Sunday, 28 October 2012

Celebrating the launch of The Rubbish Diet in Shropshire

Meet Ali, my new partner in grime from Shrewsbury. Well, I say 'grime' what I really mean is striving for lighter, cleaner bins throughout Shropshire.

Ali Thomas is the driving force behind the launch of the Rubbish Diet challenge in Shropshire. Organised by Ali and Katy Anderson, as a Transition Shrewsbury project, the challenge was announced on Thursday to a room full of local residents who are now set to slim their bins before Christmas.

The Shropshire project will be based on the Internet-based Rubbish Diet 2012 challenge, which I ran earlier this year and I will be working closely with Ali to develop resources and processes that can be tailored to help empower the local community.

The households, which are taking up the challenge over the next few weeks, will play a vital role in helping to gather research on local waste issues and waste-reduction opportunities, supporting the next phase of the project, which will be launched in the new year.

It really is an exciting time for the development of the Rubbish Diet into the wider community and it's great timing that this is being rolled out in Shropshire now, supporting the recent news that Shropshire council has recently launched a mixed plastics collection.  Naturally, there will be challenges for the residents, as cardboard is no longer collected from the kerbside, but Transition Shrewsbury is already prepared for that and will be re-running its successful 'Cardboard Christmas' campaign that took place last year.

The Rubbish Diet Shropshire project already has its own blog, where Ali will be posting regular advice and updates.  You can also follow the latest news on Twitter, via @RDShropshire

If you know anyone in Shrewsbury, or Shropshire, who would love to get involved with this exciting challenge, please forward these details, so they can get in touch. If you are interested in running a similar challenge in your own community, I also would love to hear from you. Email


More information can be found at  Ali Thomas can be contacted by email at

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Rubbish Diet Challenge goes on tour!

I am immensely excited to announce that the Rubbish Diet Challenge, which until now has been kept to the confines of the Internet, is, for the very first time, being launched as a community based initiative in a number of locations around the UK.

Inspired by my online challenge, which took eight households through slimming their bins at the beginning of the year, two organisations are now taking the concept into their local communities and are seeking volunteers who want to reduce their waste for an 8 week challenge, set to start in the new year.

Transition Town Shrewsbury in Shropshire is launching its Rubbish Diet Challenge next week, to an audience of community leaders and interested residents, to outline how they can be involved in creating a fabulous slimming club with a difference. I am delighted to confirm that I will be attending the launch.

Elsewhere, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust launched its Waste Watchers Rubbish Diet project last week, highlighting its own exciting plan for weekly events to support all those who take part.  Emma Croft's interview with BBC Wiltshire (fast forward to 1hr 10m) calls for 8 residents from around the county to join in.

It really is an exciting time to witness the adoption of the Rubbish Diet by independent organisations and I can't wait to see the results. I also hope that these two initiatives will be the first of many that will be held around the country over the next couple of years.  So watch this space for further news.

For more information about the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust project, please contact Emma Croft on 01380 736074 or email

To find out more about the Transition Town Shrewsbury project or to attend its launch on Thursday 25th October (7-8.30pm at the Hobbs Room, Shrewsbury Library), contact Ali Thomas on 07972 858313 or email

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Talking biogas & green heroes with Kevin McCloud at Grand Designs Live

Kevin McCloud at Grand Designs Live. (photo copyright GDL)

If there's one event that's fast becoming a highlight of my annual calendar, it's Grand Designs Live and the opportunity to a have a peek at Kevin's Green Heroes. a collection of ten designers who have been handpicked by Kevin McCloud for their commitment to both sustainability and innovative ideas.

And this year didn't disappoint. From sustainably produced wallpaper to tiles, reclaimed wood furniture to rainwater harvesting, there is something to appeal to everyone who is interested in great eco-design.

For instance I love this gorgeous wallpaper by MissPrint, an Essex based business, which uses PEFC certified materials and non-toxic inks.

And I think Hendzel and Hunt's chairs, made from reclaimed hardwood and Victorian floorboards, are just gorgeous. I'd love them for my dining room.

But when it comes to products that can have a wide impact on waste reduction, the design that stood out for me this year is the Compo food waste digester, developed by Nottingham Trent graduate Oliver Ling.

Its sleek design makes it an attractive product for any kitchen and that is crucial for opening up the marketplace to those interested in better managing their food waste.  Not everyone has a local authority food waste collection and many people are simply not interested in the idea of bokashi bins or wormeries.  However, I can see a whole host of apartment-dwellers and gadget-geeks taking a keen interest in this.

What sets the Compo apart from other systems is that as well as creating well-digested compost, its key by-product is actually biogas. Stored in small canisters, an easy collection system is central to its design, allowing its owners to earn money from the fuel generated from their domestic food waste.

Of course the message to households should always be to reduce what they can, but a solution like this helps to manage residual food waste and turn it into something useful that benefits the individual, instead of carting it off in trucks.

As I declared my particular interest in this to Kevin McCloud, he tempers my excitement with the news that the Compo is still only a prototype.

"Green Heroes usually features products that are already available for consumers to buy," he confirms. "However I thought this was such a good idea, I had to include it."

And I am glad he did because I can really see a lot of potential here.

Having caught up with the designer, Oliver Ling, it became clear that the driver behind the product was his own passion in helping to tackle the food waste problem. The prototype was created as his final year project at university, where he undertook a lot of primary research analysing the contents of domestic rubbish bins.  This is further demonstrated in that the Compo is designed to be manufactured from recycled plastic derived from food packaging.

"I wanted to design something that was sustainable," Oliver affirms.  "In fact, I believe it is so important, every product designer should get involved with sustainability".

Designer Oliver Ling, at the Green Heroes stand at Grand Designs Live

I couldn't agree more. Designers have immense power to revolutionise the future waste landscape, either through designing-out wasteful and hard-to-recycle materials from their products or in developing new processes and infrastructures that manage our wastes better.

I was interested in Kevin McCloud's view on this, especially as there is potential to develop more scaleable applications of the Compo.

And having watched his recent series of Man Made Home, which involved the construction of a cabin that enabled him to live off-grid, it was the localised production of biogas that particularly caught my attention.

Politely referring to it as "Episode 3", rather than "the one where you cooked on gas made from your own poo", the programme featured a visit to an Anaerobic Digestion plant, which incorporates the collection of dog poo and other materials to create a rich compost and biogas, capable of powering a small village.

Kevin wanted to apply this idea to his own cabin experience and in an entertaining fashion set about building an outdoor loo and biogas infrastructure to collect and process human wastes, supplemented by a good dollop of lion dung, which was retrieved from nearby Longleat.

"This isn't revolutionary," he insists. "And it's not unproven. In India, for 150 years, people have been building biogas digester systems across the country and lots of villages now have them."

Behind the obvious fun involved in building his own off-grid cabin, he was actually keen to explore what was possible, discover what could work in the UK and consider which solutions could be scaled up.

"I'd like it to go one step further and connect to the grid," he adds, "Especially as an average family can produce enough methane to cook all its food."

However, he doesn't envisage a future where households would have their own individual digesters and personally, despite my fascination for the subject, I feel a certain relief in that.

So what is the way forward?

Kevin tells me that the sensible way to do this is on a more ambitious scale, supporting several streets to divert waste from sewage systems into a local biodigester, which connects with the gas main to bring the energy source back into the home.

"Currently our infrastructure is national or regional," he says. "We could be considering all those services at a more local scale. Many sewage sites are starting to cover their tanks with methane collectors, but there is potential to create better self-sufficient communities."

"The infrastructures for collection already exist but we are very early in the process of transition and it will take philanthropists to influence and direct building self-sufficient communities."

"And where society once viewed those who once lived off-grid as green extremists, we are now considering them as true pioneers."


Kevin McCloud is the ambassador for Grand Designs Live Birmingham and London.  For more information please visit

Monday, 1 October 2012

Trashed! An evening in London with Jeremy Irons.

Jeremy Irons and producer Candida Brady 
introducing Trashed at London's Raindance Festival

My passion for waste reduction has taken me to many places, but Saturday was the first time it's ever landed me in a movie premiere in the heart of London.

But you can forget the red carpet on this occasion, even if the leading man was Jeremy Irons. For Saturday's movie was not some glitzy affair in Leicester Square,but an independent documentary, being screened as part of an independent film festival.

Trashed, featuring Jeremy Irons and produced by Blenheim Films, takes us on a journey around the world highlighting the issues with how our waste is managed.  It begins with the sobering sight of a rubbish dump on the coastline of Lebanon, discussing the effects of the pollutants from physical trash and leachate that spill into the Mediterranean, a serious international environmental problem.

Closer to home, the portrayal of dioxins from toxic waste sites and incinerators renders the UK's experience just as harsh viewing.  In one of the few countries in the world where waste management is so tightly controlled and where we have some of the best technology available, it is shocking to hear that even a modern incinerator in Scotland has breached emissions limits 172 times.  And that's only since 2009.

Thanks to the effects of emissions and leacheate, even if they appear to be tightly controlled, there seems to be very little escape from the consequences of burying or burning our rubbish.

And sadly, the images of villagers in a developing country throwing their rubbish into the river behind their homes, drinking water from that river, washing in it and eating the fish that they had caught from it, suddenly felt like a microcosm of the wider world within which we live.

It's truthful to say that Trashed, with its evidence of the amount of chemicals reaching our food chain, is very depressing viewing, not to mention the shocking images of fish and mammals that are physically injured by the debris floating in the sea.

To add a few figures to this, oceanographer Charles Moore highlights that there is now six times more plastic in the ocean than zooplankton, which form the very basis of the food chain.  And it's not the physical plastic that we can see that should only concern us, but more worryingly the material that we can't, i.e. the stuff that's so small it's easily absorbed, suppressing immune systems, hormones and reproductive systems.

With examples of whales being now so heavily contaminated that many can no longer reproduce, the documentary makers refer to the analogy of the canaries in a coal mine, a worrying prediction that what currently affects these mammals, will in the course of a few generations affect us.

I don't think any of us like to face harsh news like this, especially if we don't have the scientific background to make judgments for ourselves.  We can always believe that it is someone else's problem or that it doesn't matter to us, because we don't witness it or we won't be around to experience the sorry consequences. The problem may be seen as being too great for us to handle anyway. And the result? We just go about our everyday business, pushing it into the back of our minds, continuing life as normal.

But personally, even with the hard-to-swallow science, my own ignorance and how insignificant my own contribution is in this global picture, I welcome documentaries like Trashed.

It is better to know what we are up against, so we can mobilise human intelligence to more widely monitor, reinvent, better legislate, engineer solutions and develop new economies that reverse such trends, as well as place political pressure on those who have the power to influence international development.

Trashed gives a taster of some of the efforts that are already taking place to better manage, at the very least, Western approaches towards waste, including the San Francisco Zero Waste programme, where it is a legal requirement for every resident and visitor to participate in the recycling initiatives.  The documentary also featured a new approach to modern retail such as that promoted by Catherine Conway and her shop Unpackaged in London.  Even without such frameworks and facilities, Rachelle Strauss of demonstrated to Jeremy Irons, how as an individual we can take better care in choosing what we buy and vote with our wallets.

So rather than hide from this harsh tale, I would much prefer we stared it straight in the eye and committed to taking some form of action, whether it's through changing our shopping choices, recycling efforts or participating in a spot of activism.

So next time you hear that it's better to burn or bury our rubbish than fight for well managed and resourceful zero waste solutions, I'd like you to think of Trashed.  But don't take my word for it, watch the trailer.

Jeremy Irons not only makes such a powerful storyteller but having witnessed the issues first-hand, he believes that with the right support and backing from consumers, industry and governments the situation is indeed curable.


Trashed is being screened as part of London's indie film festival Raindance,and has been nominated for the Best Documentary Award.  It is being shown again, on Tuesday 2nd October at 3pm.  Another waste related film, being screened on Saturday 6th October, is the 10 minute short, Emptys.

If you are new to the idea of Zero Waste and want to know more about action that's being taken in the UK, follow and the Zero Waste Alliance UK (of which I am a trustee) for further news.

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