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Lizz Roe – May


This month the challenge is to halve household energy use, halve recycling, buy no plastic packaging, send nothing to landfill, and triple offset my total energy spend – yikes. At the end of last month my meter readings were the equivalent of a £6.70 spend on electricity and I sent 400gs to landfill and 4kgs of paper/card, 200gs of plastic, 400gs of glass and 250gs of metal to recycling. Whilst it’s always good to send stuff to recycling rather than landfill it all takes energy to process so getting the amount of recyling down helps too.  This is called pre-cycling. To triple offset I’m taking three approaches –

  • Planting trees direct
  • Investing in sustainable energy projects in the UK
  • Investing in a project overseas

Trees – well it’s almost always good to plant appropriate trees (key word – appropriate), I’ve planted more than 1500 in the last couple of years on various projects – and I’m currently growing three chestnuts, two beech, and an oak at home ready for planting out next autumn. But I’ll buy some more – using trees to offset isn’t simple, mainly because it’s only mature trees that are ‘effective’. So anything we plant now – well it wont be offsetting that weekend flight to barcelona until 2030! And when the tree is felled it’ll gradually (or rapidly) release the carbon back again. Nevertheless, planting trees isn’t just about carbon – trees can help with biodiversity, habitat, food, soil stabilisation, shelter and shade, water retention, soil building, and sheer marvellous grandeur – to name but a few. I’ve looked around for a local project and have found two – one where I work! We’re buying solar panels, and one at the Northfield Eco Centre – to help fund. For something international I’m going for a Quaker project planting ‘useful’ trees in Kenya and for something through climate care (

When I was thinking about this last month I realised I needed to have a better idea of where and what went out of the flat and came into it. So one of the fun things I did last month was inventory everything that went to landfill

  • 3 small hard plastic lids
  • Toothpaste tube
  • Tea bags (endless – I love my cuppa)
  • Loo roll used to blow my nose
  • Sanitary towels
  • Instant soup sachets
  • Foil blisterpack for paracetemol
  • Veg peelings, tops and tails
  • Fruit ends
  • Couple of hula hoop packets
  • 4 Tetrapacks

All these thiings represent ’embodied’ energy. so, by cutting down on what goes out in this way I will really be addressing my footprint – the same goes for all the precycling I manage – it all reduces my energy consumption. And as for halving my energy – well it is lighter now and warmer but there are things that use energy – the washing machine, dvd player, kettle, cooker, iron (ok I almost never use the iron), netbook recharging, and a radio. So what’s going to happen? Laundry, tea, grub, entertainment, what’s the outcome likely to be?

Week 1

I’m still raving about the allotment – this means I can finally compost again! So the loo roll, tea bags, veg and fruit scraps can all go to my new plot. I’m so excited about this. It also means that now that dad is a bit better and I’m only there once or twice a week and the evenings are drawing out I can spend free social green gym (ie digging and stuff) time down there. My next door neighbour is Alf and he’s already donated me some spring onions. I bought a whole load of seeds from the £1 shop in town and though it’s May already everyone is saying that the growing season is about 4 weeks behind so I have risked some things going in a bit late.

This week I’ve managed to only use the washing machine once and haven’t used the oven at all. It’s only by planning ahead and thinking carefully about food that it becomes easier to limit the amount of energy I’m using.

I used to use a hand cranked washing machine and have flannel baths thus using less energy to heat water. But in the end I decided I was using more of my energy to keep the hand washing going. It also meant more time, which in the past I had because I worked part time. But I wonder if I could manage to use no mains electricity at all at home for a month?

Week 2

I’ve been taking books and things to the local charity shop – CD’s, a few clothes, a DVD that was given to me, some spare gardening tools, a large indian hanging which was a present and which has never really appealed but which I couldn’t quite bring myself to get rid of. I’ve also been through my wardrobe and mended lots of things including my favourite pyjamas, now 8 years old and which I can’t bear to chuck when all that’s needed is new elastic.

Oh the allotment – it’s still the best thing since sliced bread… come the autumn I just might be able to manage to eat something I’ve grown everyday challenge for september.

Week 3

I had a nice afternoon chatting to the famous Maud of Faith and Climate Change at the FOE office followed by a trip to the cinema – how do I quantify that? It was Robin Hood and I was pretty impressed with how good they had got the 13th century setting! I’ve just read ‘the time travellers guide to medieval england’ by Ian Mortimer. This is fantastic and if ever anyone needed a stark reminder of how much the past is another country and one we might not survive then this is it. The only thing they definitey got wrong was the horse ploughing the loxley’s fields. In the 13th century it would have been oxen. They hadn’t invented the heavy collar that meant that horses could pull a ploughshare.

I’ve bought almost nothing with plastic packaging – again this involves paying attention – I’ve two bottles, but they can both be recycled. But as one of these is washing up liquid and the other is loo cleaner I’m not sure what the alternative is – I did use to use vinegar in the loo but as that comes in glass bottles and is heavier to transport and therefore takes more energy I think the loo cleaner is better overall.

I’ve been to the allotment again – soon I will have cleared and planted half the plot. the people who were there before left a concrete shed base which I might either use for another shed or as the base for some bee hives. Birmingham City Council recently changed their rulings on bees on allotment plots and are positively encouraging their care and nurture. This is fabulous. I love bees. In a couple of weeks time I’ll be helping on an introduction to beekeeping course at the college where I work. I’m very pleased about this – we’ll be using our own bees and a Quaker from york is bringing his bees to visit too. The course has been full for six months. This too is good. If you read ‘A world without bees’ you start to realise how much trouble we will be in if bees die out. So many species of plant that we eat depend exclusively on pollination by bees – no bees, no plants, no dinner, no us in very short order. And over the last few years bees have been under attack by all kinds of mites and have also been subject to extraordinary forces which have resulted in colonies simply dying. Is this climate change?, is it increased magnetic forces?, is it microwaves from mobile phone masts?, we don’t know. But we do know that the end of bees isn’t just the end of the sweet stuff to go on toast it could be the end of everything. Even Doctor Who knows this!

Save the bees! Plant things that have lots of nectar that they like… encourage different kinds of bees too.

Week 4

Oooh la la – this last weekend I went to Paris on the eurostar for a few days.

A friend of mine recently asked about energy and travel. It’s complicated! Some trains are diesel some are electric (fueled by burning coal, oil, gas or from nuclear), some ferries use as much energy as a plane, some car journeys use more than the equivalent distance by plane, some plane journeys may seem like the most efficient way of getting from A to B, but did you really need to get to B? Planes are generally worse in effect because they release their emissions straight into the high level atmosphere. I didn’t fly for a long time and so far overall I’ve had more years of not flying than years when I have flown. I am flying this year and having recently agreed to go to Zimbabwe next year then I will fly for at least 9 more months. I know I said a couple of months ago that I’d think about stopping again, and maybe the iceland volcano will just make it all moot anyway.

So I’m getting close to the big weigh in! here we go energy use for may…

  • 3560gms went to the compost
  • I spent £2.85 on electricity for the month !!! (my standing order is for loads more than this because it was worked out on winter useage – heating is the big eater – I think I better start saving for the stove and get someone out to look at the chimney)
  • Nothing went to landfill (I used washable/reuseable sanitary towels which works if my period coincides with being mostly at home/work rather than away)
  • 50gs went to plastic recycling
  • Nothing went to metal recycling
  • 2 kgs went to paper recycling I really blew this one becuase I decided I should recycle some old papers from a committee I used to sit on for a quaker project and which finished its work 5 months ago.
  • zero energy on heating
  • In terms of train travel I went to Maidstone in west Kent, to Newbury then to Watford then back to Brum, to London and back, to London then to Paris and back, to Kings Langley from London and back twice, and did 8 bus journeys between Selly Oak and New St. Oh and two return journeys in a minibus with a whole bunch of other Quakers between London and Saffron Walden

Now I need to work out what the energy cost is for this lot

Compost = zero

Electricity = £2.85

Processing the plastic recycling = but this has to minus the energy saving of recycling this material rather than starting from scratch = hmm I’ve found it very difficult to work out what this ‘costs’ let’s say £1

Processing the paper recycling = ?? ditto = ?? maybe another £2

Transport = train I did a total of 1336 miles which is the equivalent of 250 kg co2, bus miles 208 miles = the equivalent of 57kg co2 – I imagine that some of this was nuclear powered but I’m using a fossil fuel equivalent (to work this lot out I used the collins gem carbon counter and then converted the carbon into the kwh energy equivalent and then into the commerical cost of energy as charged by a typical energy provider – thanks folks) – so that means an energy monetary cost of £85.67

This means I owe £91.52 x 3 =  £274.56 (cos I am triple off setting) split between 4 projects (£68.64 each) – which perhaps doesn’t seem like much but if we all did it all the time it’d be loads! Especially as I was really trying to keep it down.

What I Learnt

I think I have got my energy use down to about as low as it can go whilst still living a mostly ‘normal’ sort of life. I probably did use less energy when I lived on a house boat or in a yurt, but the reality is that most people aren’t going to do this, so I’m interested in seeing what can be done within ‘normal’ parameters. Not having a car does keep the consumption down and I have managed to live in really rural places without one. So this isn’t just an urban option. Overall my public transport journeys are high because of travelling for work outside of birmingham. If I did a different sort of job my transport use would be lower – but I love my job. And one of the many things I realise is that sometimes the options are simply don’t do it or do it… and at the moment the job is still the bee’s knees.

Next Month – This is all about doing stuff for free and starting a world-wide campaign of my own!

See also in this series…

Lizz Roe – An Introduction

Lizz Roe – January

Lizz Roe – February

Lizz Roe – March

Lizz Roe – April

Lizz Roe – June

Lizz Roe – Good Book Guide

Lizz Roe – July

10 Comments leave one →
  1. 23/06/2010 12:00 pm

    Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor

  2. 08/08/2010 9:14 pm

    Great reads and food for thought… ingredients to my thinking: living in flat vs living in house w garden… nearest allotments at current place around 30 minute walk away… garden would allow me to grow some of my food (and share w neighbour?) but house would be bigger (any 1beds w garden – i.e. no leasehold – in B28, B90?)… Wish you all the best with your next challenges.


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