pH pHollies: A last look at the Royal Society for Arts’ design awards

duncefinalIt’s 11 pm — do you know what the pH of your water supply is? No? Then you are about to be in big trouble with the UK’s Royal Society for the Arts.

Yes, I’ve been looking at the RSA’s student design contest winners again, and I’m going to rag on their eco-pretensions one more time. What can I say? I love an incompetent environmentalist with a British accent.

This last project, called “Keep It Neutral,” shows people the pH value of the liquids they pour down the drain. Everybody gets a gauge to stick in the bottom of the sink. It’s basically an aquarium test kit ($4.79 at PetCo), but for your sink. The project notes explain that if you dump wine (?!?) or soda, the gauge will turn orange for acid. If you dump ammonia it will turn blue, indicating an alkali.

Winner of the Tubifex award.

PetCo test kit: Winner of the Tubifex award.

Does anyone need this? After 7.5 minutes of research, I have concluded: NO. While the water supply is vulnerable to people dumping stuff, the problem isn’t lemon juice or wine,* it’s prescription medicines. Drugs are in the water everywhere in the US; they hurt fish and frogs; and “human cells fail to grow normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of certain drugs” according to a 2008 Associated Press investigation. It’s a big problem.

“Keep it Neutral” doesn’t address any of that, preferring to focus on the pH hazards of lemon juice, salt water and the aforementioned wine.** But it doesn’t say what we should do if our gauges start lighting up the color wheel. Here’s the whole explanation from the RSA’s winners’ announcement:

ph project

Click here for slow-loading PDF excitement.

None of my aquarium test kits ever turned those attractive rainbow colors. I think the pie is a lie. 

Then there’s the delivery method. These gauges are disposable paper rings you punch out of… free booklets! How modern! Just how many booklets are we distributing? How much 35-lb cardstock will they require? Do these kids all have uncles in the paper business?

Even the awards’ organizers are inveterate paper-munchers. Check out the home page:
rsasubmitYou’re supposed to submit through the mail?! Oh well, at least all those discarded flyers, booklets and application packets will give British DIYers some extra trash to upcycle. Maybe they can turn the pH rings into… “pHlarn!”

* Seriously, the project’s creator thinks that somebody, somewhere, might one day just up and pour out some wine. This is why environmentalism is hamstrung — it’s out of touch with the people.
** As a matter of fact, I did once — ONCE — see someone discard wine. My brother wouldn’t drink this one bottle because he said it was skunky, even though nobody else at the table thought it was skunky. But now that I think about it, I never saw him actually pour the wine down the drain. Hmmm…


2 responses to “pH pHollies: A last look at the Royal Society for Arts’ design awards

  1. “The Middlesex University” while not exactly a fictional university, is one of those institutions cobbled together as a result of numerous attempts by parsimonious administrations to rationalise a rather haphazard aggregation of technical colleges, colleges of further education, art colleges, and polytechnics. The resulting conglomeration was stylised as “Universities” to improve their image and gain funding. No doubt there is some method of maintaining academic standards, but this, as you have demonstrated, appears to be uneven.
    The search for wealthy students to finance the universities ambitions has let them far afield, so on the official web site for the institution – – the first picture you see is of a building in Malta, which looks a little exotic, whereas the building in Hendon see street view –,55.163105&sspn=0.009793,0.021093&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=NW4+4BT,+United+Kingdom&t=m&ll=51.589709,-0.228481&spn=0.025596,0.054932&z=14&iwloc=A – is much less pretentious.
    I like your web site, keep up the good work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s