Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Wenhaston Green: Greening up a village community in Suffolk

Today I'd like to highlight the achievements of Suffolk based energy support group Wenhaston Green whose amazing work is helping its village community to cut carbon emissions. From organising insulation projects for households and community buildings to setting up car-sharing schemes and implementing alternative energy solutions, including solar-powered water heaters, this group is making it easier for residents to make choices that are more environmentally friendly.

Reducing Waste

With the support of environmental social enterprise Bright Green (the organisation behind the National Materials Exchange - Eastex), Wenhaston Green has embarked on its latest project, helping the village community to reduce household waste.

Their very own Zero Waste Week was launched at the weekend, kicked off by the best idea I've seen in a long time...A Give or Take Day!

Hosted at the village hall, residents were invited to bring along items that they no longer wanted and take away anything they wished. It was a great event, with a whole range of items exchanging hands including heavy furniture, clothing, crockery, toys, video, books and bric-a-brac. All for free.

I was also allowed to take part, even though I'd arrived from the other side of Suffolk. So I emptied my wardrobe of all the clothes I no longer wear and came away with some gorgeous Readers' Digest books and a glamorous pair of shoes.

During the event residents also had the opportunity to find out about ways to reduce their carbon footprint thanks to representatives from Suffolk County County recycling services and the Energy Saving Trust. There was even a master composter available, demonstrating the benefits of home composting, including the use of Bokashi facilities.

The Zero Waste Challenge

Eleven households have signed up for the Zero Waste Week challenge, where they will attempt to minimise their waste over the course of the next week. With a weekly rubbish collection, the results will be measured next Monday.

Before the start of the challenge representatives from Bright Green conducted an audit of residents' bins to determine the amount of rubbish that each household throws away and how much of their rubbish could be recycled or composted.

The results of the audit were presented to the volunteers at a meeting following the Give or Take event. It was no surprise that the starting points were varied, giving the nature of the mixed household sizes.

However, what was surprising is that Wenhaston does not have a kerbside recycling collection, which means that residents do not have an easy solution to recycling plastics.

The village community has recycling facilities for metal, glass and paper, but household collection facilities will not be in place until March next year. This could be a major challenge for participants of the Zero Waste exercise.

On the plus side, residents can recycle food waste through their fortnightly brown bin collection which also includes garden waste.

Managing Plastic

With a long wait for plastic recycling facilities, there is an opportunity for the participants to analyze their dependency on plastic packaging and reduce what they can. Reusable bags and use of containers when shopping will provide some relief. The group also discussed making muslin\cotton weigh bags, which they can sell to other residents to avoid the plastic variety normally found in shops.

There may also be opportunities to recycle other plastics that come their way, through combining efforts. Unfortunately the nearest recycling facilities are an estimated 15 mile drive away and for individuals to travel there in the name of slimming their bins would be simply increasing the carbon footprint that they are working hard to reduce. However, if one resident could take the materials when they are next passing, this would help this challenge immensely and maybe it could lead to an interim solution for enthusiastic recyclers while they are waiting for a permanent recycling collection.

Community solutions

What I experienced at the weeked was inspirational community action. As individuals attempting to reduce our carbon footprint, it is often difficult to know where to start and options can appear to be confusing. However community groups that serve to help the local area seem a natural step forward, combining the knowledge and enthusiasm needed to move communities forward.

I believe there is much to be learned from proactive communities such as Wenhaston Green and organisations like Bright Green, also based in the East of England and who are able to empower and transform companies and communities by raising environmental awareness and helping to implement change.

The Wenhaston Green energy support group was formed just two years ago in March 2007. Originally created by Parish Councillors who were keen to have carbon reducing ideas as part of its parish plan, the group is now independent of but still supported by the Parish Council. In its short existence, the energy group has already been awarded funding by the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) to refurbish the village hall with insulation and photovoltaic panels and in 2008 won the Community Energy Award from Suffolk Strategic Partnership's "Creating the Greenest County"

It just makes you think doesn't it? There is much that an enthusiastic individual can do on their own, but combine that with the knowledge, support and enthusiasm of others and the opportunities can be amazing.

If you are based in the UK and are inspired to find out what can be done to reduce the carbon footprint of your own community, more information can be found at Transition Towns. Local advice is also available from www.cred-uk.org and it is also worth contacting your local regional development agency for details of which projects are supported. Funding opportunities can also be sourced through the Energy Saving Trust.

And if you are lucky enough to be based in the East of England, why not put a call into Bright Green.

Huge thanks to Sue from Bright Green for inviting me to the Give or Take Day and for the members of Wenhaston Green for making me feel very welcome. And most of all, good luck to all the residents who are busy with their Zero Waste Week challenge. I can't wait to hear the results and find out what happened to all the usual plastic.

If you're already involved with a local community group that can help inspire others, please share your good news and if you have a website, I will be happy to include a link on the blog.



Layla said...

WOW!! Give or Take Day & Bright Green initiative truly sound awesome!! :)

Was there any 'rules' as to how much you had to/could bring or take?
(or just 'bring at least 1 thing', take as much as you wish? what if 2+ people wanted the same thing?)

I'd love to see something like this organized here, not quite sure how to go about it! :)

There are phone calls & internet options to give away/take stuff, & some informal or charity-based give'n'take, haven't heard of such an event in Slovenia though! :)

John Costigane said...

Hi Mrs A,

Great to see more Zero Waste Weeks emerging, with Community Action as well. The idea is sure to develop into a more organised and resilient campaign.

A lack of plastic recycling is poor, though here it is limited, but the community aspect can solve the problem by common collection and transport to a recycling centre.


Hi Layla - it was a great idea and no, there weren't any limits. People could just bring and then take what they wished. It was a first come first served basis. I think it will be a trend that will just take a little time to grown :-D

Hi John - it really is hopeful when communities get together to take independent action and can help each other where possible. I am looking forward to the results of Wenhaston's zero waste week with interest. I am sure as with other individual challenges people will be surprised by the results. :-D

Jen said...

This is great great great. I heard about a similar initiative in Ottawa, Canada where everyone just puts stuff out on the curb on the same day and everyone walks around and takes what they want. (At the end of the day, you are responsible for taking what wasn't re-homed back inside.)

How inspiring to hear of more people taking on a zero waste challenge! Nice work over there.


Jen - that's amazing. I would love to see something like that around here. I hope that other communities take up the zero-waste idea too. Hope you're keeping well :-D

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