Wake up, Kick Ass, Period. #greenperiod #eco-friendly

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I have a pair of bright red big pants that are approximately 20 years old and have affectionately become known as my period pants. Like a beacon they brightly inform all and sundry (well, my husband) that it is that TOTM.

So I’m well accustomed to less than attractive lingerie options when necessary. I’m also fully apprised of the damage done to the environment by disposable sanitary products. As the Women’s Environmental Network states, women in the UK use an average of over 11,000 disposable menstrual products in their reproductive lifetime.

I’ve written before about the damage done to marine environments by tampons being flushed and there is also the horrible fact that most sanitary products are predominantly plastic, which even in landfill will not biodegrade.

Not to mention the cost and the controversial tampon tax – we’re still paying it until at least April 2018.

So I am surely a perfect candidate for trying the new generation of period pants… yep, those that you wear with nothing else, with their built in absorbency, which are then washed and re-used…. Surely I’m totally fine with that?

Yet I am also a product of my generation. A ‘grumble about PMT and wanting chocolate’ is perfectly acceptable female bonding but we rarely discuss the detail of how we deal with actual blood in varying quantities. We are used to neat and discrete. We are used to peculiar fragranced products and adverts showing blue fluid.

I was sent a prototype of WUKA wear absorbent period pants – WUKA stands for Wake up, Kick Ass, Period.

I put them on with trepidation. The underwear is no worse looking than my dreaded red period pants although in a more muted navy. They are fuller coverage than ‘normal’, ‘sexy’ knickers but are sleek and comfortable and certainly not visible under tight jeans.

In fact, based on feedback from testers, the appearance and cut has been improved since the pair I tried, and they look like nice, sporty knickers with a higher leg line.

I tried them for a day and they were fine – they were definitely not going to leak. It is a big shift in behaviour to not change them half way through the day as you would a sanitary towel. But you know what, it is ok and still feels hygienic. They are anti-bacterial so won’t smell and were certainly very absorbent.

I realise my language is slightly tepid – ‘fine’, ‘ok’ but that is the reality. This doesn’t make my period go away or suddenly become incredible, it just makes it ok, something to forget about.

Washing them too, is ‘fine’. I’m not squeamish about giving the pants a little rinse before chucking them in the machine (although this rinse isn’t required) – at 40 degrees.

Then I had a breakthrough moment.

Period arrived one evening. Plenty of tampons but no towels. I don’t like wearing tampons at night so felt a bit glum. Then I recalled the Period Pants. They were not ‘fine’ or ‘ok’ they had become the Period Pants of Wonder (P-POW). It was with genuine excitement that I pulled them on and slept comfortably, realising that I don’t have to be a consumer and that with these, I am always prepared.

So here’s my verdict:

Daytime use: fine – they absorb four tampons worth so really are safe and secure. Some people may choose to wear them as a back-up for a tampon on heavy days or when your period might start but hasn’t yet, especially while you learn to trust them and shift  your perception of what you do at that TOTM.

Night-time use – Pants of Wonder, Pants of Joy. Comfortable, leak-free and always there for you.

Every woman should have a few pairs of these. They’ll save you money in the long run, protect the environment and stop you being a monthly slave to parting with money just to chuck it away. I’ll be buying more and using them in the day too now I’ve got used to the whole concept.

The project is still at the funding stage, with a Kickstarter campaign. Pledge here to support production of the undies and receive your pair of pants when they are made.

My pair of pants was sent to me to try for free by Ruby at Wuka wear in exchange for feedback that helped improve the product.

 

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What’s brown and magic?

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It is beneath your feet and grows the food you eat, but as a society we take it for granted. The good old brown stuff, soil, is one of our unsung heroes. Trees and bees get all the attention – they are, let’s face it, rather more active and endearing than soil. However, it is time for soil to take its turn in the spotlight… Ladies and Gentlemen, today is #WorldSoilDay.

So we all know that soil is essential for food production, obvs, but don’t forget that plants are also grown to provide fibre for energy, clothing, medicines and animal feed. Not only that, but according to the Soil Association, soil also stores most of the world’s carbon (beat that, trees) and is home to an incredible amount of living organisms, such as invertebrates, bacteria and fungi. In fact, just one teaspoon of soil can contain as many micro-organisms as there are people on the planet.

Soil is also vital in its role as storing and filtering water. This means that it increases our resilience against floods as well as droughts.

As if that wasn’t enough, the good bacteria in soil are also beneficial for our health. Contact with soil makes us happier and smarter and explains why activities such as gardening can help with mental health.

That’s nice then. Thanks soil for being there. I’m off now to find some buzzy little bees to save… Bye…

Except, stop. Soil isn’t ‘just there’ a static, immovable constant in our lives. In fact, our soils are in danger. They are disappearing at a rate that is alarming for future generations, with 2.2 million tonnes being lost and degraded in the UK each year. This is caused by factors such as expanding cities, transport infrastructure and pollution – either industrial or through the inefficient use of fertilisers.

Not only that, but climate change may increase rates of loss if drier conditions make soils more vulnerable to wind erosion, or if intense rainfall washes soil away. It’s much harder to put it back than it is to look after it.

The Soil Association campaigns for better protection for soil, including supporting organic farming practices and promoting best practice. We can all do our bit for soil too.

Organic may be part of the solution, but it can be more costly. As an alternative, seek out the LEAF marque (a symbol of a leaf) which indicates that products have been grown sustainably.

Next, think about your own patch of soil and how you can look after it. If you have a garden, however tiny, then get composting. Leaves, cut grass, fruit and veg peelings and tea bags will all mulch together in perfect harmony in a compost heap or bin. You’ll end up with lovely rich organic matter to spread onto your flower beds and help make healthy soil.

Don’t buy peat-based compost either. This is a direct way of digging up special habitats and valuable carbon stores. The peat-free alternatives these days perform just as well.

It is most definitely brown and at first glance rather boring, but soil is the very stuff of life and it needs our love.

The world needs young nature geeks

They say that whatever issue you have with a toddler, you can multiply by ten for the teenager. Whilst inspiring tiny children about the great outdoors has its challenges, they are nothing compared to trying to keep young people involved with and excited about nature as they hit the often rocky, hormonal years of teenagedom.

I know from personal experience that even the most rural, idyllic childhood doesn’t prevent a rapid descent into nightclubbing and alcohol – who has time for nature then? My children are a while off that, but I wonder how I will keep them connected to our natural world.

Wonderful campaigns such as the Wildlife Trust’s ‘Every Child Wild’ and the work done by The Wild Network help the parents of younger children to embrace nature. Whilst there is no deliberate exclusion of teenagers from these projects (and much remains highly relevant), there is a focus on reaching out to younger children. To then lose that connection in the fug of the teenage years seems such a tragedy.

Time in nature is vital for everyone’s health and well-being and in the turbulent, exam-packed teenage years, stress relief and green exercise are just what the doctor ordered. Despite all the medical evidence, society still thinks it is more normal for a teenager to be holed up in a darkened room on social media than roaming the countryside with a pair of binoculars.

A more worrying aspect is the bullying that young people can experience if they are into nature. Being called a geek, nerd or twitcher can be the least of it. In a world that values material consumption and the quick thrill of the digital, choosing to spend time, often on your own or with the older generation, can mark you out as an odd ball.

A Focus on Nature is a youth nature organisation aiming to address this. It offers a community for young people who love nature, as well as looking at the wider issue of disconnection of teens from our natural world. The website is full of stories of young conservationists getting out there and not just connecting with nature, but taking real action.

Wildlife charities do offer teenage options for involvement. The RSPB’s Phoenix membership provides Wingbeat, the only environmental magazine written by teenagers for teenagers, and opportunities to become part of and blog on the Phoenix forum. For those interested in volunteering or work experience, most conservation charities can give exciting and varied opportunities that could lead to a career in conservation.

With social media, there is a platform ready and waiting for our tech savvy teens. We would all benefit from more young voices to shock us oldies out of our comfortable complacency and to make caring about our planet the norm, not the geeky exception.

Teenagers need nature and green spaces in their life. It will bring them fun, stress-relief, new friends and turn them into true custodians of our world.

It’s been a while (ahem) since I was a teenager and I don’t yet have my own, so I’m very interested in your thoughts and experiences on this important issue.

 

First published in the EDP and EADT.

 

So how did I perform?

Last year I wrote of my rather unusual green resolutions for the New Year (and recently reposted them). I’d forgotten them, but because I’d recorded them I have no excuse. I can go back and see how I’ve performed. They were a bit strange, it turns out.

1)            Forget your manners

This was about eBaying unwanted gifts being better for the environment than shoving them in a cupboard. I loved all my pressies last Christmas, but I have sold or given away plenty of other unwanted items over the year. Result: Eco-win.

2)            Have more sex

Suddenly wishing I hadn’t announced that one! In the interests of preserving some degree of modesty, I can only confirm that I have not divorced in the past year; hence there is no need for the un-green two houses and double set of everything. Result: Eco-win.

3)            Don’t go to the gym

No carbon burned for me to stay fit in 2015. It has been outdoors in nature all the way, running, cycling and walking. Result: Eco-win.

4)            Get a new hairstyle

I suggested that reducing the length of my hair would save blow drying time. This was misguided – after losing four inches my crazy hair required more attention from both the hairdryer and products. I’m growing it again. Result: Eco-fail.

5)            Don’t eat salad

Eating imported lettuce or cucumber in the winter months is bad for the environment. I saved it for the right time of year and enjoyed all the comforting root veg and red cabbages of winter. Result: Eco-win.

6)            Celebrate breasts

This one also sounds odd out of context, but was to do with supporting breast feeding because it is good for the environment as well as the baby. Mine are no longer required in milk-service, but it’s the kind of thing I like to go on about so I think I can say I have achieved it. Result: Eco-win.

7)            Don’t do the washing up yourself

I found this one very achievable. Using the dishwasher on eco-setting, with a marine safe powder has used far less water and energy than the sink. Result: Eco-win.

8)            Don’t get up so early

The later you get up, the more electricity and heating fuel you save on a dark morning. I’m brilliant at sleeping late; sadly the children have other ideas. Lights are blazing by 7 am. Result: Eco-fail.

9)            Ignore the garden

I’m a lazy gardener, so it was no trouble to leave seed heads and piles of leaves to provide food and shelter for wildlife, until springtime. Result: Eco-win.

10)         Don’t go to work

As a writer, I don’t have to travel all that much for work, so this one was easy – I don’t ‘go’ to work. Mind you, many employers are increasingly flexible and a work from home day, cutting transport related emissions, can be possible for many. Result: Eco-win.

I performed pretty well!  Recording the aims and checking back is satisfying and I shall be doing so again this year, although I haven’t quite got round to setting any targets yet… first goal, procrastinate less?

 

First published in a similar form in the EDP and EADT

It’s not fair! But we can change that…

Life isn’t fair. We all work that out by the time we are six or seven years old. Some people get all the luck and accolades; others work hard and never get rewarded. Whether you believe in science, religion or fate as your guiding principle, sometimes it is just the way the dice rolls or the cookie crumbles that determines certain details of our lives. No wonder many of us end up a little cynical.

Expecting life to be unfair, however, lets us fall into the steely grip of a capitalist mind-set. We forget to care about people and instead allow markets to rule. If that means that a tea farmer in Malawi is paid only a tiny fraction of the price his tea sells at back in the UK, then that’s just the way it goes. If that means he can’t afford education or medical care for his children, we may feel it is sad, but not our problem or something we can fix.

However, the Fairtrade Foundation doesn’t agree. They believe (and have twenty years of experience and many case studies to back them up) that giving a producer a reasonable and guaranteed price for their product is the right thing to do. This needs to be regardless of the many vagaries of the world market – its fluctuations can throw a community reliant on one export item into financial despair.

The Fairtrade Foundation has shown that a fair price leads to genuine improvements in quality of life for families and better long term opportunities for their children.

The cost increase on Fairtrade items for us is small change, often just a penny or so, and most of us could manage to pay a tiny bit more for a handful of items in our shopping trolley. Despite this, the Fairtrade Foundation reports that just 1.2% of cocoa and less than 10% of tea globally is traded on Fairtrade terms.

The next couple of weeks is Fairtrade Fortnight, running from 23rd February to 8th March and it’s a good opportunity to discover Fairtrade products. Look out for bananas, sugar, cocoa, tea, coffee, chocolate and cotton labelled with the Fairtrade logo. Often, they are of higher quality because they are at the premium end of the market and it is reassuring to know that the profit is not all going into the pockets of a supermarket fat cat.

And while we are thinking about what is fair… what about the power that supermarkets wield over our nation’s farmers too? The immense squeeze placed on the price of milk is the latest evidence of this. It’s a while since I was six years old, but I have the strong urge to stamp my foot and shout at the top of my voice, “It’s not fair!” Anyone going to join me?

First published in the EDP and EADT

Want a green pet?

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What’s cute, fluffy and bad for the environment? The answer is lurking in your home, very possibly asleep at the end of your bed.  Whether you own a cat or dog, you may be surprised at their impact on the planet.

According to a book, amusingly called ‘Time to Eat the Dog’ a medium sized dog has the same ecological footprint as a Toyota Land Cruiser and even your little kitty equates to a Volkswagen Golf in carbon terms. This is because they are meat eaters and producing meat takes a lot of land area and energy.

Not only that, but fouling by dogs is an environmental issue that can ruin parks, pavements, footpaths and beaches for other people. The UK dog population produces a scary 1,000 tonnes of excrement each day. If this isn’t dealt with responsibly by owners, it creates ‘no go’ areas for families and walkers. It is dangerous too, because of the risk of toxocariasis from roundworm in the faeces.

Meanwhile, cats aren’t so innocent either. Their predatory ways lead to the untimely deaths of birds, small mammals and amphibians. The Mammal Society estimates that the UK’s cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 55 million are birds. Those are just the ones they bring home, so the actual numbers could be much higher.

Hang on a minute though. It’s sounding very negative. As an animal lover, I’d like to mount a defence case for our furry friends. Firstly, much of the meat that goes into pet food is the waste from the human food chain. If it didn’t end up in a can of Doggo it would be disposed of, so the massive carbon footprint is not truly representative.

What about all those killer-cats out there? Well, even the RSPB states that there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens affects bird populations. This is because cats tend to take weak or sickly birds.  

Pets bring subtle environmental and social advantages too, although these are harder to measure. A family pet helps children to learn about looking after things other than themselves, and that sense of responsibility is essential if they are to care about their world too. Of course, dogs need walking too, so you will end up outside, noticing the changing seasons, picking up scraps of litter and appreciating the world we live in.

A few simple changes can minimise the environmental impacts of your pet too. Obviously, dog mess should be disposed of responsibly. For your cat, a collar with a bell (and a quick release safety mechanism should the cat become snagged) can reduce predation of birds as well as other creatures. To reduce their use of carbon, simply choose foods made from rabbit and chicken, which have a smaller impact than those made from red meat or fish.

With a little thought, you can shrink your pet’s carbon pawprint while enjoying all the love and cuddles that they bring to our lives. Now you can’t say that about a Volkswagen Golf!

First published in the EDP and EADT.

Abstract thoughts

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You may think I’m insane for wasting column inches on the scarcity of water while most of the country lies under inches of it. Surely it’s like a drowning person wasting their last gasp by calling out for a drink.

The surface is indeed saturated and our feet are soggy, but it is what’s going on underground that deserves a moment’s thought. Right now, vast quantities of water are being removed from the natural aquifers beneath us.

This process is called abstraction and involves pumping out underground water known as groundwater. It is one of those invisible activities that we don’t often stop to consider.

The latest figures published by DEFRA for England and Wales show that on average 14 billion cubic metres of water were abstracted from underground sources every year for the period 2000-2012. This equates to over 15,000 Olympic swimming pools of H20 every single day.

Our groundwater is purified by rock and is perfect for consumption with very little treatment. It provides a third of our drinking water, and is mixed with water from rivers which is less pure. The electricity supply also massively relies on abstraction as most power plants (nuclear or fossil fuel) require large quantities of water in order to operate. It is also utilised by agriculture and industry, although to a lesser extent.

So what’s the problem? There’s plenty of rain at the moment so surely there’s loads of available water. If only it was so simple. The issue is that if abstraction rates aren’t right, it only takes a few months of drought to seriously affect the levels. This has implications for our water supply and for industry, but more immediately nature (as always) takes the hit.

All rivers and wetlands are partly fed by groundwater and some depend on it completely.

Over-abstraction literally sucks the life out of these unique and delicate ecosystems. Fish populations collapse, rare mammals such as water voles struggle to survive and butterflies such as the iconic swallowtail are threatened.

Many places, such as Catfield Fen in the Norfolk Broads, are showing the stresses of over-abstraction. With climate change, population growth and lifestyle changes, the challenges for managing water sustainably look likely to grow.

The Government admits that the current system, whereby landowners obtain a licence to abstract, is outdated and has failed to respond to over-abstraction. The Environment Agency is currently consulting on a new system which would enable the trading of licences and also aims to reduce the impact on important sites for nature.

We need abstraction, but done badly all of us will suffer. The new system will have to be fleet of foot and far more sensitive to the impacts on our region’s special, natural places. It’s our water, a collective asset, so we ignore what is going on under the ground at our peril.