Posts Tagged ‘waste’

Idea #6 – community food swap

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Every community ought to have a place where food can be left for other people. The food might be food that one realises one isn’t going to use before it is past its best, or it might be food bought impulsively, say, and no use will be made of it in that household. Rather than recycling food that has been wasted, food ought to be eaten, and this would be a good way for food to be eaten by people who would like to eat it.

Idea #4 – paying people to recycle

Friday, May 21st, 2010

I don’t believe in the government overcompensating for the rest of the population when it comes to positive change. Whether the aim is to send less to landfill or to create a population that is not obese, I don’t see why money should ever seriously come into changing people’s habits.

With recycling, I think targets should be met by educating people about the facts of landfills rather than by bribing them to recycle more. Perhaps the issue of landfills filling up quickly is one considered important enough to use money to change people’s habits, but I think if something is considered important by people they will act on it.

As with any ideas of tackling obesity by paying people to lose weight, increasing the reuse and recycling of materials isn’t an idea dreamt up for the fun of it. It is in our own interests to do something about our landfill situation, so why do we have to even consider being paid for it?

It’s one thing to make recycling easier so that targets can be met, but handing out money is well beyond making it easier. We should take some responsibility for our lives (and environment).

(Incidentally, is anybody using the phrase “nanny state” in response to the suggestion of being paid to recycle more, or is it only used when there’s no suggestion of monetary incentives for a change in our behaviours?)

Waste water recycling

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Perhaps 3 weeks ago, I ran a bath. It was far too much, and it always feels uneasy draining litres of clean water away like that. So I got the bucket that we keep in the kitchen for our recycling and filled it up with the unwanted bath water. I took the bucket outside, but didn’t know what to do with the water, with my growing season not yet started. I poured it into the only watering can we have, and it filled right up to the top because it wasn’t empty to start with. I got another bucket of water from the bath and just left it outside. I can’t even remember what I did with it in the end, but I expect I poured it onto the grass.

That made me seriously think about grey water recycling. I was already aware of the practice of reusing water, but this is the first time I have seriously considered implementing it in my life, despite frequent fantasies of living in a self-reliant house of my own, complete with a composting toilet and efficient water recycling.

We have a washing machine, and we have a bowl in the kitchen sink; we have a shower, but I really only have baths; and we have a conventional toilet, with no modifications to reduce the amount of water that is used to flush it (I don’t know how many litres of water it uses). Finally, we have a garden that has been kind of neglected over winter (since around August/September, actually), but I will definitely be doing something with it this spring/summer, so will have a need for water/a place to recycle water.

So, I am thinking that I will use gravity to transfer my bath water through a length of hosepipe into buckets outside. I am interested in setting up a basic filtering system for this used water so that it will have less debris in it before going onto the plants. I am thinking this: a bucket with a tap filled with a relatively small layer of gravel with a much bigger layer of fine sand on top. The bucket will have a coarse mesh screen through which the water will go first, and the tap will have a filter to filter anything that managed to get through the sand.

Once my bath water is drained into the buckets, I will tip it into the bucket of sand and gravel, which should be set up in such a way that the water can drain into another bucket. I think I will enjoy this setting up this small greywater recycling project. I am going to do a trial before investing in a dustbin and a dustbin amount of sand to see how it works. I was passing an Oxfam shop a few days ago and noticed that they now sell the buckets that one can buy as an Oxfam Unwrapped gift. They cost £6.99, I believe, and they have a tap, so one of those will be ideal.

If it is successful, I will definitely filter all of my bath water during the growing season when I know that I will be watering the plants later in the day; I am aware that greywater should not be stored. I am going to try to be more aware of the water I am wasting, in addition to reusing the water that I do need to use, too, because it is too easy to measure how much we are recycling and completely forget that it might be better to not use the resource in the first place.

I know that any used water that can’t be reused in the garden could be used to flush the toilet, but I don’t think this is going to be the easiest thing to implement. Less easy than working out a setup for the filtering, yes, because not everybody who uses the toilet will be bothered with using a bucket to flush the toilet, and visitors might think we are strange. Also, using a bucket to flush the toilet isn’t going to be anywhere near as fun as watching the once grey water filter through the sand.

If the water I use to have a bath is used twice, that has got to be a less bad thing than being used only only once. I invite comments.

Recycling organic waste

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

On Wednesday, I went to a breakfast seminar hosted by Blake Lapthorn in Seacourt Tower. It was one of a series of such breakfasts, and a man from Agrivert was doing the talking.

He was talking about waste, and he spoke of some interesting things. I knew whilst I was there that I wouldn’t be able to properly articulate the thoughts and ideas from this seminar unless I did it immediately; I didn’t, so I can’t. I will make a list of thoughts and ideas, instead of trying to generate paragraphs.

  1. Agrivert deals with organic waste.
  2. One method Agrivert uses is anaerobic digestion.
  3. James, the man giving the talk, said that we – the people who create household waste – don’t like to see or smell the waste we create, we dislike the possibility of having the waste we create being weighed in order to tax us for creating too much, yet we have no problem creating endless amounts of waste.
  4. There is heat and electricity produced through anaerobic digestion. The heat could be put to use if there was a new housing development planned near to an anaerobic digester by being pumped to the houses and used for underfloor heating.
  5. Digestate is also produced. This is nutrient rich.
  6. There are 2 million AD plants in India, James said. There are far fewer in Britain.
  7. People in rural parts of some countries can use domestic plants, into which they can put the waste from their animals and get gas on tap for cooking.
  8. There is a prison in Rwanda that has a plant. It has reduced its energy requirements from firewood, deals with its sewage, and produces a compost to go onto their gardens.

I think there is great potential for this technology to work on a medium scale, with hospitals, prisons and schools dealing with their own waste and reducing their reliance on fossil fuels for energy requirements. Such establishments could then also grow some of their own food to deal with the resultant digestate.

Idea #2 – Reason washing machine

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

I just watched a video of Andrew Reason talking about the washing machine he invented. The drum slides open and you just drop the washing into the drum. It has a 10kg capacity, yet has standard European dimensions. When the washing is put into the drum, the washing machine weighs the load, and only uses that amount of water. It has some other clever details, too.

Packaging and Kenco

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

Kenco has new packaging for some of its coffee. As well as selling coffee in glass jars with a plastic lid, they also sell it in plastic bags. These bags of coffee are referred to as “Eco Refill”. Basically, Kenco is saying that these bags reduce the amount of packaging used per gram of coffee; that they’ve used the word “eco” suggests they think this is a good thing that will save the world. I think the use of the word “eco” is misleading and helps to misrepresent things, because it doesn’t seem to really mean anything. It’s just a word we have come to associate with seemingly positive actions for the environment.

The first thing that occurred to me when I saw the advert for the first time is that a composition of plastic and foil is not going to be better in any way than a glass jar. I haven’t seen the inside of one of these bags, but I am almost certain that it will be a plastic/foil composition, because foil is used in packaging where the manufacturer wants to keep the product “fresh”. Composites like this are difficult to recycle. A glass jar, however, is not difficult to recycle, and can even be reused.

On its website, Kenco has an “about” section, in which it asks and answers four questions about the bags. The first question they ask is “how can a bag be more eco-friendly than a glass jar?”, and they say it is because the bags are more efficient to produce and, compared to the glass jars, ”send 97% less waste to landfill because the lids are not widely recyclable”. It isn’t clear to me if they are saying that the bag uses (97%) less material than the lid uses.

They are arguing that the bag produces less waste than the lid does. Assuming that people tend not to recycle things that are difficult to recycle (that is, things that aren’t collected by the local council), it is definitely better to have the bag thrown away instead of having the lid thrown away.

However, if the lid is the problem, why not make a glass lid for the glass jar? That way, the whole thing is recyclable. I don’t understand why they would develop something less recyclable – a composite – in response to this problem. Had they started to sell their coffee in something like a Kilner jar, where both the lid and the jar itself are made of glass, they would have been able to claim that the coffee’s packaging doesn’t create waste at all because they are reusable; when we say “reduce, reuse, recycle”, “reuse” comes before “recycle” for a reason. Had they started to use Kilner jars rather than developing this non-solution, they would have had to start a scheme where the jars could be returned to them, because there is probably only a certain number of Kilner jars one can use, unless one makes preserves for a living. For returning the jars, the customer would receive some money back. Presumably, when jars are returned, Kenco would only need to wash and sterilise them before refilling with more coffee and sticking on a new label. I suspect that any such idea would have been dismissed because it is easier to just make a plastic bag with the colour green and the word “eco” on it than to set up a returns scheme.

“But surely a glass jar is more recyclable?”, Kenco asks on its website, before citing Defra on the fact that 40% of glass isn’t being recycled (in 2009). Kenco appears to have good intentions when it says that it’d like it if everybody recycled their glass jars, but it recognises that not everybody does, therefore the new packaging is a way for everybody to reduce their waste. I still think that finding a way to reduce the material wasted when the lid is thrown away (by making a glass lid) would have been a better option, and that this new packaging is an insufficient half measure that is probably only for the purposes of greenwashing the company rather than for actually making a positive difference in the world.

Kenco says that it has partnered with a company to recycle these new bags. It says the bags “can be turned into fun new items like bags or pencil cases, or even umbrellas”. The recycling of these bags depends upon customers sending them to the recycling company. Two pence per bag is donated to “your choice of charity”. I really can’t think of a reason why this is genuinely better than developing a glass product that is 100% reusable and recyclable (with a returns scheme to go with it), when the two options both involve trying to make a better product and setting up a way of reusing/recycling that product.

I think that Kenco might have decided on this new packaging because it means the company is seen to be doing something positive, even if it proves to be not as positive as it could be. And, by handing over the recycling of its packaging to another company, Kenco is absolving itself of its packaging’s life cycle. This is akin to throwing something away and not realising there is no “away”; by producing this flawed packaging, Kenco thinks it is improving its profile by having an “eco-friendly” product, but apparently isn’t too bothered about what happens to the packaging afterwards (who really wants to buy a bag or an umbrella that has Kenco’s logo all over it, or maybe that is the whole point).

Overall, I think this new packaging is just using the potential naivety of some people who are eager to do their bit to supposedly save the planet, by using the word “eco”, talking about helping people to reduce their waste, and having a charity element in the recycling process. If we, as consumers, can be more questioning and understand that there is more to sustainability than creating unrecyclable products as a solution to a small problem with a good product we will see that Kenco is using greenwash.

If it is not greenwash, Kenco, employ an institution to carry out research on all aspects of  the sustainability of this new packaging and other alternatives. It is no use to focus only on reducing the energy needed to produce the packaging if the packaging can only serve its purpose once before being turned into an umbrella. It must be better to spend as much energy as necessary to produce packaging that can be reused for its original purpose indefinitely.

Ideally, all produce would be sold loose, with no packaging at all (and the customer takes their own packaging to be refilled). It is clear, though, that loose branded coffee would be difficult to sell, so the best solution I can come up with for Kenco to reduce packaging waste is this: Kenco should develop a glass jar with a glass lid, then work out the cost of the coffee and the cost of the glass packaging. They could sell jars of coffee with two different prices – one price includes the cost of the packaging, and the other price is just for the coffee. When somebody wants to buy a jar of Kenco coffee, they take their empty jar with them and buy the jar of coffee that doesn’t include packaging in the price, handing over their empty jar when they pay. If a person doesn’t have an empty jar to return, they should buy the jar of coffee that includes the packaging in the price.