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Archive for the ‘Recycling’ Category

Greenest Chelsea Yet

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It’s that time again, and the Chelsea Flower Show, “the ultimate event in the gardening year”, is in full swing. The show, flagship event of the Royal Horticultural Society, is being loudly promoted as the ‘greenest’ ever. Mind you, they seem to say that every year. They’re certainly placing a great deal of emphasis on things like recycling, reuse and waste avoidance, with exhibitors incorporating rainwater collection, solar power and permeable paving in their projects. The RHS itself has laid down strict environmental guidelines:

  • All wood products on sale must be from sustainable sources
  • Patio heaters have been banned
  • Glass and plastic in restaurants and food outlets must be recycled, along with at least half the carpet used at the show
  • The use of peat has been banned

Show organiser Bob Sweet, who has taken to carrying a camera around the displays with him so he can photograph what is being thrown into skips, said there was a much greater focus on environmental concerns this year. For the first time exhibitors have been asked to list where their plants had come from, in order to ensure ethical sourcing.

Traditionally, plants from the exhibits and show gardens have always been sold off at the end, often at knockdown prices, but this idea is being extended this year. Community gardens, city farms, school gardens and allotments associations could get their hands on free plants and materials, thanks to a scheme set up by Good Gifts, the ethical gifts catalogue. The company has recently negotiated with the RHS to run a recycling depot for gardens at the show, and expects items like plants, turf, bricks, stone, paving, breeze blocks, plant pots and timber to be available.

The RHS has responded to the challenge of eliminating the use of plastic bags by replacing them at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show with eco-friendly fully-compostible carriers made with GM-free non-food grade corn starch. 350,000 bags, supplied by small family-owned company Ecosac in Shropshire, will be distributed to visitors throughout the five day event. One does wonder exactly how many of those bags will be composted.

All very commendable, but why has it taken so long to get this far? I know gardeners tend to be traditional types, especially the stuffed shirts and blazers that run the RHS, but really!


Written by Pete Smith

May 22, 2008 at 12:23 pm

Moan Of The Month

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Recycling crops up quite regularly as a moan topic. Here in the London Borough of Bromley, cultural heartland of the People’s Republic of Suburbia, subtle changes are being made to our recycling regime. We’ve got used to a system whereby paper and cardboard go in one box, cans and plastic in another, glass in a third. We’re now being told that we no longer have to separate glass, cans and plastic, it all goes in one big lump to the recycling facility. We don’t need to worry our little heads about the whys and wherefores.

The latest edition of Bromley’s newsletter ‘Waste and Recycling News‘ has some interesting insights into the Borough’s recycling processes. Under the heading ‘Tackling Climate Change’ we’re told:

“The more we recycle, the less is sent to landfill and the smaller our carbon footprint becomes. But recycling reduces our carbon emissions in other ways. For instance, it takes less energy to make goods out of recycled material. This is especially true for glass bottles made from used glass bottles”

However, in the adjacent article ‘Getting Things Sorted’ we’re told:

“The glass is sent for processing into aggregate substitute (for things like bedding-in paving)”

The truth is that Bromley doesn’t give a monkey’s what happens to our rubbish so long as it doesn’t end up in landfill. The Borough is less than forthright about why things work as they do. It portrays the new ‘all in one box’ system as quick and convenient, implying that it’s doing us a favour by introducing it. In reality, the change has been driven by the new processes at Veolia’s recently-upgraded £1m sorting facility at Rainham, Essex. Bromley presents glass recycling as a theoretically endless process that saves energy to combat climate change, but in fact our glass is reused just the once, as a building material. It may not be landfill, but motorway foundations come pretty close.

As the customer, Bromley has no say in how its waste is recycled. Nor, apparently, does it have much interest.

Written by Pete Smith

April 23, 2008 at 3:15 pm


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SurvivalistsIt’s funny how words’ meanings can change over time. I was browsing idly through our bookshelves the other day, when I came across an interesting little volume called ‘The Survivalists’. Nothing to do with Jerry Ahern‘s interminable macho saga, Patrick Rivers’ 1975 book is a serious review of the ‘alternative’ environmental movement in the mid 1970s. From the blurb on the back cover:

“It has become fashionable to write and talk about the environment crisis: about the Earth’s fast dwindling resources of food, raw materials and energy; about Doomsday. But it is all talk: life goes on as before.”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“Beneath the veneer of the Establishment there exists an Alternative of people ‘living the revolution now’…. Some are escaping to rural self-sufficiency, others to communes; some join non-violent revolutionary groups; the technically-minded begin experimenting in alternative technologies; some set off to fight world poverty; others do all this and more”

The people Rivers describes would nowadays be called ‘greens’ or ‘environmentalists’. Today, ‘survivalist’ conjures up a particular set of images: rugged individualists, preparing for TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) by stockpiling supplies and weapons in a remote hideout, sometimes with some form of extreme political agenda. For an amusing glance at the survivalist ‘sub-culture’, watch Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekend episode ‘Head For The Hills‘. But there’s a wide spectrum of preparedness, and a whole range of survival scenarios to prepare for, from Hurricane Katrina to getting stranded in the snow on the way home from work. There is a growing awareness that disasters don’t just happen to other people, and a realisation that our ‘civilisation’ is much more fragile and precarious than we used to think.

“A dedicated ‘conserver’ does not generate much garbage in the modern sense. Consider the following ultra-frugal conserver practices:
Kitchen scraps: Use every available scrap for animal feed or for compost.
Paper and cardboard: saved for re-use as stationary or for fire kindling, insulation.
Bottles, jars, plastic jugs, and plastic bags: washed and saved for re-use.
Candle stubs and soap scraps: save to periodically combine and re-use.
Steel and aluminum cans should all be carefully washed and sorted, for re-use as containers or raw material for various metal projects.
After being boiled for soup, most bones can be ground to make bone meal, or burned to make lime.
Scrap metal of all descriptions should be sorted and stored.
Wood ashes and fat scraps should be saved for soap making.
Twine, string and thread of all kinds can be saved for re-use.
Clothes worn beyond the point of usefulness should be saved for bandage material, quilts, rags, and insulation.
Electronics beyond economical repair should be cannibalized for their metal hardware and individual components.”

An excerpt from the manifesto of some low-impact hippy permaculture commune in West Wales? It ticks all the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ boxes. It’s actually a recent piece of advice on post-collapse garbage disposal at, a preparedness web site that claims over 55,000 visits a week worldwide. If you can see past the ‘gun nut’ discussions, this is an wonderful resource for anyone thinking about ‘off-grid’ living, growing their own food, or just planning for a winter power-cut.

A common factor in survivalist philosophy is that our present-day consumerist lifestyle is unsustainable. Where Rivers’ survivalists and today’s greens seek to modify our behaviour so as to avert, or at least moderate, catastrophe, the typical Survivalblog subscriber is planning to maintain as much of his lifestyle as possible WTSHTF. The conclusion to the above advice reads like this:

Of course, most of these extreme measures should be reserved for postTEOTWAWKI. The value of your time must be considered! Taking these measures now would probably alienate your spouse. Your family and neighbors would also soon notice your growing heap of stored “recyclables” which they would surely label garbage. It might not be to long until the fire marshal was called to condemn your stockpile as a fire hazard. Unless, of course you could convince them that all you were doing was “reducing your carbon footprint”.

Business as usual.

Written by Pete Smith

February 5, 2008 at 2:51 pm

Recycling For All

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Recycling for all

Well, not quite all. Here in sunny Bromley, capital of the People’s Republic of Suburbia, a trial scheme to compost kitchen waste is being hailed as a roaring success. 6000 homes in six neighbourhoods of the London Borough have been selected to take part in the six-month scheme which began in September.

Participants in the trial can put all their normal food waste, such as fruit and vegetable peelings, teabags and eggshells, in a separate weekly rubbish collection. Food material that isn’t suitable for home composting, such as cooked food, meat fish and bones, is also collected and treated in a high temperature composting process.

In the first six weeks of the trial, 88 tonnes of organic waste were collected.

Bromley Borough emphasises that this is not intended to replace home composting, which is still the most cost-effective and environmentally sound waste disposal method, but may not be possible in many properties. If successful and rolled out Borough-wide, it has the potential to reduce landfill significantly, and reduce the risk of collections moving from a weekly to a fortnightly timetable.

Now when are they going to do something about all the plastic we have to send to landfill because they refuse to recycle it?

Written by Pete Smith

November 23, 2007 at 3:35 pm

The Hijacking of Live Earth

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There’s been a lot of disagreement about the Live Earth project, its motivation and usefulness. There’s always room for a bit more.

Off-Grid journalist Brendan Montague tells the tale of how British environmentalists who first conceived the idea of a climate change concert were forced into the margins and their attempts to reduce carbon emissions replaced with a series of hopeless gimmicks.
They claim Live Earth became a huge PR-driven machine with multi-national companies who have disputable green credentials – like Smart cars, Pepsi and Philips – jumping on the green bandwagon. With Al Gore, eager to maintain the momentum of his ‘Inconvenient Truth’ vehicle, also clambering on board, the project became “a monster with the organizers handing over £1million just to off-set the carbon being generated by 100 acts flying to seven cities”.

“The Twisted Path To Live Earth”

Written by Pete Smith

July 8, 2007 at 1:06 pm

WWF “One Planet Living” Campaign

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Fresh from slagging off the Worldwide Fund For Nature for their hypocritical approach towards waste and recycling, it seemed only fair to give them a bit of credit for some of the good work they do. As part of their ‘One Planet Living‘ campaign, WWF have revived the idea of the ecological footprint, which gives an indication of the extent to which individual lifestyles have exceeded the planet’s carrying capacity. In recent years, our obsession with greenhouse gases and climate change has seen the ecological footprint go right out of fashion, replaced by the carbon footprint, which isn’t really a relative footprint at all, but an absolute measure of our individual emissions.

At you can measure your own ecological footprint by answering searching questions about things like your eating and travel habits, and whether you insulate your house. Like most such questionnaires, the multiple-choice categories are pretty vague, and the results are probably not particularly accurate. However, what this kind of footprinting can do is remind us that we all have a share of just the one planet, which can get overlooked when our consumption is measured purely in terms of tons of CO2. It also emphasises that carbon emissions are far from the only measure of sustainability. What use having a zero carbon ‘footprint’ if half the planet was trashed just to grow the ‘sustainable’ fuels for my energy needs? What about water? Or biodiversity?

It’s not just about carbon, stupid.

WWF Gives Wrong Message On Plastic

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WWF plastic wrapper

This morning, the latest copy of Worldwide Fund For Nature’s supporter newsletter, WWF Action, flopped through the letterbox. This is a special ‘Campaign For One Planet Living’ edition, with lots of helpful hints and tips on reducing your ecological footprint.

Sadly, the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ mantra seems to been missed by whoever made the decision to mail the magazine in a polythene bag. In common with many others, my local authority will only accept plastic for recycling in the form of bottles; not jars, boxes, bags or film, just bottles. This possibility is grudgingly acknowledged in a small note on the back of the bag. I am urged to recycle the polythene, but if this is not supported by my local council, I should post it back to the company in Norwich that made it, and they will recycle it for me.

How crap is that? A leading environmental NGO posts its stuff in plastic bags. Recipients can’t ‘Reduce’ because they have no control over it, apart from cancelling their membership. They can’t ‘Reuse’ because the plastic is so flimsy it’s no good for anything useful once it’s been opened, even if it survived the postal service intact. They can only ‘Recycle’ by posting the trash back where it came from. More cost, more waste.

Written by Pete Smith

June 21, 2007 at 10:11 am

Posted in Recycling, Waste