Every week the Green Column appears in the Isle of Man Examiner. The authors come from different organisations and backgrounds. They all share love and respect for their environment and the topic of the Green Column is always connected to that.
We have had many outstanding Green Columns written in the last 3 years. Some of them are featured underneath, selected by availability and whether their content is still valid.
If you are interested in writing a Green Column, please write us a message in the contact-section.
09 December 2013
Keep warm this winter
This week, Zero Waste Mann’s chair, Muriel Garland, highlights some simple ways in which we can keep ourselves and our families warm – without breaking the bank or burning unnecessary fossil fuels
It’s that time of year again, when the temptation is to turn up the thermostat and light the log-burner. But these can be expensive options, and they’re also not ideal from an environmental perspective.
Instead, consider the folllowing 10 tips from Zero Waste Mann as to how you can keep out the cold, and be safe in the event of dramatic snowfalls such as were seen in Spring of this year.
1 Insulate your loft. It is recommended that you use at least 12 inches/25cm of insulating materials to prevent leakage of heat through the roof of your home. Why pay to warm up the sky!?
2 Close your curtains in the evening. In addition, door curtains – to minimise draughts – also cut down on penetrating chills.
3 Wear layers of clothing. These trap heat effectively (just like a wearable version of double glazing), and if you find yourself moving into a centrally-heated or toasty environment you can always strip as many layers off as decency allows.
4 Have hot drinks and food available – it’s always good to warm yourself from the tummy outwards, and few things are as comforting as a nourishing mug of hot soup, a stew or a warm pudding.
5 Keep a store of food in cupboards. One of our members was snowed in for 5 days in March this year, and very thankful that she and her family had plentiful supplies of tinned and dried foods to hand.
6 Draught-proof any gaps – get some draughtproofing tape or newspaper, and make a project of going round your home finding and fixing any holes that the wind is coming through. Keyholes are notorious, as are under-door gaps. Have your children make a ‘sausage dog’ out of old wooly tights to keep the breeze at bay.
7 Insulate your hot water tank, so that energy spent on warming up your water supply isn’t dissipated as soon as it’s been used.
8 Keep radiators free from obstruction. It’s useful to dry clothes on them, but they can’t warm the room when this is happening; similarly, ensure that furniture’s not blocking the flow of heat from them into the room.
9 Lag your water pipes – this can prevent expensive and messy bursts following a freeze.
10 Put reflectors behind radiators – backing the wall behind a radiator with tinfoil helps to direct more heat into the room, instead of warming up the walls themselves, which doesn’t help you!
And lastly, if you know of people living near to you who are vulnerable to the cold – elderly, frail, caring for small children, or isolated – don’t forget to check on them from time to time in extreme weather.
The more we look out for one another, the better connected, and warmer (physically and socially) we’ll be!
25 November 2013
The ABC of Zero Waste
This week, Muriel Garland – chair of Zero Waste Mann – explains how simple it can be for us all to make a difference
Please don’t put aluminium cans, aerosols, bottles or batteries in your wheelie bin. Recycle them.
A recent visit to the incinerator reminded me that we need to do more to explain the concept of zero waste. Here at Zero Waste Mann, we’ve been trying to get the message over for 13 years – but looking at the pit full of ‘rubbish’ at Richmond Hill incinerator, I realised that people are still putting aluminium cans, bottles and cardboard in their wheelie bins. Some people just don’t get it. As our host Jon Garrad, operations manager at SITA, explained, they don’t want any cans and bottles because those items don’t burn – and they could cause problems for the machinery. All your cans, aerosols and bottles should be recycled. It’s easy to do through the kerbside boxes or the communal bring banks.
Committee members of Zero Waste Mann were invited to tour the incinerator after I had queried the amount of electricity that was being produced, and the length of time taken for maintenance during a recent shut-down. We had a very thorough two-hour visit with Jon and two members of the SITA team, who explained things clearly and answered all our questions. As a company, SITA is heavily involved with recycling in other places. They run more than 100 household waste centres (civic amenity sites) and have more than 20 years experience collecting recycling and waste from residents in the UK. In the Isle of Man, they receive and store all the paper from the kerbside collections before it is shipped off to England for recycling. They are very supportive of recycling generally.
So, how can we explain Zero Waste more clearly? Well, the basic idea is that we are using up the world’s natural resources too quickly – and we should be taking better care of our planet. We could, and should, be much less wasteful and more efficient in our use of resources.
We’re not just talking about wood and steel and glass, but about all the materials we use every day. Waste just doesn’t make commercial or environmental sense. Getting to a position where we have absolutely no waste seems like Utopia – but it’s a great target to have. Becoming a Zero Waste Island is now part of our government’s waste strategy.
Waste is defined as something you don’t want. But that doesn’t mean somebody else couldn’t make good use of it. You only have to see how much goes to our local charity shops to realise the truth there. It makes more sense to pass ‘stuff’ on to other people who can get more use out of it. At the same time, charities are able to make some money from our waste.
So we’ve got part of the message. We can see how other people could use our old furniture or clothes. But it seems that most people don’t yet see steel and aluminium and wood and glass as valuable resources, which should be retained within the loop. But aluminium cans take a lot of energy to produce, and can easily be recycled. It doesn’t make any sense to put them in your wheelie bin and send them to be put through the incinerator. Aluminium cans, steel tins and aerosols can all be placed in your kerbside box or in the bring banks. They will be sent across to England for recycling.
Batteries can be recycled, too. They can be taken to any branch of the Manx Co-Op, or to the Green Centre opposite Iceland in Douglas (open Saturday 10am-4pm and Wednesday 10am-2pm). In Europe, any shop that sells batteries is obliged to take them back and send them away for recycling. Unfortunately we don’t have that law here on the island (yet) – but the government does enable old batteries, including hearing aid batteries, to be shipped away and recycled.
Cardboard can be taken to any civic amenity site for recycling. Unfortunately, the Eastern site in Middle River and the one at St John’s were designed the wrong way round – so you come to the skips first and the temptation is to throw everything in there. A more logical design is to have the re-use and recycling containers first, and then the skips. But when you drive down the ramp at the far side at Douglas and St John’s, you will see a container for collecting cardboard packaging. Please use it.
The layout of the civic amenity site in the north is more logical. There, the re-use and recycling come before the skips.
The concept of zero waste has been around since the 1970’s, when Dr Paul Palmer started a company named Zero Waste Systems for recycling chemicals. If you Google ‘zero waste’ these days, you’ll come up with hundreds of articles on the subject. Our charity, Zero Waste Mann, was actually inspired by a speaker from Australia who came to Onchan to give a talk in 2000.
After 13 years, it’s disappointing to realise that we haven’t been able to get our message across to everybody in the island. And that’s why I thought I would write this column to spell out the ABC of Zero Waste.
Please recycle your aluminium cans and aerosols, batteries and cardboard.
And please make sure you are doing everything in the waste hierarchy before you start sending ‘stuff’ off to be burnt.
Our order of priority should be:
Avoid creating waste
Reduce the amount of waste you make
Re-use as much as you can
Recycle as far as possible
Make compost from food and garden waste
Incinerate through wheelie bin or skips
Once you get your head round ‘zero waste’ you’ll never look at things in the same way again. It should be as simple as ABC!
06 November 2013
A friendly giant in the dark
The geothermal heat pump is a true champion of sustainable heating – yet it is, as yet, one of the least heard of.
And on top of this, many people who have heard of it don’t know how the pump works.
This is mainly due to the fact that the geothermal heat pump is usually hidden in a dark room of the basement, and its pipes are buried in the ground. The geothermal heat pump operates in a similar fashion to your air conditioner, refrigerator and freezer, in that heat is pumped from one place into another.
It uses the solar energy that is stored inside the earth. At 6m underground, the temperature is nearly constant all year round – that is, it stays at a temperature about equal to the local median temperature above ground. This heat is collected using long pipes sunk to the appropriate depth in the ground. It is then pumped up, so that you can use it to heat your water or home.
It’s amazingly efficient – even though the earth beneath your home may be at just 10 degrees, the geothermal pump makes it possible to concentrate this heat to up to 60 degrees Celsius, which is enough for domestic hot water and more than enough to heat your home to a comfortable 22 degrees.
In summer, the system can be reversed to pump out the warmth from inside your house into the ground. In this mode, it is more efficient than an air conditioner.
In many ways, the geothermal heat pump is as close to a perfect technology as one can imagine. It is available all year round – independent of what the weather’s up to. It is based on stored solar energy, so it’s clean and renewable. There is enough stored solar energy under every urban plot to supply 10 houses, so it is virtually inexhaustible. In addition, of course, it’s what is known as a ‘distributed’ (rather than a centralised) energy generator, so you can use this technology in remote areas as long as there is electricity to operate the pump.
Costly? Well, yes compared to some technologies. But one of the most appealing factors about the geothermal heat pump is that the high installation costs can be paid back over a relatively short period of time. Replacing electric or oil heating the payback period is usually two to five years while for gas systems the payback period is longer, circa 12 years. The best results are archieved by installing a ground source heat pump when a new house is built.
And here in the Isle of Man, electricity which is used to run the pump is (while expensive in and of itself) cheap compared to the price of gas for heating.
This can mean that any increase in your monthly mortgage costs from installing the kit in your home is more than offset by the monthly saving on your energy bills. In other words, a geothermal heat pump starts to pay for itself from day one.
In Sweden, geothermal heat pumps have been around since the 70s and now around 90 per cent of new houses are built with them. In Switzerland, 75 per cent of houses are also being built with these devices while Norway, Finland and Austria follow with around 25 per cent.
The UK, meanwhile, is lagging massively behind. And what about the island?
As of present, we’re aware of at least 15 residential geothermal heat pumps here. Pump that up and we could set a good example!
14 October 2013
Living with an electric car
This week, IoM Friends of the Earth’s Elaine Burton introduces a new family member, and reports on how it’s settling in
My husband Chris and I owned a Toyota Prius T4 and were averaging around 60mpg and emitting 110g CO2 per kilometre. We felt this was not good enough and began to do some research – mostly on greencarsite.co.uk – for a more efficient vehicle.
We were interested in the newer plug-in version of the Prius and asked our local dealership if they could source an ex-demo car from the UK, as we in the Isle of Man are not able to receive the £5,000 grant for a new low emission car – we also prefer not to buy new.
This went on for a few months without success and we had just found out that our Nissan dealer had started to sell the Leaf. This was following enquiries a year earlier when we were advised that they would not be selling the Leaf due to servicing costs. Obviously they had a change of heart, much to our relief. We decided to have a test drive, and were instantly hooked. One week later, Christmas Eve 2012, we found ourselves the owners of a six-month old ex-demo with 1,300 miles on the clock. We traded in the Prius and bought the electric car for £15k.
We are not new to electric vehicles as we have owned a Vectrix electric scooter for six years. Chris uses the bike to go to work and we have a charging point with free power that he can hook up to while he is working. This was another plus point of buying an electric car.
The car is for the island and we will not be taking it to the mainland unless the infrastructure improves with more charging points. It is our second car, as we have a 1998 1.9 Passat TDi – which we need to pull our trailer as we do our own wood chopping for two wood burners (both of which also heat water), a range in the kitchen and a fire in the lounge. If we needed to go to the mainland this would be the car we would use.
The Leaf is an automatic, five-seat hatchback with a decent sized boot. When test driving the car, we found it strange to have a silent ride, but also lovely and something which took a few hundred yards to become accustomed to. It is very driver-friendly, being incredibly responsive and fast, with a top speed of 90mph. Of course, to get a decent range and to care for the batteries it is better to drive at a reasonable speed with gentle acceleration and we tend to drive at 45-55mph. One soon becomes accustomed to reading the dash board indicators and driving accordingly.
Another essential way of caring for your batteries is to charge the car at 80 per cent, as Chris found out by doing some research online. It is easy to change over to 80 per cent and we now have a printout in the car just in case we need to re-programme, as we found after the first service. We duly informed the dealers that we wanted the car to remain on 80 per cent charge and not to change it again.
Of course, it all depends upon how many miles you would wish to cover and we find that a return journey to work is 30 miles. During the winter months, when we have the severe cold, the car was easily doing that return journey and back again – so, covering 45 miles with ease.
When the weather warmed up, we noticed an improvement in range. On 80 per cent we average around 60 miles. We did not have any handling problems with the ice and snow, but of course that is also down to driving with care and experience – as with any vehicle. The range indicator on the dash has been described as a guess-ometer but we have found that it is the number of bars that matter most. When it drops down to the last two bars we know it is time to recharge. The car will fully charge within seven hours at 80 per cent.
Charging at home is easy as we just plug in to a normal socket in our garage. Our electricity provider has now introduced a new ‘charging at home’ scheme, which we are about to sign up to. For a one-off fee of £250, they will come and install a charging point with timer at our home. We can then set the car to charge from 12 midnight to 7am (a full charge for us) at half price. This is after we had approached the MEA (Manx Electricity Authority) with a view to changing their existing offer which did not include any discounted power.
All in all we are very, very happy with our Leaf. If only we could produce enough solar energy to power the car ourselves, sigh. Ah well, can’t have everything – but never say never!
Online reports reckon the car costs 1p per mile, so with our reduced charging overnight and free power at certain charging points around the island we are running at less than 1p.
One thing we did notice is that pedestrians do not notice the Leaf as they would a conventional combustion engine car. Of course, this is the same as with our scooter – although the bike does make some noise. When Chris has been driving past me as I have been walking along the road I do notice there is a vehicle approaching as, of course, there is the noise of tyres on tarmac and the car does produce an electric whine. Driving around our village, however, is different as there are many other noises around to distract pedestrians. Drivers of electric vehicles need to be extra careful and observant.
25 September 2013
Beware – free range children
This week, Chris Gregory, playwork development officer for The Childrens’ Centre, envisages a world where our children play in, enjoy and respond to nature, and invites readers to come to a forthcoming event where we can help this happen
We adults, generally, have an aversion to dirt – children on the other hand love it!
If a child doesn’t enjoy occasionally jumping in puddles, digging holes or making mud pies, it’s more likely the imposed attitudes of dirt averse adults in that child’s life than the actual opinion of the child themselves.
Part of the reason that from a young age we have a fascination with places that leave us dirtiest, such as the woodlands and beaches, is that these environments have been essential to our evolution. These natural spaces offer children some of the richest playgrounds available, with strong evidence suggesting that the more time children spend in touch with nature the happier and healthier they are.
The decline of children’s outdoor play is no secret – a recent survey by The Children’s Centre showed that ‘90 per cent of the island’s parents believe that their children spend less time playing outside than they did as a child’.
If this is indeed the case, the island’s children could be at a higher risk of physical and mental illnesses such as obesity, ADHD and depression to name but a few.
I look at my 18 month year old niece, Harriet, who came to visit the island for the first time earlier this year. She was given the grand tour of all the island’s sites, but for all she saw and did, it was the trips to the glens and beaches that undoubtedly excited her the most. Nature stimulated her senses. The look of awe and wonderment as she looked up at the green canopy above her in the glens and the joy as she splashed in the sea was clear to all.
Further evidence of this childhood affinity with nature is demonstrated at The Children’s Centre by their play development team. This team of playworkers encourage thousands of children every year to play in the naturally rich locations available to them on their own doorsteps.
By moving their initiatives away from the lacklustre, sterile and conventional man-made playgrounds; to the island’s glens and woodland, their initiatives have become increasingly popular, demonstrating fewer injuries and fewer behavioural issues.
We want our children to be healthy; we want them to find their place in the world; we want them to conserve the island for future generations to enjoy. For this to happen, children need the freedom to access nature, to enjoy it, play in it and get dirty… at least as often as they touch a screen.
21 August 2013
Lessons from another island
This week, Cat Turner, of the IoM Friends of the Earth, comments on recent changes in local politicial leadership in the Isle of Wight
At the end of July, I was privileged to be invited on a short visit organised by the Manx government to the Isle of Wight, to find out more about their EcoIsland initiative. This followed a highly successful visit to the Isle of Man earlier in the year by EcoIsland’s David Green, organised by chair of Zero Waste Mann Muriel Garland.
Also on the visit and representing other Isle of Man ‘green groups’ were Muriel herself, and from the Manx Energy Advice Centre, George Fincher. We were very pleased to have been invited to join the government delegation, and it provided an opportunity for information sharing not just with counterparties in the IoW, but with each other – as the government delegation included MHK Richard Ronan, Department of Economic Development’s Dr Ken Milne, the environment department’s Martin Hall and the Manx Electricity Authority’s Richard Bujko.
We learned a lot, and there’s the potential for the Isle of Man to take inspiration from a number of EcoIsland initiatives – including in terms of energy generation. You’ll read more on these in forthcoming reports.
This week, though, I want to comment in particular on a really helpful meeting we had with leading members of the local council. We’d already heard great things of the new council from our friends in the IoW branch of Friends of the Earth, that they were a ‘breath of fresh air’, being as they were committed to open and transparent local government and to doing things in as sustainable a way as possible. Councillor Luisa Hillard is their able and engaging Cabinet Member for Sustainability, and it was great hearing from her. In particular, she is concerned about many of the same issues with food security that are of concern in the Isle of Man – that is, the need to have enough, and diverse enough, local production that the island will not be dependent on importing the majority of foodstuffs from mainland UK.
Ms Hillard hopes to tackle this through support for community farms – which in the context of the IoW means a kind of communal allotment where people can grow food and process it on-site into saleable products with some kind of island-made marque. There are other community farming models, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. At the moment, she is supporting a grant funding application that could see one of the IoW’s council-owned farms become a demonstration centre for permaculture techniques – a great way to showcase, and reap the benefits of, regenerative agriculture. Ms Hillard explained that the council is also exploring the possibility of agroforestry on Council land – a terrific idea and one we’d love to see happen here too!
Another initiative, and one which we at IoM Friends of the Earth have suggested to the helpful people at Douglas Corporation’s parks and gardens department, is that of growing food instead of flowers in public flowerbeds, and the planting of fruiting trees. This has worked wonderfully in a number of places in the UK (just look up Incredible Edible Todmorden, or Transition Town Totnes). As she points out, cost and manpower are always an issue – but the IoW council hopes that its Green Towns initiative will be able to take the lead by encouraging each community to grow what they want in their communal spaces.
Another initiative which she mentioned was the potential to grow hemp on the island. Some readers will remember Philip Allen, of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland, explaining the success being had in Ireland with hemp grown for building materials, medicinal and culinary use, animal feed, paper and fabric manufacture. Luisa hopes that in the IoW they can encourage some farmers to trial it, with a view to establishing some local small-scale industry.
The IoW council has also recently set up a Sustainability Forum, which includes representatives of local environmental groups, and food security will be one of the first topics it discusses (its first meeting is to be next month).
I commented to my opposite number in one of the IoW green campaign groups that they are fortunate to have such a forward-looking and brave council, which seems (from our impression of the councillors we met) strongly committed to an honest and accountable framework of government.
‘It wasn’t always this way,’ he replied, describing the previous regime as having been dogged by allegations of cronyism, secrecy, favouritism and incompetence. His account of what had come to pass was that eventually, the people of the IoW were so frustrated by a combination of arrogant, autocratic and bemusing decision-making and wrong-headed responses to austerity (nursery and library closures, constraints on NHS and other essential services) that there was a mass protest in the streets – a march of between 2,000 and 3,000 disgruntled people who had reached the end of their patience.
‘That was the end of them, really,’ he said, describing his relief that subsequent elections had ushered in a council focussed on genuine sustainability and accountability. It’s what could be described as, not so much a happy ending, as a happy beginning.
With the right people in government, working closely with NGOs and the community, you can move mountains!
And there are any number of similar examples in the UK – just check out the case studies in the Transition and Transition Town movements, and you’ll see instances of partnerships between government bodies and the people they work for, with economic, social and environmental payoffs.
Let’s keep at it, so that we can enjoy a robust and sustainable economy, and a supportive and connected society, on an island that continues to be blessed with unique diversity, beauty and natural riches.
10 July 2013
Getting closer to home?
This week, IoM Friends of the Earth’s Pete Christian considers the perils of continued climate change to our island
Island dwellers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
But we tend to think of the risks in local terms.
For the Isle of Man, we ask: how often might the Ben not sail. Or, how many days cold storage have we got? Or, does the revamp of Douglas seafront take account of rising sea levels?
All these are things require examination, but global factors should be in our minds as well, as described by William Hague’s envoy, former military commander Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, in his first interview. He views climate change as ‘one of the greatest risks we face’, posing as big a threat to the UK’s security and economy as terrorism and cyber attacks. He warns that increasingly extreme weather events involving drought, storms and flooding are exacerbating tensions over water, food and security in countries prone to conflict. ‘The areas of greatest global stress and greatest impacts of climate change are broadly coincidental,’ he said.
Just because it’s happening thousands of miles away doesn’t mean we can be complacent: thinking it won’t affect us is a very dangerous mind-set. In a globalised world, food production catastrophes, even on another continent, or disruption to fuel supplies through the Strait of Hormuz, at the very least can quickly cause massive price increases. Supply shortages would become supply failure, extending into our sheltered island life.
This isn’t empty theorising. Recently, Toyota UK car plants went on to a three-day week after floods in Thailand cut the supply chain, also leaving computer firms in the US and Europe short of microchips.
OK, these in isolation are things which industry can cope with. However, at the risk of sounding alarmist, imagine drought and famine leading to displaced, hungry and thirsty populations around the Gulf, an area awash with armaments. How confident can we be that the oil tankers will continue to sail serenely on to feed our oil dependent lifestyles?
It’s not just me and the good Rear Admiral either.
US Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, who led the naval action helping to defeat Muammar Gaddafi, said a climate change-provoked event is the ‘most likely thing . . . that will cripple the security environment’.
US General Wesley Clark believes ‘stopping global warming isn’t just about saving the environment, it’s about saving America for our children’s children’.
Chuck Hagel, US Defence Secretary, thinks we can no longer ‘separate environmental policy from economic or energy policy’.
When these hard-headed military commanders start getting worried, those who are wary of environmentalists’ cautionary words should listen.
The Isle of Man’s is a small voice, but I want to hear our leaders joining with other island communities, and countries around the British Isles and the Commonwealth, shouting a lot more loudly, and returning from international forums with more than ‘it was a good opportunity to meet our counterparts’.
At root, climate change is largely the result of burning fossil fuels, an issue for the island in a future Green Column.
For now, remember President Obama’s words, highlighted in last week’s column: ‘We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat earth society.’
And to borrow from an earlier speech: ‘If not now, when?’
18 June 2013
Gardening in good company
This week, Tanya Highet, secretary of the Laxey and Lonan Allotments Association, writes about the benefits of growing your own
Beautiful sunny days have meant that many of us have been outside gardening recently. Some of us are lucky enough to have sunny and sheltered places at home to grow fruit, vegetables, and flowers but for those who need space, joining an allotment is the way to go.
There are many benefits to growing in a communal setting and the most obvious is having access to your own decent sized plot of land to grow fresh organic produce for your yourself and your family.
The Isle of Man has a relatively mild climate and there’s a lot you can grow outside. On my plot right now I’m growing asparagus, rhubarb, pak choi, spinach, runner beans, blueberries, globe artichokes, courgettes, garlic, purple sprouting broccoli, various wildlife-friendly flowers, and much more. It’s surprising what does well here and if this summer continues to be as warm as it is now then I can expect some golden cobs of sweet corn and great big pumpkins.
There’s a lot to learn to be able to grow such a variety of produce but you can start with easy crops first and then add more to your edible garden as you pick up knowledge and skills. Another great thing about growing in an allotment is that you can ask neighbouring plot holders about what they’re growing and any tips they might have for you. Gardeners are a generous sort, especially with their advice!
Having an allotment can be a wonderful way to grow your own, get out in the sun and fresh air, and teach your children about food and nature. However, there’s a lot of hard work that goes into keeping a plot productive and tidy so renting one is a commitment to taking care of the land. Tilling the soil, applying manure, weeding, and keeping on top of pests will keep you plenty busy especially if you garden organically as we do in Laxey. Still, it’s all worth it and if you put in a little bit of effort, often then the rewards will far out-weigh the work.
We’ve had quite a few people take up plots at Laxey and Lonan Allotment, who started gardening by sowing containers of beans on the patio or herbs in the kitchen window. It’s a hobby that seems to grow until you’ve got no space left to put anything else. The good news is that while allotments across the UK have waiting lists hundreds of names long, there are plots currently available in the Isle of Man.
There are allotments located across the island and some, including the Laxey and Lonan Allotments Association, currently have plots available. If you’re interested in renting out a plot or would like more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 256474.
02 May 2013
Home composting – the beauty of turning old food into new food
Phil Corlett, master composter, tells Cat Turner of the Isle of Man Friends of the Earth about his mission to turn waste into food – via the simple route of home composting
Phil Corlett, master composter, tells Cat Turner of the Isle of Man Friends of the Earth about his mission to turn waste into food – via the simple route of home composting
Cat: Tell us how long you’ve been home composting, Phil.
Phil: I began about three years ago, after going on an excellent Master Composter course sponsored by Zero Waste Mann. It was a two-day course run by Garden Organics down in Laxey Glen Gardens, and really taught you everything you needed to know to get started – although there’s always more to learn, as I’m finding.
C: And what’s the attraction?
P: There are plenty – I get to reduce my household waste (I’m down to just one bread-bag full a week in my wheelie bin, what with composting and recycling). Also, I give it a useful purpose, and as I have a garden where I grow some of my own food, I get the pleasure of seeing that waste go full circle to create yet more produce.
C: That sounds elegantly circular – I like the idea of waste becoming a useful resource. So how does that work in practice?
P: It’s pretty easy once you’re in the groove – it’s just a case of getting some good habits ingrained, really. In my kitchen, for example, I save a good proportion of my food waste – vegetable and fruit scraps, bread scraps – but not, for example, meat (mostly because this would attract rodents, not because meat doesn’t contain useful potential nutrients).
C: Hah, yes – I learned about that on a permaculture course recently: in places where rodents can be controlled, several of the composters were actually choosing to put a chicken corpse or similar into their compost heap to give it a good boost – one of them had used a donkey! And another of the team actually decided that when she died, she wanted to be composted in her family garden. But maybe that’s illegal, better to have a tree planted on top of you instead…..Anyway, so – what else?
P: It’s really important to get the balance right, so this food waste goes out on to my compost heap in what we call a mix of ‘browns and greens’ – food waste, plant trimmings and sometimes, brown card and paper (don’t use highly printed materials, and send your white paper waste for recycling!).
C: OK, so what do you use to get it all breaking down and turning into compost?
P: It’ll do that naturally, if you’ve got the mix right, and keep it at the right moisture content. Some people use accelerants on their heaps, and human urine’s one of the best – and of course, it’s free! But if you can’t bring yourself to do that, there are commercially available and environmentally-friendly options that you can add to the heap to bring it along. Shakti Mann in Ramsey, for example, stocks a good one.
C: And what do you need to do?
P: Digging over the heap periodically is a big benefit to it – I’d do mine about every 6 months – and occasionally you can skewer holes into it to help air get in and give the microbes a breather. There are different schools of thought on this, and it’s worth reading around and trying a few different things out. A great website, recommended to me by Stephanie Gray, is: homecomposting.org.uk/content/view/12/26/ and it’s well worth a look.
C: This all sounds very do-able – and at the end of it you get a super-fertile soil which you can use on your vegetable beds. Where can people find out more?
P: To celebrate Composting Week, we’re having an event at the Green Centre on Saturday, May 4, from 10am until 4pm. There’ll be Master Composters on hand to answer any questions people might have, big displays and examples of compost and composting bins to look at. Come down and have a chat, find out more – you might decide to start saving money, re-using your waste, and turning it into nutritious fresh food, vegetables and salad this year!
9 March 2013
Moving in the same space
Liz Kelly – a former co-ordinator of IoM Friends of the Earth and longtime campaigner – looks at developments in how pedestrians and traffic co-exist – and wonders if there is a better way.
“Naked roads” is a term used for a way of managing traffic by taking away such ‘street furniture’ as traffic lights, stop signs, crossings, railings and speed bumps. It’s been introduced in countries such as Holland, Germany and Sweden -perhaps surprisingly, with really positive effects. The approach has also been trialled in parts of England.
Meanwhile on the Isle of Man, we continue to separate pedestrians from traffic by putting railings along the roadside at junctions, and by installing ever more sets of traffic lights. One of the problems with this is that the railings inhibit the freedom of pedestrians, so that cars don’t need to slow down (or at least, their drivers perceive this to be the case). Thus, the cars take precedence and proceed at a pace to suit their drivers.
Further, traffic lights take the drivers’ attention away from the road to the lights. We all know how dangerous it is to look at a mobile phone whilst driving a car – yet signs and traffic lights are taking our attention away from the road all the time. A recent audit done by Westminster City Council showed 44% of personal injury accidents are at traffic lights. Traffic lights make us stop when we could go, and take our eyes of the road. So before we continue with this line of trying to separate motorists and pedestrians, we might well look at the alternatives.
In many senses, motorists have been made arrogant by the system and have been encouraged by authority to believe that they do own the roads: after all, they pay the road tax – so the roads are theirs! The counterargument to this is, of course, that paying road tax doesn’t mean that those roads belong to them anymore than the street lights belong to rate payers.
In terms of managing the risks of mixing people and traffic, that old bugbear ‘Health and Safety’ has – as many of us know – taken over from good old common sense. One of the main problems with it is that people have become so cocooned by it that in some cases they have stopped thinking for themselves and rather rely on the world being a safe place.
Unfortunately, however, this can have the opposite effect and people become complacent. Drivers and pedestrians alike feel safe in the knowledge that road signs and signals will allow them a certain amount of ‘autopilot’, and the inevitable consequence is that motorists increase their speeds. If the autopilot feature was removed or reduced due to lack of signage, then both parties would have to concentrate more keenly and this would slow motorists down and make them more aware and careful drivers.
You may wonder where the good old cyclist features, vilified as he so often is by drivers and pedestrians alike. In my opinion he/she is a hero of the roads. Many European countries allow cyclists on the pavements – and before all you pedestrians start shouting, it can actually be a good idea. A collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian is unlikely to end in death. In fact both or either could be injured. You certainly can’t say the same for a car driver and a cyclist – or worst still, a bus or lorry driver and a cyclist. Yet cyclists are expected to share the same area that pedestrians are cocooned from. One has to wonder where the logic is in that…..
Where street furniture – and at the extreme, even pavements – are removed, it’s been proved that everyone behaves more responsibly. A small but good example of where this works is the North Quay scheme in Douglas – a greaqt case of where we’ve really got it right. Should we be considering extending this further? It’d be good to hear peoples’ thoughts.
If you’re interested in exploring this idea further, you might like to check out the following link:
02 March 2013
What’s a bishop doing here?
Robert Paterson, Bishop of Sodor and Man
There’s a cartoon showing a man in an attic looking through his telescope at the night sky; his wife is bringing a friend up the stairs to see him. She says: ‘He lives in a little world of his own!’ I’m always surprised when people think that clergy – and bishops in particular – live in a religious world of our own.
In fact, we wouldn’t even be Christians if we didn’t believe in the importance of the environment and of every single human life.
This short article explores a little about the value theology adds to ecology for people of faith.
A belief in the Creator, in the preciousness of creation and in the importance of caring for it is shared by almost all the world faiths. People sometimes think that means we have to take literally a six-day creation, despite the fact that the Bible itself gives us two creation stories.
No, those stories tell us about the ‘Who’ of creation, not the ‘How’.
Looked at in that way, those first three chapters of the Bible open up a new view of the value of the environment. Chapter one – the six-days – gives a big picture of the universe and of Adam (the name means ‘man’) to be God’s friend with a responsibility to care for the created order. Chapter two describes man being made from dust, a reminder of our mortality, and woman – literally ‘out of man’. Then we get to chapter three. The snake starts a conversation about the fruit on the tree in the middle of the garden.
‘Eat that,’ says the snake, ‘and you’ll be master of your moral judgements, just like God.’ They see the fruit and think it would be good to eat. Of course, it wasn’t good but it really looked good so they ate it. It’s the law of unforeseen consequences – the fruit looks good and makes you want more. Mix that need with the magic words ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’ and the fruit is yours for the taking.
I find these three chapters speak powerfully to me on many different levels, but not least when I think how we continue to plunder the environment, some of us denying that we are doing it, because we think that we know better. All those fossil fuels make life feel ‘good’, and the more we get of them the more we want. Please don’t tell us to stop because we think we know better, we imagine that we are masters of our own private morality.
There is one more thing to add, and that’s the first chapter of St John’s Gospel, which is a pastiche of the first chapter of Genesis, except that the voice which brings everything into being (God said: ‘Let there be …’) is identified as Jesus Christ who ‘pitched his tent among us’ and was rejected by his contemporaries. So my faith in Christ commits me to protecting creation for its own sake and for the sake of the generations that will follow.
Christians have often been no better than anyone else at protecting creation. Around the year 400, St Augustine wrote: ‘The good use the world to enjoy God; the bad, on the contrary, want to use God to enjoy the world.’
There are many good secular reasons for guarding the environment but, from where I stand, the faith perspective adds value to those reasons.
23 February 2013
Insulating your loft
At this time of the year my attention is often given to the amount of snow on the roofs around the Port Erin village. This is a very good way of finding out if you have adequate insulation levels in your loft space. If your house is free of snow but your neighbours are holding snow then there is a good chance that your house is deficient in insulation.
The current recommended minimum for insulation is 270mm (or 10.6 inches) of rock wool type insulation. It is perhaps the easiest type to insulate, and can be done yourself for about between £100 and £350 – and its payback could be as low as two years
One of the most common enquiries to the Manx Energy Advice Centre at the Green Centre is from people trying to keep the house warm. People want to fit bigger boilers, wood burners, heat pumps and all manner of solar heating systems, but when you ask them how much energy they are using at present they report huge outgoings of energy – and as such, money.Our return is often to start at first principles and get the basics right from the outset: so the discussion often goes along these lines. “How much insulation have you in the loft? How old is the property? and what is it constructed of?”.
Some people tell us they are in a relatively newly built property, where insulation should be top notch – so it is not worth looking.I have lost count of the people who come in the next week to tell me they did not have enough insulation in the loft, even on a new build.Think of insulation as a blanket keeping the warm in and the cold out – it’s worth doing.
So go on, next time it snows or is frosty, nip out and have a look at your roof in comparison to other roofs in the area. If your roof is free of snow or frost, how about a trip to the nearest building supplier?• The Manx Energy Advice Centre is at the Green Centre, Market Street, Douglas
16 February 2013
Use of solar and energy efficiency in a Manx cottage
The rare occurrence of the meter being read happened the other day and a strange conversation developed between the MEA employee and my wife which went somewhat like this. The meter is not working to which my wife replied yes it is, so the meter reader asked her to switch something on so she switched the computer on. As we had used such a low amount of power the poor fellow surmised that the meter was broken and we needed a new meter installing. However we have a digital display smart meter which registered the load and after some head scratching the meter reader pronounced it was working.
This is a “problem” in our house as we have little load from the MEA due to a program of both efficiency measures and producing our own electricity to supplement our requirements. Our electricity bills are similar now as when we moved into our house in 1987 (eg £25 in 1987 and £27 in 2012), even though electricity unit costs have increased significantly in 25 years.
The house was very cold and draughty when we moved in and we spent the following years insulating the building. The first efficiency saving was to invest in energy saving light bulbs which we did in the 1990s when they were expensive and had to be ordered from specialist suppliers as local outlets did not stock them. These first bulbs were the start of an interest in efficiency that has become a hobby and way of life for us both. We have changed electrical items when they become unable to be repaired and we find the most efficient replacement available. We are more interested in the power used than its facility to dazzle with features. One of the first things we do when selecting a new replacement is to have a look at the back at its rated power and work back from there.
In the last five years we have undertaken new projects which involved actively producing power to offset our domestic requirements. We placed a small wind turbine in our garden to try and harness the power of wind. This had a mixed result as it did provide power however the downside was having a system which required constant maintenance and was sited in a place which was compromised by its geography i.e. the house and surrounding topography caused unsteady wind conditions and wear on the turbine.
I then looked at solar photovoltaic (pv) panels which could be placed on the roof and had no maintenance issues short of cleaning from time to time and monitoring its performance. This proved so successful that I did away with the wind generator. We now have just short of 1kw of solar panels installed on our roof producing enough power to run our lighting, computer and television requirements, solar heating and central heating pumps. Our heavy duty items which we are unable to supply from PV include the washing machine, fridge freezer, electric oven, vacuum cleaner, electric motorbike and microwave.
I have not opted to grid tie (connect to the mains) the solar panels as there is no incentive from the MEA, there is no feed in tariff available and the arrangement favoured by the MEA import export only credits the balance of produced energy with 3p per unit. I am happy with the system I have and it works for me. However grid tie is an option and perhaps I will upgrade in the future.
There has been a moderate investment in costs of equipment and time however now I am getting a payback and I would estimate it to have a return of 7 to 10 years. The panels and equipment are designed to run for 25 years and the electricity costs are not going to fall certainly not in the near term if ever. There has been a steady decrease in the costs associated in solar panels largely due to oversupply in the industry. Panel’s, inverters and systems are cheaper now than ever and this trend is continuing. It could be that in the not too near future solar could become on parity to conventional power supply systems when all pollution has to be accounted and charged for.
Solar power can be produced in these latitudes but there is a problem with the seasons. There is by practice a period mid November to mid January where the yield is low due to the amount of solar radiation available. This is unfortunate; however in our house it is usually enough to supply lighting needs even in these periods.
I have recently become a shareholder in a co-operative that is harnessing solar power in a number of schools in the UK. The schools are having a large array of panels fitted which allows the school to have free power when available and any excess is supplied to the grid. A payment is made (Feed in Tariff) to the co-operative to cover its investment. Now that the costs of these technologies have fallen then it is in the Manx Governments remit to place them on schools, colleges and public buildings that could harness such power. Schools and public buildings lend themselves very favourable because they need power during the day when the sun shines and it is a fantastic teaching resource so come on IOM PLC let’s get on with it.
To summarise, I can only advocate these technologies used, however if it is adopted a measure of efficiency is required. The practice in our house is to switch lights and other appliances off that are not needed. Use of energy saving products such as lighting, led televisions and notebook computers help to maximise the power available.
In feeling sorry for the Meter Readers’ assumptions, perhaps the MEA could use high meter readings as a training issue and should be questioning why customers meters read so high and offering advice on how to reduce the usage. This would be a bold and positive move for the MEA however this may not look so good on its balance sheet.
MEAC and IOM Foe member.
09 February 2013
Longtail project success on Calf
Work on the Calf longtail eradication campaign is not for the faint-hearted – by Kate Hawkins
With around 1,025 bait points to service, there isn’t much time to sit around and contemplate the scenery, though there are days when it’s good to pause in your toil to take in the dramatic land and seascape. Weather seldom daunts the properly wrapped up and shod, though it can be hard going through knee-high heather and bramble thickets. All field workers are equipped with waterproof equipment, including notebooks, and everybody is well-briefed about hygiene and personal safety. Walkie-talkies keep people in touch with each other, leading at times to some bafflement at Cregneash, where MNH staff occasionally pick up stray messages from the Calf.
At least after a long hard day there is the warmth of the observatory wood stove to go back to and some catching up with the day’s findings over a brew and hot meal.
Life on a small island forces you to think about sustainability. Fresh water comes from a well and is in limited supply, and all fuel for electricity generation and cooking has to be brought over by boat. Conversely, all non-burnable or compostable waste (including waste bait) needs to be taken off the Calf for recycling or disposal, which generally makes us more conscious of the waste we are generating while we are out there.
Just before Christmas, non-toxic wax blocks flavoured with chocolate were added to the bait points. These show up teeth marks of any investigating rodents and are vital for detecting any residual longtail activity. To date, only a few blocks have been found with teeth marks on them, one nibbled by a longtail, others by mice and the occasional rabbit.
In March, the rodenticide in the bait points will be replaced by wax blocks in preparation for the next monitoring phase of the project and these will be checked monthly for up to two years for signs of rodent activity. All being well, the number of bait points will be reduced this spring, though points around harbours and other key areas around the Calf and Kitterland will be left in place for monitoring purposes.
Strict precautions will be in place to avoid re-introduction of rodents from boat holds or cargo deliveries and there is an emergency action plan in case any longtails are detected after the eradication operation.
A very important element in the project planning is the avoidance of harm to wildlife other than longtails. The likelihood of birds of prey eating poisoned longtails is minimised by the design of the bait stations and the tendency of affected longtails to make for their burrows and die out of sight.
However, a mysterious upsurge in bait-take in December appears to have been the work of clever crows pulling out the guard wires across the ends of the bait point pipes, prompting adjustments to the wires to make them more secure. Fortunately, birds are less susceptible to the rodenticide than mammals and we hope that not too much damage was done before remedial action was taken.
It’s early days yet, but I think I can safely say that this project has succeeded in demonstrating what can be achieved if people work together in a common interest.
If we remain vigilant and manage to keep longtails off the Calf, we can look forward to seeing increasing numbers of Manx shearwaters and other seabirds on the island and around the south west coast, with knock-on benefits for resident wildlife watchers and visitors to the Isle of Man.
11 January 2013
“What do the Isle of Scilly, Jersey, Eigg, Shetland Isle of Wight and Anglesey have in common?
Answer: They all currently feature on Ecoislands website.
Ecoislands aims to develop a replicable ‘greenprint’ to help future ecoislands achieve sustainability. The Isle of Wight is comparable in many ways to the Isle of Man, and is Ecoislands flagship island.
The Isle of Wight hosted the inaugural Global Summit of Ecoislands – an event aiming to bring together 500 delegates from around the world with an interest in encouraging and assisting sustainable communities. Delegates from islands and regional communities were encouraged to commit to achieving renewable energy self-sufficiency by 2020 and sustainability by 2030. Sustainability is achieved where a community commits to keeping the size of its carbon footprint similar to the size of its land area, ie living within its means.
Ecoislands enables island communities to share information about research and development; it informs communities about projects and community initiatives concerning energy, transport, water and waste management.
Ecoislands is involved together with a number of its partners in promoting hydrogen cars on the Isle of Wight: Two grid-connected hydrogen refuelling platforms are being designed, built and installed. One will operate in a marine capacity and the second will serve a fleet of hydrogen vehicles. In addition to the technical and engineering work involved, advanced IT functions help co-ordinate the energy supply with demand. Here on the Isle of Man the eco-friendly TT race is well received, could we not build on this and encourage eco-friendly cars? Are our public sector vehicles operated with sustainability in mind? Could we reduce our carbon footprint by running smaller busses at non-peak times rather than run a large bus for just a few passengers? Could we restrict wasted power (heating, lighting) in public sector workplaces; could we reduce the amount and brightness of street lights (reducing the rates bill too)? Could we use eco-vehicles for all public transport?
Ecoislands provides a forum for sharing knowledge and information which allows communities to collaborate with technological advances and innovation. It brings together partners in technology, and funding and by sharing knowledge and experience participants can benefit from each others experiences towards achieving sustainablility. The Isle of Wight project employs engineers, financiers and IT specialists, we have all these here on the Isle of Man, and could enhance employment opportunities in these sectors by encouraging them towards environmental projects, at home and overseas.
Financially and economically eco-culture may be the way of the future. It may be the only way forward in light of weather fluctuations threatening world food supplies and the UK’s possible inability to meet its own energy demands in the future. Our island may benefit by learning of other small island communities’ experiences.
See the Ecoisland website: http://www.ecoislands.org/