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Archive for July, 2008

A lot of manufacturers have already realised the importance of having a green credential. More and more customers have been asking how their products are manufactured – can they be more eco-friendly, what is their stand on environmental issues?

And whilst a lot have made the necessary changes. Others have resorted to greenwash.

I’ve seen a lot on the grocery shelves. With big words- ‘environmental’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘WWF’. But look closely, and you see nothing more. They don’t say why they’re environmental. They don’t say what steps they’re taking. It’s like buying their product just magically transforms you.

Recently, the husband and I booked a trip to the continent. Travelling by the now ‘carbon neutral’ eurostar and staying in an eco-friendly hotel – this trip is promising to be not too bad for our carbon footprint.

I booked a train and hotel deal, so really, the hotel being an ‘eco’ one was a bonus that I did not quite expect. But I did wonder why the credential of being ‘eco’ was in the smaller prints.

So we got there. And looked through their brochures and did not find any explanation as to how they became eco-friendly. There was a sign in the bathroom saying we should reuse our towels and to hang them if we don’t want them replaced. Another sign by the door reminds guests to turn off the lights before leaving. But was this enough to say they were an eco friendly hotel? I mean, isn’t every other hotel doing this already? Because it makes sense – as a hotel, not only do you save precious resources, you save money as well. All for printing and displaying a few signs.

But still, being greenwashed once too many times is just making me feel a bit stupid.

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Most of the time, I carry a book and some technical materials (read: boring stuff i need to read!) with me. But, there are just days that I wanted a non-challenging read – maybe to pore over the latest news, and gossips (sshhh!!), and maybe the latest must haves.

So, yes, never mind that the articles are poorly written or that it’s a rehash of something we have read like a week ago in another paper or in the internet, the free newspapers do come in handy sometimes.

Everybody else usually leave their paper on the train, I guess it became a habit for most. As most of the time, it gets picked up by another person dying for something to read. Quite considerate, if you think about it.

Most of the time people think that leaving litter is quite antisocial, and why it doesn’t apply to leaving newspapers as well still baffles me. You’ve probably left your paper on the seat, or at the back of the seat, or even stuffed them in between the seats. But, I’ve seen people just dropping them wherever, without looking back. Grown men. Professional looking, well-dressed people. It just seemed acceptable, and nobody else would raise an eyebrow. Either that, or we are too polite to tell them off – I am guilty of this, though at times I stare them to death, but to no avail as they had their backs turned to me anyway.

It’s an eyesore. And it could be dangerous as people are likely to slip on them in stairwells.

Aside from that, they’re most likely to end up in the landfill.

The cleaning fairies do exist to clean up after us. London Underground staff, and people from one of the afternoon free papers regularly pick up what we’ve dropped. Keeping the eyesore to a minimum and nobody slips and sue them.

6,500 tons of our garbage, mostly paper, is left on the Metronet-maintained trains and stations each year. Only about half can be sent for sorting and recycling, though improvements to these figures are being made and a further 21 tonnes each week are being recycled.

Some 1.5 million of these free paper are given away in and around London each day. Note that this article is still in 2006. There are certainly more of them around today. An interesting aspect in this article is that, we are all paying for those “free” paper in the form of our council tax – for clearing up, to be put into the landfill, incinerated or recycled. Not to mention the costs to the environment. I think our council tax can be of better use elsewhere.

It might be helpful to note, that at least some of these free papers are doing something to help. Publisher of London Lite and the London Paper, have each installed 35 bins in the West End and Victoria. And the London Paper “uses environmentally friendly ink that can be broken down without specialist recycling techniques”. Too little help, I think, but it is a start.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll just stick to my books and technical reads to keep me entertained in the Underground. I don’t really want the free papers to print any more copies for my sake.

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You’ve had the best intentions. You’re out to save the earth. And then…you forgot your shopping bag. Or you realise your coffee flask is still sitting in the sink and you’re running out the door.

It does take a while. It’s like forming a habit. Well, it IS forming a habit.

I remember I took to using reusable bags a couple of years ago. And every other trip to the grocery, I’d forget. This is still happening to me last year. Now I don’t forget them on shopping days but keep forgetting to keep a reusable bag in my bag for those impromptu shopping sprees.

Now that I got my flask, I start to forget again. There are days that it’s still in my bag waiting to go into the sink just when I’m already runnning late.

Most of the time, I’d forgo a coffee rather than get a disposable cup. But other times, well, I just got to have a coffee.

And remember that out of the way coffee shop with fairtrade coffee and organic milk? I was in a hurry once, and in need of caffeine and ran to the nearest one to the platform.

But this is no new year’s resolution. It’s much more than that. It’s a resolve to make my difference. I can be forgetful, and I can waver when pushed. But my intentions are there. I just need to keep working at it. Wish me luck.

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coffee cups

Ever since I moved to London, I have made a habit of getting breakfast on the go.

Aside from quickly realising the hole this is creating in my pocket, I did notice I am certainly not alone with this habit. The little tray table on the train is often littered with paper cups from various coffee shops. And so I assigned myself the task of putting them in the bins if I happen to beat the cleaners to the train.

For a little while, I was quite smugly thinking about how considerate I am. But thinking again, I am using a disposable paper cup – most likely ending up in the landfill, drinking coffee whose source I can only trace back to the shop.

So should I take my cup home and recycle? Not quite. This carboard is usually lined with wax and will not be recyclable.

Not all is lost though. Some coffee shops have taken the initiative to make their cups from recycled contents. Introduced sleeves if their coffee becomes too hot to handle instead of giving you another paper cup, to reduce what gets thrown away (but those sleeves, you can keep and use again!). Some wax are replaced with biodegradable material. I’m not sure if this means they can be recycled though. It just meant they can go in the compost bin. And some shops offer discounts if you bring your own mug (a little saving can go a long way). Fairtrade coffee is quite all the rage these days and many retailers will at least give you the choice.

So I got myself a flask. And asked my coffee shop to fill it up. But it wasn’t quite the happily ever after I had hoped. One coffee shop I had frequented (for the love of their pastries), always gives me the funny look. Other customers behind me would give me the same funny, but sometimes annoyed look as it takes a few seconds more for the staff to fumble with my flask than filling up the usual paper cup.

Also there are the ethical and organic issues to contend with. So I had gone a little out of my way from my platform into this shop tucked away in the corner that sells all fairtrade coffee and organic milk. The girl took my flask and did not bat an eyelash (but still stole a funny look as I count my change, maybe I should just get used to it). It is less busy, so I had no trouble from customers scrambling to get their caffeine fix (at least not everyday).

So there, the path to being green is not exactly well paved. Not even in this country where everybody seemed to have seen everything. I do wonder what people think when they give me that funny look. Is it a quick glance to see if I look like a new age chick complete with unwashed hair and flowing vintage clothes? Or do they think I have some sort of allergy to paper cups (everybody’s allergic to something nowadays aren’t they)? Or maybe they’re thinking… “Now, why didn’t I think of that?”.

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