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I'm Wendy and welcome to Moral Fibres, my UK based sustainable lifestyle blog.

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Garden April 24, 2014 posted by

Green Gardening Tips – Peat Free Compost

Green Gardening Tips – Peat Free Compost

Spring is well and truly here – we had a beautifully sunny Easter weekend and I got my hands dirty in the garden for the first time this year.  As I was digging I had a great idea of starting a new occasional series of green gardening tips and ideas on Moral Fibres, much like my occasional energy saving tips and food waste tips.  Of course, gardening is green by it’s very nature, but some gardening practices are less than planet friendly.    So, now and again I’ll be sharing some easy eco-friendly gardening tips to make your garden or allotment as green as can be.

My first tip is close to my heart.  I’d arguably say it’s the most important green gardening tip, but that’s just me:

peat free compost

Choose peat-free compost.

You may be wondering what the big deal is about peat.  Peat forms from semi-decomposed plant material, in waterlogged oxygen-poor bogs at about a rate of 1mm a year.  Peat bogs are unique habitats, home to all sorts of rare plants, animals and invertebrates that you seldom find outside of peat bogs.  And the other completely amazing thing about peat bogs is that they act as carbon sinks – capturing all the carbon that plants absorb while they grow.

Peat was rarely used in gardening until the mid 20th century.  It has no nutritional benefit to soil, but at this time it was discovered that it holds water, oxygen and nutrients well, making it a good medium for growing plants and vegetables in.  It’s usage reached it’s peak in 1997, when a staggering 99% of the compost sold in the UK contained peat.

To meet demand from gardeners, acres upon acres of peat bogs across the UK have been drained and dug up.  As peat bogs form at such a slow rate, this rate of extraction is completely unsustainable, meaning that peat bogs are now one of the most threatened landscapes in the UK.  This loss of our peat bogs has two main impacts.  Firstly, peat extraction releases carbon into the atmosphere – contributing to climate change.  Apparently the carbon released from peat extraction is equivalent to the carbon emissions of 100,000 households a year.  Secondly, extracting peat destroys the home of the rare flora and fauna associated with the bogs – we’ve lost 94% of the UK’s lowland peat bogs, and now we’re importing peat from the Baltic states, Ireland and Finland, adding to it’s already colossal carbon footprint.

Another indirect impact of the loss of peat-bogs is the increase in flooding.  Peat bogs can hold up to 20 times their weight in water – their sponge like quality means they rapidly absorb any torrential rainfall and slowly release it afterwards.  Remove the peat bogs and you remove this fantastic natural flood defence.

Using peat-free compost sounds like a total no-brainer, right?  You’d think so, but whilst sales of peat-free and reduced peat compost are on the rise, gardeners still account for the highest use of peat in the UK.  And just two months ago Which? Magazine told it’s readers not to bother with peat-free compost varieties.    Yet there plenty of feasible alternatives to peat compost out there.

Where can you buy peat-free compost?  

We used to buy ours from our local Co-Op, but for some inexplicable reason this year they started selling only 80% peat free compost, which is 20% too much peat if you ask me.  The best thing to do is have a look at your local garden centre to see what they have.  Do take care: some compost bags may be labelled as “eco-friendly” but unless it’s specifically labelled as peat free then you might be surprised to know that even these “eco-friendly” bags could contain as much as 70 to 100% peat.  Also, be prepared: although the environmental costs are high, peaty compost is normally the cheapest compost you can buy.  Peat-free compost is normally more expensive as it has to be processed a bit more.

If your local garden centre doesn’t stock any tell them that you’d like them to stock 100%  peat-free compost.  If they won’t order any in then online brands selling 100% peat free soil include Carbon Gold and Earth Cycle.  I’ve also found this article to be incredibly helpful.

Some people say they don’t like using peat-free compost as it doesn’t give them the yield that they’re looking for.  To be honest we’ve noticed no difference in what we grow.

If you don’t want to fork out (pun intended!) for the peat-free compost, then you could try home-made compost, bark, coir, or wood waste.  Alternatively you could buy a bag of high-quality peat-free compost and make it go further by mixing it with some home-made compost or coir.

 

Images: 1. Carley Jane / 2. Kessner Photography

Fashion April 22, 2014 posted by

Can Leather Be Eco-Friendly?

Can Leather Be Eco-Friendly?

What are your thoughts on leather?  Can leather be eco-friendly?

We do buy leather, but most of the leather in our house and wardrobe is secondhand.  For quite a long time now I’ve been having an internal debate as to how eco-friendly leather is compared to it’s vegan polyvinyl chloride and polyurethane counterparts (the main materials “fake leather” or “pleather” are made from).  I’ve also had a few discussions with people about leather lately and thought it would be a good time to open up a good old fashioned debate on leather vs. non-leather alternatives.

leather industry and the environment

The Case For/Against Leather

Intensive animal rearing obviously has major environmental and ethical implications, including large scale deforestation, increased methane levels, and animal cruelty issues.  Creating leather is resource intensive, in terms of water and energy usage, and it’s also no secret that the leather industry is hazardous to the environment, to workers and to local people’s health due to the heavy metal chemicals used in the tanning process, such as chromium.    Chromium can cause cancer, and pollute waterways and soil, especially in India and China where many tanneries go unregulated.

Approximately 85-90% of leather is chromium treated.  Other tanneries use traditional natural dyes in the tanning process, such as saffron, in place of chromium.  This vegetable tanning takes much longer than chromium tanning, meaning you do pay a premium, but less harsh chemicals are involved, meaning there is less harm caused to the environment and to the tannery workers.  Leather which is vegetable tanned is also easier and safer to recycle or dispose of, however this more sensitive way of making leather does not take away the fact that animals are being killed.

Leather is widely claimed by manufacturers as a by-product of the meat industry.  As leather commands a higher cost than meat, I’m simply not clear on whether leather is in fact a by-product of the meat industry, or if meat is a by-product of the leather industry.   According to PETA, a high proportion of leather sold in the UK comes from India, yet according to some reports half a billion people in India are vegetarian.  We can’t look at that fact in isolation though: 90% of the leather we import from Asia is bovine, and in the last couple of years India has become the biggest beef exporter in the world, overtaking Brazil.  Perhaps there is some truth to the matter, but it’s such a grey area.

Some people say that as long as there are people in the world willing to eat meat (currently 2% of the UK’s population is vegetarian) then there will always be animal by-products.  Whilst I agree that when an animal is killed to be eaten then all parts of the animal should be used for something, even it’s skin, does this become an excuse to justify the need for leather, or is it simply being pragmatic?

eco-friendly vegan shoes

Are Alternatives to Leather Eco-Friendly?

The case against leather would be more clear cut if leather alternatives were more eco-friendly.  Although irrefutably more ethical when it comes to animal welfare, the production of PVC and polyurethane (PU) requires petrochemicals derived from fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas.  This fossil fuel use accounts for increased carbon emissions, making them non-renewable.

The chemicals themselves required to make PVC and PU aren’t pretty for neither the environment or for human health.  PVC is regarded as the most toxic of all plastics – as well as being a known human carcinogen, it’s known to cause diabetes, damage immune systems, disrupt hormones, and create birth defects.   It’s effects are wide-ranging - workers, soil and water supplies, and nearby communities can all be at risk.

PU is a better choice than PVC – although chemical laden, it requires less chemicals than PVC to produce, and although still toxic, particularly in the workplace, is less toxic than PVC.  Manufacturers are also now starting to be able to make PU with plant-based raw materials, reducing the toxic chemical load in it, and meaning it can biodegrade.

Asking if PU is a better choice than leather opens up another eco-friendly dilemma:  I have two vintage (+30 year old) leather bags (one of which is pictured above) that I have used on steady rotation for the past seven years.  Both are still going strong: a little scuffed perhaps but it all adds to the character.  Comparing that to the cheap PU bag I owned before switching to those leather bags – I bought it new and it barely lasted 6 months of near daily use before the strap stretched beyond repair and a hole developed in the bag itself.  It ended up in the bin (to landfill) less than a year after purchase.

And herein lies the dilemma – which option is the best?  There are no easy answers to this one.

resole shoes

Other Alternatives to Leather and PU/PVC

In the UK we import about £4 billion of leather fashion a year, predominantly shoes.  At the same time, around 2 million shoes are dumped in landfill every year.  If you already own leather shoes, then instead of buying more shoes in alternative materials, the most eco-friendly option would be to re-sole shoes that you already own, if that’s possible.  I’ve noticed a diminishing number of cobblers, possibly related to the fact that people are more likely to throw their shoes away when worn rather than pay £15-£20 to have a pair re-soled.

If you’re looking to purchase alternatives to leather then there are a number of different materials out there.  Cork leather, bark cloth, e leather, recycled ultrasuede, and glazed cotton are all materials to look out for.  I plan on writing about some of these alternatives, as well as about natural dyed leather, so do keep your eyes out for that in the coming weeks.

Conclusions

I personally think there are cases both for and against leather, and I don’t think there’s any option that ticks all the eco-friendly boxes.  I’d love to hear your views on leather – let me know your views in the comments below or get in touch via Twitter or Facebook.

 

Images: 1. My own / 2. Wikimedia Commons / 3.  Queenie & The Dew / 4. Split Yarn

weekend links April 19, 2014 posted by

Weekend Links

Weekend Links

Happy Easter weekend everyone!  Hands up if you’re reading this whilst munching on some chocolate!  I know I am whilst writing this!

I’ve got some good links for you this week:

I had to check the date on this to make sure it wasn’t an April Fool’s post – James Dyson is designing a giant vacuum on a boat to help clear the oceans of rubbish.  Yup, you read that right, a giant marine hoover that’s going to suck junk out of the sea.  I don’t know, on one hand I think it’s great that someone’s trying to do something about marine pollution, but on the other I can’t help but feel sad that we’re having to resort to technology to clear our seas, rather than simply changing our behaviour.  What do you think?

I’ve been watching Hope, a short film (15 mins) which looks a the plight of the critically endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and the people fighting for the survival of the gorillas.  Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, it’s a really great watch – sad, inspiring and uplifting all at the same time.  If you have time to watch it all, here’s the trailer.

A mini-interview with me on Prime Location’s blog.

For ethical fashion fans – a list of 30 ethical fashion blogs from around the world.  Moral Fibres is on there – thank you so much Ceri!

This interactive piece on the Bangladeshi fashion industry is very powerful.

Is it a myth that sodium laureth sulphate (SLS) causes cancer?

Batten down the hatches – El Niño may be on it’s way this year!  El Niño is a natural occurrence, but scientists think it’s happening more regularly since CO2 emissions started increasing.

Blog sponsor Kinder Organic is hosting a giveaway!

Fashion Revolution Day is happening on Thursday.  Here’s how you can get involved.

Bargains ahoy in the Frank & Faith ethical sale!  Ladies, this beaded necklace* caught my eye (only £8.49); guys, this jumper* is a total steal; and vegans, this half price Matt & Nat bag* is a great price!

From the Moral Fibres archive: a  fun and easy Easter craft that can be done with kids, and a simple trick to tell if eggs are off or not (the non-chocolate variety of course!).  If you’re all egged out and are planning a spot of gardening over the bank holiday weekend then here’s how you can attract bees to your garden (the bees will be eggstatic if you carry out some of these tips!) ; and if you’re planning on getting crafty then here are some great DIYs for repurposing old clothes to get cracking on with!  I like puns, what can I say…!

That’s it from me – that’s all yolks!  See you next week (when I promise I’ll be pun free!) and enjoy your bank holiday weekend!  Oh, and thanks to everyone who took part in my reader survey.  I’m currently going through the responses and will share them with you shortly!

 

Image from woodleywonderworks.

 

* Denotes an affiliate link – see my disclosure policy for more information.

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best-eco-blog-winner Moral Fibres was voted Best Eco Blog in April 2014 by Prime Location.

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