Happy New Year 2008 to you all

Happy New Year 2008

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers, friends and associates, as well as our enemies, a very happy & prosperous New Year 2008.

WARNING! - Do NOT Reuse Plastic Water Bottles

Refilling and reusing plastic bottles can release toxic cancer-causing chemicals and also cause bacterial infections

Most types of plastic bottles are safe to reuse at least a few times if properly washed with hot soapy water. However, how clean can we ever get plastic? I have used military water bottles of the plastic kind before but found that the plastic more often than not leaves a taste in the later and I am not sure how clean I can get them even in very hot water. The hotter they get washed, I found, the more the water tasted funny afterwards.

But recent revelations about chemicals in bottles of certain types of plastic, such as Lexan, are enough to scare even the most committed environmentalists from reusing them (or buying them in the first place).

Then again why anyone, unless there is no other option, buy bottled water in the first place beats me anyway, especially if we consider that a great deal of bottled water is nothing but packaged tap water in the first place. Why would you want to pay for something that you can get for “free”, even if you are out and about. In public parks and other places there you will find public drinking fountains and it should be possible to fill up your own, ideally proper safe plastic, such as the military canteens (I personally don't like the taste of them too much), or metal, water bottle.

Chemicals May Contaminate Food and Drinks in Reused Plastic Bottles

Studies have indicated that food and drinks stored in such containers – including those ubiquitous clear Nalgene water bottles hanging from just about every hiker’s backpack – can contain trace amount of Bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic chemical that interferes with the body’s natural hormonal messaging system. How lovely – NOT! What next?

Reused Plastic Bottles Can Leach Toxic Chemicals

The same studies found that repeated re-use of such bottles - which get dinged up through normal wear and tear and while being washed - increases the chance that chemicals will leak out of the tiny cracks and crevices that develop over time. According to the Environment California Research & Policy Center, which reviewed 130 studies on the topic, BPA has been linked to breast and uterine cancer, an increased risk of miscarriage, and decreased testosterone levels. Well, I guess here is the answer to my “what next?” question.

BPA can also wreak havoc on children’s developing systems. (Parents beware: Most baby bottles and sippy cups are made with plastics containing BPA.) Most experts agree that the amount of BPA that could leach into food and drinks through normal handling is probably very small, but there are concerns about the cumulative effect of small doses.

Even Plastic Water and Soda Bottles Should Not Be Reused

Health advocates also recommend not reusing bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET or PETE, including most disposable water, soda and juice bottles.

According to The Green Guide, such bottles may be safe for one-time use, but re-use should be avoided because studies indicate they may leach DEHP - another probable human carcinogen - when they are in less-than-perfect condition.

In addition to that, e.g. carcinogens, the other problem is that such bottles cannot be 100% sterilized and bacteria may accumulate over use and time and could really seriously harm the drinker. This, in fact, is one of the greatest concerns about the reuse of PET bottles. If the water is too hot it may melt or deform the bottle and, although no study seems to have been conducted on that as yet, who is to say that there is not a further release of some chemicals occurring when such heat is applied.

Millions of Plastic Bottles End Up in Landfills

The good news is that such bottles are easy to recycle; just about every municipal recycling system will take them back. But using them is nonetheless far from environmentally responsible: The nonprofit Berkeley Ecology Center found that the manufacture of PET uses large amounts of energy and resources and generates toxic emissions and pollutants that contribute to global warming. And even though PET bottles can be recycled, millions find their way into landfills every day in the U.S. alone.

Incinerating Plastic Bottles Releases Toxic Chemicals

Another bad choice for water bottles, reusable or otherwise, is polyvinyl chloride or PVC, which can leach hormone-disrupting chemicals into the liquids they are storing and will release synthetic carcinogens into the environment when incinerated. Plastic Polystyrene or PS, has been shown to leach styrene, a probable human carcinogen, into food and drinks as well. Not that I have, I must admit, as yet seen water bottles made of polystyrene.

Safe Reusable Bottles Do Exist

Safer choices include bottles crafted from safer HDPE, low-density polyethylene (LDPE) or polypropylene (PP). Consumers may have a hard time finding water bottles made out of LDPE or PP, however. Aluminum bottles, such as those made by SIGG and sold in many natural food and natural product markets, and stainless steel water bottles are also safe choices and can be reused repeatedly and eventually, in the final end, recycled. The aluminum one, we must remember, must be coated on the inside with a special sealant, often this appears to be gold-based, to stop contamination by the heavy metal which aluminum is but aluminum is, as mentioned in the article on aluminum recycling, fully recyclable, as is, obviously, stainless steel. Such bottles, however, should last for many years if not generations even. Less environmental impact and another reason to invest in some of them.

Looks like all in all the best advice could be: bring your own bottle of aluminum or stainless steel and also bring along a stainless steel cup, for the polystyrene ones certainly cannot be recommended.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007

N.B. I hope to be able to bring you, the readers, in due course, product reviews on the SIGG bottle(s) and hopefully also on one or the others.

Being 'green' is now a socially acceptable norm

The main motivation for an environmentally friendly lifestyle is guilt about harming the environment, reveals a new report published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The survey, 2007 Attitudes and Behaviour Toward the Environment, carried out by the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB), polled 3,600 people in England on topics including general attitudes toward the environment, energy, water efficiency, and recycling.

When asked about waste, 87% said they give away things they no longer want to charity shops or friends and family, and 78% said they sometimes reuse empty bottles, jars, envelopes and paper. All I can say here to this is “let's hope that they answered truthfully”. Many people, let's face it, when presented with such questions in a survey, especially if conducted by pollsters in person, will answer what they think the people want to hear.

"The most encouraging finding in this survey”, said Environment Minister, Joan Ruddock, “is that the majority of the people believe that it is up to individuals to accept responsibility by making lifestyle changes,".

"This is vitally important as 40% of climate change emissions come from our actions as individuals."

So we are being told. I mean the story that 40% of climate change emissions come from our actions as individuals. What if whatever we do does not have all that much to do with climate change at all and while I certainly agree that we have lots to answer for – such as the destruction of the word's forests, the pollution of rivers, lakes, and seas, the overfishing of our oceans, and other such things – and we must reduce our overuse of resources, which will mean reusing and recycling, and such, and our impact on th environment per se, we must also prepare for the possibility that climate change is not man-made and that it is a natural phenomenon, which it indeed is.

If there is just the slightest chance that we cannot stop it then we must prepare on two levels, namely we must reduce our impact on the environment by acting more Earth-friendly but we must also, at the same time, make preparations for the possibility that we cannot and would never ever have had the chance, to avert climate change.

To all intents and purposes it does appear as if the Earth has gone through warning periods about every thousand years and also cooling periods have followed a similar pattern. What we are seeing could be the return of just one of those natural warming periods and if that is the case than, although we must use this as an opportunity to reduce our environmental impact, we cannot stop it and will have to prepare to live with it.

According to the report, half the respondents said they never leave lights on and 72% said they have invested in energy-saving light bulbs over the last 5 years.

Yes, right, and on an airfield nearby a squadron of pigs is preparing for take-off. While I may believe those people that they may have bought an energy-saving light bulb or two, the claim of over half of them asked that they never – read it – never – leave the lights one I just do no buy. How about the standby modes on their TV, PCs, etc.? As said above; they answered what they thought the interviewers wanted to hear. Those that said they left lights on, etc. are the ones who have been the real honest ones, in my opinion.

It will still take a long road before the people, in general, will accept to make changes and there is only one way to get people to make changes. What is that way? Well, it certainly is not taxing them if they don't. Incentives must be provided for people to reuse and recycle, to use alternative energy and low-energy lights, etc.

Let us start with recycling here. Why is the UK not paying those that bring aluminum cans to the recycling centers as it is done in, for instance, the United States? I know the answer is simple to this; it has to do with profits. The less you have to pay out the more you make. Greed even in the business of saving the environment. However, if an incentive was there, as it used to be with the deposit on glass bottles, the cans would soon no longer clutter up countryside and litter bins. Many child in the 60's and 70's of the last century made good pocket money from collecting the Coca Cola bottles and others that people could not be bothered to take back. I certainly did as a boy.

The survey also covered modes of transport for getting to work, school or college, or going shopping.

Overall, for journeys of one mile or less 45% said they drove, 6% said they took public transport and 46% said that they walked or cycled.

For journeys of three miles or less 58% said they drove, 9% took public transport and 28% said that they walked or cycled.

All those cyclists must be invisible for I sure am not seeing them anywhere. I do see the car parks at the local supermarkets, however, full to the brim. The cycle stands, however, are mostly empty. Does that speak volumes or not? It just proves how valuable such surveys are.

The poll is the sixth in a series of surveys that Defra and its predecessors have conducted into attitudes towards the environment since 1986.

"Government is determined to make it possible for people to choose greener lifestyles and to provide advice and encouragement through our Act on CO2 Campaign", Environment Minister, Joan Ruddock, said.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007

Reuse, Recycle your Aluminum Foil

If you happen to use aluminum foil in your kitchen please consider cleaning the shiny crinkles in order to use them again. Alternatively, recycle this foil, after cleaning off any baked-on food, fact, and such, together with your aluminum soft drinks cans, if your council has an aluminum recycling facility.

Producing aluminum is very resource intensive. Mining bauxite, in addition to that, is extremely gruelling to the environment.

The good thing is that aluminum is 100% recyclable and can be reworked indefinitely without degrading in quality, while plastics, for instance, diminished in quality each time that it is recycles. Secondary aluminum, therefore, is a highly sought after commodity.

Furthermore, according to the U.S. Department of State's Aluminum Task Force, recycled aluminum takes as little as 5% of the energy needed to make virgin aluminum.

According to the Aluminum Association Americans throw away enough aluminum every 3 months to rebuild the entire commercial air fleet of the United States.

This fact alone, methinks, should encourage us, wherever possible, obviously, to recycle aluminum cans, aluminum foil and other aluminum goods.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007

The Bicycle – The World's Most Energy Efficient Vehicle, probably!

I know that I am always on about bicycles and also as to how efficient are as a means of mobility, but...

Recently the WorldWatch Institute published some intriguing figures on cycling. The compared the energy used per passenger-mile (calories) and found that a bicycle needed only 35 calories, whereas a car expended a whopping 1,860 with bus- and train travels falling about midway between, and walking, surprisingly, still took three times as many calories as riding a bike the same distance.

They also looked at a measurement called: ‘Persons per hour that one meter-width-equivalent right-of-way can carry’. In this case Rail scored tops with 4,000 persons, but ‘autos in mixed traffic’ still managed the worse rating with only 170 people. Bikes did pretty well, relative to cars, achieving 1,500 persons per hour.

This is the sort of impact that Critical Mass rides around the planet try to demonstrate on a regular basis.

The stats also inferred that cycling contributes to a nation’s health.

For example, they found – of which I am not surprised – that only 1% of urban travel in the US is by bicycle, a country with 30.6% of adults considered obese. This contrasted with the Netherlands where 28% of urban travel was via a bike, and only 10% were obese. I assume that the Dutch are either on a very lean diet (and no they are not) or that cycling must have a lot to do with this. In fact I am sure that it has.

I am surprised, in fact, that is it ONLY 28% of urban travel in the Netherlands that is done by bicycle. The amount of bikes you see in Amsterdam and elsewhere I would have guessed the figure to be much higher. In Amsterdam it is rather easier to get run over by a bike than by a car. This is also due to the fact that they call their cycle paths “vietspads” (sp) and to the dumb English like me with no idea of Dutch this means foot path, does it not? Well, walk on those at your peril.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007

Funding for Tyre Recycling

A grant of more than £130,000 (over $ 250,000) has been pumped – pardon the pun – into a London-based tyre recycling facility in order to boost the disposal of used tyres in Britain.

The Enhance Capital Fund, which is the support service for green enterprises in London, announced the grant to London Tyre Recycling in the middle of December 2007.

The money will be used for equipment to shred tyres and reprocess them into rubber chips that can be used to manufacture new products such as artificial sports surfaces, landscaping and mulches.

Every day more than 131,00 worn tyres are taken off cars, vans and trucks in the UK adding up to more than 48m tyres per year. The EU Landfill Directive bans most of these from being sent to landfill.

Aside from the above products tyres can be recycled into items that you and I can use at home and in the office; the coasters and especially the mouse mats made from recycled tyres are absolutely brilliant, and that for both the old-style roller mouse and the optical version.

Coasters and mouse mats, made from recycled tyres can be gotten from a number of sources, Banner Business Supplies amongst them.

Personally, I am sure that tyre could also be recycled into car mats for the foot well and into door mats, especially for use outside the door, whether front or back.

Come on folks! Get your thinking caps on. The stuff is too good a resource to be just shredded into chips and used in landscaping and such.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007

Students rehab old computers for families in need

by Margarita Raycheva

Students in the technology club at Gov. Thomas Johnson Middle School opened their Christmas workshop a few weeks ago.

Instead of toys and games, they stocked up on donated computers. Then, they rolled up their sleeves, and armed with new software and cleaning supplies, set off to refurbish and turn the computers into functional and much-needed presents for needy families in the area.

The idea is to finish before Christmas so that students who don’t have a computer at home can use one to study during winter break, said Anthony Bollino, technology coordinator at the school.

‘‘[The computers] are not going to be something that you can go home and play Halo 3,” Bollino said. ‘‘But they will be able to do school work.”

Bollino started the project together with 15 students in grades six through eight in the school technology club. The group hopes to have 16 computers cleaned and set up with new software by the beginning of December.

When the first batch of computers is ready, Bollino’s students will write letters to financially disadvantaged families in the community and invite them to take advantage of the initiative.

The project, so far, has been successful among students who get to learn about computers while clocking in hours for community service, Bollino said.

‘‘They like ... learning how to set up a computer with an operating system and software,” he said.

In the coming weeks, Bollino’s students will be working with Chris Gregan, founder of Aptenix Open Desktop Consulting in New Market, who offered to teach students about open-source software.

Open-source software allows free access to applications equivalent to systems such as Windows XP, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Office.

It was developed as an alternative for small businesses and nonprofits that don’t have the resources to equip computers with expensive versions of these programs, Gregan said.

When he starts working with Bollino’s students, he will help them set up the 16 computers with software, which could otherwise cost up to $2,000, Gregan said.

‘‘I’ll be walking them through the basic installation of an operating system,” he said.

The special software will equip the computers with programs allowing students to write papers, make PowerPoint presentations, do basic video and photo editing and even manage a family budget, Gregan said.

With the help of the community liaison at TJ Middle, Bollino has already identified some families that may be interested in trying out the computers.
If more students and families express interest, the technology club may be able to prepare a few more computers, Bollino said.

‘‘We do serve many families that are economically disadvantaged,” Bollino said.

To find out more about the initiative, contact Anthony Bollino at Gov. Thomas Johnson Middle School at 240-236-4900.


Taking Recycling too far, way too far...

Used condoms are being recycled into hair bands in southern China, threatening to spread sexually-transmittable diseases they were originally meant to prevent, state media reported.

In the latest example of potentially harmful Chinese-made products, rubber hair bands have been found in local markets and beauty salons in Dongguan and Guangzhou cities in southern Guangdong province, China Daily newspaper said. A bag of ten of the recycled bands sells for just 25 fen (three cents), much cheaper than others on the market, accounting for their popularity, the paper said.

"These cheap and colourful rubber bands and hair ties sell well ... threatening the health of local people," it said. Despite being recycled, the hair bands could still contain bacteria and viruses, it said.

This is definitely taking recycling too far, far too far.

While we all must applaud recycling, whether here or abroad, having recently seen the secondary raw material industry in China and the amount of material that is being recycled we have to be careful as to what is going into the goods that come from China.

Then again, should we buy (not that we have much choice, say, when it comes to PCs and other stuff) from places such as China, where people are exploited in the production of them, where health and safety barely exists and where, it would appear, no one really cares much what goes into the things.

It would be nice if we would have the choice to buy “Made in Britain”, “Made in USA”, “Made in Europe” or, “Made in South Africa” even, rather than “Made in China” but, alas, as said, every component of every PC appears to be “Made in China”. The carbon footprint of any of those goods is already extremely high, simply because of the methods of production in China and in addition to that the fact that they have to get shipped to us over a long distance.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007

Build a Low-Cost Bird Feeder

With populations of once-common birds in dangerous decline, as a result of loss of their habitats, our feathered friends need all the help they can get.

You can put together a sturdy, modern bird feeder for less than a dollar. Perfect for apartment dwellers living in urban enclaves, this low-cost buffet server will fatten those finches up with finesse.

Cheep Eats Bird Feeder

3-inch vent cap
7-inch adjustable elbow
4x 3/8-inch eye bolts
4x 3/8-inch nuts
Hanging wire
Bird seed

1. Drill a centered hole 3/4 inches down from the top edge of each of the four rectangular vent cap openings.
2. Screw in the eye bolts and secure with nuts.
3. Drill a hole into each side of the female (wider) end of the elbow 3/4 inches down from the top. 4. Run a length of hanging wire through the holes.
5. Epoxy the inside perimeter of the circular vent cap opening and slide in the elbow, female end up. When the epoxy dries, test the seal to make sure it's secure.
6. Pour seed through the top until the vent holes are full, then hang the feeder from a tree branch or outside a window.
7. And lastly, blindfold the cat.

Kill those Lights!

Such or similar was the call of the ARP patrolling the streets of the cities, towns and villages during WWII.

Whenever a light shone through a window his shout of “turn off that light” or even “kill that light” could be heard.

Maybe today we need a similar kind of patrol, the officers of which would shout out such slogans wherever lights are being left on unnecessarily, especially in factories and offices, but not only there.

The worse case to my mind still is the abandoned school somewhere – I must admit I have forgotten where – where the council leaves on all the lights at night just in case a burglar enters and hurts himself and then might decide to sue the local authority responsible for the building.

We are always told to turn off lights that are not needed at a particular time, as well as appliances, etc. but those that should be, and we are always being told are, at the forefront of the fight against climate change and who are prepared to fine householders for excess refuse themselves seem to apply a completely different criteria when they think that someone might (have a right to) sue them if he breaks into an empty disused council owned building and hurts himself in the dark. I always thought that any self-respecting burglar would bring a flashlight anyway. This is litigation culture gone wrong. But I digressed.

Kill those lights...

The same applies for the appliances left on unnecessarily, whether the PC monitor while the PC is not in use for a while – I do not, necessarily, advocate turning off the PC every time because powering it up, so I understand, takes more power than it would just left idling when not in direct use for a while. The monitor though should be turned off, and I mean, turned OFF. It has a switch; USE it!

Kill those lights...

The amount of them left on unnecessarily just drives me somewhat mad, and the main culprits are not the ordinary householders, though they are bad enough, but industry, retail and even, and especially, government, local and central alike. While, as said, they preach at the general public, that is you and me, to turn off our lights, to take appliances out of stand-by, etc. and even threaten to fine us for leaving lights on. That is a threat that is being talked about in the same way as they talk about fining people for producing too much rubbish, they themselves do not seen to be subject to the same rules.

Kill those lights...

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007

Why Buy Newspapers?

I must say that I have never been much of a newspaper reader per se, and definitely not an avid newspaper buyer, though I have and do read specific articles of interest with interest. However, I do at times rather wonder why so many people still buy newspapers. The chances are very good that many of your local and even national (and international) newspapers are available online to read for free.

I can definitely say that many, if not indeed all, British local newspapers are available online in one way or the other and the formats are great with many allowing you to download individual pages as PDF files.

There are a number of benefits to getting your news online. You no longer need to bundle stacks of newspapers for recycling. You will never have newsprint all over your hands, though the new printing ink has, to an extend, done away with that problem in the UK. You will save the cost of your subscription. You can find just the news you want to read faster online than by thumbing through an actual newspaper. And, I'm sure there are many more.

In London now you don't even have to buy a paper; you can pick up the free Metro on the Tube ( the Metro – hence the name), as well as the London Lite, and others, free. In addition the local papers in the UK are free as long as the boys and girls actually deliver them to your homes. If not then you may have to pay for them; the papers, not the boys and girls. But, you still end up, in any of those cases with newspapers made from trees. Not every good for the poor trees.

I subscribe to news alerts via Google on subjects that are of interest to me and have also, on my “My Yahoo” page a number of feeds from a variety of newspapers so that, should a story be of interest to me, I can go an read online and if I want to I can do a “copy and paste” into the word processor so that I can read it later at my leisure.

This was too I can build up a collection and archive of articles that are relevant to me in my fields of interest without having to have them in box files or such. They are nicely stored on an external hard drive attached to my PC and every now and then some of them get downloaded onto CDs.

Save trees, read your news online and otherwise on your computer.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007

Rail travel ‘too expensive’

THE vast majority of people surveyed recently believe rail fares in the UK and the especially the South East are too expensive. What a surprise – NOT.

Ninety-five per cent said we pay too much for rail travel, compared to just five per cent who said tickets are reasonably priced. The latter ones must be, I am afraid, living in a dream world or even cloud cuckoo land.

As previously mentioned in another article, when one can fly cheaper from London to Birmingham return – and cheaper by over £100 – then something is not adding up.

Southeastern rail company announced that regulated fares, such as season tickets, would go up by an average of 6.8 per cent while unregulated fares, such as cheap day returns, have been increased by 4.8 per cent.

They claim that they have to increase the fares in order to improve service. This, yet again, does not add up.

There is a bus company from Devon that can offer a non-stop bus service twice-daily for less than £20 return to Exeter while by train the same journey off-peak would cost about £80 or such. No one can tell me the coach operator is making a loss on this run so why do the train operators claim they have to have such high fares.

They think of their shareholders and the high dividends and the fat salaries of their directors. Time this was changed and maybe even time to denationalize the railroad system, entirely, once again.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007

Bike It

It’s official – cycling is cool! That certainly seems to be the opinion of increasing numbers of school children in Ashford, who are finding out how much fun cycling to school can be with the help of Kent Highway Services and the Bike It project managed by sustainable transport charity Sustrans.

Since March 2007, Kent Highway Services have been supporting Simon Allum, a Bike It Officer, who works with staff and children at twelve schools in Ashford to encourage them to cycle to school. Simon devises a whole program of biking events that are tailored to the particular school, and those are a great addition to the cycle training that Kent Highway Services road safety team already offers.

The emphasis is obviously on safety, so the Bike It program offers Dr Bike sessions to check the road-worthiness of bicycles, and plotting safe cycling routes has formed the basis of classroom activities. Parents are encouraged to join in too by cycling to school with their children and enjoying a bike breakfast as a reward!

Image, as everyone knows, amongst children and young people is everything and it will play an important part in the success of this project, so there are competitions to ‘bling your bike’ and plans to work with a major beauty products manufacturer to help teenage girls ride with style!

The scheme certainly seems to be proving popular and Kent Highway Services are watching it carefully as there is a possibility that another Bike It officer could be employed elsewhere in Kent in the near future. There is evidence of the scheme’s success across the country, with participating schools in UK towns and cities achieving cycling levels ten times the national average – bucking the trend in declining numbers of children cycling to school.

Bike It is a nationwide scheme, managed by Sustrans. Nationally the project is funded by Cycling England and the cycle industry, locally Bike It is supported by Kent Highways Services.

If you want to get involved, you can find out more by emailing simon.allum@sustrans.org.uk

To find out more about cycling in Kent, please visit the Kent Highway Services website at www.kent.gov.uk/highways.

On your bike!

Winter may have descended but it’s never too cold to get your bike out of the shed and enjoy...

Not only is cycling a great way to reduce your impact on the environment, its also a fantastic way to improve your health and even your concentration at work or at school. And the great scenery that you miss out on whilst driving is easy to make the most of when cycling or walking. When it comes down to it however, there can be quite a few barriers standing in the way of making your journey to work by bike.

The weather is one factor that stops many people from using their bicycle in winter. Worried about the rain? The cold? Get the right base layers and waterproof clothing to keep you warm and dry. Get Rainlegs(TM) (see review) to prevent wet upper legs while cycling, the cause of the greatest discomfort.

But the more physical barriers of busy dual carriageways blocking your route or no direct links from train stations to your place of work can be even worse...

A major project which has been proposed by Sustrans, the UK’s sustainable transport charity, will go a long way to addressing these issues and making it easier for you to get on your bike.

The Connect2 project was in the final shortlist to receive £50 million of lottery funding in order to drastically improve local travel in 79 communities across the UK and according to news sources they have won this award.

They’ve estimated that over 6 million people live within a mile of the proposed schemes to build walking and cycling bridges and tunnels to improve links within communities, make journeys quicker and easier and help get more people walking and cycling in the UK and an estimated 79,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year could be saved.

Ethical Gift Giving

This holiday season shed your consumerism and put your money towards building a more sustainable world with an economy based on quality of life. Here are some alternative ideas those who love to give.

Buy locally. Not only will in this way this support local artists, businesses and farmers, but you will lower your carbon footprint by not having to ship gifts around the country or world.

Buy used items. Yes, even for gift giving. Take the challenge to buy nothing new. Look for used bookstores, record stores, clothing stores, odds & end stores. Check out items on craigslist.org. Recycle items through freecycle.org.

Here in the UK there are many so-called Charity Shops who are but Thrift Stores by another name and who are operated by one or the other charity, at times even rather local charities. Not only do you, when shopping for your gifts there, reduce your own carbon footprint, you also give to a good and worthy cause at the same time.

Give “I owe you” coupons. This can be a fun way to do nice things for others, when they want them, without consuming anything. Think cleaning the bathroom (anyone offering?), cleaning the car or bike, babysitting, taking days off work or making dinners.

Give love, not presents. Thank significant people in your life for their love, support, friendship and partnership. Take time to write a nice letter or card.

Bake. Spend money buying organic ingredients and take time to bake a treat or dinner for your loved ones.

Make your own gifts! Don’t run to the craft store just yet. Think about how you can use items around the house or even scraps of items you find around town or would otherwise throw away. Create beauty from waste. If you have ever thought “practical recycling” then I am sure you will find ways to do this. I could write a lot about this here in this piece but there are some ideas to be found elsewhere in this publication and definitely in many places on the Internet.

Give plants. Buy plants from local businesses or at farmers markets to give to others. Pot them in old containers or in used plastic coffee cups. Make sure you drill holes in the bottom for drainage. Instead of ornamental plants, give herbs that people can grow and eat themselves!

And as a thought for “plant giving” for next year; start your own from seeds. So next year come Hanukkah and Christmas, birthdays, etc. you can give such plant gifts without having to even go and buy them.

Give your time. Most people are always busy, right? Perhaps what would mean the most to someone is to spend time with them over the holidays, or make a larger commitment for the next year. Volunteer for local organizations. Care for family. Make a date.

Make a donation as a gift. Donate money on behalf of Iraqi refugees, environmental protection or to help out less fortunate people in our own community. Search for “ethical,” “meaningful,” or “charitable” gifts online to get some ideas.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007

Packaging Waste – What to do with it?

Reduce, reuse, recycle have to be the three watchwords here...

First off would be trying to actually reduce the waste to start with, so that we do not have to take it home with us. As consumers there is little that we can do here. While I have heard of this being possible to do in Germany, for instance, I do not think that stores elsewhere would appreciate any of us taking the whatever we have just bought out of the, often excessive, packaging and leaving said excess in the stores. However, a way must be found to reduce the excessive packaging, especially the hard polycarbonate kind of “bubble pack”. I do not think that those kinds of packages help anyone. What is wrong with a recyclable cardboard box made from recycled cardboard? It is up to producers to reduce this kind of packaging but we, as the consumers, I am sure, could vote with our feet and pocketbooks and if we did so the producers would soon get the message.

Food packaging is, to a degree, a different story and issue. While it is very good advice to buy the basic ingredients for meals from markets and then cook the meals oneself, a notion that I totally agree with, this is not always an option and packaged food, whether tin, pack, jar or bottle, may have to be, especially for anyone wishing to have a stock of supplies for in case of an emergency, than are then rotated as well.

A new store has opened recently, however, in the south of London that encourages the purchase of loose goods, be that sugar, tea, coffee, pulses, and much more, buy having folks bring their own containers and bags. Here, I am sure, folks could make good use of the glass jar, plastic containers, and such, where supermarket bought goods came in, as long as the plastic is “food grade” (see also reusing packaging).

Should there be absolutely no way of avoiding packaging then ensure that you take home, as far as possible, only recyclable packaging, such as glass jars, glass bottles, and tin cans. Glass jars and bottles and tin cans can be recycled via a variety of recycling schemes.

If plastic packaging is the only option and there is absolutely no other choice then plastic it has to be. This is often the case (always, is more precise here) the case with washing-up liquid (dish soap) and even the supposedly environmentally friendly “Ecover” is in plastic bottles and even though Ecover bottles all have great removable screw top caps there are no refills available for them, especially not in a “loose” format.

Where there is packaging (waste), whether glass or tin that can go into recycling schemes or plastic that may or may now, even before going down that route think as to whether the packaging (waste) that you are left with can be reused by you or others. If it cannot be reused as it is then thing whether there is a way of reworking it into something you or someone else could use. This will save you money and it will also save further energy for recycling too uses energy.

Often, if you buy prepackaged fish in supermarkets it comes on those plastic “trays”. Those can be used, once washed, as spoon rests in the kitchen, as trays for small items in drawers, or as trays on which to put fish to go into the freezer, like when packages are too big and you want to split them into individual meal portions. Just a few ideas here. More to follow.

One extra word of advice: AVOID THE PLASTIC WATER BOTTLE, that is to say, AVOID BOTTLED WATER. You cannot safely, according to scientific findings, reuse the bottle more than maybe once after you have emptied the original contents. Tap water is perfectly safe to drink and if you do not like the take then use a filter. Then fill with that water stainless steel or aluminium water bottles such as SIGG or Klean Kanteen.

Reusing Waste Packaging

Before consigning any item to the trash can or the recycling bin think of how you may be able to reuse or rework and thereby recycle directly this or that item.

Tin Cans

Tin cans can be turned into a variety of things, and to a variety of uses. On the old farmstead tin cans were used as scoops, as pots for string, as pots for utensils, as ports for pencils and pens on the desk, etc. and that often without even doing anything to them bar cleaning the can after opening and using contents. I have reused and reworked tin cans for and into a variety of uses.

Glass Jars

Glass jars have always been used to store thing in, from nails and screws to buttons and what-have-you. They also make good food savers where to put leftovers for use the next day.

Glass Bottles

Again they can be used to storage of this or that liquid and our forebears always did just that. There is, however, the danger that someone thinks that the poison in the Coke bottle is actually Coke and this could cause rather some problems. It is therefore that the advice is always against this. However, how about using smallish bottles with screw tops for the making of scented cooking oils or herbal vinegars?

Plastic containers with lids

The kind of containers they are and whether they are food grade plastic or not very much dictates their use and reuse. If food grade plastic and suitable in size then those kind of containers, especially with tight fitting lids, make great food savers.

Those that are the wrong size and shape and those that are non-food grade plastic still make great storage boxes and containers. My shelves are full of sweet shop boxes that I “harvest” from a local candy store, which are used for storing small items of stationery such as pens, pencils, etc, that, especially come from trade fairs, as well as other things. With labels added to the boxes I can, theoretically, find most things rather quickly.

Little plastic “pods” (for lack of a better word, such as those from certain mints and chewing gums, make nice pots for paper clips, for rubber bands, for string, etc. on the desk, for instance. They can, obviously, also be “reworked” as those by decorating them up a little and then selling them as paper clip pots, or whatever.

Plastic containers without lids

Those I use for “dividers” in drawers and this is especially handy to keep small items from rattling around and from moving around, making them then difficult to find, in the drawers of desk or wherever.

If no direct reuse is immediately obvious or evident then how about rework. Get crafty and seeing the prices that recycled goods fetch on the markets you may even find yourself some additional income. Always handy that. It is absolutely amazing and mind-blowing the amount in terms of money for which some reworked-recycled goods are being sold for.

With the aid of a “bottle cutter” glass jars and -bottles can be transformed into recycled crafts for sale, such as tumblers, shot glasses, beer glasses, vases, etc. Other materials also can be recycled via crafts and there are ideas around on the Net and elsewhere, I am sure, on this subject. I know, I personally could drone on and on about ideas but you'd all probably fall asleep if I would start listing them all.

Cardboard can be, if it is not too printed up, be recycled into compost, and the same is true for toilet roll inners, the inners from rolls of tin foil, and such like. Cardboard boxes, depending on size and kind, can be used as storage boxes, such as shoe boxes of the “proper” kind, and also other cardboard containers can make useful bits and pieces.

Where reuse is not possible, and/or they have too much print on them, making them therefore unsuitable for composting, but you have a solid fuel stove then use them that way. At least they can then give a little heat and help get the stove running.

The more we can reuse and rework of such packaging waste and make the items saleable the less will have to go into holes in the ground, a.k.a. landfill sites, or having to be burned.

All this above is meant to give you, the reader, some food for thought and those of you that have made their own thoughts about this might like to also share them with the rest of us.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007

Mayor urged over capital 'dumping rubbish on county'

The county of West Sussex is protesting to London Mayor Ken Livingstone to stop using the region as a dumping ground for rubbish.

West Sussex County Councillor John de Mierre is writing a letter to the mayor complaining that the county is forced to handle about 10% of London's waste.

He said he recognizes the fact that London has "a limited ability" to manage its own waste but claimed the capital was generating rubbish at an "unsustainable rate" which was threatening the communities of his county.

He went on: "I agree that we need a step change in how waste is managed if we are to meet the environmental challenges of dealing with waste in a more sustainable way.

"This means massively increasing recycling and composting, and managing waste within London rather than relying on unsustainable and diminishing landfill in surrounding regions.

"It seems that London needs both recycling facilities, and also new treatment facilities for managing waste that cannot be recycled.

"Some of London's waste authorities are currently failing to deliver this step change and seem content to rely on long-term disposal solutions outside the boundaries of London."

Mr Livingstone said: "It is completely unacceptable to have London continuing to export its waste to surrounding regions. London currently has a failing waste management system operated by 37 different waste authorities - it is complex, fragmented, with unclear lines of responsibility.

"The capital needs to deal with as much of its own waste as it can, however I have no powers to dictate where waste goes when it leaves London.

"Landfill targets outside of London are agreed by regional planning assemblies - I would welcome them, and members of West Sussex County Council, lobbying Defra and the body who represents London's boroughs, to ask for action to ensure London stops treating the home counties as a dumping ground".

Carbon responsibility reaches Ambridge - The Archers offset

The Archers - Radio 4's long running soap - dealt with the thorny question of taking responsibility of your flight's carbon footprint Friday (23rd November).

Pip, desperate that her Grandparents should offset the carbon from their flight to Hong Kong, looks up the carbon footprint (on Climatecare.org by the sounds of the carbon total) and fends off the skepticism of her father! She lets him know it's not necessarily about tree-planting, but more about funding efficient lighting, renewable energy etc.

Carbon responsibility reaches Ambridge, as championed by Pip. Fantastic.

The link unfortunately is no longer the valid one as BBC Listen Again feature only works for 7 days.

London Mayor launched UK's first 'green homes' service

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, on December 4, launched the UK’s first ‘green homes’ service to help Londoners cut climate change emissions by offering an easy, one-stop-shop for information on how to make homes more carbon efficient.

The flagship London Green Homes service is unique to the capital, and will offer a free comprehensive telephone advice service, a free website and a paid-for green ‘concierge’ service to provide a hassle-free tailor-made package of carbon saving lifestyle improvements.

The advice service will be highly flexible, offering Londoners advice on any actions to reduce carbon emissions from their lifestyle, and explain how best to save money on energy bills.

The London Green Homes service is part of delivering the Mayor’s Climate Change Action Plan – a comprehensive programme of initiatives to reduce carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2025, including programmes for the capital\'s homes, organisations, transportation and energy supply system.

Sixty per cent of London’s housing was built before 1945, compared to 40 per cent nationally so it is less energy efficient than the UK average.

Over £4 million has been allocated to the Green Homes programme in 2007-08 and it aims to cut 500,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year by 2010.

The Mayor opened the service with Nicky Gavron, Deputy Mayor of London and Darren Johnson, a London Assembly Green Party member, at a specially designed life-size eco-house in Trafalgar Square.

The exhibition house named ‘No 1 Lower Carbon Drive’ will tour the capital to promote the new services, and to showcase ideas to ‘green’ your home.

The London Green Homes Service consists of:

1. The Green Homes Advice Service: An information website – www.londonclimatechange.co.uk - where Londoners can access information and advice on how to reduce their carbon footprint. It includes interactive sections such as a carbon calculator, and advise on what grants are available to make changes

2. A free telephone helpline – 0800 512012- to access one-to-one, personalised advice from experienced staff on how to make your home ‘green’

3. The Green Homes Concierge Service: a paid-for concierge service - which has already been successfully piloted across London and is designed for homeowners who want to make more significant changes to their homes without the hassle. The innovative tailor-made service provides a customised audit of a property, including a thermal image, and a ‘blow door’ test to identify sources of draughts; a report of recommended ways to reduce emissions; and, if wanted, full project management of a programme to cut emissions, including sourcing of competitive quotes. The subsidised service will cost £199 for annual membership.
For more information call: 0800 089 0098.

Ken Livingstone, said: "In London, energy use in the homes is the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

"But much of the energy we pay for in our homes is simply wasted, and there are simple changes we can make to cut energy use without any reduction in our quality of life – indeed the average household will save £300 if they carry out the Green Homes programme.

"We know Londoners want to help prevent climate change, and London Green Homes will provide the information and on-going support to enable them do so.

"I am proud that London is now leading the UK in offering a comprehensive and flexible ‘green homes’ service, as part of our wider programme to cut London’s carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2025."

Nicky Gavron, Deputy Mayor of London, said: "The Green Concierge Service launched today across London is hassle free and easy-to-use because it is tailored to each household’s needs. And it will save tonnes of the carbon emissions which are causing climate change.

"The Green Concierge Service is a great example of London working with the other cities who are part of the C40 group - all of whom are committed to sharing knowledge to tackle climate change. We scoured the world for the best scheme and found it in Toronto, who have helped us develop London’s new service.

Darren Johnson, Green Member of the London Assembly, said: "Londoners want to help save the planet and we want to help them do it. This is a unique consumer service, which I believe will become standard practice across Britain in the next few years.

"We are not only helping people to create energy saving homes, but to access other services which could change their whole lifestyle. It is another example of London leading the way and the Government following."

Waycam turn old toner cartridges into furniture

Toner cartridges are normally sent to landfill at the end of their useful life, where the plastic will sit for hundreds of years before decaying. A company called Waycam, however, has an unusual solution to this problem; they turn the old cartridges into 'plastic wood' and make garden furniture out of it.

The process recycles 100 per cent of the cartridges, with all metal components being removed and sent off for recycling at another plant. The plastic is then recycled into TRI-wood, which stands for Toner Recycled into Wood.

Toner cartridges cause all sorts of environmental problems: toner powder can also leak into the soil, which isn't good news. Even worse, they are sometimes incinerated, releasing their stored carbon into the atmosphere.

"Until now the only solution for Toner cartridges with no value or that have already been re-manufactured once was either land fill or incineration," say Waycam on their website. "We accept all cartridges regardless of age, type original or re-manufactured and recycle all the parts without landfill or incineration."

Waycam can also handle recycling of computers, old electronic equipment and TVs. What they will think of to make out of those, we have no idea.


Rainlegs™ – Product Review

Rain protection for your legs that is worn on a belt...

Well, finally, dry legs when riding a bicycle or a horse in the rain.

Rainlegs™ is the brand name of a new and innovative form of rain gear from the Netherlands that many of us who use a bicycle as means of personal transport and/or for work have been waiting for; I am sure. Trust the Dutch to come up with something like that.

Rainlegs™ are the modern equivalent and upgrade of the full leather chaps worn by the cow hands of the Old West and such and the rubberized material versions that were used later for use with horses in the rain. What makes Rainlegs™ different is the material used and the fact that the “chaps” cover just the upper legs to just over the knee. Protection where you need is without the problem of full length chaps.

Many of us who have been using a bicycle as means of transport for many years will, I am sure, remember the old Cycle Cape made of rubber coated cotton, much like the old US Army poncho which many used to use as well for cycling – I certainly did – but Rainlegs™ beats all of those hands down.

Rainlegs™ protect the upper legs against rain, wind and the cold. The product has been manufactured from wind- and waterproof (5000 mbar) parachute material and weighs only 140 grams. The leg protectors are open on the back of the legs, so that no condensation can take place and clothes will stay dry.

Rainlegs™ are suitable for cyclists of all sizes. Experience has shown that the upper legs are most susceptible to rain, even and especially when wearing a waterproof coat, as the water tends to run down the coat and then straight onto the legs. At school or at work it won't always be possible to change. Cyclists who cycle on a daily basis won't have to try and fit shoes through the "traditional" waterproof trousers because they can now keep their legs and clothes dry and clean with Rainlegs™ and Rainlegs™ are, in my opinion, especially recommendable for use by those that do use bicycles in the performance of their duty, such as mail carriers, couriers, cycle cops, park and countryside rangers, etc.

Rainlegs™ are equally suitable for participants in outdoor sporting events such as runners, rowers, skaters, riders and Nordic walkers, and, as previously said, for all those that are and have to be on horseback.

I was given a review sample of this product at the recent Cycle 2007 Show at Earls Court in London and must say that I find them very good indeed. However, I have taken to rather carrying the Rainlegs™ rolled and folded in a belt pouch than every time trying to roll them back into the thins “sausage” to be closed with the snap closures. It find my way easier to do and also not much more of a problem to put the leggings on than rolling them down from the belt itself. But, I assume, even I could get the hang of rolling them back up thing enough. Presently, though, I seem to be a little clumsy with it.

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007

Food Waste

The beginning of November 2007 saw the launch of the “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP). The mission of the “Love Food Hate Waste”campaign is to get us, the people in general, to reduce the amount of food – which is rather horrendous – that we waste at home.

But, I would like to ask, what about the food, perfectly good food, that is being thrown away before it ever leaves the farm, often by other of the powers that be – and I am not talking about meat from animals with Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD), which is safe for human consumption (yes, folks, it is, and much of the beef that comes from Argentina in fact is full of the stuff) – to keep prices artificially inflated, especially in times of glut.

Some years ago apple growers in Kent were forced by the government to dump “overproduction” – maybe someone should have had a word with the trees to stop producing so many apples that year – didn't they known there is a quota? – in holes, huge holes, dug for that very purpose, on their farms. Those farmers were livid as there were not even allowed to give those perfectly good apples away free to people in need.

What was the reason for such an outrage of wanton destruction of perfectly good food?

Simply the fact that there was a glut of English apples – and what is the problems with that, I am sure, some readers may now ask – and the “Intervention Board”, as I believe it was called then, stepped in to keep the prices artificially up in the shops. The people who benefited from this action were not the farmers or the ordinary people, the consumers; the only ones who did were the middlemen, not even the retail traders. In addition to price fixing the “Board” intervened as a glut of English apples would have meant a reduction in the share of the market for apples from other European Union countries, such as France.

We also must here consider those fruits and vegetables that do not make it to the shelves of the stores and to our tables because the middlemen decide that the consumer does not like misshapen fruit and vegetables, or those with slight blemishes. The truth is that many consumers indeed do not want apples with slight natural blemished or misshapen carrots or the like. In addition to that there are those that never make it and get destroyed because the EU bureaucrats in Brussels, so we are being told, have deemed them not to be the right size or shape. It appear that only apples, pears, tomatoes, etc. of a certain size and shape are, according to those Eurocrats, proper and therefore only those sizes may be sold to the consumer. Come on, a pound (yes, I talk Imperial) of carrots is a pound of carrots whether they are huge (and then rarely have taste) or small and crooked.
Maybe someone needs to tell those that sit in ivory towers, whether in Brussels, Strasbourg or in Whitehall, that, unlike manufactured goods, fruit and vegetables do not come in uniform shapes and sizes and do not, generally, grow in a mold. Apples, pears, peppers, tomatoes, when left to grow naturally, are all different sizes and shapes, some large, some small, some with little blemishes, some not; that is Nature's way.

With waste like that we have to start as regards to reducing food waste before we have a go at we, the consumer.

While it is indeed true that too many of us waste about half of the food that we buy in the stores every week because we buy too much and it does not get eaten or leftovers are simply thrown into the garbage instead of using them the next day – waste no want not – in order to reduce the food waster per se the start must be made at the beginning of the chain. This may mean that the consumer will have to learn to accept, once again, misshapen fruit and veg, the way they naturally grow, and also the little blemishes that are there naturally and only are not generally found in the boxes at the food stores because they are removed by the packing houses and, more often than not, are being destroyed there.

We are seeing the return of blemished apples and other fruit and veg and those of different sizes and shapes like, for example, in the Basics range of produce at Sainsbury's.

Food for thought, I hope...

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007