Sunday, November 18, 2007

Green Tips - past history

Our first green tip appeared on 18 February 2007 and it was an encouragement to buy organic milk because organic dairy farms support far more wild flowers and insects and because standards of animal welfare are generally higher. Since then I've read various websites rejecting organic milk as a green option because they say more greenhouse gases are produced per pint of milk provided. Personally I'd put a priority on animal welfare and biodiversity in this case and say we have to reduce greenhouse emissions elsewhere but I know not everyone would agree. I also have concerns about the support for GM crops which is a consequence of allowing non-organic cattle to feed on GM food.

Another debatable topic turned out to be energy saving lightbulbs - one reason was that the heat of conventional bulbs was actually valuable in the winter (I'm not entirely convinced on that one) and another was concern about mercury content - I contacted Reading Borough Council to ask about recycling facilities and was told that they should simply be put in my ordinary rubbish bin or in the hazardous waste skip at the tip - this doesn't seem good enough to me.

Below is a list which I shall keep updating of green tips for the newsletter:

Rethink your breakdown cover. The major breakdown organisations all lobby for more roads. The Environmental Transport Association works to help us use cars less.

Green decorating: use organic, solvent-free paints (eg see - better for you and the planet, cleaner to use

Say it with flowers on Mothers' Day: but avoid the cut blooms that have been heavily sprayed with pesticides and flown half way round the world. A plant for the garden will last much longer and could be chosen to attract wildlife. If you can't deliver it in person check out

Wrap presents inventively to avoid wasting paper: try the large maps from out of date road atlases or attractive paper bags saved from shopping.

Avoid using peat in the garden (an area of peat bog the size of Monaco is being destroyed in Ireland every year and only 6 per cent of the UK's lowland peat bog habitat remains). When planting up deep containers with shallow-rooted plants fill up the bottom with polystyrene packing: it saves on compost and weighs less to carry.

Organic, locally grown and 'green' products are available at the True Food Co-op for less than supermarket prices. Packaging is minimal and products range from beetroot to icing sugar, bread to deodorant, and chocolate to printer paper. They have markets at different venues in Reading each evening and alternate Saturday afternoons: see leaflets at the back of church for more information.

Is all your tea fairly-traded?
Actually only 2% of the UK tea market is fairly traded. Why not make a resolution to only buy tea that is ? There is a large variety of tastes now for you to choose from. Fair trade encourages pesticide-free, sustainable farming methods

Green holidays: See for placements for Willing Workers on Organic Farms all over the world, but of course it's greenest to stay in Britain. In hotter climes, only 18% of holidaymakers turn off the air- conditioning when they go out for the day so millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted unnecessarily every year.

If we only boil as much water in the kettle as we actually need we could save enough energy to power our street lights. Putting a lid on a pan of boiling water speeds up time to boiling.

Switch to a green electricity supplier. The green tariff from ordinary suppliers is effectively meaningless because they are required by law to use some renewable sources and at present this still exceeds the demand through their green tariffs.
Good Energy source all their power from renewable power sources. Christian Aid are working with Ecotricty - a major developer of renewables who guarantee to cost the same as our regional supplier - ring 0800 0326 100 to switch to Ecotricity and if you mention Christian Aid they'll get a donation towards their climate change campaigning.

Cotton production accounts for 25% of all pesticides used over the world. Organic cotton products such as cotton wool and underpants are available in RISC's shop. Second hand clothes or bed linen are obviously a cheaper alternative to looking for organic cotton!

Energy efficient light bulbs save up to 80% on lighting costs and it is a myth that flourescent strip lights work more effectively if left on continuously

Driving at 50 mph is 25% more fuel efficient that driving at 70 mph; and although diesels are more fuel efficient they emit more nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxides and particulates so Friends of the Earth prefer a petrol car with a catalytic converter.

'Have you considered buying fairly traded furniture? is a fairly-trading online firm which has been recommended as having a good range — dining and bedroom furniture as well as soft furnishings and smaller items - and an honest statement of their policy under the 'Fair Trade’ heading.'

The National Trust is campaigning to stop the expansion of Stansted Airport because of its threat to a medieval forest and because it will encourage more air travel - google 'Save Hatfield Forest' to find more details and their on-line petition

Co-operative Insurance offer 'eco' car insurance, offsetting some carbon emissions and investing your money ethically - see

Carrier bags can be re-used as packaging, scrunched up instead of polystyrene, or as bin liners.

Running a washing machine and dishwasher at 40 degrees instead of 60 will use a third less energy.

Keeping your refrigerator 1 degree warmer saves about 50 kg of greenhouse gas a year

Eating more plant based food will help the planet: producing one kilo of beef creates half a kilo of methane which is a greenhouse gas twenty times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Moreover rainforests are being destroyed to grow cattle and chicken feed. Altogether livestock herds account for 10 per cent of greenhouse gases.

Increase insulation in your roof, around windows and doors, and the water tank. Put aluminium foil behind your radiators.

Consider boycotting ExxonMobil (Esso) who are actively blocking the transition to renewable energy

Visit the Living Rainforest - not only a fascinating afternoon out but also some of your entrance fee goes to support education and conservation projects in Madagascar and Indonesia (entrance fees reduced for those arriving by public transport).

Join the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust and gain free access to dozens of beautiful nature reserves in the area.

If holidaying in a hotel switch off air conditioning whenever possible(and put thermostat up), reuse towels, use resources sparingly - the average tourist uses as much water in 24 hours as a villager in the developing world uses in 100 days!

If trying to decide whether to 'carbon offset' your holiday travel, see article on the 'inconvenient truth' of this industry by Nick Davies at

Save paper and save lives by buying presents from the Oxfam bookshop where they'll put in a bookplate saying why the gift is a little dog-eared

The beer-drinker's solution to climate change - see Greenpeace's video at

At Greenbelt Ann Pettifor reminded us that while we're at home changing light bulbs big business are lobbying the government for their interests: look up the latest campaigns of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Soil Association, WWF etc - at basic level many simply involve forwarding an e-mail.

Put wet autumn leaves in a plastic bag, stab a few holes in with a fork and a year later you'll have leafmould (burning them produces a highly carcinogenic smoke).

Never put broken pyrex or drinks glasses into the glass recycling as it will contaminate the entire load and all be landfilled.

Re-use cooking oil to add life to garden furniture. If you cannot return your egg boxes (the True Food Co-op use them) they're good for the compost heap.

Reduce your junk mail by calling the Mailing Preference Service on 08457 034599, opting out of the publicly available electoral register and putting a note on your door. Unaddressed mail can apparently be stopped by writing to Consignia (the Post Office).

Recycle polythene packaging, carrier bags and wraps from magazines by cutting off any labels and posting to PolyPrint Mailing Films Ltd, Unit 21a Mackintosh Road, Rackheath Estate, Rackheath, Norwick, NR13 6LJ, 01603 721807 (polythene is stretchy unlike cellophane or PVC which will snap if stretched and cannot be recycled).

Send old postcards to Actionaid, Ernie Roberts House, 13-15 High Street, St Mary Cray, Orpington, Kent, BR5 3NL

Reading Freecycle is part of an international network matching people who have things they want to get rid of with people who can use them, keeping usable items out of landfills. Sign up at to receive regular e-mails.

Once upon a time everyone used vinegar and newspaper to clean windows and mirrors or bicarbonate of soda for sinks etc - they're not tested on animals, they're much less harmful to the environment (and people) than most modern cleaning products, they're cheap and actually they work too!

Green Christmas shopping ideas
Plants, especially drought resistant ones
Look for energy saving gadgets, organic cotton clothes and fair trade or recycled products (eg at,, as well as the World Shop on London Road or the Traidcraft stall)
Avoid presents with lots of packaging, disposable parts like batteries or a short life span
Give gifts of experiences such as theatre, restaurant or massage tokens or membership of the National Trust
Sponsor an animal, or Send a Cow (or a toilet or doctors kit) with Send a Cow, Christian Aid's Present Aid, Oxfam Unwrapped etc or let them choose their charity with

Green Christmas preparations
Buy recycled wrapping paper(eg at tie it with string so both can be used again (or old cassette tape which curls nicely on scissors).
Use old cards for gift tags.
Buy a UK-grown real tree with roots and acclimatise it in a greenhouse or conservatory on its entry and exit from your home so that it will last for future years.
Choose durable and fairtrade decorations from natural materials (or hang biscuits from the tree) and soy or beeswax candles.
Try to buy food in recyclable packaging and remember Reading's Farmers Market is 1st and 3rd Saturday in the cattle market 8.30 - 12.

Support your local milkman - he can provide organic milk in reusable bottles

Save your Christmas cards and paper to re-use next year. Send unwanted gifts to charity shops (apparently hospitals and hospices sometimes appreciate them too)

If each of the UK's office workers used one less staple every day 120 tonnes of steel would be saved each year - staple-less staplers are available and paper clips or mini bulldog clips are reusable.

Be informed: read Felicity Lawrence's 'Not on the Label' - an eloquent and accessible exposé of the environmental damage and abuse of migrant workers created by supermarket demands for cheap food.

'Organic' can mean many things: the produce of a small local mixed 'non-organic' farm that limits its pesticide use (available at a farmers' market) is likely to be much 'greener' (and fresher) than heavily packaged, distantly grown products from 'organic' farmers whose
dependence upon supermarkets forces them to use the maximum of every chemical permitted under organic standards.

If every driver took one less car journey a week averaging 9 miles, this would cut carbon dioxide emissions from traffic in the UK by 13%.

If you want to send cut flowers, check out who despatch local, seasonal flowers instead of imported blooms.

To tie in with Tearfund's carbon fast - green tips for Lent are:

Carbon fast extra ideas 1: make sure fridge and freezer are running efficiently by regular defrosting, cleaning dust off the coils at the back (dirty coils use up to 30 per cent more energy) and filling spaces in freezer with newspaper.

Carbon fast extra ideas 2: check your heating timer - can it be on for a shorter time without you really even noticing?

Carbon fast extra ideas 3: check your washing machine manual (if you can find it!) - could you be using shorter time settings as well as lower temperatures?

Carbon fast extra ideas 4: ensure car tyres are properly inflated and drive smoothly as stopping and starting, over-revving and fast acceleration require more fuel

Carbon fast extra ideas 5: Try to by more fresh food because frozen food requires ten times more energy to produce.

Carbon fast extra ideas 6: Do less housework! Vacuum less, wash towels and sheets less often.

If you have a compost caddy that seems to need lots of washing out, line it with newspaper. Or abandon it and use a sturdy paper bag such as those organic box schemes deliver fruit in so the whole thing can be composted.

The World Shop at RISC sells much better value 'green' dishwasher powder than the tablets available in supermarkets - it also reduces the packaging involved.

Grandparents and parents of small children - borrow toys, baby equipment and musical instruments at Reading Toy Library instead of buying. Call in to any Reading library or visit

Allowing the lawn to grow to at least 4 cm before mowing avoids brown patches and unnecessary watering

Plants like lilac, buddleia, evening primrose and honeysuckle help support the butterflies whose natural habitats are being destroyed.

Keeping a jug of cold water in the fridge means you don't need to run the tap to get it cold. Keep a jug by the tap to collect the water you run before it's hot and you can pour that on plants.

Radiators heat rooms more efficiently with aluminium foil behind them and a shelf a couple of inches above to direct heat into the room instead of up the wall.

If you turn the oven off ten minutes before the stated time, the residual heat will keep cooking the food. Only pastries, bread or a souffle really require the oven to be pre-heated.

Covering food (and ice cubes) in a fridge or freezer prevents the moisture in it condensing as ice on the appliance. Iced up walls make the appliance less efficient. Fridges don't need to be colder than 3 - 5 Celsius. Fitting a Savaplug which allows electricity through in short bursts can reduce energy consumption by 20%.

Real corks come from forests that support a huge variety of wildlife, including the endangered Iberian lynx. After use they can be fire lighters or composted.

RECYCLING - Reading Borough Council residents can put their foil, scrunched up, into their red bins (only Wokingam residents need to use the recycling here).
Drink cartons can be recycled at Palmer Park

Watering plants first thing in the morning instead of last thing at night reduces the problem of slugs and the consequent need to put out pellets that may kill birds. Also try leaving uprooted weeds in a damp corner of the garden because the slugs should prefer the softer wilted leaves to your precious veg. Avoid beer traps which catch slug-eating beetles as well.

Rather than leaving cooked food in a saucepan on a low heat to keep warm, pile a couple of folded tea towels on top of the lid.

Suggested ways to avoid having to apply ant poison: if their entry can be found block it up or put lemon juice on it; apparently they hate talcum powder, chalk, charcoal dust and cayenne pepper so they can be diverted with barriers of these.

Kettles are more efficient when descaled (boiling two cups of white vinegar diluted in a little water should do the job), and only boiling as much as you need is more efficient too. Vinegar can also be used one part to three parts olive oil for making furniture polish.

More environmentally friendly cleaning methods for troublesome stains (I've not checked these out): rub white chalk into oil stains before washing; remove tea, coffee, chocolate and blood with one part borax to eight parts water; tackle grass stains with glycerine.

If you have a fish tank at home or at work, you can make sure the fish are an unendangered species by looking for the Marine Aquarium Council certification (and please don't buy coral to decorate the tank because it is in serious decline in many areas).

Bagged salads use more packaging and more energy and have lost many of their nutrients compared with whole lettuces

You can wash out plastic takeaway containers for storage, sandwiches etc, children's groups often find them useful, and you could try taking them back to the takeaway for your next meal

Boron- or natural asphalt-based wood preservatives avoid the toxic nerve poisons and fungicides common in other products which harm wildlife

Sustainably forested timber is the best material for most household carpentry (look for the Forest Stewardship Council logo). Although particle boards such as MDF and chipboard look easier to handle they contain carcinogenic formaldehyde.

When ironing, it uses much less energy and avoids limescale build up if you spray water onto the clothes using a spray bottle instead of using the steam setting.

Green Christmas preparations
Check that your Christmas cards are from recycled paper - Traidcraft produce some.
Buy recycled wrapping paper (eg from Oxfam) or sustainably produced paper (eg at the World Shop on London Road) and tie it with string so both can be used again (or old cassette tape which curls nicely on scissors).
Use old cards for gift tags.

Green Christmas preparations
If buying a cut tree look for the Christmas tree growers' association label or logo to ensure it has been grown sustainably. Or buy a UK-grown real tree with roots, soak it well, keep it away from direct heat, don't keep inside for more than a month and if possible acclimatise it in a greenhouse or conservatory on its entry and exit from your home so that it will last for future years - re-pot it in spring into a larger container (make sure it's composted if this doesn't work)

Green Christmas preparations
The Soil Association estimate that a typical Christmas dinner involves food miles equivalent to two trips round the world: Reading's Farmers Market is 1st and 3rd Saturday in the cattle market 8.30 - 12. Organic turkeys (that have lived a more natural life than those cooped up in sheds with breast blisters and ulcerated feet and their beaks trimmed to stop them pecking each other) usually need to be ordered in advance.

Although aerosols no longer contain CFCs their propellants are often still polluting hydrocarbons and the containers cannot be recycled so products in pump containers are greener.

Mattresses filled with natural materials such as horsehair, cotton, coir or coconut fibre have much less environmental impact than nylon ones (they also conduct body moisture away more effectively and don't sag in the middle - apparently)

Green Globe 21 is a worldwide certification programme to help the travel and tourism industry develop in sustainable ways.

The caustic soda in bleach-based toilet cleaners kills the organisms needed to digest the waste at the sewage plant, making the system inefficient and expensive.

Cremation releases a cocktail of toxins into the air as well as requiring a great deal of energy. A woodland burial simply nourishes the earth.

Veg boxes are a lot more user friendly than they used to be! Riverford's organic boxes are cheaper than buying organic veg in a supermarket and you can now order a box just of the items you really want. Only about 15% of their veg is imported. They also supply fruits (fairtrade where applicable but never air freighted) and other organic foods. Their weekly newsletter regularly shows how they're constantly trying to be as environmentally friendly as possible (as well as giving British farmers a fair deal, unlike supermarkets). See or ring 0845 3671157.

Since 1997 the income of most UK dairy farmers, including income from subsidies, has averaged at £2.90 per hour. For their sake and that of the countryside they manage it makes sense to buy milk as directly as possible, eg at Reading Farmer's Market or a farm-based box scheme like Riverford.

Free range eggs are not always as ethical as we might imagine since the chickens can still be kept in such cramped conditions that they need to be de-beaked to avoid cannibalism. Soil Association ratified organic eggs guarantee more humane conditions.

Growing sugar cane requires a lot of water and high levels of fertilizers (causing run-off which has damaged, for instance, the Great Barrier Reef); sugar beet is sprayed with up to 13 pesticides (some causing greenhouse gas emissions) and is very energy intensive to harvest. So, decreasing our sugar intake is good for the planet as well as our health. Traidcraft and the True Food Co-op do sell organic fairtrade sugar.

Fairtrade Easter Eggs are on sale in the Oxfam book shop (8 High Street)

As you get the garden in order this Easter, consider leaving a little corner a bit wild because our gardens are precious wildlife corridors, don't forget that birds need feeding all year and see if you can include some plants that butterflies like. For lots more ideas and inspiration, see A Rocha's Living Lightly website:

Old coffee grounds are good for acid loving plants

A single glass of ordinary (from concentrate) orange juice requires 22 glasses of water for processing and over 1,000 glasses of water for irrigation. If you want to opt for not from concentrate then it is cheaper (and tastier) to buy oranges from the market and squeeze them yourself than to buy 'not from concentrate' cartons. However, thousands of children in Mexico and Brazil work 14 hour days in close proximity to highly toxic pesticides in the orange industry, so you might prefer to buy fairtrade or organic.

Paper bags are not necessarily greener. Although plastic bags are made from oil and cannot be composted, typically the energy intensive process of making paper means that a paper bag's carbon footprint is four times that of a plastic bag. Making bags from recycled paper halves this. So don't be tempted to use the mushroom paper bags for other goods if you plan to return your bags to Sainsbury's plastic recycling bin (they even have one in the store in the middle of town now - but make sure not to contaminate this with 'degradable' or 'compostable' plastic).

Much of the waste we send to recycling ends up in landfill because the loads have been contaminated. As well as being scrupulous about what we put in our recycling bins, it makes sense to compost card and paper (a good way to destroy sensitive documents too) and to try to reduce packaging to start with (a good excuse to eat butter instead of margarine?).

Bin liners - because the conditions in landfill rarely allow composting it makes more sense to buy liners made from recycled plastic than biodegradable. Where possible use plastic bags you couldn't avoid collecting.

For ways to travel overland to destinations you thought you had to fly to, see 'the man in seat 61',

Why not try doing a one week car fast and see what happens?

Packaging makes up a quarter of UK household waste and 70% of that is food related, largely because we now buy more prepared and processed foods which come in plastic packaging. To avoid over-packaged basic ingredients check out the True Food co-op, the market and Reading Farmers' Market.

Reading buses are now issuing a travel card which costs £15 for ten single journeys. You can get the 'smartcard' (with its first ten jouneys) at the travel kiosk in Broad Street Mall and then top the card up on the bus when you need to.

Leaving your mobile phone charger on for a day uses the same amount of energy as driving a car for one second. Leaving it on all year uses the same amount as one hot bath. For more information on the relative usefulness of energy-saving actions see D Mackay's Sustainable energy without the hot air (in bookshops or online)

British organic meat can now be purchased through the True Food Co-op. This ensures better living conditions for the animals and greater biodiversity on the farmland.

Deforestation for paper production is a greater cause of climate change than flying. Traidcraft stock many recycled paper goods. The True Food Co-op stock recycled printer paper.

Earley Green Fair, Saturday August 1st. 10am to 3 pm. Lots of stalls, many on an environmental theme. Held in the Maiden Erlegh Nature Reserve, entrance free, either from Beech Lane (where road dips) or roads off Silverdale Road leading to Lakeside.

If you have an old tent you no longer want, take it to Millets who will send it to be used by aid agencies overseas. If you're planning to buy a new tent they'll give you some money off in exchange for the old tent.

Easy ways to donate to Christian Aid - go through their website to buy Natural Collection products (lots of green stuff from fairtrade clothes and jewellery to green gadgets and cleaning stuff), insure your house with Ecclesiastical or change to Ecotricity and either a donation or a percentage of the money you would pay anyway goes to Christian Aid (,

Over three quarters of the world's fish stocks have been over-exploited. Products bearing the Marine Stewardship Council logo are not among these (see for more info)

You can now buy Fairtrade melons (Asda and Morrison's) and a wide range of Fairtrade bodycare products (26 at Boots, as well as a number available from smaller shops).

Rowan Williams's Operation Noah lecture can be read at and his sermon before The Wave Climate Change march is here

Ideas for living a greener Christian life can be found at or

Wash out and re-use vegetable and sandwich bags eg. fix with an elastic band over a plant pot to make a windowsill propagator.

You can significantly reduce the cost of public transport with a Network card from the railway station (1/3 off all journeys in the south east).

Microwaves use much less energy than conventional ovens.

Mapledurham water mill sells flour from Oxfordshire-grown wheat ground in the last working water mill on the Thames. Large sacks can be pre-ordered to save money and journeys.

Pray in a garden.

No comments:

Post a Comment