly.  But, with a minimum focus distance of 0.5m and the potential to use them for birding as well I had to give them a go.  I got the 6.5×21 version as it should make it easier to track an insect about.

First up, was a moth that I saw at work – it looked a bit tiny with the naked eye, but with the bins I saw texture on the wings, white lines across it and little furry feet.  I have no idea about the segments in the antennae as it didn’t appear to have any.  This is what it looked like through my point and shoot camera – and I could eventually manage to ID it as a chocolate tip moth.  Very cute, very furry and sticking two fingers up to the moth people that wouldn’t come and do any moth trapping at work because we didn’t have any interesting moths – it is all relative!

chocolate tipHowever, this was only a limited test and I needed to try them out in the garden and see what was there.  First test – bees in the front garden zipping about the rosemary.  I have been trying to ID them, and I know some are probably red mason bees, but others look different, and behave differently, rarely stopping to nectar at all, these looked much greyer, almost white on the thorax and head.  My bins passed the first test.  Not only did I get a good view of the female mason bees (as shown on forget-me-not below), but I discovered that the others were male mason bees.  They aren’t grey at all, just very blonde and very furry with quite long antennae.  I was confused as well by some of what thought were females but which looked grey on the thorax with a red abdomen – my new bins showed that this was a result of having lots of rosemary pollen stuck to their hairs!  As a result I am fairly confident in my Osmia bicornis ID skills.  It’s amazing how orange and how furry these bees look in close up!

red mason beeI watched a couple of hoverflies, well, hovering, one was definitely a marmalade hoverfly, but I couldn’t ID the other, but I could even watch their legs and feet tentatively making contact with the rosemary flower as they touched down – amazing!

A bigger test for the bins though was in the back garden – it is usually much gloomier due to the large amount of foliage shading the area.  I wasn’t sure that I would find anything to look at, but I was wrong.  I watched a spider tense itself under a leaf when a fly landed on the top surface, only to be thwarted as the fly took off again after a quick clean.  I saw a tiny yellow and black fly on a hazel leaf that I wouldn’t have even noticed otherwise.  It was less than 5mm long, yellow underneath, with orange legs and a yellow almost checkerboard pattern on the top of the abdomen / thorax.  It had a yellow head with a blackish stripe between its eyes and thing yellow stripes on its scutellum.  It is not the kind of thing I would be able to take a picture of, but I think I managed to ID it from my notes as a grass fly, Chlorops sp.

The good thing about the bins is that they show you things you would never have seen otherwise (either with or without a macro lens).  I saw a moth crawl out from under a leaf.  It was tiny and looked like a black speck and I probably would have thought it was just that if I hadn’t seen it arrive.  It had glossy purple black wings and a yellow head and legs.  It was so small I couldn’t even get a good picture with my macro lens.  This is as good as it gets:

small dark moth

This is a fern smut moth Psychoides filicivora,  I had never noticed them before amongst our many ferns!  Now I’ve seen quite few of them crawling around at the bottom of the garden.

So, the verdict.  The view through the bins is even better than through a macro lens – not least because it is in real time and works without a tripod in poor light.  The only downside is that there is some barrel distortion, but it doesn’t ruin the view.  Can you count the segments on a butterfly’s antenna?  I still don’t know because I haven’t seen a butterfly since I got them, but my guess is yes.

My new bins are opening up a whole new world full of creatures or behaviours I’d never noticed before, and I’m afraid I’m going to be boring you with lots more mini beasts that are inhabiting the garden.

How to lead a more simple life….

A three part series has just come to an end on BBC2.  The series was presented by Peter Owen Jones, an Anglican vicar who tried to reduce his dependence on money and ‘stuff’.  During this time he tried self sufficiency, managing without money and making his way from his Sussex parish to North Devon depending on the benevolence of complete strangers for food and shelter.  His inspiration in this was St Francis of Assisi, his quest was to find out if living a more simple life would make him happier.

There have been some criticisms of this, many justified; is it easier to live without money if you have some, the presence of a camera crew may have made people more generous etc.  But, to me, the central messages of the series are pertinent to modern day life.

Firstly, the acquisition of money seems to be a way of reducing reliance on others, building up barriers so we can separate ourselves from other  people – we can just buy things or services from anonymous people and anonymous companies.  There is no need to bother building a relationship with people, having a relationship with money is easier.

Money is also self-defeating to some extent, or, rather the pursuit of money is.  Once we get past a certain point where we have enough to live comfortably; put food on the table, pay the bills, what do we want more money for?  In part it is (hopefully) for insurance for old age, but, more often it is to buy more.  Buy more cars, buy more things, buy a bigger house to put them in etc.  Then, we need more money, because there are other things we need more of.  When do we stop and ask whether we need these things, or even really want them.  There are very few people who do not have things in their house that they don’t use or wear, or that someone else bought for them, because they had to get them something, but ‘they already had everything they needed’.

Finally, by working to pay ever increasing bills, we are rushing round, not stopping to see what is there, all around us, and, more importantly, getting stuck in a rut, not finding out what we are really capable of.  Whether this is painting, gardening or even just listening, there are many of us who don’t take the time to find out what we can do.

So, did Peter Owen Jones successfully live without money, did a simple life make him happier?  I think the answer to both is yes.  In the end, the system beat him, he has to have a car due to the fact that he is vicar to three rural parishes, and car insurance is not something he can trade his time for.  But, admitting that in modern times it will be necessary to have some money, then I think he did quite well.  However, when he finally did get his wallet back I was surprised to see him struggling to not make spontaneous purchases of stuff!  Oh, and he did seem to have found a way to make his life more meaningful, and consequently happier – by spending time with parishioners, swapping his time for whatever they wanted to give – surely that is the way it should be if they value the service he offers?

So, what are my thoughts about Peter Owen Jones’ experiment?  I think it was an admirable experiment, that, whilst it would not work completely for everyone, certainly has something to offer to all.  It’s message certainly resonates with me.  We can all live with less, without the hankering for more.  Over the last few years I have bought less and less, Waitrose and books from Amazon being my main indulgence.  Not only does this give me more financial security, it means I throw less away, and, I have more time.  In that time I have discovered new hobbies – blogging for one, made new friends – at Tai Chi and a local camera club, and learned a lot more – through distance learning, internet resources and good, old fashioned reading.

I am at the point now where I don’t want more stuff, only more time.  As the saying goes, the best things in life are free (written whilst listening to bird song and watching the sun go down).  Maybe if we all tried to slow down and live a more simple life we could reduce society’s dependence on outside addictions including anti-depressants?

Thoughts about Copenhagen and Kyoto.

Copenhagen left me puzzled, not by the lack of agreements from the parties involved, but by my own ambivalence towards the whole thing.  After all, I am supposed to be an environmentalist, I should have been avidly following all the reports, debating the successes (if there had been any) and failures.  In truth, I paid no attention to it, yes, I read some of the pre-meeting reporting, added a tck tck tck ribbon to my Twitter image, agreed that time was running out and we needed an international resolution, but I didn’t actually think that anything would happen there.

In the meantime I have just finished reading a book (Why We Disagree About Climate Change) which has helped me to clarify my thoughts about Copenhagen.  The basis of the book is that everyone has different priorities in life, and perceive the risk of Climate Change differently depending on their circumstances, nothing that is not obvious there.  However, one of the later chapters talks about how the idea of an all encompassing agreement at Copenhagen was flawed and was never going to happen.  Climate Change has now been altered from a physical manifestation into something more, it is linked to world poverty, economic development and even to religious beliefs.  With so many facets to the problem (a so-called ‘dirty problem’) how will we find one solution, a magic silver bullet that will fix everything.  The plain answer is that we won’t and, while we are convinced that we will (i.e. we will get  an extension to Kyoto) we will stop looking at the solutions to the parts of the problem that we can fix.  OK, they may not be the ultimate best answer, but making some progress until something better comes along is surely better than waiting for a solution that may never come.

For example, why was deforestation under discussion?  Surely most people believe that it is wrong, so why wasn’t an agreement made by the interested parties, does someone in Iceland have to agree about rainforest destruction?  I am sure they agree that it is bad, but put it in with something they don’t agree with and they will vote against.

I have come to the conclusion that I, personally, if I am honest, don’t care about climate change.  Any changes to be seen in my lifetime are likely to be already set in motion, I don’t have children and therefore have no future generations to directly care about.  I do, however, care about other things that are affected by or do affect climate change.  I care about needless waste, lack of energy resources, reduced levels of oil available for the important things because we have wasted lots for electricity and transport, loss of biodiversity, lack of water, lack of available education and the fact that there are just too many people on this planet to consume as much resource as we do, but climate change – not really.  Start to look at solving these problems individually and then we will solve the problem that we perceive to be climate change and, if not, we will still be making the world a better place.

Have I outgrown BBC television?

When I was younger I remember watching Countryfile on a Sunday morning with my dad, not every week, but fairly often. It seemed to me to be full of information about farming, a bit about nature and the week’s weather forecast. Growing up in the suburbs, I lapped it up, it was my weekly dose of ‘The Country’.

They have moved it to a prime time slot on a Sunday evening – something relaxing before a hectic week at work perhaps. I have watched it for the last two weeks and have found it deeply disappointing, I don’t think I will bother to tune in next week. I may be viewing through age-misted glasses, but there seems to be a lot about tourism – last week we had the Cleveland Way and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, this week it was kayaking and snow climbing around Nevis. Even these are only snapshots and in some cases seem to be poorly edited bits from other, perhaps longer, programmes.

There is very little of educational value, a small section from Adam on his farm, and an article from John Craven about some rural issue, but even these were only surface deep and didn’t tell me anything new. Most of the features would have been more likely to have featured on John Craven’s Newsround or Blue Peter 25 years ago, not Countryfile.

Something that I know has definitely changed in the last year is Gardener’s World. I have watched this most weeks for many years, my way of winding down and chilling on a Friday evening. Whilst I admit I was a fan of Monty Don (there is something incredibly soothing about his presentation style and his love of gardening was obvious) and that I am struggling to take to Toby Buckland, it is not the change of presenter that is causing me a problem. After all, Toby did present quite a lot last year along with Alys, Jo Swift and Carol Klein, and still I kept watching. This season though, it is dumbed down television at its worst. How to make an auricula theatre in 30 minutes, plant daffodils bought in flower from the garden centre and the dreadful and completely pointless what’s hot and what’s not section.

I know that they are trying to appeal to as many people as possible, but nearly everything is about starting something from scratch. Please don’t forget about those of us who already enjoy spending time in our garden, give us something new as well.

Is anyone else finding the latest BBC series a little dull and dumbed down, or am I on my own? At least Radio 4 remains an island of informative programming in a lowest common denominator world.