Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The colour purple...

I've been dying my hair, on and off since I was 18. In fact, I've been dying it some shade of red/purple for the last 5 years, to the point that I'm not 100% sure what colour my hair is any longer.

The truth is I like my hair colour (currently a reddy purple colour). However, every time I dye it, I can smell the hideous chemicals, and watch them swirl down the drain with a slight sadness. Added to this, I've been using Lush hair products pretty constantly for the last 3 months, and I don't really want to undo all the good this has been doing my hair by sticking a bottle of my usual hair dye on it.

And so the hunt for an alternative began.

The first port of call was Henna, which is extracted from the henna plant. Dying your hair using henna appears to be a bit of an art - the type of henna, the heat of the henna, the time it's left in on, all affect the results. I love the idea of it, but I don't really like the results - it tends to leave the hair quite reddish with a hint of orange, which I've had before and don't think really suits me. I found some auburn looking Henna and did a test piece on my hair, which left it more orange than I'd like...

So henna went off the list and I was back to square one.

And then I was in my local organic supermarket yesterday and stumbled across Naturtint hair colourant in a pleasing "plum" shade, which contains no ammonia or parabens, and some organic ingredients. I took the plunge and bought a pack.

Today was dye day (a last minute pre-holiday decision), and I have to say that I'm please with it so far. It was no different to using my normal dye (apart from the frustrating lack of an applicator bottle...). The colour is indeed plum, my hair feels soft and in good condition afterwards, and it definitely smelt a lot less hideous! The test will be to see how long it lasts for now...

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Through the hard times and the good...

I've had a hard couple of weeks. I've not been 100% well, and have also been busy putting together and organising a photography exhibition, doing some free photography for a few events, as well as trying to arrange my holiday (for which I leave on Tuesday!). The grand result of all of that is that I've been really busy, and a bit knackered. And as a result, I feel like I've been doing badly at all of the Deconsumerism stuff. I feel like I've not made any progress and lost some of the momentum and excitement I had. I'm tired and part of me just wants to take the easier route.

And to top it all off, I went to a supermarket.


I was put in charge of buying some basic food and toiletry items for the road trip part of the holiday. It got to Saturday, the only time I could feasibly do the shopping, and I was knackered. Rather than traipse round loads of different shops, getting all the things I needed, I went to Coop and bought them all in one go. I was tired and I didn't have the energy to spend hours wandering around getting everything.

Do I regret it? I'm not really sure... I bought mostly things like loo roll and washing up sponges, which aren't the reason why I stopped going to supermarkets in the first place. But I do feel in some way like I've let myself down.

However, this is probably more a reflection of my overly perfectionistic nature than anything else. Someone said to me a while ago that I need to stop giving myself such a hard time about things. I'm not going to be able to do things 100% perfectly - life tends to get in the way. The point of this project was to find a balance where things were sustainable in the long term, not to take things to such an extreme that I can't manage to keep them up.

So I guess I'm still trying to find that balance. How far should I push myself to do and be better, and when should I just accept that I can't do everything...?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Appropriate timing...

So less than a week after writing a blog post about photography, and how I'd like to continue to take opportunities to use my skills to help groups or projects that can't afford to pay a photographer, I get an request to do just that. And for a project I'm really excited about. So how could I say no?

The Feeding the 5000 event is this weekend in Bristol. Aiming to highlight the problems with food waste, the plan is to cook a free meal for 5000 people from surplus food that would have gone to waste.

It's such  an awesome event that I signed up to volunteer at it. I filled in the volunteer form, and under the skills section mentioned that I'd done some event photography in the past. And then I thought no more of it. Last night I got an email asking if I'd be their photographer. 20% excited, 80% terrified, I said yes. It's an amazing opportunity to be able to properly help out a project that I passionately believe in. I'm not entirely sure where I'm going to find the time to edit all the photos - I've got a holiday to plan and a photo exhibition to finish and hang, but I'm sure I'll find a way!

More about the event (hopefully with some photos!) to come soon...

Inspiring projects

Over the past few months I’ve read a lot of books, watched some films, researched stuff on the internet and had countless interesting conversations about deconsumerism. Along the way, I’ve been really lucky to stumble across some inspiring projects and meet some truly great people. These projects and people have really shaped the project for me, influencing the way I think about things and challenging me to think about things that weren’t even on my radar.

And so I decided that I wanted to talk to the people involved in more detail, and write about them to try and share something about why they’ve inspired me so much. I am a big believer that positive inspiration is the best motivator, so I think we should celebrate and encourage the people who do things well – who strive in challenging circumstances to do something different - something that they’re passionate about and believe in.

Over the coming months I’m hopefully going to talk to visit community farms, butchers, reuse and waste prevention projects, inspiring festivals and hopefully a whole bunch of awesome projects that I don’t even know about yet...

Anyone got any suggestions of projects or people I should meet?

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Lush effect

My name's Steph and I'm a Lush addict. It has been 3 hours since I last used a Lush product. This is my story.

It all began several years ago. I've always struggled with problems with my scalp. The doctor diagnosed it as eczema and prescribed me some shampoo. The problem? It was made out of tar and smelt... well... horrible. And while it just about kept things under control, it didn't really make the situation any better.

Eventually, on the advice of a friend that perhaps I should try a shampoo with less chemicals in it, I wandered into Lush. A bit overwhelmed by the smell and the intensely attentive staff, I explained the problem and was recommended one of their solid shampoos, which is specifically for people with sensitive scalps. I parted with five pounds and left, unconvinced it was going to work.

But within about a month, my scalp was so much better that I no longer had to use the dreaded tar shampoo. By the time I finished that bar, I was able to switch to a different (and nicer smelling!) Lush shampoo.

And until I started this project, that's as deep as I went down the Lush path.

At the start of this year, toiletries were on my radar to tackle. I'd always used whatever shampoo, conditioner, soap etc that I wanted to, mostly picking things on how much they cost and how nice they smelt. And then I realised that a lot of this stuff had quite a significant environmental impact, and maybe I should look into alternatives.

At a similar time, one of my closest friends got a job at Lush. I didn’t think much about it first, but then she started to come up with all kinds of information about how green Lush were. I’d always focused on my slight dislike to the shop – the overpowering smell, the slightly-too-attentive staff – and not thought much about the products themselves. It was an education. Over the months, I learnt about the natural base of their products, why some of them cost more, why a lot of things in our traditional toiletries are bad, and most of all, their policy on packaging.

It also helped that I got to try out a lot of products. When I moved house in March, I moved in with this friend, and one of our other housemates was also a Lush employee. They constantly came home with odds and ends of products and so I got to try out some different things and see how they suited me. Some were instant wins – a lovely coconut shampoo, almond oil based face wash that improved my skin massively, a hand cream that could cope with my eczema (and actually helped it) – others were nice but not things I’d buy myself – the face masks for example.

And then something happened, and I started buying the stuff myself. I bought some conditioner, some dry shampoo, some deodorant...

Suddenly my toiletry collection has suddenly become quite Lush heavy. My shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, face wash, hand moisturiser, styling cream, perfume and dry shampoo is now Lush. I like the products – they work well, smell nice, are much better for the planet, and best of all, come in minimal or recycling packaging. My shampoo comes in a block, wrapped in a bit of waxed paper (recyclable) rather than a plastic bottle. My face wash come in tubs, that are really useful for other things, or can be returned to the shop for recycling. And the things that come in bottles come in bottles that are either recyclable or can be returned to the shop for reuse. The only thing I’m not sure can be recycled is the perfume bottles – they do offer it in a solid block form, so maybe I’ll try that next time and see how I get on with it.

I have noticed a difference too – my skin is noticeably better – both on my face (from the face wash) and on my hands (where I always get eczema). Added to that, my hair gets less greasy, and I can now sometimes go a third day between washing it, rather than the two days I managed before. So big ticks for performance. The situation also seems to have escalated even further. I'm now finding that I'm a Lush advocate - singing the praises of a lot of their products to people around me. I also don't really find the products any more expensive to use - they may seem expensive when you buy them, but most of them really last - a large £14 bottle of conditioner lasts 2 or 3 times longer than a regular £5ish bottle of conditioner, so I'm not any worse off at the end of the day. Some of the luxury products cost more, but that's not really the kind of thing I'm likely to use.

I should point out that not everything has been an instant resounding success. I tried the solid deodorant but turned out to be allergic to it (incidentally, they refunded me for this when I went back to the shop and said I had reacted to it). And it took me a couple of goes to find the right conditioner for me, with the first couple really not suiting my hair at all.

There's also some things that I'm not sure I'll end up getting from there. I'm not convinced by their "toothy tabs" toothpaste replacement. I appear to be allergic to the deodorant. And I don't particularly like the colour of the henna that they sell (more on hair dye adventures in the upcoming weeks). So there's still quite a lot of things to address and work on.

But for the time being, that's my Lush story.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Funding with a difference...

Trying to find funding for a project is hard. Really hard. This is spoken by someone who spent a year of her life trying to get a community project off the ground, and now works for a charity where funding comes and goes year to year, project to project.

With the recession reducing a lot of Government funding, and leading to a lot of belt tightening. This means, that competition for charitable funding has increased, and therefore the likelihood of getting any funding has decreased.

As a result of this, people and projects are finding new and different ways to fund themselves. A few of these have really inspired me. More to come over the coming weeks, but right now, I want to talk about Crowd Funding...

So you have an awesome idea for a project, but no money (or chance of getting any funding). There are a lot of people out there who might support your project, but each of them only have a bit of money. The solution? Crowdfunding.

The premise is simple. You set an amount you need for the project to go ahead. You set different pledge amounts, for which people get different things (e.g. for £5 you might get a thankyou on a film credit, for £20 you might get a copy of the film, and for £100 you might get invited to the premier). You then set a timeline, and people start pledging. At the end of the period, if you have reached your target, people pay their pledge amount and your project goes ahead. If not, you're back to square one - your pledge won't be taken for a project that isn't 100% funded.

I had a vague knowledge of the idea, mostly following a conversation with a friend earlier in the year. However, I was yet to actually support any projects. And then I came across Kulturpark. In the heart of Berlin, there lies an abandoned amusement park, complete with ferris wheel, giant dinosaurs and a working train ride. And people came up with a vision to turn this into "a place for creative exchange, site-specific art, urban design, historic memory, social connection, and public imagination".

I love it. I don't know if it's my obsession with abandoned structures, my love of urban art or the social exchange side of the project, but I was really captivated. So I pledged, and the project was successful, and so I am now an official supporter of the project.

Yes, I don't live in Berlin. Yes, it's unlikely I'll get to go and see what they create. But I'm really excited about helping to create something inspirational. The £18 odd quid that I pledged isn't much to me - a meal out of a couple of CD's/DVD's, but it's helped make something exciting happen, and that's an addictive feeling.

For me, Deconsumerism isn't just about spending less on certain things, it's about spending more on others. And helping creative, inspirational projects to happen should surely be on that list.

So I've already got my eye on another project...

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Thoughts on photography

I had a really interesting chat with my housemates this evening about creativity and waste. I've been doing quite a lot of thinking about the Deconsumerism project over the last week, and I posed the question about whether photography was an allowable luxury for me. It's something I spend a reasonable amount of money on (either on cameras or the processing) so I don't feel it's something I can ignore without thinking it through.

I love both digital and film photography - I'm pretty much at my happiest when I have a camera in my hand. I have a lovely DSLR that I bought about 18 months ago, and since then I've bought a second lens for it. Film camera wise, I have about 7 cameras - a mixture of lomo cameras and vintage film cameras (which bar one, were all second hand).

But both digital and film cameras have consumer impact. Obviously I already have the cameras, so the embodied energy is not such an issue. With the digital camera though, there is the additional embodied energy of any other lenses/accessories I buy, plus the energy I use to run my laptop (especially when postprocessing photos etc). With the film cameras, there's the film development to consider. I thought for a long time about not getting them printed out and just getting them put on disc, but there's something really magical about getting them printed that I can't seem to stay away from - I'm like a kid in a candy store, unwrapping the photos before I even leave the shop...

Now, photography is not essential for life, but I consider it necessary. To me, creativity is what makes the world so exciting and life so rich. In Cradle to Cradle, they say "In a world dominated by efficiency, each development would serve only narrow and practical purposes. Beauty, creativity, fantasy, enjoyment, inspiration, and poetry would fall by the wayside..." And those amazing creative activities usually involve some element of consumption.

Now consuming itself is not a bad thing - it's consumerism I have a problems with. But I want to make sure that I am consuming responsibly. So what does that mean when it comes to photography?

1) Can I buy second hand? When it comes to lenses and equipment, this would bypass the question of the embodied energy. Sadly it's not always possible, but it should definitely be my first port of call.

2) Support my local shops! I tend to do this anyway with my film development, as I use Photographique, which is a local processing shop. However, when I bought my camera, I got it from Amazon as it was the cheapest place at the time. Now would like to try to favour a local or independent shop such as London Camera Exchange if I bought anything additional items.

3) Dispose of the waste responsibly. With film photography, there is waste - from the cardboard film boxes, film cannisters (or foil wrappers for 120 film) to the wrapping of the photos that come back. I tend to keep the plastic film cannisters and find alternative uses for them (my friend makes awesome fairy lights out of them), but could do better with the rest of it.

4) Don't be wasteful with film. There is definitely an environmental impact to the chemicals used that shouldn't be ignored. I already do this, but mostly with monetary motivation. Medium format film is expensive to buy and process - the film is £3 or £4 a roll, with developing another £8. So a roll of 12 photos works out at a quid a shot. So wastefulness is unlikely to be an issue at this point in time. But it's something to bear in mind with 35mm stuff as it's a lot cheaper.

5) Use my skills to help others. I've had a few opportunities to do this over the last 18 months, doing photography to help out friends at gigs, storytelling and circus events in the woods, and film events. All the projects have either been for charity, or small/start up events that couldn't afford to pay someone to do the photography, and also been a great opportunity for me to improve my skills and push my abilities (fancy taking some photos of a film night with no lighting without a flash... erm ok!). I've not done it in a while though, and it's something I'd really like to carry on doing when I can.

A few updates...

I know it's all been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently - I've been a bit lacking in time as work's been very busy, and I've been trying to juggle a lot of stuff outside that.

However, many things have happened/are happening...

  • I'm in the middle of moving my money from Natwest to The Cooperative. So far, so good.
  • I got very excited about a table. My friends gave it to me when they moved out of their house, and it's in the kitchen of my new house. To look at, it's nothing exciting. However, the exciting thing is that the table is designed to be taken apart and put back together - the legs are held on with bolts and butterfly nuts, meaning it can be moved between places, instead of battling with the Ikea style furniture that doesn't like being taken apart and reassembled. 
  • I'm reading two awesome books - "Waste" by Tristram Stuart, which is all about waste food, and "Cradle to Cradle", which is about rethinking the way we view things and sustainable product design. Both are awesome.
  • I went on a bike maintenance course last weekend at the Bristol Bike Project, which was a birthday present from my sister. My bike needed a bit of work, and I was keen to learn how to fix some basic things myself instead of just taking it to a bike project. The course was great, and a great insight into the wider project as a whole (hopefully more on that soon...). If you're looking for a bike maintenance course, I highly recommend it, as it helps support a lot of their other awesome work.
  • I've made some progress with booking my holiday in Spain. I'm travelling to Barcelona with 4 friends, and we're hiring a car (just as sustainable as getting the train if you have a full car!) and getting the ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre, then stopping off at a few places in France along the way (including a WWOOFing site of a friend of a friend I believe). Then after the festival we're helping out at, I'm staying on in Barcelona for 3 days, before getting the train across to Bilbao for 3 days. Someone has already offered me a couchsurfing spot in Bilbao, but I'm on the hunt for somewhere to stay in Barcelona still. I've also booked my tickets back - the sleeper train from Hendaye to Paris, the Eurostar across to London and then the coach back to Bristol. All in all, I'm pretty darn excited, both about the holiday, and doing it in a different way. The idea of getting the train back is especially exciting as I love trains, and I'm really looking forward to couch surfing and meeting some people while I'm there...
  • I found an awesome butchers - Sheepdrove Farm up in Redland - they have amazing welfare and environmental standards. They also have really minimal packaging, including wrapping the items in waxed paper that can be recycled

Struggles and battles

The one issue I've found harder than anything else so far in this project is the issue of eating meat. You may have read my last post, which I read just after I'd read "Eating Animals".

Since then, I've been thinking about it a lot, and can't seem to put the issue away. I don't know why I've struggled so much with it - I guess it's an issue that a lot of people have strong feelings about. And, in my experience, quite differing opinions on. Over the last couple of months, I've discussed it with committed meat eaters, vegans, pescetarians and vegetarians. And I'm still struggling to work out what I think.

See, I still firmly believe that you can be an "honourable omnivore" (to quote Jonathan Safran Foer once more).  I don't think it's necessary to become a vegetarian or vegan, as for me this isn't just an environmental issue. And if I was going down the animal welfare route, I would go vegan too, since dairy cows and laying hens are often amongst the worst treated. But I believe you can eat meat responsibly, by sourcing it well, eating less and picking the less desirable cuts too.

But honourable omnivory turns out to be quite hard, as I've discovered over the last month or so. The meat that I buy for the food that I cook is the easy part. Simple - I go to a butchers that has an awesome ethical and animal welfare standard that I am happy with.

However, everything else turns out to be the problem.

Eating out should be easy. It should be a case of checking the source of meat before eating it. But there's two major barriers in the way - my forgetfulness, and my British politeness. The first has led to me eating (most likely) less than happy meat on a few occasions (bacon sandwiches on a work lunch, roast lamb in a pub). I really love eating out, and well cooked meat is one of the perks for me. I'm so used to being able to order what I want, that I'm struggling to adjust and remember that I'm supposed to ask.

And then there's the politeness issue. I thought asking the origins of the meat would be easy, but in reality I'm finding it really hard. I worry about appearing rude or whether it's appropriate in front of the people I'm eating with, and so have avoided it where possible. And this is something I really want to get over. I guess I'm luckier than most, in that a few of the places local to me have excellent sourcing policies, and so I can order what I want without worrying.

Overall though, not eating meat when I eat out (unless I know where it's from) is proving a lot harder than I anticipated, and feels like one of the biggest sacrifices I'm probably going to have to make this year.

The biggest issue though that I've struggled with is how to approach food that other people have cooked. I originally thought it didn't matter at all, and I should focus on just the meat I buy. However, a few people have suggested that I might be taking the easy route out, and possibly being a bit hypocritical. Which has led to a lot of self doubt and wrestling with the issue. Should I essentially become a vegetarian apart from the meat I buy?

Eventually, it was actually something within my house that made me come to a final decision. We cook together Monday to Friday, each cooking a meal each week. And it's one of my favourite things about the house - I really feel that it adds an element of community. But if I refused to eat meat that I didn't source, that either means I can't eat with my housemates (which I don't want) or that they are forced to follow my values (something which I disagree with).

At the end of the day, I stand by my original assertions. I value the social importance of eating together more than expecting other people to follow my values. All I can do is be passionate about what I'm doing and why, and hope it inspires other people to do the same. However, my poor record when eating out is something that I can work on...

Put your money where your mouth is

I have a Natwest bank account. I always have done, as it was the local bank to my parents and it was where they banked. As a result, when I set up my first bank account, it was a Natwest one. As I got older, the bank account type changed to a student then a graduate one, but I never changed banks.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve got more aware of the ethical implications of a lot of high street banks, and realised that choosing where you bank your money is one of the most influential things you can do. Yet my money has stayed with Natwest. I’d attribute this mostly due to laziness and busyness – it’s just never got to the top of my list of things to do.

But March was Move Your Money Month, and so it seemed like as good a time as any to actually make this change. However, with moving house and everything, it all went a bit out of the window, and suddenly it was April. Oh well....

Initial research left me with two: an ‘ethical’ bank or building society, or the local credit union. The credit union (whilst having many benefits), went out, due to the limits to access issues – I’m an avid internet banker, especially with living in a shared house where bills have to be paid and money transferred on a regular basis. And so, I did some research into the most ethical bank accounts. I ended up deciding on the Cooperative. It’s not perfect, but I like their ethical policy, and I value being able to go into a branch and talk to someone about the options available to me. There are plenty of good resources that go through all the options - the Move Your Money website and Ethical Consumer both look at it in more detail. 

So, the decision made, how exactly do you go about moving your money. Well, I popped into the local branch of the Cooperative on my way back from work, and informed them I’d like to give them my money. They made an appointment for me a few days later, and I turned up clutching some paperwork on my lunch hour.

An hour and a half later, I’d chosen which kind of current account I wanted, and started the process to move that across (which will be completed within the next 3 weeks). I’d set up an ISA and transferred across my old savings. I’d got a new savings account set up linked to my current account for the rest of my savings. And I’d got a credit card (for emergency purposes). All things considered, it was ridiculously easy. The woman spent a long time with me, explaining the different accounts, the merits of each, the savings options available, and I ended up leaving very happy. Yes, I’ve lost some of the perks of my old account (£1500 interest free overdraft?!), but the knowledge that my money isn’t being invested in things that I abjectly disagree with is a good feeling.

So the wheels are in motion, and we shall see how smooth the transition across is. They’ve given me a £1000 overdraft for the first 3 months to help with the transition while direct debits/standing orders etc are being moved across. The new accounts are set up, and they've texted me to say they're starting to move across my standing orders. All in all, pretty painless so far. Fingers crossed....