forest fire

Climate change – what can you do?

We are already experiencing the early effects of climate change with the global increase in extreme weather events. The lives of our children and grandchildren are going to be drastically affected, and the extent of this depends entirely on what we do now.

polar bear and penguinWhen you look at what has to be done to stabilize the climate it seems an enormous and impossible task, but we must at least try. Although much of the action has to be at a global level, we all need to play our part.

Here are some ideas for things you can do without radically changing your lifestyle.

Make your voice heard. This is by far and away the most important. Politicians need to be pushed to act. Sign petitions, join Extinction Rebellion or Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace, support environmental campaigners, write to your MP. Whatever you are most comfortable with. Every little helps.

Learn moreLearn all you can about climate change and talk to people about it.

Measure your household’s Ecological Footprint or Climate Footprint. Find out where you can make the most effective changes.

Fly less. Tourism is responsible for about 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from air travel – flying less is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Maybe holiday at home or travel by train. Use video conferencing at work.

storm surgeChange your diet. Just cutting out or reducing beef, lamb and dairy consumption can make a significant difference. Red meat produces 5 times more emissions than poultry. Changing to a vegan diet can reduce your carbon footprint by about 20%. Buy MSC certified sustainably caught fish. Eat local, in season food. Avoid processed and over-packaged foods. Reduce food waste by using or freezing leftovers and composting anything that can’t be used.  Check out food sharing apps like Oleo and Too Good To Go. See also How to eat green.

Drive less Use public transport, walk or cycle. Car share. Don’t buy or lease a new car unless it’s hybrid/electric. Try ‘hypermiling’ to reduce fuel use.

Switch to a green energy plan. These used to be more expensive but now, according to uswitch, green plans from small, independent suppliers are often the cheapest energy deals on the market. Investigate fitting solar panels.

Reduce your energy use  Try to keep your heating at 18°C but, if that’s too cold, remember each 1-degree reduction can save about 10% off your fuel consumption. Buy energy efficient appliances, insulate and draught-proof your home, turn off lights and standby, switch to LED light bulbs, get your boiler serviced regularly, use a thermostat for your heating. Wash clothes at a low temperature and line dry if possible – a drier load uses five times more electricity than washing. See also no-cost ways to reduce your energy bills

Remember the 5RsRefuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle. Buy less stuff. Use up what you have. Buy fewer, better things. Repair things. Buy second hand or swap stuff, especially clothes – fast fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Only buy stuff that can be reused or recycled and avoid single use plastic. Investigate Zero Waste Living for useful ideas.

Research the companies you buy from. Check their environmental policy, find out if they are supporting action on climate change or using renewable energy.

Choose low-energy-use outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, climbing, canoeing or sailing, rather than jet skis or powerboats or sky-diving.

Don’t buy bottled water – take a bottle of water out with you, plus your own reusable coffee cup and grocery bags. Get the ReFill app to find out where you can fill up your water bottle for free.

Check out the sharing economy‘ such as BlaBlaCar for car pooling or Fat Llama to rent stuff like a bike or a power tool. Use freegle or freecycle to give away or find stuff you need for free.

rainbow line

bowl of mussels

Microfiber pollution

Synthetic microfibers have been found in the air, rivers, oceans, soil, drinking water, table salt, and many species of fish and shellfish. They make up 85% of human made debris on shorelines globally (ref). These microfibers come from a variety of sources, mostly from our clothes.

Many microfibers contain toxic chemicals such as dyes, pesticides and flame retardents. They also attract and concentrate more persistent pollutants and heavy metals onto their surface and can be up to a million times more contaminated than the surrounding seawater (ref). They are now the biggest pollution problem facing our oceans because they are often mistaken for food by marine creatures both big and small, posing a serious threat to aquatic life.

How does it happen?

laundry roomEach time clothes are washed up to hundreds of thousands of tiny fibers are shed into the washing water. These microfibers then travel to the local wastewater treatment plant, where many escape through the filters into rivers and the oceans.

About 60 per cent of all clothing is now made of synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon and acrylic, and the percentage is still rising. These synthetic materials are also in our carpets, curtains, pet bedding and household textiles.

Synthetic fabrics are man-made, produced entirely from chemicals mostly derived from petroleum. The microfibers shed by synthetic fabrics are actually tiny threads of plastic which do not biodegrade in the environment, so over time more and more of them are accumulating in the oceans.

Polyester fleece has been found to be amongst the worst for shedding fibers. Fleece jackets are wardrobe staples as they are warm, lightweight and comfortable. Most of us own at least one. They are now being produced from recycled bottles or ocean plastic but unfortunately it’s a case of solving one problem to create another, as these eco-garments shed at least as many fibers, possibly more.

Fabrics made from natural fibers such as cotton, wool, silk and hemp also shed microfibers. The difference is that these fibers biodegrade in the natural environment, although they can still contribute to water pollution if they contain chemical dyes, pesticides and fabric treatments.

How serious is the problem?

This is not the same as the the much-publicized problem with microbeads, which have been relatively easy to eliminate from production by banning their use. Tackling microfibers is not so straightforward as these fibers cannot simply be eliminated from the supply chain – we all need clothes.

The scale of the problem is huge and increasing. The impact of plastic ingestion may already be affecting global fish populations and also the availability, nutritional value and safety of seafood.

Microfibers are directly absorbed from the water by filter feeders such as whales, some sharks, mussels, oysters and scallops. The tiny particles are also often mistaken for food by marine organisms such as small fish, crabs, lobsters, sea cucumbers and plankton. The plastic and toxic chemicals pass into the gut and tissues of these creatures.

Plankton species form the foundation of the marine food web and are a major ocean food source. Pollution is passed up through the food chain to top predators such as swordfish, shark and tuna. The process of biomagnification increases the concentration of toxic chemicals in the tissues of organisms at successively higher levels in the food chain.

Current research suggests that microplastics can affect normal feeding, digestion and reproduction in marine creatures (ref), but there is much more investigation to be done. It’s not yet known if the fibers themselves or the chemicals they carry are harmful, or whether natural microfibers such as wool and cotton are less harmful.

There is an urgent need for more research to assess the potential future impact of increasing microplastics levels on the world’s oceans.

Should we be eating seafood?

These plastic fibers have been found in shellfish and fish destined for the dinner table.  At present there is no evidence of negative health effects linked to eating microplastics from seafood and it’s not yet known if there is a toxic threshold relevant to humans, but it’s still early days. Scientific research is slow and it could take years to identify the full effects of these pollutants. The official advice is that there is no reason to avoid eating seafood as it’s very healthy and contains essential fatty acids.

However, as a precautionary measure, you might want to limit your intake of seafood from those top predators, and from fish or invertebrates eaten whole such as whitebait, whole sardines, mussels and oysters.

It’s also worth remembering that abandoned fishing nets alone make up about 46% (ref) of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the rest is mostly other commercial fishing gear, including eel traps, oyster spacers, crates, baskets, and ropes.  Whilst banning plastic straws and single use plastic is excellent news, if we’re going to be successful in reducing plastic pollution of the oceans maybe we need to boycott the commercial fishing industry and stop eating seafood altogether. This could help marine life, and protect our own health too.

What is the clothing industry doing about it?

This is a problem with no easy fix. The textiles industry have known about it for years but still haven’t come up with a solution. They have unintentionally created the problem and must take the lead in finding a solution.

vats of fabric dyesThere are environmental problems throughout the textiles and fashion industry. Processing, creating and dyeing textiles is wreaking havoc on the environment. According to a World Bank report, textile production is responsible for up to one-fifth of industrial water pollution globally, releasing as many as 72 different toxic chemicals in waste waters.

Fast fashion is one of the dirtiest industries on the planet, the second largest polluter after the oil industry, and produces huge amounts of non-biodegradable landfill. CO2 emissions for polyester clothing are nearly three times higher than for cotton, while cotton production uses huge amounts of water and is the most chemically dependent crop. The industry as a whole needs to change radically.

Some textile companies have started to look at developing fabric coatings, natural dyes and new fabrics which are cleaner and more sustainable. They have been working on fabrics produced from a range of waste materials, including coffee grounds and fruit peelings, and from plant fibers. A lot of research is also going into producing cotton more sustainably.

A new polyester alternative, called GreeOblige, is made from the castor oil plant, which will grow on marginal land with few inputs. Another, Refibra, mixes Tencel, which is biodegradable and made from renewable FSC eucalyptus pulp, with recycled cotton waste.

An Italian company, Orange Fiber, is producing a silk-like cellulose yarn from a 100% citrus juice by-product, so-called ‘pastazzo’. Italy produces over 700,000 tons of this waste every year, and until now there has been no sustainable disposal method.

Global solutions

An obvious idea would be to fit filters on all washing machines. However, the washing machine manufacturers say this could take years, millions of machines would need to be retrofitted, and the filters could affect the efficient working of the machines.

Another option is to fit more efficient filters at wastewater treatment facilities. This is a massive task which would probably have to be paid for by public funds. Disposal of the plastic-polluted waste sludge would be a problem.

There is a role for government in banning the sale of high-shedding fabrics and possibly introducing testing standards.

What can we do about it at home?

While we wait for the industry to get its act together, we can start to tackle this issue ourselves by making some simple changes in what we buy and in our laundry routines.

  • Stop using cheap fleeces and fleece blankets. These shed the most fibers of all. If you really must have a fleece buy the very best quality you can afford.
  • Wash your clothes less frequently. The less you wash your clothes, the fewer fibers are shed, so wear that fleece a few more times before putting it in the wash.
  • Buy clothes made from natural fibers. Wool, cotton, hemp, linen etc, preferably organic. When these fabrics are washed, the fibers they lose are biodegradable. Or buy clothes made from a synthetic-natural blend such as polyester-cotton which release 80% fewer fibers than those made from acrylic.
  • Use a front-loading washing machine. Studies have shown that about seven times as many fibers are shed in a top-load machine than in a front-load washer.
  • Use a fibre-collecting device in your washing machine. These are not yet available everywhere and are still a bit pricey.
    In the UK you can buy a Guppyfriend, which is a laundry bag made from a 50 micron untreated nylon mesh. (Although made of plastic, the makers say the bag does not itself shed fibers) It’s big enough to hold a couple of fleeces or the equivalent and allows soapy water to enter the bag but stops fibers from getting out. After the wash the fibers are visible against the white mesh and can be removed by hand and binned.
    The Guppyfriend costs about £25 to £30 and you can get one from a Patagonia Store or online from * Ethical Superstore. or from *Amazon. More about the Guppyfriend here.
    As an added bonus, they also good for trapping pet hair, so if you have a persian cat or a hairy dog a Guppyfriend might be just what you need for washing the pet bedding.
    Cora ball
    Also available in the UK is the Cora Ball, an intricate plastic ball inspired by the way coral filters water. The ball goes in the machine with the washing and catches microfibers and hair which are easily picked out in clumps. It’s been developed by the Rozalia Project who use the profits from sales of the product to support their work protecting the oceans. This also costs about £30 and is currently available in the UK here and here.
  • Fit a washing machine discharge filter. At the time of writing these aren’t yet available to buy in the UK, but this company in Canada will ship to anywhere in the world.
    It would be good if all these products were available at a much cheaper price or free, subsidised by the textile industry, although the only real long-term solution is the development of biodegradable, sustainably produced fabrics.
  • Speak up. Sign petitions like this one by The Story of Stuff Project, or this one from Friends of the Earth, to help pressure the textile and fashion industries and government into making changes. Tell family, friends and anyone who will listen about the problem! When industry and government believe that people either don’t know or don’t care, they tend not to deal with difficult problems.

See also Plastics are for ever

Further information:

Ensia.com an excellent three-part in-depth feature by Mary Catherine O’Connor on the emerging threat of microfibre pollution.
A comprehensive update on microfibre pollution produced by the outdoor brand Patagonia, who are  investigating this issue.
International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth, UK
The Guardian article about the Guppy Friend laundry bag.

* Please note: some of the links on this site, marked *, are affiliate links meaning at no additional cost to you turning2green will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. This helps to maintain the site and we thank you for your support.

allotment composting bins

Garden Composting

For the organic gardener the basis of good soil structure and plant nutrition is compost. Garden composting allows you to reuse organic waste from your kitchen and garden, thereby reducing the amount of material going to landfill, while producing something useful to help your garden grow healthier.

Compost can be made simply by piling up a heap of organic material, so you don’t really even need a container, but most people prefer to have some way of enclosing the heap and you’ll get better and faster results if you use a compost bin.

The compost bin

The easiest option is to buy a compost bin. These are generally made of wood or recycled plastic. Compost bins may be available at a subsidised price from your local council – check out your area in this postcode search – or you can buy them from garden centres, or online from specialist sites or from Amazon. It’s generally better to buy two small bins rather than a single large one as you can then be filling one while the other is composting down.

Another option is to make your own compost bin. For a very simple version you need four 1.2 metre (4 foot) fence posts, wire netting, nails, and some galvanised hooks and eyes. Clear an area of about one metre square and flatten down the soil. Hammer in a fence post at each corner. Then tack wire netting to the posts. Use the hooks and eyes to attach the netting at the front so it’s easily opened.

DIY pallet compost bin
Compost bin made from pallets

Gardeners World have instructions for building a DIY compost bin from old pallets here.

Garden Organic has plans for a moveable stacking wooden compost bin here.

Or you can improvise and use a container such as a builders’ merchants’ bulk bag, or build an enclosure with straw bales.

Trench composting can be used on a site where you are going to plant crops like runner beans, peas, courgettes or pumpkins. The trench is dug in autumn, filled with alternate layers of kitchen waste, garden waste such as brassica trimmings and windfall apples, and soil. It’s then covered with more soil, and left over the winter. The ground is then ready to plant in the spring. This is a good way to use bokashi fermented kitchen waste.

A Bokashi system is used to pre-treat cooked or uncooked kitchen waste including meat, fish and dairy products so they can be safely used as compost without attracting flies or vermin. It’s a fermentation process using bran inoculated with mix of micro-organisms which is sprinkled over the food waste. This is put into an airtight bucket and left in a warm place for about 2 to 3 weeks. The fermented material is then safe to add to a normal compost bin or worm bin, or to dig straight into the ground, where it will break down into compost very quickly.

This is a really good system to use alongside normal garden compost and has the added bonus of producing excellent liquid plant food during the fermentation. The video below shows just how quickly the waste breaks down into the soil, in this case in only 4 weeks. See our posts on bokashi for more information on this system.

Filling the compost bin

Begin with a drainage layer of coarse materials such as straw or twigs about 10cm deep. Then put in about a 15cm layer of garden waste, and continue building up layers of different materials. It’s good to put a little manure or soil between each layer, and fork through the mix now and then to aerate it.

garden composting bin with kitchen wasteTo keep the mix in balance you will need to add very roughly half ‘browns’ and half ‘greens’. Browns are carbon-rich ingredients such as crumpled corrugated cardboard, egg boxes, toilet roll tubes, tough stems, crumpled paper, straw or sawdust which are slow to decay. They maintain air pockets and add structure to the finished compost. Greens are nitrogen-rich materials such as grass mowings, manure, soft weeds and uncooked kitchen waste which are quick to rot but don’t give the compost much body. Most compostable waste is somewhere between green and brown.

The composting process

Composting activity depends on the outside temperature. It will slow down in cold weather and stop almost completely when very cold. Decomposition is much quicker in the summer especially if the bin is in the sun. Insulated thermal composting bins are available which will work all year round.

Using an aerator tool regularly, or ‘turning’ the compost – removing it from the bin, remixing it, and putting it back – will speed up the process. Some compost tumblers can produce compost in weeks by turning the mix without having to remove it from the bin. They are designed for batch composting and need to be filled completely in one go

Water is a vital ingredient in the compost mix. Use a cover to help manage the water content and also keep the heat in. If too dry, very little composting will take place. If too wet the micro-organisms will drown and the bin will start to smell bad and turn slimy. Green materials tend to contain a lot of water, and brown ingredients generally very little, so adjusting the mix helps to manage moisture levels. Add more greens or some water if it seems too dry or some extra browns if it seems wet. The compost should feel damp but shouldn’t ooze water when squeezed in the hand.

Air is another vital ingredient. The organisms needed to make good compost depend on air to survive. If the heap is too wet there is very little air. These aerobic organisms are lost and replaced by anaerobic bacteria which turn the waste to a slimy mass. If this has happened, all is not lost! Holes can be made with a broom handle or an aerating tool right down through the bin to help it drain, or if it’s really wet, the compost can be emptied out, mixed with more ‘browns’ and returned to the bin.

When the bin is full, cover it over and leave for a few months to rot down, then open it up and turn the compost, cover again and leave for another two or three months until brown, crumbly and sweet-smelling.

What to compost

  • Uncooked kitchen waste such as vegetable and fruit peelings, tea bags and leaves, coffee grounds, egg shells;
  • Grass mowings;composting
  • Annual weeds and the tops of perennial weeds;
  • Soft green prunings;
  • Dead leaves;
  • Shredded paper and cardboard;
  • Pet bedding;
  • Sawdust and wood shavings;
  • Wood ash (in small amounts only);
  • Poultry, horse and cows manure;
  • Hedge clippings.

Do not compost

    • Woody prunings;
    • Roots of perennial weeds;
    • Diseased plants or seedheads;
    • Coal ash;
    • Dog and cat waste;
    • Disposable nappies;
    • Meat, fish or any cooked food (unless first bokashi fermented)

There are two videos by the Henry Doubleday Research Association which are well worth watching:
Garden Organic Video Guide to Composting Part One which includes where to put your compost bin, what can and can’t be composted, filling the bin, compost activators and getting the right mix.
Garden Organic Video Guide to Composting Part Two which covers how to tell when your compost is ready and how to use the compost.

See also:  Bokashi;   Worm composting;   What do you do with dog waste?

 

laughing horse

Heating your home with horse manure!

We came across this web page at equinecompare  Save money on heating bills – burn horse manure’ which describes how to use a briquette paper log maker to produce fuel ‘logs’ from horse manure.

The Backwoods Home Magazine has a lot more information plus instructions for a DIY briquette maker. They say the odour evaporates in a few weeks as the brick shapes dry out, and the ashes make good fertiliser.

It sounds like maybe a good idea for anyone who keeps horses, but as we don’t have a horse we can’t test it out. However, by browsing round various forums and web sites we found a few people who are actually heating their homes with horse manure.

Some are simply collecting the horse apples, leaving them under cover to dry out, then adding them to the fire as they are. Apparently horse apples burn well in a wood-burner, multi-fuel stove or on an open fire, although they tend to roll off the open fire, which could be dangerous! They burn best when mixed with coal or wood, and there is no nasty smell.

Others are making the manure into bricks to burn for longer. These are still best when mixed with other fuels. They are little slower than wood to ignite, burn less intensely, but give out more heat and are good for keeping the fire in overnight.

People are using various systems for making the bricks. They all say it’s best to wet the manure and break it down into a slurry – this makes the dried bricks hold together better.  Some are using paper briquette makers or similar home-made wooden moulds, and say the briquettes work well although the process is a little slow. Others are using a wall mounted system which used to be sold on ebay but seems to be no longer available.

However, this lady in the US, Sherry Sutton-Zanardo, has been successfully using her own wall-mounted system for the past two winters. It’s a simple device which she designed and got her farrier to make up for her at a cost of about $20 for materials. She says the bricks burn beautifully with no odour. Read about her here:

Spooner farmer uses horse ‘poo-bricks’ for heat

If anyone out there tries it please let us know how you get on! You can buy paper briquette makers here if you would rather just use newspaper instead!

See also our post on Paper log makers