AGU Part 1: The preparation frenzy

By Tanja

It is that time of the year. Everyone goes crazy, we are all busy but no one wants to work. We crank up the air conditioner and we are determined to ….. not wrap up the gifts. It is not Christmas I’m talking about – it is AGU. So we all crank up the AC and set down to make one last plot, try one more thing, do this and insert that. Print print print! AGU stands for American Geophysical Union and a big portion of RSES students and staff are attending to present their research. It is an annual conference taking place in San Francisco every December.

Students usually present their research in form of a poster on which they put their most important and significant figures with a bit of text briefly explaining what it is all about. They are assigned a certain time and space where they hang up their poster and have to stand next to it for a couple of hours and chat to anyone who expresses interest. This can obviously result in some good feedback on your research. Or not … I wouldn’t know. I have never been to a conference before. So when I submitted my abstract for AGU in August, I expected for it to be like that – the organizers will give me a “poster slot”, I will make one, chat to people, hopefully learn something new and that’s it. Just over a month ago I received an email from the AGU organizers saying that I should prepare an oral presentation, meaning – give a talk in front of bunch of people.

backtothefuture

My initial reaction to the invitation email.
Source

As someone who has never attended a conference, I have to admit that my initial reaction involved a few profanities having realized that I have been offered a talk at a conference that regularly hosts twenty thousand people. Of course, not all of them will be at my talk. But think about it – if even 0.5% of those people show up at the talk – it is still a hundred people I haven’t seen in my life. To say that I’m a bit scared and overwhelmed is an understatement. I am also equally flattered.

This kind of upped the ante on what I have to show. As you know from one of my previous posts – I am often stuck staring at my codes, trying to fix them. Now that I have to actually talk about what I’m doing I don’t have the luxury to discuss everything else that I have done and all the technical issues that I’m facing with an interested passer-by looking at my poster. I have to really show SOMETHING. So for the past month I have been frantically trying to work around technical issues and trying to improve my measurement methods in order to bedazzle the tiny crowd that will come to listen to me.

Wembley Legends Join Where’s Wally? For 25th Anniversary

My impression of a poster hall at AGU
Source

As if that’s not enough stress, Qantas has landed three planes bound for US in the past 24 hours. Due to… why? Smoke in the cabin? Nothing to worry about. The good news is – they landed them!

You know what hasn’t landed though? My allowance for staying the whole week in San Francisco. The money that I need for food and transport and whatnot during my stay still hasn’t showed up in my account (at the time of writing, 4 days before departure) due to some misunderstanding between administration and finance.

As far as my work goes, I was hoping for miracles but miracles didn’t happen. What happened instead is that I sort of realized what is causing my inversions not to work properly – and it is not a technical issue. So that’s a result in itself and has also pointed me in a new direction. Hopefully the AGU crowd will recognize that as well.

You want more good news? My talk is on the first day of the conference. I will see me some San Francisco afterwards. So stay tuned for the impressions of a first-timer to both US and conferences…

What can possibly go wrong?

Pyrites of the Caribbean 2

Subtitle suggestion: The one with the kraken (Editor’s Note: Wrong franchise!)


By Ingo

Pyrites of the Caribbean are fighting for the ANU 2014 Mixed Summer 9s Soccer Competition trophy. We are one football match away from the grand finals on Monday, 15th of December at Willows Oval. Though three key players are injured, Hannah – the optimistic team captain, is looking forward to this culmination of football competition!

team_photo(1)

Top row from left to right: Rose Manceau, Tarun Whan, Liane Loiselle, Hannah James, Ingo Stotz, Piers Koefoed, Mathieu Duval and Thomas Haber.
Bottom row from left to right: Patrick Carr, Tim Jones, Lizzie Ingham, Patrick Goodarzi, Oleg Koudashev and Jessica Amies.

Season Summary

Everything started on Monday the 20th of October with an impressive win against the “Bayern Neverlosen” for 4-3. With the third game the Pyrites of the Caribbean positioned themselves on top of the table and have remained there throughout the whole competition, winning most of the matches, except for two draws – unluckily.

However, not everything has been joy and fun. Pat – rock defender, midfielder and striker – was injured and the medical team gave him one game off. With intense physiotherapy he was back on – defending, assisting and shooting once again.

Star striker Lizzie was injured running through a forest leading up to the 6th encounter, missing out on three games. To overcome the absence of two of their best players, the team was supported by Paolo, Holly, James and Maureen for several games in the season.

New acquisitions during the season were Kate and Liane, brought in straight from the laboratory. Liane scored a goal during her second game – 35 meters away from goal, eyes closed, hitting the ball with her knee leaving the goal keeper astonished.

Best player of the Universe

If we are to talk about the biggest impact in terms of best player – measured from start to finish – look no further than blue sensation Pat Carr. For the most part injury-free, the 24-year-old excelled under ultra-fan James Tolleys watchful gaze, serving up four goals, seven assists and countless saves during the competition, before capping off one of his finest campaigns to date last Monday – perhaps even his best.

best_player

Patrick Carr

Quotes of the season

Man on!” and “Clear it!” by Oleg, Pyrites of the Caribbean’s goal keeper.

End of season

The end of season is soon and although the team is in a bit of trouble with two players injured, Piers and Ingo, the medical team is working to get them fit and ready for the grand finale. And two more are leaving for holidays, Tim and Thomas. Luckily, there are enough players to make two teams!

The Pyrites of the Caribbean have been undefeated throughout the whole competition and they’re determined to keep it that way.

Last regular game of the season will be played on Monday at 6 pm, followed by the grand finals at 8:30 pm. Everybody is welcome to watch and, being the last day of competition, we could use your support!

In related news – another interesting event to look forward to is the annual football match between the students and staff of the Research School of Earth Sciences. After the summer competition, the students are more than ready to compete against their supervisors and RSES staff members! The encounter will be held next year, in March. Be ready to take the challenge!

The Tunguska Enigma

By Thomas

It was an early June morning in 1908, somewhere in Siberia, as without a warning “the sky split in two and fire appeared high and wide over the forest”. That is at least how eyewitness S. Semenov recalls the event. (Wiki)

He goes on: “The split in the sky grew larger, and the entire northern side was covered with fire. At that moment I became so hot that I couldn’t bear it, as if my shirt was on fire; from the northern side, where the fire was, came strong heat. I wanted to tear off my shirt and throw it down, but then the sky shut closed, and a strong thump sounded, and I was thrown a few metres. I lost my senses for a moment, but then my wife ran out and led me to the house. After that such noise came, as if rocks were falling or cannons were firing, the earth shook, and when I was on the ground, I pressed my head down, fearing rocks would smash it. When the sky opened up, hot wind raced between the houses, like from cannons, which left traces in the ground like pathways, and it damaged some crops. Later we saw that many windows were shattered, and in the barn a part of the iron lock snapped.”

The Tunguska Event – a massive explosion that knocked down some 80 million trees over an area of 2,150 square kilometres (Figure 1) and luckily didn`t cause any (reported) fatalities. But what caused it? The most probable cause is an asteroid (or maybe a comet) entering Earth`s atmosphere and then exploding while still in the air, like the Chelyabinsk air burst earlier this year, just bigger. Other explanations that make for better Hollywood B-movie scripts are a comet that turned into a “natural H-bomb” when entering Earth`s atmosphere, a black hole passing through the Earth, Antimatter and last, but most definitely not least, a “Death Ray” build by Nikola Tesla.

Trees after the 1908 Tunguska event. Source

Figure 1: Trees after the 1908 Tunguska event.
Source

While these explanations are – how should I put this – “less likely”, they reflect that the Tunguska event remains a bit enigmatic to us. The air burst explanation is a good one, but it is nearly impossible to finally proof it. The event happened in a remote location, it happened at a point in human history when the dominant species on the planet was not homo cellphonecameras and fragments of the potential meteor where never found – and it is very, very unlikely that this will happen in the future.

A new study (Vannucchi et al. 2015) throws yet another explanation into the ring – an explanation which, if it would be true, would have a profound impact on the study of terrestrial impact craters, especially the way we identify them. Unlike on many of the other solid bodies in the solar system, impact craters on Earth are often not very well-preserved due to the constant erosion by wind and weather. To test whether an old structure that might be an impact crater is indeed one, scientists often have to rely on “fingerprints” of the impact event left behind in the target rock. Some of the most reliable of these fingerprints are the so-called PDFs, which stands for Planar Deformation Features. These features are left by very high shock pressures in mineral grains and can be studied under the microscope. What makes them such good indicators for impact events is that there is no other mechanism on Earth that can create the shock pressures as high as needed to create PDFs.

Of course, the Earth can build up quite some pressure from within and release this pressure in single events such as volcanic eruptions (Figure 2), but the shock waves generated by those events are not as powerful as those created by impact events. The reason for this is that the pressure that builds up under the Earth’s surface builds up slowly and will be released before it reaches the strength needed to create PDFs. In the case of an impact however, the pressure that is generated depends to a great deal on the speed of the impactor1 – and this speed can be very high.

Eruption of the Sarychev Volcano as seen from SpaceSource

Figure 2: Eruption of the Sarychev Volcano as seen from Space
Source

To illustrate the difference, let us suppose you want to destroy an oven, using only a metal pot filled with water and some tape. You can tape the lid tight on top of the pot and then put your pot on your oven and heat it up. You hope that the produced water vapour inside the pot creates enough pressure so that your whole pot explodes and destroys the oven.2 I don`t really know how much pressure you could create by this method, but if you get it high enough, what will happen is that your tape will fail and the worst thing that will (probably) happen is that the lid flies off and you stand in a cloud of very hot water vapour, which should be quite hurtful – but your oven should remain intact. Like the rocks in the Earth’s crust, the tape on your pot couldn`t hold the pressure over a certain point. If you however take your taped water pot and quite skilfully throw it out of a helicopter cruising 1 mile high and let it “land” on top of your oven … well you can see what happens to “metal things dropped from 1 mile high” in this video. And if there happens to be another “metal thing” on the landing spot, that one wouldn`t look much better either.

There are some speculations that the Earth itself, under special conditions, can indeed create explosive events strong enough to produce shock waves in a pressure range at which PDFs are formed. And here we come back to the study mentioned above and the Tunguska event:

About 3 km away from the epicentre of the Tunguska event is Mount Stojkovic, and there is a circular structure in which the scientist conducting the study identified samples with PDFs3 . Their favoured interpretation for the nature of this about 250 million year old circular structure is that it was created by a so-called verneshot – a “hyperexplosive volcanic gas eruption” which would be able to create shock features, such as PDFs. The 1908 event then might have been a smaller verneshot event.

The problem is that a verneshot is so far a not-observed, hypothetical event. Sure, the structure at Mount Stojkovic lies in the right geological setting that was envisioned when the verneshot idea was first proposed (Morgan et al. 2004). But apart from this there seems to be little to support the idea. The main argument in the study for the verneshot is actually not something supporting the verneshot idea, but the consideration of how unlikely the rival hypothesis is that instantly springs to mind: The structure at Mount Stojkovic might “just” be a 250 million year old impact crater that happens to lie close to the 1908 event. The argument made in the study is that an impact event and a later air burst event happening in the same location is so improbable that there must be another explanation – and therefore it must be a verneshot. And that part of the study is implausible to me.4

First of all, how can an event happening about 100 years ago make a 250 million year old event improbable? If tomorrow there is an air burst over Meteor crater in Arizona (Figure 3), which most definitely is an impact crater, will that suddenly make it not an impact crater? No!

Meteor Crater, ArizonaSource

Figure 3: Meteor Crater, Arizona
Source

Of course that is an unlikely event. In the study it is actually calculated how unlikely it is that a single air burst is happening over one of the craters that were formed on Earth within the last 250 million years: It is about 1 in 17000.5

That indeed seems like a low chance. But meteor air bursts are quite frequent. Yes, Tunguska was the biggest observed so far, so let us assume, an event like this only happens every 15000 years. That would still mean that within the last 250 million years about one of those Tunguska-like events is likely to have happened over an impact crater. And even if the probability would be much lower – it wouldn`t matter. We could probably find something unusual that has happened within 3 km of every meteor crater of this world. They will stay meteor craters regardless.

So we are left with two possibilities: We have impact cratering and air bursts, well documented and understood processes which happened to happen locally (!) close to each other, or the verneshot, a hypothetical event that, if really a thing, would mean there is more destructive power under our feet than we already know from “normal” volcanic and supervolcanic eruptions.

The second one might be more exciting, but the first one seems (so far) more plausible to me. But I`m fascinated by impacts, so I`m biased.

What do you think?


1 Other contributing factors are the size and nature of the impacting body and the nature of the target material.

2 Please don`t try that at home.

3 Actually, the study is a bit confusing for me: They sometimes use the term PDF and sometimes refer to the features as lamella, which as far as I understand it, is not necessarily a high shock pressure feature (If you want to know more about those features, see for example here: Reimold et al.). However, I`m not qualified at all to identify or judge this kind of features! So my confusion stems probably from a lack of understanding of the terminology.

4 Keep in mind: That does not necessarily mean that it really is implausible. I might just have misunderstood the argument.

5 1 in 17000 is the part of the Earths surface covered with impact craters that formed between now and 250 million years ago, thus an event happening at a random location (such as an air burst) has a chance of 1 in 17000 to happen “over” one of these impact sites. I also don`t quite get why, if you make a probability argument like this, you cut it off at 250 million years. I know it is the supposed age of the structure at Mount Stojkovic, but that shouldn`t matter if you want to know how likely it is that an air burst happens over an impact site. If an air bursts happens over a 300 million year old impact site, could we just shrug it off and say “Those things happen” but when the structure is 200 million years old the air burst suddenly becomes something special? For what reason?

 

Not quite News yet – Part IV


In this series we present fictive “News Articles” which some of us wrote when participating in a Science Communication Workshop at ANU. If you want to know more about the Why and How, please see this post here.

While the projects described are PhD projects that are on the way at RSES, the results (if they are described) in those “news articles” are by no means final and can be described from “That`s my current interpretation of my data that I came up with last night and I haven`t tested yet” to “Wishfull thinking”.

The aim of this series is to provide you with a glimpse of the diversity of ongoing Earth Science research at ANU, not to present final results.

And now, without further ado …


 

Teeth unlock secrets of
African slaves

 

By Hannah

African slaves transported to the Caribbean during the 17th century have been identified, using elements in their teeth, by researchers from the Research School of Earth Sciences at ANU.

An unmarked slave cemetery, Anse Sainte Marguerite, on the Atlantic coast of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean was discovered in the early 2000s and contains almost 300 remains. No records from this cemetery have survived, so no information on the origin of these individuals is available.

Using the chemistry of teeth, for the first time, the individual life histories can be teased out from this previously invisible population. Different versions of the elements oxygen and strontium naturally exist in soil, water and air. Their abundances differ across the globe, which forms a geographical pattern.

In childhood, when teeth are forming, oxygen and strontium from food and water consumed is incorporated into the teeth and this regional chemical signature is locked in. By analysing this signature and comparing it to the values expected in Africa and the Caribbean, researchers have been able to show in which region individuals spent their childhood.

Using teeth, eleven individuals have been identified as first generation slaves. Others have been identified as the later generations born and raised in the Caribbean. “We hope to expand our analysis and aim to identify all individuals,” says PhD student Hannah James from the ANU.

The Trans-Atlantic slave trade transported more than 11 million individuals, but records about these people are sparse. This technique may provide future insight into the forced migration of these forgotten people.


Communication Breakdown

By Thomas

Over the last week space science got a lot of publicity thanks to Rosetta and its sidekick Philae. ESAs successful attempt to land a spacecraft on a comet was all over the news. Apart from the news coverage, which the mission got thanks to the landing, you could and can follow Rosetta on Twitter or on the Rosetta blog, ESA is providing detailed information about the mission on their website and last but not least the use of videos explaining Rosettas mission and the ingenious short-movie Ambition got a lot of people excited about the mission. A pathetic hysteria raging over a scientists sense of fashion aside, it was an excellent example for science communication well-done. Or was it?

Rosetta_orbits_comet_with_lander_on_its_surface

Rosetta and Philae
Source: ESA

I followed the discussion of the mission in the comments on a German news website. As some people were nagging about the not so perfect landing, someone remarked that the mission is now going on for ten years, and in this time has provided a lot of data and insights and therefore the mission was already a success even before Philae attempted its landing. This was one of the comments1 that followed:

“The discussion here underpins my critique that we don`t get sensible information from the people in charge and the scientists about the actual results. We all have to speculate. After ten years that is a bit weird, if there really are already that many results. Not only Philae is in stand-by, apparently science as well. It is time that science comes down from the ivory tower and explains to us pity layman why this mission is so important and what insights it has really provided.2

Now, don`t get me wrong, I will not write a blog post every time I read an ignorant comment3 somewhere in the internet4. In this case it just wonderfully displays a dilemma I see for science communication and it has a connection to an “en vogue” topic, so I couldn`t resist.

But first, why do I think this comment is ignorant?

Well, the essence of the comment is that ESA is not communicating why the mission is important and what it has already achieved. This ignores, that if you go to the website about Rosetta provided by ESA you will find plenty of information on these issues.

For example, you want to know why it is important to investigate comets, read the four-part series on the history of comets.

You want to know about what has been achieved? This article gives you the overview. And if that grasped your attention and you want to know more, you can, amongst other things, read about the flybys of the asteroids Steins and Lutetia.

Rosetta_mission_selfie_at_16_km

Rosetta Selfie
Source: ESA

And here we are in the middle of the dilemma:

On the one side we have a lot of science communication going on. On the other side we have the person at who it is aimed at, who nevertheless feels obviously not informed.

How can we bridge this gap?

Yes, in the first instance the responsibility lies within the field of science. Yes, scientists have to continuously work on their communication skills. Yes, scientists should use different media to distribute their message.

But we cannot bridge the gap completely from one side alone. No matter how much information scientists put out there and how nicely they wrap them up, they will unfortunately not always make the headlines. So how do we get science communicated in the cases when science doesn`t win the race to the top of the newspapers against wars, conflicts, politics and Kim Kardashians backside?

I think the answer might lie in the term itself:

“Science communication” – that`s two words.

While scientists have to do the “communication”, it requires the interested layman to do a little bit of “science”, namely looking up the communicated information and asses them.

The scientists in their respective fields can only build a bridge across the gap with the information they put out there. Sometimes (as in the case of Rosetta) it is a broad and stable stone bridge, sometimes it will only be a slippery rope bridge.

Either way, you`ll have to cross the bridge yourself.


1 Better: A translation of the comment that approximately reproduces the original meaning.

2 If you want to read the original: Comment 76 here.

3 Note: “Ignorant” solely refers to the comment itself, not to the commentator.

4 I wouldn`t be able to do anything else

In the heart of the machine

By Eleanor

“Is that like a transformer?”

I’ve just been to Japan for a synchrotron school. Most of my non-scientist friends had never even heard of the word ‘synchrotron’ before I told them where I was going. One friend thought it sounded like something from the movie ‘Transformers’. Fortunately, Mike’s latest post will help you tell the difference.

Others friends have heard of the Large Hadron Collider and they assume that I must be doing particle physics. But I’m not – I’m a geologist.

Synchrotron Source: Riken

‘SPring-8′ synchrotron, Japan
Source: Riken

This is the synchrotron facility called ‘SPring-8’ in Japan, where I’ve just spent ten days learning all about how these things work and what you can do with them. So what do they do and why, as a geologist, would I go there? And what does it look like, inside?

Being a geologist means that I want to learn about the Earth. As children, most of us grow up learning a lot about the world by seeing. The sun’s light reflects off the things around us and enters our eyes, which send signals to our brain. But there is a limit to what we can see with our eyes, and with light from the sun.

In my lab at the Research School of Earth Sciences, I make lava – molten rock – and cool it so quickly that it turns to glass. I want to find out how the atoms are arranged inside the glass, and how that arrangement might change with pressure. But that’s not something I can see with sunlight and my eyes. Instead, I need a different type of light – I need x-rays.

But I can’t just use any old x-rays. When you break an arm you might get an x-ray that illuminates your whole arm, but I need to look at atoms, so I need to focus all that light into a very small spot – like the difference between a light globe and a laser pointer. Both might have the same power, but because the laser pointer is so focussed, it illuminates small areas much more brightly.

So I need very bright, focussed x-rays. Unfortunately it’s not easy to make an x-ray laser*. This is where synchrotrons come in. A synchrotron is a light source, and I need it to generate light that will help me “see” the results of my experiments, and hopefully understand something new about the Earth.

Okay, but why does it look like a doughnut?

That’s because of the way synchrotron light is produced. Inside the doughnut-shaped building, there is another doughnut-shaped, er, room (?) … called the “storage ring” which has walls at least a metre thick. Inside the storage ring, there is a length of metal tubing that goes all the way around, surrounded by different types of magnets. Inside the tubing, electrons are flying through, around the ring, at close to the speed of light. The magnets keep all the electrons going in the right direction – not in a circle but in a big polygon with straight sections and bends. So, it’s called a storage ring because this is where the electrons are stored. When the electron beam is forced to bend, x-rays (and other wavelengths of light) are produced, and this light is funnelled out of the storage ring and into a “beamline”.

Okay. Breathe!

Did you just skim over that paragraph, wondering why I got so excited about magnets and electrons and metal tubing? I’m describing it because this is the real heart of the synchrotron, and this is not something you usually get to see. Even if I’d known all this stuff was in there (which I didn’t), seeing it for myself really helped me understand what was going on.

eleanorsynchrotron2

Inside the storage ring.

So I want to share two cool things that I saw inside the storage ring, and both of them are evidence that not all of the x-rays go to the beamlines, but some get scattered and escape (that’s why you need the walls to be so thick).

(1) Have you ever left some paper on the windowsill, and found after a couple of weeks it turned yellow? In this photo, the same thing has happened to the floor, but with x-rays. The floor has been discoloured except for the region in the ‘shadow’ of the metal strut.

eleanorsynchrotron3

X-rays causing discolouration of the floor, but the metal strut has cast a shadow.

(2) This telephone. I took a photo because it seemed strange to see such old technology while standing in the heart of such high-tech facility. As it turns out, the x-rays in the storage ring tend to kill electronics, proving the worth of the trusty analogue phone.

eleanorsynchrotron4

Also inside the storage ring.

Though some get scattered, most of the x-rays do get captured and sent down into the beamlines – and this is where the science happens! What kind of science? It turns out, a lot! I was surprised to find myself one of only four earth scientists out of 77 students on this course. The majority of students seemed to be in biological research doing protein crystallography. Until now I didn’t even know that proteins formed crystals! There were also students working on topics ranging from the properties of rubber and plastic, to nanoparticles in the environment, to the motion of atoms in solids.

So, synchrotrons are not aliens, nor do they involve smashing particles together. They are facilities that produce bright and focussed light useful to a wide range of science and engineering.


* X-ray lasers have just started to be developed. There are three in the world, and the smallest one is 900 m long. You can actually see this facility in the photo of SPring-8 above: it’s the long building above and to the right of the synchrotron.

Dietary requirements? Plastic-free

By Eleanor

Could you eat plastic-free for a week?

I’m up to day 6 of this strange challenge I’ve set for myself. It was Bianca’s post in this blog, in fact, that opened my eyes to the issues of producing so much plastic waste. Actually, there have been several posts about plastic on this blog. Reading about this, and watching the really cool video in Bianca’s post made me think, but to be honest I didn’t try to change my behaviour.

Then I went to Japan for three weeks, and found myself constantly encountering plastic-gone-crazy products similar to what Bianca described. One time, buying some biscuits, I found myself holding a plastic bag, containing a plastic packet, which I would later discover contained a plastic tray, and in the tray each biscuit was individually wrapped. Don’t get me wrong: I really enjoyed my time in Japan and I liked many aspects of the Japanese culture. But they do seem to like plastic. Everything comes individually wrapped, and they even have plastic food in their shop windows.

eleanorplastic1

Yes, even the coffee is plastic.

I felt so bad for the planet that I decided when I got home I would try to go for a week without eating anything that came to me wrapped or contained in plastic.

This means no vegemite, sliced bread, nuts, rice, lentils, salt and pepper, spices, cheese, or tea. No tea!!!

I am a big tea drinker; I usually have multiple cups per day. I’ve had to substitute with honey + lemon in hot water, which is nice too, but not quite the same.

eleanorplastic2

Plastic-free “tea”

Luckily I have a breadmaker and I frequently make my own bread, so I have enjoyed fresh homemade bread with jam (from a jar) or butter (wrapped in paper) for breakfast.

The types of food I most often cook are Italian and Indian, so having to go without cheese and spices is a bit difficult. Fortunately, I have discovered you can get pasta in cardboard boxes. Fresh fruit and veggies are the obvious candidates as a basis for a plastic-free week, so I’ve had a couple of meals of stir-fried veggies, pasta and veggies, and salads.

eleanorplastic3

Loot from the farmer’s market. My impulse-buy was the amazing bunch of fresh basil, which tempted me while buying carrots. Better than being tempted by chocolate at the supermarket checkout though!

My first failure happened on Day 5, ironically, during the “Nara festival”. I had visited Nara (which is Canberra’s sister city in Japan) just a few weeks ago, so I was quite excited to go to the festival, and it was a beautiful evening for it. One of the first things we did was watch a demonstration of “mochi pounding” where they whack sticky rice with big mallets to make rice pudding. We were excited to try some samples, which were quite tasty – but half way through eating it I realised, with horror, that I was eating out of a plastic bowl! I turned over the bowl to see if it was at least recyclable. Instead of a number in a triangle*, I found two faces that seemed to be laughing at me: “ha-ha, gotcha!”

eleanorplastic4

Guilty.

Going forward, it is not sustainable to continue to avoid all plastic. But I would like to cut down the amount of single-use, non-recyclable plastic I consume. Here are the things that I’m going to try to do:

  • Diligently recycle everything possible
  • Buy products with minimal packaging
  • BYO containers and bags to the farmers markets
  • Buy pasta in cardboard boxes
  • Keep making my own bread
eleanorplastic5

The evil face of plastic

On Day 5, Take 2 (I had to try again because of my failure at the Nara Festival), I gave my mother a call. Before I’d made any mention of this project, she said, “I made hummus today, because I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of plastic I use.”

Spooky mother-daughter synchronization? Maybe, or maybe it just means the awareness is spreading. Could we make plastic-free a new dietary requirement?


* It turns out, in the ACT, they don’t use the numbering system. They say that any rigid plastic is recyclable – this includes semi-rigid plastic like biscuit trays. So maybe the smiles on the bottom of that plastic bowl are actually happy, ‘yes please recycle me’ smiles, not so evil after all!