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A unique solution to plastic pollution: introducing Ocean Sole UK

Plastic pollution and its impact on the planet is on many people’s minds at present. Thanks to the legacy of the majorly successful Blue Planet II series and publications such as National Geographic’s Planet or plastic? issue, the world is waking up to the problems that plastic waste can cause for the environment and wildlife.

You may have seen my #PlasticFreeJuly post on here recently, or last year’s #NoWasteNovember post — both looking at simple ways to reduce use of single-use plastic in our daily lives. But what about the plastic waste that is already littering the world’s beaches? How can we turn its negative presence into something positive and beautiful? That’s where Ocean Sole comes in…

ocean sole uk dolphin

Removing pollution and supporting marine conservation

It’s not often you hear someone say that their ultimate aim is to be put out of business. But that’s exactly what Ocean Sole UK’s Mark Dougal tells me during our recent chat.

Ocean Sole makes beautiful, colourful animal sculptures from discarded flip flops, which have been collected from the beaches of Kenya.

Many of the 520,000 flip flops collected last year washed up on Africa’s east coast from Asia, where refuse systems in some countries are poor, causing flip flops (many people’s primary form of shoe — owing to how cheap they are) end up in the rivers; eventually making their way into the sea.

ocean sole uk giraffe made of flip flops

A giraffe made from flip flops collected from the beach

“My biggest hope would be that one day there are no more flip flops to collect off the beaches,” Mark says. “Then we’ll be put out of business. But with 3 billion people across the world wearing flip flops, that day seems very far away.”

Once they reach the sea, flip flops — which are made of non-biodegradable plastics — pose a threat to marine wildlife. It is now, thankfully, well-documented how plastic makes its way into the food chain, and how its volume increases significantly as it moves up each level. But plastics can also trap and entangle fish and other sea creatures, and winds and currents can transport them across the oceans.

In the 20 years that Ocean Sole has been in existence, they have cleaned up over 1,000 tonnes of flip flops from the ocean and waterways of Kenya and contributed over 10% of their revenue to marine conservation programmes.

 

Saving the ocean with heart and soul

Mark tells me the work that he’s doing as Ocean Sole’s UK distributor ‘really lights his fire’ and he credits his involvement with the company, and many of his successes with it to ‘serendipity’.

Like so many cases of people who have been inspired to do their bit in helping the environment, the origins of Ocean Sole UK began with the awe and excitement of a child.

“After realising I’d lost touch with travelling, which was something I really needed in my life, I booked a trip to Kenya,” he explains. “The night before I left, I visited my sister and told my nephew where I was going. He pointed out Africa on a globe —one of those globes that shows the different animals that can be found in each country. I asked him if he would like me to bring him anything back from my holiday and he answered; ‘a lion’.”

With this request in mind, Mark sort to find ‘the best lion he could’, for his nephew to take to Show and Tell on his return.

“I told my friend who I was staying with out there about my little mission,” he says. “He told me about a shop a few streets away that sold animals made from flip flops —which sounded perfect.”

ocean sole uk lion made from flip flops

Before even visiting the shop, however, Mark had a chance encounter with the store’s owner at a festival.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was at the bar at a music festival, in the middle of a nowhere, talking to a complete stranger. When I ask her what she did for a living she told me she sold animals made out of flip flops… I knew instantly it was the same place that my friend had mentioned. What are the chances?!”

“From that point on three years ago, I’ve had an awful lot of positive coincidences. I had another friend who was holding an open house art exhibition here in the UK and he asked me to bring some of the animal sculptures along. I brought along 10 and they all sold in one afternoon. That’s when I knew there was something in this.”

ocean sole uk sculptures dolphin and hammerhead shark

Mark has since invested in the company, and despite it being a side project to his full time job, he’s even seen his Brighton flat turn into a makeshift picking and packaging depot for his stock!

“We had a video go viral recently, receiving over 100 millions views! On the Monday morning the guys in Kenya came in to 10,000 emails in their inbox!”

“Here in the UK I had 150 orders in one weekend, and that’s when I realised I was going to have to outsource the packaging. It’s just too much for one man. We’ve now got a brilliant website for the UK side too, and things are looking good.”

 

From strength to strength, from soul to sole…

During the three years that Mark has been a part of Ocean Sole he says the number of artists working on the sculptures has gone from 50 to 90. In total, Ocean Sole provides a steady income to over 150 low-income Kenyans, both in the social enterprise and the extended supply-chain.

I love the idea that one business is helping to clean beaches, recycle plastic waste, encourage people to admire animals through its sculptures and providing local jobs to low-income citizens.

“One of the best things about this is that everyone wants to help.” Mark concludes. And from where I’m standing (in pumps, not flip flops I might add), it’s easy to see why.

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Want to own one of these awesome animal sculptures yourself?
Visit oceansole.co.uk/shop/

Check out the Ocean Sole viral video here.

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5 more ways to reduce plastic waste!

This month is #PlasticFreeJuly, a great opportunity to evaluate our consumption of single-use plastic and to find more sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives. The hope is, of course, that a month of trialling such a lifestyle will result in permanent change once we discover that it’s not as inconvenient as we first thought.

That’s why, following on from my Top 5 easy ways to reduce plastic waste! blog post a few months ago, I’d like to offer five more simple solutions for tackling everyday plastic use.

We all know by now the devastating effect that plastic is having on our environment, especially our oceans; and in particular our marine wildlife and sea birds, who are paying a huge price (in many cases, with their lives), for our inability to properly manage and dispose of the sheer volume of plastic that is being manufactured. So if you’re looking for simple swaps to achieve a greener lifestyle, look no further…

 

1. No more plastic soap dispensers

This one is so easy, and begs the question: why did we ever stop using bars of soap? Sure, I can understand it’s more hygienic in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries to minimalize contact with other people’s germs, but within our own homes and bathrooms? No problem! (Give it a little rinse under the tap first if you’re really concerned about germ transfer).

Just be sure to choose a soap that’s wrapped in recyclable paper or card, to really go green. The soap bar pictured above is from The Body Shop and had paper wrapping. Goodbye plastic liquid-soap dispensers!

NB: Also consider shampoo and conditioner bars instead of bottled liquids. Lush‘s shampoo bar comes highly recommended!

 

2. Ditch the throwaway face wipes

These things are not only dished out in plastic packaging, often smothered in chemicals and contain varying levels of non-biodegradable plastic, but they also end up getting flushed down the loo instead of thrown in the bin; and it certainly begs the question: What’s worse? Landfill polluting our soil and landscapes, or products clogging our water ways?

London’s sewers are notorious for getting clogged with fatbergs, which are often perpetuated by face wipes and baby wipes. Eradicate all of the above issues with one easy change over!

These bamboo wipes by Close, Pop-in are super soft and don’t reduce quality after lots of washes. Billed as baby wipes, I team them up with cloth nappies when tending to my daughter, and have a second set (in different colours I might add — very important for not muddling them up!) for removing my make up at the end of the day.

 

3. Cut out the disposable coffee cups

tea-in-a-cafetea-in-a-cafe

Working in a busy district in London, it blows my mind to think about how many people go through the doors of all the local high street cafe chains and come out again with non-recyclable, non-biodegradable plastic products. Multiply that with all the other busy districts in the City, all the odd branches and kiosks next to train and tube stations, then add in all the chains in towns and cities across the country; and finally map that idea on a global scale… and I’m pretty sure coffee shops must be some of the biggest offenders in supplying single-use plastic. In fact, we use 7 million disposable coffee cups every day in the UK alone – that’s 2.5 billion every year!

It’s estimated that only 1% of paper cups ever get recycled, that’s because they’re often lined with plastic polyethylene to make them waterproof — which deems them unsuitable for recycling in most facilities (only three recycling facilities in the whole of the UK can actually do it). Also, the fact that they are contaminated with drink presents further difficulties in the process.

Often, this symbol:  is misunderstood to mean the product can be recycled in our household recycle bins, whereas in actual fact, it doesn’t always mean it’s possible to recycle from home. If the numbers 3-7 are written within the triangle, it means the plastic it’s made from can’t be recycled into something else very easily, and requires a specialised recycling facility. If it’s thrown into household recycle bins, it’s destined for landfill.

As an incentive to reduce the use of disposable cups, many franchises are now onboard with offering a discount to customers who refill a reusable coffee cup — Pret offers 50p off, for example.

But what if you’ve left your reusable cup at home? Or didn’t expect to be in such desperate need of a coffee this morning? It’s surprising to think that even a brand as seemingly eco-conscious as Pret (known for it’s high quality foods and vegan and vegetarian ranges) doesn’t even give customers an option to use ceramic mugs/cups if you’re drinking in. Which would be my recommendation here: if you don’t have a reusable cup, sit-in for your coffee this time, and opt for a chain that provides non-disposable crockery for you to do so.

 

4. Choose a manatee over a bag of tea

manatee-tea-strainer-reduce-plastic-waste

While we’re on the supject of hot drinks; did you know that the majority of tea bags are made with non-biodegradable plastics? The stuff is literally everywhere!

Many of the major brands make their tea bags using polypropylene, a sealing plastic, to stop them from falling apart. This includes: Tetley (who have promised a change), ClipperYorkshire Tea and Twinings‘ ‘heat-sealed’ and ‘string and tag’ ranges.

An easy way to banish the bad bits from your brew is to turn to looseleaf tea. Reusable tea infusers, like this manatee (given to me by the lovely people at Bradenton Anna Maria Island Longboat Key) mean you can make a looseleaf tea in a cup instead of a pot (thus saving the energy of boiling surplus water), working in exactly the same way as a tea bag. I’ve spotted these little guys for sale in Pylones stores.

MAKING COFFEE AT HOME? Did you know 55 million coffee pods are used everyday, and most of them end up in landfill?  A single pod may take up to 500 years to break down. Companies like Nespresso boast recyclable pods, but they’re too small to be recycled with household rubbish and collection points are scarce. To go green, swap them out for making coffee with a plunger.

 

5 Give a Guppyfriend a go

I’ve been hearing about Guppyfriend washing bags for a while, and they’re the next purchase on my list for Plastic Free July.

Designed to catch microplastics released from our clothing (yes, even washing your best-loved garments is releasing tiny shards of plastic destined to one day pollute our drinking water!), simply pop your washing into a Guppyfriend bag before putting it into the machine; let it collect those pesky plastic fibres and brush it off into the bin when you’ve emptied your clothes from it.

I know sending the fibres to landfill isn’t much better, but at least it’s not contaminating our water and leave behind plastics prone to ending up in human and animal stomachs. Have you used one yet? Let me know your thoughts and any tips for using it.

 

Got anymore ideas for using sustainable alternatives? Please add them in the comment box at the the end of this post!

 

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King update: Born Free’s rescued lion cub starts a new life

Imagine a lion cub, rescued from physical abuse and the confines of a filthy cage in a Paris apartment, feeling the South African sunshine on his back for the first time and the dry grass beneath his paws.

King the lion at Shamwari

King at Shamwari

That is the story of beautiful King the lion. Now successfully re-homed by International wildlife charity Born Free at their big cat sanctuary in South Africa’s Shamwari Game Reserve; King’s story captured interest (and hearts) back in April, when an appeal was launched to raise the funds to deliver him back to his ancestral home of Africa, and highlight the issue of the illegal wildlife trade. For those of you who’d like to read the first part of King’s story, take a look here.

Born free foundation's king the lion cub

King, back in April, before his big move

The one-year-old lion cub was rescued from an apartment in Paris last summer where he was being kept illegally as an ‘exotic pet’ in appalling conditions.

After his rescue, he was temporarily homed at Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre, Belgium, awaiting his big journey back to African soil and lifetime care provided by Born Free.

A home fit for a King…

On July 5th he travelled from Belgium, to London Heathrow airport under the care of Born Free’s expert team. In his Born Free branded wooden container, King then flew to Africa, courtesy of Kenya Airways.

Born Free Foundation elsa toy on kenya airways stall

Katrina Hanson, Kenya Airways’ Area Cargo Manager, said: “We were delighted to assist in King’s amazing relocation to Born Free’s Big Cat Rescue Centre at Shamwari in South Africa. We have worked with Born Free for many years carrying rescued lions from Europe to Africa so they can enjoy being a lion. These relocations have been a great success and we do all we can to make it as stress free as possible for the lions.”

After a short internal flight, King touched down in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, before travelling the short distance by road to Shamwari and to his new home at Born Free’s Jean Byrd Centre. Shamwari, where I was fortunate enough to gain a 3-month volunteer placement back in 2008, has been home to Born Free’s two Big Cat Rescue Centres for more than 20 years.

King the lion returns home to Africa

“So many people responded to our appeal to bring young King to Shamwari, and now he has arrived!,” said Virginia McKenna OBE, Born Free’s Co-Founder and Trustee. “Thanks to everyone whose hearts were touched by his story, he now takes his first steps on African soil, and can begin his happy new life. May it be a long and peaceful one.”

The exotic pet trade

The sad story of King before he was rescued highlights the plight of millions of captive wild animals around the world that are kept as exotic pets.

I’m proud to support Born Free, who oppose the keeping of wild animals as pets. They state: \Wild animals, whether they have been taken from the wild or bred in captivity, have extremely complex social, physical and behavioural needs and are, therefore, particularly susceptible to suffer when kept as pets.

Dr Chris Draper, Born Free’s Head of Animal Welfare & Captivity, adds: “It is staggering that, in 2018, lion cubs are still finding their way into the pet trade in Europe. We are concerned that King’s case is the tip of the iceberg, and that a great many wild animals are being kept illegally as pets across Europe and elsewhere. This situation needs to be addressed urgently, and we hope that by introducing the world to King – his plight, his rescue and his rehoming to lifetime care – Born Free can draw attention to this important issue.”

***

I’m so glad to know that for King, the tale ends happily, but like many of the people who have reacted to this story; I find it shocking to think that wild animals are being kept privately in people’s homes. In the case of King, his owner’s warped sense of pride in posting pictures of the lion cub (and the abuse he suffered) on social media was his own downfall. Thank goodness that the right people saw his posts and reacted accordingly.

I am, however, concerned about the many wild animals whose owners are not foolish enough to post their mistreatment online. How many others are stuck in an existence like the one King had?

Please consider supporting Born Free’s petition to restrict the trade in, and private keeping of, dangerous wild animals in Great Britain: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/221050

To donate to King’s lifetime care, visit www.bornfree.org.uk/king, call 01403 240170 or text KING to 70755 to donate £10.

 

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Shocking reality of exotic pet trade exposed by Paris lion cub pet!

It’s hard to imagine the unstoppable, untameable force of the lion fitting into a tiny cage in private home. But King the lion cub found himself trapped in such a scenario. A victim of the illegal exotic pet trade, he was rescued from an apartment in Paris after shocking social media footage showed his captor beating the tiny cub.

Born free foundation's king the lion cub

King made international headlines in October last year, when he was found half-starved and cowering in a dirty cage in an abandoned apartment in Paris.

Just a few months old and kept illegally as an exotic pet, he had been beaten and kicked by his owner who then posted videos of the abuse online.

It’s hard to imagine such a shocking case can exist so close to home, and the thought of living near by to someone with a pet lion sounds like something that would only happen decades ago — but the latest research by international wildlife charity Born Free has revealed more than 292 dangerous wild cats – including at least nine lions – are being kept privately, and legally, in Great Britain under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976.

The growing demand for wild animals to be kept as exotic pets worldwide is fuelled by both the legal and illegal wildlife trade. The illegal trade alone is worth an estimated $23 billion US dollars a year!

These wild species may be captive-bred, sourced from zoos and circuses or wild-caught, and they are sold through various means — such as online, in pet shops, trade fairs, markets and directly through breeders.

In response to King’s story, Born Free, has launched an urgent appeal to rehome King to its big cat sanctuary at Shamwari Game Reserve — a place I was fortunate enough to volunteer at many years ago — in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

 

#LongLiveTheKing from Born Free Foundation on Vimeo.

King has left the building

Fortunately, King was rescued from his cruel captor — who was later tracked down, arrested and charged — by French animal rescue charities Fondation 30 Million d’Amis and Refuge de l’Arche.

King has now been given a temporary home at Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre, in Belgium, and Born Free plans to transport him from Belgium to South Africa, where he will be given a permanent home at their long-established big cat sanctuary at Shamwari. The sanctuary is already home to 16 lions and leopards rescued from appalling captive conditions.

King’s new life at Born Free’s big cat sanctuary will be a world away from the Paris apartment in which he was discovered. He will be given lifetime care in a spacious, safe and natural environment, surrounded by the beautiful sights and sounds of Africa.

King, in Belgium, awaiting a ‘forever home’ at Shamwari’s big cat sanctuary

He was born free, he should live free

I have always been a huge supporter of Born Free Foundation, who strongly oppose the keeping of wild animals as pets. Wild animals have complex social, physical and behavioural needs and are, therefore, particularly susceptible to welfare problems when kept as pets.

“Whether wild-caught or captive-bred, wild animals retain their wild instincts and their often complex social, behaviour and environmental needs: needs that are impossible to meet in a domestic environment,” Born Free’s Head of Animal Welfare & Captivity, Dr Chris Draper explains.

“It is high time that we stop viewing exotic wild animals simply as objects to own, and start considering their welfare — and the risks they may sometimes pose to us. It should be abundantly clear that the never-ending demand for increasingly exotic and dangerous wild animals in the pet trade needs to stop.”

Born free king campaign letters

As ever, perhaps the most impassioned voice comes from Born Free Co-Founder and Trustee, Virginia McKenna OBE:
“Have we learned nothing over the years? How can we not understand that keeping wild animals in cages is not just cruel, but shameful? Lions are known as kings of the jungle.”
“This little king, sadly, will never wear his crown, but at least we can give him love and respect and a natural environment to roam and rest in. That is the least he deserves, and I hope people will help us write a happy ending to this story.””
To donate to this cause, visit www.bornfree.org.uk/king, call 01403 240170 or text KING to 70755 to donate £10.

 

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Killer whales in captivity: guest post by Ben Stockwell

My latest Kate on Conservation guest blog post explores the reality of orcas in captivity. Just two weeks after a new film detailing the story of Tokitae (renamed Lolita by Miami Seaquarium) was shared online, this post from Ben Stockwell was inspired by his Geography dissertation, and reminds us all why the issue of orca captivity is one we should still be talking about after the death of SeaWorld’s Tilikum.

Exploitation or Conservation Education?  

sea world tilikum

In 2014 I wrote my undergraduate Geography dissertation, entitled Killer whales in captivity: Exploitation or Conservation and Education?  Since then, public and media attention around the topic has soared as a result of Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s incredible Blackfish released in 2013.

The documentary followed the life of SeaWorld’s prized bull orca, Tillikum, and his involvement in the tragic deaths of three people, highlighting the issues with keeping such large, intelligent animals captive along the way.  

Whilst publication of the topic is not in short supply, I couldn’t let this stop me (finally) sharing some of my findings. I have chosen to focus on my favourite section of the project, which looked at the pros and cons of anthropomorphising orcas (assigning them human characteristics). Now this might not seem like a good way of arguing for or against keeping orcas captive, but just bear with me.  

Humans certainly have a desire to label things, especially in ways that we can relate to. Take pets; we give them human names and assign them human characteristics. A good example is the viral sensation ‘Grumpy Cat’, whose underbite and feline dwarfism induced ‘grumpy’ face made her a social media sensation (she even has her own movie, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever!). By identifying animals, such as a (grumpy) cat, as having shared features and even emotions with us, we can empathise and relate to them, forming tighter bonds.    

In the case of SeaWorld, these bonds are developed via the naming of their orcas, say Tilikum, or even ‘Tilly’ for short. Additionally, the orca perform human actions throughout the show, splashing the crowd and blowing raspberries — a playful act that signifies their intelligence and further helps us empathise with them. They reinforce this message by referring to trainers and orcas as being part of ‘one really big family’ and each orca having a ‘unique personality’. 

Sea world, Florida

The shows combine anthropomorphisation of the orca with repeated messaging about our ‘one ocean’ that is under threat, which through ‘conservation and education’, ‘we’ can help to protect. I do actually think that these techniques will inspire many watching about the species and their natural habitats. You only need to look at dogs and cats, animals we have forever anthropomorphised, and look how well we treat them!  

However, this all needs to be considered in the context of these being wild animals living in unnatural circumstances. Suggesting they are ‘one big family’ is simply not true, as the artificial pods in captivity are often highly dysfunctional, comprised of individuals from sub-species thrown together in a small pool. The result is often raised levels of aggression towards each other (and humans), high levels of stress and abnormal behaviours.  

Similarly, applying human characteristics to animals, like names and human behaviours, hardly educates the public about orcas in the wild (or even the issues they face). Yes, being able to blow bubbles on command is impressive, but it’s not a natural behaviour that would occur without our interference. I think this provides very little educational value to the shows and whilst they do attempt to inspire the audience to relate to the orca, I would be very interested to know how many people go on to donate to conservation efforts as a result.  

In fact, it is highly likely that this form of consumptive tourism attributes to some of the issues orca face in the wild anyways. Think about the number of single-use plastics sold at SeaWorld – how many of those end up in in the marine environment? Even SeaWorld’s own orca have a legacy of damaging wild populations – the Southern Resident population is now Endangered, largely as a result of the 47 individuals killed or captured by the industry in the 60s and 70s. I suppose there is a strange irony that this staged spectacle is sold as a conservation and education tool, whilst it may well have contributed or is still contributing to the plight of wild killer whales (but this is a whole other section of my project, which I won’t bore you with!).

Ben Stockwell, Galapagos Conservation TrustBen Stockwell completed a degree in physical geography, focussing his dissertation on keeping killer whales in captivity, before going on to complete a Masters in Conservation Ecology. Working for Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, he gained experience in community engagement and urban conservation and is now working for the Galapagos Conservation Trust as the Communications and Membership Assistant.

 

Find out more about whale and dolphin conservation here: http://uk.whales.org/

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Top 5 ways to reduce plastic waste!

Following on from my #NoWasteNovember blog post, for which I took part in a brilliant campaign by Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots programme to reduce the amount of plastic waste I dispose of, I’ve received some great feedback from my blog readers asking for more information and suggestions for reducing plastic waste.

plastic bottle pick up - reducing plastic waste

My #NoWasteNovember pledge was to use washable nappies, liners and pads with my new baby daughter — and almost four months in, it’s actually been an easy pledge to stick to, thanks to my early shopping spree with Babi Pur!

In fact, I’ve been so inspired with the ease and lack of fuss it’s caused, that I’m even investigating eco-friendly feminine hygiene products — and the wonderful Eco Fluffy Mama is my go-to guru for all things eco period-related. For any one interested, she has some great reviews available to read here. But for my non-gender-specific, non-parent-specific tips to living a greener lifestyle, check out my top 5 easy ways to reduce plastic waste below…

1.  Swap plastic straws for reusable steel

Steel straws

By now we’ve all heard the horror stories of plastic making it’s way into the sea — 8 million tonnes of it a year, in fact, is dumped into our oceans — and there are some horrifying videos online of how some of this impacts our planet’s wildlife. From seabird autopsies that reveal stomachs full of coloured fragments of the stuff, to a sea turtle struggling and writhing in pain as a plastic straw is pulled from its nostril; the very real, very emotive reasons to make a change are clear — which is why I love these stainless steel reusable straws.

Suitable for hot or cold beverages, these straws are available to order from ecostrawz and come with a wire cleaning brush so that you can use them over and over again. In some parts of the ocean it’s estimated that there are over half a million pieces of plastic for every square kilometre, so even reusable plastic straws are a no-go for me!

2. Bamboo toothbrushes

bamboo toothbrushes

One billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away each year in the United States alone! That’s more than 22 million kilograms annually!

As plastics breakdown into micro plastics, they cause toxins to build up throughout the food chain — which ultimately contaminate the milk of marine mammals at the top of the food chain. Sometimes this is so bad, the contaminated milk kills the young.

Plastic toothbrushes are a major culprit in ocean plastic waste, so making the change to an eco-friendly bamboo brush is a great way to reduce the number of plastic toothbrushes we’re estimated to throw away in our lifetimes (300 approximately). The Giving Brush are giving away their rainbow-themed brush for FREE right now, so there’s no reason not to jump onboard with this one!

3. 100% Compostable phone case

compostable phone case

A new favourite find of mine — eco-friendly phone cases! How many of us hold a phone case in our hands every single day? I’m willing to bet that most people in the western world carry one of these around without even thinking about it! I know it certainly hadn’t occurred to me that this is just another way that we’re buying, using and disposing of plastic, which is why I think it’s such a great idea!

These particular cases are 100% compostable and free from plastic packaging! Plus a donation is made from each sale to various environmental initiatives. Pela currently have a buy one get one half price sale on too.

4. Reusable drinks bottle

stainless steel water bottle

Glass or stainless steel are my top choice in material for reusable water bottles. 16 million plastic bottles go un-recycled in the UK every day, choking our rivers and ultimately destroying ocean habitats for our marine life.

Even reusable plastic bottles are likely to end up being disposed of eventually, and after reading about the risks of some reusable plastic bottles containing the controversial chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) – which is thought to interfere with sex hormones — I personally choose to stick with stainless steel! Thehut.com currently have a 3 for £20 deal on.

5. Plastic bottle pick-up (and join Lilly’s Global Clean-Up Day!)

Lily's global clean up day

The photograph I’ve used at the top of this blog post shows the plastic bottles I picked up on a short 15-minute or so walk to my local shops with my daughter. The amount of plastic bottles that litter our streets, fields and rivers genuinely still surprises me!

Luckily, there are some plastic pollution heroes out there like nine-year old Lilly, who are willing to go that extra mile. Lilly is a Child Ambassador for HOW Global and a Youth Ambassador for Plastic Pollution Coalition and is this year dedicating her birthday as a day for everyone to pick-up plastic from the environment!

#LillysGlobalCleanUpDay will take place on 18 April, and Lilly has challenged everyone to pick-up plastic on this day to help make the world a better, safer place. What an amazing wish for a 10th birthday! See her Twitter page @lillyspickup for the full video. Why wait though? Pick up some plastic and tweet today!

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Jumbo the elephant: the story of London Zoo’s most famous resident

“For nearly 15 years after he arrived at the London zoo Jumbo gave very little trouble, made the turnstiles click profitably, and was a source of tremendous pleasure to many thousands of visitors of all ages and all stations, including Queen Victoria herself and the children of the Royal Household… [But, keepers] Bartlett and Scott certainly needed all their proven courage and ingenuity when, in 1880, Jumbo, the biggest of all the beasts, began to play up.” 
W.P. Jolly, author of Jumbo.

Jumbo book by W.P. Jolly

Last weekend the heart-wrenching BBC documentary; Attenborough And The Giant Elephant broadcast to a huge outpouring of sympathy for the treatment of a ‘celebrity elephant’ in Victorian times. It seems the ideal time, therefore, to consider the roles of celebrity elephants across different cultures.

I attended the European premiere of the powerful documentary Gods in Shackles at the beginning of October; a documentary that explores the use of elephants in temples and festivals in Kerala, India. The film examines the somewhat contradictory attitudes towards the elephants, in which they are at once both beaten and abused and placed among the gods.

Gods in Shackles film

While the content of the film may be shocking (as I noted in my earlier blog post, one celebrity elephant featured in the documentary was known to have had razor blades hidden in his food in an attack by supporters of a rival elephant), it’s easy to forget that here in the UK, we’ve seen elephants treated exactly the same way — a fact that brings me hope that attitudes toward these loving, intelligent and sentient animals can change across India, too.

In England, our most famous resident elephant went by the name Jumbo.

London Zoo’s first African elephant, Jumbo — who would later cross The Pond and become one of the most famous pachyderms under the charge of the Ringling Brothers — is the reason the word ‘jumbo’ is now synonymous with elephants and used to describe large objects in the English language (and why it was added to the dictionary as such in the 1880s).

Jumbo dictionary definition

London Zoo’s most famous resident was later joined by a second African elephant; a female called Alice, and along with their impressive sizes (which set them apart from the other resident Indian elephants), the Press’ decision to report them as being romantically involved — when they in fact rarely crossed paths — helped to elevate their status; particularly that of Jumbo, when it came to his departure overseas.

Knowing that Jumbo’s story was used as inspiration for the Disney classic Dumbo and having seen the merchandise and literature surrounding Jumbo, the supposed ‘world’s largest elephant’ at the Making Nature exhibition in London’s Wellcome Gallery earlier in the year, I already had a fair understanding of Jumbo’s celebrity.

Arriving at the zoo’s site in Covent Garden in 1865, as part of an exchange with a Parisian zoo (they received a rhinoceros in return for the African elephant), he was the first African elephant that zoo visitors could ride. Formerly, all London’s riding elephants had been of the smaller Indian species.

Having the opportunity to ride such a grand creature — with the promise of one day growing to around 11 feet tall and carrying tusks of up to 7 feet long — endeared Jumbo to the crowds greatly. That and, as the BBC documentary points out, the timing of his popularity coinciding with the development of photography; meaning he could be documented in the public eye far and wide.

Jumbo the elephant offering rides

Zoo visitors taking a ride on Jumbo — up to six at a time.

Although Jumbo never did reach 11 foot in height, at his time of death he measured just over 10 feet (3.2 metres), which is an impressive height for an elephant aged 24, as he could have still had up to 16 years left to grow before reaching full height. The average height of a 24-year-old male elephant is around 2.7 metres (just shy of 9 feet tall), putting him at 20 per cent larger than average. His impressive stature earned him the perhaps exaggerated title of ‘the world’s largest elephant’.

Much like the elephant rides offered in tourist destinations across Asia and beyond today — which most people with an awareness of animal psychology recognise as being cruel — Jumbo was made to carry visitors in wooden benches slung high on either side of his back.

The seats faced outwards however, rather than forward facing, so riders would sit with their backs to the elephant. This allowed room for more riders — and with even less understanding of animal welfare than today, it was not unusual to see Jumbo ferrying up to six passengers through the Zoological Gardens.

elephant with riders

The biggest error on the part of Jumbo’s keepers was their ignorance to the animal’s needs — as perhaps is often the case with captive animals in zoos.

Abraham Dee Bartlett was the zoo’s head naturalist, and with Jumbo in his charge, he sort the assistance of keeper Matthew Scott, who would eventually travel to America with the elephant. Bartlett, while not truly understanding the implications of caring for a sentient being, at least understood the need to keep the animal under control for the public’s and his own sake.

He understood the change in male elephants as they reach adulthood (musth), which is something that today’s elephant keepers (mahouts) in Kerala — who are charged with caring for the country’s festival elephants — still give little allowance for.

As reported in Gods in Shackles, 75 people and 167 elephants were killed during the festival season from 2012 – 2015, due to elephants breaking from their mahouts’ command whilst in a state of heightened aggression. Those mahouts who do understand the implications of musth often chemically castrate the elephants to stop the production of these hormones, which can make them a danger to the public and themselves.

Abraham Dee Bartlett

Abraham Dee Bartlett, head of London Zoo during the days of Jumbo’s residence

Bartlett understood that all male elephants around the age of 20 become troublesome and dangerous — so it was no surprise to him when, in 1880, Jumbo began to play up; smashing his elephant house with his trunk, tusks and feet. Bartlett reinforced the elephant’s house with timber beams, in fear that Jumbo would escape and attack zoo guests.

At 14 years old Bartlett had personally witnessed Chunee the elephant of the Covent Garden Theatre killed after charging at crowds in a state of fury. W.P. Polly notes; “Everyone was astonished and frightened at the fury of the charges made again and again by the maddened elephant. Poison had no effect and there was very real danger that the beast might break out of his enclosure and bring the whole building down in ruins. Eventually a detachment of Foot Guards was rushed up from the nearby barracks, but even then shot after shot had to be fired into the wretched animal, and only after he had been hit 152 times was he pronounced dead.”

Expert opinion given in Attenborough And The Giant Elephant argues, however, that Jumbo’s rages may have been more likely a result of his poor diet of sticky buns, sweets and alcohol given to him by zoo guests; along with toothache from his deformed teeth; witnessing the death of his mother in the wild during his early capture and passage into captivity and the long term affects from a lack of companionship with other elephants.

His story reminded me of the film The Elephant in the Room, made in association with Born Free Films. Inspired by a Born Free Foundation report entitled, ‘Innocent Prisoner’, The Elephant in the Room (by Director & Editor Tariq Chow and Producer & Assistant Editor Amanda Gardner — whom I interviewed around the time of the film’s release) provides a moving look at the plight of elephants kept in solitary zoo conditions.

The elephant in the room poster

Click the image to watch the full 13-minute short film

Farewell, Farewell poor Jumbo

So what became of Jumbo after his troubles began at London Zoo? Unfortunately, not all stories have happy endings — and Jumbo’s tale is perhaps best made an example of.

In 1882, he was chained in a crate for his passage to America to join the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, becoming so frightened that he ‘clanked his chains, rubbed them against himself, roared and bellowed’ for some time.

Upon arrival, he drew much interest and publicity for the so-called ‘greatest show on Earth’, courtesy of his new owner Phineas T. Barnum. But would eventually meet an untimely death after a collision with a locomotive in Canada, while being led down a train line as the circus toured the country.

Polly describes the scene; “The grotesque angles of the derailed engine and trunks, the twisted rails and wreckage, and the swarms of labouring men, gave the scene a frightening urgency, touched with the fantasy of horror by the cries of animals, glimpses of scattered paraphernalia of the circus, and the body of a huge elephant with a weeping man by its side.” 

Jumbo skeleton and skin

An entrepreneur to the end, Barnum sold Jumbo’s skin and bones for public display. His skin mounted by a taxidermist was sold to Tuft’s College, Medford, Massachusetts (where it was eventually destroyed by fire) and his bones now reside in New York’s Natural History Museum.

Perhaps most uncomfortable of all, however, was the Press reception that Barnum held to celebrate completion of the work on Jumbo’s bones and skeleton — a lavish meal was provided, where the menu included a jelly laced with powder made from a pound and a half of Jumbos tusks. Guests were also treated to a souvenir slice of inscribed ivory from the elephant.

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 Learn more about elephants

Want to know more about circus, zoo and festival elephants?

 

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Sides of a Horn – Guest post by teenage conservationist Bavukile Vilane

Following the release of the controversial new film ‘Trophy’ last month, guest blogger Bavukile Vilane offers his voice as an advocate of the film ‘Sides of a Horn’, which claims to deliver the real truth behind the opposing views on the rhino horn trade. Will it deliver where Trophy fell short?

Sides Of A Horn film art

The Rhino Movie: Sides of a Horn is based on actual events, the dramatic film details the rhino poaching epidemic from the perspective of the three characters most directly affected: the ranger, the poacher, and the rhino.

When I first saw a mini trailer for the film on social media when the Kickstarter campaign had just started I wanted to get involved. I emailed Toby Wosskow, (very great guy indeed) who is the film’s writer and director. I then got involved in raising awareness for the film and the Kickstarter campaign so that all the funds could be met for the making of the film. Together we accomplish great things, as conservationists, I believe the only way to overcome barriers is working together one step at a time.

Writer/Director Toby Wosskow meeting with royal family. Photo by Dino Benedetti – © 2017 Sides of a Horn

On Friday, 20th October, the narrative short film received full funding and is moving into pre-production. 235 passionate philanthropists and wildlife enthusiasts from around the world have contributed over $57,000, making Sides of a Horn the fifth highest funded short film of all time on Kickstarter. After sharing the build-up to success countlessly on social media, I was very happy when it became a success. I had wished I was done with school and fully working on the production myself because I love editing and producing videos etc.

The short film is set to begin filming on location in South Africa in early-2018, and a feature-length adaptation is to follow. It is the first film to present an unbiased narrative of South Africa’s rhino poaching war.

Writer/Director Toby Wosskow location scouting. Photo by Dino Benedetti - © 2017 Sides of a Horn

Writer/Director Toby Wosskow location scouting. Photo by Dino Benedetti – © 2017 Sides of a Horn

Wildlife crime is the world’s fourth largest illegal industry (behind drugs, human trafficking and the illicit trade in arms) , and it is at an all-time high. A single rhino horn can fetch up to $300,000 (U.S. dollars) on the black market in China and Vietnam. By weight, it is worth more than gold or cocaine, and the demand in the Far East is fueling a war on the ground in South Africa. The human death toll is rising, but it is the rhino that faces extinction.

Team with a rhino. Photo by Dino Benedetti - © 2017 Sides of a Horn

Team with a rhino. Photo by Dino Benedetti – © 2017 Sides of a Horn

Sides of a Horn will expose the social impact of the rhino horn trade in a similar way that Blood Diamond did for the diamond trade—humanizing those on the ground, creating awareness, and catalyzing positive change. The team of U.S. and South African filmmakers are partnering with influential conservationists and global organizations to release the film around the world with a direct call to action.

The project will be filmed in the townships impacted by the crisis and in the game reserves that combat poaching on a daily basis. Months of research, countless hours on the ground, and relationships with local community leaders aid the team in keeping authenticity at the forefront of the project.

Discover more about the Sides of a Horn project here.

 

Bavukile Vilane

Bavukile Vilane is a 16-year-old with big dreams for the future. “I want to change the world”, he tells me. “I have always been interested in many things and Software Engineering was something I was going in to. So why Conservation? Because I believe there can be conservation everywhere, even in Software Engineering! It all started after I watched the Blood Lions documentary which also featured My father, possibly the greatest role model for most of the things I do. After watching Blood Lions, I had to join their youth for lions as an Ambassador and moved on to joining The Roots and Shoots SA Institute by Dr Jane Goodall and later The Crash Kids Against Rhino Poaching. I still have many plans for conservation and the role I can play. It all starts somewhere though. This is my story and it is only just the introduction to a lot of great chapters that I want to complete. There’s a lot to be done and it is about time the youth acts… It is, of course, our future. I alone can make a difference, but only together can we bring real change.”

Bavukile has his own platform, Conservation In Heart, and YouTube series: ‘Conservation Life‘. Find out more by clicking here.

 

Learn more about the trade in rhino horn

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Trophy ‘shockumentary’: Does it really compare to Blackfish?

In 1900 there were 500,000 rhinos in the world. Today there are less than 30,000. This shocking statistic opens the controversial new documentary ‘Trophy‘ — and if there’s one thing that audiences can agree on, it’s that this represents a crisis for the species.

I imagine this divisive film, which serves primarily to promote the idea of legalising the trade in rhino horn, offers little else that can universally unite its viewers.

trophy film poster

There’s no doubt that the time is now to act to save this iconic species. Over the last couple of years I’ve seen the momentum intensify when it comes to anti-poaching responses, debates and campaigns concerning rhinos and the horn trade.

Within moments of the film opening (to a scene of father and young son shooting dead a ‘trophy’ deer), we are introduced to South Africa’s most successful rhino breeder, John Hume. I’ve previously heard Mr Hume’s position on the rhinos horn trade at a debate I attended last year. The debate actually features briefly in the film (including a split-second shot of me, holding my pen to take notes for a blog post).

In 2016, John Hume’s rhino farm comprised of more than 1,400 of the animals — also making him first in-line for a huge profit, should the ban on international sale of horn be lifted. A cause he so passionately campaigns for.

“If he had an opinion to give to you, he would say ‘I’m very happy to sacrifice my horn in order to save my life’,” John states, simplifying a somewhat complex issue to a life vs. death scenario, rather than quality of life of a sentient being vs. compromised welfare standards owing to increased exploitation.

I think most people would agree that welfare standards surrounding large scale farming are far from satisfactory (think of the dairy industry) — when money is on the table, it seems that species survival matters only for the sake of profit for the owner, not to encourage an ecosystem to flourish via a natural life for the individual.

white rhinos born free foundations

Rhino by George Logan

Later in the film, John acknowledges that he has a protected stockpile of horns worth at least $16 million. His words echo round my head: “Give me one animal that’s gone extinct while farmers were breeding and making money out of it. There’s not one.” And I can’t think of a single example. But nor can I think of a country whose environment and natural ecosystem hasn’t been drastically altered for the sake of farming.

Another familiar face on this documentary is ecologist Craig Packer, author of the book ‘Lions in the Balance‘. Packer, who chaired the debate last year in which I first encountered John Hume, explains the hunters’ desire to ‘collect’ the big five. That is to kill a lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and a rhino — the cost of legally hunting each of these species reflects how rare each animal is and Packer places the bill to shoot the rarest of these; the rhino, at $350,000. Significantly more than the next in line; elephants at $50,000.

african elephant in Shamwari

Safari Club International President, Joe Hosmer, claims the entire cost of an elephant hunt, which sold for $50,000, would go back into conservation. A wildly unsupported claim — as I discovered in my research for an earlier blog post about trophy hunting and canned lion hunting; the average percentage of hunting fees that make it back into conservation at the community level is more like 3%. For clarification, Safari Club International is an international organisation of hunters — not a jolly collective of tourist-ferrying safari guides; as it’s name might suggest.

At 32 minutes in, Trophy provides us with our first counter argument against the killing of animals for so-called conservation. Adam Roberts of Born Free USA examines the contradiction of Theodore Roosevelt’s hunting culture, whereby he hunted thousands of animals (reportedly 5,000 of which were mammals) and recorded each of his kills, whilst at the same time declaring national parks across the US. Roberts challenges the idea of cloaking the ‘sport’ in ideals of conservation and helping people, suggesting that the reality of the appeal is really in the rush of excitement that hunters feel when they put a bullet in something.

Ecologist Craig Packer expands on this argument: “A hunter was somebody who was willing to go out and spend three weeks walking around on foot tracking an elephant, tracking a lion, to shoot it to take home a trophy. There was a challenge, there was a sense of sport, but what has happened in the last 10 or 15 years has been a growing segment of the hunting demographic which are referred to as ‘the shooters’; the shooters may have to spend as much money as it takes to get a three-week permit, but if they can kill everything in the first two days, they’ll do it and they’ll fly home. It’s that mentality that really feeds the birth of the canned hunting industry… it’s not sport, it’s just killing.”

lion trophy born free foundations

Lion Trophy (c) Blood Lions

Having watched the point blank execution of a lion and a crocodile killed with a bullet to the head after first being injured and tied up; followed by scenes from a canned hunting lion farm and hunters posing with various kills with very little discussion and debate — and certainly no sense of a fair and balanced discussion about the ethics of such behaviour — I have to admit, it just felt rather perverse. But worse was to come as viewers bear witness to the slow, long drawn out death of a young African elephant, groaning through it’s last moments and requiring a shot to the chest at point blank to ‘finish the job’. These graphic scenes literally allow you to see the animal’s last breath.

Since the film’s release on 17th November, Born Free Foundation‘s President Will Travers OBE — who makes a brief appearance in the documentary — warns that the film, which was partly funded by the BBC, leaves viewers marooned in a no-man’s land without credible information on which to make up their minds on the highly-charged issues of trophy hunting and the dangers of promoting a legal international trade in rhino horn.

Kate on Conservation UK

Kate on Conservation

Travers said: “The film is peppered with assumptions and assertions about trophy hunting that are offered in an almost ‘fact-free’ environment. We are told (by a representative of America’s premier hunting organisation, Safari Club International) that ‘all the money [from trophy hunting] will go back into conservation’ with no evidence to back it up. Also that belief in the medical value of rhino horn ‘has been around for millions of years’. Neither is true.”

“In addition, the film presented almost no counter-argument or reliable data relating to the conservation ‘recipe’ of South African, John Hume, the most successful private rhino breeder on the planet, with 1,530 rhino to his name.”

“Mr Hume’s recipe is to breed rhino, cut off their horns and sell them — currently legal in South Africa but prohibited internationally. It is put forward by the film’s makers with almost no risk analysis, no alternative vision and no understanding of what would happen to the world’s 30,000 remaining wild rhino if his dream came true.”

Craig Packer, John Hume and Will Travers

John Hume, Craig Packer and Will Travers at the debate: ‘Should the trade in rhino horn be legalised?’

Born Free say they provided the film-makers with ample evidence drawn from history as to why legalising international rhino horn trade is likely to be a recipe for disaster. In 2008 the international community, despite the desperate pleas of Born Free and others, approved a ‘one-off’ sale of more than 100 tonnes of ivory from South Africa and several other countries to Japan and China. Far from ‘satisfying consumer demand’, as the architects of this sale hoped, it fuelled a dramatic and deadly explosion in poaching and illegal ivory trade.

The African elephant stronghold Tanzania, lost an average of 1,000 elephants a month, every month, for five years between 2009 and 2014. That’s 60,000 elephants. The poaching epidemic continues to this day with 20,000 elephants poached each year, tons of ivory being seized, and wildlife rangers and wardens — the elephants’ first line of defense — losing their lives. More than 1,000 wildlife rangers have been murdered in the last 10 years.

Mr Hume’s naive proposition, supported by pseudo-economics and a failure to understand risk, is likely to have the same impact

Trophy film poster 2

Does the human race really believe you have to kill something to save it? What a sorry, greedy world. My take away thoughts were that many of the people featured in this film stand to make a lot of money from rhino horn. Many of these hunters have a God-complex. Few of the filmmaker’s points are supported with any evidence. If you ARE expecting the next ‘Blackfish‘ when you watch this, you’ll be very disappointed.

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Learn more about the trade in rhino horn

Discover the documentary ‘Sides of a Horn’, which claims to be the first film to give an unbiased view of South Africa’s ​rhino poaching war from both sides

Want to read about the debate featuring John Hume and Will Travers?

Want to know more about CITES 2016?

Find out more about the work of Craig Packer:

Learn more about ‘Blackfish’

 

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No Waste November: Making the switch to reusable cloth nappies

This past week I started taking action to fulfil my ‘No Waste November‘ pledge.

No Waste November pledge by Kate on Conservation - to use reusable cloth nappies

Pledge: To be a ‘green mum’ with reusable wipes and nappies.

As a new mum to a newborn baby, who arrived on the 20th October, I have pledged to go ‘green‘, by using cloth nappies and reusable baby wipes.

Since hearing about the No Waste November initiative back in August, when I attended Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots Annual Summit, I began planning my contribution to reducing the amount of plastic waste I dispose of. Knowing my daughter was due late October, I saw it as a great opportunity to actually put in to practice the idea of using reusable nappies, liners and pads — giving myself the motivation to stick with it!

Pop-in reusable baby wipes

Pop-in reusable baby wipe set

It was important to me to find my feet as a mother and get used to changing my daughter all hours of the day and night — as well as managing all those extra loads of washing that consist solely of baby clothes, blankets and sheets — so for the first 13 days after her birth I worked with the convenience of disposable diapers.

It soon became clear to me how important the impact of this pledge would be… in those 13 days we went through 84 disposable diapers and entire 100 pack of baby wipes — not to mention all the plastic nappy sacks that the dirty nappies had to be thrown away in; for hygiene purposes!

Milovia nappy cover and lining

Milovia nappy cover and inner lining

I purchased an entire range of reusable nappies to see her through from birth to 2 years, finding two different brands I wanted to use: Close Parent Pop-in for the newborn stage and Milovia for when she’s 8lbs in weight to up to 2 years in age, due to their adjustable sizing (see above).

For a look at what comes in the Pop-in Newborn Nappy Pack, take a look at the video below:

I used a website called Babipur to source the nappy sets; a company which stocks a huge variety of eco-friendly baby products, whom I discovered courtesy of my colleagues at National Geographic Kids magazine.

Milovia nappy designs and carry bag

Milovia nappy designs and carry bag for holding soiled nappies while out and about

As well as buying the nappies from them, this is also where I bought my laundry kit by Tots Bots, which includes a lockable bucket for storing and soaking dirty nappies; mesh bags for soaking them in and easy transfer from bucket to washing machine; eco-friendly washing powder and flushable top liners for extra protection of the nappies — which I think will come into use further down the line.

cloth nappies cleaning in progress

cloth nappies: cleaning in progress with Tots Bots nappy bucket and laundry kit

So far, it’s been a little bit of trial and error — I’ve found the best way to initially soak the nappies is to wash off the excess by holding the liners into the toilet pan while flushing the chain, allowing the water to flow over the liner, then soak the liners and nappy covers overnight in the bucket using 3 table spoons of the washing powder. Then they need to be machine washed at 60 degrees to remove any stains and to soften the fabric ready for re-use. It is recommended that baby is changed at least once every 3 hours when using these nappies.

Kate on Conservation mother and baby

Although it’s taken a little bit of time to know how tight to fasten them (too loose and they leak, too tight and they indent my baby’s skin), and you do have to actually open the nappies regularly to check whether they need changing (unlike disposables, which indicate with a colour changing line down the centre of the diaper, which changes from yellow to blue when baby is wet); I’ve absolutely become an advocate the cloth nappy!

The amount of plastic waste I’ll save over the next couple of years — not to mention money — is incredible! It may take a little more work, but thinking about those 80-odd nappies over less than 2 weeks, and how that would add up; I’m really glad to have made my No Waste November pledge, and I’ll definitely be sticking to it long term!

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Learn more about Roots and Shoots

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