That is a lot of landfill!

The government has printed some 30 million glossy brochures and has delivered them to every household in the United Kingdom. The brochures set out the government’s case for remaining in the United Kingdom and a debate is raging as to whether the government should have used public funds to undertake this, without giving those who are urging a “leave” vote a similar opportunity. Continue reading

Waste and recycling centres and issues at Witely

Landfill sites cause big environmental problems. No one wants to live next door to what is in effect a dumping ground for other people’s rubbish. There are so problems for a developed densely populated country like the United Kingdom if all they can do with copious amounts of rubbish is to dig a hole in the ground and bury it. Out of sight is not out of mind or out of hearing or out of smelling distance or out of environmental harm’s way. It is no more than sweeping the dust under the carpet. Continue reading

Using methane from land fill sites

We waste our waste. We carefully follow our legal obligations and separate paper, metals, plastic and the like, urged on by an expensive television campaign telling us to make sure that our waste bins are skinny, with only things in then that are recyclable, and despite all this effort on our part, every little of our waste is recycled; it used to mostly go to landfills all over the country. Now some of it goes to landfills in China. All the carefully and time consumingly sorted waste is mostly stored in vast warehouses because the recycling centres have found that the price of raw materials has fall, making many of their business unviable, in the financial sense, although still very viable in the environmental sense of the word.

When waste goes into landfills it has many undesirable effects. If you look at what the residents at Small Dole have had to suffer as a result of their proximity to a landfill site, you will gain some insight. You can see from the local action group’s web site (http://www.smalldole.com/ )and unfortunately there are many communities who have suffered from the same problems caused by landfill sites. Continue reading

North of the chemical equator

If you live in the northern hemisphere, and most people do, you will be breathing a different and poorer quality of air than if you live in the southern hemisphere. Researchers from the University of York have found that roughly coincident with the equator (but not completely) there is another imaginary line – a chemical equator – which divides air with poor quality in the north from air with better quality in the south. This is probably the only north-south divide that favours the south. Continue reading

Marks & Spencer’s green profit centre

There is a tendency for people who try to sell you things to exaggerate the qualities and properties of what they sell. In modern times we smile at the propaganda of advertisements of many years ago. They seem so childish, but they worked because people believed them, not wanting to think that the manufacturers of toothpaste, soap or even carbolic smoke balls had set out to scam them.

Nowadays advertisers and merchandisers hone in on the words “green” and “organic” to sell their wares. Retailers like Marks & Spencer appeared to have created a “green” profit centre, where none existed before. Continue reading

Gas bills – time to change the pricing structure

My gas bill came through the letterbox yesterday, and I thought I had better look at it.

My bill told me how many “units” I had used. Units are the measurement of gas at your gas meter. These are converted into kilowatt hours by first finding out how many cubic metres of gas your units represent. More modern meters already show readings in cubic metres; if you have an older meter you will have to multiply the units by 2.83. Once the volume of gas used is established from the meter reading, the utility company establishes how many kilowatt hours of energy this constitutes.

They have to do this because the energy contained in natural gas varies and to find the actual energy you have to take into account temperature, pressure and calorific value. My gas supplier multiplied the cubic metres by 1.02264, then the resultant figure by 39 (the calorific value) and the divided by 3.6 which gave the kWh I used. I was then charged for the kilowatt hours that I have used, after value added tax at 5% is added to the bill.

The value added tax rate is exactly the same for gas and electricity as it is for buying a installation of soalr panels, or PV or a wind turbine. Reducung it to 5% is one of the great triumphs of Gordon Brown’s chancellorhip – puting microgeneration on the same footing as fossil fuel energy.

There are many different gas tariffs but in my case I pay a higher rate for the first 1303 kWh used each quarter, and a lower rate thereafter. In my case the higher rate is 4.339p per kWh and the lower rate 2.39p per kWh. Some tariffs provide for a standing charge before you consume any gas at all. 

I think that tariffs that charge less per kWh as you use more gas penalise the people who pollute the least and that must be wrong. Consumption of any item is encouraged by offering a cheaper unit price for that item. If you go to your local supermarket you will see offers such as “two for the price of one”, “buy one get one free” but if you only want or need to buy one you rarely see it offered at half price.  

The idea behind this “bogof” marketing is to encourage more purchasing and in the case of a supermarket it does encourage us to buy more than we planned. Unfortunately a significant portion of the food special offers that we buy are thrown away, unconsumed, to add to the piles of land fill rubbish for supermarket’s increased profits and at the impoverishment of our environment. 

There are over 2 million pre payment gas meters in the United Kingdom. These service the poorest people.  Those who use the most gas can usually get the best deals. Those who can only afford to use a little gas get the worse deals. If you live in a mansion you can buy your gas at bargain basement rates, but if you are poor you pay the highest rates. 

We do not need to encourage the use or gas or electricity. We should not offer 2000 kWh for the price of 1000 kWh. Quite the reverse, we need to discourage the use of all fossil fuel energy. If we fail to do this we add to the climate change problems that we will invariably face at some time in the future, we add to the depletion of fossil fuels before we have found viable alternatives and we add to atmospheric pollution. 

So, it would make much more sense if all gas tariffs were at a very low rate for the first, say, 2000 kWh per quarter and a higher rate at the next 5,000 kWh and so on, charging more per unit of energy the more energy that you use. This will also encourage the take up of thermal solar systems (like those that my company Genersys sells), and if adopted for electricity tariffs as well as gas tariffs would encourage all forms of microgeneration. 

It will be difficult to change to these tariffs that penalise those who use the most energy in a competitive market, but Nicholas Stern has pointed out that climate change involves a fundamental failure of markets. It seems logical therefore that If markets fail we need to establish alternative structures that work, so it is probably about time to get rid of the utility companies as free market entities.

Rubbish Charging

Local authorities are going to be allowed to charge people according to the amounts of rubbish that they throw away, in an effort to reduce land fill fines that the UK would otherwise have to pay to the European Union. Some people have dubbed this as a “pay as you throw” tax, others have said it will encourage people to throw away their rubbish in places where they won’t be taxed, such as your local park or in leafy country lanes.

Making pollutors pay is one of the four important  guiding principles that I offer in “the Energy Age”. Consuming what we need, such as food, energy and clothing has a bad enough effect on the environment but at least it keeps us fed, warm and clothed. Consuming what we do not need is madness. It harms our environment, consumes resources that are not limitless and in the case of rubbish often produces harmful methane and carbon dioxide as it decomposes.

Landfill is a horrible way of disposing of rubbish – just ask anyone who lives near a landfill site. I recently met some people from the Small Dole Action Group in West Sussex. They live near an old claypit that has received millions of cubic metres of rubbish since 1946; ask any inhabitant of Small Dole and they will tell you just how difficult living near a land fill site is.

So, we’ve got to produce less rubbish. We have to get the polluter to pay for his or her rubbish.

I think that charging people for rubbish that they throw away is the wrong way to solve the problem of landfill. It must be easier to reduce rubbish at the point of production, rather than aim to restrict it at the point of disposal. Many people have little choice about the rubbish they generate. They want or need to buy certain things and have no option of saying “I’ll take it without the packaging”. I suppose that you could leave the packaging at the till, as some good souls have done, but that is not a long term solution.

We need tighter regulations about packaging, which in itself  comprises a great deal of rubbish. At the moment we permit supermarkets to over package food; do they really need to sell four apples resting on a polystyrene tray, covered in a plastic dome and all wrapped up in cellophane? Why do we permit soft drinks to be sold in anything except deposit charged returnable bottles? the list of over packaged items is almost as endless as the rubbish itself.

I am sure that charging the council tax payer is a quick and easy thing to do. The money raised will cover the fines payable to the Europe Union, and probably more. It will not by itelf lead to more recycling or less packaging. The council tax payer is not as powerful as the vested interests of industry who will pressure the government not to prohibit the type of rubbish that their packaging generates. 

You have to ask why so many items are over packaged and you will probably come to the conclusion that it’s all about money – the product looks more enticing, so it sells more, or they can charge more for a well packaged product.

It certainly is not about preventing waste; we are all very bad at doing that.

Cutting out the rubbish at source is the way forward and that means environmentally friendly regulations for retailers, manufacturers and suppliers about packaging. Once we have done that, then the overall volumes of rubbish will decrease, and so will the land fill and the fines to the European Union.