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Archive for the ‘Environmental issues’ Category

The Guardian is forever churning out articles that really resonate with me. It’s actually a pretty depressing article, but  the ‘action’ bit i.e. what you (individuals, governments, businesses etc) can do, is as follows:

‘The behavioural changes that are required of us are so fundamental that no one wants to make them. What are they? We need to consume less. A lot less. Less food, less energy, less stuff. Fewer cars, electric cars, cotton T-shirts, laptops, mobile phone upgrades. Far fewer.And here it is worth pointing out that “we” refers to the people who live in the west and the north of the globe. There are currently almost 3 billion people in the world who urgently need to consume more: more water, more food, more energy.’

I believe tackling overconsumption (not so much overpopulation, which is an issue, but not as critical) in Western societies is URGENT. I am very keen to do my bit, as this blog documents, and inspire others to do the same.

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I LOVE charity shops. I think they’re great because:

  1. They’re green – I have so many lovely 2nd hand clothes which I use for work, many of which are high end brands that I wouldn’t otherwise have bought. I’ve not needed to buy clothes from conventional clothes shops for over a year 🙂 Clothes require energy to make (which means CO2 emissions) and plenty of water (to grow crops e.g. cotton, and to process in the factory).
  2. They’re ethical – the profit (or surplus, as it is known in the charity sphere) is going to a good cause. Since the vast majority of clothes are made in sweatshops, being able to boycott clothes shops is important to me.
  3. They helps the community, providing volunteering opportunities for locals.

I can personally relate to the third point. Volunteering at a charity shop helped me to get my internship at an environmental charity (which I loved, but it sadly ended – my aim is to get back in the sustainability sector though!). These are the skills that I honed during whilst volunteering at a charity shop:

  • Training and supervising younger volunteers – the charity shop that I volunteer at is understaffed so younger volunteers don’t always get the guidance they need to contribute to the shop’s operational activities, which is a shame.
  • Organised and hosted a fundraising event (managed to raise £366 in one evening)
  • Interacting with customers
  • Recruiting volunteers
  • Educating volunteers/ customers about the charity’s work
  • Perhaps more mundane, yet essential day-to-day tasks such as sorting donations (deciding what can be sold, and at what price), ensuring that the shop floor looks good and ensuring that the back room of the shop is kept tidy and organised – these areas require personal initiative and innovation

I genuinely enjoy helping out because I know I add ‘business value’ to use business speak. I feel that I contribute positively and help the shop make more money when I’m there, and help support other volunteers to get the most out of their opportunity. It’s a very empowering experience, I recommend it!

 

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Just a little something I live by…

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Food miles is defined as the number of miles (kilometres) a product has to be transported from the farmer/grower to various stages of production until it reaches the supermarket and finally the plate of the consumer.

This study suggests that considering the energy use and carbon dioxide emissions associated with transportation and production paints a more accurate picture of the carbon footprint of a product than considering transportation (food miles) alone. Their results indicated that:

  • The UK uses twice as much energy per tonne of milk solids produced than New Zealand (NZ), even after including the energy used in transporting NZ dairy to the UK. This is because the UK has a more intensive production system than NZ, and requires more energy to produce dairy.
  • The UK uses four times as much energy to produce lamb than NZ does, even after including the energy used in transporting NZ lamb to the UK.
  • The UK uses 1.6 times as much energy to produce apples than NZ does, even after including the energy used in transporting NZ lamb to the UK.

New Zealand has greater production efficiency in many food commodities compared to the UK because:

  • NZ agriculture tends to apply less fertilisers (which require large amounts of energy to produce and cause significant CO2 emissions)
  • NZ animals are able to graze year round outside eating grass instead large quantities of brought-in feed such as concentrates.

Conclusion

Local UK food isn’t always the most sustainable option.

Action

“If you want to wipe out all the food miles in what you eat, all you need do is swap one day’s red-meat eating a week to white meat. Not even to a vegetarian diet. Just to white meat.” Professor Tim Benton, UK Champion for Global Food Security.

Wouldn’t choosing the most sustainable products be easier if every product stated its carbon footprint on its label?

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A cigarette butt is the small part of a cigarette that is left after smoking and contains the filter. Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a plastic product which is not biodegradable. Instead, the filter will break up into smaller and smaller fragments but these will never disappear or break down into naturally-occurring substances; essentially they become diluted in water or soil. This is because the filter fragments cannot be broken down by micro-organisms such as bacteria.

Cigarette butts that are discarded on the street are often washed down drains ending up in streams, rivers and the ocean. They pose a problem to wildlife that ingest the filters and are toxic to certain marine micro-organisms.

Action

Dispose of cigarette butts responsibly in rubbish bins – never throw them on the ground.

Did you know?

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There is a great deal of confusion among householders as to how to achieve energy savings cost-effectively.

The Case for Refurbishing the UK’s Old Housing Stock

The UK’s 23M homes are responsible for around ¼ of the country’s CO2 emissions
80% of the homes standing the UK in 2050 have already been built. Thus refurbishment of existing homes is vital to reduce CO2 emissions – the old housing stock can’t be ignored!

Average Annual UK Energy Bill (electricity and gas) is £1400

Energy bill breakdown for the average UK home (see pie chart below)

Capture

From this pie chart, 84% of the average bill is made up from hot water (24%) and space heating (i.e. heating a room) (60%). As such, investing in these areas is likely to result in significant cost savings. On the other hand, lighting is just 3% of the average bill, so installing low energy light bulbs won’t deliver as dramatic cost savings as improving the efficiency of space heating or hot water. If we want to save money (and carbon), we need to emphasise the importance of tackling areas such as space heating and hot water, as opposed to lighting or appliances.

Space Heating

The amount you have to heat your home depends on how quickly the heat is lost. The average house loses different proportions of heat from different parts of the house e.g. walls, the roof, the floor etc. The pie chart below outlines these proportions in the average UK home.

Capture

When giving refurbishment advice, instead of encouraging homeowners to install double glazing (windows, after all are only responsible for 15% of heat loss along with doors), emphasis should be placed on insulating walls (which are responsible for the largest proportion of heat loss, 35%) and installing roof insulation. By insulating walls and the roof, heat is lost at a slower rate, which means that less energy is needed to heat your home.

Interesting facts

  • By April 2016, landlords aren’t legally allowed to stop tenants from making energy efficient improvements to your property
  • By April 2018 it will be unlawful to rent out a house/business premise with an Energy Efficiency Rating that is less than ‘E’ i.e. F and G properties (currently there are 682,000 properties in the UK that have an F or G rating).
  • 42% of houses in the UK have solid walls (‘If your home was built before 1920, its external walls are probably solid rather than cavity walls. Cavity walls are made of two layers with a small gap or ‘cavity’ between them. Solid walls have no such gap, so they let more heat through. Solid walls can be insulated – either from the inside (i.e. internal wall insulation) or the outside (external wall insulation). This will cost more than insulating a standard cavity wall, but the savings on your heating bills will be bigger too.’ – EST. Work out what sort of walls your property has here). N.B. Existing damp/mould problems (which are common in homes with solid walls) must be addressed before solid wall insulation is installed.
  • 2013 – to qualify for FiT, your home must have an energy efficiency rating of a ‘D’ or above
  • The payback time of installing double glazing is very long. It costs approximately £4000 to install double glazing, and you save £40 off your bill for doing so. Thus, the payback period is (£4000/£40 per year) = 100 years! Not such a great deal. Double glazing however has other benefits, such as increased security, decreased condensation and noise from outside. On the other hand, cavity wall insulation costs £450 (subsidised), you save £150 per year, so the payback period (405/150) would be just 3 years! N.B. Parity Projects recommend installing timber windows, not PVC windows, for environmental reasons – this is because PVC windows are difficult to recycle and emit chlorides when landfilled. Double glazed timber windows perform just as well as double glazed PVC windows. However, timber window require maintenance (painting every 5 years).
  • Heating your home to 24°C costs 2.1 times as much as heating your home to 18°C.
  • An old boiler which has its pilot light permanently on is less than 65% efficient – modern condensing boiler can be 90% efficient
  • There is 5 times as much CO2 per unit energy of grid electricity compared to natural gas in the UK. This is because electricity is lost when transmitted power stations and your home, making it less efficient than gas.

The Refurbishment/ Energy Hierarchy

  1. Reducing the need for energy e.g. heating control, behavioural changes
  2. Insulate
  3. A-rate appliances
  4. Generate power from renewables

The first step in the hierarchy is to reduce the need for energy/ heating as much as possible. This can be done by carefully control the amount of energy you use as this is the easiest and cheapest way to deliver savings. This can be done by programming your thermostat intelligently (e.g. bedroom temperature is lower than living room temperature), and even controlling your thermostat remotely via a smart phone app. Behavioural changes come into play here too e.g. lowering your thermostat by 1°C.

Insulate – initiatives like draft-proofing, sealing windows, doors, unsealed floorboards, letterboxes, chimneys, loft hatches but also insulating walls, roof, floors.

Appliances – e.g. low energy light bulbs, energy efficient kettles, washing machines etc. Such appliances won’t save you as much money (and thus CO2) as insulating your home, which will cost more but deliver greater annual savings.

Barriers to Refurbishment

  • Money
  • Knowledge – what to do and how to do it, and awareness (why to do it)
  • Disruption/lack of time
  • No pressure from government/society – not enough incentive/punishment
  • Payback period may be too long
  • Refurbishment may not add value to the property (this needs to change!)
  • Aesthetics especially a listed property – this requires creativity e.g. Somerset House has secondary glazing (instead of double glazing) so as to not change the outside appearance. External wall insulation is unlikely to be appropriate for listed properties since the external appearance of the house will change – internal wall insulation is a better option.
  • Fear of the unknown, not normal, lack of experience
  • Lack of trust in builders or the refurbishment industry
  • Performance of technologies in question (look for guarantees and field trials of technologies e.g. ground source heat pumps)
  • Waiting for prices to drop (this will only happen if more people start refurbishing their homes)
  • Energy is still cheap (but this is changing…)

Table 1: Estimated costs of different measures (average 3 bed semi)

(from cheapest measure to most expensive)

Measure

Cost (£)

General Draft proofing

50

Low Energy Light Bulbs

100

Cavity Wall Insulation

350 with subsidy
(900 without)

Heat Exchange Ventilation

350

Gas Condensing Boiler

2000

Solar Thermal

4000

Double glazing

6000

Solar PV

7000

Solid Wall Insulation

12000 (detached solid wall house; 6k subsidies are available)

Table 2: Estimated payback periods of different measures (average 3 bed semi)

(from shortest to longest payback time)
In terms of annual savings, solid wall insulation is the most appealing – however, it is also the most expensive according to table 1, hence the long payback period.

Measure

Annual Saving

Payback (yrs)

General Draft proofing

£25

2

Low Energy Light Bulbs

£50

2

Cavity Wall Insulation

£350

1 with subsidy
(3 without)

Gas Condensing Boiler

£400

5

Heat Exchange Ventilation

£58

6

Solar Thermal

£200

20

Solar PV

£280

25

Solid Wall Insulation

£300

40

Double glazing

£60

100

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Did you know that you can reduce your impact on the environment by replacing dairy milk with soy milk?

Water Footprint

The water footprint of a product is the amount of freshwater required to produce it.
A 2011 study found that that the water footprint of 1 litre of dairy milk produced in the UK is 540 litres. In comparison, the water footprint of 1 litre of soy milk produced in Belgium is 297 litres. (N.B. The UK is largely self-sufficient in milk. Alpro, a leading soy milk brand in the UK has a factory in Belgium).

Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint of a product is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during its life cycle – from agriculture, through processing and packaging, distribution, use and disposal.

British dairy milk from Tesco has a carbon footprint of between 1.2-1.5 kg CO2 emissions per litre (0.7-0.9 kg COemissions per pint) depending on the type of milk (skimmed milk has a lower carbon footprint than whole milk). In comparison, Tesco own-brand soy milk has a carbon footprint of between 0.8-0.9kg CO2 emissions per litre (N.B. Tesco does not disclose which country its soy beans are sourced from).

Rest assured that both Tesco and Alpro soy milk do not contribute to deforestation to grow soy beans in the Amazon. Interestingly, Alpro mainly sources soy beans from France, and is committed to carbon neutrality by 2020.

If you can’t wait until 2020 and prefer a local plant milk alternative, try ‘Good Hemp’. This hemp milk is grown in Devon and is herbicide and pesticide-free.

Other carbon footprint considerations

  • Storage: fresh milk requires refrigerated transportation and storage in supermarkets. On the other hand, long life soy milk doesn’t require refrigeration, which means that the energy needed to refrigerate the product is being saved.
  • Packaging: Dairy milk tends to be packaged in HDPE plastic bottles which are commonly collected by kerbside recycling schemes. Soy milk tends to be packaged in Tetra Pak containers which aren’t always collected – find out if your council can collect Tetra Pak here.

Did you know?

  • This study suggests that 14 calories of energy are required to produce 1 calorie of milk protein on a conventional farm. In comparison just 0.75 calories of energy are required to produce 1 calorie of soymilk protein.
  • The average cow emits 100kg of methane every year. Methane is a greenhouse gas with an effect 23 times greater than carbon dioxide, so this is equivalent to 2300kg CO2 emissions per year.
  • Dairy milk has a lower carbon footprint than beef because you get more milk out of each cow over its lifetime than beef. Cheese has a higher carbon footprint than dairy milk due to the intensive production process of cheese-making – It takes 10 units of milk to make 1 unit of cheese.

Price Comparison

  • Cheapest fresh dairy milk (Tesco Semi-skimmed milk, 6 pints): 56p/litre
  • Cheapest long life Tesco soy milk: 59p/litre
  • Cheapest long life Good hemp milk from Tesco: £1.49/litre

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