Thursday, March 4, 2010

sweating the small stuff

By Andrew Wassung

I watched a line of ants moving up my kitchen counter for 30 minutes today. I was making a sarmie and somewhere between the layer of mayonnaise and the cutting of the cucumber I got totally distracted. Ants are incredible. There are over 10,000 species, they have two stomachs and they can lift 20 times their bodyweight. Some even sleep seven hours a day. What struck me the most though is how clean the little buggers are – they actually dispose of their rubbish, recycling the decomposed stuff and enriching the soil when they process their food. Isn’t it funny then that when I went on the search for these ant-eco facts, the only thing Google had that was eco-ant was ways to eco-get rid of them. What also strikes me is how the littlest little creature thinks to clean up after itself when there are millions and billions of them running around like ‘lunantics’.

This tiniest of things actually recycles its waste, turning it into something beneficial for something or someone else in the animal or plant kingdom. Then I returned to my sandwich-making; I realised how selfish we are, in a new and different little way that I hadn’t realised it before. How efficient and impatient we are. How little time we have to look around and admire the small things. It was no wonder then that when I looked at all the mess my sandwich had made, I felt obliged to mention these unsung little guys of our dirty digs kitchens.

Crumbs now lay strewn across the counter, tomato cuttings and juice dripped down the drawers onto my toes, and the sweet chilli sauce on the knife was now sticking to the mayo lid. There I stood, just me, in a fuss (one of those you can only get into when your sandwich skills aren’t up to par), throwing decent bits of tomato that I felt didn’t make the cut onto my sandwich into the bin, creating more waste in one second than a million ants make in a lifetime.

I thought then about how little time I had left to put the top slice on, cut, and eat my sandwich, with enough time to spare to make a cup of tea, maybe catch an episode, relax and enjoy what was left of my miniscule lunch break. Then it was time - books, keys, a mad rush down the hill. As I left I caught a parting glimpse of the ants navigating their way to my mess. I needn’t worry I thought as I closed the door, they’ll clean the crumbs. If only we all had a footprint as small as an ant’s.

Shop with a clear conscience

By Carina Truyts

Buying power. We all have it. Every time we enter a store, it is in our hands to buy responsibly or recklessly. Consumers have the right to ask questions and demand answers, but we can also educate ourselves about companies that are worthwhile supporting.

There are a few fiddly labels that may confuse shoppers. This is due to lots of opportunistic producers hopping on to the bandwagon of organic produce- It’s a fast growing market, with vast opportunities for exploitation. It’s a fact that producing eco- friendly or organic products is more expensive. The Organic Consumer Association (OCA) says that “Limits on pesticides, for instance, mean more hand-weeding. They also mean farmers run a higher risk of losing all or part of a year's crop.” Certifying foods as organic is also expensive. So, some companies use commercial methods of producing, but sell products for “organic” prices with misleading labels such as “natural” “green” or “environmentally conscience.”

You should look out for labels that say “organically certified” or at least “made with recyclable materials” or “not tested on animals”. Bio- dynamic labels are another cup of tea entirely. According to, biodynamic farmers respect and care for soil, water, plants and animals, but also work with natural and cosmic cycles, considering the universe as an indivisible whole that should be managed as such. It’s pretty intense and proportionally priced!

I visited the shop “The Mustard Seed” at Peppergrove Mall this week and found some really reasonably-priced-good-for-mother-nature stuff. It’s really worth a visit. The friendly staff will happily point out the environmentally-friendly products. I found some fantastic Lavendar and Sugar Beet conditioner from Earth Sap Organic. I don’t recommend the Bloublommetjieskloof hair products though- although they smell really good, they’re too runny to apply! However, their Wild Fynbos soap, priced at R8.50 is a total treat. There is also a vast range of cleaning products to choose from- a great way to cut down on your carbon footprint!

Bulk buying is another way to save the environment and your budget when you consider how expensive packaging is for everyone involved. Digs- mates can buy 5 litres of cleaning products and share it. To make it even more worth it, The Mustard Seed also offers a 10% discount on cleaning materials to all GRASS members!

Another long-term investment worth considering is purchasing a ceramic Biowash ball - you don’t need to add any soap to your wash! Manager Louise Krueger owns one and highly recommends it. “It works, and you only have to pre-treat stains” she says. “You can also put it in your fridge to keep your veggies fresh.” Retailing at R479, it’s not bad considering a 2kg pack of commercial washing powder costs R59.99 and only lasts a month or two.

There are several other interesting buys. Instant Organic Miso soup, although it costs about R10, is a good clean convenience, especially for hikers. They also stock Organic Pukka Teas. Its 12.48 am and I just brewed a cup. The flavour I chose is Clarity, with organic ginger, lemongrass and gotu koja tea. It’s amazingly good. No sugar or milk required. Just refreshing lemon grass and revitalising ginger that doesn’t taste raw or astringent. Priced at R3.95 a sachet, I’ll keep it for special occasions like pre-exam stress relief and the night before deadlines!

People in search of healthy food (bird seed, that kind of stuff) will enjoy the Health Connection range. Be aware of the subtle packaging- bright green packets are organic, while the dark green labels are not. Solgar vitamins and herbal supplements are also a fantastic buy; they focus on sustainable production, going so far as to use filtered water in the process. They also have special vitamins that are focused on vegetarian and kosher diets.

We move from the cosy Mustard Seed to the glaring lights of Pick and Pay and are confronted with the moral issue - free-range versus caged chicken eggs. It’s as simple as free versus caged- what would you prefer? There are so many good reasons to buy organic, free-range and eco-friendly. You are in a position to promote healthy soil building, reduction in fertilizer usage and cruelty to animals. Your money also goes a long way to support small and local businesses, which in turn follow fair trade principles. You’re helping humans today, and by supporting planet-friendly ventures - the generations of tomorrow.

Even the simple act of filling up your recycled bottles at the spring near the highway makes a difference. Think of the plastic that goes into packaging water. As a bonus, spring water is deliciously sweet and better than anything you can buy! And don’t forget to take home your green goods in a recyclable or environmentally-friendly bag; it’s just one more step towards a squeaky clean conscience.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Greening your digs!

By Emily Jones & Andrew Wassung

So going green is one of those really daunting, overwhelming concepts. This is because it can be really overwhelming to make a whole bunch of changes to one’s otherwise comfortable lifestyle. Many of us know that we aren’t living sustainable, eco-friendly lives, but we don’t have the time to research why we should care, and even if we do, how to. Enter GRASS: who has put together an easy Digs Greening Project; simple, step by step tips to save water, electricity, the planet, and importantly, those few extra bucks to buy that chicken curry pie you missed out on last BP run.
If you haven’t heard yet, recycling is pretty easy because the municipality collects recyclables along with your normal rubbish. Just put your recyclables like tins, plastics, glass and paper in a clear or orange bin bag, and put it out with your rubbish on collection day. Batteries and light bulbs can be dropped at Pick n Pay for safe disposal. EC Bottle Buyers will take your bottles for a bit of cash. Contact them on 041 636 1440
• Reduce your geyser temperature to 55 degrees – this is still hot enough to kill bacteria and you will save on your electricity bill.
• Buy energy saving light bulbs (Available at Pick n Pay) – Traditional lighting uses up to 15% of the average electricity bill, and wastes energy producing heat. Energy saving bulbs last up to 10 times longer and you won’t burn your hands when you decide that changing light bulbs after a night out is a good idea.
• Simple – turn it off! Hit the switch on your TV, computer, washing machine, and that Playstation that stays on all night. Even items left on standby use up to 85% of the energy they would use when fully on.
• By putting a weighed down coke bottle in your toilet’s cistern you save when flushing – as much as 76 litres of water a day!
• Test for leaks by putting food colouring in the tank. If it appears in the toilet bowl within 30 minutes then get your landlord in for a change.
• Don’t buy bottled water. Find a mate with a car and go fill up at the natural spring on the road to Port Alfred. It’s delicious, healthy and sustainable.
• Start a veggie garden. It’s cheap, organic, and it’s generally just cool to dig around in the mud.
• Buy local – get on down to Fruit ‘n Veg, or wake up this Saturday for a change and check out GRASS’s Farmer’s Market at Old Gaol.

• Plant Spekboom. It has incredible carbon storing properties said to be as high as 4 tons of carbon per hectare each year. You can also chuck it in your salad!
• Buy a Bio Wash ball. Chuck out your washing powder, it is non-toxic and environmentally friendly. You can also put it in your fridge to keep your fruit, veg, and meat fresh. Available at the Mustard Seed Health shop in Peppergrove.
• Buy recycled or reusable napkins instead of disposable ones – if everyone in the country did, this alone would save 1 million trees.
• Walk instead of drive – self-explanatory.

Take on the challenge one step at a time and gradually make your lifestyle more environmentally friendly. For more tips and details email GRASS at

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Green Revolution

It is beginning, and it will make its way into the human mind; our conscious and our conscience. It is changing the way we eat, act, live. It’s changing the market that (if you are new to Rhodes you will soon learn) is running our everyday lives. And if, finally out of school and fresh on the scene, you thought you were the decision maker in your life, take it from me (so as to ease the shock when you hear it from a certain history lecturer later): you are not. But you can be. Yes, it is upon us in a greater way than it has ever been before. the Green Revolution.

We are privileged to live in this time; the near maxing out of our dear planet Earth. If it’s not dolphin and whale slaughter off the Asian coastline or the last reserves of global oil, then it’s the low water levels and failed crop, perhaps even the Grahamstown weather pattern. Actually, no, let’s leave Gtown out of this. But the privilege I preach before you all is that of opportunity. We are fortunate enough to be the youth of this infected world; the upcoming revolutionaries at the forefront of the green movement - and what a project to undertake.

So welcome to Rhodes 2010, where your ‘identity’, ‘culture’ and/or belief in global warming (if in anything at all) may well be scrutinised, where dreadlocked and barefooted individuals might try to sell you vegetables; or where proud activists will tape your mouth shut and tie you to a tree. A place where the rain could just as easily be right around the corner, filling the dams and rivers, and watering those veggies with the hope of a sustainable future in the making. Welcome to a team of young and passionate, liberal purple people who, together, can see things change for the good.

Now put your conscience to rest and jump the hell on board the environmental train, the green revolution (and I don’t just mean backing the Boks!). Even if it’s just by reading this section today, or smelling the incoming rains tomorrow; otherwise find yourself left behind to rot along with what you thought was sustainable living. It’s up to us –let’s do the decision making now.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Water it down some

“There is an acute water shortage. Please use water sparingly”, are the words that have been pasted up around campus for quite some time now. If ‘Warning’, ‘Waarskuwing’, and ‘Isaziso’ have not caught your eye recently, then you have some catching up do to. Signs such as this one often go ignored by busy students who, when they get home, have forgotten about the long day and just need some chill time before their next encounter with the campus signage.

So, for those of you who are either rushing to avoid the long Kaif queue, or if you’re deleting those ‘studentnews’ emails that would have told you…let’s briefly look at why we should ‘please use water sparingly.’
Grahamstown draws its water from Settlers Dam and the surrounding catchment. When the volume of water stored in the system is less than 40% the total consumption of Makana Municipality for the last year, the Council has to impose water restrictions.
Some of these restrictions include the use of garden hoses and irrigation, and washing cars with water from the municipal system. Applications for watering sports fields and nurseries must be obtained under these circumstances; otherwise R200 rand fines are up for grabs.

But water conservation is not about money and these signs should be heeded. It is in our best interests to adopt wise water practices as matter of habit if we are to have sustainable supplies in the future.
And to those environmental keen-beans with veggie patches, or Oppies devoted to the age-old tradition of car washing - good on you, but please respect the tough times and turn off your taps.

Let us Prey...

A white rhino has fallen victim to poachers just thirty minutes down the road at Kariega Game Reserve. This is the fourth case of the sort in the last year - the first in which the poachers managed to hack off the horn.
It seems there has been a major increase in poaching rhinos nationally with the slaughter of almost 50 in recent months. It is feared that poaching syndicates, who are getting high prices on the black market, may have turned their attention to the Eastern Cape.
This is the first poaching incident Kariega has ever experienced, according to Mark Rushmere, whose family owns the reserve. Shamwari Game Reserve lost a prize rhino to poacher activity in December last year, while Kwantu Game Reserve lost one in January. The latter was shot four times before running hundreds of metres and collapsing dead. Lalibela has also fallen victim to the surge.
In August a man was arrested in East London for trying to sell two rhino horns valued at R200 000. He was sentenced to R10 000 fine or four years jail. The incident at Kariega is a financial one too, as the average price of an animal is around R250 000.
Chief Executive of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Yolan Friedmann, said recently in a Guardian article that the average number of rhinos killed has gone from 10 to 100 a year. “There’s a lot more money going into poaching and it’s becoming more hi-tech. These guys are using helicopters and AK-47 rifles. South Africa is facing a crisis. We’ve done extremely well in rhino conservation, but something has changed in the past 18 months; there’s an insatiable appetite for rhino horn in the Far East.” So far this year 84 rhino have been killed in South Africa. In 2007 the number was 13.
The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Buyelwa Sonjica, recently met her provincial MEC's, calling for an integrated anti-poaching approach for dealing with this rising problem.
In South Africa the penalty for anyone caught poaching rhino is R100 000 fine or 10 years in prison, or both.

So why Rhino horn and where does it go?

The horn is made up of a mass of fibres attached to the skin of the rhino. These fibres consist of a protein called keratin, which also forms the basis of human hair and fingernails, as well as the hooves of horses.

Rhino horn is highly valued in certain parts of the world for medicinal and cultural reasons. In the Far East, from Malaysia and South Korea to India and China, people believe the powdered-down or shaved horn, dissolved in boiling water, can cure fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders. There is also the myth that it serves as an aphrodisiac. In Yemen young boys are given a ‘Jambiya’, a dagger with a handle made from the horn, when they turn 12, as a sign of manhood and devotion to the Muslim religion. This, in a country where the ownership and trading of rhino horn is legal. People are prepared to pay up to US$ 1200 for antique rhino horn for these daggers.

Some argue that the trade in rhino horn should be made legal. They maintain that this would encourage people to protect, or breed rhino and sell the horn. By increasing the supply of rhino horn, the price would most likely drop, and incentive for poaching would be removed. Also legal trade would be easier to control than black market trading.
What do you think – absolutely outrageous or good business venture? Comment at