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After last week's lecture, I learned a lot of surprising facts about pencils; a seemingly insignificant object from my daily life that turns out to have a rich history. When we were told that we would never view pencils the same way ever again I was skeptical at first but quickly came to understand. The sheer number of resources that are collected annually to make this little writing utensil is beyond my imagination. In class I learned that 8 million trees are cut down per year. According to WorldAtlas.com, 82,000 trees are cut down annually for the purpose of making 14 billion traditional pencils. I wondered why so many large trees had to be cut to make such tiny instruments, however I learned that this is due to the “necessary” material that is soft wood. Traditional pencils are made from the center of a tree, typically pines, spruces, and ceders, and the tree itself must be 14 years old. This contributes to a huge issue in our world known as deforestation. “The World Bank estimates that about 3.9 million square miles (10 million square km) of forest have been lost since the beginning of the 20th century. In the past 25 years, forests shrank by 502,000 square miles (1.3 million square km) — an area bigger than the size of South Africa.” While deforestation due to the production of pencils does not take all the credit for this, 90 tennis courts worth of trees are cut down every year, making this no small contribution to the issue.
In class, alternatives to the traditional wooden pencil were presented and this got me thinking about the importance of transitioning to non wooden pencils. The most common example of an alternative is the mechanical pencil. While many mechanical pencils are made from plastic and do not degrade quickly like wooden pencils do, they can last much longer than a wooden pencil. I believe the logic is similar to that of a reusable water bottle. One reusable water bottle can be used as an alternative to cases and cases of plastic water bottles. Similarly, one mechanical pencil can eliminate the need for wooden pencil usage from an individual for months as long as they have lead to re-fill. Another alternative is using recycled paper to create the casing around pencil lead. “While producing pencils and pens out of recycled newspaper, Green Pencils Ltd is reducing the consumption of wood by 100%, preventing trees to be cut, and that of plastic (in pens) by 90% according to their stats.” This is a powerful concept that not only eliminates the need for deforestation, but also gives a second purpose to recycled paper. Additionally, there is no loss of functionality from the product. I hope that pencil manufacturers will continue to move toward a greener alternative and make a change in the world that we desperately need to see.
Bread making + GMOs:
In this blog I will be covering the process of my first time making bread. The ingredients I used are as follows: bread flour, dry active yeast, brown sugar, and water. I chose to not use salt because I planned to dress the bread with salted butter.
For the first step I used to packets of dry active yeast and dissolved them in ½ a cup of water.
The mixture began bubbling around 5 minutes after the initial pour and turned into a brown, foamy liquid.
I then eyeballed the amount of flour to start with and poured the yeast solution into the same bowl as the flour. At first it started off very sticky and wet so I kept adding more flour until I was able to get rid of most of the stickiness and shape it into a ball.
After some more work (with the help of my friend Jo) I was able to get the smooth shape that I wanted.
I then set the dough aside to let it rise for 1 hour. The results were surprising as I had not expected it to grow in size to this extent. I then transferred the dough over to a baking platter and left it in the oven for 20 minutes at 465F.
Finally when the bread was finished baking, I was surprised by the final product. The crust was crunchy and the inside was soft. The design I tried to cut into the top didn’t turn out so well, though.
GMOs often carry a negative connotation. While there are negative effects of GMOs, there are also positive reasons for its existence. For example, there are veggies and grains that can experience inhibited growth due to fungi/viruses, but with the development of GMOs that create veggies resistant to these viruses, there can be more abundant agricultural yield. This also aids in the effort to decreasing the use of pesticides. This does not mean that there are zero negative side effects of GMOs, though. While there is much misinformation about GMOs such as “they give you cancer,” etc, statistically it has been proven that GMO crops are often supplemented by an increase in herbicide usage. Herbicides can enter ground water, negatively affecting humans and animals alike.
During this past week’s lecture with Kaitlin I learned a lot about fungi that I had not previously known. Some misunderstandings I had about fungi prior to lecture were; what are the differences between mold and fungi? Are fungi not just mushrooms? It was interesting to visualize fungi as the ‘tree’ and the mushrooms that grow as a result of fungi as the ‘fruit.’
When Kaitlin showed the glove mold that she had done with the mycelium I was intrigued by the process as well as the possibilities. With a background in installation sculpture, I was curious to see whether this medium was one that could perform just as well as other molding materials such as cement.
The process for preparing the mycelium was simple yet tedious due to the meticulous process required to do it correctly. I was not expecting to have to disinfect and wear gloves and a mask. The ingredients I used were pretty default, 3 cups of water, 4 tbsp of flour. I realized I had given my flour to a friend after the bread making because I didn't think I would need it again. As a substitute for bread flour, I used pancake mix (I hope this does not hinder the process as the mix I used was mostly made of different types of flour.) I poured the water and flour in a pot together and mixed them until I got this milky solution. I made sure there were no chunks and poured them into the bag of hemp. After which, I made the cut at the top of the bag and poured in the solution. I sealed off the bag with tape making sure to not cover the ‘vent’ and shook vigorously to mix it all together. After I was done, I left it in the corner of my room.
I thoroughly enjoyed this last week’s workshop. It was a great time to me getting to work on the dyes along with my classmates and learning about Kelp from Emma. For my natural dye I decided to use ivy as my choice of invasive species. It was the most accessible plant in my area but it actually worked out quite well.
Unfortunately, someone stole my package and I was unable to use the proper resources, but I find it amusing that the thief will open a pack of seaweed and strings haha. Regardless, we made it work. I cut up strips from an old white cotton shirt instead of white threads. I used chinese black vinegar as a substitute ingredient and it significantly affected the outcome. Not only did it completely overshadow the dye from the ivy, the wheat that is used inside of black vinegar began molding on my threads.
The dye from the ivy ended up as a yellowish green (can’t say im surprised) and i was really hoping for a greenish brown color in the end but instead I got a moldy brown lump of fabric. I will say that the vinegar was a more effective dye in the end and I was able to get some color in the fabric.
Nonetheless, I was thinking about the possibilities of using natural dyes more commercially. I believe that from a business standpoint using natural dyes could target a specific niche of consumers and potentially expand into the mainstream market. (The businessman in me is coming through ahah). But seriously, not only is it sustainable, but also the possibilities of color are pretty endless. I do see a problem in terms of saturation and durability in comparison to artificial dyes, but the potential is there. I hope to see more fabrics using natural dyes in the future. Maybe i’ll even start buying some clothes made with natural dyes!
Noise Pollution + CNY:
Prior to this past class, I had no idea that noise pollution was an issue. Actually in all honesty I didn’t even know that it existed. The noise aquarium AR project that was shown in class really helped me get an understanding of it. It baffles me that there can be that much noise in the depths of the ocean. It sounds silly but I’ve tried yelling underwater (lol) and barely made any sound so I never considered the adverse effects of the noise caused under water by man-made machines and such. For example, one major contributor is seismic air guns used to survey the seabed for fossil fuel. They achieve this by blasting air, producing about 220–250 decibels per pulse. To put this into context, these pulses of air are louder than a rocket during launch.
On the contrary, Chinese New Year just recently passed. As someone who grew up in China, this holiday is very near and dear to me. This year is the year of the ox and its people are commonly categorized as hardworking, reliable, and intelligent. Over the years I have noticed an influx of appreciation for my culture’s holiday in the states and that brings joy to me as I get to experience a bit of the nostalgia from my days living overseas.
Pigments and Inks:
I had a lot of fun with last week’s workshop. I mentioned this during class, but I use a fountain pen for all of my writing needs and the ink is an essential component of the pen. When I got the blue algae and was told we were making a pigmented liquid I was excited to see the limitations of it as an artistic/practical agent for writing and drawing.
I was intrigued by the consistency that I was able to get the mixture to as well as the saturation of the color. I used water and maple syrup to make my mixture and it laid down on paper quite well. To compare, the closest thing to it would be water color.
I also noticed some shortcomings of the solution as well. Smell, stickiness, and drying time were major issues. In comparison to regular ink that I would use in my pen, I found this to be way less practical. It is important to note that this leads way for potential sustainable alternatives to graphite pencils and ink which can be harmful to the earth in production. However, the opportunity is there and I would love to see sustainable alternative options come to mainstream.
“Standard rollerball ink is made from particles of carbon black, a pigment substance. These particles are segregated from each other by a polymer that is adsorbed onto the surface of the carbon black particles. Finally, a solvent is applied so that the ink will flow.” This is how standard pens are made and the pigment comes from coal and oil. I don’t need to explain how this is harmful to the earth.
All in all, I look forward experimenting more with the remaining pigment I have to create a solution that is a suitable substitute to ink. Perhaps I’ll even try loading it into a pen!
This is the graph I made to represent the recap of topics we covered this quarter. I want to point out that sustainability was the major connection throughout each topic we covered/discussed (as highlighted with the circle). I found myself genuinely interested in sustainable alternatives to the technologies we have today and looking for answers to how we could replace commonly used yet harmful objects with efficient and usable sustainable versions. The topics covered throughout class are boxed and have connecting subtopics attached to them with arrows.
On the topic of sustainability, I want to start with pencils. The numbers regarding the amount of wood cut each year is astonishing to me and incredibly unnecessary in my opinion. With the amount of left over/ recycled paper we produce every year, it is an obvious solution to transition to paper wrapped pencils. This is already a product but I hope to see it become a more common alternative to wooden pencils. In terms of bread, seeing how simple and quick it is to make my own bread made me realize how much better it would be to just make my own bread at home. The plastic wrap around bread sold at the markets are non-biodegradable and harmful to the planet. Scoby is an organism that I had no idea existed prior to this class. The thought that it could infinitely reproduce and make anything from Kombucha to Biodegradable materials is insane to me. With more research, scoby clothing should be more widely used and accepted in the fashion industry, advocating for a more sustainable earth. Fungi (specifically mycelium) showed me that there are plenty of viable alternatives to toxic and harmful ones such as resin. While they serve different purposes, the fact that sculptures can be made from something completely natural is exciting for the art community adding a more organic material to the mix as an alternative when creating sculpture. Kelp and Algae taught me about natural pigment and dyes that can be used as alternatives to harmful materials like oil paints, water colors, and inks. With just the things nature provides to us we can create our own colors and inks as a replacement to ones made artificially with coal and oil, etc.
All in all, this class has opened my eyes to a world of possibilities in the world of sustainability that I had hardly considered in the past. For that, I am grateful.
To finish off this class, I felt that it would be cool to illustrate a visualization of my connections chart. I chose to do this by drawing each topic covered in class as an individual character all falling under the major connection I made: sustainability. In this case, the sub topics are depicted as ‘children’ and the major connection is portrayed as the ‘mother.’ Each individual subject; pencils, bread, scoby, fungi, kelp, plankton, algae are portrayed in this illustration. I wanted to add my own touch of creativity to this final collection of topics. Additionally, I want to point out that each character is portrayed intentionally to have nonhuman characteristics. In contrast, I drew the mother ‘sustainability’ to be clearly human. My intention here is to shed light upon the impact that humanity can have on all these topics. Much like how children are impacted by their familial life during their youth, these issues of sustainability can be corrected through human interaction with nature. The future of our planet rests in the hands of humanity’s better judgment. It’s time to do better and make the sustainable choice to keep our planet beautiful and loved rather than continue the destruction of our natural world.