What are microbeads – is a ban on the way?

What’s the issue with microbeads?

It might only be a small success of President Obama’s reign, but on his checklist of achievements he can include getting microbeads banned from ‘rinse off ‘ cosmetic products. So if the U.S. can do it why can’t we? Well, a UK ban might well be on the way – even if it doesn’t include all our European partners, as the Environment Minister Rory Stewart recently told the Commons “If we cannot get a common position out of the European Union, we are open to the possibility of the UK acting unilaterally.” This will please campaigners such as the Marine Conservation Society who have been urging governments to act, following many years of evidence gathering by themselves and others on the harm caused by microbeads.

What’s the issue with microbeads?

Microbeads – sound a bit cute, they are anything but – they are small bits of plastic added to face washes, body scrubs, toothpaste and the like to help buff and exfoliate our bodies. The problem is that once they are washed down our drains they can’t be filtered out and end up in our seas, rivers and lakes, absorbing toxic pollutants as they go. Looking yummy to fish, they then enter the food chain and potentially we eat plastic! Excellently explained by this video by the Story of Stuff Project.

How can I avoid them?

Check the label – plastics are called many things, and listed in very small print, so if you can read it it’s best to avoid anything listing Polyethylene / Polythene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), – Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), – Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or Nylon. Alternatively, a handy app has been created see beatthemicrobead.org. You just need to scan the barcode and it tells you if the product contains microbeads. What can I do to help?

What can I do to help?

Vote with your pocket, and choose alternative products that don’t contain plastics, try Fauna & Flora International’s Good Scrub Guide for suggested alternatives and take the Microbeads pledge to stop using them. Also sign the petition calling for David Cameron to ban the use of polluting plastic microbeads in cosmetics. Perhaps the Prime Minister can add it to his ‘Things I’ve achieved list’ like President Obama!

More information on Toiletries & Cosmetics

Climate Change Summit

Here we go again – another summit on Climate Change. This follows a day of action yesterday, The People’s Climate March, that saw street protests in London, New York and a staggering 2,000 locations across the world, all demanding urgent action on climate change. Reportedly attracting hundreds of thousands of marchers.

The UN will host a climate summit at its headquarters in New York with 125 heads of state and government to be present. This is the first summit since the climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, which was not successful in securing progress on a universal agreement on emissions reductions. Let’s hope this time the science is listened to too.

Can’t see the wood for the trees? – Forestry Commission launches new app

For many of us it’s difficult enough identifying fully grown trees let alone identifying young trees or shrubs in a woodland setting; a problem woodland managers, foresters, ecologists and the like have grabbled with for years – how do you identify which naturally established plants you want to keep and which ones to remove?  Now the Forestry Commission has turned to a technical solution to help in woodland management. It has just launched an app at the Forest Research show. Forestry Commission’s Matt Parratt said ” …..The app allows people to quickly and accurately identify self-set trees and shrubs regardless of their age. They can also record field notes and locations using GPS without a mobile signal. This is always going to be more efficient and helpful than revisiting a site”. So potential carbon savings there too. The app costs £1.49 and can be downloaded from the AppStore and Google Play.

Energy focused social investment fund Ignite announce its ‘Big Energy Idea’ winners

Ignite yesterday announced the names of 10 successful entrepreneurs who they will be working with to tackle energy challenges, and make real, sustainable change in communities. 

  • The Big Energy Idea will provide 10 social entrepreneurs with an individual package of investment readiness support and the potential to access a minimum £50,000 investment over the next year
  • 10 successful ‘Big Energy Ideas’, including local business Sust-it were announced on 30th April, at an event held in Windsor
  • The Big Energy Idea is run by Ignite, a fund that will invest £10 million over 10 years, backed by Centrica

Among the winners is Ross Lammas, founder of Sust-it, a family-run price comparison site that enables consumers to make informed buying choices based on energy usage and running costs of electrical products.

An individual package of support will be provided to the social entrepreneurs, Ross included, helping them gain investment and grow their ventures. The fund has been established by Ignite Social Enterprise, a social investment fund backed by Centrica plc, which is focused on energy-related businesses and enterprises.

As part of the tailored business support on offer (which brings together industry expertise from The Henley Business School, The Good Analyst, UnLtd and confidence coach Peter Nicholas) the primary objective will be to get each venture investment ready in order to grow its social impact.  The businesses will be able to gain access to between £50,000 and £2 million from the Ignite fund.

Ross Lammas of Sust-it, said: “Becoming one of the successful Big Energy Ideas will make a huge difference to us. We’ll get additional expertise from the energy industry to build our future strategy, and hopefully, investment at some point in the next year. This will enable us to help those on low income save money and also to improve everyone’s energy literacy.

Centrica CEO Sam Laidlaw, who announced the winning ideas, said: “I believe that the answers to society’s challenges do not lie solely with the private sector or the public sector, but with social entrepreneurs, in communities, and in cross-sector partnerships. I am passionate about the potential of each of these business – supported by us – to find some of these answers.”

Ignite is investing time, money and support into energy-related social enterprises, and is aiming to invest a minimum £10 million over 10 years with investments ranging between £50,000 and £2 million. The profits from Ignite’s investments will be reinvested and recycled back to help more social enterprises and ventures grow and scale up their work. Ignite has already committed £3.4 million of the fund across four projects that will be creating social change in the UK.

Free range kids

The sign ‘Free range children’ on the entrance to Glewstone Court, country house hotel, has always made me smile, as does the sign ‘slow children’ – are they just not that bright!  Seriously though, it’s good to see the sustainable transport charity Sustran’s new campaign calling for measures to be taken to allow kids to play outside and move around their local area more safely, freely and independently. Specifically, they’re asking for the law to be changed to make 20 miles per hour the maximum speed limits in residential areas across the UK and for further investment in walking and cycling routes, particularly to school.

Thinking back to childhood, the memories that stick are riding your bike, visiting the park on your own and being out and about with friends.  Sustran claims that of today’s adults 70% experienced most of their adventures outdoors.

 Contrast this with today’s children. Top of their list is also playing on their bikes and exploring new and unfamiliar places. But only 29% are experiencing adventures outdoors, often closely supervised by adults. It’s little wonder childhood obesity is growing.

 To get some ideas to help kids become more free range, and to add your voice to the Free Range Kids pledge, visit www.sustrans.org.uk/freerangekids

Open Spaces still vital

It’s good to see that the Open Spaces Society is still championing the cause of green spaces across England and Wales as it has done since 1865.  With changes to the planning system, it good to see that open spaces aren’t forgotten.  They have just announced the short-list of their first-ever Open Space Award. Four community based projects are in the running for the Award which will be announced at the Open Spaces Society AGM on 10th July. They have launched the accolade to celebrate the grass-roots work being done by many small groups to boost their open spaces for the enjoyment of local people.

The shortlisted entries are:

  • Royd Regeneration in Mytholmroyd, Calderdale:  for its work to refurbish the neglected Mytholmroyd Memorial Garden.
  • The Bishop’s Meadow Trust at Farnham in Surrey: where local people set up a charity to buy an under-threat local meadow and ensure it remained a community asset for generations to come.
  • Full Frontal in, Rochester, Kent: where neighbours united to improve the look of their streets with a community gardening project that began on their doorsteps.
  • Our Green Space Project in Cumbria: where five communities were helped to rejuvenate and protect their green space for the future.

All the projects have been been visited by judges from Open Spaces Society who will decide the winner based on the efforts by communities to enhance and safeguard their local open spaces and to ensure long-lasting benefits for the surrounding communities.

Chairman of Open Spaces Society’s trustees and a member of the judging panel Tim Crowther said: “As judges we were looking for projects which were strongly rooted in securing long term benefits for local communities; were the result of ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top-down’ activity; and of course promote the Open Spaces Society’s objectives.

“All the nominations showed evidence of these criteria to some degree. The schemes we have shortlisted are all very different and we, the judges, really enjoyed visiting the sites and meeting those inspired people who have driven the projects forward.

Mr Crowther added that the task of  deciding the shortlist was a tough one. “The entries we didn’t shortlist were providing real benefits for local communities. There’s a lot of good work going on around the country and we’ll be highlighting these projects and sharing their great stories on our website,” he added.

Vice-chair and fellow trustee Jean Macdonald, came up with the idea and hopes it will become an annual event.  As the default tends to be favouring  a ‘build our way out of recession at all costs” approach the role of champions for Open Spaces has never been more crucial.

Get recycling those plastic bottles

Some staggering news on the amount of plastic bottles used in the UK everyday has come from WRAP, the government funded organisation charged with improving resource efficiency and minimising waste.  15 million plastic bottles in the UK alone from soft drinks and olive oil to shampoo and bleach.

So WRAP are urging us, in all this warm (may not be on Sunday!) weather making us reach for a bottle of something cool and refreshing?  Whether at London’s sporting events, the local Jubilee celebration or watching the spectacles from home, to spare a thought for the humble plastic bottle…

The positive news is that just under half of all of the bottles used (but as many as three quarters of plastic milk bottles) end up making it through the recycling process. This is over 20 times more than we were managing in 2000, but advances in technology now mean that ALL sizes and shapes of bottle can be turned fences, bags, flooring, fleeces…or even more bottles! 

WRAP suggests that as we’re watching Euro 2012 or the Olympics from home this summer, consider this – if each of us in the UK recycled just one extra plastic bottle each year, we could power 71,000 plasma screen TVs from the energy saved.  They want us to get washing, squashing and recycling our plastic bottles today.  Better still avoid buying too many plastic bottles in first place;  try a bar of soap, and water from the tap.  

WRAP have provided the following gems of information:

Plastic Factoids

  1. The first plastic bottle was sold in 1947 – it celebrated its Diamond Jubilee five years before Queen Elizabeth!

  2. Any plastic bottle can be recycled now – just wash & squash them.

  3. The flag planted on the moon by Neil Armstrong in 1969 was made of Nylon.

  4. Plastic is the most used material in the world, and has been for 35 years.

  5. Recycling 1 tonne of plastic bottles saves 1.5 tonnes of carbon emissions.

  6. It only takes 25 two-litre plastic bottles to make an adult-sized fleece.

  7. Recycling just one plastic bottle saves enough energy to power a 60W light bulb for six hours.

  8. We now recycle 20 times more plastic than we did back in 2000.

  9. Over 90% of our local authorities now offer collection facilities for plastic bottles, either from your kerbside or recycling centres.

  10. If all of us in the UK recycled just one extra plastic bottle every year, we could power over 71,000 plasma screen TVs infinitely using the energy saved.

Come on in – water’s lovely (and Clean)

It’s Good news if you’re planning a beach holiday in the UK or Europe this summer as 92.1 % of bathing waters in the European Union now meet the minimum water quality standards set by the Bathing Water Directive. Included in this is the Serpentine Lake in London, host to several Olympics events, including the Open Water Marathon Swim and the swimming section of the triathlon.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Commission have just published their annual Bathing Water Report of, which describes water quality in more than 22,000 bathing sites at beaches, rivers and lakes across Europe last year.

Janez Poto_nik, Environment Commissioner, said: “I am pleased to note that the quality of Europe’s bathing waters generally remains high, and has improved since last year. A clear majority of Europeans are concerned about water quality issues, and want more information on this. We must therefore continue our work to ensure our waters are appropriate for all legitimate uses – from bathing to drinking – and that the overall aquatic ecosystem is in good health.”

Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, said: “The quality of water at beaches and other bathing spots is one of the most important environmental concerns of European citizens. But in several countries there is still a problem with pollution from agriculture and sewage, so we need to see more efforts to ensure safe and clean water for the public.”

The report discovered that 77.1 % of sites had excellent quality, i.e. complying with the most stringent guide values, an improvement of 3.5 percentage points on last year’s data. Some 93.1 % of coastal bathing waters were classified as ‘sufficient’, or complying with the less stringent mandatory values – a 1 % increase. Less than 2 % of bathing waters were non-compliant.

Cyprus, Croatia, Malta and Greece had excellent reports on their bathing water sites, all with more than 90 % of bathing water sites meeting the most stringent guide values (excellent quality), and the remainder complying with the mandatory values. At the opposite end of the scale, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Latvia, Luxemburg and Belgium had relatively low proportions of sites meeting the strict guide values, especially as regards inland waters.

Water quality at Europe’s most popular summer destinations was generally good – with more than 90 % of bathing water sites meeting the mandatory values. Spain, Italy and Portugal had more than 80 % of sites with excellent water quality.

The overall quality of bathing waters in the EU has markedly improved since 1990. The number of coastal bathing waters not complying with the Bathing Water Directive’s, standards for which were set in the 2006, fell from 9.2 % of sites in 1990 to 1.5 % in 2011. The number of inland bathing areas not complying with mandatory values decreased from 11.9 % in 1990 to 2.4 % in 2011, which is among the lowest percentages to date.

Laboratories analysed levels of certain types of bacteria, including intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli bacteria, which may indicate the presence of pollution, mainly from sewage or livestock waste. Sites are classified as compliant with mandatory values, compliant with the more stringent guidelines, or non-compliant.

If you are holidaying in the UK or in Europe and you want to check out the water quality, you can by visiting the Water Information System for Europe (WISE) site. The site allows users to download data and check interactive maps. It also has the ability for people to  report the state of their local water using the Eye on Earth website.

Building communities – can all the factors be designed in?

It might sound like an idealistic vision to create affordable, energy–efficient houses, built around the principle of creating communities. Kevin McCloud gave  it a go in The Triangle in Swindon, and found it not to be that easy. Communities grow over time and need the means to include neighbouring residents. It is however, good news that the government has announced it will shortly be launching a new £30 million fund to provide short-term finance for self-build projects. It could be an opportunity to create well designed, energy-efficient, sustainably constructed, affordable homes.  So much of the mass housing that is built, woefully lacks any of those things – our construction industry seems stuck in the dark ages – unable to adapt to anything other than bricks and mortar!

There are a few bright stars on the horizon, and if Kevin McCloud can shake off the image that good design costs lots of money and only achievable for ‘Grand Designs’, we might be able to raise the standard of new buildings in the UK.  We don’t need, pastiche, twiddly bits or architectural ‘gob ons’.  We need imaginative design, built sustainably, so that people can live sustainably. The CANTEL Project wants to do that; a planned series of modern communities where neighbours and community are always at heart. The project is the vision of Julian Thompson, who explains more about what residents can expect.

“We plan to build brand new neighbourhoods that are safe, supportive, relaxing and friendly. Nowadays Facebook and Twitter are how many people communicate, whilst many of them don’t even know their neighbours names. These virtual communities aren’t helping people; we aim to give people the real thing, neighbourhoods with friends and neighbours, people who you can really connect with.” Thompson explains.

He continues, “Of course, affordability is also a key requirement, it’s madness that for over 15 years the average couple still can’t afford an average home in the UK. We’re not looking to make a profit, we’re looking to build homes and neighbourhoods for people to enjoy life in, and that includes me and my family.  Lower prices mean smaller mortgages which means more disposable income to enjoy life with.  Every home will be built to be as energy efficient as possible so that future energy bills won’t be an issue.”

Thompson and the team at The CANTEL Project have plans for developments to be located within commuting distance of London, Southampton, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Swindon and Stafford. See www.thecantelproject.co.uk for more details.

Each neighbourhood is planned to boast around 40 energy efficient homes built around communal facilities including allotments, a small community hall and a children’s play area. With homes ranging from one-bedroom flats to 4-bedroom houses, accommodation will come in shapes and sizes suited to all budgets.

Finding sites will be the challenge – development, whether well designed and energy efficient or not, has an impact, all development does. Trafffic generation is often the main concern.  And such developments need to take account of existing residents. Green field sites are cheaper to develop but are likely to have the most negative impact. Brown field sites should be considered first and the government should still be encouraging this.

Fancy a spin? ALL-ENERGY 2012 showcases hydrogen and other low carbon vehicles

Low carbon vehicles are featuring heavily at this years All-Energy 2012 conference taking place in Aberdeen on the 23-24 May.  From hydrogen powered to electric and hybrids the low carbon vehicle market is growing. Of these perhaps a hydrogen refuelling system, with an electric charging point not far away, is the most important development.  As well as this there are 580 exhibiting companies from up to 20 countries at the show, and well over 300 speakers in the world-class conference – featuring hydrogen, fuel cells and sustainable transport.

Visitors will see the two Hyundai Fuel Cell SUVs, powered by ITM Power’s HFuel Here on-site hydrogen generation and refuelling system, given  its UK-show launch. Also at All-Energy will be the Honda Jazz Hybrid; Peugeot iON; Honda CR-Z Hybrid; Honda Insight Hybrid; Mitsubishi iMiEV; Nissan Leaf; Tesla Roadster; Renault Twizy; Renault Kangoo; Vauxhall Ampera; and a Zeroed Commercial Vehicle. Microcab’s new Microcab H2EV will be on the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (SHFCA) stand (powered by hydrogen, courtesy of Logan Energy) and other hybrids include the Toyota Auris and Prius.

Event Manager, Jamie Thompson of Reed Exhibitions, explained that “Some of the vehicles, including the Hyundai SUVs will be available to try out in the All-Energy Ride & Drive area,” and “The Low Carbon Vehicle Zone provides an excellent opportunity for fleet managers and individuals to find out about the benefits of low carbon vehicles; with the conference providing up to the minute information”.

“What a marvellous event we have for visitors and exhibitors alike,” Jamie adds. “…some fascinating and highly relevant associated events; and our incomparable Giant Networking Evening – all designed with one thought in mind, getting buyers and sellers, specifiers, suppliers and developers all under one roof to share their aims, objectives – and business opportunities. We are looking forward to two extremely busy and highly stimulating days, and news of some highly positive outcomes.” Registration for all elements of All-Energy is free of charge for all with a business/professional interest in renewable energy (no entry to anyone under the age of 16).

To start things at All-Energy off, the Lord Provost of the City of Aberdeen – Lord Provost George Adam will welcome everyone, followed by keynote addresses delivered by Alex Salmond MSP, the First Minister of Scotland; Charles Hendry MP, Minister of State for Energy, DECC; Keith Anderson, Chief Corporate Officer, Scottish Power; and David Gartside a Board Member of the Health and Safety Executive. Three speakers – David Blunt CVO, Director Public Policy UK and EU Institutions, Gamesa Wind UK; Huub den Rooijen, Head of Offshore Wind, The Crown Estate, and Dr Graham Cooley, Chief Executive, ITM Power will give ‘quick-fire’ addresses to set the show firmly on the road to success in this session chaired by Jeremy Cresswell, Chairman of Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group, and Editor of the Press & Journal’s ‘Energy’.

 

There is plenty more to keep you occupied as there are then seven parallel streams, encompassing 48 equally relevant sessions on every source of renewable energy and on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead; and an equally busy two days in the on-floor seminar areas where Offshore Maintenance and Smart Energy (the All-Energy take on energy efficiency, energy management, microgeneration and onsite renewables) take place in the centre of dedicated exhibit areas.

There is a conference session devoted to hydrogen and fuel cells, Hydrogen to the fore, sustainable transport and energy storage (including a session on nanotechnology) speak for themselves; a special lunch time session featuring Bert De Colvenaer, Executive Director of the Fuel Cells & Hydrogen Joint Undertaking who has made traveled from Brussels to speak on: “Towards the deployment of fuel cell and hydrogen technology”

For more details and a full All-Energy 2012 Conference programme see www.all-energy.co.uk