Published as a podcast on Friday 21st April on iTunes, Stitcher and susbiz.biz
Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report which is guaranteed to be a election-free zone! You will hear more than enough about the election in the next six weeks, but nothing at all here. At least not in this episode.
Welcome to my patrons, Richard, Frederika and Kasper. You can join them if you go across to patreon.com/sfr and help keep this podcast going without advertising, sponsorship or subsidy.
Welcome to all you listeners across the world. The majority of you are in the United States, although I do take a very British perspective. Sustainability is of course a global issue so I try and cover international aspects when I can. If there’s a story you think I should look into please get in touch. firstname.lastname@example.org
Yes, I'm Anthony Day and the theme of this week’s report is rubbish. There's a lot of it about! (There’ll be a lot more in the next six weeks in the UK, but that’s another story.)
- they want more drinking fountains in London so we don't have to throw away so many plastic bottles.
- Someone's come up with a plastic container that you can eat. I wonder what you wrap it in.
- Should you be entitled to a doggy bag in Scotland?
- Your clothes are probably polluting the oceans, but some people have the balls to solve this problem.
- Plastic Planet is a pressure group seeking to banish plastic from the planet, or a lot of it anyway. They are targeting supermarkets.
- The Local Government Association is targeting chewing gum manufacturers.
- Let’s aim for Zero Waste to Landfill. The Carbon Trust has a document that tells us how.
On the energy front,
- there’s trouble at Drax and
- there’s a new renewables project in the wind on the Outer Hebrides.
Scientists have discovered a material which absorbs CO2. Good news, maybe, for Al Gore who launches An Inconvenient Sequel in July. Finally, a word from a concerned citizen, writing to my local paper.
Not Bottling It
It's not been good for soft drink manufacturers recently. Pepsi had to pull that ad after a social media storm accused them of trivialising civil protest. Coca-Cola got grief for all the millions of plastic bottles which it produces, many of which are thrown away. Of course, many, many manufacturers use plastic bottles but bottles for water and soft drinks are the ones most likely to be taken out of the home and thrown away and not recycled. Other brands of soft drink are available, but I suppose that Coca-Cola's problem is a penalty of being a market leader.
A solution to the plastic bottle could be to do away with the need for a container. With this in mind the London Assembly Environment Committee has called for more drinking fountains to be installed.
A more innovative solution is the Ooho sachet. The Ooho sachet is produced by Skipping Rocks Lab in the UK. It’s a clear sachet about the size of a golf ball. It is:
- 100% made of Plants & Seaweed
- Biodegradable in 4-6 weeks, just like a piece of fruit
- Edible, can be flavoured and coloured
- Fresh (shelf life of a few days)
- 5x less CO₂, 9x less Energy vs PET (common material for plastic bottles)
- Cheaper than plastic
Here’s a drink where you can eat the container. And if you decide not to, it will just biodegrade. This has got to be better than plastic bottles, because even recycling plastic bottles takes energy to collect the bottles, energy to take them to the recycling plant, energy to run the recycling plant, energy to take them to the manufacturing plant, energy to remanufacture them and then deliver them to the user.
At the moment Ooho is mostly being sold at events for immediate consumption, but what would you wrap them in if you wanted to take them home?
Ooho sachets can be used for liquids including water, soft drinks, spirits and cosmetics.
Skipping Rocks Lab is part of the Climate KIC start-up acceleration program founded by the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) and the scientific team is based in Imperial College in London. They are currently crowd funding to support development.
Find out more at http://skippingrockslab.com. You could be part of their future.
A Plastic Planet
A Plastic Planet is a pressure group that wants to banish plastic from supermarkets. Well, some of it, anyway. They say on their website - aplasticplanet.com - that every piece of plastic ever made – unless it has been burned – STILL EXISTS. That is 60+ years of plastic building up on our planet, in our oceans, in our land, in our food chain and in our own bodies.
They call on anybody and everybody to record a brief video on the phone saying: “My name is [First Name]. I am a Plastic Addict but I am ready for change. I want a Plastic Free Aisle.”
They want to pressure supermarkets into providing plastic-free aisles - no plastic bottles, containers or bags - so that they can shop without adding to the mountains of plastic which are used and mainly discarded each day. They argue that there are gluten-free aisles so why not plastic-free aisles? It’s certainly a challenge. Just visiting a supermarket reveals how many things are packed in plastic for hygiene, for security or to prevent breakages. But plastic can do things that paper or cardboard cannot. Plastic can be transparent, it can be flexible or rigid and it can seal in flavours and keep out moisture or contamination. And yet it generally does not biodegrade, and while it can be recycled there are many places where recycling facilities are not available - I don’t just mean the bins, I mean the recycling plants - and it can break down over time and seep into the food chain. The solution is not simple and not clear. But we need a solution.
Plastics get into the oceans not just from containers, bottles and bags but your clothes are probably polluting the oceans as well. The National Federation of Women’s Institutes has put down the following resolution for its Annual Meeting in Liverpool on 7th June: “Plastic Soup: Keep microplastic fibres out of our oceans. Microplastic fibres are shed from synthetic clothing with every wash and are the main contributors to microplastic contamination of the oceans. The NFWI calls on Government and industry to research and develop innovative solutions to this problem in order to stop the accumulation of microplastic fibres in our oceans.”
Let’s hope the government listens, although on 7th June it may be preoccupied with things planned for 8th June.
There may be a solution. It’s the Cora Ball. It’s not actually a ball. It’s a spherical object made up of a whole lot of what you might call ‘looped segments’. It’s probably made of plastic. You throw the Cora Ball into the washing machine with your laundry and it attracts the micro plastic fibres. When everything’s finished you clean the debris off the ball and it’s ready to use again. The micro plastic fibres are put in the bin, not washed down the drain.
It’s another crowd-funded project which is open until 25th April. They set the target at $10,000 but already more than $250,000 has been pledged. If you pledge $20 or more you’ll get your very own Cora Ball shipped to you anywhere in the world. Find more at
Doggy bag, Madam?
Do we waste food? Yes we do. In the news this week is an initiative called “Good to Go” from Zero Waste Scotland. Not sure why it’s in the news this week, because it actually launched in 2014. It’s aimed at restaurants and it encourages them to offer their customers a doggy bag so they don’t waste what they can’t eat. There are window stickers, containers made from cardboard from sustainable sources, fully compostable and containing a starch lining, making a leak-proof box which can be used for all foods.
There’s a “Good to Go” label and a stylish “Good to Go” carrier bag. (Price 5p, by law)
Zero Waste Scotland estimates that around 53,500 tonnes of food is wasted from Scottish restaurants each year, and that two-thirds of this could have been avoided. 34% of this good food is estimated to be ‘plate waste’ – food left over at the end of the meal. Research has shown that, while customers overwhelmingly want to be offered ‘doggy bags’, two fifths (42%) are currently too embarrassed to ask for one. Not sure whether they’d be too keen on a bright green “Good to Go” carrier bag, but the results of the pilot indicated that if every restaurant in Scotland offered doggy bags it could save the equivalent of 800,000 full meals going in the bin every year.
Or maybe they could serve smaller portions.
Incidentally, the https://www.thewi.org.uk also has a campaign to stop food waste. Theirs is aimed at supermarkets. Supermarkets just can’t win, can they?
The Local Government Association has it in for chewing gum manufacturers. There’s a very important principle here. Do we prosecute careless consumers for dropping litter - if we can catch them - or do we target the organisation that manufactures what ends up as litter?
“Chewing gum is a plague on our pavements,” says the Local Government Association. “It’s ugly, it’s unsightly and it’s unacceptable.”
The Association is calling for gum manufacturers to contribute to the £60 million annual gum removal cost. It said this money would be enough for councils to fill in more than a million potholes.
Recent research by Keep Britain Tidy found 99 per cent of main shopping streets and 64 per cent of all roads and pavements are stained by chewing gum.
The average piece of gum costs about 3p to buy - but up to 50 times that to clean up per square metre (£1.50). Most chewing gum is not biodegradable and once it is trodden into the pavement this requires specialised equipment to remove. Gum manufacturers should also be switching to biodegradable and easier-to-remove chewing gum, the LGA says.
Councils up and down the country are being forced to use new and innovative methods to fight the blight. These include awareness campaigns, posters which people can wrap their discarded gum in and special chewing gum bins.
I understand that in Singapore there is a ban on importing chewing gum. Gum is available there only for therapeutic reasons and then only with a doctor’s prescription. Penalties for chewing gum in Singapore include a fine of up to $100,000, a prison sentence of up to two years, or both. That’s Singapore dollars, but that's still more than £50,000. When I was there the streets were very clean.
While we’re about it, let’s aim for Zero Waste to Landfill. The Carbon Trust tells us how. You can download their guide from the website - carbontrust.com.
Something in the Air
While we are on the subject of rubbish we could talk about CO2 as atmospheric rubbish. Researchers at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University are studying a mineral, peridotite, which reacts with carbon dioxide and extracts it from the atmosphere. They are taking part in the Oman Drilling Project, extracting rock cores for analysis. Oman boasts the largest exposed sections of the Earth's mantle (core), thrust up by plate tectonics millions of years ago. The mantle contains peridotite, a rock that reacts with water and the carbon dioxide in the air to form marble and limestone. The scientists are looking at the possibility of speeding up the reaction so that significant quantities of CO2 can be extracted from the atmosphere.
Dealing with carbon dioxide is the major problem with burning fossil fuels - coal, gas and oil. The only solution under serious consideration at the moment is CCS, carbon capture and storage. This is a process for extracting the CO2 from the emissions of major installations, usually power stations, compressing it and pumping it away to caverns under the sea. The problem with CCS is that no-one has yet made it work on a commercial scale and even if they did, the process would be expensive and inevitably require significant amounts of energy. If peridotite could be used to trap the CO2 on site it could revolutionise the handling of power station emissions and might even be able to clean up cars and domestic heating boilers. But there’s a long, long way to go before anything like this can be proved to be commercially viable.
Talking of energy…
Last week Drax Power held its annual general meeting. Drax has the largest thermal power station in the UK and produces some 7% of the nation’s electricity. Protesters gathered outside the meeting to complain about the £1.5m subsidy that Drax receives every day. Although the plant has replaced half the coal it uses with with biomass, protesters claim that the wood pellets that it imports from the United States do not come from sustainable sources. They say that the emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants from burning biomass are worse than from burning coal.
Protests also took place inside the meeting where a third of investors voted against the company’s remuneration report. In particular they criticised the rewards offered to finance chief Will Gardiner. Despite opposition he’s in line to receive 358,567 shares worth £1.355 million in 2019. Mr Gardiner's total pay reached £971,000 for 2016, while chief executive Dorothy Thompson's total pay rose 26% to £1.5 million for the period.
Something in the Wind…
When I worked in Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides some 12 years ago there were plans for a massive wind farm on the Isle of Lewis. Eventually it came to nothing, due to opposition on the island and partly due to a campaign called No Pylons in the Highlands. If the wind farm had been built there were plans for a pylon line from Ullapool down to Bewley near Inverness to take the electricity into Scotland. Environmentalists clearly saw that as a price too high to pay for renewable energy. Things may be about to change. Business Secretary Greg Clark visited Lewis recently and the business department launched a consultation last November on whether it should make an exemption to its 2015 manifesto commitment to “end any new public subsidy” for windfarms.
Of course until this election is over all bets are off, but the Scottish government warned this week that if Westminster ruled out allowing onshore windfarms in the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland to compete for subsidies, £2.5bn of investment would be put at risk. The islands are also heavily dependent on expensive diesel imports for power.
An Inconvenient Sequel
Do you remember Al Gore? The man who used to be the next president of the US? He’s followed up his 2006 “An Inconvenient Truth” with “An Inconvenient Sequel”. It’s scheduled for release in cinemas in July. I’ll keep you posted.
This week my local paper published the following letter. Listen carefully to get the full sense. And if you do get any sense, please let me know.
“Why is it the sanctimonious egotistical save the planet climate change idealists, no fracking in my backyard brigade show no concern about the half million tons of man-made debris orbiting the earth? Could it be the thought of sitting around a log fire in outer space with no-one to polish their egos has little appeal?”
No, I don’t understand it either.
And that’s it for another week. I'm Anthony Day and that was the Sustainable Futures Report brought to you as always without advertising, subsidy or sponsorship. Of course, if you enjoy these podcasts please pop along to patreon.com/SFR and and donate a dollar or two. (Yes I know, but it's an American site. It's about 80p.) And for April only, if you sign up as a patron for $1 a month you will receive the unique Sustainable Futures Report enamel badge, normally available exclusively to those pledging more than $5 per month.
Either way, I am Anthony Day and I shall be back with a another Sustainable Futures Report this time next week. Thanks for listening and keep listening.
Bye for now.
Rubbish - what do we do about it? Ideas from @OohoWater, @womensinstitute, @aplastic_planet, Cora Ball, @LGANews and zerowastescotland.org.uk