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DIY-Cereal Box Wallet

A review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The other day, via a link from another site, I found the instructions and downloadable PDF template to a little DIY cardboard wallet. Now this is a nice idea of practical recycling. This is intended for the recycling of the cardboard from breakfast cereal packs but will also work with other boards to be recycled that is of a similar thickness or somewhat above.

I downloaded the template, applied it to the cover of an old brochure from a trade fair and within less than 20 minutes – including finding the elastic cord – I have a fully functional wallet suitable for a number of things, including and especially business/visiting cards.

This is, as just indicated, a great little wallet for business/visiting cards that anyone can make in, I should think, less than half an hour.

It will make a great conversation piece in the same way as do the business cards that we ate Tatchipen Media use, which are recycled from printed press releases and such.

However, the one drawback is that the wallet in the current template design only works with cards that are a little narrower in height if seen in landscape as are the more standard versions of business cards. Those more standards cards would require a little redrawing – though not much – of the template, which should not be too great of a problem either.

In a further, enlarged version of the template, this wallet design could be made suitable for use with 3x5 index cards and the “hipster PDA”.

Go, give it a try.

You find the details and the template here:

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008

Group touts green benefits of telecommuting

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

It has been estimated that around 1.35 billion (billions as in US billions not UK billions) gallons of gasoline could be conserved annually if every worker in the United States with the ability to telecommute did so at a minimum of 1.6 days per week, according to a report released by the American Electronics Association.

"Fewer commuters on the roads would mean reduced fuel usage, less traffic congestion and a lot less air pollution," said Christopher Hansen, president of the association, the largest high-tech trade group in the United States.

The question that comes to mind though is how the powers that be would react to that idea for reduced fuel consumption would mean less income for the oil companies, the petro-chemical industry and last but not least the treasury in the form excise duty on the fuel and also in lost revenue in the form of taxes from the oil giants.

And, said Hansen, "It is a win for workers, who can reduce long commute times and strike a better life-work balance."

The report suggests that 45 million Americans already telecommute at least one day a
week. If we could do that in other developed countries too, such as in the EU, in Canada and Australasia, for starters, then, how much more fuel and with it oil and with it finite resources, could be saved, as well as the reduction in air pollution and such.

In addition to benefiting the environment and employees, "teleworking," as the association calls it, has advantages for employers. In most cases people working from home are less stressed and therefore are more productive than those that have had to travel long distance to and from work. In some cases offering the ability to telework is a great recruitment incentive.

In addition to this companies that are able to have a great number of employees work from home at most times can reduce their office space and with it also their environmental footprint. They have lower office occupancy costs, quicker and less costly recruitment, and better retention of valued employees.

The ability to telecommute and work from home also cuts the incidents of absenteeism due to the fact that people can look after a sick child, for instance, without having to miss out working.
When it comes to cutting carbon dioxide in this context the Environmental Protection Agency calculates that conserving 1.35 billion gallons of gas a year through increased telecommuting would prevent 26 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the environment.

A University of Maryland survey says that nearly half of all commuters travel more than 20 miles round-trip to and from work; 22 percent travel more than 40 miles; and 10 percent travel more than 60 miles.

I know of some people in the UK who daily travel from places such as Peterborough to work in London or from Brighton or Portsmouth to work in London and while many of those use the train (which is rather an expensive way as far as the pocketbook is concerned) it is an awful lot of travel. We are here talking distance of over 50 miles each way. In the case of Peterborough it is probably on the 100 miles one way.

We do not have to do all that traveling in today's age and economy. A great many officer workers could quite well do their jobs, and more than well; better often, from a small office in their own homes rather than in an office in London or other large city.

Now let's see what the powers that be make of this...

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008


Why is recycling so important?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Americans comprise only 5% of the worlds population, yet consume a quarter or 25% of the world's resources. If we would add to that the other developed countries such as Europe and Australasia, plus others, the sum would be horrendous.

In a lifetime, the average American will throw away 600 times his or her adult weight in garbage. This means that each adult will leave a legacy of as much as 100,000 pounds of trash for his or her children.

Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour! Sorry, how many??? And what is the bet that the greatest majority of those plastic bottles are filled with water? Bottled water which, in the great majority, is nothing but repackaged tap water. This is complete and utter madness.

Nationwide, 6% of all discarded plastic was recycled in 2000. 21% of all discarded plastic bottles were recycled.

While the majority of those plastic bottles, those made of PET, can be recycled the question still remains why we must have them in the first place. I know I am beating the drum again for the glass bottle and the deposit scheme for those but would it not be better to have bottles made again of glass as it once was and have all, including those vinegar and oil ones, go back to be cleaned and refilled and used again? I certainly thing so.

Environmental Benefits of Recycling

Recycled materials allow for the long term use and re-use of our precious and limited natural resources.

We would save even more of the precious resource of oil if we would not produce so many billions of plastic bottles used for everything from water over soda to tomato sauce and cooking oils and everything in between. Everything of this kind once came in glass bottles – glass after all is but sand, though in the main a special kind of sand – and glass bottles, if collected, and it would work if all had a deposit on them, could go back to the factories to be cleaned and refilled and put into use again, and again, and again, at infinitum, or until it broke. Then the shards should be sent for recycling into glass again. This is NOT rocket science. We have been there before.

Recycling Saves Energy

Using energy requires the consumption of non-renewable fossil fuels and involves emissions of numerous air and water pollutants. Manufacturing items from recycled material uses less energy than making those items from raw natural resources.

Recycling in the state or Illinois saves enough energy each year to provide heat and light for 400,000 Illinois homes.

Recycling Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions in three ways:

Reducing emissions from energy consumption. Manufacturing goods from recycled materials requires less energy than producing goods from virgin materials. When less energy is needed, fewer fossil fuels are burned and less carbon dioxide is emitted to the atmosphere.

Reducing methane emissions from landfills. By diverting organic materials from landfills, we reduce the methane released when these materials decompose.

They still release methane, though, in the composting process in a backyard composter too... though the compost does good afterwards... the methane from commercial landfills would not have to, as I have already said in another article, have to ever get into the atmosphere. It could be extracted and burned to generate electric power, etc.

Increasing storage of carbon in trees. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in wood, in a process called “carbon sequestration”.

Waste prevention and recycling of paper products allow more trees to remain standing in the forest.

But before we even head for the recycling bin and the recycling center with our “recyclables” we should look at the “reuse” aspect. Look at each item that would be considered recyclable trash as to whether or not you – or someone you know – could not, in fact, make use of this item.

Glass jars, for instance, could also, like bottles have a deposit on them but, while they have not – as yet – they could be used by yourself or someone else to store things in them.

I have all kinds of glass jars and they hold tea, coffee, sugar, salt, etc. in the kitchen. Then there are those that hold buttons (also recycled from old garments), nails, screws, etc.

Most of us, I am sure, remember our fathers or uncles or family friends have masses of glass jars with all kinds of small items “that might come in handy” in their workshops and garages.

The same is true for so many other items, but to list all of those uses would break the frame of such an article as this. Maybe, if I ever manage to find the time, I could write a little e-book on this subject.

Recycling Reduces Emissions of Air and Water Pollutants

Recycling produces less of 27 different types of pollutants, when compared with using virgin materials, in manufacturing products and disposing wastes.

Recycling Conserves Natural Resources

Recycling reduces the need for landfills, allowing local lands to be used in more environmentally preferable ways. And, by substituting scrap materials for the use of trees, metal ores, minerals, oil, and other virgin materials, recycling reduces the pressure to expand forestry and mining production.

Unfortunately, the demand for some metals, for instance, presently, outstrips the supply, such as in the case of copper, and theft of this metal is now widespread. Still we do find though that copper ends up in the trash and in the landfill sites, arriving often via builders, small and large, who could not be bothered to sort those metals that are “waste” from their jobs and therefore rather just bring them in trash bags or such to the municipal tips where, more often than not, not sorting is done and everything just is dumped into the big hole in the ground.

Everyone must do his or her bit, whether householder or whatever.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008

Kensington & Chelsea appoints borough's first Cycling Champion

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Kensington and Chelsea has shown its commitment to cycling in the borough with the appointment of its first Cycling Champion. Now let us hope that this is not just window dressing. The lady herself sounds fine but...

Councillor Maighread Condon-Simmonds has taken up the challenge to spread the cycling message throughout the borough and beyond.

Councillor Condon-Simmonds said: “I’m delighted to be the Royal Borough’s first lady of cycling. Two-wheeled transport is the future for a congested capital both in terms of health benefits and traffic reduction.

"I have been a cyclist for 44 years and prefer to use a man’s bike as the crossbar is handy when I’m carrying it upstairs.”

The Member Champion scheme is the idea of Cycling England and is intended to increase cycling, facilities and training throughout the country via local authorities.

“Cycling England was delighted at the recent announcement of £140m of funding to develop its programme over the next three years”, said Phillip Darnton, Chairman of Cycling England.

"Central to this will be the strengthening of our engagement with local authorities at a senior level and we have been very encouraged at the take up of the Member Champions initiative.”

A champion for cycling can create new opportunities for a council to deliver strategies covering three of the biggest current challenges to our society: congestion, health and pollution.

“I have always enthused about the benefits of cycling” Council Condon-Simmonds added, “this new responsibility will sit easily alongside my general responsibilities as a local councillor and I am happy to extol the virtues of the bike and bring more cycle-friendly ideas to the Royal Borough."

Innovations for borough cyclists include creating a more direct network of cycle routes. A trial will also be undertaken to allow cyclists to use a small number of specified local one-way roads in both directions.

There are also proposals to increase significantly the amount of free parking for bicycles, including pressing into service under-used pay and display bays for bikes.

The biggest problem everywhere for cyclists in the London Boroughs and elsewhere is the fact that the so-called cycle lanes are not separated from the main traffic and that motorist have absolutely no consideration for cyclists.

When, in contrast to that, we see the cycle lanes and paths in mainland Europe Britain really is not a bicycle and cyclist friendly country as far as road provisions are concerned.

If we truly want to have more people, a majority of the population even, take up cycling as a way of getting about, especially to work, going to the stores, to school, and such, we have to have a very close look at the provisions, or better the lack of them, and get some decent ones created, ideally in conjunction with people who know how things should be and who are cyclists. Most cycling facilities, it would seem, are designed by car drivers and not people who ride a bicycle day in day out as a mens of transport. Time those in power listened to the users of the schemes.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008

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Greenhouse Gases and Composting

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Bio-plastics release harmful greenhouse gases when breaking down, when decomposing, was the heading in a UK Guardian newspaper article on Saturday, April 26, 2008, in what would appear to be an piece against bio-plastics and the use of food crops, such as maize, for the production of said plastics.

All composting processes, which is decomposition, releases methane gas, regardless what is being broken down in this process. Does this then means that we should stop composting waste? I do not think so.

Such headlines and articles are alarmist; the question is though, as to the why. Why this article and why in such a manner against bio-plastic?

As far as bio-plastics are concerned, do we really need cornstarch for this and similar things? I do not think so, and the same is true for so-called bio-fuels.

There should be enough “waste” cellulose around from forestry operations and others to use instead of all those others and maybe, just maybe, it is time also for the good ol' paper bag to make a reappearance on the stage for loose produce. Do we really have to have it all conveniently packaged in plastic bags or like four apples on Styrofoam tray shrink wrapped? I doubt it. Our parents and grandparents bought such things loose at the greengrocers or at the market and brought it home in paper bags. This was also much better for the fruits and vegetables as they could breathe in the paper bags and they did not rot that easily.

When it comes to soft fruit, such as say strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and such like then punnets are called for but, yet again, do they have to be plastic. In days of old those were of split wood, for instance. Time we got back to the way it was done in that time.

Other fruit and vegetables definitely does not need the plastic bag and shrink wrap treatment and such safety considerations.

A great contributing factor, though, to the plastic food packaging problem, and this is primarily, I believe, where bio-plastics will be used, is the laziness and the inability by people of today to cook from scratch. But I digressed. Happens occasionally, I know.

I just find the comments as to the release of greenhouse gases in the process of composting such plastics rather ridiculous in the extreme as the same gases, that is to say methane and other such gases, are released in all composting processes and by everything that decomposes, even from the humble compost bin or composter in the backyard.

While landfills and composters all give off methane gas and others the methane would not have to, at least not from commercial landfills, ever have to end up in the atmosphere in the first place. In the case of commercial landfills the gas could be safely extracted and be used for cooking and heating and especially for the running of electricity power stations.

The amount of plastic packaging, and not only foodstuffs but in general, must be reduced or gotten rid off altogether where possible. Loose produce in the humble paper bag has worked in the days gone by but, it would appear that, in our modern world, if it has not got a barcode on it it cannot be checked out at the till, or so, at least, it would appear. Time for a change, methinks.

Other plastic packaging on non-food products must be replaced by cardboard packaging, as it also was once, in the time of our childhood – at least in mine it was still – and in the time of our parents and grandparents. Why does something have to be packaged in the kind of plastic packaging that one needs hammer and chisel and saw to get into – I am sure you know the kind I mean, the “blister pack” - only to find that there is more blister packaging even further inside.

It is definitely high time that we were rethinking the packaging issue but, back to the gases, in order to sum up: all composting processes release those gases whether composting of vegetable or other organic matter or such bio-plastics. It is not peculiar to bio-plastics, though the writers of the articles that appeared did make it look thus. Why? Why the scare mongering approach?

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008


Jason Leonard OBE, former England Rugby prop is joining thought leaders on sustainability including Gardiner & Theobald, and South Bank University to compete in the Think Regatta, one of the events taking place as part of Think 08. Participants will set sail from the Royal Victoria Dock, which is adjacent to the conference centre, ExCel, on 7th and 8th May. The regatta aims to introduce an element of light relief to Think, which focuses on the important subject of sustainability in the built environment, and is in keeping with the conference’s green credentials.

The competition will consist of five races over two days with the grand final pitting the heat winners against each other in a final showdown. All winners will receive a trophy and contribution to a charity of their choice, while the overall victor will take home the inaugural Regatta trophy and a significant donation to their chosen charity.

Jason Leonard commented "The Think Regatta promotes a healthy, environmentally friendly pastime that shows you don't need exhaust emissions to get an adrenaline rush.

It sends a clear message to professionals working in the built environment that sustainability is compatible with competitiveness. This is one of the key topics that will be examined at the Think conference and exhibition.

"It's a great idea to give conference scholarships scholarships for Think to students like those of London's South Bank University (sponsors of the regatta). Getting young people interested in sustainability in the built environment is important if we are going to fill the sustainability skills gap in the industry.

"The Think Regatta is a healthy competition and loads of fun. Anyone who shares those values in the property and construction industries should get involved."

Patrick Gulley of Gardiner & Theobald says: “The Think Regatta is an ingenious way of highlighting the benefits of sustainable transport and renewable energy, while having an enormous amount of fun. The event really gets across the message of sustainability that underpins the entire conference. We hope that as many exhibitors as possible will enter – it should be nice and competitive, and raise funds for charity.”

Entry costs £1,400, which includes all snacks and refreshments for the crew and a RIB for transfers and safety. Each Benetau Class 8 keelboat will be made up of five people plus an experienced skipper.

Think will be working with H2sn0w, specialists in events on the water and snow, to bring the Think Regatta to life.

The Think 08 exhibition and conference will run over 7 and 8 May 2008 at ExCeL. Following the success of 2007’s inaugural event, Think 08 will explore the economic, social and environmental challenges in delivering sustainable development, and look at the wider responsibilities of the property and construction industry in dealing with the issues of climate change, urban renewal and redevelopment.

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A panel of experts will discuss future needs and models of supply and production

Think will stir up the sustainable energy debate with ‘Re-thinking Energy’, a roundtable discussion which tackles the issues around energy use in the built environment. The roundtable will be held in Dockland’s ExCeL Centre on Wednesday 7th May 2008 as part of Think’s extensive conference programme focused on embedding sustainability in the construction, property and architecture sectors.

The roundtable will focus on how future energy needs will be satisfied for buildings and developments, and whether there are any models for creating community systems and frameworks to radically change the supply and production of energy. Experts in the arena will assess everything from ESCOs (Energy Service Companies) to the affects of the growth of new renewable technologies on construction.

The recent focus on the government’s zero carbon targets for new homes, commercial properties and retail spaces, and the announcement of the UK’s first eco-town has pushed energy to the forefront of industry development, as well as capturing public consciousness.

Terminal 5 has come under intense scrutiny of late and Think 08 is pleased to announce the addition of Richard Cox, head of energy at BAA, to a panel made up of noted experts in the field. BAA has a strong sustainability focus and an overriding commitment to ‘Best Practice’, with the aim of establishing new environmental standards and solutions.

The session will be chaired by Phil Clark who edits Building and BD sustainability channels.

Joining Richard and Phil on the panel will be:

Robert Kyriakides is chief executive of solar thermal energy provider Genersys, which sells thermal solar systems used for water and space heating. He is also a partner at Kyriakides & Braier, a commercial law firm which is located in the heart of London's West End. Robert also writes a blog entitled ‘Ideas about the environment…’ which tackles issues related to the roundtable debate.

Speaking about Think 08, he said “I’m really looking forward to taking part at the Think08 conference. As a provider of thermal technology I need to understand what those involved in the construction industry are thinking and doing in relation to energy. I like the title of the event – it summarises exactly what we need to do about the supply of energy for new and existing developments.”

Angus Norman is the Managing Director Sustainable Solutions at EDF Energy. A chartered electrical, mechanical and mining engineer by trade Angus previously worked in construction and was involved in major projects like the Channel Tunnel. He is currently leading a new business unit developing decentralised energy projects with the view to provide sustainable, affordable, viable heat cooling and power to communities, whilst at the same time significantly reducing C02 levels. This included the formation of the London ESCO with the London Climate Change Agency.

Richard Shennan, founding director of Fulcrum Consulting, is responsible for company strategy with respect to the integrated delivery of sustainable solutions through infrastructure, building fabric and building services engineering. As a leading expert on underground energy storage, in 2006 he presented a paper to the triennial world conference on thermal energy storage, Ecostock. Richard’s current activities include a wide range of projects where integrated community systems are offering savings in carbon emissions and costs.

Casey Cole is Head of Sustainable Technology at low carbon distributed energy company Fontenergy. Before joining Fontenergy in 2008, Casey was senior consultant at consulting engineers XCO2. He has led teams on a wide range of innovative engineering projects from small mixed-use developments to energy masterplans and has extensive experience of low-carbon energy systems. His is a regular commentator on sustainability engineering both online and at industry events.

The full conference programme is available online at

Think to host first international sustainability learning session – Sustainability on four continents

Think will hold the first ever international sustainability learning session on Thursday 8th May. The session, one of the 26 that comprise Think’s conference programme will explore lessons that can be learned from examples of excellence across the globe.

Sustainability in the built environment is a new imperative regardless of geographic location. Whether motivated by morality or concern for profitability, the industry globally is looking for ways to help the planet.

This challenge of ‘going green’ has resulted in radically different solutions across the world. Sustainability on four continents will offer a line-up of experts with successful projects in Europe, America, the Middle East and Asia who will share best practice and innovation in sustainable design, construction and masterplanning. The session will also offer a detailed run through of the world’s most ambitious sustainable projects.

Continental lessons
Monica von Schmalensee, director of White Arkiteketer, one of Scandinavia’s biggest and most influential architectural practices, will discuss her companies environmental approach to design and creating sustainable communities. The firm worked on the landmark Hammarby Sjöstad Development in Stockholm but Monica’s session will also offer an insight into upcoming projects, such as a major new hospital and new office and housing schemes in its native Sweden as well as in Poland.

Continental lessons part 2 – The Austrian renewable experiment
Bruck an der Leitha is a small town near Vienna which has prospered significantly from a number of renewable energy initiatives. In an attempt to generate 100% of its renewable energy from renewables, a not–for-profit organisation was set up as a primary driver for three renewable energy technologies (biogas CHP, biomass heating and a wind park) and an MSc course in “Renewable energy in Central and Eastern Europe” has been made available. The renewable energy plants are owned and run by local people which has resulted in the generation of around 30 jobs. Gottfried Pschill of Energiepark Bruck an der Leitha will provide an overview of the system and a UK-based renewables expert, Steffie Broer of ESD will offer lessons that can be learnt from such an inspirational example.

Lessons from America
One of the UK’s most influential architects, Bill Taylor, MD of Hopkins Architects will offer a unique insight into his company’s work in America. The firm’s work in the US includes the Northern Arizona University’s Applied Research and Development Building, which was recently awarded LEED platinum status, one of the highest environmental accolades available in North America.

Asian Exemplar
Malcolm Smith, Head of Integrated Urbanism at ARUP will discuss his experiences of key projects includeing Dongtan Eco-city where ARUP provided the sustainable masterplan for a 8400ha development near Shanghai.

Middle East masterclass
The major challenges facing design teams working in challenging climates and conditions will be assessed by Metropolitan Architects, a major up and coming UK architectural practice. The firm is working on a far-reaching plan in Jordan looking at the Dead Sea area, which the government wants to turn into an exemplar for sustainable development. The firm examines how development can be controlled by and technology harnessed to ensure a viable long term future for areas facing rapid population growth, increasing water shortage and little by the way of natural resources.

Prashant Kapoor, Associate Director of WSP will provide a detailed run through of one of the world’s most ambitious sustainable projects, Masdar, the zero waste zero energy city planned for Abu Dhabi. As a key consultant working on the project he will run through the water, waste, energy and transport strategy as well as the passive design principles employed.

Think is an event underpinned by the latest thinking on urban policy and will discuss the issues that impact directly upon the way in which the built environment operates. Think very much captures the spirit of our times and will help to guide the future direction of the property and construction industry as it aims to meet the demands of our changing business climate.

The full conference programme is available online at



- Big name speakers to debate on sustainability in the built environment -

Today Think, the most influential exhibition and conference on sustainability in the built environment taking place from 7-8 May at ExCeL London, has revealed its full conference programme and line-up of major speakers. With confirmed names including Hillary Benn, Sir Howard Bernstein, Peter Rogers MBE, Ché Wall, Mark Clare, Herbert Girardet, Daniel Labbad, and Sir Richard MacCormac, Think 08 promises to be one of the most important landmark events for the entire property and construction industry.

Following the success of 2007’s inaugural event, this year’s Think will explore the economic, social and environmental challenges in delivering sustainable development and look at the wider responsibilities of the property and construction industry in dealing with the issues of climate change, urban renewal and redevelopment. The event will comprise a number of conference sessions alongside over one hundred exhibitors.

Provocative topics will include ‘Where’s the value? Is there any profit in sustainability?’, featuring Paul Cornes, Head of Sustainability at Prupim; and ‘Laborarory London – Making a Sustainable Capital’, chaired by Jackie Sadek, head of regeneration at CBRE with David Lunts, Executive Director Policy and Partnerships, GLA.

Think will be tackling some of the most contentious themes of our time by addressing the three key streams - Property, Regeneration and Construction - individually. Topics to be discussed include:

  • How do we measure sustainability?
  • The landlord vs tenant debate
  • The big picture: Making Britain more equal – how can we balance the north/south divide?
  • Making the most of our assets: Funding future regeneration
  • Sustainability on three continents: Case studies from North America, the Middle East and Continental Europe.
  • In pursuit of Zero Waste - how do we wipe out the industry’s waste mountain?

There will also be two daily plenary sessions morning and afternoon, as well as an open floor Question Time, featuring Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Liz Peace, Chief Executive, British Property Federation and Paul King, Chief Executive, UK Green Building Council to conclude this year’s event.

Think is an event underpinned by the latest thinking on urban policy and will discuss the issues that impact directly upon the way in which the built environment operates. Think very much captures the spirit of our times and will help to guide the future direction of the property and construction industry as it aims to meet the demands of our changing business climate.

The full conference programme is available online at Visit the website for further information.

Trashe Bolsas Bags – Product Review

Brilliant Recycled Bags

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Trashe Bolsas Bags are environmentally friendly as they keep tons and tons of advertising banners which are made of fabric covered with plastic out of the landfills in the Philippines or from being illegally dumped or illegally burned.

In the Philippines giant billboards promoting all manner of products and services line the highways. In offices, schools, hotels and shops, banners do the same.

Some of those advertising banners, as far as I can see from some photos that I have seen, are extremely large, much like the huge electronic billboards found in the USA and other countries, and often are the size of walls.

These billboards and banners are printed onto tarpaulins or ‘tarps’ made from canvas coated with polycarbonate.

These tarps, designed to withstand the scorching heat and torrential rain of the tropics, are non-biodegradable.

When the tarps are finished with, they either end up in landfill or are burned, thus releasing harmful greenhouse gases – either way, they contribute to an ever increasing threat to the environment.

Trashe Bolsas is a Livelihood Project that operates within the Earth Day Network, an NGO whose aim is to raise awareness of environmental issues.

Trashe Bolsas transforms used tarps into unique, strong, durable bags giving an income to women living the temporary housing an income, enabling them to become independent.

I met the two ladies and founders who are the moving force behind this project at the recent Promotional Marketing Exhibition in London and had the opportunity and great pleasure to talk with them, see the bags and take a sample home with me.

All bags are cut out from patterns individually by hand and are then individually sewn on sewing machines by the women in the project, many of who have only recently learned how to sew and especially how to sew using a sewing machine.

For that being the case I have to say that I found the quality of the stitching rather good, especially given also that material such as this used is difficult to sew at the best of time and even by professionals with industrial machines.

As the bags are made from advertising banners are all unique and vary in colors. No two bags will ever, I should think, be alike. This means that while this or that bag may be this or that color on the website it does not mean that the bag you order may be the same color. This is something that must be understood and, in my view, makes those bags so great. Any bag anyone may buy from Trashe Bolsas is different and everyone will be getting a unique one of article.

I can but recommend anyone to purchase one (or more than one) of those unique and wonderful bags.

Check out their website at:

© M Smith (Veshengro), Tatchipen Media & Trashe Bolsas, April 2008

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CPRE call for bottle deposit scheme

Consumers could be paid for recycling their plastic bottles under a scheme proposed by the Campaign to Protect Rural England

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) proposes (plastic) bottle recycling scheme where extra 10 pence would be added to the cost of goods such as drinks which would be returned to the consumer after the bottle is taken to collection points.

The organization is lobbying for the bottle deposit system as part of its three-year Stop the Drop campaign against litter and fly-tipping, which was launched by CPRE president and author Bill Bryson in April 2008.

UK households use an average of 500 plastic bottles a year, and just 130 of these are recycled while the rest head for landfill or end up littering towns and countryside.

I would say that most of those end up littering the countryside as those are the bane of all those that work in the countryside, namely the ones where bottled water came in.

Earlier this year, an annual survey of local authorities revealed that average performance on cleaning up litter has slipped from satisfactory to unsatisfactory.

No local authority has been rated good, which is very disappointing, given that it is a statutory requirement.

Local authorities are also, so it is said, failing to punish offenders, despite being given powers to fine people for littering and fly-tipping. This definitely appears to be the case for there are anecdotes of details having been passed to councils of persistent offenders in fly tipping with the councils having even taken any action whatsoever against said offenders.

CPRE is calling for Government to set local authorities targets for clearing up litter and encourage them to punish offenders.

The organization is also encouraging people to support its campaign by complaining to their local authority about litter.

But the deposits scheme idea is not a new proposal by far. In fact the CPRE have jumped on the bandwagon that others have started rolling, including this publication.

At the Green (Living) Review we have been calling for the return of deposits, but also for the return of the glass bottle and the doing away with the plastic bottle, for a long time already. The deposit system on bottles, in those days glass bottles, worked perfectly well with stores taking the bottles back and giving back the deposit to those returning the bottle(s).

This does not work all that easy with the plastic bottle. In fact the proposal here appears to be calling, in fact, for special collection points. This is a fact that is rather daft, to say the least, for one can well imagine that such collection points are, once again, only reachable for most people, by car. Instead we should return to the glass bottle (yes, I know glass can break and is therefore a health & safety issues and if we just would not be such a sissy state as well) and deposits being dealt with in the same way as in the not too distant past, namely in the stores where such goods were sold.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008

British Wind Industry frustrated at government's inaction

Wind industry frustrated at government inaction on domestic renewables grants

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

BWEA, the UK's leading renewable energy business organisation has been left frustrated by latest government announcements on grants for domestic wind turbines.

In the beginning of April 2008 the government's department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR) announced its intention to extend the poorly performing Low Carbon Buildings Programme into the next decade against the widespread advice of the renewables industry.

Alex Murley, BWEA Small Systems Manager said "To extend LCBP in its current form is to extend the illusion that government is sufficiently supporting the Britain's microgeneration industry at a critical stage in its development.

Government statistics have long shown the scheme to be providing domestic grants at such a low rate that the microgeneration market is barely affected. Yet BERR announced they will not be removing a widely acknowledged barrier to the scheme's operation, the cap on individual grants made available to domestic onsite renewable projects.

Murley added "The Government is under-supporting an industry key to meeting its renewable energy targets, the LCBP simply doesn't work, we need a new policy that does.

"If zero carbon policies are to be successfully delivered, a steady and consistent ramp up in the deployment of microgeneration technologies must start now."

In addition to this the buyback rate, that is to say price, that the electricity generating companies purchase any surplus generated by households is so small that, in fact, it is not worth the effort. Why is it that other countries of the developed world, Germany, Holland, Denmark and others, can have the electricity companies the microgenerating householders the general rate that the companies pay each other while in the UK, apparently, this just would not work, so government ministers and officials have said.

It seems to always that when it comes to any such things that, while all the other countries can do the right things in Britain this is not possible. The excuse again and again that we are being presented with is “that while this may work in Germany, Holland, etc. it could never work in Britain as, you see, Britain is different.” Well, we can see that alright dearest government officials. It is the same with some many things.

The problem with energy production, probably, is that most companies are not owned by British owners. They are owned by big foreign companies.

N Power, as an example, is owned, nigh on complete, by German energy giant RWE who would in Germany have to pay the full purchasing price to microgenerating householders. In the UK, on the other hand they do not have to do so and do not do so. No surprise, therefore, that the British government is rather reluctant to rock the boat. They own the companies here. It was a bad mistake when we allowed foreign companies to buy our strategic infrastructure and not just in regards to making renewable power generation pay for the householder.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008

Recycling and the Gyppo

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The entire world, especially, but not only, the countries of the developed world, are on about the need for everyone to recycle.

Before the word “recycling” (and those related to it) was ever even invented it was the Gypsy who was doing just that, namely recycling and such. Reclaiming materials, and not just metals, was a main activity for many Gypsy families and clans. Who were the majority of those that went about with horse and cart or even handcart calling “any old iron” and calling for rags and old bones even, the so-called “rag and bone men” or the “totters”. They were of Romani origin in the great majority and it was not only the menfolks that did this tasks.

Then this trade was stopped; the calling around the country was basically outlawed. The picking on the municipal dumps was outlawed and handed to the “professional pickers”. What was the result? Guess what? Suddenly we have a problem. What a surprise – NOT! And now everyone is clamouring for it. Recycling is the slogan everywhere. It was the Gypsy who first took scrap, took other people's trash, and turned it into resalable items again, whether the knives that many made from old knives or other things. More often than not it was not just “reclaiming” the metals and other items; often it was restoring and refurbishing the items for resale. This was anything from furniture to machinery, and many other items in between and later up to electrical goods. Fence wire was turned into the likes of toasting forks, barbecue forks, and many other items. Old knives were reworked into new ones, blade grade steel was made into knives and other cutting tools, and we could get on and on.

Now everyone is trying to do the same and then again it is not the same. While the practical recycling that was done by the Gypsy the industrial recycling, to some degree, to me at least, seems to be less good for the Planet. The impact of energy and factories and such is adding to the environmental footprint of us and those companies. Then again, rather have the material, obviously, recycled in such a fashion instead of it going into landfills.

But there are many aspects of recycling that could be done, yet again, in the way the old Gypsy did. All we need to do is to adapt to the materials. Entire community livelihood projects and programs could be set up for Romani communities to do recycling and there is a market out there for the right quality of recycled goods, made in a way as it was done before.

I know that there are some modern “totters” out there of the Romani community but most of them are only looking to pick up and carry scrap metal to this or that dealer. If we talk scrap metal then we should take it all the way.

What do I mean with taking it all the way? I mean that we should disassemble, say, vehicles and ourselves sell the parts reclaimed as secondhand spares. However, my real issue in this article is for ours to return to doing “recycling crafts” that can be sold locally and further afield. Many families and clans could be gainfully employed – by themselves – in recycling and refurbishing those things that others, especially the general public, throw out. There is also commercial waste available that could be used in such ventures, such as canvass and tarpaulin from manufacturers that use such materials, as well as, and especially, the material that has been used and would, otherwise, end up in the landfill. Time we got and did it again; we did it before. The only difference, nowadays, would be that the materials are different.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008

Climate Change is going to adversely affect European Biodiversity

by Michael Smith (Veshengro), RFA

Climate Change and the loss of Biodiversity are the most pressing environmental problems and challenges of the twenty first century. Biodiversity and forestry will be tremendously affected by this.

In order to develop the necessary adaption strategies integrated and appropriate research is required that covers a broad spectrum of themes. We must not, under any circumstances, underestimate the possible effects of climate change on the environment and on biodiversity, especially, as said, in our woods and forests and the impact that this will have on our continued use of forest products.

The concept of the protection and retention of the biodiversity includes, aside from the mere protection of the environment and biodiversity, also the commercial use of our woodlands and forests. Therefore research into climate change and biodiversity has to be seen and understood an interdisciplinary task which also must include the socio-economic aspects and the questions as to our moral concepts and ideas.

According to calculations and prognoses based on computer modelling not only would by a warming of the climate the potentially suitable ranges for tree species like beech and pine change considerably, but this would also be the case for the rarer species and those endangered ones on the red lists. The “red list species”, according to those calculations, would be extremely hard hit due to loss of suitable areas where they can grow and thrive.

We must find ways and means to react to such a threat so as to preserve the species but also to be able to continue to commercially use timber and other products from our woods and forests even during this probable climate change.

© M Smith (Veshengro), Tatchipen Media & EcoFor, April 2008

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How Green is Ecover Dish-wash really?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Ecover has always been touted as, basically, the forerunner of all green and environmentally friendly dish-wash liquids, washing powders, and such.

It is lauded by the United Nations for protecting the earth, and the company's products scour many a lean and green homes.

However, in a recent study in the United States it was found that Ecover dish-wash liquid contains extremely high amounts of 1,4-Dioxane, often also simply called dioxane.

Ecover was, however, found to have almost twice the amount of dioxane than regular off-the-shelf dish washing detergent (2.4 parts per million, versus 1.6). This is at least a tad worrying due to the fact that there are trace amounts of soap that one ingests with every meal, and that the chemical has been linked to immune system disruption. Cheers!

Dioxane, is a clear, colorless heterocyclic organic compound which is a liquid at room temperature and pressure. It has the molecular formula C4H8O2 and a boiling point of 101°C. It is commonly used as an aprotic solvent. 1,4-Dioxane has a weak smell similar to that of diethyl ether.

1,4-Dioxane is primarily used in solvent applications for the manufacturing sector; however, it is also found in fumigants and automotive coolant. Additionally, the chemical is also used as a foaming agent and appears as an accidental byproduct of the ethoxylation process in cosmetics manufacturing. It may contaminate cosmetics and personal care products such as deodorants, shampoos, toothpastes and mouthwashes.

Dioxanes combine with atmospheric oxygen on standing to form explosive peroxides, similar to many other ethers. Distillation of dioxanes concentrates these peroxides increasing the danger. Appropriate precautions should be taken.

1,4-dioxane is a known eye and respiratory tract irritant. It is suspected of causing damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys. Accidental worker exposure to 1,4-dioxane has resulted in several deaths. Dioxane is classified by the IARC as a Group 2B carcinogen: possibly carcinogenic to humans due to the fact that it is a known carcinogen in animals.

To the concern expressed by some who contacted Ecover the company's PR people responded with the following below (it is also a shame that they do not know there dioxane from their dioxin.

Substantial quantities of dioxine [sic] are found in the production of synthetic fibers, such as polyester, a fabric that is worn daily by roughly 85 % of the planet’s population.

Mainly produced by two US companies, the ingredient is also used in high dosages as a solvent in mass production, including the paper and cotton industry as well as the polymer industry for the production of PET bottles.

It is therefore astonishing that the above-mentioned investigation turned a blind eye on such superabundant and well-spread sources and preferred to single out easy-to-research, mere minute traces of dioxine in detergents.

Several years ago, the European detergent industry put a limit on dioxane traces at 100 parts per million of surfactant. Ecover’s own criterion is set at half, namely 50 parts per million.

This leads to values as low as the 2,4 parts detected in the Ecover product.

The threshold for reporting the presence of dioxane in tap water in The Netherlands, a country with a stringent environmental legislation, is 3 parts per million parts of water. This means that, in the unlikely event, you drank an entire bottle of pure Ecover Dishwashing liquid you still wouldn’t reach that threshold!”

The above statement, in my opinion, is more than uncaring and unhelpful. In fact it smacks of arrogance rather than of concern and certainly not of a company who has always been upheld as a model of ethical behaviour and green credentials. I have no knowledge of the regulations of the drinking water in the Netherlands but for some reason, having spent a while in that country, I cannot see that that attitude should be a fact there. Also, why does the company cite the Netherlands when it, itself is based not in the Netherlands but in Belgium?

I have been using Ecover dish-washing liquid for some years now. Firstly for environmental reasons and secondly, nowadays, for reasons of costs for, indeed, Ecover is now cheaper in places such as Sainsbury's in the UK than is the country's favorite, namely, Fairy Liquid. I must say though that I have found that Ecover is much harsher to my hands – I am male but have rather sensitive skin – than, in fact, I found Fairy Liquid to be and I must say that, therefore, for both reasons, e.g. the content of this harmful chemical in Ecover to have found to be higher than in other brands and two the fact that my skin is suffering (after use over about 2 years now) that I shall be switching back to Fairy Liquid. In addition to that I have also found that Fairy is more economical – you do not need as much of it – as is Ecover.

After this I must say that, for the time being at least, Ecover gets a thumbs down from me.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008


Let's hear it for the train, for freight as much as for passengers

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I love trains, always have and I love travelling by train. Mind you, I do not have a driver's license and I do not own a car. So, well, you say, no wonder he is for public transport, for the train and the bus. There is only one major drawback with this in the UK – that is the cost. It is in fact more expensive, and this is stupid, I know, to travel by train, say, from the south of London to Birmingham International, than to fly there by internal airlines from Gatwick, for instance. And it is a lot cheaper by plane; it costs only about a third of the standard return fair to Birmingham. Now this is absolutely ridiculous, I know. But such is the state of affair in the UK and still the govt think that they can get people to use the train again on a more general basis. I do not think so. Not until we get the prices down to a sustainable level where it pays for people to use the train rather than plane or car. This will mean that we need to get the railroads back into either public ownership or into the hands of social entrepreneurs. We also must make the trains run on time, all the time...

Aside from passenger transportation and transit trains have a (much greater) value in the transportation of goods, of freight, from one end of the country to the other, from place to place, as well as across borders even.

It is absolute and utter madness that we have allowed our railroad infrastructure to go to rack and ruin and into total disrepair and that we have closed lines, whether they were small branch lines, as they are always referred to, or also bigger lines. In the world of today where we are being told to reduce the “carbon footprint” the railroads must be brought back into operations. While some sections of track were ripped up and turned into cycle paths (some have and those that are not as yet turned into such but have no rails left on them should either be pronto or have rails place back on them and the trains reinstated) those that still have their track should be refurbished rather speedily and brought back into use and even wood-burning locomotives should be brought back into service to pull trains on the smaller lines. Am I mad, you ask. No, not in the slightest. In fact wood is a renewable resource and could be used – again – to power steam trains. Yes, I do say steam trains.
And why should we bring back all the railroad infrastructure? Well, because transporting things by rail is extremely energy efficient, and efficiency means cheaper goods, heftier bottom lines, and mitigated climate change.

Currently we use diesel fuel or other relatively heavy polluters to power our freight trains, and also for road transport, and diesel means pollution, which in the end is not good for us, our planet and the climate. But the proposition that a diesel train engine, pulling hundreds of freight or passenger cars, could feasibly use a less polluting, carbon neutral fuel like cellulose-based ethanol seems a much more feasible than the concept of putting corn-based fuels in the tanks of Hummers. However, we already have a cellulose-based fuel with which to power the trains that does not even need converting and this is wood. In addition to that fuel pellets could be used, such as those for furnaces nowadays, that are even made from forest residues, saw dust, and such like, and I am even convinced could be made by recycling cardboard.

Another means of transporting freight that we must bring back into use are the inland waterways and the freight “barges”.

First of all, however, aside from getting freight off the roads and back onto the rails we also must do the same as regards to people. While, as we will see in another, forthcoming, article, the miles travelled annually by the public in the United Kingdom has risen to the greatest amount since World War II when troop movements, mostly carried out by train, helped to raise the figure, we must reduce the cost of travel by railroad in Britain. It cannot be that a return flight to Birmingham from London or to Northern Ireland from London is cheaper by far than using the train. This just does not make sense and will never get the public out of the car or the plane and back onto the train. Let's use some sense here.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008

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Aluminium can recycling – the lack of it

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The aluminium can recycling rate in the United States, according to statistics, has fallen to just a tad over 51 per cent. The US population throws away 1,500 cans every second.

Yes, you read that right. Each and every second of every minute of every day Americans throw at least fifteen hundred – that is to say one thousand five hundred (1,500) aluminium cans in the trash. And, as said, that is just the population of the United States. Work that one out globally. I actually would hate to even try to do so.

In the 1990’s we actually recycled more of our aluminium cans than we do today; the rate was 60% back then. We are in fact going backwards in terms of recycling rather than forwards. This has to change. The basic material to aluminium, bauxite, is but a finite resource and the production of it is also rather bad to the environment.

The Container Recycling Institute make a very valid point in that “recyclable” does not necessarily equals “recycled”.

Why, though, is the recycling rate actually declining as more and more people are looking to “go green”?

The problem must lie, I am sure, (1) with the consumer who is too laze to actually recycle the can and also (2) with the fact that, once they are in the trash, say in parks and such, they just go into the landfill refuse, period. No attempt is even made to separate the waste, generally.

And all of those beverage containers that are not being recycled end up in the landfills. But why landfills?

This, according to the Container Recycling Institute, is because of a combination of our “on-the-go” lifestyle and our communities’ lack of public recycling bins which has left us holding a container, often literally, with nowhere to put it. Thus, with nowhere else left to put it, we throw it in the trash. Personally, I wonder, though, as to whether people would actually separate it from ordinary trash, that is to say, even if “dual stations”, say, would be provided in towns and cities and villages and parks where to put aluminium can separate from other trash as to whether people would actually go to the effort of doing it. I actually doubt this. While many claim to want to go green they seem to be leaving often lots to be desired in that department.

According to E Magazine, we threw away 11 billion cans in the 1970’s, 29 billion a year in the 1980’s, 35 billion a year in the 1990’s, and about 46 billion every year since 2000. This is a lot of aluminium. And this is just the aluminium cans that are thrown away in the United States that are calculated here, so I understand. This is mind blowing. I hate to think how much that would make every year on a global scale for, while the US may be the biggest consumer of aluminium cans for soda and beer other countries do not lag much behind, I am sure, such as countries of Western Europe.

On to of this, what about the steel cans, whether beverage cans such as beer or soda (some of those are still of steel) and food cans. They too could be recycled. But are they?

The Container Recycling Institute, aside from talking about recycling statistics, also talks about the “dirt” behind the aluminum can.

In order to make one ton of cans five tons of caustic waste are produced. Each ton of aluminum cans requires five tons of bauxite ore to be strip-mined, crushed, washed, and refined into alumina before it is smelted, creating about five tons of caustic red mud residue which can seep into surface and groundwater. People and animals have suffered from the effects of bauxite mining in Jamaica, Brazil, Australia, and other tropical areas.

It takes 3% of the world’s electricity to making aluminum cans, and while aluminum companies often cite tremendous savings from recycling aluminum, what they forget to mention is that at the current wasting levels, about 23 billion kilowatt-hours are squandered globally each year through ‘replacement production.’ About 7 kWh are saved per pound (33 cans) recycled. Had the 50 billion trashed cans been recycled, the electricity saved could power 1.3 million American homes. In total, the industry’s annual electricity consumption is almost 300 billion kilowatt-hours, or about 3% of the world’s total electricity consumption.

Aluminum smelting release greenhouse gases and toxic emissions - About 95 million tons of greenhouse gases were produced by the global aluminum industry in 2005. Primary aluminum smelting also generates sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, which are contributors to smog and acid rain. In 2005, 50.7 billion U.S. cans were wasted, resulting in the emission of 75,000 tons of SOx and Nox.

As a little closing fact, let me just mention that only one year’s worth of all the aluminium cans that are annually put into the trash in America instead of being recycled would provide enough aluminum to make more than eight thousand (8,000) Boeing 747 aircraft. That is a lot of airplanes and a lot of aluminium.

I am sure we can – pun intended – do better and get off our dependency on the aluminium can.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008

Bring back the Glass Bottle!

Forget the plastic bottle and let's hear it for again glass bottles and jars!

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I know I have visited this subject more than once already in various of my articles on this journal but, even though I may bore some readers to tears with it by now, I will make the point again.

Maybe we should start a “Return to the Refund Bottle” movement, or such? I am open to suggestions on this.

Water, lemonade, Coca Cola, Pepsi, juice, milk - they all come nowadays, with few exceptions, in plastic single-use-only throw-away bottles, with the majority of them ending up in a landfill rather than a recycling bin. Apparently we are told that you cannot even safely reuse those bottles with water, for instance, as there are chemicals in the plastic that will leach into the water if the bottles are reused. So we have not other option but to throw them away. Even cooking oils and vinegars, as well as table sauces, now come in plastic bottles. But there was a time, not so long ago, when all milk, Coke, fruit juices, water (oh, please do not get me started on bottled water), lemonade, and others came in glass bottles, the majority of which, including beer bottles (which still are glass, in the main) had a deposit on then and us kids used to make good pocket money every week from trundling about the countryside with our little handcarts picking up the bottles that people, despite the deposit charged on them, threw away and bringing them back to the stores and getting the refund money for us. Thanks muchly!

There was also a time, that I can well remember, in my childhood in the 1960's still, when milk was sold loose in the stores; you brought along a small milk churn thing, like a billy can, with a handle, made of metal mostly, and you got the amount of milk you wanted ladled into the billy can, you put the lid on and, after paying for it, took it home to Mum. She then would pasteurize it at home by bringing the milk to the boil. No one ever got sick from it.

When I was a kid everything like that came in reusable glass bottles that were returned to the manufacturer when you were done with the drink. R Whites Lemonade was one we all remember and many of them we collected as children for pocket money. The same held true for Coco Cola bottles and beer bottles. This was before the “ex & hop” era of 250ml and 330ml one-way bottles. The only reasons those were invented was because the breweries and other drinks manufacturers were too lazy to collect the bottles back in from the outlets. Even the Coca Cola (and other those of other Colas) became throw-away bottles, even though they were still glass, Many then, aside from the tin can, switched to the plastic bottles, and enter our current dilemma.

Wouldn’t it be lovey if we could go back to those days, to the days before the plastic and the glass throw-away bottles? The amount of trash that we could keep out of the ground would just be tremendous. But who says we cannot go forward to such a time and, short of reinventing the wheel, bring back the glass bottles and even glass jars, as far as I am concerned, with deposit on them. All that is needed is the will to do it.

Drinks manufacturers, breweries, dairies, etc. who are concerned about the future of this planet should and must take a leaf out of the book of the past and must bring back glass bottling facilities and infrastructure for the recovery of the empties. I think we could all bet that those who are environmentally concious would rather choose their products over others by manufacturers still using plastic bottles or even those who who use the non-returnable glass bottle.

Yes, it would require an initial investment in facilities and the glass bottles themselves, but this would soon be evened out and soon there would be a profit coming from this as glass can be reused again, and again, and again, ad infinitum. All it needs to be is sterilized before each refill.

While the shipping costs of this now, due to glass bottles, slightly heavier product, might be a little more and also the additional costs of recovering the empties from the stores. Then again, in the latter case, a truck delivering full cases of whatever to stores can easily, as it used to be done, pick up the crates of empties and take them back to the depot. The only downside could the the possibility of breakages. And it is not just a possibility; breakages will occur.

To my mind it would be absolutely brilliant to have, once again, all such goods in returnable glass bottles (and jars) that we know will be used again, and again, as long as we return them to the stores. However, should the adults be too lazy to do so I am sure that the kids will once again discover the delights that we had as children of ridding the countryside of such bottles (who also, if in the sunlight in the countryside in summer can become the cause of fires) and making nice money in return for little effort.

Ah, the good old days of childhood and bottle collecting for refund.

We still have beer in bottles but what happens to most of those bottles? They end up in the trash just like the plastic ones do and, in the main, are also not recovered and recycled. Let's get back to deposit on ALL glass bottles, for drinks of all sorts, including milk and beer. Yes, even on spirits bottles, whether whisky, vodka, rum, etc.

There is a German brewery, from the Black Forest, that also supplies the UK market with bottled beer who have empty bottles recovered from every place they supply and ship those bottles back to Germany. If they can do it why should it not be possible to do it locally?

We have been here before, it is not directly rocket science. All it needs, like with so many things, is the will, the political will especially, to do it. However, does it need to start with legislation and companies being “forced” to do the right thing. Could not breweries, dairies and soft drinks manufacturers and even the distilleries, start the schemes up themselves of having again glass bottles (where there is now plastic) and have all bottles return for reuse. Same also for wine. So much wine is being consumed now in the UK and all those bottles either end up in recycling where it needs energy to turn them back into new glass bottles or other glass items or, more often than not, they simply end up in the general trash and in the landfill sites.

Time for a serious think and serious change. Companies, if they'd get their calculators out, should, after the initial outlay of recovering and cleaning the bottles, make a healthy profit rather soon as no new bottles will be needed for a long time to come.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008

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London’s Mayor wants to take London off-grid

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Ken Livingstone, seeking re-election as Mayor of London, has told the media that he wants to take the entire city of London, all of it, off-grid. As the world’s most popular, and expensive, city, how London treats the green agenda will set a template for other world capitals, not to mention the rest of the country.

Livingstone said: “We don’t want the normal grid. We want to get everybody off grid.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s nuclear or gas, 65 per cent of energy is wasted in the cooling system.”

“If we have locally done energy it’s 15 per cent. So immediately, if we could wave a magic wand and all of Britain’s energy was coming from local sources you’d reduce your fossil-fuel consumption by 50 per cent. Just being efficient.” Livingstone says is working with French power company EDF to develop his decentralised strategy.

This is something that Fritz Schumacher advocated in huis book “Small is Beautiful” many decades ago and so has this writer ever since. However, both Schumacher and this write have been laughed at for suggesting such things and power stations were made bigger (and better?) and ended up further and further away from the consumer thus causing great loss in transmission along the overhead and underground power lines. The very reason why the electric power produced is not 240V AC at the power stations but several tens of thousands of volts.

Livingstone is the most senior politician worldwide to specifically endorse the concept of off-grid living, and his words will also have an effect on the ruling Labor Party. We recommend Londoners vote Labor in the May 1st Mayoral election.

Livingstone said the main obstacles to making London an off-grid and zero carbon city was Civil Service hostility, specifically at the Department of Energy, which cannot abode the idea of a decentralised energy policy for London. “People in the Department of Energy have done everything possible to block decentralised power,” he said.

“If I were running the country, tomorrow I’d ban plastic bags, I’d ban incandescent light bulbs,” Livingstone said. As long as he is re-elected another showpiece policy to be introduced next year is free bicycles throughout central London, based on the successful Paris model.

“We face a huge catastrophic climate change. We’re close to the tipping point. Stern says four to two years. I met Dr Pauchari, who is the chair of the IPCC, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, when I was in India, and he thinks that we are now past the tipping point and you have got to come up with technologies that will mitigate the effects. If that’s true, sometime over the next 10 years we’ll have to rejig the whole of the economy, like we did in the Second World War.”

The Civil Service hostility that Ken Livingstone talks about as regards a decentralised energy policy is not just there for London but for all of the UK. One of the major obstacles also, I my view, to people being permitted to generate power locally, such as farming estates, Gypsy sites, and even small villages. They cannot hack anything that they have no control over. Not that the Labour party is any different with the nanny state they have created ever since they have been in power. Mr. Livingstone should know that full well and he also knows that this so-called Labour Party of today no longer bears any resemblance to the real true Labour Party of Keir Hardy, Dr. Salter and Fenner Brockway. This is no longer a party for the working people; it is the party of control, of nannying the people, of “we know what's best for you” and, I am afraid, it would appear that Mr. Livingstone is also cut from the same cloth, as he would like to ban outright this and that and the other.

In the same way as the Eco-Towns where, unlike it is with their counterparts in Germany, such as Freiburg, where it is a voluntary choice of people not to own a car, certain residents will be told that they will not be allowed to own a car. This all under the same attitude of this Labour government; it is all for our best, they say.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008

Amsterdam Chooses Bicycle as Unique Selling Point

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands – Amsterdam, the world’s number one cycling city with some 60% of all trips in the city centre made by bicycle, wants to turn into the world’s centre of expertise on sustainable mobility. A program to reach that goal was launched on Tuesday 1st April.

Amsterdam City Council and various Amsterdam businesses and organizations have joined together in a platform for sustainable mobility: Amsterdam Cycling to Sustainability. A declaration of intent was signed on April 1st, which, hopfully is no April Fools, by Councillor Tjeerd Herrema and the initiators Jos Louwman of MacBike and Pascal van den Noort from Vélo Mondial. Prominent Amsterdam businesses and organizations such as the RAI association, JCDecaux, the Amsterdam Innovation Motor, the Fietsfabriek and Mister Green, also signed the declaration of intent.

Sustainable mobility will ensure that Amsterdam maintains its accessibility and quality of life. Amsterdam is on the right path. Bicycles are widely used in the city and there are all sorts of positive initiatives in the field of sustainable mobility. There is, however, a lot still to be done which is why the Amsterdam City Council and various Amsterdam businesses and organizations are working together to promote sustainable mobility in Amsterdam.

The aim of the initiative is to support and develop projects in which all sorts of sustainable mobility can be stimulated. In addition the platform would like to promote Amsterdam internationally as a sustainably mobile city. The bicycle has been chosen as Amsterdam’s unique selling point. Furthermore the platform aims to set up an Amsterdam centre of expertise on sustainable mobility, together with other expert bodies in Amsterdam.

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How the world wastes $100 Billion per year

Bottled water - pouring resources down the drain

The worldwide consumption of bottled water reached 154 billion liters in 2004, up 57 percent from the 98 billion liters used five years earlier.

Even in areas where tap water is safe to drink, such as Western Europe (well, in most parts of Western Europe it is safe) and the USA and Canada, demand for bottled water is increasing year by year. This demand, aside from producing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy, also puts a strain on the water resources. We must not forget that also some bottled water is nothing but repackaged tap water that may (or may not) have been going trough a filtering and in some cases a reverse osmosis process. Although in the industrial world bottled water is often no healthier than tap water, it can cost up to 10,000 times more. At as much as $2.50 per liter, bottled water costs much more than does gasoline in the USA and even more than gasoline, aka petrol does in Britain. We must be mad, literally mad to do this.

The United States is the world’s leading consumer of bottled water, with Americans drinking 26 billion liters in 2004, or approximately one 8-ounce glass per person every day. Mexico has the second highest consumption, at 18 billion liters. China and Brazil follow, at close to 12 billion liters each. Ranking fifth and sixth in consumption are Italy and Germany, using just over 10 billion liters of bottled water each. While, maybe, one can understand Mexicans drinking bottled water for I, certainly, would not want to trust the tap water in say Mexico or Brazil, unless I would filter it first, to have countries of the what was once called First World do this, and especially countries such as the USA, the UK (with one of the finest tap waters in the world) and Germany is absolute and utter madness.

Some of the largest increases in bottled water consumption have occurred in developing countries. Of the top 15 per capita consumers of bottled water, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, and Mexico have the fastest growth rates, with consumption per person increasing by 44–50 percent between 1999 and 2004. While the rates per capita in India and China are not as high, total consumption in these populous countries has risen very fast indeed – tripling in India and more than doubling in China in that five-year period. And there is great potential for further growth. If everyone in China drank 100 8-ounce glasses of bottled water a year (slightly more than one fourth the amount consumed by the average American in 2004), China would go through some 31 billion liters of bottled water, quickly becoming the world’s leading consumer.

In contrast to tap water, which is distributed through an energy-efficient infrastructure, transporting bottled water long distances involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. Nearly a quarter of all bottled water crosses national borders to reach consumers, transported by boat, train, and truck. In 2004, for example, Nord Water of Finland bottled and shipped 1.4 million bottles of Finnish tap water 4,300 kilometers (2,700 miles) from its bottling plant in Helsinki to Saudi Arabia. Please note: this is tap water that is being shipped in bottles to the Arabian Peninsular. Who ever has heard of such stupidity.

Saudi Arabia can afford to import the water it needs, but bottled water is not just sold to water-scarce countries. While some 94 percent of the bottled water sold in the United States is produced domestically, Americans also import water shipped some 9,000 kilometers from Fiji and other faraway places to satisfy the demand for chic and exotic bottled water.

Fossil fuels are also used in the packaging of water. The most commonly used plastic for making water bottles is polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is derived from crude oil. Making bottles to meet Americans’ demand for bottled water requires more than 17 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel more than 1 million U.S. cars for a year. Around the world some 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year.

After the water has been consumed, the plastic bottle must be disposed of. According to the Container Recycling Institute, 86 percent of plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage or litter. Incinerating used bottles produces toxic byproducts such as chlorine gas and ash containing heavy metals. Buried water bottles can take up to 1,000 years to “biodegrade” which, in this case, and in the case of all oil-based plastics, is really an incorrect term as those bottles do not biodegrade but just slowly break down in soil while leaching harmful chemicals into the soil and the groundwater. Almost 40 percent of the PET bottles that were deposited for recycling in the United States in 2004 were actually exported, sometimes to as far away as China- adding to the resources used by this product.

In addition to the strains bottled water puts on our ecosystem through its production and transport, the rapid growth in this industry means that water extraction is concentrated in communities where bottling plants are located. For example, water shortages near beverage bottling plants have been reported in Texas and in the Great Lakes region of North America, and not to mention the plants of Coca cola as far afield as India. Farmers, fishermen, and others who depend on water for their livelihoods, suffer from the concentrated water extraction when water tables drop quickly. Plant life too suffers as does aquatic life. Where the water tables drop below a certain depth trees can no longer reach the moisture and mature trees that no longer have the ability to extend their roots deeper and deeper to follow the water table that is dropping become distressed and in the end die.

Studies show that consumers associate bottled water with healthy living. But bottled water is not guaranteed to be any healthier than tap water. In fact, roughly 40 percent of bottled water begins as tap water; and many non-tap bottled water, e.g. “spring” water contains much higher concentrations of harmful substances than tap water would ever allowed to have. The stringent rules that apply for tap water as to hygiene and such do not apply to “spring” water in bottles. Oops!

As I have just indicated it is a fact that, in a number of places, including Europe and the United States, there are more regulations governing the quality of tap water than bottled water. Water quality standards in the USA, set by the Environmental Protection Agency for tap water, for instance, are more stringent than the standards set by Food and Drug Administration for bottled water, and the same applies for the UK and other European countries, for instance. So, which one is better – bottled or tap? No contest, I think.

There is no question that clean, affordable drinking water is essential to the health of our global community. But bottled water is not the answer in the developed world, nor does it solve problems for the 1.1 billion people who lack a secure water supply. Improving and expanding existing water treatment and sanitation systems is more likely to provide safe and sustainable sources of water over the long term. In villages, rainwater harvesting and digging new wells can create more affordable sources of water. And when we talk “affordable” drinking water for the third world, for instance, I doubt that bottled water would come anywhere near the “affordable” label.

Considering how much money we waste worldwide on bottled water, the greatest hoax ever pulled off, the “inventors” of the “bottled water”, much of which, as far as I can ascertain, is nothing but repackaged tap water, must be laughing all the way to the bank and must really think that the entire world has gone mad. In fact, it would indeed seem that many people have done just that, gone mad. Who in their right mind would spend such an amount of money annually on water in plastic bottles. When bottled water is more expensive than other drinks, as it is in many places, then we do have a problem.

The world spends $100 billion on bottled water every year. Strangely enough, this water does not get to the millions of sick and dying people who do not have access to clean drinking water.

To bring potable water to the entire world would cost around $30 billion...less than half of the amount that people who have access to clean drinking water spend on bottles of the stuff every year.

I am honestly very angry about this, and I haven't even gotten going as to the environmental problems proper as yet. In fact, I'm not going to...I'm just going to leave it there...

by Michael Smith (Veshengro) © April 2008

City firms create smallest carbon footprint

Financial services firms lead the rest of the pack in minimising environmental impacts whilst remaining profitable

Sectors such as banking, finance and insurance have the smallest carbon footprint per pound of wealth generated in the UK, according to an analysis of Government statistics published March 20, 2008 by the base business forum.

The research, which analyses the individual environmental footprint of workers in different industrial sectors, as well as how much revenue each sector generates per tonne of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, shows that workers in financial services firms are leading the way in minimising their impacts on the environment. Each financial services worker can be held accountable for just 1.2 tonnes of GHG per year (with the sector creating over £40000 of wealth per tonne emitted), as opposed to those in the construction industry who represent nearly 9 tonnes (with wealth of just over £6000 per tonne created), and those in the energy sector who account for an enormous 1127 tonnes of emissions.

The research also shows:
· The worst performing sectors were in electricity, gas and water supply, and agriculture
· The greenest region in the country is Greater London, whilst the North East – with its industrial legacy – still has room for improvement in terms of reducing its carbon footprint.

This research has been published by base – a new business forum set up specifically to provide practical information to companies about how they can capitalise on the drive to sustainability. Bringing together companies from every sector, from all parts of the supply chain, it will examine the critical role that environmental considerations will play in how we do business in the 21st century.

Base’s Chairman, sustainability expert Tom Burke, said:

“Understanding how we manage and adapt to climate change is going to be critical to how we do business in future. The most successful companies from now on will be those that place climate change on a par with operational, market and financial risks, and those that adopt a positive, pragmatic and inventive attitude to developing green products and services. There is still much to be done and all sectors need to continually look to improve their performance.”

Speaking on behalf of Barclays Commercial, one of base’s founding partners, Richard French, Director, Marketing and Online Channel, said:

“We have always believed there is a strong link between business sustainability and business success, and are delighted that this research has proved how far our own sector has gone to minimise its environmental footprint. At Barclays, we are carbon neutral, and have our own Climate Action Programme to further reduce our impact. We are looking forward to engaging with leading thinkers on sustainability at base to explore how we can share our experiences with other businesses in this space in the future.”

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Canned Sun – Sun Jar Product Review

So, what is a Sun Jar? Well, in a Jam Jars you can jam and in a Sun Jar, obviously, you can what else but sun. Canned sun for use at night. Like the rays of the sun that warm the earth and then, when the air cools down at night the earth slowly releases this heat stored. That is what, principally, the sun jar does with sun light. This could be one way of explaining it while trying to make people become even more curious.

Basically, the Sun Jar is a light that turns on when it gets dark. While this sounds simple enough is goes a lot further. The secret is that one, it is powered by solar energy stored in a rechargeable battery and because it has a light sensor built in it does not come on until it gets dark.

The idea is that the jar stores up sunshine in the form of solar photovoltaic energy and gives it you back in the evening. There’s a switch inside the lid which you press when you first open the jar and then it starts storing energy through the solar panel in the lid. As the sun sets it then emits a warm glow throughout the night. Well, for up to five hours on a full charge anyway. It’s a nice idea which works well. The orange light is very nice and soothing.

The Sun jar will turn off automatically if you turn on another light on and it is also waterproof so it could also be used in the garden, especially on summer evenings for a sit around the table outside, and such like.
While its various parts can indeed be recycled and it does not use mains electricity or drain lots of batteries, its environmental credentials, I still think, could be regarded as a little shaky. The unit came packaged in plastic and polystyrene as well.

Having mentioned above about the green credentials, we must also understand, I think, that it was never, actually, designed as, what could be called, a “green” gadget but was just a design concept to be something on the “funky” side, and, maybe the idea was to have it plonked on the windowsill for it to be a conversation piece.

However, it would not take much to improve its “green cred” by simply packaging it in (1) a plastic sleeve that is not actually made from oil (there are other options) and (2) by packaging it within the cardboard box cushioned in shredded newspaper (or even rice straw) or in the “egg carton” kind of packaging which can be composted, rather than having a Styrofoam bottom and hat. Maybe this could be considered and done.

I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised when the Sun Jar arrived to actually find that it is a REAL jar and not some sort of heavier gauge plastic/polycarbon that I had expected. It is a “copy” of a real canning jar as Mom would have used to can vegetables and whatever else in in days gone by. Those days are, more or less, gone by in this country, e.g. the UK, while in places such as the USA canning, in glass jar and tin can, is still very much practices, definitely outside the cities and bigger towns, but I digressed.

The Sun Jar is designed by Tobias Wong, and available from Suck UK.

Reviewed by Michael Smith (Veshengro) © April 2008