Challenging Habitat Blog

Some people combine serious thought with fun and art…Phil Hambling is one of them:

Read More

Today Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in England eased a little, with ‘non-essential’ shops opening, along with outdoor catering, hair salons and zoos….

I didn’t go shopping.

In fact, not being able to go shopping for so many months showed me how little stuff I actually need.

This is liberating, and even if it means that I don’t contribute to the recovery of the economy just yet.

At least not with ‘stuff’.

I did invest in solar PV for our house last year, so I did my bit for the green economy.

And when I’ll physically go into work again, I’ll simply shuffle the comfy leisure wear in my wardrobe to one side and rediscover the nice things hidden in there that I have not worn for a year.

This will be even better than shopping: it’s like going into a shop, in which I like all things on the rails and they all fit me ūüėā.


Littering is one of my pet-hates. This reminds me: I’ve said that before, during the first COVID-19 lockdown in the first series of ‘Outdoor Daily’ (now, there is consistency for you…).

Anyway, littering is unnecessary, careless, inconsiderate, unsightly, polluting, damaging to wildlife…need I say more?

The featured image shows a common occurrence in the Tamar Valley, where my daily walks with my dog T’isker take place these days. They are the plastic skeletons of shotgun cartridges and their contents. I find them in fields and along hedgerows, on field margins and in the reed beds of the estuary and the beaches of the Cornish coastline.

Likely sources are people using shotguns for controlling vermin (rabbits, rats, perhaps some crop-threatening birds) and people shooting for fun (pheasant and partridge, also rabbit and wild geese).

Question is: how many of the people using shotguns and other guns in the countryside are actually picking up their spent cartridges?

My friend Alan told me that it is a no-no to not pick up your spent cartridges…

Between 2008 and 2019, UK sales of cartridges and other ammunition were worth between a stunning ¬£51000000 and an even more stunning ¬£79000000. Wow! I don’t know whether this includes ammunition for the police (I doubt it) or the armed services (I doubt that even more).

Let’s just have a little back-of-the-envelope calculation:

  • say 50% of the money spent is on shotgun cartridges for use in nature (around ¬£30 million)
  • perhaps people buy large volume to get a discount, and popular brands go for ¬£200 – ¬£300 per 1000 cartridges
  • so, at around ¬£250 per 1000 rounds, that makes around 120 million individual shotgun cartridges

Perhaps that calculation is inaccurate, so I’ll try another one:

  • some 60 million game birds are reared and released into the wild every year by the industry, around half of which are killed during organised shoots
  • that’s 30 million dead birds, perhaps that means 30 million cartridges fired, but I guess it is more like four or more times that number (Alan also told me that a 1:4 hit rate is pretty good)
  • so, that leaves around 120 million shotgun cartridges spent on shooting pheasants and partridge on organised shoots
  • the rest of the cartridges are fired elsewhere, for other purposes

Either way, we are talking tens of millions of shotgun cartridges fired each year.

How many of the spent cartridges are being picked up? 30 million? 60 million? Most of them?

Either way, there is a mountain of waste generated, including valuable resources for recycling (e.g. metal from the primer)

What happens to those that are left in the landscape? Well, they contain quite a mix of stuff:

  • A plastic (sometimes paper) case
  • Primer (the metal end of the cartridge, steel or brass)
  • Propellant (the powder that goes ‘bang’)
  • Wad (plastic, cork or fibre – determines how the shot disperses)
  • Shot (metal pellets in steel or lead, containing 2-5% antimony, perhaps some nickel or copper coating)

I guess the propellant will get burned and becomes atmospheric pollution, the shot finishes up in the game and on the ground or in the water, the primer, wad and the plastic case drops to the ground or in the water near the gun. That’s a lot of plastic and metal introduced to nature…antimony is quite toxic and so is nickel is.

The good news: there are shotgun cartridge collectors on the market, so I guess some people pick up after themselves. Perhaps a well organised shoot will lay down some rules and see that they are followed. There is a legislative move from lead shot to using steel, which is less toxic and more inert in the environment and therefore less polluting. And the use of plastic wad is increasingly frowned upon, again something that could be encouraged by rules on well managed shoots.

The bad news: I keep finding these debris in nature…and so do other people:

"Shotgun cartridge on beach" by Robin Kearney is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
“Shotgun cartridge on beach” by Robin Kearney is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Featured image: plastic shotgun cartridge wads in the reed bed of the Tamar estuary, UK.

The Australian government is planning to build a massive concrete airport on Antarctica, The Guardian reports today.

Nobody actually owns Antarctica – it is governed internationally by the Antarctic Treaty.

The Australian government justifies their airport plans by arguing that it is necessary to ensure continuity of access to their research base.

Somehow I don’t fully buy into that argument, nor do many of the scientists and environmentally minded, The Guardian interviewed for their article.

Building that airport will be a slippery slope, a precedent for other big infrastructure projects on the continent.

It has the potential to broaden the pursuit of profit from the exploitation of resources and tourism in the Southern Ocean to the landmass of this great wilderness, with all the usual disrespect for nature and wildlife seen on all other continents.

Can this project, and others not motivated scientific research and unperturbed by consideration of sustainability, be stopped?

I think it is imperative to do so.

Featured image: “Globe centred on Antarctica – Satellite image – PlanetObserver” by PlanetObserver is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Your litter may end up at sea! Watch this video to learn more about research aboard the Pelican of London

It’s Father’s Day in the UK.

One thing I really don’t miss during lockdown is shopping and, by extension, the madness of consumerism on days, such as this.

Christmas, Valentine’s, Easter, Mothering Sunday, Halloween, Guy Fawkes… what did I forget?

All are occasions when we are made to believe that we can’t express our love for people or enjoy ourselves without purchasing stuff we don’t need and we don’t really want, either.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wearing a hair shirt and I don’t live in a cave. I have a car and laptop, a smartphone and Goretex wet weather clothing.

I like to give and receive presents like anyone else and for me it’s always the thought that counts.

But the mountains of plastic junk and knick knacks that go with these occasions disturb me for reasons of resources, waste and sustainability.

‘Non-essential’ shops have opened in the UK a week ago. I’ve not been – I continue my daily exercise outdoors and I don’t need new stuff or a shopping experience for entertainment.

Being in a beech forest, on a cliff top or on my paddle board is precious time to me.

And this will not change when the hold of COVID-19 over the way we behave diminishes.

Then, I will just reintroduce more precious time (and hugs) with friends and family into my life. Including those who live 800 miles from here.

Can’t wait to see you again, dad!

12 weeks in lockdown and I’m looking for the silver lining…

What are we learning?

About the value of life?

About the value of health and looking after mind, body and spirit?

About the value of relationships and society?

About receiving and gratitude?

About giving, kindness and generosity?

About our relationship with nature, our being part of nature?

About what we think need and what we think we want, or do we, really?

About status and money and power and priorities and values and meaning and motivation and what we want our taxes spent on in future.

One of my ‘pet hates’ is littering. There is absolutely no need for it. Fast food outlets are shut and we are instructed to not make unnecessary journeys and as a consequence, country lanes are not so much littered with single use coffee cups, crisp packs and food packaging that bear the golden arches or any other well-known brands.


Alas, the absence of ‘daily litter’ sharpens the focus on ‘permanent litter’ of the agricultural variety. From bailing plastic, twine and netting to fragments of plastic sheeting, sacks and containers, the day-by-day running of many farms relies on a wide variety of synthetic materials. Whether discarded deliberately or accidentally, they are found in hedges and on tracks, in fields and in ditches, make their way into water courses and out to sea.

Oh, and then there are the larger items – it’s not exactly littering, more of an illegal waste management issue: bits of machinery abandoned, dumped and stacked. Apart from the visual impact, over time they’ll shed paint, oil, fuel and disintegrating rubber …

Properly disposed of, waste can be a resource through recycling of materials – I can’t quite fathom for what purpose the agricultural industry, that relies on a functioning ecosystem to be successful, messes it up quite like that.

Rant over. A picture of ‘cheerfulness’ below…I wish I could send you its heavenly scent with it!

….for the back story, check out Sustainable Outdoor Clothing ?!?!…

3) Elastane – Lycra – Spandex

As part of my forthcoming ‘Antarctic adventure‘, I am sharing my thoughts and insights while considering various aspects of sustainability for my planned journey. With respect to fabrics, two previous posts covered ‘oilskins‘ and clothes that keep me warm‘, but there is much more to say about sustainable outdoor clothing.

So, here I’ll cover the wonderous synthetic fibre that provides elasticity to so many of our ‘outdoor gear’. Elastane, spandex and lycra are all names for the same thing, a fabric made of a long chain polymer, polyurethane, or more precisely, polyether-polyurea copolymer. Technicalities aside, elastane offers high breathability and moisture-wicking abilities and exceptionally high stretchability (6-7 times its length). It is in trousers and tops, tights and socks, all sorts of sports, cycling, swim and yoga wear, leggins and underwear – basically anything that is stretchy, comfortable and functional.

Here are some of the environmental snags of elastane:

  • some potentially harmful chemicals are used its manufacture
  • it is prone to ‘piling’, which means that bits are likely to break off or detatch during wear, tear and washing
  • it doesn’t biodegrade
  • it is more often than not mixed with other fabrics, making recycling difficult.

I had a closer look at my favourite merino base- and mid-layers and found that most were 100% wool, while a few were composed of 98% wool and 2% elastane. The same is true for a number of my trousers and t-shirts, even those made from bamboo or organic cotton.

Before I put elastane on my ‘avoid if possible’ list, I want to explore in more detail how it performs environmentally.

Ingredients and Manufacture

In the manufacture of elastane, macroglycol and diisocyanate monomer are combined to synthesise a prepolymer, which is then reacted with diamine acid to produce chains of polymers before spinning fibres and curing it into solid strands. The material is finished with magnesium stearate or another polymer to prevent fibres from sticking to each other (Hodakel 2020).

While that information may not be useful to the lay person, the upshot is that the manufacturing process is energy-intensive and involves chemicals potentially harmful to humans, whereby the occupational exposure to isocyanates is higher risk than exposure to people wearing the final product. Factories should operate a closed cycle that prevents these chemicals from release into the environment (Hodakel 2020). Whether that is guaranteed in all countries where synthetic fabrics are produced, is another matter…

65% of all fibres produced (~65 million tonnes in 2016) are synthetics (mainly polyester), and these are almost exclusively derived from petrochemicals, and elastane is no exception (Common Objective). Being petroleum-based, these fabrics are part of the fossil fuel economy. Claims of manufacturers that their fashion synthetics are ‘sustainable’ are rarely related to use of non-fossil, natural resources, but to use of recycled fibres – and even that is only a tiny proportion of the overall synthetic fabric production for clothing (0.01%).

The development of 13 different brands/types of naturally based synthetic fabrics is underway (Common Objective), but I’m not holding my breath for getting my hands on affordable, high-performance ‘bio-synthetics’ any time soon. Another question is whether their environmental impact when mixed with natural materials, such as wool and cotton, will be any more favourable than current mixed fabrics.

Environmental Impact during Use

Elastane does not biodegrade and will gradually accumulate in the environment.¬†Just under 60% of the plastic waste ‘soup’ in our oceans is composed of non-biodegradable fibres (Hodakel 2020). In addition to careless waste management (see below), the tiny particles of polyester, nylon and elastane released from our clothing during the wash cycle are the ‘hidden pathway’ we are only relatively recently began to understand (University of Plymouth). The impact on the marine ecosystem in all oceans and on the foodchain, all the way from tiny plankton to our plates is something covered in more detail in recent scientific research (e.g. Botterell et al. 2019).

Waste Management

An important component of sustainable consumption is what we do with ‘stuff’ we don’t want anymore or when it is worn out. Typically, we throw it in the bin or we pass garnments to a charity collection for re-sale or recycling and hope that it will be dealt with appropriately. Typically, we don’t know what really happens to our waste (any waste) in detail. Landfill? Incineration? Recycling? Export as ‘resource’ (what happens in the receiving nation)?

A circular design strategy would include using recycled material in the manufacture of new fabrics and garnments. Mechanical recycling of fabrics is more commonly used than chemical recycling, which is still in its developmental state. But chopping up fabrics means that natural fibres are shortened and damaged during the shredding process and it is difficult to achieve high quality without combining recycled material with high proportions of virgin material (Design for Lognevity 2020).

Blended fabrics containing nylon, polyester and/or elastane in addition to natural fibres have, so far, presented a challenge for recycling, but some progress has been made recently in a quest for circular economy in the textile industry (e.g. RE:MIX, S√ĖDRA). The aims here are to separate natural fibres for re-use and to produce pre-production pellets of synthetic materials that can be used once more as raw material. It appears that ‘thermochemical’ and ‘enzymatic’ separation processis are being pursued, which, of course, means the employment of heat and chemicals…which means added cost and sustainability issues that have to be assessed using life cycle analysis.

While waiting for a better alternative, and discounting landfill for reasons that are beyond this blog post, for garnments containing elastane that cannot be re-used in some way, incineration may be the safest avenue for waste disposal.

Alternatives to Elastane

At the moment, ‘sustainable stretch fabrics’ are containing elements of recycled materials, rather than naturally stretchy fibers. Synthetics sourced from natural materials, such as sugars, rather than from petrochemicals, are not widely available yet, and they are still ‘synthetic’. So, I wonder whether they’d just be ‘bio-elastane’ – i.e. chemically identical to elastane, and hence would present the same waste management challenges as the existing materials…

I could decide to live without ‘stretch’ beyond the natural stretch that knitware offers. Quite a number of my clothes are doing just fine without elastane. But some functional kit, such as swim suits or gym leggins, won’t function quite the same without elastane (picture it).

My Conclusions

  • If it has to be elastic for functionality, then I will continue to accept mixed fibres. But I’ll make sure that I’ll buy garnment made from pure natural fibres where a blend is not required for functionality.
  • I’ll go for longevity to avoid using resources than necessary. I aim to buy stuff that is high quality and lasts long.
  • I’m looking after my stuff and I mend it – after all, outdoor gear is outdoor gear and not a tuxedo or ballgown! Who cares if there is a hole, lovingly darned, in a merino baselayer? Or a repair patch on a pair of waterproof over-trousers? I’ve even go my hiking boots re-soled (thank you Meindl!!!) after the cushioning layer disintegrated and the soles quite embarrasingly disconnected on a rainy day on Dartmoor – but that’s another story.


Featured Image

“Wavy Lines Lycra”¬†by¬†¬†is licensed under¬†CC BY-SA 2.0¬†


Botterell ZLR et al. 2019. Bioavailability and effects of microplastics on marine zooplankton: A review. Environmental Pollution. [accessed 23/02/2020]

Common Objective. Synthetics & Sustainable Synthetics: Global Production.  [accessed 01/03/2020]

Design for Longevity. Close the Loop – Design for Longevity., a blog site advocating circular economy. [accessed 23/02/2020]

Hodakel B. 2020. What is elastane fabric: properties, how its made and where. Sewport – a service company to apparel manufacturers. [accessed 23/02/2020]

RE:MIX. 2019. Separation and recycling of textile waste fiber blends.

S√ĖDRA. A sweater can become a sweater again. S√ĖDRA is an association of forest owners in Sweden, who are into R&D (research and development) of sustainable solutions.¬†–a-sweater-can-become-a-sweater-again/ [accessed 23/02/2020]

Univeristy of Plymouth. 2016. Washing clothes releases thousands of microplastic particles into environment. University of Plymouth Website referring to groundbreaking research undertaken by Prof. Richard Thompson. [accessed 23/02/2020]

….for the back story, check out Sustainable Outdoor Clothing ?!?!


2) Clothes that keep me warm

When it comes to base- and mid-layers, I am for natural materials. Of course, there are functional tech-fibres that feature a range of desirable properties: fast drying, light, warm, wicking moisture away from the skin, odour-killing….but they are synthetic, mostly derived from fossil fuels and become a waste management problem when they are discarded.

Take synthetic fibres impregnated with anti-microbial silver: the rationale is that bacteria, fungi and algae cause stains and odours, and if clothing is impregnated against these, it doesn’t smell or stain. Silver is increasingly used as anti-microbial (not only in textiles, but also in food packaging and preparation areas, exterior paint, etc. ). Textiles are typically impregnated with silver chloride, silver zeolite or silver nano-particles, and all of these leach out to a greater or lesser degree during washing cycles. When silver is retained in sewage treatment works, it may end up in soils in form of sewage sludge fertiliser and some of it is transported into rivers and oceans. Silver is relatively benign to us, but is quite toxic to aquatic organisms, such as microalgae (see references), which form the base of the food chain. I have no desire to add to the metal burden of rivers and oceans and will leave silver-impregnated items in the shops…¬†

There are other, more general problems with synthetic fibres: resources and manufacture is based on the petrochemical industry and the already mentioned waste management.¬† Synthetics are incredibly slow to degrade in landfill, and only fit for incineration. On everybody’s mind since Richard Thompson (University of Plymouth) has coined the term ‘microplastic‘ and David Attenborough has narrated Blue Planet II, the release of microfibers from fleeces and other synthetic clothing during wash cycles is adding to the ‘plastic soup’ in the oceans that finds its way into the food chain and onto our plates. Not only oceans. Microfibers have been detected in food chains of wetlands, soil-based ecosystems, in bottled water and beer.¬†¬†

What is the solution? Wool! More specifically, merino wool. I’m a “sensitive flower” when it comes to scratchy woollen clothing and always wore a turtleneck long-sleeved cotton t-shirt underneath woollen pullovers before I discovered merino. It’s so soft, even I can wear it directly on the skin, it’s so warm that fabrics can be so thin that they dry fast. It’s naturally odour-resistant that you don’t have to wash it every time you wear it – hang it out to air and it becomes fresh again. So, my base-, mid- and insulation layers are merino wool. It’s expensive, so I buy it in the sales. Merino is all the rage now, so not all of what’s on sale is fantastic quality (some of my t-shirts and jumpers had holes “falling” into them without me crawling through brambles), so my favourite brand is Icebreaker, the most durable pure merino I’ve got. And durable is sustainable.¬†

Ok, how sustainable is merino? According to O Ecotextiles, the global textile industry is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gasses on earth, requiring the energy equivalent of 132 billion tonnes of coal and 6 – 9 trillion litres of water. That’s to produce the fibres and make the yarn, to weave or knit, to dye and fashion, to transport and distribute. It includes mining materials for synthetics and using fertilisers on the fields for growing natural fibres. The energy “contained” in the production is around 63 MJ (megajoule) per Kg of wool yarn, compared to 10 MJ for flax, 55 MJ for cotton, 125 MJ for polyester and 250 MJ for nylon. Given the advantageous properties of merino wool for outdoor adventures, it has a reassuringly lower carbon footprint compared to synthetics commonly used for similar base-, mid- and insulation layers.

Ideally, organically produced wool and natural dyes would be used in processing my merino garments of choice, although I’ve not spotted that happening at Icebreaker yet. Synthetic dyes can be bad news for the environment (something I might explore in more detail some other time). So, although better than synthetics with respect to the carbon balance, durability and waste management credentials, overall, the merino clothes I buy have a long way to go to be as sustainable as they could be.



Foley CJ. et al. 2016. A meta-analysis of the effects of exposure to microplastics on fish and aquatic invertebrates. The Science of the Total Environment.

Friends of the Earth. Microfibres plastic in our clothes (and what to do about it) [accessed 15/02/2020]

Joyce C. 2018. Beer, Drinking Water And Fish: Tiny Plastic Is Everywhere. The Salt – What’s on Our Plate. [accessed 16/02/2020]

Life Material Technology Limited. 2020. Antimicrobial protection information. [accessed 15/02/2020]

Lourenco et al. 2017. Plastic and other microfibers in sediments, macroinvertebrates and shorebirds from three intertidal wetlands of southern Europe and west Africa. Environmental Pollution. [accessed 16/02/2020]

Ru Yang et al. 2017. Exposure of soil collembolans to microplastics perturbs their gut microbiota and alters their isotopic composition. Soil Biology and Geochemistry.

The Story of Stuff. 2018. Video The Story of Stuff. By an organisation that became a movement… [accessed 15/02/2020]

Urquhart J. 2014. Silver Nanoparticles in Clothing Pose No New Risk: Older antibacterial coatings, when laundered, released just as many nanoparticles into the environment. Chemistry World. Reported in Scientific American. [accessed 12/02/2020]

Yang Yue et al. 2017. Interaction of silver nanoparticles with algae and fish cells: a side by side comparison. Journal of Nanobiotechnology. [accessed 12/02/2020]


The operators of the tall ship Bark Europa have issued a kit list to voyage crew for the sail from Tierra del Fuego to the Antarctic Peninsula. Now I wonder how much stuff I have already and how I can approach the sustainability question with the things I will need to buy.

This is a whole new can of worms for me. While the impacts of fast fashion on the environment have been in the news in recent years, it’s hardly the stuff of frequent headlines. In fact, most of what I have learned about this comes from my student’s blogs. Part of our BSc Environmental Science course at the University of Plymouth is a science communication module, where we encourage our students to blog on an environmental topic they feel passionate about. Regarding my history of sustainable clothing, I’ve always preferred natural fibres and have always bought clothing that lasts – both in style and material, and people who know me will confirm that I am hardly a fashion addict (as I’m writing this, the thought what my students might think about this crosses my mind…and I’m letting that thought drift away quickly and decide not to ask them).

Clothing List for Sailors 

  • Thermal base-layers (3-4 tops and bottoms
  • Warm mid-layer tops (2-3)
  • Tops (shirts, sweaters, t-shirts)
  • Insulation layer top
  • Trousers (2 quick drying, 3 thermal, leggings)
  • Thermal socks, gloves, hats, scarves
  • Waterproof outer layer (top and bottom)
  • Waterproof knee-high boots (to wade ashore when landing by RIB)
  • Hiking shoes or boots

So, what do I make of this? Let’s start with what I’ve got:

1)  Oilskins

Charly AZAB 1999

At the helm of our aluminium yacht Selkie in 1990s. Still got that Musto jacket – although it is a little worn. Photo: David Rushby.

I’ve been sailing on yachts since 1990 and am currently using my second generation of Musto oilskins. That longevity results from looking after my kit and being not too demanding on fashion and the performance/light weight that new materials and technology can offer. My oilskins are made out of polyester and nylon (no gore tex or other modern membranes), with a high fleece collar. I know that fleece is not great for the environment and polyester/nylon garments are not widely recycled (more about all of that later), but overall, keeping what I’ve got, rather than buying new, appears to me as the most sustainable option (financially and environmentally), because it keeps the stuff I have out of landfill or incinerator and saves the resources for manufacture of new stuff. Talking about ‘stuff’: check out the Story of Stuff if you are interested in reducing the stuff that clutters your life.

….next posts: 2) Clothes that keep me warm….and 3) Elastane, Lycra, Spandex….


Featured Image

Bark Europa in the South Shetland Islands. Picture edited out of the Voyage Brochure for Antarctic cruises in the 2020/2021 season. 


The Story of Stuff. 2018. Video The Story of Stuff. By an organisation that became a movement… [accessed 15/02/2020]



(No) Time to Waste! – Black Friday

Foteini Tziata has hit the nail on the head with her blog about consumerism, and especially her post on Black Friday. Read it here!

%d bloggers like this: