I said that I was going to try to use less plastic this year. But that doesn’t mean that I’ll be able to stop using plastic altogether. Don’t be daft. Plastic is ubiquitous.
Where I can then, I’ll make appropriate and sensible choices, but it’s inevitable that I will still use some plastic.

We’ve been recycling our plastic, glass and paper waste for several years already, but now I’ve come across another way to recycle our plastic waste.

Step forward, the Ecobrick:

What are Ecobricks?
Ecobricks are low cost, thermally insulating bricks that are made by simply compressing unrecyclable plastic into 2L bottles.
Why we’re in love with them
Making ecobricks is a way to save the environment whilst supporting a needy community from the comfort of your kitchen counter.
What do we do with Ecobricks?
Affordable housing for you and me
Raised beds for our gardens
Benches for parks and gardens
Boundary walls
Temporary exhibition structures

And it really is as easy as poking plastic packaging into a 2 litre Coke bottle (make sure you drink the Coke before you start poking) (messy otherwise).

It’s easy, fun and actually quite addictive. You’ll be amazed how much plastic disappears into one of these bottles once you squish it in a bit. It’s like an inverse Magic Porridge Pot – there always seems to be space for more.

And once you’ve made a few, you simply drop them off at one of the Ecobrick Exchange handy hippie drop off points in Cape Town, Johannesbeagle, Pretoria or Mordor Port Elizabeth:

Or you can build something yourself.

It’s a great, safe, fun and simple way to involve the kids in recycling, and you’re actually doing something good with all that nasty plastic.


Quotes Of The Day – yes – plural. Like London buses, these things.

First off, some succinctly put insight into the world of the fad diet and the public reaction to it:

Nutrition is a complex minefield of information with plenty of vested interests playing their part. There is also a lot of legacy popular thinking around (read: stuff people just accept without any critical thinking).

That’s Joe Botha, speaking sense at Memeburn. Sadly, immediately thereafter, he does rather ruin it all by detailing his “lose weight quick” plan based on the enforced dietary timetable of our distant ancestors. (Save your time and bandwidth.) But, in typical Tim style, I’m going to take those lines (and only those lines) that suit my agenda and quote them here.

And then this from Australia’s Galileo Movement on Stellenbosch University’s latest breakthrough in renewable energy:

The industrialisation of our landscape for inefficient power production.

And yes, this is exactly the issue with solar and wind power right now. I know we need to make the switch away from fossil fuels, I completely accept that. But right now, there are simply no viable renewable alternatives out there:

The issue is the inefficiency of these technologies. And exactly how much space and how much of our environment do we really want to give up to this “inefficient power production”? Yes, SA has a lot of spare space, but that’s a good thing. It doesn’t mean that we need to fill it with solar panels and wind turbines.


And we’d need to, if we were to come anywhere close to solving our well-documented long term power shortages. That Stellenbosch project needs a mirror surface area of 220m² (never mind the space in between and around them, nor the same for the tower in the middle) to provide electricity for “about” 30 houses. But not at night, obviously.

Simply not good enough.

I’m not blaming the science or the scientists here. They’re doing their best. They’re progressing, developing, and they’ll get there. But renewable energy remains expensive:

The researchers have calculated Germany’s rapid switch to renewable energy sources like wind and solar is adding another €28 billion a year to the electricity bills of consumers and businesses.

And inefficient:

What happens at night?
As there is no light at night, no energy will be produced. The PV plant will import electricity from the utility to keep operations on site going.

Ooops. The simple fact is that we’re just not there yet.
And that’s why we can’t (and shouldn’t) be making the switch right now.

If only there were some clean, efficient, proven method of producing electricity that we could use.

Fracking v Solar v Wind discussion

This from the Guardian:

Researchers at Manchester University have found that fracking causes less toxicity to humans and marine ecosystems and uses less resources than solar panels and wind turbines.
Their study, which measured the environmental impacts of fracking and compared it to other energy sources, prompted a story in the Times under the headline: Fracking ‘greener than solar panels’.

What follows is a discussion involving study authors, some experts, some interested parties and some of the general public. It makes for an interesting read, but it’s quite long, so I’ve taken a couple of points out of it which I think are of particular interest. The first being this question:

What do you think we can do to make the public discussion about fracking more rational, and less emotional? Do you think it [the discussion] needs to be more evidence-based?

I may have mentioned this exact thing over three years ago, right here. And as (report author) Laurence Stamford says:

Definitely. The shale debate is almost entirely based on rhetoric and hearsay (although this also applies to most topical issues e.g. nuclear). What we’re hoping to do here is simply to add some numbers and some neutral, evidence-based discussion to allow people to make informed judgements.

This is undoubtedly the best way to make informed judgements. But there are problems with this approach, namely that (predominantly) the bunnyhugger side know that in the struggle for hearts and minds, the hearts are generally the ones that win through. Appealing to people’s emotions will always be more successful in attracting supporters to your cause, so why bother with the uncomfortable truth of facts and figures that don’t support your case?

The flip side is that those facts and figures need to be independently sourced – or at least independently audited and verified – if we are going to consider them. All too often (and not just in the case of fracking), a bit of digging reveals that research, papers and reports have been funded by organisations with a specific interest in the subject under investigation.

Then there’s the interpretation of information by the media. The Times reported this study under the headline: “Fracking ‘greener than solar panels’, which Stamford says was not what he feels the study says:

“That makes it look like we are saying that solar panels are all around worse than shale gas, which… is not really what we’ve said. We are certainly not trying to say that shale gas is greener than renewables.”

He says it would be more accurate to say:

“For certain environmental problems shale is better than solar, whereas for others solar is better than shale.”

The lesson from this one? Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers. Who knew?

And then what factors should be considered when comparing electricity generation technologies? Well, ideally, all of them, but then how much weight should be given to each – once again, there’s no easy way of answering that.

Interestingly, the major environmental concern related to solar was not investigated in the study. According to the solar industry, the turning over of agricultural land to solar farms is the biggest environmental public and policy obstacle the industry faces.

Yep – 6000 miles… covered that one too.

All in all, it’s an interesting study – albeit that people’s views on it have already been tarnished by that Times story – and a worthwhile discussion. A reminder on what we should be striving for when considering various forms of electricity generation and that the case for “renewables” isn’t always as clear cut as the anti-frackers would have us believe.

Don’t say I’m not green!

There are those who come onto this blog and accuse me of hating the environment. Maybe it’s because they have misread, not read or simply misunderstood my viewpoints on whales, dolphins and natural gas extraction.

It’s not the case. I do care deeply for the environment and I do all that I (reasonably) can to protect and cherish it, including worm farming, recycling and saving electricity wherever I can. And I’m also going out of my way to champion Fairview Cheese & Wine Farm’s latest green initiative: The Goat Rapid Transit system or GRT.

With the rising price of petrol and wine farms becoming increasingly focused on reducing their carbon footprint, this initiative presents numerous benefits to wine loving visitors and the environment alike. It aims to offer a safe and sustainable alternative for visitors travelling to the farm. Fairview currently attracts close to 250 000 visitors to its Paarl cellar door each year, most of which travel to the farm by car or bus. From today visitors and staff can take a train from Cape Town to Paarl station, from where the GRT will operate at regular intervals.

Twenty-four custom-made wagons have been built by artisans from the Paarl region. “I am delighted to be involved in the revival of the art of wagon making in the area,” says Fairview owner Charles Back, “given the legacy of the art form in the region, previously known as Wamakersvallei (Wagonmakers Valley). Not only will this re-establish this historic industry, but it is also an opportunity for Fairview to utilize the unproductive goats in their 700-strong goat herd. “We will be making use of the billies and the does with smaller udders, as these are normally stronger than their high milk producing counterparts” added Back.

Ongoing training has been conducted by farm manager Donald Mouton over the past couple of months. This has ensured that the goats are fit enough to pull the wagons and have become accustomed to the traffic on the road.

Fine work by Fairview and especially by Donald, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I can only hope that they extend this service across the Paarl region – perhaps encouraging the Cape Town Lion Park and Stellenbosch’s Giraffe House to join them – a move which will not only allow visitors to reduce their carbon footprint on the wine tour, but will surely also reduce the incidence of drink-driving in the area. And, in the case of the lions, probably resuce the incidence of tourists as well.
Meanwhile, you can enjoy the animals, the amazing scenery and the wine.

When Green is the new cool

Of course, being environmentally friendly is ever so trendy these day, isn’t it?
Tell a Greenie that you don’t recycle and they look at you in the same way that a normal person might if you were something they’d accidentally trodden in at the local park.
Mention that you like to eat meat and you might as well have said that you stab kittens with kebab skewers in your leisure time.
Which, of course, is nonsense: kittens are rubbish for kebabs – no meat at all.

Then there’s the whole oil thing.  The hypocrisy of your typical lentil-muncher lecturing you about BP and the Gulf of Mexico then popping off to meditation class in their dirty 2CV or VW Beetle, whale-song pouring out of the stereo, filthy diesel fumes pouring out of the back.

And don’t even get me started on the bloody dolphins.

To me, environmentalism is very much like religion: I’m happy for you to think what you want as long as you don’t try to force your views on me or my kids. Sure, we can debate your choice of lifestyle if you wish, but at the end of it, that’s exactly what it is: your choice of lifestyle – not mine.

Of course I do appreciate the sense in caring for our environment. Just not to the point where I have to ruin what short time I have on this earth so that some Patagonian sea snail can continue to exist. There’s a reason that humans are top of the food chain, alright?
I do recycle, I do watch my consumption of electricity and water, I don’t eat kitten kebabs, but I do these things because there’s a logic reason behind it (provides money for a local charity, keeps my bills down, not very filling), not because it’s trendy.

But now, trendiness and environmentalism have come together in the right sort of way with this waste-to-energy station due to built in Denmark.

Yes, this particular waste to energy plant has 1,500m of ski slopes going down it and it also blows smoke rings.
And no ordinary smoke rings, either:

At night the smoke rings will be lit up by heat-tracking lasers able to project a pie-chart onto the smoke that displays a quota of fossil-fuel CO2.
The designers explain: “The rather abstract pollution aspect will be somewhat more graspable and understandable, something you can see and relate to. The smoke rings are spectacular and highly aesthetical, but linked to a controversial theme at the same time.”

There’s a serious point here. These sort of ideas could help to define a whole new sort of cool when it comes to looking after the environment. Rather than solely being the haunt of unwashed hippies, it brings the cutting edge of modern design to the green agenda; it will appeal to a whole new group of individuals, which can only be good news for mother earth and those sea snails.

And it blows smoke rings.