McDonalds’ straws suck.

This sucks, McDonalds. Sorry, but it just sucks. And I for one am not afraid to say so.

It took two design agencies to model a new type of straw for thickshakes using computational fluid dynamics. I don’t know about other designers, but I think McDonalds should be focusing on more eco straws, not pfaffing around with this. IMHO, it’s a waste of talent.

You generate 60 million plastic straws every single day on this planet, practically none of which actually get recycled (do they?). And half of them are ending up in turtles’ nostrils and other marine creatures’ stomachs whenever they blow off of landfill.

It’s 2017. Note that the first three pages of google’s search results when searching for the term “McDonalds straw”. And not a single webpage spouting off about how fucked up it is.

How about doing something about that problem? How about something like this:

Culture your culture

Something happened last week while I was walking my dog.

SSHE decided that the best place to do a poop was right in the middle of a path in the Royal National Park. Right in front of two people who happened to be coming the other way. They saw the whole thing. I carried on rather sheepishly as they passed right by me. They both stopped at the end of their walk and looked back at me. The fat man with lycra/spandex pants and fluorescent sports top stretched his legs and was feeling rather good about himself, because he asked me to pick up my dog’s turd when I was more than 10 metres away. That’s brave.

When I go for a street walk –and I find myself going less and less just to avoid people– sure, I carry plastic bags. This time, I didn’t have any. So wanting to avoid a confrontation (like I always do), and feeling extremely embarrassed, I just replied calmly and softly “sorry I don’t have any plastic bags”, turned around and carried on. And then I heard them both muttering something about me being in a National Park with a dog and how it was ‘prohibited’. Well I have been thinking about this for a week or so. And my internet reply –which is rather different from my real-world reply– goes something like this:

No I don’t litter and I never have done. Normally I am a really ‘good’ person and I carry plastic bags with me when I walk my dog on the street. But lately, I’ve been reading this book, which embraces a “cradle to cradle mentality”.

Nowadays, whenever I go for a walk along a nature strip, I just cover the poop over with the adjacent sandy soil. It decomposes naturally and enriches the Earth. There is no ‘waste’.

One plastic bag is spared for use on something else. And there is one less plastic bag with a turd inside it, rotting away in the Lucas Heights dumping ground that they call a “waste management centre”.

You know, Aborigines and their dingoes have been living in this same National Park for 40,000 years. And they would still be here in another 40,000 years if white folk hadn’t have come along and shot them all. They didn’t pick up their dogs’ shit and put it into a plastic bag for it to end in landfill, did they? So I think we can learn an all-important lesson in sustainability from them.

Come to think of it, what do you think would happen if you asked all creatures big and small within the bounds of the National Park to dispose of waste as you suggest, by putting it in a plastic bag? There would not BE a National Park. It would turn into a dump.

Do me a favour. Don’t demand or even ask me to “do what is right”. Who told you that that was the right thing to do anyway? Have you been watching this video or this one?

Don’t you dare judge me about being a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person. And wipe those smug grins off your faces.

Do I mind picking my dog’s poop up? If it’s going to end up in a rubbish tip, yes, actually, I do mind.

I do not value your values. I do not culture your culture. I didn’t vote for your government and I don’t believe in what they stand for. I don’t remember signing any documents upon my birth to obey all the rules in your society. And neither does my dog.

What’s that you say? You don’t like treading in crap? It bothers you? So you don’t care about the environment after all, you just care about smearing dog shit on your vehicle’s carpet. Right, I see how it works now.

Well by the same token, I don’t like breathing in the toxic fumes coming from your vehicle’s exhaust pipe. Kindly drive around the block instead of driving past my place of residence. I’m sure that none of the animals in the National Park –with the exception of the black crows who now feed on road kill– like vehicles very much. So speaking on their behalf, kindly stop driving around and fucking up the atmosphere we all breathe.

Citizens of Australia, if it wasn’t for loads and loads of animals essentially crapping everywhere, nature wouldn’t exist as we know it. Crap is what keeps it all going. And let’s talk about the boundaries of a National Park shall we?

I went back two days later and the big pile of shit that my dog left had almost completely disappeared. The rain had already begun to wash it away. So I’m going to carry on walking my dog there until I get a fine for it. And when approached, I’m going to claim that I’m part Aboriginal and that my dog is part Dingo. And if they have a problem with that I might just say that I’m starting my own religion called “Vida Enigmatica”.

Don’t feed the fish: how the clothing industry is polluting our oceans with plastic

Don’t feed the fish: Re-engineering textile microfibers to prevent 190 million tonnes / yr of plastic marine pollution

Why I am so concerned about the state of the world.

I am worried and very concerned, yes. My background is originally materials science.

From my perspective, the problem is that there is an environmental cost to every single material that you buy — be it gold, cotton, steel, or whatever. People forget that. The economy may benefit from materialism, but the environment certainly doesn’t.

Now, keep in mind that when I did my degree over 15 years ago, the ‘environment’ wasn’t even really discussed in that course. It was all about the properties and structure of materials.

First off, there is a lot of energy required to make materials. So if the country of manufacture uses coal power to generate their electricity, and they are not offsetting those emissions, then whatever physical goods you buy from them is contributing further to climate change.

Why? Because almost all materials either require either energy, heat, or other chemicals (which, in turn, require heat) in order to produce them. That’s a bit of a worry in itself. Because people are generally becoming more materialistic.

So for instance, hunters that shoot animals and think that is a ‘sustainable’ way of life, well I have news for you. If your gun is made of plastic or metal, where does that come from? It all comes from mines. And plastic comes from oil&gas. And your bullets. What are they made from? That too comes from mines. And the gunpowder contains chemicals like sulfur and potassium. And they have to come from somewhere too. And mines don’t last forever…

Currently, the manufacture of every single synthetic material results in carbon emissions somewhere along the line, if only from the energy that is required to create them. I think the correct term is “embodied energy”. [Read more…]

Why I love books and hate iPads.

I don’t own an ipad. I never have. And I never will. And I’d like to share with you why that is…

Why? Because I’d rather read a book, that’s why. A book doesn’t need batteries, and –if anything– supports the growth of forests, which in turn is providing oxygen to our Earth’s atmosphere [as opposed to mining and extraction industries, which are needed to make an ipad].

I’m not so sure that “virtualising everything” is better for the environment. Is it? I choose not to own an ipad/kindle. I buy real, physical books instead. Partly because I believe that keeping books is better for the environment. Partly because I still like to read real books. Yes they are made with paper.

When the tree is growing, it is giving us oxygen and taking CO2 out of the air. It is life-giving. Can the same be said of metal extraction, electronic component manufacture & final assembly? No.

Yes books require physical transport. But they don’t require a supply of electricity. They don’t require me to keep an additional device (and subsequent replacement devices that supercede the original ones).

Books don’t require continual minining + extraction of all the elements, chemicals and compounds that go into manufacturing electronics.

A book is biodegradeable and compostable. In that sense it is *completely* recycleable. Worms and other insects will willingly eat books. For free. They will organise themselves. They will even eat around any of the plastic parts they don’t want. And their crap can eventually be used to make more books.

So once I am finished with a book, even if I can’t resell it, I can always burn it or compost it. What is really the liklihood of us making biodegradeable or compostable electronic devices? We are a long way from that; the way we are making them now is not at all sustainable. To my knowledge, we do not recover any of the elements from a circuit board other than gold. That right there is very wasteful. So right now I try to avoid all electronic devices like the black plague…

A book costs less than a meal. You could even eat the pages of a book if you wanted to. You can’t really do that with electronics because they are too toxic… *many* of the organic chemicals used in plastics manufacture are carcinogenic.

A book already has a 300dpi interface. A book doesn’t require batteries. A book doesn’t go obsolete. You can pick up a book several hundred years after it was put on a shelf and start reading. Will you be able to do that with your ipad?

Books don’t have start-up and no shut-down delays. You just… open and close the cover. It’s a physical thing that you can touch.

And as for ipads vs desktops vs laptops, I do my [real] work sitting at a desk. Why would I want to use a *smaller* screen? Why? Why would I want to use something that is *slower*? Why would I want to use something that can’t handle half of my software? Why would I want to use something with a smaller keypad (or no keyboard at all)? Something that cranes my neck every time I look down at it? Ditto for laptops replacing desktops.

And that’s great. Microsoft has invented a computer the size of a pack of gum. Fantastic! But seriously, I’d rather go for a nice long walk [yes without the earphones I might add] rather than sit in front of yet another screen… Because sometimes it is nice to disconnect completely.

What does this materials scientist think about all this plastic?

Today I’d like to talk about plastic and terrorism. Yes plastic and terrorism.

First of all, the proper term for ‘plastic‘ is ‘polymer‘. It’s not supposed to be called plastic, the correct term is polymer. Ther word polymer describes the material; the word plastic describes a physical property (and not all polymers are plastic, so its technically wrong).

Don’t get me wrong, plastic itself is not a ‘bad’ material. It’s just blatantly overused. One of the reasons why it is used is because of it’s properties. It’s electrically insulating for one thing, which is good for wiring. Otherwise, what would we use?

It’s also very cheap. And that’s another reason that it is blatantly overused. Well you know what I think? I think we need some form of “plastic control”. What makes me say that?

Well much ilke Chris Rock said “if a bullet cost five thousand dollars, there’d be no more innocent bystanders”. Well if a plastic bottle top cost five thousand dollars, there’d be no more innocent victims of plastic pollution!

I do not think companies should even be allowed to make everything they choose out of polymers. So right now there is no plastic control at all. Anyone can make anything of plastic that they want. And I think it’s about time their should be restrictions on its use. In all industries.

Take coffee capsules and disposable plastic cups for instance. I do not think that they should even be produced at all.

Do you know what they are using at the wellbeing clinic in Caringbah? Disposable plastic cups. And I’m damn sure that they are used in offices all around the country. Well that has got to stop!

And now to talking about terrorism:
[Read more…]

Development is not progress

I believe we cannot save the world by simply buying things all the time.
Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown. © 2015. All rights reserved.
Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown. © 2015. All rights reserved.

Even if we all bought 100% eco things 100% of the time instead of the plastic crap that everyone buys today, they are still ultimately things and it will mean that the demand for timber and other eco fibres will go up further, leading to further deforestation elsewhere (more plantations of whatever crop, be it corn for renewable plastic, bamboo or hemp for fibres, etc).

Personally I think the only real ‘solution’ for the entire human civilisation is … to do nothing. And by that I don’t mean “don’t change”. I literally mean: do nothing. For people to simply work less. Work a four day week. Work a four hour week.

We should be more like the Aborigines! We should look up to the Aborigines! The original (and best) custodians of this land.

More sleep and more meditation. That’s the only hope for humanity, for people to be more mindful. And that is the best that I can think of (after several years of thinking I might add).

And I can tell you first hand that it’s very hard to live with less, because we have all been brainwashed with “more more more”.

Of course it’s a huge problem because half the global economy is based on blatant overconsumption. I think one of the best things I ever did was to live in Spain — it taught me to be happier with much less.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t all try to be more eco, but what I am promoting these days is simply minimalism. So I would rather buy a wooden broom than have a vacuum cleaner (for example). Because I see the broom as being much less wasteful over the long term.

Unfortunately, when you begin to look at where all of our starting chemicals come from, the industrial processes used to get them, and where everything else is mined from, you realise how big the problem is.

People don’t want mines in their own backyard. And so the ONLY other place to get them is the natural spaces that are left. That is a very big problem. If only because “accidents happen”.

From my point of view as a former materials scientist, I find that life is so special, we should be fighting for every shred of biodiversity on this planet. We couldn’t even hope to artificially make anything like near as complicated as a fly or a worm from first principles using artificial methods (without cheating using genetic engineering etc).

[Read more…]

The problem with science

I think the problem is not with science, but with the entire 1st world civilisation.

Science is great and I don’t fundamentally disagree with any of it – but it doesn’t have any guiding moral or ethical principles. One problem with science right now is that scientists invent things without thinking through all of the possible consequences. And then some kind of “revenge effect” inevitably bites them in the arse later on down the track.

Another big problem is that businesses can take hold of any scientific discoveries and innovations they feel like and just exploit them for all they are worth.

So we know that this society will all too willingly absorb any new scientific knowledge into profitable new enterprises. Well ok – not so big a deal you might say – and it’s not. That’s the benefit of science. Right? Yes.

But then when those same scientists turn around and say: “No, now you are all going to have to change the way you do things, because we’ve figured out that this is not a sustainable industry” or “it turns out there’s this horrible side-effect”, no one listens. Not the people working for the industries, nor the people buying products from whatever those industries happen to sell.

So basically everyone is using the results of science whenever it suits them, and they are not heeding many of the warnings that science is giving…

People willingly accept, take and use the scientific discoveries. But the very same people never as willing to relinquish those very same inventions. Are they? [Read more…]

Message to the beauty industry

Someone recently wrote this on LinkedIn. And I think it is because of some of the more ‘critical’ things that people are writing on there. Here is what was said about us:

I am not sure that calling consumers vain, stupid or irresponsible is going to win hearts and minds. Many consumers will use these products to address real dermatological issues such as adult acne – if you’ve never suffered from it you are very, very lucky. It is not vanity to want to present yourself to the world blemish free.

Raise awareness, educate and inspire to use natural products like crushed apricots etc but as any parent, spouse, manager or mentor knows, constant streams of negativity do not win respect, admiration or a desire to follow/change.

I have taken a while to respond to your reply. Because I was thinking about how best to do that. Firstly, it’s not just consumers that are being “vain, stupid or irresponsible”, it’s the businesses that are as well! Perhaps ignorance is a better word to describe it?

Firstly, from a materials point of view, I do not understand why anyone would want *additional* exposure to synthetic polymers. Plastics frequently contain plasticisers and half of those are known to be carcinogenic… we touch plastic items all day long and I for one don’t think it is all that good for us.

Okay, so many plastics do not contain plasticisers you might say. Well here is something else that people should know more about. (antimony (III) oxide is used as a catalyst in the production of PET)

So yes, if you eat fish, or indeed any food that comes from an ocean and you use creams containing microbeads, and those same microbeads are found in one-third of fish that are being caught around the world, yes you are being kind of stupid. Sorry, but you are. I think all ecologists would probably agree with me on that one (because they cannot be considered good for the environment). Microbeads that is, not ecologists. Some things just need to be said. [Read more…]

Wouldn’t it be cool if this became a reality?

This new petition is gathering a lot of momentum right now…

Why should people sign? Because it’s the little things like plastic bottle tops that are easily blown around in windy weather… and these small items are also the most easily mistaken for food by marine animals.

Most plastic floats and now an area of plastic waste that is twice the size of Texas has already accumulated in the Pacific ocean and it even has its own name… the “Pacific Garbage Patch”.

I’m sure that PepsiCo already knows this. The question is, what are they doing about it? I think it’s time they were held a little more accountable. They should be more responsible and invent a completely new bottle opening system, so that the bottletop will not (or cannot) physically separate from the rest of the container. That way, they can be recycled together as once piece (as it should be) — with a smart redesign, plastic bottle tops won’t ever end up in the ocean again!

How come the plastic bottle tops last a thousand years longer than the actual drinks inside? [Read more…]

GLOBAL PETITION: Tell McDonalds to replace all their one-time-use plastic straws with paper straws.

I have started yet another petition; this one is aimed squarely at McDonalds restaurants…

Small items like plastic straws and bottle tops are easily blown around in windy weather. Millions of plastic straws end up in the ocean and tonnes of plastic waste has already accumulated in the Pacific Garbage Patch.

I think ALL fast-food restaurants need to be much more aware about where materials come from and where they go at the end of their life.

Some of these long-lasting plastics end up in the stomachs of marine animals, and their young, including sea turtles and the black-footed albatross. Midway Atoll receives substantial amounts of marine debris from the patch. Of the 1.5 million Laysan albatrosses that inhabit Midway, nearly all are found to have plastic in their digestive system. Approximately one-third of their chicks die, and many of those deaths are due to being fed plastic from their parents. Twenty tons of plastic debris washes up on Midway every year with five tons of that debris being fed to albatross chicks.

[Read more…]

The ultimate rant from an environmentalist.

So I was signing a whole bunch of petitions on care2 just now and came across this text written by a man named John Smith, which was left as a comment!

I don’t believe in any form of god, but I think this man is at his wit’s end already and I know exactly how he feels. I thought I’d save it for the sake of posterity, and to hopefully encourage some of you [Read more…]

How to spot fake plastic.

Cellophane is a biodegradable polymer based on cellulose. It’s made from renewable resources and it is compostable. They only problem is getting a hold of the stuff…
Photograph by Eric Kim.
Photograph by Eric Kim.

BLOODY hell I am starting to get annoyed with humans. No, not the delightful young lady one in the picture above. I’m only using her to get your attention. Rather, I’m referring to all the blasted cretins on ebay like this one who are now selling ordinary polypropylene rolls, sheets and bags and claiming that they are cellophane.

Kindly stop selling your junky cheap-shit plastic and palming it off as cellophane. Real cellophane burns. It doesn’t melt. It doesn’t shrivel up into a little goopy ball of muck when you heat it. It is supposed to deteriorate naturally and that’s why we buy it. It degrades and because of that, it’s better for the environment. [Read more…]