Environmental documentary – MATTER OUT OF PLACE – film review

At first, you wonder what will happen as the film’s carefully considered cinematography draws your attention. Unusually, the imagery, editing and script lack all the cues of contemporary filmmaking. It’s slow. The cameras are static, and there are no close-ups. Yet, these beautiful, thought-provoking landscapes hold your attention. Then abruptly, the reality dawns. This pristine environment you are viewing is full of rubbish. Finally, the narrative is set, and you unexpectedly spend precious time considering something you would rather ignore – and chuck in an instance. Waste! A mesmerising film.

Austrian documentary filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter takes you worldwide on a beautiful, startling expedition. He traces our waste across the earth – from the mountain tops of Switzerland to the shores of Greece and Albania, into an Austrian refuse incinerator and then to Nepal and the Maldives, and finally to the deserts of Nevada – and sheds light on the ongoing grind of people to gain control over rubbish.

In Switzerland, you experience the sanitised, out-of-sight, out-of-mind of waste management of wealthy nations. The striking image of a garbage truck dangling from a cable car looks more like a James Bond film than an environmental documentary. In contrast, Nepal sees the waste collection as a dirty haphazard, dangerous task where physical labour rather than machines rule. Here, the director’s skill is to draw you into the process. Long static shots allow you to watch the transporting, sorting, and dumping of plastic waste. Somehow, this deliberate locked-off view of the world focuses your attention on the realities of those scavaging a living in such horrendous circumstances while highlighting the toxic leaching out of pollutants into the local environment.

The film highlights the impact of waste in marine environments and demonstrates the immensity of the problems. For instance, you see divers in Greece wrestling with extracting seabed garbage, an extraordinary manual task. In Albania, beach clean-up of plastic takes on a monumental task powered by a rickety tractor and enthusiastic recruits.

By contrast, the dystopian world of The Burning Man festival, Nevada, gives you a MadMax conclusion. Leaving without a trace is somewhat challenging for those tech entrepreneurs who have arrived by helicopter!

The Austrian Film Festival, running 23-26 March 2023 at London’s Ciné Lumière. #watchAUT 

Counting what matters will Covid make us greener?

Whilst coronavirus has cut many lives short and robbed families of precious time to be together, the lockdowns have given many of us, something we were short of, TIME. Okay, not if you’re juggling home-schooling with working from home, but if you’re on furlough, chances are you’ve had the opportunity to have a good declutter! 

Declutter like Marie Kondo? or crush it like Michael Landy?

Perhaps you’ve adopted the Marie Kondo approach — looked for the joy in every item, or it’s given the heave-ho! It’s surprising how much stuff we accumulate. Twenty years ago, artist Michael Landy, famously set about destroying all his 7,227 possessions in public view. Project “Break Down” sent six tonnes of rubbish to landfill having catalogued everything and then systematically deconstructed it all. It also highlighted the extraordinary number of materials used in products, challenged our thoughts on consumption and consumerism, and sparked debate on what items we value. What would you save from a burning building? I am what I own? You can only wear one pair of shoes at a time! A strange problem — to have too much ‘stuff’ to cause us stress, whilst others struggle for warmth, shelter and food.  

Make Do and Mend

We’ve come along way from making things last, mending, reusing or repurposing items in the way the war generation did. My Gran would save every scrap of paper, foil, every elastic band, jam jar, paper bag, piece of string, wrapping paper, all neatly filed ready for reuse. Socks would be darned, and knickers restrung with elastic — who buys knicker elastic now? We are better at recycling, and upcycling and buying vintage are fashionable. Living in lockdown has made us more resourceful — using up those packets and tins hanging about at the back of the cupboard; skilfully rustling up meals from half-opened packs of buckwheat; wearing the same clothes for days on end to save on the washing! We’ve even resorted to cutting our own hair!

What will we have to hand onto future generations?

As our memories become digital, we still need some connection to items from the past. The popularity of TV shows such as The Repair Shop illustrates the powerful emotions evoked by treasured possessions. Could be a Chopper bike or a wind-up toy; a cocktail cabinet or a pocket watch. What will we have to hand onto future generations? Old mobile phones? Clearing of clutter may inearth some hidden gems. How quickly we’ve moved from VHS to DVD to streaming. From vinyl to cassette tapes (making a collectable comeback?) to CDs to Spotify! Yes, your memories are safe as long as you keep paying the subscription.  

What opportunities for change will Covid bring?

Covid and Climate Change are our big emergencies, and they are linked. Can we seize the opportunities the pandemic has created? Become citizens, not just consumers? or will those that govern want to return to ‘business as usual’ to get re-elected? Or will a new measure of GDP take hold — as The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review advocates and value our ‘natural capital’ as a resource too precious to lose. Our natural environment has been essential during the pandemic to provide fresh air — a place to exercise and connect us to nature.

Investors seeing the greenlight too.

While we know our small green efforts can together make a difference, what needs to make the shift in addressing the impacts of Climate Change and subsequent loss in biodiversity are for the financial institutions to get ‘onboard’. When Larry Fink, co-founder of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management group, saw first hand the impact climate change was having in Alaska — and spoiling his fishing trip he was enlightened! “Climate transition presents a historic investment opportunity.” In 2015, Mark Carney, the then governor of the Bank of England, gave a speech to financiers claiming that ‘Climate change is the investment opportunity of our generation’.

Watch this space as brown becomes the new green!

No-fly holidays in 2020? Staycations in the UK, there’s a lot on offer

There’s no question that Brits love a holiday, with data from the international trade body for aviation reporting that British passengers made up 1 in 12 of all international travellers in 2018. While many of us are seeking the warmer climates of Caribbean shores or the bustle and buzz of a European city break, staycations are proving to be just as popular. As awareness grows over the impact of air travel on the environment, the choice to holiday at home seems set to increase.

Hazardous holidays – the rise of Flugscham & Flygskam (flight shame) 

 As one of the fastest-growing causes of pollution, aviation is responsible for up to 75% of the tourism industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. Making up 2% of all emissions globally; however, in the UK this figure rises to 7% of the country’s emissions – indicating a need for change in our holiday habits. A roundtrip flight from London to Berlin generates around 290kg of CO2 per passenger – more than the average person in Somalia emits in an entire year. It’s no wonder frequent flyers are starting to feel Flugscham (what the Germans call “fly shame”) or Flygskam if you’re Swedish. 

The staycation nation – no-fly holidays the greener choice 

While more people are vowing to give up flying altogether, even taking just one flightless each year could significantly reduce your carbon footprint. That said, limiting your Airmiles doesn’t have to stop you from getting some much-needed R&R. More Britons are favouring breaks at home as an impressive 3 in 5 of us opt for summer breaks on our doorstep over trips abroad.

The ease of hopping from city to sea to countryside escape all within a short drive offers a variety that’s hard to find elsewhere. With 31 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, over 7,000km of walking trails and some of the best beaches in the world, it’s no surprise our passports are gathering dust.

We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to fantastic destinations within a stone’s throw of our front door. So we’ve run through some of our favourite staycation spots in the UK to help you make the most of your no-fly holiday.

There is an abundance of accommodation, beaches and scenery in the West Country 

You don’t need to travel across the globe in search of relaxing beach getaways. Visit Dorset’s Durdle Door for an escape to one of Europe’s best beaches, tucked under the impressive cliffs of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Seaside charm meets golden sands and turquoise waters in Cornwall where the cheerily coloured buildings light up the seafront in Kingsand. Or, head further along the coast to Kynance Cove whose white sands and lush rocky landscape give Greece’s coastlines a run for their money. For year-round water sports and the UK’s best surfing, head to Devon. Woolacombe and Croyde see some of the biggest waves, though there are beaches to suit all levels of expertise – why not try something new?

Family-friendly holidays in the North of England

Britain is known for its lush green countryside – and there’s no better place to explore the beauty and variety of England’s rural landscape than Cumbria. Home to the Lake District National Park where sparkling lakes and rolling hillsides have inspired literary greats since the 19th century. Here you can experience some of the best scenic walking trails in the UK. Stay near North Yorkshire’s Yorkshire Dales to enjoy picturesque vistas and engaging experiences, such as family-friendly Forbidden Corner or the dramatic formations of Brimham Rocks. In South Yorkshire, a cottage stay around any of the chocolate-box villages puts you in the proximity of the historic industrial city of Sheffield as well as the beautiful moors and dales of the Peak District – all within an hour’s reach.

Holiday in Scotland – breath-taking natural beauty

From Dumfries to Dundee and Aberdeen to John o’ Groats, Scotland is bursting with breath-taking natural beauty and plenty of lively burghs. Home to Britain’s oldest ski centre. Glencoe has a variety of runs to suit all abilities, though more seasoned pros will be eager to tackle Fly Paper – the steepest black run in Britain. Stay in nearby Argyll, only an hour’s drive to the resort, and warm up in a cosy log cabin set within the tranquil highlands of Loch Lomond. Venture north to the archipelago of Orkney and unravel the mysteries of its great historical sites, such as the towering prehistoric stones of the Ring of Brodgar and the Stone Age ruins of Skara Brae whose history dates back even further than the Pyramids.

Wonderful Wales

What could be better than a cosy staycation in Wales? With three National Parks – the Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire and Snowdonia, to choose from and miles of genuinely stunning Heritage Coast a weekend Wales won’t be long enough. It has so much to offer. For the thrill-seekers, there are some fantastic zip-wire experiences – such as in Penrhyn Quarry, North Wales. And who doesn’t want to say they’ve climbed Snowdon? There are opportunities for coasteering, canoeing and horse-riding. Or for something more sedate plenty of castles to visit and fabulous walks to take.  

Explore more of what Britain has to offer with a staycation at one of over 54,600-holiday cottages, log cabins and apartments across the country. Find the stay that works for you.

‘Slow furniture’ – long live ‘shabby chic’

Since my student days of ‘skip raiding’ I have always favoured second-hand, pre-loved furniture over new stuff. Apart from a few beds and a sofa 30 years ago, most of our furniture, and some of our curtains, have been acquired gradually from charity or second-hand shops, given by family, or bought at local auctions. We’ve got an old school art cupboard still smelling of pencils and a dressing table with drawers lined with 1950’s wallpaper. I like that these pieces have ‘lived’ in other places.

Why buy second-hand furniture?

Buying second-hand also avoids the ‘off-gassing’ (VOCs) of new furniture. Utilising natural materials rather than the flat-packed chipboard option. The furniture is better made: more joints and fewer screws! There is pride in the work and craftsmanship. That well-worn phrase of William Morris “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” is part of the appeal. You have theability to create different looks; bespoke looks without bespoke prices! Okay it takes more time, but that becomes part of the fun.

Buying at auction is a lot easier now that you can bid on-line and e-bay has helped revolutionise the second-hand market – whether it’s cars, clothes or cupboards! Sites such as Freecycle link those wanting ‘stuff’ with those looking for it! Auction sites such as Easyliveauction and saleroom websites make finding second-hand gems at local auctions a breeze. All helping re-use items, which in-turn reduces the demand on resources and lessens the amount ending up in landfill or worse still ‘fly-tipped’.

Help charities raise money and help the enviroment

Local furniture recycling projects are great for feeding into the circular economy – often offering training and employment opportunities. Upcycling is fun. Charities such as the British Heart Foundation, the YMCA, and Oxfam have separate shops to sell furniture and electricals. Although a word of caution here – second-hand appliances may not always be as efficient as they could be, so could end up costing more in running costs. Old fridges and freezers, because they are on all the time, can be problematic.

Slow food, Slow fashion… perhaps we need a new movement supporting Slow furniture!

Interior design obviously goes in trends and glossy magazines and social media sites such as pinterest seek to persuade us to get the current look; Stripped pine, minimalist, post war utility, scandi, urban chic, ‘shabby chic’, Bo-Ho, opulent, funky, 50’s, 70’s … we are sold an image – and it’s obviously a growth area as fashion retailers such as H&M and Zara have moved into the homeware market. So just like ‘slow food’ and ‘slow fashion’ perhaps we need a new movement supporting ‘slow furniture’! Who knows what the next trend will be – maybe dark brown antique furniture will come back, or it will be painted white as they did in the seventies, as they say “What goes around comes around”!

Counting the cost of clothing – Slow fashion to save the planet – Green Choice’s tips

Waking up to the news that we all need to wake up to the urgency of climate change was unpleasant but not surprising. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) launched a special report on the impact of global warming of 1.5C. It urges rapid action, yet we all twitter whilst the planet burns!

We know that there are many factors contributing to climate change and the report calls for significant action in the four big areas – energy, land use, cities and industry. So is fashion that much of a problem? Well, yes. In the same way as choosing what to eat ultimately determines land-use – what we wear has an impact too. My first thought when seeing a glossy mag full of models wearing the latest trend of oversized jumpers and coats, was “what an unnecessary waste of materials!” And the disgraceful practice of burning of clothes and products by Burberry and the like to protect their ‘brand integrity’ is just the tip of the (melting) iceberg of environmental impact.

The concept of ‘slow fashion’ takes its inspiration from the ‘slow food movement’ – the antidote to ‘fast food’. ‘Slow fashion’ attempts to make us consider the impact of fashion on the environment and the people employed in the industry. It’s staggering to learn that Fashion is the 2nd most polluting industry in the world, after the oil industry! So what can we, as individuals, do about it? Here are some tips to reduce the impact our clothing has on the environment.

Buy less and buy better quality

I find it staggering that you can buy a T-shirt for the same price as a sandwich! It is tempting to buy more than you need and to easily chuck them away when they disintegrate after a few washes. Go for fewer, better-made items that will stand the test of time, but remember that just because something costs more doesn’t mean that it is made ethically or will last longer. Look at the label, and check out it’s credentials using the app ‘Good on you’.

Buy second hand

Pre-loved, vintage, charity shop or jumble sale – even e-bay – shopping can still be fun, just in a different way. Create your own style and work out what suits you. Did ra ra skirts suit anyone?

Keep classics

Keep any classics in your wardrobe, but give anything not needed to charity shops but be aware that a lot of items can end up in landfill or shipped out to developing countries for them to dispose of.

Natural or man-made?

Both have environmental issues. Cotton production uses a staggering amount of water and pesticides, according to WWF cotton accounts for 11% of worldwide pesticide sales and 24% of global insecticide sales. Polyester has another problem in that it sheds microfibers when washed which enter our water systems – so it goes on polluting. Dyeing fabric has implications for workers and for the environment. Organic natural cotton is better but it still requires a lot of water for its production.

Make do and mend

Instead of throwing damaged clothes away, check if you can repair them. Or look out for brands such as Nudie Jeans who offer a lifetime guarantee and repair service.

And finally don’t buy – ask yourself do I really need it? Can I make do with what I have?

What’s really happening to our planet? New book by Tony Juniper

whats-really-going-on-book“What’s in the package?” my teenage daughter shouted excitedly as I opened the envelope containing a copy of Tony Juniper’s ‘What’s Really Happening to our Planet?’ book. And as she feigned interest before returning to the computer to play Sims with her friends I was struck by the irony that Dorling & Kindersley had published this book. Back in the 90’s DK’s educational CD-Roms – known as DK Multimedia, had fascinated and excited my older children. They could get information, on such topics as the human body, without needing to read too much and what’s more they could interact with it! So nearly 20 years on a book, even one with lots of interesting infographics, has to work hard to capture a young audience.

That said, pulling together the complexities of the issues that affect our planet is no mean feat. There are some alarming facts in the book, such as ‘Energy use up five-fold since the 1950’s’; not surprising given our growing population. And in DK style the information is presented crisp and clearly, with bright charts and colourful graphics to communicate the woeful state of our planet.

As well as the changing climate, the rising sea levels and resource depletion, the author covers the problems of world debt and wide spread corruption as well as the rise of consumerism and challenges of the waste we produce.

It’s a great resource to dip and out of for snapshots of the threats posed to our planet. I can see it being useful in schools and colleges.  What’s good about having a good old fashioned book  is that you can flick through and find things without being led by specific Internet searches. Perhaps that’s why sales of books are on the rise.  However, I hope that it will be available in app format too.


It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by all the fact and figures and to feel powerless to change anything. Some sections of the book do include what individuals and society can do, but I had to look hard to find them. There are simple things such as eating less meat, using energy efficiently; recycling and using greener forms of transport that could help reduce the impact on our planet. But the really big dilemmas such as population expansion, the impact and needs of the developing world and squaring economic growth whilst sustaining a healthy planet, require more than us making green choices.

Perhaps persuading the games developers Maxis that Sims 5 should be ‘Sims Save the Planet’ could help influence the decision makers of the future. If we don’t look after it, mankind and the planet will die.

What are microbeads – is a ban on the way?

What’s the issue with microbeads?

It might only be a small success of President Obama’s reign, but on his checklist of achievements he can include getting microbeads banned from ‘rinse off ‘ cosmetic products. So if the U.S. can do it why can’t we? Well, a UK ban might well be on the way – even if it doesn’t include all our European partners, as the Environment Minister Rory Stewart recently told the Commons “If we cannot get a common position out of the European Union, we are open to the possibility of the UK acting unilaterally.” This will please campaigners such as the Marine Conservation Society who have been urging governments to act, following many years of evidence gathering by themselves and others on the harm caused by microbeads.

What’s the issue with microbeads?

Microbeads – sound a bit cute, they are anything but – they are small bits of plastic added to face washes, body scrubs, toothpaste and the like to help buff and exfoliate our bodies. The problem is that once they are washed down our drains they can’t be filtered out and end up in our seas, rivers and lakes, absorbing toxic pollutants as they go. Looking yummy to fish, they then enter the food chain and potentially we eat plastic! Excellently explained by this video by the Story of Stuff Project.

How can I avoid them?

Check the label – plastics are called many things, and listed in very small print, so if you can read it it’s best to avoid anything listing Polyethylene / Polythene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), – Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), – Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or Nylon. Alternatively, a handy app has been created see beatthemicrobead.org. You just need to scan the barcode and it tells you if the product contains microbeads. What can I do to help?

What can I do to help?

Vote with your pocket, and choose alternative products that don’t contain plastics, try Fauna & Flora International’s Good Scrub Guide for suggested alternatives and take the Microbeads pledge to stop using them. Greenpeace were successful in their petition calling for David Cameron to ban the use of polluting plastic microbeads in cosmetics. Perhaps the Prime Minister can add it to his ‘Things I’ve achieved list’ like President Obama!

More information on Toiletries & Cosmetics

A big thumbs up for Scotlands all-electric car club

Electric car sharing clubs in towns and cities have got to be the way to go haven’t they? Coupled with good public transport and safe routes for walking and cycling.

So it’s great to see that E-Car Club, in partnership with St Andrews University and Transport Scotland, has launched an all-Renault fleet of eight 100 per cent electric ZOE hatchbacks plus two all-electric Kangoo Van Z.E, it’s first club in Scotland. The aim is to cut congestion and reduce air pollution. The 10 EV fleet will be available to hire around St Andrews, with the 100% electric ZOE hatchbacks and Kangoo Z.E. vans available on hourly or daily basis – great if you don’t own a car for those journeys that simply can’t be done by public transport.

The ZOE is a good looking car so it’s no surprise that E-Car Club chose the ZOE Dynamique and Kangoo Z.E. Maxi after they proved reliable and popular with its members elsewhere in the UK.

Renault UK’s Electric Vehicle Product Manager, Ben Fletcher, said: “This deal confirms Renault’s status as a major player in the EV market. We value the importance of electric car sharing in helping to reduce congestion and improve air quality in our towns and cities.

“Local residents and tourists alike can now take advantage of these schemes knowing they are benefiting the environment around them and saving money at the same time.”

St Andrew’s faces the same challenges as many UK town and cities in addressing congestion and air pollution, the introduction of a totally electric car club is a step in the right direction to help reduce the town’s carbon emissions. It also supports St Andrews’ goal of becoming the UK’s first carbon-neutral university. The scheme hopes to improve local mobility, whilst reducing parking and congestion.

It is important that the scheme is affordable, particularly with a large student population. Hire rates in St Andrews are £4.50 per hour – or £35 per day (24 hours) – for the Renault ZOE, and £6.50 per hour – or £50 per day – for the Kangoo Van Z.E. The price includes power and insurance.

Chris Morris, Managing Director of E-Car Club said: “E-Car is a low cost, flexible and environmentally sustainable transport option which we are confident will prove popular with the local community, university students and tourists alike.”

It’s good news for Renault to as sales of their electric vehicle range, comprising of ZOE, Twizy and Kangoo Van Z.E, rose by 90 per cent in 2014 compared to the previous year.

Wash day blues – Getting the washing dry when it’s raining


I know I’m not alone in loving a dry day when I can hang my washing to dry outside on the line. There is something satisfying in seeing towels and sheets blowing around and not using any energy other than the wind or sun.  It makes me feel happy!  So what happens when it’s pouring with rain, just drizzling or is damp and foggy and nothing will dry?  The options are:

a) get out the clothes airer turn on the heating and load all your radiators with wet washing. – Clothes might dry a bit stiff,  and can create a damp atmosphere and associated health risks particularly for those with asthma or other allergic conditions;

b) Use a ‘Sheila’s maid’ or retractable clothes line in the garage, carport or porch – clothes might get a dry eventually!

c) Load it all into the tumble dryer, if you’ve got one, and worry about the energy costs later. (Check the running costs on Sust-it)

There are other options such as plug-in airers – however these potentially have the same issues as drying clothes on radiators – the moisture has to go somewhere.  A Rotaire Dryline (a rotary washing line with a cover), might offer a good solution if it the weather is initially dry but rain is forecast. You could also bag your washing up and take a trip to the local launderette – remembering to take a bag full of coins to feed the dryer.

Whatever, it’s a dilemma and I can understand the wash day blues, (cue Dolly Parton), and really admire how past generations coped.  Perhaps we should put more emphasis into designing clothes that need washing less or that are quicker to wash and dry.  Never mind Smart TVs – Smart clothing is what we need!

Does a blaze of berries signal a hard winter ahead?

The combination of a wet spring and a sizzling summer seems to have encouraged a particularly large crop of berries of all types this year. Blackberries, elderberries, damsons, sloes, rosehips and haws drip from the hedgerows providing a beautiful show and plenty of food for the birds. As the indian summer continues – the thought of winter seems a long way off – and mercifully no need to turn the central heating on yet, and long may it last. However, should we worry that a long cold winter is ahead of us? Well, apparently, whilst folklore and old wives tales might have us believe it, there doesn’t seem to be much scientist evidence to link an abundance of berries with weather conditions. There does, however, appear to be more evidence that berries are good for our health – although may be not when made into sloe gin, damson jam or blackberry and apple crumble! However, damson puree is really good on porridge… recipe below.

Blackberries and damsons

Damson puree recipe

  • 600g damsons
  • 200g caster sugar
  • Water to cover

Put the damson and sugar in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 30-40 mins (keep an eye on it to check that it doesn’t burn – more water can be added if necessary). Cool and then remove stones – they should have separated but lots of recipes claim the stones should pop to the top – they don’t all obey and it’s all a bit messy – pick out what you have the patience to do and them resort to a sieve (still a bit laborious – but worth it). Check the sweetness and add more sugar if necessary.

Either store in the fridge or if you are making greater quantities – bottle in jars, or freeze.

Great on pancakes, poured over ice-cream, or used in cakes.