A quiet summer watching nestlings grow

Summer has been quiet, but busy somehow. I have a few other projects I’ve been working on and my bird-watching has been close to home for the most part with a couple exceptions.

Scenes like this Western Tiger Swallowtail are few and far between now that we are in the depths of summer.

What was all green and lush and full of life in spring is now brown and golden with drought. This year marks the fourth summer in a row which has been a drought in Victoria. Yesterday it rained for the first time in months, but I don’t think it did much to alleviate conditions.

This raccoon seemed to be feeling the heat on a hot morning

At least the roses in cultivated gardens do not seem to mind much, flowering still in beautiful, bright colours. Some songbirds, too, do not seem to mind, but I wonder how the hot weather affects them. House Finches and Bushtits have been abounding everywhere I go in little flocks, finches singing in berry bushes and bushtits gleaning insects off trees as they leap from branch to branch. I hope they can all find enough to eat.

Nests are busy places, too. At the osprey nest, I have still only seen one juvenile, but I am hopeful there is another there and I just keep missing it. Otherwise, I wonder what it means for the osprey if they only have one baby. Two years ago, they had three successful fledglings so I have high hopes for the family! I wonder if the hot, dry conditions somehow made it more difficult to rear all three young or if an egg or two was taken by a predator. I’ve seen the little one flapping his wings inside the nest a few times, strengthening the muscles and experimenting.


Osprey with juvenile at the nest

I’ve been seeing more nesting birds this summer and I have been monitoring a Barn Swallow colony since their arrival in May. I watched as they buzzed about busily building and repairing nests, then watching and listening to the tiny babies in their nests. They grow up so fast; a mere week or so later, they have already left the safety of their nest and start flying.

I feel quite attached to them after watching them grow up and feel quite proud when I see the juveniles flying about on their own, but equally heartbroken when a few have not survived. My hope is that most of them can succeed despite the difficulties and threats they are faced with in today’s world. That goes for all the nestlings; birds have many obstacles to face in our constantly expanding world that makes me sometimes wonder if it will ever be enough for humanity? Or will we continue to crave for more? More money, more cars, more oil, more expansion, until we simply self-destruct?

But there is still beauty to be found. Last weekend, I found my first hummingbird myself! I’ve seen them pointed out by others before, but never seen an active one or found it on my own. I saw the little bird hovering around a tree with a bit of something in its beak and waited long enough to confirm my suspicions; she’s a breeding female as she landed in her nest.

Only seeing the nest in real life on a tree branch brings home just how tiny they are. She’s likely on at least her second brood of the year as Anna’s Hummingbirds start breeding early. It was quite exciting to find this and appreciate the pure beauty in something so small. Its moments like these that are like little beacons of light in the face of the destruction happening in the world. That the song and life of a single small hummingbird could mean so much is a good reminder of the beauty and love that persists.

Anna’s Hummingbird nest


The plague of plastic and reducing your plastic footprint

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll recall a little over a year ago, I wrote some posts on plastic in our lives, and some ways I was trying to reduce my own contributions to the problem of the plastic plague. Why do I care? Mostly, I care because I don’t want the oceans ending up with more plastic than plankton. I like birds. I don’t like seeing birds (and other animals – especially turtles!) dying, starving and becoming poisoned from eating too much plastic.

Birds and turtles – I wonder if they’re eating plastic?

I am recently reminded of this with the news that Exeter University scientists exploring the Arctic found blocks of polystyrene at 80°N on ice floes in the middle of international Arctic waters. After seeing this, they decided to take samples of the water to look for micro-plastics in the Arctic ocean. I don’t even know how to describe how I feel about it.

Maybe David Attenborough (a hero of mine) puts it best when he describes watching albatross parents literally feeding plastic to their young – “it’s heartbreaking”. I agree, Sir David. It’s heartbreaking and disappointing. Not to mention my disappointment at that balloon ban that Vancouver Parks didn’t manage to get approved because, really, what purpose does a balloon serve?

And it’s not just the effect on animals. Our landfills are filling up and releasing methane. Many people might say, “just recycle it” but plastic is only recycled and used to a certain extent. So, what do we do? Try by reducing the plastic and waste in your life in a few ways. Here are a few ideas and some of the main ways I’ve tried to reduce my own waste:

  1. Don’t use single-use plastic.
    To me, this is the easiest one. Mostly, it’s a choice of laziness and convenience. This includes plastic grocery bags, plastic bulk bin bags, straws, plastic cutlery, disposable coffee cups and lids, beverage bottles, food wrappers and menstrual products.
    Instead, use re-usable grocery bags and bulk bin bags (Kootsacs, Flip & Tumble, LifeWithoutPlastic and heaps more, just google it). Say no to straws and plastic cutlery. You can bring your own, or just opt not to eat fast food. Its better for you, anyway. Bring a re-usable mug and water bottle with you. Bring your own container for leftovers when going out to eat. Use re-usable menstrual products instead of individually-wrapped plastic ones.
  2. Don’t buy goods in plastic containers if you can help it.
    Stuff like laundry detergent, shampoo, cereal, cleaning products, etc. Anything that comes packaged in plastic – especially electronics, single-packaged snacks, makeup and things like razors and toothbrushes.
    Wherever you can, buy bar soap and shampoo instead of products in plastic bottles. Buy laundry detergent and pasta noodles in a cardboard box instead of a bottle or bag. Buy cereal in bulk and place it in your own container to eliminate the inner plastic bag, etc. Look at everything on the shelf at the store that you buy and think about what comes in plastic and how you can reduce it.
  3. Don’t buy clothing made of synthetic fibres.
    Since the advent of plastic circa 1907, our clothing has shifted from well-made natural fibres to cheap, synthetic, plastic fast fashion meant to last a season until the next trend rolls in. What happens to it when we’re done with it?
    Instead, wear natural fibres like cotton, wool (unless you’re allergic to wool, obviously!) and linen. Buy items made to last or buy them second-hand.
  4. Own less. Buy less.
    Just buying less stuff will automatically decrease your waste output. You’ll have less packaging to dispose of. It will also help your bank account and probably free up some time, too. You could take up a new hobby.
    Remember that you are not defined by what you own. Our society and big companies go to a lot of effort to use advertising and psychology to get us to buy more new stuff, making us think we either need or want it in order to be successful or happy. Don’t fall for their brainwashing ways- just buy less stuff!

When you start to adjust to your changes, you’ll start to notice more ways to improve and things might start to make you upset. I made a lot of these changes in the last year, and its amazing how quickly it becomes the norm. I go to the grocery store and I see bananas and oranges wrapped in plastic wrap and it kind of enrages me. I mean, this fruit already grows with its own packaging and for some reason, people still feel the need to wrap it in plastic? I just don’t understand this. I see people who still buy plastic water bottles and I don’t understand it. It frustrates me. I thought that problem was settled with a million different kinds of reusable bottles about a decade ago.

I made big changes to my wardrobe in the last year, trying to eliminate plastic fibres and buy natural fibres and longer-lasting items. Here it is before, full of polyester (March 2016):


And here it is now:
Notice how after, there is just a lot less overall, too. I’m really trying to do more with less here. I guess you could call it my “minimalist wardrobe.”

Think about the idea of a Plastic Footprint – kind of like a Carbon Footprint. How much plastic do you use, consume and waste? Calculate your Plastic Footprint with the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Plastic Footprint Calculator. It might make you think about some of the things you own and the choices you make, both the small and the big ones. If we don’t, I start to worry about what the world will look like.

There’s always room for improvement. The CWF said I could do better in the kitchen and I agree. I’ve been looking at our waste bin and noticing most of it is plastic food packaging. I’m hoping to start buying noodles, rice and cereal at a bulk store in reusable containers instead of buying them wrapped in plastic in cardboard boxes. How are you reducing your plastic footprint? Take action today, even if its only one small change.

If you’re interested in learning more about plastic and consumerism, check out these documentaries:
Plastic Planet (2009) – Werner Boote, grandson of a plastic chemist explores how plastic is taking over our earth.
Bag It (2010) – Jeb Berrier investigates plastic pollution, the politics of the plastic bag ban and the toxins in his own bloodstream as a result of plastic.
The Clean Bin Project (2011) – A Vancouver, BC couple aim for a waste-free year.
The Men Who Made Us Spend (2014) – From the lightbulb to the iPhone, Jacques Peretti explores companies efforts in planned obsolescence and the psychology of consumerism.

If that’s not enough to make you pause and think about it, I will leave you with a quote from Jane Goodall, another of my heroes:

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

Garry oak ecosystems: more than just an oak tree

a garry oak tree with its mottled bark

Since moving to Canada and specifically Vancouver Island, I’ve learned a lot about the Pacific Northwest and its environments, ecosystems and geology. One of my favorite ecosystems and landscapes is the garry oak meadow or the garry oak ecosystem. As the name implies, the foundation of this zone is the garry oak tree (Quercus garryana). An ecosystem, however, by definition is not just a tree. Its a whole community of all the creatures living in the area and how they interact.

These meadows are unlike anything I grew up around out east or many places I’ve seen since. I think that’s why I like them so much; not to mention they are so full of life (especially birds)! Southeastern Vancouver Island is one of the only places in Canada to have the garry oak ecosystem. In the U.S., garry oaks are found along the western edge of the Cascades in Washington and Oregon and into northern California. The garry oak is the only native species of oak in this region.

Living in a rain shadow area with dry summers, the garry oak is drought-tolerant and fire-resistant and prefers well-drained soil (GOERT). The tree are often successful in areas with shallow soil and rocky outcrops; most remaining modern garry oak ecosystems are rockier sites (ICOR, University of Victoria).

a garry oak stand in the summer

Because there is a variety of sub-environments in a garry oak ecosystem like woodlands, savannah, meadows and vernal pools, there is the potential for high biodiversity. Much of the Greater Victoria region was naturally a garry oak ecosystem, but with European colonization much of the landscape was lost for development in the last 200 years (see map). With the loss of much of the garry oak habitat with European settlement, some species like the Western Bluebird and Lewis’s Woodpecker became extinct on the island.

Black-tailed Deer thrive in garry oak habitat


Map of Greater Victoria with previous garry oak ecosystems in 1800 (green) and those remaining in 1997 (red). Map by Lea, T., Horth, D., Richards, D. and T. Brierly, retrieved from GOERT.

One of the best things about garry oak ecosystesm (okay, I’m biased) are all the birds! Birds are abundant in these areas during all four seasons. Common birds I see are Anna’s Hummingbirds, Spotted Towhees, sparrows (particularly Golden-crowned, White-crowned & Song), a wide variety of warblers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, woodpeckers, Bald Eagles and Turkey Vultures flying overhead, swallows (Barn and Tree) and Bewick’s Wrens. Invasive birds in garry oak meadows are European Starlings and House Sparrows, both of which displace native cavity nesters.

Garry oak commonly co-exist among Douglas Fir trees and Arbutus trees (Canada’s only broadleaf evergreen tree). Other common plants in garry oak meadows I have learned are camas, fawn lilies, Henderson’s Shooting Star, wild rose and buttercups. Scotch broom (or gorse) and English ivy are two of the top invasive culprits taking over.

Some places to see a variety of intact garry oak ecosystems around Victoria includes: Mt. Tolmie, Uplands Park, Beacon Hill Park, Mt. Douglas and Little Mt. Douglas, Francis King Park and Fort Rodd Hill. Many of the Gulf Islands have beautiful areas of garry oak habitat as well.

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garry oak grove in early autumn at dusk
garry oak meadow in the winter

Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team
University of British Columbia Geography Department
University of Victoria Geography Department

How glaciers carved Lake Louise & the Rockies: what remains today

Everywhere, the Canadian Rockies are scoured and marked by the power of ice. We have these powerful glaciers to thank for much of the beauty we now enjoy. Banff NP’s Lake Louise at 1,731m elevation is one example of one such famous site created by glacial erosion.

The Victoria Glacier above the head of Lake Louise, feeds the glacial lake with meltwater.

Above the head of the lake lies Victoria Glacier, a valley glacier, which feeds Lake Louise with beautiful blue-green meltwater (Britannica). Years ago, the Victoria glacier probably once extended much further into the valley while only a fraction of it remains today.

The end of the trail approaching the head of Lake Louise. Beyond this point the trail crosses avalanche paths. It appears not everyone heeded the warnings; see footprints litter the snow just beyond the sign.



The mini-avalanche we witnessed at Lake Louise still roared and crumbled despite the small size of the collapse. I still wouldn’t want to be anywhere near it! These falls must happen regularly based on the debris pile at the bottom. Spring is avalanche season in the mountains.

You can get closer to the  Victoria Glacier on the Plain of Six Glaciers trail, but the latter part of the trail was closed to us (like a few others on our trip) due to potential avalanches. In fact, while we walked along the frozen lake, we witnessed a mini-avalanche on the opposite shore.

Lake Louise still frozen in late April.


Even when frozen, the lake’s waters are blue because it is a glacial-fed lake. As glaciers grind up rocks above the lake, fine glacial silt is created and deposited into the lake by meltwater. The sediment is then suspended in the lake as it slowly settles to the bottom and the sunlight reflects off the sediment is what gives it such rich hues.

As we walked along the lake, Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels scurried along the edges of the frozen lake while Clark’s Nutcrackers were unperturbed by tourists, seeking out an easy meal.

The small Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, commonly confused with a chipmunk!
Clark’s Nutcracker, not at all bothered by the noisy tourists.

While much of the ice that once existed is now gone, glaciers still persist in the Rockies high in the mountains and down alpine valleys. At 2,800m elevation, the Columbia Icefield exists today due to the buildup of the annual fall of 7m of snow; the accumulation of snow over time forms the icefield (Parks Canada).

Perched along the Continental Divide, the approximately 215 square kilometer icefield is a major source of freshwater in North America (Gadd, 2008). The Athabasca River, the North Saskatchewan River and the  Columbia River are all sourced from the icefield, their waters eventually reaching the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, respectively.

Part of the Columbia Icefield in Jaser NP, AB. The Snow Glacier is the lumpy looking snow on the right of the photo. To the left of the glacier is the Snow Dome at 3,456m elevation which lies directly on the Alberta-British Columbia border.


From the top of the Icefield, seven valley glaciers flow downward, one of which is the easily accessible Athabasca Glacier. The Athabasca Glacier is currently retreating although it once reached as far as where the Icefields Visitor Center stands today (Gadd, 2008).

The Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefields, Jasper NP, AB.

While glaciers are mighty erosive forces, they also deposit incredible loads of sediment. By studying the erosive features and deposits left behind by glacier, geologists can determine how far the glacier extended in the past.

The Athabasca Glacier valley with some glacial features labelled. Glaciers scour through rock, leaving behind characteristic round-bottomed and steep-sided U-shaped valleys as opposed to rivers cutting out V-shaped valleys. (Click for full size image)

The Athabasca Glacier valley where the U-shape of the valley is clearly seen. Lateral moraines are piles of rock debris deposited along the edges of a glacier as it recedes. Here, they mark where the glacier extended much wider into the valley than it does today, almost outlining the glacier’s previous boundaries.

The rocky debris in the foreground of the photo (a recessional moraine) was deposited as the glacier retreated from a former position further into the valley; the land where I stood taking this photo was once covered by ice as recently as the early 1800s (Patton, 2014). A glacier retreats when melting occurs faster at the toe than snow and ice can accumulate further up on the glacier. Basically, it is like simple math. If what goes in (snowfall) is less than what goes out (melt), the glacier retreats.

The North Saskatchewan River flows from the Rocky Mountains east toward Lake Winnipeg, its waters eventually reaching the Atlantic Ocean at the Hudson Bay via the Nelson River (Jasper NP, AB).

Freshwater is a critical resource not only for human survival, but flora and fauna of all kinds, and the Columbia Icefield is an important resource for all living things besides its simple beauty. The melting and building of the Columbia Icefield impacts what happens downstream in the Columbia River and as far away as the Arctic Ocean where the Mackenzie River (the largest and longest river in Canada) empties into its seas.

All things in nature are inter-connected. Wildlife is wild. When will more people realize this? Animals and plants do not recognize park, provincial or national boundaries. Wolves and bears protected within the park boundaries wander out where they are hunted and killed because legislation permits hunting these animals. Pollution does not stop at the border with Alberta because it is from British Columbia. Invasive species from the U.S. do not stop at a border crossing with Canada to get their passport stamped and approved. When will people work together as stewards and take responsibility for our impact, both positive and negative, on this earth before it is too late for everyone, including ourselves?

Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier, Parks Canada
Gadd, B., 2008. Columbia Icefield, Athabasca Glacier in Canadian Rockies Geology Road Tours, pp. 335-342.
Lake Louise in: Encyclopedia Britannica
Patton, B., 2014. Icefields Parkway Driving Guide in Parkways of the Canadian Rockies.

How you can prevent bird windowstrike deaths: helping at home and in your community

The Royal Ontario Museum has an annual display of migratory birds killed due to window collision in Toronto alone. This year, the exhibit features 21,000 birds. (Photo from: FLAP)

I’ll never forget the sunny day at work I discovered bits of feathers and avian debris on the edge of a sidewalk which ultimately led me to the body of a dead bird in the bushes. What happened here? I went inside and asked the security guard if she knew what had caused this violent scene. I thought maybe it had been attacked by another animal.

“Oh yes,” she said, “it flew into the window.” She had moved the body to the bushes afterwards in hopes it might make it. It didn’t. After a lengthy discussion, I found out it happens a lot more often than you might think. She found bodies or witnessed collisions on a fairly regular basis. A pair of hummingbirds and a family of kingfishers had died the year before. I was distressed by this, and so was she.

I soon realised how common this problem actually is. An estimated 100 million to 1 billion birds die from hitting windows each year in the United States alone. Another study determined window strikes caused more bird deaths each year than cats! Others estimate 100 million to 1 billion bird deaths per year attributed to window strikes while cats were responsible for up to 500 million deaths per year. A study by Environment Canada found cats caused more bird deaths than window strikes each year in Canada (at least 100 million deaths per year by cats versus 16-42 million deaths per year by window strikes).

There is clearly still room for debate on the leading anthropogenic cause of bird deaths, but window strikes are a top contender regardless. Just imagine how difficult it must be to get accurate statistics on either cause.

Why are windows a problem for birds?
Glass is an issue for birds because they cannot see it. It is invisible to them. The worst cases are those where windows are situated directly opposite windows on the other side, creating what appears to be a clear line of sight through to the outdoors. To a bird, it simply looks like a continuation of their habitat. An additional problem is leaving lights on inside at night because so many bird migrate by night and can become easily confused or even trapped by light reflecting off windows within buildings.

What can you do at home to reduce bird-window impacts?
Don’t place houseplants right against the window.
Place your bird feeders either: right up against the window OR no more than 1m (3ft) away from the window.
Put up curtains or shades to break up the transparency.
Put up stickers or decals on the windows. To be effective, they must be no less than 5x5cm (2x2in) apart.
Hang colourful strings, ribbons or streamers across your window. Again, these must be no less than 5cm (2in) apart.
Use soap or washable marker on the outside of your window to create a design or whitewash your windows.
A single hawk silhouette sticker does NOTHING to prevent bird strikes. This is a very common misconception.

What about commercial buildings in my community?
There are a number of ways for commercial buildings to reduce bird-window impacts. They range from putting up dotted adhesive, to screening on the outside of windows to using special UV glass.  In Canada, it is actually against the Species At Risk Law to inadvertently kill or injure birds from the reflective light through building windows.

A recent study from Duke University of their own campus at Durham found that bird collisions were highest at buildings with the greatest glass area except the building with patterned, or fritted, glass. They also found a higher incidence of collision at buildings with greater forested area in the vicinity. These findings are important in telling us what we can do to reduce bird-window collisions. Migratory birds were also more susceptible to window collisions: 76% of the dead window-strike birds found were migratory species.

If you notice bird impacts at your workplace or around your city, or are concerned, get involved and find out what you can do to help. Talk to a building or facilities manager about options, like those presented by FLAP. Use social media to spread the word. Many birds that end up in wildlife rehab are there because of window strikes. The best way to solve the problem is to prevent it.

April 12 is the Canadian Wildlife Federation and FLAP Canada’s Bird Impact Reduction Day. Don’t forget about this silent killer! Ask your office buildings and workplaces to turn the lights off at night, turn the lights off in your home or close your blinds or curtains, move your houseplants away from windows and tell people about this problem to raise awareness. Donate to FLAP or volunteer. They are an amazing resource on this issue.


What do I do if a bird flies into my window?
Now that I’ve learned all this, I know what to do when the misfortune of a bird-window strike does happen. The best thing to do is put the bird in a small cardboard box (with a rolled up paper towel to perch on) with airholes and let it recover.

If the bird does recover, you’ll hear it moving and fluttering about in the box, then its safe to let it out. If it doesn’t its best to take it to the professionals are your nearest wildlife rehab centre.

If you don’t know where that is, I encourage you to find out. Here is a list of wildlife rehab centers in the United Sates and abroad though it is likely not exhaustive!

Dressed in plastic head to toe – is plastic hiding in your closet, too?

Following on from my previous post on plastic in clothing, I decided to investigate my closet to find out how much plastic is hiding in plain sight.

I hoped for a majority natural fabrics like cotton. I distinctly dislike the way polyester feels on my skin and how it doesn’t breathe at all.

The results weren’t as bad as I was expecting overall, but there is definitely room for improvement! Here’s what I found in my everyday wardrobe…

I’m happy to see a majority of cotton, but I’d like to see my polyester pile shrink.
  • All of my “woolly” sweaters and winter hats are 100% acrylic.
  • My nicer blouses for office jobs were an variety of mostly viscose, rayon and polyester with no cotton.
  • Most of my t-shirts were 100% cotton which is great. There are a couple of odd rayon shirts in the mix, but I’ll take rayon over polyester since its a natural-synthetic blend.
  • My jeans are 68% cotton, which is not too bad I suppose. Another pair of pants are 97% cotton and 3% elastane.
  • My shorts are a win at 98% cotton/2% elastane. Not bad!
  • Most of my dresses were polyester. The worst part of this are the tights that go along with them which are all 100% nylon, of course.

More of my “nice” or office clothes turned out to be mostly polyester while the clothes I’d wear on a more daily basis when given the choice were mostly cotton. Its funny how I subconsciously prefer one over the other, and to be honest, I hate dressing for the office.

The outdoor and hiking clothes are where it got ugly. Most of these are polyester, including:

  • Underarmor tops and bottom base layers – 100% polyester. Yikes!
  • Fleece jacket & vest – 100% polyester. And some of the worst offenders of shedding plastic in the washing machine!
  • And yes, even my beloved backpack is 100% polyester. Funny to think this is the same material as some of my shirts.

My rainjacket, a Pacific Northwest staple, is 100% nylon, but that’s fairly unavoidable in a waterproof item. At least I have two 100% merino wool tops which I love and wear far more often than the polyester ones.

After ravaging my closet and piling up all my clothing, I turned around and looked at my bed. I wish I hadn’t. I checked the labels and I was very disappointed to find both comforter is 100% polyester. At least the sheets are 100% cotton. So I suppose there are a lot more things I could change, but I don’t see myself shelling out the cash for new bedding anytime soon.

How about you? How much plastic is hiding in plain sight in your wardrobe?

Are you wearing plastic right now? Do you know where your clothing comes from?

Following up from my previous post about the earth becoming a plastic planet, I’ve been thinking more about plastic in my life. Over the last couple of years, I have been striving to be healthier and eliminate certain toxins from my life, such as chemical cleaning products and air fresheners, beauty and personal care products and making more food homemade. Maybe the next logical step is striving for less plastic both in my home and on myself!

After learning about the plastic industry taking over our clothing and how it degrades in the washing machine only to wind up polluting our oceans, I decided to learn more about what I put on my body every single day.

And it is not only the plastic fibers polluting the ocean, but also the concern of what happens to all these articles of clothing when we are done with them? Because they are basically plastic, they will not biodegrade and will persist in the environment long after we’re gone. Perhaps one solution is to wear more natural fiber clothing…

So first, I ask the question: where does our clothing come from? Fabrics are made from one of two things: natural or synthetic fibers.


Nylon was the first fully synthetic fiber to be manufactured from polymers. The first pair of women’s nylon stockings were made in 1937 and were quite a hit! Since that time, nylon is used in all kinds of things, from clothing to tents to musical instrument strings  (The Smithsonian, The Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining).

Acrylic is made from a synthetic polymer (so, essentially plastic) and has desirable moisture-wicking qualities. It is also warm while being lightweight and is a common fabric for knit/”woolly” sweaters (TextileExchange).

Polyester is a synthetic fiber made from polymers requiring a high-energy process to manufacture. It it used in many types of clothing, bedding and upholstery (Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining, TextileExchange). Popular polar fleece is 100% polyester and was found to be a source of micro-plastic fibers in the ocean from washing this fabric in our washing machines (Browne et al., 2011).

Viscose / rayon is made from chemically altered wood pulp or cotton fiber and is therefore technically semi-synthetic. It is more moisture-absorbent than cotton or linen and is used in a wide variety of garments (TextileExchange, Swicofil).

Spandex / elastane / Lycra is another polymer fiber famous for its ability to stretch and there is nothing natural about that (TextileExchange).


Then, we have the fully natural fibers…

Cotton comes from the cotton plant. No surprises there. It breathes, its soft, its easy to clean and we’ve been using it for hundreds of years. Cotton is used in t-shirts, chinos, corduroy and denim  (Swicofil).

Linen comes from the flax plant and is one of the oldest textiles in history. Its durable, its breathable, and best of all it keeps you cool and makes for great summer-wear (Libeco, DeckTowel).

Wool primarily comes from sheep, but can also come from the angora rabbit, goats (cashmere and mohair), alpaca and llamas. Its breathable, stays warm when wet and keeps you cool when its warm and is resilient (CampaignforWool).

Other natural, but less common fabrics include silk and hemp. For more reading about the benefits of wearing natural fibers, check out this post from EmpoweredSustenance.

While its great that lots of companies are making clothes out of recycled plastic (Dgrade, Patagonia, Rawfortheocean), I wonder: what will happen to those plastic clothes when people are done with them? We live in a throwaway society, where so many people spend their free time on the weekends at shopping malls buying more and more stuff.

How much of my wardrobe is plastic? How much of yours is? In my next post, I will report back on my findings after investigating my own entire wardrobe.

Are we living in the ‘Plasticene’? & all the plastic in your life

Recently, I finally got around to watching the 2009 documentary Plastic Planet by Werner Boote. I’ve been interested in learning more about how plastic is made from oil, the potential health dangers of all the plastic surrounding us not to mention the environmental repercussions. Sure enough, after watching it, I found a new article about how the earth is becoming a plastic planet.

I was both fascinated and horrified about how many plastic products are actually a part of my daily life! Not only the regular things you might think of, like kitchen utensils, ziploc bags and food containers, but also your clothing, nearly every food from the grocery store is packaged in plastic, cables and wiring, the refrigerator and there is probably plastic in the shower and the window frames. Everywhere I look, there is plastic and soon enough, I was driving my significant other crazy as I pointed out everything around us that was plastic!

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All of the plastic water bottles in my house…and one lonely Sigg.

Watching this doco, I learned while the main components of plastic itself are not harmful, the unknown additives from manufacturing have known toxic health effects. Two common additives you may have heard of are Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates; both are endocrine disruptors. Boote had his blood tested as part of the doco and they found measurable amounts of BPA in his blood. However, I wouldn’t get too excited about BPA-free plastic because chances are, it is just being replaced with a different toxic chemical! (Time to get rid of all my BPA-free bottles…)

To be fair, let’s  take a step back and think about how plastic has benefited us, too. It keeps food fresh and prevents illness, it is hugely important in healthcare and its helped along the digital age of technology we are in…okay, that’s all I can come up with. And on the plus side, only 4% of oil production goes toward producing plastic, which is considerably less than I thought.

This water certainly looks clean, but how much plastic is hiding under the surface?

Plastic in the ocean
Besides the health effects, I am more concerned with environmental effects. Of course, now we all know how long it takes plastic to disintegrate and that we ought to recycle it, but there is already so much plastic in the environment its become a huge problem. Sea turtles are facing a huge struggle by ingesting plastic in the ocean.

We all know about the garbage in the ocean, is it any wonder its killing the creatures who call it home? Plastic is a big problem for sea turtles because they get tangled in it and drown or ingest it intentionally (thinking it is jellyfish) or accidentally which makes them very sick, causes intestinal blockages leading to starvation and an inability to properly digest food. (Source)

Aside from the plastic crisis, turtles are facing other threats from ending up as by-catch or on someone’s dinner plate, dealing with pollution and habitat disturbance to dealing with people like these idiots.

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And its not just sea turtles. Staggering numbers of seabirds are also ingesting plastic and dying. Here is a collection of sad and disturbing photos of dead albatross found all with plastic in their stomachs. Even environments far from large human populations we might typically think of as being pristine contain plastic debris. In 2012, a group of researchers discovered the first plastic found in the Southern Ocean.

mollymawk Apr 2012
New Zealand mollymawks, a type of albatross. How much plastic is in their stomachs?

But maybe the majority of people won’t really care until the marine plastic epidemic starts affecting us…but it already is. If you eat fish, its highly likely that fish contains tiny plastic fibers which you are now eating, too. Just another great reason not to eat seafood.

Perhaps someday geologists will look back and call the era we are living in the ‘Plasticene’…

Looking around your home – how many plastic items do you see? Does it surprise you?

If you want to do something to help besides using less plastic in your daily life and ensuring your plastic is recycled responsibly, please look into helping or donating to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.