Nature House – a sustainable home with locally grown food
Tellus Think Tank continues the quest to find paths towards a sustainable future. In this article we look into the budding development of “Nature Houses”. We visit Bodil Antonsson who built her own Nature House. First a few words about why the Nature House will be interesting for a sustainable future!
Text: Domi, Tellus Think Tank Photo: AnnVixen, Jana Juliana Photography & Bodil Antonsson
A few words on problems of non-local grown food
Locally produced food is not something that people living close to the poles take for granted. Winters are long and the season for growing food is singular and short.
Looking at the example of Sweden, this European country imports almost 50 % of the food needed for its 10 million inhabitants. All other foods, except for sugar that Sweden is self-sufficient in, are imported in large quantities.
Here are some examples of how food is transported to Sweden :
- In the middle of summer, Sweden’s agricultural season, Swedish shops offer green beans grown, packed and transported from Kenya, Africa.
- The vacuum packed meat, available in shops, has been shipped over the Atlantic from Argentina and Brazil.
- Th North Sea fish, is frozen and shipped to China. It is there prepared and packed to be re-shipped to be sold Sweden and other countries.
- All year around Swedes eat vegetables such as cucumber, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbages etc. that have been transported by lorry from Southern Europe countries such as Italy, Greece and Spain.
For a sustainable future
These examples are just a few examples of transport routes of food to Europe from afar. By increasing locally produced food transport and carbon emissions can be decreased and food security can be increased, because if food is produced locally fewer things can go wrong on it’s way to our plates.
Greenhouses could be one way of prolonging the gardening season in countries with short summers but can greenhouses reduce mass-distribution of food to places like Sweden? Perhaps they need to be one of many methods of feeding populations close to the poles. How can the design of living quarters help local food production, we set out to meet Bodil Antonsson who built her own Nature House – a house surrounded by a greenhouse shell!
Arriving at the Nature House in Uppgrenna, Sweden
Bodil Antonsson has lived in the village of Gränna in Sweden almost all her life. She built her Nature House just outside of the village in an area that goes by the name Uppgrenna.
The day we arrive it is freezing, even for Sweden, and the thermometer shows -15 Celsius. My cheeks are still frozen stiff from the short walk to the car and nature shows its frosted cover of winter magic. Our trip takes us through the Swedish candy town of Gränna and when we reach the fields outside the village we almost pass Uppgrenna Nature House as it stands almost unannounced and unpretentious in the middle of the fields on the east slopes of Sweden’s second largest lake, Vättern.
Lake Vättern is steaming in the cold and Uppgrenna Nature House café is closed for the short greenhouse winter season and will re-open in February. Tellus Think Tank is the only visitor of the day. Bodil Antonsson greets us by the entrance and invites us into the large atrium-feeling greenhouse shell.
It is eleven o’clock and the temperature in the greenhouse has reached +1 Celsius. Bodil tells me the lowest point this morning was -1, before the sun rose and heated the greenhouse. The greenhouse temperature rises by another 5 degrees during our stay.
What is a Nature House?
At first glance the Nature House looks like a residential house framed with a greenhouse shell – and it is in some ways, and much more, as it is designed and equipped to be sustainable:
- Harmonise with nature’s elements such as sunlight, wind, rain, snow, earth and plants.
- Be as self-sufficient as possible using systems and technology to enhance sustainability such as:
- Organic heating and cooling systems.
- Wastewater handling.
- Offering inhabitants the possibility to locally grow and fertilise their own food.
Sustainable practises in Bodil’s Nature House
Bodil tells us about some of the sustainable practises she chose for the construction of her Nature House.
- The light concrete blocks without a plastic core for the basement.
- The insulated inner building at the entry level of the Nature house is a so called low energy house with a prefabricated frame made of wood and with a cellulose insulation without plastic.
- The wood used for the inner walls have also been used to build the outer layer of the inner walls.
- When needed, Bodil chose organic or no paint.
- The circular handling of wastewater.
The Nature House is mostly heated by sun, and the greenhouse shell helps create an indoor Mediterranean climate
in the greenhouse that also heats the inner parts of the house. In summertime the inner house is kept cool by opening windows and with help of the normal ventilation system.
Bodil believes that she has built her Nature House according to the most sustainable practises possible with an acceptable balance between organic practises, economy and energy. She believes that future Nature Houses will be able to use even more sustainable solutions as the development of organic building practises is enhancing fast.
The use and cleansing steps of the wastewater
- In the first stage the black and grey wastewater runs into a water cleansing system.
- In the next stage the nutrient rich water is led through different agricultural beds within the house so that the plants receive both fertilizer and water at the foot of their root systems. The small part of water that is not used by the plants ends up in the outdoor pond for a last cleans by its water plants.
In summer Uppgrenna Nature House café has had 300 guests a day and every visit to the Nature House restrooms helps fertilise the agricultural beds in the areas of the Nature House that Bodil calls the Mediterranean and the Lemon Grove.
-The agricultural beds are so effective and the plants are in a euphoric state and produce lots of the food that we serve in the self-sufficient Nature House café! Says Bodil.
All food grown in the Nature House is organic
The food served in the café is 100% organic and the fruit and vegetable in the greenhouse are also pesticide-free. If Bodil finds some kind of insect assault on the plants she fights it with either soap and water or with other kinds of insect species to fight the harmful ones.
To get a natural pollination process in both the greenhouse and the lemon grove Bodil brings in bumblebees that thrive here as they fly around and visit all the plants! She hopes to one day have a native bumble-bee queen build her nest in the greenhouse and stay the winter!
She continues to share with us that the greenhouse and lemon grove need less nutrients in wintertime and that if the amount of visitors had been a steady 300 persons throughout the year she would need to add a second greenhouse!
Not everything should be grow in the agricultural beds connected to wastewater. The plant need to have roots for filtering away bacteria when bringing the water to the fruit or veggies. Carrots, for instance, are not preferable as the eatable part grows is in the ground and closer to possible findings of the wastewater bacteria.
Bodil Antonsson had a vision of a meeting place in a greenhouse, which took her 8 years to develop and build. Bodil was inspired by a home within a greenhouse in Vänersborg. A part of Bodils building process was discussions with Anders Solvarm. She seems very grateful for his interest! The final version of the Uppgrenna Nature House is Bodil’s design.
The Swedish building regulations made it difficult to receive the needed permits for the Nature house as it
contained both new kind of construction, design and technology.
Another difficulty was the gender bias from some of the men at the communal building committee. Bodil invested both time and quite a lot of effort before she noticed that they all respected her ideas and opinions. Perseverance prevails!
In 2015, after 8 years from the original vision, Bodil’s Nature House stood ready for use! Currently Bodil runs an organic café, a light-therapy studio, green rehabilitation, guided tours and a conference business in her magnificently located house by lake Vättern!
A walk around Uppgrenna Nature House
The three story Nature House reminds locals of the beautiful old barn that once stood here. The entrance, at the top of the slope brings us into the middle floor of the house. The slope that cradles the Nature House allows even the basement large windows towards the lake.
The roof and south wall of the Nature House are built with glass and so is the west wall closest to the lake. The greenhouse roof consists of a layer of single framed security glass, that will not shard if broken.
The entrance of the house takes us into the area that Bodil calls “The Mediterranean”. Bodil named it after the
climate it holds, and it contains the first agricultural bed of the Nature House. Temperatures differ from -1 Celsius in winter to 30 degrees Celsius in summer. When the air at greenhouse roof reaches 20 degrees the ventilation hatchways open automatically and let hot air out. Bodil tells us this happened already in February last year.
Most of the year this area is full of greenery and fruit and vegetables but in the beginning of January it is mostly bare except for some exotic Sharon fruits! Greenhouse fruit and vegetables, such a figs, chilli, almonds, mulberries, grapes, tomatoes, pumpkin, cucumber, melons, horned melons (kiwanos), peaches from this area are served in the vegetarian café.
A spiral staircase up to the views of the valley of Lake Vättern
From the Mediterranean one can climb the spiral staircase up onto the inner roof of the wooden inner house. The large flat area allows Bodil to use it for both lectures, concerts and yoga. The views of the lake are just magnificent from under the glass ceiling.
From the Mediterranean we enter the well insulated, traditional falu-red, inner house, placed inside the greenhouse. Even though the temperature in the greenhouse part is colder or warmer the inner box holds a constant indoor room temperature (around 20 degrees Celsius).
The inner house, on the middle floor, holds the café kitchen and serving rooms and bathrooms. I note that the soap in the kitchen and bathrooms are all environmental friendly and Bodil assures me of the importance of organic matter in her wastewater system!
In the basement Bodil has named the rooms “The Rainforest” and “The Lemon grove”. Uppgrenna Nature House
guests enjoy relaxing in The Rainforest. It is equipped with a light-therapy system. The lamps encourage the body to develop vitamin D, much needed to keep healthy during the dark, Swedish winter. Bodil serves unusual treats in the Swedish winter such as a locally grown fruit-cocktail-drinks in 27 degree Celsius heat!
The Lemon Grove
The Lemon Grove contains the second agricultural bed, connected to the sustainable, circular wastewater system. It is full of lemon and lime trees! In mid-winter, during our visit, trees are in bloom and budding fruits give the air a wonderfully zingy scent!
Costs and business
Building a meeting place in form of a Nature House needed an initial investment of 9 million Swedish crowns. Uppgrenna Nature House is doing well because of the number of high-
season café visitors shooting past the expected. But starting a new business is always difficult and craves large inputs of work.
Bodil often receives delegations and conferences with a special interest in the Nature House construction. She also
holds green rehabilitation, mindfulness and stress handling sessions in the Nature House. The latter three are what really makes Bodil tick! Green rehabilitation and mindfulness include a lot of quiet time, walking in nature and keeping busy with agricultural activities.
The importance of the Uppgrenna Nature House
The beauty of the Lake Vättern Valley is breathtaking, the surroundings would be good for any soul, battered or not!
Currently the sun shines on Uppgrenna Nature House, looking out over the silvery fields above the cloud covered lake. Any artist or person with a sense of beauty would be amazed with the placement of Uppgrenna Nature House! From this sense it is an important building with the possibility of being a model for future residential homes.
The Nature House in a sustainable future
The indoor garden offers the possibility to be being self-sufficient in vegetables and fruit. The total design of Nature House’s seems, in large, very sustainable and makes me very interested in their continued development!
Nature Houses could definitely be part of the solution for a sustainable future. They would help increase local
production and reduce the need of carbon emitting transports. The Nature Houses would also offer high quality lives and increased food security for their inhabitants. Tellus Think Tank would like to see more of these houses available for a larger market very soon!
More links on Nature House’s
The original inventor of Nature Houses: http://bengtwarne.malwa.nu/
A Nature House building company https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jL4m1_BbJQc
Swedish Nature House: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30ghnDOFbNQ
Norwegian Nature House: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lc_clnBY-2I
German Nature House: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2X6De1C_qU
Coming soon Dutch/US nature house residential areas: http://www.regenvillages.com/#
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The self-containing garden
It is sustainable and healthy to eat organic and locally produced food. Tellus Think Tank meets Patrik Ytterholm, who runs a self-containing garden…
Text: Domi, Tellus Think Tank Photo: Zoe Elims, Patrik Ytterholm & AnnVixen
During 2015 Tellus Think Tank began the search for what life might look like in a sustainable future. Our articles have since then investigated possibilities for a sustainable future, from different angles. Read more about Tellus Think Tank here.
After almost a year of conversations with people from different parts of society we understand that one aspect of a sustainable future isthe move towards organic and locally cultivated food. Non-organic food that has travelled thousands of kilometres can never be sustainable.
The food that we buy in supermarkets is seldom both organic and local and is also perceived as relatively expensive. Is there a solution to this? Could it be to cultivate our own food?
Tellus Think Tank is happy to meet Patrik Ytterholm, who runs a self-containing garden. He lives and cultivates his crops in Skattungbyn in the Swedish district of Dalarna, Sweden. The climate in Skattungbyn is considered to be growth zone 4-5 (by Swedish standards 6-7, the same growth zone as star restaurant Fäviken, see article).
Patrik Ytterholm is self-containing when it comes to his food
Patrik Ytterholm cultivates almost all of his own food and he also works full-time as a “cultivation” teacher at Mora Folkhögskola. (Read more about Skattungbyn here) and he also runs his own self-containing garden.
He is a vegetarian that appreciates a healthy meal containing pulse foods such as beans or peas, potatoes and leafy greens. Patrik sometimes ads a glass of goat’s milk or an egg to his meal and says that he in no way lives an ascetic life and he eats both sweets and crisps.
In practise, however, Patrik and his family are totally self-contained when it comes to vegetables. They run a self-containing garden. If
they were to be cut off from the world they would survive a long time on the food they grow and produce themselves.
The family cultivates slightly more land than necessary for their personal needs. Altogether they cultivate two hectares (20 000 square meters). 1000 square meters is used to grow vegetables and the rest to grow potatoes and different grains. Their surplus potatoes, cabbage and garlic are often sold at local markets.
The family doesn’t only grow their own food but chop their own wood to heat their home. They also have goats, chickens and soon even geese on their property.
Advice to persons that want to run an all year self-containing garden
We ask Patrik: -Which crops should one cultivate to become self-containing?
-A good start is to begin with potatoes. The downside is that to be all year self-containing potatoes need an earth cellar to keep fresh until next year’s crops are ready, he answers. (Also read Patriks advice on how to keep food all year by fermentation).
Other easy-to-grow crops like pumpkins, onions and garlic are easier to keep. Room temperature in an apartment will do.
An important pre-requisite to become self-containing is to have enough land to cultivate. Patrik says 1000-2000 square metres per person would be needed. On this land one could then cultivate vegetables, potatoes and different grains.
Families who want to cultivate their own oil plants (such as rapeseed or flax) would need another 500 square metres per person.
One type of grain he recommends is ”naked oats” that can either be pressed to oats or replace rice in meals. Naked oats are also gluten free. Other good alternatives are the normal European grains: wheat, rye, barley and normal oats.
To persons with a confined space to cultivate Patrik recommends growing crops that are difficult to find in stores, for instance broad beans. He also recommends kale, as it is very nutritious.
Patrik comes back to potatoes that he finds are a diversely nutritious food containing fibres and vitamins and gives a feeling of satisfaction. He grows his own potatoes in sand rich land:
-My potatoes taste heavenly, he smiles!
Oil plants in a more northern growth zone
One oil plant that Patrik considers to be the most interesting is Sea-buckthorn. The Sea-buckthorn berry carries Omega 6, 9 and 11. Omega 11 is not easy to be found in any other plant. The berries are also full of other nutritious substances but Patrik is not sure how
the Sea-buckthorn oil would be suited in cooking.
Sea-buckthorn can be found wild along the coasts of Sweden. Patrik has cultivated five bushes in his garden that give him about 70 litres of berries per season!
Rapeseed is a widely spread crop throughout the southern parts of Sweden but is difficult to cultivate in Skattungbyn as it isn’t suited for the climate zone.
Hemp is an oil plant that could be of interest in more northern growth zones. Hempseed oil has comparable qualities and omega acids to olive oil. Swedish authorities are still very careful about issuing permits to grow hemp because of the risk of the plants being used illegally. Since the summer of 2016 hempseed oil can be bought in supermarkets through out the country.
Further oil plants recommended by Patrik are turnip rape, gold-of-pleasure (latin: Camelina Sativa) and sunflower.
How much time would one need to run a self-containing garden?
Another important aspect of becoming self-containing is how much time one needs to invest to become successful. Patrik walks us
through the summer half year:
April is normally spent preparing for the season to come but is far from the most busy month of the year.
May to June
Patrik spends all of his free time from May to the end of June sowing and planting pre-cultivated plants. During this period he and his family also prune their berry bushes and rebuild their greenhouse.
From about the 20th of May it is possible to put a spade into the ground for the first time after winter and that is when work with their cultivation becomes intense, it goes on until midsummer (about 20th of June).
July and August
From midsummer the workload is limited to normal garden upkeep such as watering and weeding.
In July the hay needs to be harvested (often herbs of clover and timothy. The hay is dried on traditional drying racks and will be feed to the family goats during winter.
August is one of the calmest months and the family continuously harvest crops like broccoli, peas, beans and other vegetables. One way of keeping busy during this period is to ferment and pickle the harvested vegetables, so that they can be enjoyed all year around.
End of the year
The really intense harvesting begins in the last week of September, when most of the crops need to be brought home. Patrik has a threshing machine and an old tractor to help him save time on his grain fields.
The lightweight tractor doesn’t press too hard on the ground, which could affect the growth power and earth climate for the important micro-organisms. It is old enough and mechanically driven and Patrik can fix it by himself.
The winter half year as a self-containing farmer is relatively quiet.
Patriks self-containing household is organically driven
Patrik tells us that the family only run organic cultivations. I wonder how they handle different pests and problems, when some farmers use chemicals and pesticides.
-Mechanical arrangements are the best, says Patrik, as they close the door to the problem from the beginning.
One pest that Patrik handles mechanically is the Carrot Psyllid flea and he does so by covering his carrot beds with a fibre cloth.
If the birds are eating his crops he covers them with a net.
Help good species live in the garden
Other ways to avoid pests are to invite predators like toads, birds and different insects and in this way create a natural balance. He says that invitations can be to put up birds nests or to keep trees, bushes and leave the grass high. Plant flowers in and around the cultivations and leave heaps of stone by the cultivations instead of cleaning them away. By taking these measures a gardener creates both protection and places for the right species to live in the garden.
Patrik says that ”biological” pesticides such as Turex, are supposedly environmental friendly. Turex is used to kill cabbage butterfly larvae on white cabbage and broccoli but unfortunately it also kills all kinds of butterfly larvae. He therefore try’s not to use these kind of biological pesticides at all.
Keeping vegetables all year
Patriks Sea-buckthorn bushes give 70 litres of produce and an array and huge amount of vegetables ripening during late summer and autumn. How does the family contain all the food they produce?
-We have an earth cellar and we have a really big freezer. We make herbal salts or dry our herbs to make tea or spices. Some of our vegetables are pickled and are preserved to last throughout the year.
Fermenting or pickling vegetables is a good way of containing vegetables with the help of a fermentation process that increases lacto acid in the vegetables. Patrik ferments white cabbage into sauerkraut and pickles all kinds of vegetables such as broccoli, cucumber and peas. In short the vegetables are salted and put into fermentation pots and preserved in the earth cellar or in the fridge.
Patrik’s favourite pickle is a mixture of carrots and turnips. (See Patrik’s recipes).
The earth cellar
They keep a lot of their vegetables in the earth cellar, root vegetables such as potatoes and turnips but even cabbage and leeks. The best way to keep cabbage fresh through the winter is to hang them by their roots, upside down, so that the fluid from the vegetables are contained in the leaves. As Patrik’s household produces large amounts of vegetables there is not always room to hang all the cabbage so they are kept in weave sacks in wooden boxes, a method that works well! They keep their leeks by a technique called “heel”.
The earth cellar needs to be 2 – 4 degrees Celsius or else the vegetables will sprout. During the last couple of years it has been difficult
to hold earth cellar temperatures as winters have been too warm.
Improving depleted soil
If you want to run your own self-containing garden this might interest you. Patrik mentions an example in Skattungbyn where a new farmer intends to cultivate her crops organically and expects that it will take up to 7 years before the depleted soil is giving a good amount of produce. Depleted soil comes from, among other things, bad crop rotation.
Patrik tells me that it is important to feed the micro-organisms in the depleted soil with both food and oxygen. The food of the micro-organisms is organic matter such as fertilised dung, grass cuttings or compost.
The soil also needs to have its oxygen levels increased, which can be done by “green manuring”. With the green manuring technique special crops are planted to help loosen the soil and reach for nutrients in the ground that other plants can’t reach. The green manuring plant clover also helps bring nitrogen out of the air and move it into the soil.
Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are three of the most important nutrients in soil that help the micro-organisms to thrive, but there are many more elements needed.
Swedish soil is very poor in selenium, which is a vital substance for the survival of both animals and humans. Selenium can be added to the soil in form of a stone dust, which will maturate during several years and be absorbed by the plants. Another way is to take selenium nutritional supports.
The value of being self-sufficient in vegetables
Patrik’s own rough estimate shows that the families self-containing garden annually grows crops for a store value of 70 000 Swedish kronor (about 7000 Euros/Dollars). It feels meaningful for the family to continue to grow their own food as it is not only organic but also locally and self-cultivated! It also tastes much better than food bought in a supermarket.
Mora Folkhögskola holds practical courses in cultivation
The cultivation course that Patrik teaches starts in January and continues through the year so that students can learn both theory and practise about sowing, harvesting and preserving food.
Each student has access to 150-200 square meters of land during training so they can grow cereals, potatoes and a variety of different types of vegetables.
Patrik has taught at the school for almost twenty years and says he sees a difference in today’s students compared with the students who attended in his early teaching days:
-The students of today aren’t used to hard labour and have little, or no, practical experience from chores such as chopping wood, forestry or gardening. In a theoretical sense they are very knowledgeable, thanks to the Internet.
The year attending the cultivation course gives many an opportunity to familiarise themselves with their own physical capacity. Patrik says that working with cultivations is not always a party, but it is always meaningful and worthwhile!
The start of Patrik’s interest in cultivating
Patrick grew up in a home that he calls old-fashioned. His parents used traditional ways to did most things with their food and tools by own hand. One of the things that still drives Patrik is to take responsibility for his life and footprint on Earth.
In his twenties, about 20 years ago, he realised that it was more fun to work towards something than be against something. He joined a
relief organisation aiding people in need. In this role he met many who were involved with farming and cultivation and became so interested that he signed up for a cultivation course.
Soon, he cultivated large amounts of his own food on 200 square meters of allotment plots. He also started working for an organic farm with a self-containing garden. Patrik felt from the start that he was cultivating his food for real, not just for fun and he soon had his own self-containing garden!
The move to Skattungbyn
Food cultivation was also a central motive when he moved to Skattungbyn in 1995. The village offered him the possibility to grow his own food. After a few years in the village the founder of the cultivating course at Mora Folkhögskola, Kåre Olsson, wanted to retire and Patrik was asked to replace him!
To Patrik it is important that he can create things himself including the food needed in his life. If he can’t do it himself he happily turns to a friend and only buys things in a shop as a last resort.
-It feels more meaningful when I have a relationship with the person who created the things I use or the food I eat, says Patrik.
Some final words from Patrik for this time
-For me it is valuable to be able to grow my own food, and if more people cultivated their own food it could help a lot to reduce the negative impact on the climate.
It would be great if we could reduce the number of hands (intermediates and transport) handling our food. We currently use more energy to transport food than the food feeds us, which isn’t environmentally friendly.
The best soils in Sweden are currently used for animal grazing instead of growing food. We need to think this through. Animals could successfully graze in forestlands instead of on the best farmlands so that we can use the farmlands to grow more food.
Keeping goats, for milk, is a much more climate friendly choice than keeping cows. Goats find food everywhere and give a lot of food in relation to the energy that their keep demands. Goats don’t pull grass out by the roots as cows do, and can even serve as lawnmowers! Patrik’s goats have a schedule to visit different gardens around the village of Skattungbyn, to keep the goats fed and the grass short!
Our visit to Skattungbyn and our conversation with Patrik has been interesting, instructive and inspiring. Tellus Think Tank understands that even if not every city dweller can grow their food in a self-containing garden perhaps locally grown crops could still be a path towards a sustainable future!
We recommend further readings if you are interested in organic food or running your own organic and self-containing garden:
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Keeping food all year by lactic fermentation
Lactic fermentation, or lactic acid fermentation, is a traditional way of preserving food for the winter; a method that refines the vegetables.
It is important for a self-containing gardener to preserve the harvest for as long as possible. Patrik Ytterholm tells us more about the process and shares his recipes.
Text: Patrik Ytterholm Pictures: Patrik Ytterholm Photo: AnnVixen
Patrik Ytterholm is not only a self-containing farmer but also works as a cultivation teacher at Mora Folk School in Sweden. Patrik shares what he believes is required to run a self-containing garden with Tellus Think Tank Patrik in a separate article. In this article Patrik shares his
knowledge of preserving vegetables with the lactic fermentation method.
The term “lactic” is not really an accurate description of the lactic fermentation method as it implies that there is milk involved. The name comes from the lactobacillus which is the same bacteria that make milk sour.
A more precise term would be to only use the word “fermentation”, a process that refines vegetables with help of microorganisms.
The lactic fermentation process gives food excellent properties for storage and has been known by humankind for a long time and has also helped ensure our survival.
In some cultures lacto fermented foods are still part of most meals, to mention some foods: fermented milk products, sourdough bread and fermented beverages and of course pickled vegetables.
The basics of lactic fermentation
The foundation in lactic fermentation is to create the optimal environment for the mixture to form lactic acid. It is important to encourage microorganisms, yeasts and bacteria to thrive, and these are the main tools at hand:
- Salt Concentration (water with 0.8 -1.5 % salt)
- The right temperature (18 -22 degrees Celsius)
- An oxygen-free environment (a container with a tight seal that prevents air, preferably with a water trap or a preserving glass jar with a rubber gasket in the lid).
- A weight to press down on the vegetables that are to be leavened.
This is what happens in the fermentation process
The salt’s role in lactic acid fermentation is to protect the vegetables from decay in the stage of the fermentation process before the lactic acid bacteria has expanded. Salt also draws cell juice out of the vegetables. Vegetable cell juice contains sugar and, together with other substances, becomes the nutritional base for the bacteria to process the sugar into lactic acid.
Stages in the fermentation process
Fermentation process first stage – the development of bacteria.
The mixture helps develop lactic acid-, acetic acid and gas. The mixture produces so much acid that bad bacteria and butyric acid do not develop. This first phase is crucial for the success of fermentation. The fermentation process should be started quickly and not be interrupted. Temperature plays an important role.
The right temperature is important in the fermentation process:
Cucumbers ferment best at 18 -20 degrees. Carrots ferment best at 20 degrees and cabbage at 20 -22 degrees.
The first stage lasts for 2-3 days.
Fermentation process second stage – acidification.
By now the bacteria producing lactic acid are the only ones producing new bacteria. These bacteria are now eating up the bacterial mix of the first stage, which preferably is done at a slow pace. It is therefore good to lower the temperature of the fermentation (cabbage to about 15 degrees Celsius, and other vegetables to about 18 degrees Celsius).
The acidification process continues until fermentation reaches the critical pH 4.1 where no acid and no spoilage bacteria can form.
The acidification part of the process takes between 10 -14 days.
Third stage, after the completion of fermentation process.
When the fermentation process is completed the pots (or glass jars) are placed in a cold place (0- 8 degrees) such as cellar, storeroom or refrigerator.
During the full fermentation process, it is important not to open the lid of the container because the carbon dioxide developed during fermentation prevents top yeast to form.
If fermentation pots are used it should be ensured that the water groove is filled with liquid. Do not be fooled if the water seems to have disappeared, it is usually still there and can be found by moving (but not lifting) the lid slightly. If there is only a little water left; fill the pot with cooled, boiled water.
The third stage, the maturation process, takes between 2 -8 weeks, depending on the vegetables that are being fermented.
Suitable pots for lactic fermentation
The best results, according to me, are made with water trap fermentations pots and stone.
7-10 litre pots are appropriate for a smaller household, and are easy to handle. Glass jars, the old-fashioned canning glass with a rubber ring, or modern honey / jam jars with a rubber ring in the metal cap may also work well.
To secure a successful lactic fermentation elementary hygiene needs to be applied to both ones personal hygiene and the treatment of pots and jars.
Make sure to clean your hands and arms before you begin to work with your vegetables and pots. Hands and even arms are sometimes used to stomp vegetables.
Do not mix dirty vegetables with already rinsed vegetables.
Do not use dirty utensils, with risk of contaminating the pot.
Wash pots in hot water and only use a mild detergent on the glazed surfaces, if necessary. Never wash the unglazed surfaces with detergent and do not use antibacterial or heavily scented detergent, since they can inhibit bacterial flora and destroy the flavour.
Rinse pots thoroughly in cold water and leave them to air dry.
The weight stones are boiled in pan for 1-2 hours. Let the stones cool down before they are used to stamp the vegetables in the pot.
Sterilise glass jars by placing them in a cold oven and heating them until they have been heated and standing in 120 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes. Let the jars cool before using them.
Metal lids are cooked in a pan and left to air dry.
What can go wrong?
Bad hygiene, an uneven or wrong temperature, vegetables of poor quality, the wrong amount of salt, too badly stomped vegetables or pots that let in air are all things that can lead to failure of the fermentation process.
A general rule is that if the fermented vegetables taste good you have succeeded with the fermentation. If the fermentation process has failed you will smell foul or strong scents such as acetic acid and butyric acid.
Vegetables & quality at the lactic fermentation
The vegetable quality is important, and half rotten and not fresh vegetables should not be used in the fermentation. How the vegetables are grown are also of importance as the lactic acid bacteria requires nutrients such as sugar, vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Hard-driven and chemically sprayed vegetables do not match the needs of the lactic acid bacteria and should not be used.
Recipes for lactic fermentation of vegetables
Recipe for fermenting root vegetables
For a 10-litre pot use:
- 4 kg of carrots
- 2 kg of turnips
- 6-7 normal sized onions
- 10-15 leafs of laurel
- 2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
- 10-15 pennies of horseradish (a horseradish cut in pennies)
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 1-1.5% salt (80-120g)
Prepare the right measures of salt and spices. Peel and grate the carrot and turnip, slice the onions, peel the garlic clefts and horseradish.
For best results, carrot and turnip are to be grated and stirred and mixed with the right amount of salt. The vegetables are then stirred and stomped until they release their fluids.
Then add a layer of onions, garlic and spices.
Add a new layer with vegetables and then the onion, garlic and spices, etc.
Finish the whole mix with a layer of vegetables before the stones are laid in place. Make sure that the liquid covers the stones.
Clear the liquid from floating pieces and fragments of vegetable and clean dry the outside of the pot. Put a label on the pot with the ingredients and date of the fermentation.
Fermentation Stage 1: Place the pot in space with an even 20 degrees and put the lid on. Pour boiled, cooled water in the water groove of the pot.
Fermentation Stage 2: After 2-3 days, lower the temperature to 18 degrees, let stand for a further 7 days.
Third stage: Move the pot to an earth cellar or refrigerator. Let mature for 6-8 weeks.
Have a nice meal!
Recipe for fermentation of cabbage
If using a 10-liter pot, the following ingredients are required:
- 8 kg trimmed white cabbage
- 3 tablespoons of juniper berries
- 1 ½ tablespoons cumin
- 3-4 sour apples
- 1-1.5% salt (80-120g)
Start by putting aside a couple of large, healthy looking cabbage leaves.
Measure the salt and add all the spices.
Cut apple into pieces and mix with salt and spices.
Slice or grate the cabbage heads, the stump can also be used.
Add a little of the ingredients at a time and alternate putting in the apple/salt/spice and the cabbage in the pot / jar. Mix considerably and then stomp the vegetables so that they release their fluids.
Put the fine, large cabbage leaves as a lid on top of the vegetable mixture and then place the stones on top of the leaves.
If the liquid does not cover the stones fill the jar up with boiled, cooled water with 15 grams of salt per litre of water so that the stones are completely covered.
Fermentation Stage 1: Place the pot in a warm place 2-3 days at a temperature of 20-22 degrees Celsius.
Fermentation Stage 2: Place the pot in a cooler place, about 15 degrees, for 10-12 days. The cooler temperature makes the fermentation process continue more slowly.
Stage 3: Place the pot in an earth cellar or refrigerator at 0-8 degrees. The vegetables will be ready to eat after 4-6 weeks.
Patrik recommends the following authors for books on fermentation
Annelies Schoeneck and Inga-Britta Sundqvist.
Good luck and best regards from Patrik Ytterholm!
Find the article about Patriks self-containing garden here!
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Tellus Think Tank visits rising star restaurant Faviken (Fäviken) in the North of Sweden. We want to learn more about Fäviken’s organic food policy. Their leading principle is to serve locally produced organic food as far as possible. This is not the easiest task so far north on the globe for an establishment aiming to be one of the best fine dining restaurants in the world!
Text: Domi, Tellus Think Tank (c) Photo: AnnVixen
Faviken / Fäviken – a northern rising star
Restaurant Faviken (Fäviken) is on the same latitude as Iceland and the northern part
of mainland Canada. Summer is short. Winter is long and covered by snow. Spring has arrived when we visit in the middle of June. The county of Jämtland is showing off in the sun and displays an array of local flowers and herbs along the 9 mile / 15 kilometer dirt road leading towards Faviken. Fäviken is located in the wild countryside just north of the Swedish alpine town of Åre.
Fäviken and Magnus Nilsson are rising stars in the world of fine dining and foodies. During later years Fäviken and Magnus have also become known to the public through programs such as “Chef’s Table” on Netflix and “Mind of a Chef” on British BBC. On the day of Tellus Think Tank’s visit Fäviken was listed on “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants”.
We meet the restaurant’s reservation manager Girlis Tuisk and
one of the chefs Peeter Pihel for a tour around the restaurant that has been awarded two Guide Michelin stars.
Fäviken’s local and organic food policy
Fäviken’s leading principle is to serve locally produced organic food as far as possible. One way to do this is to preserve as much local produce as possible to be able to have the restaurant open even in February, March and May when fresh vegetables are hard to come by.
Faviken serves dinner for about twenty persons five nights a week. They recently started serving breakfast. Foodies and fine diners fly in from all over the world to stay and dine here. Girlis receives a phone request during our tour and courteously informs the caller:
– I am sorry but we are fully booked up until New Year, she says.
Girlis tells me that when Fäviken opened the table booking for 2016 most of the seats were booked during the first day. Fäviken mania!
The kitchen is manned by Magnus Nilsson and another eight
chefs from Sweden, Estonia, Singapore, Italy/Germany, Mexico and Canada. The kitchen is also supported by five “stagiaires” – I understand that they are voluntary chefs working for food and board to get practical occupational experience at one of the best kitchens in the world.
Fäviken serves locally hunted meat from grouse, elk and deer to mention a few. The restaurant is equipped with its own butchery.
Fäviken also has its own fishpond. Trout is fished by old style fishing whenever needed for the twenty five course meals served. The menu is forever changing and no evening menu will be like the night before.
Gathering of local flowers and herbs
During summer gathering of fresh local produce keeps the stagiaires busy. A big part of their day is spent gathering fresh flowers and
herbs from the wild around the farm. The greens will be served either fresh, dried or in different pickle mixes. One of the tea’s served at Fäviken is made from a mix of locally picked birch and black currant leaves mixed with purple clover. The tea ingredients are picked when ripe, dried, preserved and mixed for serving all year.
The diverse kitchen garden
In Fävikens kitchen garden we first stumble across the tobacco patch. The tobacco will be made into snuff and served as a zestful feature of the twenty five course meal.
Other plants farmed and served are lupines, spignel (Björnrot), white cabbage, onions, garlic, kale, turnips, bleeding heart, wild strawberries, red heuchera and lady’s mantle, to mention a few.
The beautiful root cellar
We take a peek into the root cellar behind two heat and cold protecting doors.
During winter the root cellar might only be reached by digging through deep layers of snow. Beautiful vegetables in glass jars cover the shelves inside. (Join TTT for a quick peak of the root cellar here.)
Reading the labels we find pickled cowberry (lingonberry), blackcurrant, cranberry and gooseberry. We also find fermented turnips, carrots and garlic. Baby apples are fermented or conserved in vodka, adding pale colours to the shelves. At least three different kinds of fermented beets give darker and lighter shades of red and pink.
Maybe the biggest surprise to me is to find fermented spruce buds and fiddlehead ferns, it makes me even more curious about the dinners served at Fäviken. According to Peeter, the Fäviken chef’s are experimenting with traditional folk techniques for fermentation and conservation. He particularly mentions a special experiment with added cow fat.
-We’ll see how this conservation turns out next summer, says Peeter smiling.
After asking about the recipes for fermentation and conservation we learn that Fäviken keeps them secret. However there are plenty of recipes on the Internet if you are interested in experimenting for your own glassed vegetable beauty!
Fäviken – a sustainable practice for Europeans to be inspired by
It is pleasing that one of the world’s greatest restaurants is going out of its way to serve locally produced and organic food – helping to reduce both carbon dioxide and
pesticides in the ecosystem of Earth.
The Tellus Think Tank team hopes it will inspire more people to follow and keep their own gardens and ferment and conserve their locally grown produce. The ascent of local produce is especially important in Europe. Europeans are importing over 50% of their food from other continents, which constantly feeds the growing amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
If sustainable practices such as Fäviken’s, residing this far north, can thrive on locally produced food it shows that more could follow in the same footsteps.
Keep your eyes open as Tellus Think Tank will be visiting an all year self-sufficient farmer in the same growth zone as Fäviken (zone 6-7) – it is possible to grow one’s own food even far up north!
Would you like to be notified when the article is available, click here.
There is a rising awareness of the effects of toxic chemicals in our lives and it is making people act. Tellus Think Tank speaks with Madeleine Norman, one of the pioneers in the growing “Plastic diet” movement. Members of the plastic diet movement want to rid their lives of toxic chemicals and perform “plastic diets” in their homes. Read more…
Text: Domi, Tellus Think Tank Photo: Madeleine Norman & AnnVixen
Plastic diet – rid your life from toxins
In Tellus Think Tank’s last article we met Åsa Arrhenius, PhD in Ecotoxicologi at the University of Gothenburg. We learnt about the hundreds of thousands of chemicals in our lives and we are getting exposed to them through what we buy and bring home; food, clothing, furniture, body products and household chemicals. Chemical substances like PVC, Phthalates, Bisphenol A are either carcinogenic, affect human fertility or cause allergies.
Public awareness is still low, or latent, and most people still lack awareness of the effects of the chemicals overflowing their lives and homes.
A new movement is slowly dawning and some of the pioneers can be found in the Facebook group “Plastic diet” (the actual Swedish name on Facebook is “Plastbanta”) where members share ideas on how to reduce the amount of plastic in their homes. For English readers the equivalent groups are the “No Waste groups”.
Madeleine Norman is one of the active plastic dieters in the group and has soon plastic dieted her entire home. For Madeleine it all started with a lecture in Environmental Sciences at Linköping University, five years ago.
Pregnant and toxic living
Madeleine was pregnant during her studies in Environmental Science and attended a lecture on biology, chemistry and climate change. After the lecture, she broke down in sobs under the weight of her newly found knowledge about the toxins in
her everyday life. She was struck by an overwhelming worry of how the chemicals could be effecting her yet unborn child.
The lecture Madeleine attended had covered the subject of Bisphenol A’s effects on male fetuses. The chemical increases risk for male children to be born with damaged genital organs and can seriously affect men’s sperm production.
The realisation that this chemical and other harmful chemicals like PVC and Polyethylene Phthalates are to be found everywhere in our everyday lives became too much to bear and Madeleine began researching how she could adjust her life to contain less toxins.
Madeleine’s quest started by finding out where the harmful chemicals, such as Polyethylene Phthalates, could be found. One unexpected place was in textile rainwear. The plastic in rain clothes has been hardened and normally doesn’t release plastic particles. However, when heated in a washing machine, the toxins are released into the water.
Modern water and waste treatment plants are not able to distinguish micro plastic particals from the water. In the first step the micro plastics are rinsed out into our lakes and seas. In the following steps of the ecosystem they are eaten by plankton, then fish, birds and humans. Madeleine says her University studies in Environmental Sciences taught the students about the increased amount of cancer found in fish.
The start of the Plastic diet
Madeleine began with her plastic diet and says that she originally wanted to throw out all the plastic in her life. She and her man where just in the beginning of creating a home so they replaced all the plastic things that they could afford.
– “We googled everything. The bedroom was most difficult with the foam mattress and polyester quilts. Down comforters are a good alternative. We bought an organic mattress filled with a mixture of coconut and cotton from Green Interior. Jysk has pillows with cotton filling”, says Madeleine and continues, “for toddlers one can find mattresses stuffed with buckwheat shells. Friends of mine ordered Japanese futons stuffed with cotton. All options are relatively expensive compared with IKEA. ”
Madeleine shares insights from a survey performed by the Swedish Emergency Services which showed that IKEA furniture, during a fire, emits both formaldehyde and water toxins. She continues to tell me that she thinks IKEA does mostly good things in sustainability and highlights a good example where IKEA is offering a whole collection made of cork.
-It is good when large companies are motivated to increase sustainability, she says, because it affects so many!
Toxins in body care products
Another hurdle that Madeleine found was difficult to overcome were toxins found in various body care products. Nowadays she only uses “No’poo” products.
(“No’Poo” is a non-toxic movement, the name shows the combined struggle of “Not using shampoo” and reducing chemical crap in one’s life.) She often washes her hair in home-made mixtures of eggs, honey and baking soda (see Madeleines recipes). Madeleine also mentions organic shampoo cakes from LUSH. More on Madeleines homemade shampoo here…
Toxins in food and food packaging
Grocery shopping often means bringing home an array of toxic plastic. Supermarkets often pack their foods in plastics containing Bisphenol A and almost all vegetables are placed in thin plastic bags to ease weighing and transportation. Paper bags are seldom available as an alternative.
Madeleine washes her fruits and vegetables as soon as she arrives home and keeps them in glass or metal containers. The downside with this practise is that the food doesn’t last as long as in plastic but that is a trade-off that she is willing to make. Madeleine prolongs the life of her cucumbers by storing them in a stainless steel container with a lid. In the summer she grows her own cucumber on the balcony, to avoid the plastic packed cucumber from the supermarkets.
Madeleine’s home and advice for people who want do their own “plastic diet”
Madeleine shares some advice to those who are interested in doing their own plastic diet. She recommends to start ones plastic diet the kitchen. She especially recommends changing out plastic wear that is heated – as this is when plastics emit particles and toxins. The first thing she recommends to remove are the pans with Teflon, plastic spatulas and the like.
-Buy Cast iron boilers or boilers in stainless steel or carbon steel. Ikea has sustainable alternatives. Replace your plastic water kettle with one made in stainless steel, says Madeleine.
She shares advice on cooking in the microwave oven. Many people heat their food in plastic containers. It is better to put the food on a china plate and to stop using the plastic splash guard all together.
In Madeleine’s home there are no plastic toys to be found. They use a lot of porcelain and glass. Food is stored in steel, glass and porcelain. We learn that her linoleum floors don’t contain plastic when looking this up in the book “Rumsrent”. According to this book linoleum contains linseed oil, rosin, wood flour or cork flour.
Much of Madeleines furniture is made of solid wood and has been purchased at flea markets. She guesses that the wood might have been lacquered with epoxy varnish, often containing Bisphenol. If a piece of furniture has been varnished Madeleine won’t remove it as the dry coat of varnish doesn’t release particles. However if she needs to treat a piece of furniture, she would rather use linseed oil than paint or varnish.
Plastics difficult to replace?
Madeleine says that it has been difficult for her to replace the foam mattress of her bed and they have still not been able to afford to do so.
It is certainly difficult to live without plastic altogether and Madeleine takes up the world of health care. Plastic tubes containing Bisphenol A are used for feeding premature infants, as the chemical soften the plastic probe. So far there are no alternatives to the Bisphenol softened plastic probes but Madeleine finds their use preferable as they make it possible to save the lives of infant children.
Madeleine reveals that she underwent surgery at age seven and was given a plastic implant. She reasons that if the plastic implant gives her cancer at the age of 50, it has nonetheless given her 40 years extra to live. Sometimes it is very easy to choose the plastic option.
Innovative plastic dieters impress
Socially Madeleine moves in circles where knowledge of the effect of plastic is high and several persons have done the plastic diet treatment on their homes. She guesses that the general public is less knowledgeable about the over-exposure to toxic substances from plastics and other stuff in our lives.
We discuss the “Plastic Diet”- and Zero Waste groups – on Facebook and Madeleine says that she is impressed and fascinated by how innovative people are. Some avoid paper handkerchiefs if in plastic packaging. Others buy their food in bulk to avoid plastic wrapped food (this is hardly possible in Sweden). There are also individuals that crochet their own cloths in linen to avoid micro fiber cloths.
How do you think Sweden should adapt its legislation on plastic?
-Sweden has a well developed system for waste collection, says Madeleine.
She still has a couple of improvements to suggest, such as that the public waste collection stations also should be open to more plastics than just plastic packaging. She is sure that this would give some quick improvements.
Most countries could stop plastic at its source by banning disposable plastic items like bags and packaging. (See article on Rwanda’s plastic ban)
A plastic ban of this kind would bring significant savings to municipalities. It would save costs from having to gather plastic garbage from streets. The large amount of plastics having to be handled in waste plants would be reduced. A plastic ban would also bring better public health.
What advice, in addition to the above, you want to give to people just starting off with their plastic diet?
-Don’t panic. I tried that when starting out with my plastic diet and it made me feel pretty bad. My advice is to use the plastic stuff that you have at home until it’s not fit for its purpose anymore. Make the better, plastic free choice next time. Change takes time! Smiles Madeleine Norman.
In Tellus Think Tank’s next article we meet Fäviken that has been awarded two Guide Michelin stars. The Fäviken food policy strives to serve locally produced food. Tellus Think Tank will sort out if that works when being located in the Northern wilderness of Sweden get notified when the article is available!
Madeleine Norman, who has “plastic dieted” her home (see article on Plastic Dieting), also avoids the use of unnecessary chemicals in her every day life. For example, she uses homemade shampoo. Tellus Think Tank is curious how and Madeleine shares some solid and practical tips.
Text: Domi, © Tellus Think Tank Photo: AnnVixen
Also read the following articles:
Here are some of Madeleine’s recipes for homemade hair products.
Honey hair wash – for frequent use
Instead of using shampoo, mix 1 tablespoon of honey with half a cup of lukewarm water in a glass jar and shake well. Massage the honey liquid into your hair for a long time then rinse your hair with lukewarm water. Add a little apple cider vinegar and let it dry into your hair.
Bicarbonate Wash for deeper cleansing of hair – once a month
The bicarbonate wash cleans the hair deeper and can be used once a month as a supplement to the Honey Hair Wash. Mix 1 tablespoon of bicarbonate in half a cup of lukewarm water in a glass jar and shake well. Massage the bicarbonate liquid into your hair, then rinse your hair properly with lukewarm water.
Egg Conditioner when your hair needs extra love
According to Madeleine some people that have chosen to stop using shampoo use the the so-called Rye Flour Wash but as all hairs are different she has found that it doesn’t work for her. She finds the Egg Conditioner a good alternative when her hair needs “extra love”.
For this homemade shampoo conditioner: whisk an egg and pat it into your hair. Leave the egg in your hair for 10 minutes and then rinse it with plenty of lukewarm water.
On the Internet I find some more advice on the Egg Conditioner. People with dry hair are using only the yolk. People with oilier hair are using only egg whites for this conditioning. It also seems important to not use to hot water as the egg might coagulate and be difficult to rinse out of the hair.
The brushing of hair with a Bristle Brush
Another advice that Madeleine shares is the daily use of a “Bristle Brush”. The advantage of this brush kind of brush is that it helps spread the hairs own oil production, the sebum, and gives the hair natural shine and strength.
Madeleines last piece of advice for this time
-It takes a few weeks for your hair to re-balance, when converting from shampoo to homemade products. The hair becomes fatter over a short period of time. If you can hold out until the hair and the body’s sebum production has been re-balanced, a shampoo free life will give you stronger and healthier hair!
Tellus Think Tank thanks Madeleine Norman for sharing both her experience and advice on a life containing less harmful chemicals!
In our next article Tellus Think Tank meets “Restaurant Fäviken”, award-winner and holder of two Guide Michelin stars, and trying to live up to the food policy of locally produced food with location in the Northern wilderness of Sweden, get a note when the article is available!
Ecotoxicology is a research area in ascent. Since the beginning humans have survived by finding and making things in nature. Today we use thousands of chemicals that affords us new functionality. Unfortunately the chemicals also bring toxins into our every day lives. Tellus Think Tank contacts Åsa Arrhenius, doctor of Ecotoxicology, to learn more.
Text: Domi, Tellus Think Tank Photo: AnnVixen & Åsa Arrhenius
The Science of Ecotoxicology
There is a lot of research activity how chemicals affect our lives. Tellus Think Tank meets Åsa Arrhenius, PhD in
Ecotoxicology at Gothenburg University. She is also the coordinator of the newly established interdisciplinary “Center for future chemical risk analysis and management at the University of Gothenburg” ( FRAM).
Åsa Arrhenius says that humans are most sensitive to toxic chemicals when still in the womb or in adolescence, during periods of life when the body is growing and developing. As adults, the effect of chemicals is not quite as considerable. However, adults can transfer chemicals to children, for example during pregnancy.
Toxic substances in plastic toys
Åsa Arrhenius tells us that we now use hundreds of thousands of chemicals compared to just a hundred years ago. Some of these new chemicals are found in our homes. One example is Phthalates that are unhealthy and toxic. Phthalates can be found in, among other things, plastic toys.
According to the Swedish Nature Conservation Society (Naturskyddsföreningen), being overexposed to Phthalates can lead to severe deformities of children when still in the womb. Other risks are fetal death, decreased birth weight, undeveloped testicles, penises and livers leading to permanently damaged performance and tumours.
Fortunately Phthalates of some kinds are banned in the EU since 2015, but they are very likely still to be found in our homes. The Phthalates are used to soften plastics and rubber products, such as baby changing table covers, rubber ducks and plastic toys.
Toxic substances in textiles
Åsa Arrhenius says that even textiles may contain toxic substances. Toxic chemicals may have been added during manufacturing or added to protect the fabric. The functionality sought by use of these chemicals is certain types of colour pigments, flame-retardants, anti-mildew, water and dirt resistant effects.
According to the Swedish Chemicals Agency (Kemikalieinspektionen), textiles can contain toxins. They write about the carcinogenic Formaldehyde, Chromium compounds and Phthalates that also can cause allergies.
Åsa Arrhenius says that clothing with certain features such as antibacterial branded clothing and sweat repellent branded clothing and footwear can contain unhealthy toxic substances. She recommends avoiding these types of goods.
Plastic in our lives
We talk briefly about the admirable plastic ban that was introduced in Rwanda in 2008 (read article) .
This leads us to the small soft plastic bags, used daily, for example when buying fruit in the supermarket. These small bags often contain the chemical substance Bisphenol A. Bisphenol chemicals are used to soften plastic.
Studies show that Bisphenol A leads to reduced sperm quality and decreased sperm production. This is one important
reason for the EU banning Bisphenol A in baby bottles. Sweden has its own wider ban of Bisphenol A forbidding the chemical in food packages for children up to three years of age.
The Swedish Chemicals Agency has also proposed that Bisphenol A should be banned in the thermal paper that is used in receipts and tickets.
The Tellus Think Tank editorial team finds it extraordinary that Bisphenol A is allowed in food packaging at all. We would, as an example, prefer not to find Bisfenol A in the plastic coating on the inside of canned food.
EU and hazardous chemicals – a slow development in the right direction
EU controls much of the legislation and use of chemicals. Countries such as Sweden, Germany and Holland are driving forces in introducing stronger regulation on the use of chemicals. Sometimes they have to hold back their ambitions (on the pace) as the EU ‘s legislative work takes longer than wished for. It can be perceived that the EU is hindering efforts to strengthen legislation on toxic substances, however Åsa widens the perspective.
She reasons that chemicals cross country borders with the movement of people and goods but also with rain and wind. She means that a ban in one country therefore only has a limited effect. EU legislation may be cumbersome but when in place the impact across the EU is immediate. Eu legislation reaches way beyond the borders of Europe as imported goods from all corners of our planet have to follow the same legislation.
Regardless Åsa Arrhenius recommends to avoid buy plastic toys or plastic products from countries like China.
How I can reduce toxic substances in my own life
Åsa gives us solid advice on how to reduce the toxic chemicals in our everyday lives:
- When possible cut down on the use of chemicals and plastic in everything from food, clothing, detergents and medicine.
- Have a headache? Rather that routinely eat painkillers try and slow down for a while, take it easy and have a glass of water.
- Discard old plastic toys and send them to recycling instead of to the flea market.
- Replace plastic things in your home with more natural materials such as wood, glass and ceramics.
- Reduce your direct exposure to harmful chemicals in new textiles by washing before you use them. Unfortunately the chemical residues in waste water might end up in nature.
- When microwaving: Don’t use plastic containers, it is better to use glass bowls.
- When cooking: Avoid heating plastic utensils and bowls as the heating process can release toxic substances in them.
- Be an active consumer. Consumers have an enormous power – remove the plastic packaging in the supermarket and ask if the store might consider packing their food in other ways.
- Air your home regularly to rid it of deposited chemicals from plastic things, paint and furniture.
- If possible, use eco-labelled products and food such as the EU eco-label and others.
- Try to avoid detergents and cosmetics products that may contain plastic in micro formats.
Any hope on less toxic substances in our lives?
Åsa Arrhenius believes that general awareness on toxic chemicals is increasing. Stores around Sweden say that eco-labelled food and products are on demand. One area that FRAM, the centre that Åsa is coordinating, is looking into how to develop economic and legal instruments to bring about faster change. FRAM wants to help get legislation in place that encourages producers to replace harmful substances with more healthy ones.
On the whole, we still have a lot to learn on the effects of the thousands of substances that we are exposed to through different products such as detergents, medicines, plastics and food in our lives. Fortunately, there is progress in both research and legislation in the field of Ecotoxicology.
In Tellus Think Tanks next article we meet Madeleine who performed a “Plastic Diet” in her life and home. Get notified when the article is available!
Ecotoxicology is the study of the effects of toxic chemicals on biological organisms, especially in the population, community, ecosystem level. Ecotoxicology is a multidisciplinary field, which integrates toxicology and ecology
Åsa Arrhenius, PhD in Ecotoxicologi at the University of Gothenburg. Since 2016 Åsa is also the coordinator of the Center for Future chemical risk analysis and management at the University of Gothenburg”, FRAM.
The University of Gothenburgh, Sweden: 37 000 students, 6000 employees, 282 PhD graduates per year, 2000 research students, founded 125 years ago in 1891, 538 professors in 8 faculties: Natural Sciences, Humanities, Art, Social Sciences, Business Administration, Education, IT faculty, Sahlgrenska Academy (medical).
FRAM – Center for Future Chemical Risk Analysis and Management at the University of Gothenburg. The centre aims, among other things, to find safe limits for chemical contaminants to protect people and the environment and believes that the effect of chemical mixtures are more toxic than single chemicals on their own, something that we should focus on in order to get to a more sustainable use of chemicals.
Plastic Ban – the beginning of a global trend?
Plastic ban’s seem to be a way to handle the huge amounts of plastic currently available everywhere in societies around the world. It has been known for a while that plastics of different kinds have long corrosion processes and contain toxins that are unhealthy to humans, animals and nature. Some countries have gone so far as to ban plastic’s while other have taken less radical steps. Read more…
Text: Domi, Tellus Think Tank. Photo: AnnVixen
The blessings and curses of plastic
Plastics have in many ways been a blessing for humanity and given many benefits and possibilities when creating figures in any form imaginative and to a very affordable price. We currently use plastics in our homes, workplaces, industries and even within the health care sector!
Unfortunately the corrosiveness of plastic is slow and plastics often contain toxins and unbalancing hormone substances affecting the endocrine (natural hormone) system in humans and other mammals.
Luckily the world is becoming more aware off the side effects of plastics. More are taking action. Tellus Think Tank found an interesting example that we would like to share, hoping that more countries will be inspired and act.
Rwanda’s plastic ban – an unexpectedly and successful good example
Rwanda is known for many as the country that during the 1990’s was subject to civil war and mayor genocide. Maybe that is why it is surprising that Rwanda has a newly found, and more constructive, national drive towards a greener economy. The greener economy was the base for Rwanda’s 2008 banning of lightweight plastic bags.
The underlying reason for Rwanda’s ban off plastic bags was to save lives and improve the national economy. Plastic bags have overtaken both nature and cities in many African countries. They can be found blowing along street of the cities or decorating trees after heavy winds and they are often the cause of clogged sewers and eaten by local wildlife.
The people of Rwanda found that the harmful effect of plastic bags had become too big. Not only were they causing a growing amount of litter in streets and in nature across the country but cleaning costs where very expensive. Recycling wasn’t working in a satisfying way and a lot of Rwandans burnt their plastics with other garbage causing large emissions of harmful toxins. The plastic bags often made their way into farmlands making land more difficult to farm.
The national effort in the plastic bag ban has in many ways been successful and today politicians in charge in the capitol of Kigali are claiming that Rwanda is the cleanest country in Africa. The plastic ban, according to Global Citizen, has made it increasingly difficult to stumble onto plastic scrap in the streets of Rwanda. The new clean Rwanda has also been advantageous for growing tourism, currently standing for 8% of employment and responsible for a large amount of the country’s income.
Africa CCTV on the plastic ban of Rwanda.
Job opportunities in the sway of Rwanda’s plastic ban
The plastic ban of Rwanda has also brought new entrepreneurial opportunities and job openings, according to Swedish journalist Mette Carlbom at VI-magazine. The plastic ban covers many areas such as plastic covers at building sites to plastic bags in stores and food markets. Travellers and tourists have been stripped of their plastic bags on entry to the country, at airports or border crossings. Instead of using plastic bags the country has increased the usage of paper bags and waxed paper bags.
All plastics are not forbidden, one example is plastic mosquito nets used in hospitals – they are necessity in countries like the malaria infested Rwanda. When patients leave the hospital their plastic mosquito nets are recycled at one of Rwanda’s plastic recycling stations.
Plastic bags are still in demand, which entices smugglers and illicit trading.
Since Rwanda, according to Aljazeera, introduced prison or fines for selling plastic bags the illegal trade has been reduced. The punishment is too hard to handle and not worth the risk for the former smugglers who often support families.
Is the banning of plastic a global trend?
Rwanda is not the first country to ban plastic bags. The 2002 forerunner was Bangladesh with their ”lightweight plastic bag ban”. Other countries that have banned plastics are China, Taiwan, Macedonia and the latest, in 2015, was The Gambia.
Other methods of handling harmful plastics
EU legislators banned several toxic substances in plastics. EU countries like the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have passed laws that require shops to charge for all single-use plastic carrier bags. Shops now have to charge customers for plastic bags or else they risk receiving a substantial fine.
When the United Kingdom introduced the law in 2015 it was met by a protest storms from angry citizens. The government had not succeeded in communicating the purpose of the new plastic bag fee.
According to The Telegraph the plastic bag fee law has had a positive effect in the United Kingdom. The introduction of the 5 pence fee (equalling about 5 cents of a US dollar) has reduced the usage of plastic bags by almost 80%!
According to Dutch journalist Arjen Vos, the introduction of the plastic bag fee in stores in the Netherlands was very informative and smooth. Dutch citizens understood the need to reduce the use of plastic bags. The Dutch have become exemplary shoppers and now mostly all use canvas bags!
The country of Sweden is not yet taking action on plastic
In Sweden mayor food chains offer customers thick plastic bags for multiple re-use. The Swedish fashion store “Indiska”, on its own account, charges customers for plastic bags. This is a fee that Indiska’s Swedish customers seem to be more than happy to accept. These examples are however the result of entrepreneurial initiatives and unfortunately not the Swedish government.
Sweden is one of the best countries in the world when it comes to recycling. The country stil has problems to handle plastics from source. Swedish government officials have still to take action on handling the unhealthy growth of the use of plastics.
The Swedish government’s passive stance on handling plastic is easy to detect. One need not go as far as the people of Rwanda to find plastic scrap in Swedish streets or nature.
The next step for Your country
Officials in Rwanda say: ”If we can succeed with a plastic banning then so can any other country”.
We wonder if plastics bag fee’s are enough to reduce the harmful effect on humans, animals and nature? Or is a full scale banning like in Rwanda necessary? Perhaps there is an even better middle way or a third road?
What’s going on in Your country? Let us know!
Tellus Think Tank will be keeping our eyes open for further sustainable best practises around the world! We are now aware of sustainable plastic reducing trend. Let’s follow the development of plastic handling – for a sustainable future!
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The Eurovision song festival is the biggest peace fest on Earth and the 2016 version takes place just 200 meters from the Tellus Think Tank head quarters! We meet the Cyprus contribution, the band Minus One for a discussion on how Cyprus and the world could live more sustainable! Text: Domi © Tellus Think Tank
The five tough rockers from the Cypriotic band “Minus One” will be performing their contribution “Alter Ego” in the 2016 Eurovision song contest in Stockholm, Sweden.
What caught the Tellus Think Tank eye especially is a line in their song “Caught in the middle of the dawn and the sunrise. Life is a miracle.” The Tellus Think Tank editorial team finds this line symbolic to the current state of human life on Earth – global warming, sun down. Improving our ways, sun-up, empowering the miracle of life!
Luckily the gigantic European Song festival is once again held in Sweden, an honour earned thanks to last year’s performance by Måns Zelmerlöf with the song “Heroes”, written By Linnea Deb,
Joy Deb and Anton Malmberg Hård af Segerstad.
We find that Minus One band is staying just 2 minutes walk from Tellus Think Tank office and make an appointment to see them!
Rocking Minus One
If it where not for that I immediately get stricken by the band charisma I might instead have been scared by tattoos and bad-ass looks! All the guys in the band turn out to be absolutely lovely though. The passionate singer Francois Micheletto, the group rebel drummer Chris J, the happy go lucky blue bearded Harrys Pari on guitar, the man of the times and very aware guitarist Constantin Amerikanos and the quieter but substantial, to-cool-for-school, bass player Antonis Lizides.
I met the band in their hotel lobby and can tell that “work hard, party hard” is a lifestyle being applied during the bands
Eurovision stay in Stockholm! The guys are high on life and going with the flow and we claim a part of the hotel lobby lounge area as our own for our talk.
The song that Minus One will be performing for Cyprus was written by Swedish Thomas G:Son, the writer of 2012 winner song Euphoria performed by Swedish Loreen.
The Minus One band members and I instantly get involved in an intense discussion about how to improve life on earth by living in more environmental friendly ways.
Singer Francois tells us that he got his early life connection to nature from his parents. His father is a beekeeper, which has made Francois very aware of bees, flowers and how we keep our environment and that these things are all interconnected. He worries for the survival of the bees and urges people to look into the micro cosmos – that is all the small things in their lives that can help change the big picture!
What do the band members do to live in a more environmental friendly way?
Drummer Chris J says that it is not so much what they do but more about what the band members choose not to do.
-We try and drive as little as possible and we don’t waste water or electricity, says Chris.
He also says that Cypriots, in general, use solar panels to heat water in their homes.
Guitarist Constantin Amerikanos says he stopped smoking. He also rather takes his bike instead of the car and he is very aware of how he uses fresh water.
Guitarist Harry Pari says that recycling was fairly recently introduced to Cyprus. He immediately picked it up and so did a lot of his fellow Cypriots.
What can Cyprus do better?
Bass player Antonis Lizides says that more of Cyprus should be using solar panels. He means the business sector and organisations of different kinds. The island country, surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, is already struggling with a fresh water shortage. Cyprus is already taking salt water from the sea and putting it through desalination processes. The fresh water shortage is not good but at least the desalination process in Cyprus is powered by sun energy!
The band members agree that there is a lot that can be done better in Cyprus. Francois takes up a
crazy example. An island like Cyprus, surrounded by beautiful blue sea water, is still building so many fresh water swimming pools. All in parallel with the current fresh water shortage.
The other guys mumble at this swimming pool discussion, they all seem to enjoy swimming pools! So do I, however maybe salt-water pools could work for Cyprus?
The discussion on swimming pools brings us back to the line in the band’s Eurovision song. It is about being caught in the zone between understanding that we need change our ways but not yet having accepted it. We need to change in order to find the sustainable way to the future and allow for the miracle of life!
The German contribution to the Eurovision song festival 2016
During the Eurovision song festival Tellus Think Tank also gets in touch with German performer Jamie-Lee to hear
what she is doing to support the environment.
While rushing between press meetings Jamie-Lee shares with us that she lives an active vegan lifestyle. This includes vegan foods, vegan clothes and vegan cosmetics. Jamie-Lee finds that the resources humans use to breed animals are immense and could be put too much better use!
Red Carpet awaits
The band members of Cypriot Minus One are getting ready for their Eurovision red-carpet walk this evening. They will be a bad-ass hit I am sure!
Their Twitter accounts support my hunch that they are not only spending time with members of the press. They also take some good time for enjoying themselves!
I wish the Minus One men of Cyprus the best of luck in their future endeavours. Having promised I would vote for Minus One in the contest, I leave through the hotel drive-way. I hope that next year’s Eurovision festival will have official cars fuelled by electricity!
The Eurovision song contest is the biggest peace festivals of our time. The 2016 festival in Stockholm will be remembered as one of the best organised and most fun events ever. Just wait and see!
Read more of Tellus Think Tank articles and learn what can be done for a sustainable future!