Tag Archives: waste

The Guerrilla Recycler

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A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my boss insisting on using paper cups in the student cafe, rather than china cups. I had a problem with this because Starbucks coffee is probably our biggest seller and all the cups are thrown out after just one fleeting use – resulting in heaps of trash that I have to lug out to the dustbins after every shift.

My boss wasn’t too receptive to my suggestion of real cups (“Too much washing up, Tegan!”) but I recently discovered that there are actually recycling bins at the back of the cafe for plastic bottles and cans, which are barely used. I didn’t know about them at first because my boss and all the other staff don’t use them, but I’m not surprised they’re there as the university as a whole has a fairly thorough recycling program. Anyway now while I’m clearing tables I get excited when I see discarded juice bottles and cola cans and swoop down on them before the other waitresses can throw them in the bin.

Despite this rather over-zealous approach, I have a slight suspicion these recycling bins aren’t actually emptied. Ever since I started using them I’ve seen all the bottles and cans I’ve put in there piling up, without others being added or the lot being taken away…

I guess if I fill them up before anything happens I can always ask the caretaker. They’re probably just not aware they’re being used. I have told my co-workers about them and urged them to use them but I can’t say I’ve seen any evidence of this so far.

The best bit is the label on top that reads “We ARE recycling! so should you!”. Mmm, of course you are, Mr Paper Cup and Apathy Man. I assume the sign was sellotaped there before he took over management.

There is also a large mixed recycling bin out the back near the smoking area, and I now run out there with armfuls of cardboard and glass bottles, although I’m sure my boss would scold me for ”wasting time” when we’re busy.  Sigh. Anyway, even if it’s a small victory it does make me smile every time I get to do some of this guerrilla recycling!

Flexing My Citizen Muscles

Annie Leonard of ‘The Story of Stuff’ and related videos, likes to tell people to act as a citizen rather than a simple consumer. Today I’ve done just that! Despite a sore throat/headache, I somehow got round to doing something I’ve been meaning to do for months. I wrote to my local (Green!) MP asking her if we’ll be getting curbside composting any time soon. I used this site to get her email details and it was so easy. I even got to indulge my rather unusual liking for telling some one to get a bloody move on in a so-civil-it’s-verging-on-pompous way. So any way, here’s what I said:

Dear Caroline Lucas,

First of all I would like to express how happy I am to be living in a Green constituency and how much I admire you as a political figure. I have watched some of your speeches on Youtube and I consider your policies to be greatly inspiring. The fact that Brighton is a Green city was one of the deciding factors that made me choose to come to university here. I started a degree on Environment and Media Studies this term. 

Considering how forward thinking the city generally is, with it’s fantastic bus service and recycling bins throughout the city centre, I was some what surprised to find that I do not have a food waste collection service for my home. My former home of Glastonbury in Somerset had weekly collections for food waste and it was a very successful scheme. 

I was just wondering if any such scheme is in the pipeline for Brighton? Or perhaps it is already being implemented in other parts of the city that I am unaware of? I appreciate your job must be very challenging and you have many issues to attend to – but I do feel quite strongly about this as I am aware that in the UK, 31.7% of household waste is food waste. (Resource Futures, 2009). I’m sure you are more than aware of the critical links surrounding landfill waste, methane gas and climate change… As an environmentally conscious citizen I feel awful throwing waste-food into the dustbin, but as I live in a flat with no garden there are limited opportunities to do much else with it. 

As I mentioned already, I understand you must be incredibly busy, but I would greatly appreciate it if you would take the time to respond and let me know if there is any progress being made on curbside food waste recycling in Brighton. 

Thank you very much for your time. 

Yours sincerely,

Tegan Sonvico Christov

What do you think? I mean, hopefully she’ll answer and if she does I’ll let you know what she says. I can’t believe how little effort that involved… Somehow I was expecting some huge sacrifice of time and energy. I’d recommend using that site if you have any niggling issues you want to raise!

On Paper Cups & Apathy

Not my photo. Gathered from the wondrous bounty of Google.

To supplement my student loan, I have a part-time job working in the cafe and shop at my university campus. This is all hunky dory generally, but today I had a very dismaying interaction with one of my bosses, the chef in the cafe. Basically I casually queried why we always use paper cups for tea and coffee rather than real cups. I’ve wondered this since my first shift but after hauling seven bin-bags of rubbish – a significant amount of which was just cups – outside at closing time, it was in the forefront of my mind. In answer he exclaimed that it would cause too much washing up. What! God, I didn’t realise running a cafe involved washing up! Next he’ll be telling me serving decent food requires buying decent ingredients! Anyway, I mentioned that most cafes actually employ somebody to do the washing up – which he doesn’t. He also said we don’t have enough space. We actually have three sinks. The last cafe I worked in had two tiny sinks and was busier than the one in question and yet seemed to get by with real crockery. I think this is all a shocking waste and if this is the 3rd greenest uni in the UK (apparently so) then I don’t even want to think about what the others do. After we came to this standstill, my boss wandered off to attend to some form of paper work, and had obviously been mulling this over because he came back to me and said ”anyway Tegan, I don’t mean to be horrible, but this world is screwed until the bloody orientals and the yanks change their ways…”. That’s a direct quote – I can assure you I don’t speak like that. He added something about the Chinese not caring about anything – but in more offensive language. I was pretty shocked by all this… He could have just admitted that they use paper cups because it’s the easy option, there’s no need to blame other countries for his business model, and there’s certainly no need to get all racist about it.  I disagreed with his statement on so many levels that I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to say that wouldn’t risk losing my job. I just ignored him and swept the floor. I honestly can’t believe some people actually think like this. I thought perhaps Starbucks paid us to use their special cups or something… Which would still be a stupid reason. But ‘because America and China still cause loads of environmental damage so there’s no point in us making an effort’ is even stupider. As if we’ll ever get anywhere if we don’t bother doing anything until everyone else is doing it perfectly! Not all seven billion of us can be last! Aaaaaargh.

I’ll end my rant with something a bit more positive though. I had a really good lecture on sustainable development today! It was very introductory  and to be honest it didn’t tell me much that I hadn’t already read about, but it set the tone for what we’ll be doing later in the year and I’m so excited about it. It was by my course leader, Dr Jenny Elliot – I find her so inspiring because she’s involved with sustainable development projects in Africa as well as her teaching. I’m looking forward to learning about some  trends and projects that’ll prove Mr Paper Cup Man’s negative viewpoint to be flawed. We’re not ‘all screwed’ unless we give up. And why would we want to do that? We can create a positive future!

My New Home – Eco Highs & Lows

I’ve recently moved to Brighton to start University. After two years of shared houses over which I had little control, I now have a flat with my boyfriend… This is great because we have the chance to make it our own personal bubble. Apart from aesthetics like poster placement and furniture juggling, a large part of this for me is making sure my new home is as environmentally responsible as possible. In this post I’ll talk you through where this has been easy, and where this goal has come up against barriers of various kinds.

Highs

  • Brighton has a fairly comprehensive recycling system so I can put paper, card, glass and tins outside my door for collection. Just down the road there’s large bins for clothes, shoes and even toys. Also recycling can go on even when out and about as they provide bins for paper, plastic bottles etc in town as well.
  • Politically, my new constituency is the only one in the UK to be run by the Green Party. Go Caroline Lucas!
  • Brighton University is the 3rd greenest in the country, apparently. I’m yet to get stuck into what stuff they have going on to live up to this title but today I joined their student led food co-op, which is a great start!
  • I’ve discovered to my joy that eco-friendly cleaning products are not actually that expensive. Never having to buy washing-up liquid or toilet cleaner before, I was set on buying the eco versions but was worried they’d be at break-the-bank prices and would severely cut into my funds… Not so. Each of these essential house-ey items cost me about £2. I can cope with that! Especially as they are concentrated and last for ages.
  • My flat came complete with a freezer, which has helped me avoid food waste considerably. If I make too much food but it’s one of those ‘awkward amounts’ that aren’t enough for another meal, I can just whack it in the freezer. I can already see a poor and hungover future me celebrating upon finding an icy portion of homemade soup!
  • We’re on a meter for electricity rather than a standard monthly bill, so we’re being encouraged to be as frugal and efficient with power as possible. Little habits that I’ve always tried to do for ethical reasons are suddenly being reinforced as important money-saving tactics. We never leave lights on, even for ten minutes. We turn off computers when we won’t use them again for half an hour, wheres before I would leave them on. We turn the hot water off as soon as the washing up’s done. It really works – it’s made me think how effective it’d be to make every house on a meter. I’d like to think I was doing stuff like this any way, but it’s crazy how much a financial insentive has really made me go the extra mile.

Lows

  • We thought this flat had a shower, but it turns out it doesn’t work. The landlord doesn’t want to pay for a new one to be installed at the moment so we’re using the bath… But it just seems like such a massive waste! After washing myself I have to leave the room as gallon upon gallon of still-almost-clean water rushes off to the same place as the definitely-not-clean-at-all toilet water… It’s such an inefficient system. Plus I find showers more convenient and refreshing anyway. If we owned the house we could get some kind of system installed to catch the grey water and re-use it, but renting just doesn’t allow you these options.
  • Despite the high quality of recycling with everything else, food waste isn’t collected here. I think this is a bit shocking and am trying to find time to write a letter to my local (Green!) MP about it. Needless to say, this is certainly not helping me to avoid food waste!
  • I wanted to go to Ecotricity for our electricity but I’m not sure if we can change our suppliers… Sorting out utility bills is an aspect of adult life that I have faced with no gusto whatsoever. They’re all boring, money-grabbing and confusing and I’ve only actually payed one bill so far. I will talk to my landlord about changing to a green supplier but I’m not holding my breath.

And that’s it for now, but I’ll be sure to keep you updated! What are some of the eco highs and lows of your own home?

Compost Bins Galore

In my post: Erratic Recycling Isn’t Impressive, I complained about how a lady I work for doesn’t have a food waste collection at her home. Today when I arrived at work I was happy to see a neat little brown box sitting outside her door… At last! I thought: the council have come to their senses and provided proper waste disposal services throughout my town. Way to go, Mendip! Smiling, I brought it into her kitchen and enquired about it’s arrival. She told me it wasn’t actually from the council at all… Basically one of her other helpers (who lives in the part of the town that does have this service) had ordered a second food waste bin for herself and given one to my boss. She apparently said she would take it once a week and put it outside the shop that she works in, where they do collect food waste on a weekly basis.

I was struck by two things- firstly, the continued ridiculousness of my local council providing varying levels of waste collection throughout one small town, and secondly, a respect for this lady that was prepared to go out of her way, doing the council’s job for them, to make sure somebody else’s (not even her own) waste was composted and not just send to landfill.

My motto is that we need to make the green way the easy way. However, isn’t it inspiring when you see people taking the green way even when it’s not easy but in fact quite a hassle? Well it cheers me up, anyway. This little story may of even made me proactive enough to write a letter to my council, explaining the whole thing and asking for the situation to be amended.

We will have universal composting facilities yet!

Erratic Recycling Isn’t Impressive

Photo credit: D. Hurst / Alamy/Alamy

What’s up with all this erratic recycling?

I don’t mean on an individual level, I mean in terms of what is provided. My mum’s street takes almost everything weekly  and so does mine, which is great. But my boyfriend’s house (which is in the same town) doesn’t take paper, and my friend’s (also in this town) takes paper and etc but not food waste. My dad’s flat in Cheltenham recently didn’t have a collection at all and they had to take stuff to the local dump (which did recycle). What is this? I mean if it’s up to local councils to sort out then I can see how it would differ between districts – and towns at a push – but why would my own town have different schemes depending on the street?

Recycling may not make the entire materials economy sustainable, but it takes more steps down that path than most things, that’s for sure. It reduces the amount of waste going to landfill at one end (reducing methane emissions and land-use and saving money) and reduces the pressure for virgin resources at the other end of the production cycle. (reducing habitat destruction plus pollution and waste from extraction and again, saving money). And what’s more, it’s relatively easy to get the average Joe to jump on-board. Once the council gives you a couple of boxes and sets the mixed rubbish collection to every fortnight, it doesn’t take a spark of brilliance, a commitment of the purse or even a care for the world to put your paper and bottles and stuff in the recycling box. It’s easy. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s just throwing a piece of trash into a different container. Even people who don’t care about the ‘environment’ (as if that’s some faraway place made of compassion and bunny rabbits) will recycle if that’s the most effective way to get rid of their rubbish each week. And that’s just the kind of solution we need, isn’t it? Things that are hugely effective and easy to implement on a wide scale. I’m afraid waiting until we can convert the entire world’s population to a ‘green’ way of thinking will just be too slow… In order to avoid environmental collapse we need to make the green way the easy way.

So, local councils, what are you thinking?! You have this power to control the recycling rate of your district and you squander it on a patchy service that is great in parts and shoddy in others? This just isn’t good enough. And don’t tell me it’s ”better than nothing” because I know that. But we haven’t got time for ”better than nothing” – we need ”as good as humanely possible”.

I want to be able to send a scrap of paper or apple core of whatever on it’s way to reincarnation whosoever house I’m in. It’s 2012 now, let’s up the game a little.

Sweet, sweet rainwater

Wouldn't it be great if a multi-purpose, vital and increasingly scarce resource happened to fall on your house every other night...

In the world today, we have a water problem. Every living person needs clean water to drink. We also need water to bathe in, to wash our clothes, dinner plates and homes, and we need huge amounts of water in every industry, to grow food and produce every product we globally enjoy. But because there are so many more of us than there used to be, and because we’re more wasteful, there’s not enough fresh water to go round. 884 million people around the world already go thirsty everyday, and as if that isn’t a crisis enough, drinking water could soon become a scarce commodity for the Western world as well.

Luckily, we can easily lessen our water consumption. I recently read in Inspired Times that as much as 50% of our domestic tap water usage could be saved if we simply used rain water for toilets, washing machines and gardens. That’s such a huge gain for such a surprisingly small effort that I wanted to shout about it.

So, get a rainwater harvesting system as soon as possible. You can get all sorts of state-of-the-art systems which are brilliant. However, if the research and possible cost will hold you back, I’d highly recommend installing any type of basic drain-to-waterbutt set-up.

Keeping things simple...

When it rains, the water that falls on your roof will just be collected in water butts for you to use- for watering the garden or washing your car. More professional (but still simple and affordable) systems are available to link in to your water storage tanks and can be used by appliances inside your house. (E.g. for flushing the toilet and washing clothes).

I think our whole water system is ridiculous to be honest. Why use drinking water for everything? For most water uses rainwater would be totally adequate. Also flushing toilets are incredibly wasteful. I wish composting toilets were the norm everywhere. Even the natural processes of water recycling are disrupted by the fact we have concrete and drains everywhere. Fresh water is lost when it rains heavily inland and the excess water is directed to the sea by pipes…

I digress. What I mean to say is; whenever it rains, instead of thinking about how annoying it is, think about how much free water you can gather!

Green Gas – An Oxymoron No Longer

Ecotricity, the green energy company that generates electricity from windmills, is working on producing what they call “green gas”.

It’s basically methane which is produced by bacteria carrying out anaerobic respiration as they digest organic waste in an oxygen-free environment. This process is often a problem, such as with the farming of livestock, because the excess methane is emitted into the atmosphere.

However in this case, it is used in our National Grid in place of natural gas. This is fantastic because:

a) Natural gas is a finite fossil fuel resource that takes millions of years to form  and will run out

b) As we all know, we shouldn’t be burning fossil fuels anyway because of climate change

c) “Green Gas” reuses organic waste such as thrown away food, reducing our waste problem. And;

d) The process also leaves behind a useful by-product: a nutrient-rich sludge that is so full of potassium, nitrates etc that it can be used instead of artificial fertiliser. Always good.

They haven’t built any green gas mills yet, but they have already added a gas option onto their menu because they pipe it over from Holland, where they already have this technology. They’re planning to use the profit from this to set up their first gas mills in Britain.

There is actually a huge potential for this concept to have a great impact. Currently in the UK we (disgustingly) throw out 18 million tonnes of food waste. They’ve estimated that that’s enough to power 700, 000 homes! Hopefully we won’t always throw away this much food, but the process works equally well with any organic material. Waste’s from certain industries, processed sewage, or possibly a type of fast-reproducing algae would also work.

The National Grid even mentioned in a 2009 report that green gas “could meet 50% of the UK’s residential gas demand”.

I’m impressed.

What Are We Aiming For? Part 2

TRANSPORT:

  • Less private cars – and a rise in electric cars for those left.
  • A much better bus system - Cheaper, more frequent, on time. Buses should be very, very cheap. Think about how many people you’re sharing the fuel cost with?
  • Car share – People giving lifts and even sharing cars.
  • No short-haul flights! – No nipping from Bristol to Glasgow by plane when you could do it by train. Unless for real emergencies.
  • Work on developing carbon-friendly aviation fuel/method - because planes are admittedly great in the travel they offer and it’d be a shame to lose that. But the amount of pollution they cause is just inexcusable.

WASTE:

  • Mandatory recycling and composting - this might sound harsh, but I think people should actually be fined for putting recyclable material in the rubbish.
  • Composting toilets – the newest designs can be indoor without smelling bad, and render the resulting compost completely harmless.
  • Grey water recycling systems - where water from washing the dishes can be used to water the garden etc.
  • Things should be designed to last - we’d have so much less rubbish without all this planned obsolescence idiocy. Also, things that will definitely become obsolete due to technological progress, such as wind turbines, computers, iPods etc, should be designed so they can be dismantled and the parts be reused/replaced.

 

I think it’s quite helpful to think about what changes to the world you would make if you could. Obviously I can’t wave a magic wand and make all these things I’ve just said come about, but I still like to write these kind of lists. It’s like giving some kind of focus, or idealistic to-do list.

It’s good to know what you’re aiming for.