Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Packaging-free food shopping?

Inhabitat, a nifty green design/lifestyle/architecture blog, recently posted (all wide-eyed and ooooh) about Unpackaged, a grocery shop that sells lots of foods loose.

Well, it's a great idea. But it's not new. Of course, now it's come to the notice of trendy posh Londonites, who want Bee Pollen and Red Quinoa, it's the next big thing, but weigh-it-yourself type shops have been around for ages - they're not common, but they are there. It's just that, you know what? They are in run-down areas where people don't have much spare cash, and they sell no-brand cornflakes. Fancy!

It seems it's either top end or bottom end of the market, and nothing in the middle...

Saturday, 23 January 2010

What's new?

Long time no blog...

How about an update of good habits and slippage? Where are we over a year after zero waste week?

Food buying habits are still pretty good I think. We still head to the local shops or market as much as we can, and we don't buy much processed food at all. There has been a bit of slippage on the baking front, and a few more cereal bars and similar snacks being bought, but we're back on home made cake this week. Yay! And we still fearlessly laugh in the face of Best Before dates and Consume Within advice, and trust our noses, with no should-have-been-edible food going in the bin. There are a few things that have gone in the compost when they've gone off too soon, pears and satsumas being a bit prone to mouldiness for some reason.

There has been a loss to the eco-shopping scene in Norwich. Wholefood Planet closed this month. I said when I originally blogged about it that it was out of the way, and I think that probably did for it. In an industrial unit down a dead end road on the very edge of town is not the place to open a shop, or a cafe (as they added later). It is a real shame, as it deserved to do well, but it also deserved to be better located for passing traffic and those who don't drive (presumably a fair proportion of their target eco-audience?). I will miss the large packs of wholefoods.

We have reluctantly moved away from the Bio-D washing liquid and softener that came in 25 litre containers and saved us lots of packaging. It was causing huge amounts of what can only be described as gunge in the washing machine. I don't know if it deteriorated because we didn't use it quickly enough, but there were grim mucus-y blobs in the softener, and a similar substance building up in the tray (and presumably in the pipes). We are trying some other eco alternatives including concentrated softener and, I'm afraid, wrapped tablets. Any comments on better-packaged things that work and don't cause gunge?

We had a new situation back in November - workmen in the house. Our old boiler went pop (more like dribble, actually) and so we replaced it with a more efficient one, requiring some changes to the whole heating system. The plumber took away the old boiler, feeder tank from the loft, and the insulated hot water tank from the airing cupboard. But he left behind cardboard and polystyrene packaging, broken tiles, leftover mortar/plaster stuff, assorted screws and general waste. Unfortunately he left it in the recycling bin, since that's outside the front door and the rubbish bin is tucked away behind the garage since we use it less often. So we had to tip up the whole wheelie bin and sort out the contents. Even when I mentioned it to him, MORE waste went in it the next day. ARGH.

There have been some changes to our Freecycle group in that it's become Freegle, but it still works just as well as ever. We had some great publicity in the November 2009 issue of Your Rubbish Your Choice (you can read it online from that link - page 16-17), and once again went to te Norfolk Waste Partnership conference to spread the word. In YRYC you can read about Recycle-PC, who collect all manner of old IT equipment through Freegle, make working systems, and give them away to those who need them - not to mention disposing properly of the bits that are no longer useful. I was really pleased (and not a little surprised) to find out that old PCs from work go to these guys, and passed on a whole vanload of computers to them at the end of the year. I'll be adding some bits of our own as soon as my husband's not looking ;)

Friday, 14 August 2009

The dreaded lurgi

No, I'm not ill - but there's something wrong.

I still carry on my Zero Waste Week habit of baking some sort of tray bake for the week, rather than buy packaged cereal bars etc, but the past two weeks have ended in disaster. Green, furry disaster. Despite being stored in airtight containers, my cakes (banana last week, date and walnut this week) have been showing mould after just 4 days. And I don't mean a mouldy corner that you can cut off before eating the rest of the cake (I'm not squeamish!) - I mean a fine fuzz of filaments across the cake.

At least the birds have had quite a feast!

Both cakes came out quite moist, so I wonder if that is it - in this humid weather I guess any mould spores in the air will just go crazy given some yummy sticky sweet bits to feast on.

I think I will have to bake something I can freeze this weekend - if I take a piece out in the morning it will be defrosted by lunch time. I'm just very annoyed at the waste :(

Monday, 3 August 2009

Laugh, cry, your choice

As householders we can do our bit to cut down out own waste, and we can try and buy items that are intelligently packaged. However, sometimes you have to order things online or otherwise remotely, and not only do you not have a choice about the item's packaging, you also don't get much say in how it's sent to you. There's usually cardboard, polythene, polystyrene, and possibly lots of plastic clippy things or twist ties.

Sometimes you can sort of see the need. No-one wants a broken laptop delivered to them. Recently we needed a printer, and bought a Canon one which was very efficiently packaged with lots of cardboard (less polystyrene) and lots of ingenious tucking of wires and manuals and things into gaps.

But think for a moment. Even if you don't buy very much stuff at all, even if you are determined to exist without unnecessary gadgetry, and get things from Freecycle when you do need them, the fact remains that you still deal with lots of organisations, from banks to shops to online providers like Google. And they all have IT infrastructure, and are presumably almost constantly upgrading and repairing and keeping things going, ordering kit as they need it.

And it looks like the companies that supply these organisations (big names, like HP and Dell), are creating more than enough idiotic and unnecessary packaging waste for the rest of us!

Who makes these decisions? Who looks at 2 A4 sheets of paper, puts them in a foam-lined cardboard box, and then puts that in with 15 other boxes (same contents) into another, bigger box to send to the customer, and thinks it's a good idea? Have these people not heard of envelopes?

And is anyone receiving this idiocy going to say anything to the supplier? I'd like to be proved wrong, but I say probably not. How on earth can we combat this sort of thing?

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Oh dear

What a shame. This chap didn't do very well in the election. Now he should have time to find a new use for every damn one of those DVDs.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Keeping tags on rubbish

Thousands of pieces of household rubbish are to be tracked using sophisticated mobile tags (BBC News and MIT press release)

Three thousand smart tags are going to be attached to things being thrown away. OK, so the researchers say that the resource use and manufacturing of the tags is justified by the information that will be gathered, but how does adding a tag this size (we're not taking a James Bond micro-gadget here) not contaminate the recycling stream of whatever it's attached to? One of the items mentioned is garden waste - I don't think they will compost, somehow. And the tag is made of electronic components, which are hard enough to reprocess thanks to all the toxic metals and so on.
"We hope that Trash Track will also point the way to a possible urban future: that of a system where, thanks to the pervasive usage of smart tags, 100 percent recycling could become a reality," says research assistant, Musstanser Tinauli.
Hang on - I can accept that for one research project it could be a good idea to track a load of rubbish. Pervasive (i.e. much wider) use of smart tags does not, to me, seem to be the way to go. Tags tell you where your stuff has been (if you care) when it is/after it has been there. What needs to happen is that the information from the research project needs to be used to identify where the biggest improvements to recycling flows can be made, so that consumers who do throw things away don't have to worry about it - as long as they put them in the appropriate bin, they are dealt with properly. There's no need to tag everything!

(Of course this research should also just be a part of the bigger picture, where efforts are also put into reduction and re-use so that there is less to recycle anyway, rather than reinforcing the idea of "I recycled it, so that's OK" regardless of whether or not the item was actually necessary in the first place, or still had useful life left in it.)

Concerns aside, I'll be interested to see where the tags end up, at what point they get removed (will they be crushed and melted down if attached to a glass bottle? Will they get recycled themselves if they are on other electronic equipment? What happens when an item is split up, e.g. mobile phone into plastic casing, screen and circuitry?), and whether the information gathered matches up with what we think we know from the conventional records of where particular waste streams go. It could shed some light on the old "recycling collected by X council actually goes to landfill" stories we see in the media from time to time. But as ever, the important thing is then what's actually DONE with the information...

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

A long-lost meme

I don't seem to get notifed when I have a comment, so this meme tag from (*cough*) some time ago got lost! Sorry :(

1.What are your current obsessions?
Raising money to keep three Norfolk wherries going. Browsing charity shop bookshelves, and planning travels!

2. Which item from your wardrobe do you wear most often?
My "infinityMPG" t-shirt from Threadless.

3. What’s for dinner?
We're clearing out the freezer for a de-frost, so it's pork mince with rice, veggies (onions, broccoli, peas) and miscellaneous spices, followed by vanilla ice cream.

4. Last thing you bought?
Six books and a lovely skirt from the Cancer Research shop.

5. What are you listening to?
In The Music, from the Trash Can Sinatras.

6. Do you have a pet and if not, why not?
No. I'm just not a pet person.

7. Favourite holiday spots?
North Norfolk coast, and Canada. I love love love Byford's in Holt. But really I love getting away anywhere in the countryside.

8. Reading right now?
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies. See #4 :) Only just started it but it seems very interesting so far. Also just finished Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, from the same batch, which was one of the best books I have read in a long time. Great story, nothing too clever but brilliantly written. And it was 75p!

9. 4 words to describe yourself.
Independent, loyal, untidy, procrastinator

10. Guilty pleasure?
Anything from Hotel Chocolat...

11. Who or what makes you laugh until you’re weak?
Bill Bailey. We bought the CD of his Tinselworm show when we saw him in Nottingham a couple of years back and it stayed in the car for months - we never got bored, and it's still funny. "The home base of Al-Quaeda? That's how we'll get them - find out where they're buying their patio furniture." Part Troll is even better. And this is the pinnacle.

12. First spring thing?
Oh dear, I think this shows how long I left it - I will change it to summer and say local strawberries, the best smell around!

13. Planning to travel to next?
Canada - Vancouver, across the Rockies to Calgary, and home.

14. Best thing you ate or drank lately?
Home-brewed beer from someone in my German class - wunderbar!

15. When did you last get tipsy?
In Bristol, visiting friends after completing a huge triathlon.

16. Favourite ever film?
It's a cliche, but the Shawshank Redemption is top stuff.

17. Care to share some wisdom?
Gut instinct is right more often than you might think.

18. Favourite song?
I go through phases of putting things on repeat. The last thing like that was Emmy The Great. My pre-race psych-up song is Don't Stop Me Now by Queen, and comedy wise Rob Brydon on ISIHAC is classic (see my other blog)

19. What's your favourite meal you make without sticking to a recipe?
I make many things without a recipe! Probably sausage casserole (proper local bangers only).

20. What was the last thing that made you say "that's so STUPID!"?
That, in my job, if you get promoted you have to do the same work but in less time, because you get paid the same amount overall but at a faster rate.

21. Facebook or Twitter? Other or Neither?
Facebook. A bit. Mainly for Wordscraper (like Scrabble).

22. Name one thing you do now that you would never have imagined 10 years ago.
More or less any form of exercise but especally triathlon!

I still don't have many blog friends but I will tag Alex and Just Gai, in the hope it might wake them up and bring them back out to play.

Rules: Answer questions on your own blog. Replace one question. Add one question. Then tag people.