Thursday, 12 August 2010

Recycling transported hundreds of miles to be sorted

A link sent to me by a friend (thanks Dave) about recycling in my home town of Hull.  Apparently much of it is transported up to 250 miles away to be sorted.

Which begs the question: is it worth it? Are the air miles and energy required for recycling really good for the environment, or just a PR exercise to sooth troubled consciences (as so many environmental initiatives are)?

You can read the full article here:

County's recycled rubbish will be shipped hundreds of miles to be sorted

Friday, 6 August 2010

Washing up vs dishwashers

A quick search on google yields a list of results that indicate dishwashers are more environmentally friendly than washing up.

Now, being a cynical soul, (as well as one who believed beyond doubt that washing up was more environmentally friendly until a month ago) I was initially inclined to believe that this myth had been circulated by the people who wanted us to believe it the most - people who sold dishwashers.

But after looking more carefully, I can see that this is actually true - provided the following:

- the dishwasher is new (ish) and energy efficient - don't just go for the cheap option

- you only run it when it's full

- you don't rinse dishes beforehand

- you don't utilise the drying option

But how is this possible? Surely using our free, natural and environmentally friendly hands has GOT to be more environmentally friendly than powering a machine?

Apparently not.  There's an interesting article on it here: Diswashers vs hand washing (on what is, incidentally, an excellent site called green living tips). 

The energy required to heat up the water, coupled with the amount of water used (especially if rinsing before and after) and the frequency of completion means that washing up is generally more environmentally damaging - with a few clauses:

- The energy and materials required to manufacture a dishwasher are much greater than that required to manufacture a sink (and our hands!)

- Dishwasher tablets are, apparently, more damaging to the environment than most washing up liquid brands

- Running it frequently or when it's not full can be very damaging - which means it can be difficult if you just need to wash a few things to cook with (especially if you have no draining board, as is the case in our new flat!)

All in all, I am still fairly cynical about the environmental credentials of any machine.  It stands to reason that if you do one lot of washing up per day and you are sensible with water, it would be more environmentally friendly.  For many people however, especially with families, this isn't possible and so a dishwasher would be a better choice.

There is also the fact that it saves on time and makes room for other (usually environmentally damaging) activities.  Such as watching TV, going on the computer, writing blog posts...

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Good Living on Facebook

Good Living has a group on Facebook - if you're a facebook geek (like me) you might be interested in joining :-)

You can find it here: Good Living: Facebook group

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Planting trees to offset carbon - what's wrong with it?

It's human nature: we like to fix problems after they've happened.  There's no impetus to do so beforehand, because we cannot comprehend the scale of the damage until we have to face it.

That's how I see carbon offsetting.

Many scientists are in agreement that we are currently at a tipping point: it's not too late to solve the problem of climate change, but it will be soon.

But because we like our cosy lifestyles (I'm not knocking it - I'm just as bad) we'd rather invest time and energy on a quick fix than alter our lifestyles and expectations.

So we invented carbon offsetting to try and manipulate the carbon cycle to our advantage.

The carbon cycle consists of carbon pools (where carbon is stored, for example vegetation, the ocean etc) and carbon flows, by which carbon flows between these pools.  Plants naturally remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis (converting carbon dioxide into new plant tissue) causing carbon dioxide to flow from the atmosphere into vegetation. 

Therefore, by planting extra trees, we can supposedly offset the negative effects of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and carry on polluting at will.  This idea is promoted by many companies as a way to ease the conscience of ethically sensitive consumers.

Sounds good, yes?  Surely it's better to do something than nothing. 

But that completely misses the point.

If people are encouraged to offset carbon emissions, then they are receiving the message that it's OK to pollute.  The burden can be passed onto someone else (usually a poor community which is charged with the responsibility of maintaining the forest). 

The facts are clear to see: this is not acceptable.  Something must be done to reduce climate change emissions as well as mitigating them.  The situation is too urgent to simply carry on as we are.

Not only this, but carbon offsetting schemes are very often flawed P.R. exercises:

- Carbon offsetting forests are often forced on poor communities which lack either the knowledge or the skills to maintain them.  Such communities can even be displaced by such schemes.

- These forests can consist of trees which are alien to the environment in which they are planted, therefore damaging the local ecosystem and descreasing biodiversity.

- The lifespan of a tree is not guaranteed: it can be killed by disease, deforestation or climate change itself, therefore eliminating any benefits.   We all remember the debacle of the Coldplay Forest (Telegraph article: The Coldplay Forest).

- Sometimes old trees can be cut down in order to plant trees to supposedly offset carbon!

- There is a lack of accountability.

- They deflect attention away from reducing carbon emissions.

Don't get me wrong - planting trees is obviously a good thing. 

In the face of widespread deforestation, and climate change, tree planting is an extremely positive activity and one that can indeed reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

However, it should not be viewed as 'offsetting' - it is something that should be done as well as reducing emissions.

It is telling that the firest travel company to introduce the idea of carbon offsetting to mitigate the effects of flying (Responsible Travel) were also the first to get rid of it (you can read why here: 

Friends of the Earth are also strongly opposed to the idea of carbon offsetting (you can read why here:

So for the sake of the planet, please don't make the mistake of using companies that offer carbon offsetting, or promoting such companies to others. 

Prevention is better than cure.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Food waste in the US worth more than offshore drilling

Very interesting link sent to me by a friend in 'New Scientist'.  It's worrying how much food waste costs - especially when you consider the attention paid to offshore drilling at the moment - not just in absolute monetery terms but in environmental terms, not to mention the financial and human cost imposed on the third world. You can read the article here: 'New Scientist' - Food waste in the US costs more than offshore drilling.

For ways to reduce the amount of food you and your family waste, you can read my post here and for further information on what's wrong with food waste, you can read my post here if you're interested!

Quiet Environmentalist

Great website I've come across - focuses on green issues in the news, especially the political nature of environmental agreements, and how to counteract consumerist/capitalist culture.  Much more indepth than my humble little site, and a great read for anyone keen to learn more. 

You can find it here:

Friday, 30 July 2010

How ethical is Starbucks?

A friend of mine recently leant me a pullout from The Guardian entitled 'A Guide to Ethical Living'.  Whilst the guide was extremely interesting (and no doubt the source of many future posts), what intrigued me was the fact that it was produced 'in association with Starbucks.'

Now, I'm no expert on irony. 

But I do know that the various ethical people I've had the pleasure to be friends with would not consider Starbucks to be a guru in the field of ethics (rightly or wrongly.)

I do know that Starbucks serves 100% fairtrade coffee (which is excellent) and has various charity initiatives (for example donating 5p for every cup of coffee sold to the Global Fund for World AIDS Day) - which is also excellent. 

However, I also know that Starbucks have been heavily criticised for:

- forcing the closure of other coffee shops, both independent and those of rival chains

- having environmentally damaging policies (for example having taps constantly running to ensure utensils are clean)

- having a draconian approach to trademarking (for example, Starbucks refused to let Ethiopia trademark its coffee, which according to Oxfam cost the country £47million per year).  Ref -

According to a survey carried out by The Times in 2008, the ethical record of Starbucks was rated as worse than any other chain apart from McDonalds, KFC and Burger King.

Now I know that a survey is not always accurate, and those surveyed may be basing their answers on perceived reputation rather than fact.  But surely Starbucks has no right positioning itself as an ethical preacher in the face of such perception?

Call me cynical, but Starbucks appears to be playing the ethical card for PR purposes, at the expense of genuine ethics and social responsibility.  While it is a step in the right directiong that 100% of Starbucks coffee is fairtrade, it doesn't take much of a mental leap to compare the (some would say astronomical) prices of a Starbucks cup of coffee with the amount paid to coffee farmers - fairtrade or not. 

What does everyone think about this? Has Starbucks had a moral change of heart? Or is it simply trying to promote an ethical image to appease ethically sensitive customers?

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Good Living is now on Twitter!

Well, as the title says, Good Living is now on twitter...

If you're a twitter fan (frankly I'm finding it a little confusing) you can find me here:

Should you give money to beggars?

Say you're out and about, and you see a man in a doorway, arms oustretched, asking you to spare some change.

What do you do?

There is a huge amount of conflicting advice, which polarises those who are in agreement on many other subjects.  Some say that if you give money, you're a mug fuelling a drug habit or perpetuating a sham lifestyle; others say that if you don't, you have no compassion.

So I want to know: what do you do?

From a brief glance at a variety of articles on the subject, I have established the following points both for and against giving money.

Reasons NOT to give money to beggars:

- They will potentially spend it on drugs, alcohol or cigarettes rather than food, clothes etc

- It may perpetuate a begging lifestyle, rather than forcing them to find a route out of their situation (such as by selling the Big Issue, which I've written about here: 

- There is the possibility that, if you give money to a beggar, you are giving money to a fraud who doesn't actually need the money.  In my opinion this is a grave crime because it casts doubt over the many genuinely needy people there are.

- It could be said it is better to give to homelessness charities such as Shelter, who will give the appropriate assistance by means such as providing food, shelter and assistance in finding housing and employment.

Reasons TO give money to beggars:

- For some people, it is the only option other than to descend into crime

- It could be argued that whatever they spend it on is their own choice.  There is nothing to say that if you give money to your plumber, or bartender, or accountant, that he or she will not spend it on drugs and alcohol.  I know that the problem is more rife among the homeless population than elsewhere; but it is patronising to say that, just because someone is poor, he or she cannot be responsible for spending responsibly. 

- Giving to beggars and giving to charity are not mutually exclusive.

- Although there are some frauds, is it not better to lose some money to a few of those, than risk allowing the genuinely needy to go without?

- 'There but for the grace of God (or Fate) go I...'  This saying is particularly true during today's troubled financial times, when we are all having to tighten our belts.  Remember there are always people worse off.

- By not giving to beggars, we are showing a level of callousness that damages self esteem, confidence etc as well as finances.  How would you feel?

And me? You've probably guessed from my ever-so-slightly biased account that I am in favour of giving. 

However, I am not 100% decided.  I hate the idea of giving money to people which they will ultimately spend on a habit which is ruining their lives. 

I suppose I have to be honest and say, generally, I use my wildly prejudiced and incorrect impression of people to determine whether they are genuine or not.  A terribly misguided way of doing things, but the only way I have. 

At the same time, I buy the Big Issue whenever I can, which I think should be the natural option for many homeless people.

So let me know - what do you do? What are your thoughts?  Answers on a postcard :-)

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Green (Living) Review

A quick post telling you about another fantastic blog called 'Green (Living) Review' - which reviews all things to do with the environment and sustainable living.  Packed full of hints and tips, information about items in the news, green products and lots of more.  I found it while surfing for related blogs and I ended up staying for ages - a very interesting read for people interested in the environment. 

You can find it here: