Reducing biodegradable waste… using a hot bin

Around a year ago, Cardiff Council seemingly ran out of money and most basic services were cut. There were no bags for compostable waste anywhere for months. I have a pet rabbit, so he gets through a fair amount of sawdust and straw. I had a compost bin, but it was constantly full and it couldn’t possibly process the volume of waste our house was producing, with all the garden waste too. Then a rat moved in to the compost. So I investigated online, and found a HotBin. This is a very well insulated compost bin that allows air to flow freely through the composting material, super-charging the speed that the matter composts down. It also stated the added benefit of being rat-proof, plus it could take all food waste, including cooked meats (which the rest of the household eats).

The price was a major consideration. It would mean buying when I’d promised to reduce consumption. However, I couldn’t bring myself to throw green waste in to the landfill bin, so I took the plunge and ordered one.

A year later, I still think this is the best thing ever. I now dig out the compost from the base every four months and move this to the old compost heap to finish maturing until I need to mulch the garden. (Digging out the hot bin would be a great task for any budding archeologists.) I spent the day yesterday spreading the best compost I have ever made, soft and black and crumbly, with evidence of crushed egg shells and dark brown meat bones as the only sign of food waste.

Setting up the bin was easy, with steam being produced within a few days. My only wish is that I had a greenhouse, as I reckon if this was located inside, the amount of heat this bin produces could keep a winter greenhouse or polytunnel a few degrees warmer to keep salads going for longer. (Although it can smell if it starts to go anaerobic, so it may make the greenhouse a less pleasant place to be. I just use a stick to stir holes through to keep the air flow moving.)

There is more information on the website,

Seeing as my council may soon take all food waste for anaerobic digestion, and garden waste for composting, is it worth having my own waste treatment system? I would say at the moment, definitely. The cost to the council to treat the waste will be at least £35/tonne, but they will be able to generate power from the biogas. When they get the digester started, it may be different. But for now, I get superb compost and no hassles when the council don’t collect the waste.

How can I reduce the climate impact of a flight?

Firstly, don’t fly. All the good you do in the home or daily travel is absolutely dwarfed by carbon emissions from a single flight. Read up about holidays that don’t involve flying and try and convince whoever you normally holiday with that these are better holidays. Wherever you live, look up the best train journeys, (Deutsche Bahn for Europe) bus journeys, cycling journeys, or ferries, and aim to travel and experience, not just fly. Visit The Man in Seat Sixty-One for further guidance on planeless travel around the world.

However, if not flying is not possible, then try to… Continue reading

BOOK REVIEW… How Much is Enough? The Love of Money, and the Case for the Good Life

Authors: Robert Skidelsky & Edward Skidelsky

ISBN: 978-1-846-14448-6

An interesting question that is never asked in our modern society. Because surely everyone wants more? “How much is Enough?” begins by looking back at how we set off on this road to growth, and how the economy has provided real progress to remove the risk of extreme poverty. In the developed world, we have succeeded. Crops fail and droughts occur, leading to famines for the developing world, but these no longer impact us. We can buy our way out of hunger. We have support structures that protect us from pestilence and disease. What we are now facing is relative poverty, one person’s wealth against another. We should be celebrating this interim success, by helping those who haven’t reached this level yet. But along the way, we forgot where we were aiming for. We are all still climbing upwards, but towards what? Economic growth and GDP are the only measures that politicians believe we are interested in, and so we continue without an end. Written in 2012 after several years of economic depression, the authors review Keynes’ attempt to foresee the future of work and poverty as he saw it from the depths of the 1930s recession. Keynes saw the use of capitalism as a necessary evil in order to reach the point when we would get the results we were after. When we reached this point of abundance for all, when our ‘needs’ were met, we would reduce our working hours accordingly. Greater mechanization would mean less work would be required to create products, and so we would have more time for leisure, and life. Whilst Keynes’ predicted many drivers correctly over time, he underestimated the insatiable growth of ‘desires’ to replace our dwindling list of ‘needs’. The twentieth century saw the introduction of advertising to teach consumers to buy because of our desires, rather than our needs. We no longer had natural or moral limits to our greed. (You might really like eating cheesecake, but there is still a natural limit to consumption. With greed for money, this limit doesn’t exist.) Greed and competitive consumption were encouraged, and the concept of avarice, as one of the seven deadly sins was buried. Conspicuous consumption had become a requirement for modern living, rather than an embarrassment. Continue reading

Reduce Consumption: declutter your life

Step 1: Understand your enemy

Firstly, you must keep in mind the importance of space and the unimportance of stuff. I borrowed The Story of Stuff from the library, to help the process (see the video version here). The idea is simple. Continue reading

BOOK REVIEW… The Lugano Report on Preserving Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century

Author: Susan George

ISBN: 0-7453-2206-9

This is the most intense, chilling books I have ever read, leaving me speechless for hours. It appears to be morphing from fiction to non-fiction as time moves on. George’s astute observations of our world helped her foresee the path we have stumbled along since 1999, when the first edition was published. Reminiscent of Swift’s A Modest Proposal, the straight-faced satirical style led to difficulties if readers did not finish the book and believed the report to be real. The new edition, published in 2003, includes an introduction by the author to avoid this misunderstanding.

The premise of the book is that a group of experts have been asked to determine how capitalism can survive in the 21st Century, what the threats are to its long-term preservation and what actions should be taken now to reduce the risks of these threats. See this excellent summary by Frances Hutchinson, for more details.

Following the book, you may feel as powerless and wordless as I did. I recommend visiting these sites for further guidance on what can be done.

TNI: Transnational Institute of Policy Studies.

Feasta: The Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability

Whilst the messages in the book are not the easiest to digest, it is a superbly written book that I couldn’t put down until I had finished. Read it, and then lend it to a friend.

Shorter hair for a lower carbon footprint?

Hair dryers are notoriously energy hungry, so surely shorter hair that is quicker to dry could reduce carbon without changing your lifestyle…

Through laziness, I had become ‘the one with the long hair’. This is an acceptable and safe description, and through fear of ending up with a worse descriptive characteristic, I’d stuck with it for my entire life so far. But I wanted to know how much extra carbon my hair costs. I use a hair dryer on work days, so I cut half of it off to see if I use half the energy.

Pre-haircut hairdrying would take 4.5 minutes.
Post-haircut hairdrying takes 1.5 minutes.

Hairdryer is 2 kW
Average UK grid electricity for 2013 was 0.44548 kg CO2e/kWh

Energy saving is 0.1 kWh per use (2 kW for 0.05 hours (3 minutes))

I dry my hair every other day, which adds up to 18.25 kWh/yearGiving a grand total of 8.1 kg CO2e saving per year.

It’s not exactly going to save the world as we know it, but it is a reduction for no effort whatsoever. Although, losing all my powers may be a price too far!