Saturday, May 24, 2008

on plastic bottles and water

Operation Migration's blog is part of my daily routine. A May 24 entry is a reprint of an article by Dr David Suzuki and Dr Faisal Moola:

The water that comes out of most city taps in Canada is pretty clean. Yet many people prefer to spend money on bottled water, believing that it is somehow safer. Now we’re learning that the stuff in plastic water bottles may be more harmful than anything in our tap water.

'Bisphenol A' is just one chemical that’s been in the news recently – and in many plastic bottles. This compound mimics estrogens (human female hormones) and has been linked to breast and ovarian cancers and childhood developmental problems. It is found in clear, hard polycarbonate plastic commonly used in household and commercial water coolers and some reusable bottles, and it’s just one potentially harmful substance associated with plastic containers.

The presence of chemicals isn’t the only reason we should try to wean ourselves from the bottle, though. For one thing, bottled water is expensive, costing more than a comparable amount of gasoline.

Unlike most nations on Earth, Canada has vast quantities of fresh water. Have we so polluted our water that we feel compelled to pay a lot for it? And from beginning to end (and for plastics, that end is a long time away), plastic bottles contribute to environmental problems.

To start, the manufacturing process is a factor in global warming and depletion of energy resources. It takes close to 17 million barrels of oil to produce the 30 billion water bottles that U.S. citizens go through every year. Or, as the National Geographic website illustrates it: "Imagine a water bottle filled a quarter of the way up with oil. That’s about how much oil was needed to produce the bottle."

It also takes more water to produce a bottle than the bottle itself will hold.
Canadians consume more than two billion litres of bottled water a year, and globally, we consume about 50 billion US gallons a year. Unfortunately, most of those bottles – more than 85 per cent, in fact – get tossed into the trash rather than the recycling bin.

The pollution from plastics affects our air, land, and water. Many plastic bottles end up in landfills or get incinerated, and burning plastic releases toxic chemicals into the air. Plastic that stays on land or that is buried can take hundreds of years to break down, and even then, it doesn’t completely biodegrade.

One of the most disturbing things is what happens to plastic that ends up in the oceans – which is about 10 per cent of all plastic produced, according to Greenpeace. About 550 miles off the coast of California, a massive, expanding island of plastic debris 100 feet deep and bigger than the province of Quebec, swirls in what is known as the North Pacific Gyre. In a recent column for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s website, writer Heather Mallick described it as "a hideous chyme [semi-fluid mass] stretching and pulsing in the sea like an underwater gob of spiky phlegm."

Plastic doesn’t biodegrade; rather, it photodegrades, which means that, under sunlight, it just keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. The tiniest bits of plastic, called nurdles, enter the food chain when they are eaten by marine animals and birds. Nurdles also soak up toxins, adding to the poisons consumed by animals and every creature up the food chain. More than a million birds and marine animals die every year from eating plastic waste or from becoming entangled in plastics.

If the environmental damage caused by plastic bottles or the existence of potentially toxic chemicals in the bottles isn't enough to make you avoid them, how about some reasons that hit closer to home?

First there’s the fact that many bottlers get their water from municipal supplies. Coca Cola filters and bottles water from municipal sources in Calgary, Alberta and Brampton, Ontario for its Dasani brand. Pepsi's Aquafina comes mostly from Vancouver, British Columbia and Mississauga, Ontario. That's right: they're taking your tap water and selling it back to you at a markup that can be as high as 3,000 times the price you pay for it through your taxes.

There's also a danger that governments may use the growing reliance on bottled water as an excuse to avoid their responsibility to ensure we have access to safe drinking water. The federal government must address any existing concerns about drinking-water quality with enforceable standards designed to protect human health.

If you're worried about chlorine in your drinking water, put it in a pitcher and let it stand overnight to allow the chlorine to evaporate – or consider buying a carbon activated filter for your tap. To carry water with you, fill up your stainless steel or glass bottle from the tap, and enjoy.

Water is a precious resource that belongs to all of us. Let’s not take it for granted. And let’s not put it in plastic.

Reprinted from “Science Matters” a column by Dr. David Suzuki, PhD and Dr. Faisal Moola.

Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and chair of the David Suzuki Foundation which he founded. He is Companion to the Order of Canada and a recipient of UNESCO's Kalinga Prize for science, the United Nations Environment Program medal, and Global 500. Dr. Suzuki is Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and holds 22 honorary degrees from universities around the world. He is familiar to television audiences as host of the long-running CBC television program 'The Nature of Things', and to radio audiences as the original host of CBC Radio's Quirks and Quarks, as well as the acclaimed series It's a Matter of Survival, and From Naked Ape to Superspecies. His written work includes more than 43 books.

Dr. Faisal Moola is the Director of Science at the David Suzuki Foundation. He is a practicing scientist and has published widely in scientific journals on many topics in the areas of wildlife biology, conservation, and environmental policy. He has conducted research in some of Canada’s most significant wilderness areas, such as the great northern Boreal Forest, the old-growth rainforests of British Columbia, and the Acadian woodlands of Atlantic Canada. He has also been a university lecturer.

I'd heard of the floating mass of plastic in the Pacific before, and understand it's not the only one of its kind, either. The BBC has reported on the risks posed by invisible, broken down bits of plastic in oceans for a few years now.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

it's here!

I met Janet Hethorn nearly three years ago in Denmark, where she asked me if I'd be interested in contributing a chapter to a book she was planning with an associate, Connie Ulasewicz. It was around this time last year that the final drafts went in. Waiting for me at my desk today:

(Finally, an excuse to use the built-in webcam at work. The book is available here.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

feel my pain

This is how I'm feeling about the literature on practice-led research in design at the moment:

And to describe how my methodology chapter is coming along:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Katherine Hamnett sample sale

From today through the weekend. The email directed to her website and HerSpace for more details but I couldn't find any, so here they are:

Dates: 15 - 18th May 2008
Times: Thursday 15th 6-9pm Saturday 17th 11am-7pm
Friday 16th 11am-8pm Sunday 18th 11am-5pm

Entrance: £1 - includes prize draw

Venue: The Boiler House (Near 93 Feet East)
Old Truman Brewery
Brick Lane
London E1

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

polyester recycling and plastic bottles

Before I got a permanent bottle for water, I was averaging buying one or two bottles of water a month. It wasn't too bad considering I drink between one and three litres a day, depending if it's a gym day. I bought a water filter last year which made tap water heaps more drinkable. Recycling is all well and good but when you think about the non-renewable raw material and the amount of energy that goes into one plastic bottle, for it to contain half or so a litre of water for not very long, well, it's just not a very efficient use of a very durable material, is it? So, I tried to make the most of each bottle that I bought. But no more. Mine is aluminium, and I wash it once a day - by hand. I do have a dishwasher but hardly ever use it. Earlier, another council in Sydney announced they'll ban bottled water to reduce waste. Of course there was a reaction from the bottled water industry, one that didn't acknowledge the problematic nature of recycling.

From Ecotextile News, more worrying news about the issue. Apparently the demand for fabrics made from recycled bottles is so high now that some manufacturers of recycled polyester textiles have resorted to buying new, unused bottles directly from bottle manufacturers. As the article points out, this has implications for companies using these textiles that don't have full knowledge of their supply chains. It probably is easier to keep things transparent the shorter those chains are.

On a lighter note, if you're still not convinced that the era of the plastic bottle is coming to a close (like mobile phones, we didn't carry water bottles in the eighties), this (#76) might help.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Another "eco-fashion" blog and I can't not link, nor shut up about it: "Evergreen Effect". I get immediately suspicious now when I see a plant motif at the top of the page. And with good reason:
"I wouldn’t want to be caught alive sporting the same outfit within a month."
"So to satisfy my curiosity, I launched a web search on eco-fashion. After a couple of hours of surfing the Internet, I’ve actually placed a number of orders on the various shopping web sites that market such products. I haven’t received the package yet, but I have high hopes about it."
I don't know; maybe it's meant to be a joke and I'm not getting it - the writing really is that silly and uninformed, and every cliche is recycled (excuse the pun) ad nauseam. Mind you, in the above post, the anonymous author admits to hearing about "eco-fashion" "a couple of weeks ago" but still, missing the point that badly... I know I shouldn't care, but I do.

An exhibition you should go and see if in Sydney:
I did, and there was much beauty to enjoy.

From New Zealand, Untouched World, who now also have a UK site. They offer clothes rather than fashion, sort of like Patagonia and Kathmandu's enact®. I got the catalogue for the latter yesterday and was impressed that most of the zips and buttons use reclaimed materials. Or perhaps rather, I was impressed that they thought to mention that in the catalogue, as well as be clear which styles didn't have those components.

A promising-looking blog for all things DIY: DIY City Blog. The most recent post when I visited was on Katharina Ludwig; her intentionally temporary jewellery makes some pretty strong statements about where we are at, don't you think? Ditto her ice jewellery. Oh, and the organ bottles - they remind me that I finally got a permanent water bottle, an aluminium one from Kathmandu, saying goodbye to plastic bottles for good yesterday.

Oh, and my fabrics, lace and threads arrived yesterday from NearSea Naturals. I got two different colour-grown cotton ginghams, two organic cotton laces (the manufacturer is Eurolaces and an Australian company, Ecoyarns, also stocks them) and organic cotton sewing threads. I've worked out a plan as far as sewing threads are concerned for the collection and will blog about it shortly. Perhaps not the most exciting topic but needs to be done. Like fusible interlinings. Anyway, I'm very pleased with everything and after a go with the threads on my overlocker, I happily report no problems whatsoever.

Finally, Mike at Cultures In Between has the new site up and running. Go and visit.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

future of fashion?

A Google alert (a glert?) took me to Andrea, upset her design was not a finalist in Seventeen's Design Contest. While I sympathise, I do need to state my view that being competent at sketching is not a prerequisite for a successful career in fashion design. Madeleine Vionnet. Case closed.

But, let's have a quick look at the finalists. Most make claims of originality, creativity, uniqueness, etc. Little is evident in any of drawings. Most could come from the same store - any store, in fact, on the high street or in a mall. Now, not in the future. The finalists, I believe, have drawn what they know, not what they could imagine (I hope). I find one of the more difficult aspects of teaching fashion design is to try and push a student into the unknown, the unsafe, the uncomfortable. To save a teacher somewhere the trouble, I'd recommend none of the finalists choose a career in fashion design. This may sound mean, but I think giving such advice is kind (and justified). It reminds me of the audition episodes for Idol, where people who really can't sing are told so.

Maybe I am being mean. Seeing those drawings, I must admit, does make me a bit angry. Not at the contestants but the state of things - that the creators of such generic outputs would think they are being original. I don't think the finalists are to blame, for they are only a symptom.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Browsing through the Environment section at the Sydney Morning Herald, I came across Miranda Devine's terrifying account of the horrors that (presumably) she suffered at Bunnings:

Without plastic bags we would all buy less, goes the thinking. But, of course, we won't. Hence you have the ludicrous situation at Bunnings where a customer buys a small, but nonetheless unwieldy bag of potting mix (in dirty plastic wrapping), a tape measure, a paint-sample pot, marker pens, pest oil and a bottle of Thrive, and is expected to carry it all out of the store in her arms, thus making filthy her white shirt, because Bunnings is a good environmental citizen and no longer provides plastic bags, or only reluctantly and for 10 cents a piece.
10 cents? Plastic bags cost that in Finland in the early nineties. But, don't let that stop us sympathising with Devine's filthy suffering, while feeling "paranoid" about malaria(*) and mourning the loss of mood lighting. It's all just terrifying, isn't it? And here I was worrying, after doing a quick count yesterday after seeing a local road in complete gridlock on a Saturday. More than 80% of the cars had one person in them.

To ease our terror, some happier finds on the net. Alchemy Goods is another company making things from waste. Of particular interest to me, of course, is this statement about the bags made from old billboards (mine is from a different company):
We then created a new bag design that minimizes waste material in the pattern.
Based on my experience, bags would lend themselves well to a zero-waste approach. And there is something nice about making things from waste and not wasting any of the waste.

'Fashion Conscious' opens this week at the Design Museum at the University of California Davis. I can't remember if I've mentioned the associated blog - worth a read, even if somewhat product-focused. And a reminder that the symposium is next Sunday.


(*) I assigned this article as a reading to my students a couple of years ago for a tutorial discussion. Of course it's easy for me to say now, but I was careful not to colour any student's opinion about it prior; just read it and we'll talk about it in class. My, was I unprepared for the response. The hostility (towards the author) was almost frightening, but in the end we agreed it was a good example of a selective use of stats to push a particular political agenda. I look forward to reading what she has to say about flame retardants, found in high concentrations in Peregrine Falcons in California. The reason I bring up the Peregrine? Its global population plummeted in the 1960s and 1970s because of DDT. Since recovering, the falcons have adapted to city life, nesting in skyscrapers worldwide. They may be one of the more efficient means we have of keeping pigeon populations under control. I do remember an article about upset locals somewhere in England complaining that children had been subjected to the sight of a Peregrine killing a pigeon (can't find it now) but it's not really a discussion worth entering into, is it? Happy Sundays.

Monday, May 05, 2008

clarifying the terminology: research involving (design) practice

After a meeting on Friday, my focus at the moment is the methodology chapter and in particular the issue of rigour in practice-led research. It's not something I'm too concerned about but I do need to articulate very clearly the sources of rigour in my project. Over the weekend I was updating my readings on the area and came across this very helpful paper by Kristina Niedderer and Seymour Roworth-Stokes: 'The role and use of creative practice in research and its contribution to knowledge'. The table on page 10 is particularly helpful in clarifying the terminology, much of which is currently used interchangeably, perhaps erroneously. The timing of reading the paper was somewhat serendipitous as only on Thursday I had a minor epiphany in regards to my project, while reading about someone else's.

I don't know that practice-led is the correct term to describe my project. On Thursday I actually wrote at the beginning of the chapter: "My project: not practice-led research but rather, a project that includes research-led practice". This realisation came about whilst reading about Maarit Mäkelä's project in the book she co-edited with Sara Routarinne: The Art of Research. Research Practices in Art and Design. (The website has the subheading different to the book I'm looking at right now.) The chapters covering various projects, including Mäkelä's, focus mainly on art rather than design, although the closing chapters by Stephen Scrivener and Michael Biggs do bring the book back to design somewhat. Anyway, Mäkelä's project to me reads very much as 'practice-led' but as a result, my project does not. For a start, my project includes an exhaustive (and exhausting) literature survey of garments that waste little or no fabric, both historical and contemporary. As the literature survey both precedes and informs the practice, I'm not sure 'practice-led research' is the correct term for my project - the practice does not lead the research but does contribute to it significantly.

Going back to Table 2 in Niedderer and Roworth-Stokes's paper, and the first category, 'Research Involving Practice', I do identify with the context and purpose. In my project, "practice plays a lead role in the investigative process", and "informs theory building within research to gain new insights, knowledge or understanding". (And this reminds me why it was so easy to embark on a misadventure to the world of Grounded Theory more than two years ago... It made sense, even if inappropriate.)

Next, using objectivity, reliability and validity as the criteria, identifying the sources of rigour in the project should be a breeze. Or so I always (optimistically) believe.

As an unrelated aside, I haven't entertained the thought of designing within the Australian industry for some years now - not much or seriously anyway. Yesterday, a friend asked if could bring in my portfolio to the company she's working for, as there are signs of imminent expansion. I could, I replied, if I had one. The closest equivalent I have is my press book. I had my first look in about three years last night (I should have taken a photo of the dust) and it was almost as if I was reading about someone else. And how things change. Exactly 18 months after this was written, I was applying to do a PhD and got on the road I'm on now. No regrets, of course, but it's strange to even think of myself as a potential designer again. Sure, I am designing as part of the project but it's in my little academic ivory tower, not in the real world where things actually have to sell. Not in the real world where designers have to churn out hundreds of styles every year. Not in the real world where what always seem to ultimately matter, at the expense of everything else, is profit. Anyway, I'm taking the book in; if nothing else, my friend and I can have a giggle at how young I looked. Oh, and I'm still exhausted.