LIVING LIGHT
Living Light
Welcome! You have found the site of the Creation Keepers team (Christ Church's Eco Church Committee), which shares ideas and experiences about how we can all lighten our environmental footprint. We do this because we see our planet and its resources at a breaking point and believe in the power of personal examples. Most weeks, we will reflect on some aspect of living, working, shopping, consuming, reading, learning, etc. These are all local experiences and can easily be adopted by others in our community. Our authors (Rosie and Monika) look forward to any comments or ideas that you may also have and want to share. Send us your ideas at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Blog #9: Vienna's fixing it... 

March 11 2021
Monika Weber-Fahr
Earlier this month, on March 1, Vienna City re-launched its Reparaturbon Initiative.  The Reparaturbon is one of the many marvels that I am discovering as I learn more about the extraordinary lengths to which the city’s administration is going  in encouraging ecologically responsible behaviors amongst its citizens. This blog will tell you how to use it yourself! 
Essentially, it’s simple: The city wants us to repair things - instead of, when something breaks, throwing it away.  Many of us will know the situation: You buy a toaster - but after two years that pretty thing stops working, you cannot figure out why, and then - when looking to repair it - you realize that the cheap replacement comes in at about 30 Euros, while the repair might easily cost 50 Euro or more (even just telling you whether something can get repaired may set you back by 40 Euros in many places).   Even those of us committed to shouldering the extra cost, out of attachment or principle, may not know where to get their toaster repaired in the first place. Not so in Vienna (any more).  The city will subsidize the cost of your repairs at 50% up to Euro 100, once per “Initiative period”, which for 2021 means twice this year.  The current Initiative runs through June 30th, and later in the year there will be a second iteration - between early September and mid December.  Even better: There is one “Reparaturbonus” per person - not per household - so if you are a family, each one of you in your household can get one!

 

Picture: This is what it looks like - Print-out of my Reaparaturbon

How to find your Reparaturbon?  Surprise - its’ online: On the website, you first create a “Vienna City account” by giving your name and address, and then you get access to your “Bon”.  All you need to do then is to print it out or download the QER code on your mobile.  That document you then take to the repair shop of your choice.
How to find repair shops?  The website is helpful here, too.  They have a list of repair shops - pretty much covering all items that may require repair - and you can search the list by location as well as by item.  The downside: It’s all in German.  With a little bit of translation work (“handy” for mobile phone; “toaster” for “toaster” or “Waschmaschine” for “Washing Machine”) you can move forward.  In testing the program and the site, I found that I could quite easily identify someone to repair a mechanical watch (that I had inherited from my Dad) and also someone to fix a Sandwichmaker (that I had bought two years ago - the switches were not working any more) - searchword “Kleinelektronik”.  
The visit to the Watchrepair store was lovely: Located in the 7th, Herr Horak is reachable by bicycle, and after a congenial conversation about our shared love for old watches, he promised to call me within a week; he did not charge for assessing the cost of the repair.  Now that I received the call, he will fix the watch - the main thing to watch for is that it’s done within the time allocated for the Initiative so that he can submit the bill in due time.

 

Picture: Watch Repair Specialist Walter Horak - taken from mein.wien.gv.at/wienerreparaturbon

The visit to the Kitchen Equipment Repair store was less easy but perhaps even more exciting:  RUSZ is located in the 14th - a bit out of my way - but reachable with U-Bahn/Strassenbahn. This store is a marvel - they were set up precisely to offer repair-instead-of-throw-away, a pioneer in what is called the “circular economy” movement, and you can pretty much bring them anything.  They charge 45 Euros for a repair assessment (deductible from the repair if you decide to go ahead in having them fix it), and the “Reparaturbon” can also be applied for the estimate.  Super friendly service, they called me within two days, and now I will have a good-as-new sandwich maker!  For future reference: Normally, RUSZ also offers a weekly “Reparatur Cafe” - where you can go with your device, and they will show you how to fix it yourself (for post-Corona times: keep checking their website)

 

Picture: Logo of the Repairshop I went for my toaster - they are committed to "repair not replace".

Caveats?  Really not many - but a few things to note.  The “Reparturbon” initiative clearly is designed to make us contemplate getting things repaired - not to cover all our cost.  The Bon can be used only once per “Initiative Period”.  And the whole Initiative runs through 2023, so not “forever”.  You are also not supposed to sell your “Bon” and you are supposed to use it within two weeks of printing it out, mainly to help the city with administration and accounting.  And finally: the subsidies may run out eventually - they have a fixed budget per period.  This means that if you come at the tail end, they may be out of “Bons”, at which point you can decide whether to wait until September or to simply use the website’s service to find yourself a friendly repairman and go ahead without the subsidy then.
Living in a “Throw Away Society” is, of course, a bigger and global problem - and definitely something that requires more action than what the individual consumer can do.  Living in the EU, we are fortunate that a new law - announced already two years ago - took effect just two months ago, this January: The “Right to Repair” requires producers of household equipment to make sure that everything they sell in the EU is “repairable” for at least 10 years.  This means not only designing and offering “repairable” products - but also to make available replacement items needed for repairs, one of the biggest hurdles that stood in the way of repairs over the last years.
So there is progress!  Let’s take part in it!
 

Blog #8: Fragile Creation Through the Spectacles of Art

March 4 2021
Monika Weber-Fahr
YESSS, museums are open again, and YESSS, we are able to enjoy some of the best assets this magnificent town has to offer, including its many many exhibitions. Several of them currently feature creation-related topics, amongst them Fragile Creation/Fragile Schoepfung in the Dom Museum on Stephansplatz, open through late August 2021. There is also Sheila Hicks’s Thread, Trees, River, open until April 18 in the MAK and After Us the Floods in the Kunsthaus Wien/Museum Hundertwasser, extended through April 5.
All three are worth checking out. To get you started, this blog gives you a teaser for the Fragile Creation exhibition in the Dom Museum.
 
Why Fragile Creation? Philip had recommended that I check it out months ago when we were all still doing museums. Art and creation, I was wondering at the time, should I really go? Is this not just political education in a fancy environment? Would I not be better off to just read a few good articles in Nature or Science instead? I could not have been further from the truth…
When a faith-based museum sets out to curate an exhibition on creation, things do become interesting. The Dom Museum not only introduces visitors to the sadly familiar depiction of nature at peril at the hands of humans (or humans at peril at the hands of nature), but it also shows ample examples of nature-inspired art used in church, ranging from extraordinary depictions of fauna and flora in 15th century through to embroidery, glass art and golden monstrances. Questions crossed my mind: Could we have ever created art without being inspired by creation? And do artists depict creation to honor the creator, with intent or by default? And what does this mean for a future with less nature, or at least less diverse nature?  Are terms such as less or more even relevant for those that create art?

Part of “Eruption of Mount Vesuvius” by Albert Bierstadt (1899)
The other inspiring part of the exhibition is that it extends its view of creation to the human experience, organizing the visitor’s journey in terms of Order of Love, Mind and Nature, Exploitation and Responsibility, Threat and Fascination, and Contemplation and Mise-en-scene. In doing so, it arranges what we tend to think of as church art, such as depictions of Mary and the child, in ways that remind us of the fragility of life, not just planetary life, but also human life, and, of course, Jesus’s life.
It’s a small exhibition with just a few rooms to check out. On first sight, it is seemingly too small, perhaps, for the €8 it will set you back.  But the exhibits are exquisitely chosen and each of them are deserving of time, heart, and thought. There is a beautiful little catalogue available to accompany the exhibit, to read while or after you visit, reflecting further on the relations between humans and nature in art, religion, and society. If anything, it is a great place to learn more about a different take on religions and their ecological responsibility.
The Dom Museum is open daily between 10:00am and 6:00pm.

One of my favourite pictures: "The Animals Boarding Noah’s Ark” (Gen 6:1) by a 16th century artist.

Blog #7: White and Shiney ... !?

February 25 2021
Rosie Evans & Monika Weber-Fahr
It's one week into Lent, and yes, we have begun experimenting with the Green Anglican’s PlasticFasting calendar. For this week, the calendar suggested mindful actions to avoid plastic use when shopping for food, such as avoiding foam takeaways, refusing straws, avoiding single-use plastic shopping bags or plastic cutlery, all quite easy practices that we have added to our zero-waste menu. Next week, however, things will get more challenging. The calendar’s focus will be on avoiding plastic in the bathroom. For our readers, we wanted to check out what no/low plastic products for dental care are available in shops in Vienna. Here is what we discovered. 
Teeth matter, and not just for our health. Having white and shiny teeth seems to be a cultural signal for intelligence and attractiveness in many societies. While some form of teeth-cleaning has been around for several thousands of years, the Chinese may have been the ones to invent, or at least popularize, the first toothbrush in the 15th century. Today’s toothbrush design goes back to 1780 when William Addis created something made from cattle bone for the handle and swine bristles for the brush portion. Shortly after, plastic entered the equation. Plastic has been used for producing brushes at scale since the 1930s, added to the toothpaste itself, used to pack the paste, and used to produce and pack the floss.
Plastic brushes are a massive problem for planetary health. We can personally attest to this, having participated in river clean ups along the Danube here in Vienna, and along the Potomac in Washington DC. One always finds old plastic brushes and it's no wonder as they seem to biodegrade only after 400 years and are VERY hard to recycle. Worldwide, some records indicate that about 3.5 billion toothbrushes are sold every year. While we are not sure all available numbers add up properly, some reports note that Americans alone throw away about 1 billion toothbrushes annually. There is no debating that plastic toothbrushes find their way into marine debris and the stomachs of fish and marine mammals. Also toothpaste has contributed to the distribution of plastics across the planet, even though in many places the microplastics that they contain have been outlawed. Just the safe disposal or recycling of the approximate 1.5 billion toothpaste tubes that are discarded every year present a massive challenge.

From Greenpeace.org "Defending our OceansTour: Hawaii Trash" 
No/Low-Plastic Tooth Paste. In Vienna, it’s relatively easy to find three types of products: tooth-tabs (denttabs is the go to product, available at DM stores, packaged in paper bags), toothpaste in glass containers (Ben&Anna is a popular product, available in three flavors, both at Denn’s and Reformhaeuser), and toothpaste-powder, also sold in glass containers. If you are willing to go to Amazon, you can find more products, such as Chewy-Tabs. Our testing for taste and texture yielded mixed results. We both like our toothpaste to be foamy and have a strong (usually minty) flavour to leave the mouth feeling refreshed. One of us struggled with the denttabs, having to google how to go about chewing them until the tab makes a smooth paste. For foam enthusiasts, the experience is disappointing. Almost zero foam, and barely a sense of refreshment, as if one had not even brushed. The Ben&Anna paste did a bit better in the foamy department and also in look and feel, but also here the taste did not have the minty kick we were used to. The powder was the last one we tried and we differed on how we liked the taste (there are many options for taste available, though). But, foamy it was! The one thing that was a bit tricky was knowing how much to put on. We are not sure we got it right. But, hopefully with time, one could learn. Our conclusion? Mixed. On further research into the DentaTabs, we discovered that the lack of foam seems to relate to the absence of sulphates, and we felt reassured that one tablet is enough to do the job. Taking into account the little amount of packaging (they come in a paper bag, and if one buys them from a zero-waste shop, you can even put them in your own container), these definitely do seem to be the best option for the environment. The more we used them, we felt they grew on us. It may, perhaps, just take a bit of time to get used to. It is important to note though: All non-plastic options seem to be quite a bit more expensive than the toothpaste in plastic tubes. The tooth-tabs, for example, come in at just under 5 cents per tab, about 2 times or more than brushing with a regular toothpaste such as Colgate purchased at BIPA.

Foto of the paper bag in which DENTtabs are sold.
No/Low-Plastic Toothbrushes. Somewhat shocked by the sheer number of plastic toothbrushes we seem to be sending to the planet’s landfills, we proceeded to try two no/low-plastic brushes. Many stores in Vienna now offer some versions, mostly bamboo or wood.  We tried a charcoal toothbrush and a bamboo toothbrush, both available in Reformhaus Martin. When testing the charcoal toothbrush, we were baffled by what seemed to be an enormous amount of plastic packaging when this was supposed to be an alternative to plastic toothbrushes. The information on the box reassured us that the packaging was made from bioplastic, just like the toothbrush itself, more eco-friendly than regular plastic, but still with a heavy impact on the environment. The brush itself was impressive. It is rather different to the ones we were used to, the bristles are softer. But, it worked well and felt nice and soft on the gums. Important to note: Charcoal brushes are worth looking out for in that they are much better in not harboring the bacteria that one can often find in the brushes we all use. The bamboo toothbrush impressed us too. Just opening the paper package makes you smile, plus there is a beautiful little flower pattern on the handle. With a preference for firmer bristles, this one felt better to both of us. Note: The bristle is made from castor oil (yes, that is possible), and this is an important feature since many eco brushes end up with plastic for the bristle, so it is worth paying attention to. Previous experiences with bamboo toothbrushes suggest that the regular plastic ones do seem to last longer. Once again, we are finding that plastic seems to be the cheaper option. On the other hand, let’s not forget that we are supposed to change our toothbrush every three months or so, something that many of us tend to forget. Maybe it’s a good thing that the eco-friendly bamboo brush brittle deteriorates quickly and reminds us to go ahead and buy a new one?

Foto of one of the bamboo brushes. Here, the bristle is made from castor oil.
In summary: Yes, we do have options here in Vienna. We can switch from plastic toothbrushes and plastic-packed toothpaste to non-plastic versions. Billa or Hofer are not great, though. It mostly involves a trip to a Denn, a Reformmarkt, or similar store. The products require some getting used to and they are more expensive. Plus, they leave us with questions. How much more environmentally-friendly is a glass container from a plastic one? Will the DentaTabs protect my teeth well enough? Does the need to replace the bamboo toothbrush more frequently outweigh its more sustainable material? Sometimes we find these questions confusing and online resources often reflect different views and opinions. In the end, we must do our best with the information we have. And we do find the amount of plastic waste caused by dental hygiene products overwhelming. We want to investigate the matter of toothbrushes further. And we can’t deny that the DentaTabs use significantly less packaging than regular toothpaste. All in, flexibility and compromise may be important on the path forward. Stay tuned and share with us your own experiences and choices!