Your words matter – how big organizations accidentally hinder sustainable change

The headlines of your articles are not just for snazzy clickbait. If done wrong they might work against you – and against the environment. Here are the do’s and don’ts of writing headlines.

 

 

Yesterday while scrolling through my LinkedIn feed, I came across the following article from the World Economic Forum.

Headlines for sustainable content Asian plastic

 

90% of plastic polluting our oceans comes from just 10 rivers

This is a really interesting subject and I wanted to know more, however, what really got me was the words the WEF decided should go along with it:

’Eight of them are in Asia, two in Africa’

‘Urg’ I thought to myself. ‘That’s a bad choice of words for this piece’.

The World Economic Forum, an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation, is committed to improving the state of the world. This fact makes the above even more problematic.

Though in line with the article and truthful in it’s nature, that small sentence does way more harm than good. It’s working as a hindrance for sustainable development.

 

Why words matter

Let’s deconstruct the sentence.

By writing ’Eight of them are in Asia, two in Africa’, it’s easy to infer, that no other continent in the world is home to one of the rivers causing 90% of the pollution. This is still completely true and in line with the article but it has unfortunate side effects:

  1. You are basically saying to everyone outside these geographical areas, that this problem is confined to two specific regions, which make people outside these areas distance themselves from the problem, seeing as it’s “over there”. It becomes Somebody Else’s Problem*
  2. People who actively take steps to lower their plastic waste feel discouraged because they are let to believe that their actions have no impact at all. This will leave them less likely to want to change their habits or push for change in the future.

Additionally, you risk enhancing old believes that Asia and Africa do not care about the environment. This is, of course, a generalization, not to mention an outdated view of the two continents but unfortunately, the western part of the world still views Asia and Africa as lazy, indifferent or unknowledgeable to environmental issues.

 

What to do instead

Had they instead chosen a solution orientated caption, they could have fed into the positive wave of change already taken place around the world – the focus on oceanic plastic pollution. If the World Economic Forum wanted to leave the reader more informed but also more likely to support anti-pollution initiatives in the future, they could have replaced the caption with something like this:

‘By knowing which 10 we can focus on targeted solutions, with higher success rates’ 

They could even just have copied points from the article itself, for instance:

‘The rivers all had two things in common; a generally high population living in the surrounding region – sometimes into the hundreds of millions – and a less than ideal waste management process’

 

Why it works

The first example is simply putting a positive outlook on a dire situation. Yes, the ocean is filled with plastic, but by pinpointing the 10 biggest sources, we can act.

Action is the key word, because only presenting your audience with the (often negative) facts of global pollution issues and climate change, serves as an emotional paralyzer.

What the heart hears is: The world sucks and no one, especially you, can do anything about it. You might as well go back to facebook and kittens.

Instead, by choosing a more positive angle you are telling your audience, yes, this is a bad situation, but knowing the facts about it gives us the power to act.

In the second example, you’re getting even more specific in regards to what needs to be done, so we can turn the problem around.

It would send a signal that 90% of the world’s oceanic plastic pollution is caused by manageable problems that we already know the solutions to – waste management.

Having spent half a decade in waste management I guarantee you that less-than-ideal-waste management is not the same as impossible waste management.

 

But wasn’t it just click-bait?

Possibly. I mean, I clicked on the article. One could argue, that the caption is just right because it evokes resentfulness towards the places responsible for it. But then what? You would have to read the article to the end to get the positive news. And even this is still an issue because you just confirmed the preconceived notion that Asia doesn’t care, meaning that your audience is actually more likely to dismiss the positive news about the advances in Asia because it contradicts a strong held believe – that Asia pollutes, and don’t care. This is what’s known as the backfire effect. You can find a more colorful description of the backfire effect here.

Even if it is just a click-bait aimed at the WEF’s target audience, would you really want to risk pushing everyone who scrolls past the article even further away from taking action on the subject?

 

Small tweaks – Big outcome

I chose to write about this specific article from the World Economic Forum, for two reasons. Firstly because of their inherent role as a promoter of sustainable change, and secondly because their article was well written and had a great balance of facts and behavioral change elements.

The article clarifies how big of an effort China is making to intensify waste management, and mentions Delhi’s ban on disposable plastic. Furthermore, at the bottom of the article, you can find links to articles about how to combat plastic pollution – also known as a call to action.

I want to stress that I think weforum.org overall produces great content and I am a happy reader. Like this nice whale piece, below. It has a positive headline and caption, as well as a great photo – there’s even a sea pun!

 

But the devil is in the detail, and small tweaks like the above can push sustainable development much faster.

By empowering the audience with a positive outlook, you are allowing for much more support towards passing the necessary legislation, investing in alternative products or cleanup technologies, and willingness to change habits. Like giving your audience concrete advice on social media, complete with jokes and pictures.

This also means saving time and money for the companies and regulatory bodies working to solve the problem. But most importantly, you work towards removing more plastic out of our oceans.

 

 

*As coined by the great Douglas Adam, Somebody Else’ Problem refers to people’s ability to simply ignore things they don’t want to deal with.

Advanced waste – why the Frack is recycling so hard?

Why are there so many bins to choose from? Why don’t they just make recycling easier? This post is about why how our advanced waste makes reeks of complexity, and what you can do to make your daily recycling habits easier. 

 

Have you ever found yourself staring at a sea of different waste bins, trying to figure out what goes where? Or have you ever had a heated argument with a friend or relative about how to recycle? If yes, then you’re just like the rest of us and it begs the question, why is recycling so hard?

Recycling is a big industry by now and few will argue that it isn’t an important thing to do. This is not a post about how, or why to recycle your waste, but about why there are so many rules and so many bins.

In the tiny country of Denmark, there are a least 100 different schemes. This can result in a lot of confusion if you move from one city to another because you have to learn the rules of recycling all over again. It also means that you could end up in a heated debate with your ant Irma about which bin to put your newspaper in.

Why do different cities have different recycling bins?

Advanced Waste Complexity Recycling

If you travel, you might have noticed different waste bins, with different shapes and different rules.

Maybe you’ve entered countries and thought;

Hot damn, they recycle a lot of stuff here! Or the opposite, they don’t recycle at all. What is wrong with these people, have they no shame?

The answer to why there are differences in what cities recycle is partly money and logistics. It takes money to transport and sort waste. But you also need to have facilities which are able to treat the waste. Not all cities have equal access to waste treatment, hence they develop different schemes to match the local circumstances and financial situation.

 

But that still leaves us with the more important question.

Why is recycling so hard? 

Rule are rules, right? Why can’t each city just make easy rules to follow? The answer may seem counterintuitive:

Progress! 

We have made astounding advances in technology. The world is full of magnificent things, that just one generation ago would have bedazzled the world. Even my coffee maker seems to require me to have an MIT degree to operate it.

Look around you, look at all the amazing things you have. You are reading this on a laptop, iPhone, tablet, or e-reader. Most of your kitchen appliances are a mix of metals, plastic, rubber, electronics and maybe even glass. Even your clothes consist of a myriad of different products. Fabric, zippers, beads, even el-wire.

 

 

We live in an amazing, awe inspiring and highly advanced world, and because of that we produce advanced trash

 

We have highly sophisticated waste. You can’t just toss it. Something as simple as a container for moisturizers may have a glass bottom and a plastic top. Should you sort it as glass or plastic? Or should you separate the two pieces? Should you rinse out the moisturizers or is that ok to leave in?

What about electric toys? Plastic or e-waste? Metal, maybe?

 

All these questions are a natural byproduct of our advanced world.

 

Being a waste geek, I often get asked questions about waste and how to sort it.

Recently I was sent this picture with the following question:

 

The After Eight conundrum – Picture by Stefan Anker Straasø

‘I can’t seem to figure out if some types of waste are paper or plastic. Like this After Eight wrapper. Paper or plastic?

And what about that little thingy that closes bread bags? It contains both metal AND plastic, so where should I dispose of it?’

 

 

It’s a darn good question, and I personally never heard it before.

The after Eight wrapper is likely a paper with some form of a coating, making it near impossible to recycle. Furthermore, the way the Danish recycling system works in most part of the country is, if your waste has touched food you can’t recycle it – this will likely change in the future as demand for resources rises.

The little bread twisters are devils and cause frustrations for many recycling superheroes. If you don’t use them directly to lock other bags then sort them as metal, as the plastic will be melted off in the recycling process.

 

Our waste and recycling system is just a logical byproduct of the way we live our lives in this high-tech world.

 

The above are both great examples of how the tiniest things in our everyday lives, are complex beyond reason. Why should I have to think about this when I just want to recycle and do the right thing?

It’s not that the people planning your local recycling schemes can’t do their job, or that big corporations are deliberately destroying the planet. It is just the unfortunate consequence of making everything around us more and more complex.

But, I can’t change that. Can I?

The world is insanely advanced, and every time I buy something I get about 10 different materials and I have no clue how to separate them – what do I do?

Let’s be honest, one person doesn’t change the world. But one person can definitely move it in the right direction. Want to be that person? It’s surprisingly easy. If you’re new to this, start with the easiest step. If you’re already a pro, move on to the more experienced step.

Small step

Stop buying plastic bags. Yes, we are starting at baby steps here.

It’s so easy to carry an extra shopping bag on you, that you have absolutely no excuse for not doing this. And compact shopping bags come in all kinds of cool designs now, so you can look good while lowering your ecological footprint.

You can also simply fold an old shopping bag, and keep it in your purse. Here is a video (and a link here).

(See how easy it is. I do this with my bags at home)

Why bother?

According to the world watch institute, the world has a global consumption of 4 to 5 trillion plastic bags—“including large trash bags, thick shopping bags, and thin grocery bags.

Roughly 80 percent of those bags were used in North America and Western Europe. Every year, Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags, which can clog drains, crowd landfills, and leave an unsightly blot on the landscape.”

 

You might think that your bag can’t possibly make a difference. Well, worst-case scenario, no it doesn’t’ and you save money and plastic for no other reason. Many countries pay for the bags, so there is money to be saved.

In a better case scenario, other people will see you whipping out your smart little bag, and think: ‘Wow, that’s really clever. I should start doing that.’ They will start doing the same and will introduce other strangers to the concept. And so it ripples.

Medium step

Buy products with only one material or with a take-back/lifetime warranty
Examples include:

  • Clothes made from only cotton/wool/silk
  • Bags or shoes made from just one material
  • Doc Marten shoes (Lifetime warranty)
  • Furniture made from only one material (Go here for more sustainable furniture)
  • An entire webshop which only features lifetime warranties

 

If you feel ready to step things up, here is a list of 37 things to do, to reduce your waste

Big step

Don’t throw stuff out.

This might seem like a really small step, but it makes a large impact. For example, if you want a new dining room table maybe consider shining up your existing table before spending money on a new one.

Remember that there is joy and pride in taking care of your belongings, of learning skills that enable you to polish a table, or sew on a new zipper.

I want to clarify that I do not endorse hoarding! There is a huge difference between buying a lot of stuff and not getting rid of it, and buying only stuff you really like or need and making sure you can keep it for decades.

There you have it, a few easy steps to get you started in regards to dealing with the advanced waste in your life.

I’ll end this post with a personal anecdote. I am fortunate to still have two grandmothers. They have taught me many things growing up, both in terms of what to do, and what not to do.

They are both children of the war and have both lived in times of scarcity. One of them is a hoarder. Not the horrible kind you see on TV, but she buys thing she finds on sale. She doesn’t need it. She doesn’t even really want it, but she buys it.

The other grandmother seldom buys anything. Her kitchen has not been remodeled since the late 50’s. She has told me that sometimes she thinks about remodeling it, but then again, she likes it the way it is and doesn’t really need a new kitchen.

Because her and my grandfather always make purchases which are well thought out, and out of necessity instead of desire, they were able to own recreational things such as a boat, a summer house, and an auto camper. This on the salary of one working-class adult.

My very responsible grandparents, on their wedding day, more than 60 years ago.

My grandmother was a stay-at-home mom, and they made do with my grandfather’s salary. Of course this was much easier to do in the 60’s than it is today, but still.

Because they never wasted money on things they didn’t need or didn’t really want, they can now afford to stay in the house they have lived in since the 1950’s. A house they love and cherish.

Many of their peers have resorted to selling their houses and moving into a smaller apartment because they could not pay the mortgage out of their retirement plan – but not these kids. Now, in their 80’s, they take care of their house, and enjoy the freedom and space it gives them.

 

That’s the kind of person I want to be when I retire. Someone who doesn’t spend money on things I don’t need. Someone who can stay in my home if I so desire. Someone who has had a life of adventure, of boats and auto campers and hopefully, someone who can inspire my grandkids to live a life of joy, with or without a lot of material goods.

Biodegradable glitter vol. 2 – For the sparkly environmentalist in you

I tested biodegradable glitter vs. conventional glitter. This is my verdict.

Biodegradable glitter: Photographer Nadya Lev, makeup Risa Robins Moloney, model Tilde Ann Thurium

 

Boy, that was some party! I’m just waking up from it. I won’t bore you with the details about the six fire spinners, the aerial art, the Cow Girl Burlesque act, or the glitter ass slap, cause I’m sure you don’t care about any of that.

 

Instead, let’s dive right into the very scientific test of biodegradable glitter (Read about the test setup here).

 

Decomposing in tap water

I never got around to test this. Mainly because I was home very late and was very tired. Woops. So yeah, I still have to do that. I guess there will be a third post about glitter.

 

On your body

Short recap first. If you have ever been in contact with glitter, you know that cleanup sucks big time. You cannot get that sparkly herpes off you.

If you’ve ever done burlesque, a glitter party, pride, or just a badass new year, you know perfectly well that you will find glitter everywhere on your body.

You will find glitter places you don’t want to admit you’ve found glitter. It’s tyranny and always has been …Until now [Warning profanities might occur].

 

So yeah, this is what happens at 3 am in my house.

Oh my fucking god!

It came off! It just came off! I washed my face with tap water when I came home, and my sparkly face just melted away!!!

I have NEVER in my life tried anything like it. Whatever glitter that was still left the next morning, disappeared when I took a shower. This is a picture of a very tired me, before and after dealing with glitter, at 3 am.

 

In terms of body clean up, biodegradable glitter is APPROVED!

 

The cleanup

Well, I for one can hardly get my hands down. My floor is clean. No glitter! Well, almost no glitter.

On any given day you will most likely find sparkly bits in my apartment. I think there’s a stockpile from the years and years of glitter related events. I got some glitter on my boots, but it rubbed off pretty easily.

 

Conclusion

When tested against conventional glitter, biodegradable glitter kicks ass! It’s good for the environment and it’s easier to clean up. Win-win!

 

However, there are a few things which worry me

There is still something I want to address regarding the bio-glitter.

The founders of bio-glitter told me this about the shine of it:

 

 

 

The shiny part of the glitter comes from a thin layer of aluminum which is in itself not biodegradable, but because of the small amount it is, according to European regulations, degradable.

I’m all down for European standards, but this part still bothers me. A thin layer of aluminum is still aluminum. It might not harm you, or larger animals, but it will still be consumed by smaller animals.

These animals will then again be consumed by larger animals, transporting the potentially accumulated aluminum to the larger animals, which will then again be consumed by even larger animals, adding even more aluminum via the food chain.

 

This is called bioaccumulation.

 

It is still unclear if the bioaccumulation of aluminum is harmful to animals or humans. This article suggests that accumulation of aluminum is related to a number of disease states, particularly those relating to oxidative stress.

 

What to do – High, medium, or low impact

The major issue with conventional glitter is still the microplastic pollution it generates.

As with all things you purchase, make sure that small pieces don’t fall off it, and buy good quality.  Here are a few steps you can take to end plastic pollution.

 

Low impact: Switch to biodegradable glitter. I do not say to toss out all your existing glitter, but use it with care. When you remove glitter nail polish, make sure not to flush excess glitter down the drain, but instead throw it in the trash.

Medium impact: Donate money to one of the organizations working towards banning microplastic, or spread the word on social media

High impact: Get involved in the political organizations that work to ban microbeads and raise awareness of microfibers.

 

Ps: If you love glitter nail polish, like I do, remember you can make your own with biodegradable glitter. Buy some eco glitter, and clear nail polish, and mix. Voila! Ready for the next party!

Biodegradable glitter – For the sparkly environmentalist in you

Just in time for Christmas and New Years, biodegradable glitter is here! And the webshop opens tomorrow, so check out EcoSparkels!

First of all, I am not getting paid to write this. I have been a glitter lover for almost as long as I’ve been an environmental blogger, so joining the two is a sparkly dream come true.

It was also a bit of a slap in my environmental face, as I had never paused to consider what glitter is actually made of.

What is glitter made of?

Well… Long story short, it’s basically shiny microplastic. Yep,  as in the microplastic that nations around the world are now forbidding, because it’s poisoning our food streams.

And I’ve used a lot of glitter. Boy, have I sparkled. I feel really bad about it now, and I hope to the big sparkly unicorn in the sky, that this biodegradable glitter isn’t just a scam. Because if it is, I can’t go back to my old shiny ways, knowing that my shine is really just tiny pieces of plastic, on a mission to pollute food streams, water resources, while poisoning earthworms.

EcoSparkles are hosting a release party in my home city this Saturday, and I’m gonna join the madness. But one does not simply trust biodegradable glitter. How is it biodegradable?

I’ve written EcoSparkles to find out what their glitters composed of. This is what the owners told me:

EcoSparkels are produced from biodegradable and compostable microfilm, made of cellulose from Eucalyptus. The trees are grown and harvested in line with FSC and PEFC standard, ensuring that the soil is not overexploited.

The shiny part of the glitter comes from a thin layer of aluminium, which is in itself not biodegradable, but because of the small amount it is, according to European regulations, degradable.

Both the bio-glitter and the holographic glitter, is tested free from toxins, parabens, and heavy metals. It’s cosmetically certified and can be used directly on your skin.

It’s broken down by natural bacteria, and we [the founders of EcoSparkels] used it for an outdoor festival, where they saw it almost dissolve in from of our eyes.

Because it’s tested free of toxins and heavy metals, it doesn’t cause harm to natural and oceanic life, if consumed.

We recommend using bio-glitter at outdoor events, for example. festivals and summer celebrations, to lower you ecological footprint considerably, compared with conventional glitter.

Crafts glitter is produced mostly of PVC or PET that is oil-based and therefore does not degrade naturally. In addition, we have found that a lot of conventional glitter is loaded with heavy metals are very harmful to the skin by direct contact. This is also very harmful if left in natural surroundings.

Our glitter, both biodegradable and the holographic, is produced in England by the local produce wood. This reduces the CO2 footprint, as the wood is not shipped from the other side of the globe.

Biodegradable Glitter EcoSparkels.

The two founders of EcoSparkels.

Eucalyptus trees are a very invasive species, thus making it easy to plant and maintain a healthy population. We see as a positive use of a plant, that has negative qualities.

However, our holographic glitter is made of PET plastic, making oil based. But it is still tested free and certified for cosmetic use.
Our supplier is working on develop a biodegradable holographic glitter, but it is harder to work with since it has a “rainbow” -surface and thus require thicker aluminum than bio-glitter.

We state clearly on our website that we only recommend the holographic glitter in urban environments and we make an effort to inform our costumers about our ecological footprint of the holographic glitter.

The above gave me a lot of thoughts about the pros and cons of such product, and I’ll have to get back to them in the follow-up post.

I got the reply late one night when I was actually on my way to bed. I lay in bed thinking about it.

Hmm. Cellulose. If that’s so, and it really does dissolve in front of you, you should be able to see it dissolve if you put it in a glass of water, at home –I thought to myself, instead of sleeping like a normal person.

Then I thought, well if it dissolves in tap water, it should dissolve in the shower.

OH MY GOD! Clean up will be a breeze! My head carried on for an addition 5 minutes until I finally got out of bed, and wrote this post.

So now the question stands: I this new glitter really biodegradable to a point where it makes a difference?

Myself being no stranger to glitter I decided to test it, you know, in the name of Science.

The highly scientific setup:

Decomposing in tap water: Take two glasses of regular tap water. Put eco-sparkles in one glass, and conventional glitter in the other, to determine if it does decompose to a visual degree.

On your body: Yes, you know this game. If you’ve ever been part of a glitter party, you know that stuff will never, ever rub off. If will take you four-six good damn showers before you’re remotely clean.

Will biodegradable glitter be different? We’ll see. I’ll document as best I can with pictures.

The clean up: And following the trail of thoughts: You know what your floors look like after a burlesque party or a New Year’s party? Glitter all over the floorboards! All over!

It’s the herpes of the craft world. It sticks like superglue and won’t come off. If you’ve ever wondered why, here’s an explanation.

This experiment actually requires me to bring home a bunch of glitter – and then bother to clean up the next day. Seeing as we have guests come over I guess I have a good reason to clean anyway. But um, let’s just see if I remember to take some I-got-home-pictures.

That’s is!

Stay tuned for the follow-up post next week, where you also get tips on how to combat microplastic.

May you sparkle like environmentally friendly diamonds.

Buy it once – keep it forever

Following the post about rotation, and how it’s an environmentally friendly choice to rotate your stuff, this seems like an adequate follow up.

 

Tired of buying crap that you have to replace every few years?

Wished there was a way to only buy things once?

I present BUY ME ONCE!
A webpage that only features products with a lifetime guaranty.

 

I am absolutely in love with this one! Besides from being amazing gift ideas for weddings and such, it also a great way to find things of high quality that will last you a lifetime. The Buy me once webpage even features socks and shoes! Yes, a lifetime guaranty for shoes.

The Buy Me Once webshop is basically a compilation of products that offer a lifetime guaranty. It doesn’t itself sell anything, but it shows you your choices of made-to-last products, and redirects you to the actual product shop.

The webpage is a break up with endless consumption and the need for more. We still need things, and we still want to give our children toys, but what if those toys where meant to last a lifetime, instead of just few years?

teddy-1113027_1920

What if, instead of buying shoes every year, you bought one really good pair that had lifetime guaranty? In the long run, you would save money, as you are not buying new stuff all the time.

Of course the shoes wont last a life. That’s not the point here. Products with lifetime guaranties do last for a longer time, meaning they have a lower impact on the environment.

It all comes down to, what trash you decide to buy.

In the end, everything you own, will become trash, so make an active choice, when you are buying things, because you are not just buying things. You are buying waste.

So buy quality waste, and less of it.