Sunday 31 October 2010

Waste–no more holes

One thing you soon learn about waste is that it is a complicated problem. And in Norfolk it is about to become a much more visible problem because in 2 years the last of hundreds of holes in the ground will be full. No more landfill – hurray! But what is the alternative?

A giant incinerator is planned to open near Kings Lynn to take waste from all of Norfolk. The good news is that a lot of the metal that currently rusts away in landfill will be recovered and that heat and power will be generated. Incinerators have had a bad press due to concerns about emissions but we are told those from a new plant are now much less than from older incinerators and are equivalent to a few miles of traffic on a motorway – exact figures vary according to the pollutant.

DSC01245Of course landfill has its own problems with emissions – the sites have to be managed for at least 60 years after closure and maybe much longer – though the engineer in charge of this site at Longwater thinks that people may well dig them up to recover metals at some point. My picture shows the hundreds of pipes that collect methane (burnt to produce electricity) and to manage the toxic water that leaches from the site. Constructing the site involves many layers of highly technical materials to stop the nasty stuff getting into our drinking water!


Inside the building, shown in the pic above, the contents of recycling bins are sorted – and a lot of it is done by hand. This man is picking PET bottles from a conveyor and throws them at a speed too fast for my camera to capture, into a chute – you can just make out a bottle in flight! His colleagues pick out the HPDE and the end results are these bales of plastic – the third mountain is the stuff they can’t identify and that is worth much less cash.

DSC01243Take a look at this video to see the whole process. It is a company promotion and it glosses over the huge problems caused by people putting the wrong stuff in the bins – putting cans into bags – squashing bottles etc.

DSC01251Of course some people can’t even put their recyclables into a bin at all. Yesterday I helped on our village litter pick and we picked up loads of lager and energy drink cans, cola bottles and take away food wrappers. Certain brands feature prominently. I urge you to support Bill Bryson and the CPRE’s campaign for a deposit scheme.

DSC01252And this is where it gets complicated because the recycling plant at Longwater relies on the profitable recovery of cans and bottles to provide an income. Take that away and then they may not be able to process paper which at times has no value at all.

I can only skim over these problems here but would be happy to help Elena to revive the waste group if there is a wider interest. In the short term groups like Wombling and Freegle can give items a new lease of life but I feel the long term solution requires communities to become much more self sufficient – to make things and produce food locally and in the process to become resilient. In the meantime I can only admire Erik’s example to us all!

Pics – Schematic of a waste incinerator, Longwater closed landfill, sorting plastic at NEWS, Richard with litter in Little Melton

Saturday 30 October 2010

Wombling over-ground, to keep the underground free

Over the past couple of years I've been involved in Transition Norwich (Heart & Soul, Reskilling), in a variety of ways. Day-by-day I feel an heightened consciousness of what I am using, where things come from and where things go. I enjoy reading these blog entries, seeing news unfurl on the achievements of the initiative, of which there are many and it's an honour to now be asked to blog for TN during Waste Week (I could tell you how excited I was to have been asked, but suffice to say there was a loudly exclaimed 'yes!' followed by a little chair-dance).

While some make small but vital steps towards reducing waste, others are taking great strides. The speed and journey of progressiveness toward greener living is as varied as the people engaging in it. Over the past few years my own knowledge and awareness of climate change, peak oil etc. has grown dramatically (boosted somewhat by the immense wealth of info and experiences shared by Transition people) and I would now consider myself to be somewhere in the middle on this self-imagined scale of awareness. My efforts are pretty good, my enthusiasm unfaltering, I recycle and boss other people into recycling; I compost; I try to reduce waste; and I try to learn as many skills as I can, using hand tools over appliances wherever possible. I learned what a carbon footprint is, then managed to shrink it considerably. I turned my heating off early this year and haven't switched it on yet. BUT! I do still buy food with ridiculous amounts of packaging (I also will bemoan it – but no excuse, I know) and I do drive a vehicle, though the irony here is not lost, for it is my van which enables the recycling of items which might otherwise end up in landfill.

Ah, landfill! That's what this blog is really to be about, so it's quite fortuitous that I should finally reach my point while you're still with me.

In June I became a form of waste (at least in the company's eyes – altogether now 'aaah') when redundancy struck, however, I was fortunate enough to be made of recyclable material. I decided to start a new Community Interest Company involved in recycling and reskilling projects, called Wombling. This allows me to combine the things I love, i.e. rummaging through unwanted (donated) 'stuff' and finding new homes and uses for it. Fixing faulty items, often the reason for their being (previously) discarded, (now) donated and re-homed.

Next year Wombling will also run repair courses to groups, so the mass of broken furniture, electrical goods and garments can enjoy an extended life. A few more people will have gained a skill (Reskilling) which may help them by building their confidence, but also help increase their employability and these items will have evaded, at least for a while longer, the dreaded landfill. Oh, there's that word again.

When Tracey Smith (Author, 'The Book of Rubbish Ideas', founder of InterNational Downshifting Week) recently made a video called 'Chick of the Dump' showing her first visit to a landfill site, it struck me that the closest I've ever been to a landfill site is seeing them on television, or in films. Often a good place to find bodies, apparently, but then, I will watch crime dramas.

Tracey's video made me really want to visit one. So, I quickly contacted Norwich City Council requesting a list of the local landfill site locations and asking permission to visit one. I've since received the site list which I'm happy to pass on if you contact me, or you can get in touch with Kate McFarland who is the Assistant Waste Partnership and Strategy Officer at Norfolk County Council, more info on their website here. Ms McFarland said that tours of the recycling facility in Costessey can be arranged via the local council. 'Very good' I thought, but I still want to visit an actual landfill site (rather than just the good work being done at the recycling facility) and at the time of writing have not heard back, which is unfortunate as I was hoping to have been, gone and come back again by now so I might report on my experience in this blog. I shall however persevere, for that is my way.

Image from -

In February 2009 the BBC reported that London's landfill sites would be full by 2013. Defra say that for every tonne of household waste produced, commercial, industrial and construction businesses produce another six tonnes. My aim is to lead small groups to see these sites, in the hope of further spreading the recycling message. Making it real. This is the mess we, quite literally, are in. Waste awareness initiatives are not a new concept, but engaging the public should remain a high priority; as only then can we hope to encourage more householders to use more recycling facilities, more of the time. Some may grasp the issue without ever seeing a gargantuan pit of largely un-rotting, stinking refuse. Others benefit from experiencing things more personally, being there, seeing it with their own eyes. While I have a good imagination and a reasonable idea of how it is, really, I will admit to being among the latter. But I want my eyes opened to the reality of our wastefulness.

Oh, and before I go, food waste. Norwich City Council have just introduced a Food Waste collection scheme, where food bins are collected weekly, and by the look of how many were put out for collection in NR4 this morning, residents have really embraced this service.

Also, many of you will be aware of the Foodcycle project. But did you know there will very soon be a Foodcycle Norwich? They are meeting on3 December to plan, and to recruit volunteers for a launch in January 2011. Hope to see you there.

People are doing their bit, in whatever ways they can. Looking back to pre-Transition days, those of you who are part of it, which will be many of you my lovely readers, will no doubt be able to reminisce at how things have changed in your own lives. The things you now do which you didn't do before, or perhaps you engage and connect with your environment, or your communities differently.

We're all on this journey toward an environmentally sustainable future. The routes travelled may be varied, there is certainly urgency, but there is also passion and dedication, and the way we are going is almost certainly the right way.

Eco Treedweller
Pictures: The Wombling van, a landfill site.

Friday 29 October 2010

Upcycling – rediscovering the value in waste

The word waste implies that something is useless.

The concept of waste is a relatively recent one.

Nothing in nature is useless.

Our modern society piles unimaginable quantities of ‘waste’ into huge landfill sites every year, but before the twentieth century waste was always seen as an opportunity. One person’s waste was another person’s really cheap resource. Finding a use for waste or ‘closing the cycle’ was a common part of life. Similarly in nature one processes waste products are valuable for another process that has evolved to compliment it, why do you think we breathe oxygen? Only because plants breathed carbon dioxide first and turned it into toxic oxygen, so suddenly breathing oxygen became an advantage.

So my post today is about rediscovering the value in ‘waste’ or upcycling. As an enthusiastic crafter this has always been somewhat second nature, being brought up making papier mache bowls out of newspapers and hamster mazes out of toilet rolls. However, as my environmental conscience has grown it has become a conscious effort, and challenge even, to use as much of my ‘waste’ as I can. This does have the unfortunate side effect of many stockpiles around our house of random types of packaging, waiting to be given a new lease of life. However, the satisfaction of reuse and the exciting creations more than compensate.

One of my reuses that has featured on the blog before is rag rugs. I have had great fun making rugs and bags by weaving old sheets and clothes. However, I do find it challenging to find clothes that are worn enough to fit this purpose and it feels very wrong to cut up still useable clothes. So these projects are currently on hold pending discovery of more rags. The same is true of felting, where my love of woolly jumpers prevents me from turning them into felt!

Using food waste is particularly exciting, ranging from compost heap jelly to inventive soups and my housemates delicious made up biscuits last night. And then of course there are all the jars which I have to refill with homemade jams and chutneys and all the bottles that have to be filled with wine and fruit vinegars. We also have the most ridiculous collection of plastic bags, paper bags and plastic tubs, far more than we will ever practically reuse, but we just cannot bring ourselves to throw them away!

Permaculture is very keen on reuse and I still particularly like Mike Feingold’s example which I discussed in September, One simple cauliflower stalk can be fed to a goat, goat poo is eaten by your worms which your chickens can then eat and their poo makes a good tree fertiliser, so then you get very virtuous apples!

My current reuse focus is on bicycle parts due to my summer cycling adventures. So there are bicycle chain keyrings and bicycle inner tube bracelets and earrings. While we were on tour Ruth made some amazing woven inner tube purses, but they took lots of sewing together so I haven’t managed to make my own yet! However, tetrapak wallets are quick and easy and I have started a bit of a production line of them.

Elena bought me an exciting library book called Eco crafts that she thought I would enjoy. There are lots of exciting ideas in there, such as ironing several layers of plastic bags together to make a tough waterproof material. I think I will be putting all my excess plastic bags to good use soon! I also like the idea of using old CD cases as photo frames and of blending soaked paper to make a clay like material, for making bowls and other constructions.

There are of course hundreds of other ways you can reuse things and Christmas presents and decorations are a particularly good opportunity – last year we made a Christmas tree entirely out of newspaper!

So I will leave you with this challenge: find an alternative use for one item that you currently put in landfill. I look forward to hearing about the resulting creations!

Photos: a rag bag made following a reskilling rag rug session, a selection of my wine and jams, an inner tube bracelet, a tetrapak wallet and the newspaper christmas tree.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Cockroach Nation

We live in a throw-away land. We chuck what we don't want on the dustheap and replace it with something new. Trouble is that dustheap has grown so large it's started to seep into our lives. It’s poisoning our water, contaminating our bodies, killing off the natural world. We're not paying attention: we’re distracted by the soap ads and the shiny stars and power figures on our screen, busy upholding a mindset that says we have to possess more and more, instead of getting back into balance - teaching ourselves to live with less, value what we have and transform what we no longer need.

The stats we know: we produce more than twice the amount of food we actually consume and waste a third of the foodstuffs we buy. We eat a highly extravagant diet, high in meat and dairy. We eat in profligate take-aways and restaurants, where sandwich crusts are routinely discarded by the ton each day. There are millions out there starving and millions here overeating. But, even though we might address these things personally, it's not just consumers who throw food away, or supermarkets that encourage people to buy more, restricted by sell-by dates, encouraged by special offers. Over-production is the key element to the global food industry: the more you waste, the more you need to produce, the more profit corporations can make. While you are eating your fish and chips, happy in the thought the beef fat it's cooked in is going to become bio-diesel, 40 to 60% of all fish caught in Europe are being discarded - either because they are the wrong size, species, or because of the ill-governed European quota system.

Walk along the edges of the potato and onion fields in East Anglia and you will find thousands of assorted, small, marked, "wrong-sized" vegetables that didn't make the grade going to rot in the winter rains.

Or maybe you won't. Maybe someone else got smart and has started to pick them up.

Getting smart about food waste is a point you get to when those mind-mesmerizing stats become action.. Last summer I was working for the waste management social enterprise Bright Green at the Latitude Festival. I was standing with Mark, like a pair of vigilante vultures at the Recycling Station in the Families camp site, occasionally pouncing on those should-know-better-slouchers who slunk past and left their bin bags unsorted. My eyes widened as tents, chairs, mattresses, clothes, sheets were dumped in a great pile without a quiver of shame. But most shocking all what was going into the food waste bin. At some point I cracked as I witnessed a whole side of smoked salmon being tossed in amongst the garbage: I put my hand into the bin and started to pull back out supermarket packs of organic avocados, strawberries, half-full bottles of wine, whole loaves of bread. We dined on it for a week.

Later that winter I ate my first roadkill . I picked up a dead pheasant, and like Alice in Wonderland found myself entering another world. Eat Me! said the bird in my hand. It's a boundary you cross. We live in a world where these boundaries keep us separate from real earthly life where death and dirt and gratitude for everything on earth lives. Don't go there, says our moral upbringing. This not your property, not your business, not nice, or proper or clean.

Freegans cross this line everyday; some because they are hungry and poor, some because they are activists, like Tristram Stuart ( Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal ) and working to put a crooked thing straight. Stuart has fed himself on throw-away food since he was a student and recycles food waste by keeping pigs and chickens in his back garden in Sussex (a practice now forbidden on a commercial scale by European law).

In the space of just two hours in December 2009, in partnership with FareShare, Save the Children, ActionAid, and This is Rubbish, he and his team fed 5000 people in Trafalgar Square with free hot curry, bicycle-churned smoothies, and three tonnes of fresh groceries, using only ingredients that otherwise would have been wasted. The Feeding the 5000 team have now launched A Taste of Freedom, turning unwanted quality fruit into fruit-based ice-cream-like treats that kids find irresistible, contributes to their 5-a-day, and raises awareness about food waste. In cities around the UK (including Norwich) the social enterprise Foodcycle collects waste food from local outlets, cooks it in unused professional kitchens and redistributes it to those who need it most.

When I looked at that salmon amongst the wet sandwiches and coffee cups and hooked it out, waste was suddenly not about stats. It was real.

Somewhere where I had been living in my own micro-managed world, shut off conveniently from everyone else, the line broke. It was not just my personal waste problem, it was all our problem. That’s when I found the free food on my plate. You think it’s about giving, but actually it’s about receiving.

You think it’s just physical, but it isn’t, it’s metaphysical. Which is why ancient and native cultures have scavenger gods in their pantheons: raven, coyote, scarab beetle, jackal, vulture, condor.

May we be truly thankful.

In order to reconfigure our world, we have to let go and let in, enter the process of transformation. We have to enter into the kinds of exchange that occur naturally within the soil and in our compost heaps. This is not just about doing the four Rubbish Rs and getting smart about anaerobic digestion. We have to become alchemical beings ourselves, stoking our inner furnaces with old thoughts, emotional patterns, ways of being, fuelling our lives with our own refuse. Within our culture, the poet and activist Gary Snyder wrote in The Real Work, we should act as fungi and insects in mature forests, liberating energy from the dead trees and animals that lie on the forest floor. We need to liberate energy from the past and give energy to the living, and thus become symbionts rather than parasites on the earth.

This week I came home with my hands full of food that people had given me out of the kindness of their hearts: perfumed quinces, Japanese burdock, home-made chutney and ginger cordial, beyond-its-sell-by date pesto and avocado oil, a bottle of red wine, tomatoes that had split in the rain. I came home with sweet chestnuts and wind-fall apples from the neighbourhood trees in my pocket. I came home with an unexpected golden afternoon, with a glowing half-moon appearing in the darkening sky, with a fresh breeze. I sat down to supper and everything tasted good. I licked my plate clean. Nothing went to waste.

Photos: Rubbish pic by Reuters; pheasant on the road; wearing a Proper Waster Sort Your S**T Crew T-shirt from Bright Green.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Chips and Kebabs - Biodiesel

The lorry pulled up outside the kebab shop in Beccles and I saw the words WASTE VEGETABLE OILS, (or similar, I didn’t have my camera handy), Great Yarmouth Council and J & H Bunn on the side. As we’d just planned a waste week here on the TN blog and Sustainable Bungay were waiting to pick up a still for a co-operative Transition Biodiesel project, I went over and introduced myself to Ray Harding. This was in August.

I told Ray about Transition Norwich and Sustainable Bungay and our moves towards a low carbon life. I also said that whilst I’d reduced waste hugely in my own life, I knew next to nothing about what happened to waste oil and fats on a bigger scale in the catering industry.

I’d found the right man. Ray has worked for over thirty years (first in Germany and now in East Anglia) collecting waste vegetable oils and fats from restaurants, residential homes, school canteens and kebab shops, for conversion into biodiesel. At present he works for J & H Bunn, a fertiliser company based in Great Yarmouth, whose vehicles run on biodiesel and who produce some organic fertilisers.

Here is a distillation (sic) of what I learned:

This production of biodiesel from waste vegetable oil and fats has nothing to do with the ethanol made from crops like rapeseed and corn. The waste oils and fats Ray collects are taken to Viehouten’s huge processing plant in Holland, which produces 1000 tonnes of biodiesel a week from them. This is then sold on to Shell for use in transport.

In England some vegetable oil waste gets made into commercial biodiesel, but not the solid fats, which all go to the continent. In Germany and Holland these solid fats are used to produce ‘Summer Diesel’.

“Biodiesel is dying a death in England,” said Ray, “because the tax on it is so high. Over the years, it’s climbed from 0% to what it is now, 35% + VAT.”

So the business goes to Holland. Oil companies make only a few pence profit per litre of 'conventional' petrol here (because of the high tax), but can afford it because of the amount they produce. But it’s not worth their while making biodiesel. It struck me as a Transitioner that an awful lot of potential business is leaving the local economy here.

A huge quanitity of waste oil and fats get poured down the drain and create serious blockages in the water system. Ray had been running presentations along with Anglian Water about solutions to this problem and was featured in an article last Wednesday's EDP (20th October, p.21).

Ray was concerned that anyone could now make themselves 2500 litres of biodiesel a year, partly because the resultant glycerine and fatty acid residues from the distillation process would also be poured down the drain. But with petrol at almost £1.20 a litre as opposed to 30p or so for homemade biodiesel, the financial attraction is clear.

I said we'd discussed the byproducts in Sustainable Bungay and jokingly added we were taking a very Permaculture approach to the whole project, doing the research, finding our ground. I had originally got very excited about the prospect of making herbal glycerine soaps, and in the space of one meeting I'd built up a whole social enterprise in my head selling high-quality locally produced ex-vegetable oil waste glycerine skin cleaning products with organic home-grown herbs which were being sold all round East Anglia... I WAS Monsieur Le Parfumier!

Only it wasn't going to work out quite like that. For a start making something that wouldn't take the first layer of your skin off would require further processing.

So now we have the Biodiesel still in Kris's garage. Next is a group visit to someone in Aldeburgh who already has one up and running. Then who knows? A community biodiesel car club? A community van? Watch this space!

For info on Sustainable Bungay's Biodiesel project click here

Pic of Filtered Waste Vegetable Oil from Wikipedia Public Domain

Tuesday 26 October 2010

6. Eliminate the concept of

The picture is of my two recycling bins. Both of them were last emptied when I moved into my present house on 28 June 2008. The left one contains things that South Norfolk presently recycles. What you don't see is the ~30 glass bottles I have taken to the bottle bank over that time, because they don't get collected here. And you also don't see much paper, which I use to start my woodburner (the ash goes to fertilise my plants and the charcoal also goes into the soil as a long-lived carbon store and it's also said to act as a slow release nutrient absorber). The right one contains my hopefulls. I think ~90% of this could be recycled now, and I'd be quite happy to separate them into different types of plastic if I could then go and deliver them to my local recycling centre. I'm hoping that this will become possible before it becomes too difficult to stuff more into this bin.

One of the people who has been thinking about how to do this, and in particular how to design our manufacturing so that it becomes the technosphere, the way that the collective of ecosystems make up the biosphere, is William McDonough.
He and his company formulated the Hannover principles in 1991 (see the title of this blog post). He's a designer and though he does not claim an affiliation with permaculture, when he talks of Thomas Jefferson and the American constitution saying "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", I had the same discovery moment as he mentions at 25:51 when I realised that's the same as permaculture ethics: Earthcare, fair shares and people care. The American constitution. There's hope yet.

Here's a small taster of what he has to say: "... and you can't say that it's not part of your plan that these things are going to happen, because it's part of your de facto plan. It's the thing that is happening because you have no plan". I'd like to invite everybody for some Alchemy 3 soup (don't worry, I didn't actually get any pumpkins out of the Alchemy 1 and 2 box, so the connection is more a matter of intention than of actual nutrient cycling, and closing the cycle is not compulsory either) at 7, watching William McDonough's talk (to the Bioneer conference in 2000) at 8 (people who can't make it for dinner welcome), followed by discussion. If you're interested, fill in the doodle.

Monday 25 October 2010

Welcome to Waste Week

I went to the Great Unleashing, nervous but interested, keen to find out what this exciting thing called Transition was. My real interest was in waste, and I hoped to find out more about it. But then I saw the tables: a vast spread of tables, each with a placard saying what was to be discussed on it: Youth, Food, and so on. I found a table labelled waste, but there was nobody sitting at it. I strolled a little further to see what else there was, and found several of my friends sitting at a 'food' table. I walked between the 2 tables, terribly undecided about where to sit. Waste just didn't seem so exciting- and I worried I'd be sitting at the waste table on my own for 2 hours, so I chickened out and scurried back to the food table. (Where, it has to be said, I learnt amazing things about the way our food is produced- and after lots of conversations with 'food group' people and reading lots of books I find myself involved in setting up a Community Supported Agriculture for Norwich.)

A Transition Norwich Waste group did get off the ground- despite my cowardice- but there were only 3 members, and one of us had to drop out after a few months due to family reasons.

We met a few times, but we didn't feel that we had the energy to solve Norwich's wastefulness between the 2 of us. Along the way we came to the conclusion that waste isn't something you can tackle in isolation: no bin is an island.

The amount of packaging our food is wrapped in is often related to the amount it has been processed and the distance it has to travel to get to us (admittedly there are exceptions: coconuts spring to mind). We can't easily reduce the waste from food packaging without changing the nature of our food system.

The average UK family throws away around 20kg of 'stuff' per week, and 4kg of that is packaging. But packaging generally comes with something in it- and we might not be able to reduce the amount of packaging significantly without changing the amount that people buy. And that might mean we need to change the whole of our consumerist society and growth-based economy to make any real inroads into that average bin.

You can see why John and I didn't quite feel up to the challenge.

Not being the types to give up, we continued on our efforts to reduce our own waste, here are a few of my favourite small steps:

I noticed that I throw away a lot of tissues (I get hay-fever and love spicy food!), and scratched my head a bit until I remembered hankies. I have to confess I did think 'ewww' at first- washing snot out of fabric and then using it again- seriously? But I decided to give it a try. My mum told my grandpa, who dug around and found some hankies that used to belong to my grandma, parcelled them all up nicely and sent them to me. And I really like them. They're pretty, comfortable on the nose and I don't have to throw them away afterwards. (And the snot really does wash out!)

I recycle envelopes of course, but not until I've made a list on them. Then cut them open and made a list on the inside. After joining the mail preference service to stop receiving junk mail I can nearly keep up with the envelopes- I do make a lot of lists.

Packed lunches get to me: the amount of cling film, tin foil, kitchen paper and food bags that people manage to use in wrapping up a bite of lunch is quite unbelievable. I resolved to stop using food bags many years ago, and happily found a set of plastic boxes exactly the right size and shape to hold my sandwiches. Good old Woolworths! (I think Lakeland still do them too.)

And I try my best to learn how to repair things- over the weekend we fixed an office chair with a broken wheel, a washing machine, a computer monitor (half-fixed, anyway) and 5 socks.

Now I shall hand you over to Erik for tomorrow's blog- and you can learn from a real expert!

Saturday 23 October 2010

The Summit and the Cellar

Just as I wouldn't have chopped firewood before I joined Transition, neither would I have spent all day at the Waveney Rural Summit in Bungay's Fisher Theatre listening to people talk about local businesses and social enterprise. And three years ago I definitely would not have been co-leading a Sustainable Bungay Transition workshop with Josiah, Charlotte and Nick on Transport and Economics and Livelihoods.

Local transport? Mine was a plane to Spain.

Upstairs in the theatre V.C. Cooke Ltd., a waste management company, (who supplied the soil for our Bungay Library Community Garden), talked about their zero waste policy, Suffolk County Council about bringing fibre optics and faster broadband to rural areas and the Suffolk Foundation about helping set up social enterprise grants. The Fisher Theatre Youth Group showed a DVD of their productions and local Tory MP Peter Aldous presented community awards and told us he 'believed' in the Big Society. But first we have to climb a brick wall, he said.

Meanwhile down in the cellar, it was several degrees cooler than everywhere else. That's where we held our grassroots Transition Workshop. It began to warm as Josiah spoke about Transition as a people-led response to the interrelated realities of Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic instability, and what Sustainable Bungay as a Transition group has organised, from a food conference, Growing Local!, to Bungay Community Bees. Charlotte introduced the 63 patterns, now called ingredients, which make up a Transition initiative, and which range from individual actions (Standing Up To Speak) through outreach and scaled-up community projects (e.g. CSAs) to engaging with national government.

Splitting into two groups we discussed how Transport, and Economics and Livelihoods might look in the future. Charlotte's group talked hitchhiking, biodiesel, insurance and car clubs. Several transport activists of a certain age had already set up community bus services in Bungay, though some schemes had not worked because people wanted to travel when they chose. In a future of leaner energy and less money, we would have to be more flexibile with time and more willing to share space.

In Economics and Livelihoods we discussed the need to create more local jobs and services. The whole mindset of passive consumption is going to be challenged in the coming times, and we'll need to be more directly involved in the fabric of our everyday lives. For example, a social enterprise could deliver locally-produced 'tiffins' to homes and offices and also teach people to engage in food production from growing to cooking. To be more aware of where our food comes from, more engaged in the business of life. This would have real, positive benefits for our physical, emotional and mental health.

We were still happily discussing when lunchtime came and no one seemed to be in a hurry to leave the cellar. As Josiah and Charlotte summed up the workshop in the theatre upstairs afterwards, I became aware of one ingredient which marks a lot of our Transition events and activities. It was upbeat. We were speaking for a new time.

Pics: Waveney Rural Summit; Josiah talks about Transition in the Cellar; Charlotte Sums Up Transport in the Theatre

Friday 22 October 2010

I'll Give You Cuts, George Osborne

I spent late afternoon yesterday sawing up logs from a dead elm in the garden. It's not strictly true to say that the elm itself is dead, because the roots produce suckers which then grow into more trees. But the upper part of the tree will only reach a certain height before it succumbs to Dutch elm disease, withers and dies. Elm wood is very good for burning.

Using a handsaw and making sure not to force the wood (I gave myself very sore wrists at first), I cut about twenty logs for the woodpile from a medium-sized branch. I do this two or three times a week now. There's quite a bit of dead elm in our neighbourhood.

Before transition I’d never chopped wood myself, let alone fell a tree. Our firewood came from a local woodsman who works with the forest wildlife in mind - all the badgers and the butterflies - and we put the central heating on. Then a few years ago a decorator friend told us about foraging for wood and made it sound really exciting. I am of course not the only one on the blog with a woodpile, although I think I may be the only one who cuts the logs by hand.

Our landlord offered last week to come round with his chainsaw and we could fell the whole tree together.
“Do you use protective clothing?” I asked him.
“Oh no. T-shirt and flip-flops,” he said.
"Sounds great to me," I laughed, "Let's do it soon."

And next month I'll be spending a day with tree-surgeon Paul from (Sustainable) Bungay learning how and where to cut the trunks and branches so they fall in the right direction. You could call it Tree-Skilling.

Have to go now. I'm posting this from the Buttercross Tearooms in Bungay where I'm just about to lead a Transition (Eastern region) workshop with Josiah and Charlotte as part of the Waveney Rural Summit in the Fisher Theatre. More on that tomorrow...

Thursday 21 October 2010

Low Carbon Cookbook #2

Yesterday was the first time since the Spring that I put on a coat, as we set out to Christine’s for our second Low Carbon Cookbook session. The temperature was 6 degrees at half past four and as we boarded the train at Lowestoft I wondered aloud to Charlotte about the banana plant and lemon verbena we need to bring in before the frosts.

Across the Broads the sun shone through a huge whale cloud sending out rays like an announcement on the big screen. Two women talked intensely about their work as carers for old people with dementia, 'she doesn't know where she is' and 'he won't let anyone near him but me'. They spoke of bedsheets and cups of tea and the work seemed endless. The man opposite went through the papers of a meeting and occasionally closed his eyes.

We sat with our bag of vegetables, herbs and oils and I took a photo through the train window.

It was warm at Christine’s (even without the heating), and it got warmer as we set to pulling food out of bags and boxes, discussing where it had come from and what it was: Erik’s exotic prickly achocha and rainbow chard home-grown in Hethersett, Christine’s garlic and tomatoes from right outside the kitchen door, leeks from Norman’s market garden near us, a bunch of fragrant herbs Charlotte picked from outside our door, walnut and avocado oils past their sell-by-date we had been given by a local shopkeeper, sweet chestnuts gathered from Thetford forest, Norfolk potatoes, courgettes and flat beans from Norwich market's Follund’s Organics, nasturtium flowers, Cathy’s chard from Bungay’s Abundance of Fruit project. (Bee and Kerry arrived a bit later with (local) potato and parsley salad and a compote of garden cooking apples and blackberries, sweetened just by the fruit itself.)

Meanwhile we got chopping and decided to stir fry the vegetables. Christine hooked out an awesome old pan she’d bought in the 70s on an overland trip to North Africa and not used for a long time. Everyone was slightly asphyxiated by the chillis (from Norfolk and Suffolk) as they sizzled along with garlic, onion and ginger in the pan, but it smelt delicious.

Before dinner we sat down and placed more focused attention on the ingredients we’d brought and also talked about particular books and films we'd read or seen and wanted to share as resources with each other: Felicity Lawrence's incisive investigation into supermarket food Not On The Label, inspiring local food documentaries The Power of Community and A Farm for the Future, David Gershon's visionary Social Change 2.0 and Masanobu Fukuoka's pre-permaculture permaculture classic The One Straw Revolution.

We talked organic, vegetarian, meat, fish, freegan, industrial! And how we saw The Low Carbon Cookbook taking shape over the coming year, who would focus on what areas. The meeting was self-organising and relaxed, we covered a lot of ground and choosing our areas within the project was effortless. Oh, and the stir-fry, salads and fruit compote were delicious and really hit the spot. Even a year ago I don't think I would have enjoyed paying attention to the food I eat so much. It must be the company.

Pics: Preparing a One Planet Community Kitchen Low Carbon Cookbook meal, vegetables, salad and the old African pan; sun behind clouds across the Broads; Low Carbon Cooks doing practical research!

Wednesday 20 October 2010

A Lifeboat moment

Last night 25 people gathered in a downtown pub in a market town in the East Anglian borderlands. It was Tuesday night and raining cats and dogs and the pub was almost empty. The backroom however was full: heads were craning forwards to tune into the mood of the moment. The big cuts were about to be announced (at 12.30pm today) and the Sustainable Bungay sub-group on Economics and Livelihoods was about to be launched.

"We need to learn skills with working together, said Gary Alexander who had been invited to share insights about visioning a sustainable community outlined in his booklet, Sustainable Diss. Here is the Good News, he said and outlined what the town c.2030 had achieved and how people only got into exchange and relocalisation when they had no other choice.

When we discussed our imminent future we were sharing the Bad News. Wheat will go from £150 to £700 a tonnne in 10 years, said Glenn, a farm manager, and filled us in on how tractors now use more fuel, so that carbon emissions can be reduced. David told us from his experience in Africa how it takes two years to reskill a community to do small-scale farming. Cathy "in the spirit of the gift economy" brought some chard from her garden to share.

"Are you coming to our Apple lunch?" asked Netta from Sustainable Beccles.
"If the exhaust hasn't fallen off the car!" I laughed, and thought about the cost of petrol and how hard it's getting to travel from place to place.

It's difficult to see how we can effect change in our economic structure, not just because we lack financial or political power, but because we have been distracted for aeons from looking at the truth of the matter. We prefer ideas to reality. We like to handle facts as if they are our property and preside over them like CEOs. The fact is we are small and the iceberg that looms before us is large and invisible and the best response I can think of right now is what I was doing one hour earlier in Josiah and Elinor's kitchen, mapping out our Transition workshop alongside Iris (almost one) eating a biscuit, playing swords with Reuben and Tristram, and chopping up some (local organic) veg for dinner.

It's cold outside, but in the kitchen it felt good. We were all in Transition together, and that counts in ways you can't evaluate on any form. The pub was warm too, but disquieted.

"490,000 public sector jobs are going to be axed," said Josiah by the bar as he invited us to debate the issues around small wooden tables. What were we going to do as a community to build an infrastructure, to give each other a hand, to start up small enterprises within a hostile atmosphere?

He brought a paper by Tom Crompton (WWF) to our attention. Common Cause: The Case for Working with Our Cultural Values :

"The values that must be strengthened – values that are commonly held and which can be brought to the fore – include: empathy towards those who are facing the effects of humanitarian and environmental crises, concern for future generations, and recognition that human prosperity resides in relationships – both with one another and with the natural world. Undoubtedly these are values that have been weakened – and often even derided – in modern culture. They are not, for example, values that are fostered by treating people as if they are, above all else, consumers. But they are values that have an ancient and noble history within Western thinking, and they still fundamentally inform much public debate. They are there to be activated and strengthened. We believe that everyone – individual citizens, civil society organisations, government and business – can play an active role in strengthening them. Indeed, they are values that must be championed if we are to uncover the collective will to deal with today’s profound global challenges. "

The problem with this case is not its premise, but its position. We are used to seeing the bigger picture from the outside with our minds rather than from within the situation with our actions. You, stupid human, what a mess you have made! You wrong people need to do this and that. Change your behaviour! Shift that consciousness!

No matter how intelligent or visionary or noble our words, we remain above the situation. We're not in the thick of it, saying how it feels, speaking as one of those stupid humans who have been trained to think that how we live is normal and OK and "civilised". We're not seeing that when our assumptions are challenged we either start commanding the idea of reality ("Pepsi and ASDA now say our agriculture is unsustainable") or start inventing happy endings for ourselves.

Somewhere in our scaredy-cat minds, we're thinking . . . any minute now the cavalry will come and I'll be rescued. I'll win the lottery. Someone I don't know will sponsor me, pay for me, let me off the hook. I'm thinking one day I'll be able to go back to America, to Mexico, my books will sell, I'll wake up one morning and my bones won't creak anymore. One day everything will be all right. And even though the world is crashing around our ears and I know my agent won't call and I'll never be able to fly or put my legs over my head again like Iris, I'm holding out somewhere. We all are. And that somewhere isn't here in the room.

This is it. We are the people we are waiting for.

When I woke up with this morning I realised. Those Titanic thoughts have to go, or we won't make the lifeboat. Gotta get real.

Poster for Green Drinks: half a cider at the Green Dragon; Cathy's abundance of chard and damsons at the Library Community garden; discussing the future

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Life at 13 Degrees

Suddenly it came as it always comes one moment in October. I was standing in my neighbour's garden at six in the morning in the dark with the alarm bells ringing wondering whether there was a burglar in the house (they were away) and I realised . . .

"Jesus, it's COLD!"

This time last year as we were warming up to our Low Carbon theme there was a flurry of emails in the TN2 google group about that key peak oil-and-climate-change subject, central heating. We were all putting off the switch-on moment, swapping stories of waterbottles, woollies and stern morale. Stuff it said Elena at some point in the October shift. It's 14 degrees in the living room and it's going on.

We persevered, keeping ours off, only switching it on to dry clothes when there was no wind or sun outside, as the gauge slipped further and further down, hitting an all time low around February at 7 degrees. We wanted to experience what winter was like without oil. Dealing with the cold formed the backbone of all our Transition Circle meetings. And something in those communications, our ability to write about it on the blog, enabled us to keep going. What would this year be like?

Like all physical memories, you tend to forget the harshness of winter when it's summer, even a damp, grey English one. Yesterday as I walked down the lane, I couldn't go into Indian summer denial anymore, it was a serious autumn day. The ivy flowers were buzzing with the last of the summer insects: bees, hoverflies, wasps, hornets. The hedgerows were crackling with blackbirds after the haws. I was wearing two cardigans. When I got back from posting my blog, Mark was energetically sawing up dead elm branches.

"Chris just rang," he said. "He had an evening celebrating his new wood burner with singing and friends last week."

It was our first fire of the year, stoked with foraged ivy, elm, oak and some birch and ash logs from last year. The stored sunlight poured into the damp cold room and made it come alive. There is a certain attention you pay when you're by a fire. The heat enters your bones in a way a radiator never can, just as standing under the shade of a tree cools your body the way no a/c can. To live with winter cold means you have to be active, rather than passive. And just as chopping wood, energetic walking, deep engagement in the physical world brings its reward, so gatherings of people in the colder months take on a different collective mood. A kind of singing together.

We've have several this week: Green Drinks on Economics and Livelihoods tonight in Bungay. Low Carbon Cookbook meeting in Norwich on Wednesday, taking part in a Transition workshop at the Waveney Rural Summit and Bungay Community Bees outing to the Vanishing of the Bees to Poringland on Friday. We'll be reporting on these this week as well as looking at the "Big Society" and urban agriculture. Stay warm. Stay connected!

Transition essentials: Long johns and fingerless gloves modelled by Andy; wild Mexican marigold and Tarahumara sunflower seeds collected by Mark

Monday 18 October 2010

Beginning again

So the start of the new blog year . . . and what better place to start than with Apples and Angels?

Yesterday I watched a short film from a collection called Beginnings. Amongst the five first shorts by English film directors was one called Amelia and the Angel. It's the story of a girl who steals her angel wings from a school play and loses them. It was a beautifully shot little film made by a director who made some of the most poignant documentaries about English composers - Ken Russell.

The film was shot in 1958 and it was like watching myself in a London I was born and raised in. I too played an Angel (Gabriel) in a play and coveted feathery wings (though mine were so heavy I had to wear a harness to carry them). Here is Amelia with her recovered wings in the very park I played in all my childhood. But what was extraordinary about the film was seeing the city as it was then: the solid feel of the shops and stations, the almost empty streets, the old market woman dancing, the man and his performing dog. It was from another time. What struck me was that though it appeared no more beautiful or kind, it felt more intact, more itself, more magical.

What is it about apples that contain all these things? What is it that though we can dine like kings on pineapples and star fruit, mango and mangosteen, exotic fruits from all over the world, drink the sweet, fragrant juice of oranges and pomegranate at any time of the year, the sight of an apple press on a street can evoke such a sense of right place, of right time, of simplicity, starting over?

When I was a child in the city my world was black and white. I wore a stiff dark dress like Amelia. But when I went to a cottage in Kent, I played half-naked amongst the apple orchards. When I look back everything was in colour. It was my own Avalon, place of apple trees. And maybe that's why we long to remember the names of the apples on our trees and bring them shyly to these new stalls cropping up all over the island this week. We're looking to reclaim our own paradise. The one in our own hands.

Amelia and the Angel by Ken Russell, 1958; Red Windsor and Egmont Russetts form Jim Cooper's organic orchard, Clarkes Lane, Ilketshall St Andrew; holding apples from Bungay Abundance of Fruit stall, Apple Day 2010.

Saturday 16 October 2010

Our Low Carbon Year at a Glance

This blog began last October with the intent to show what a low-carbon way of living looked and felt like. Most of the contributors were part of the neighbourhood Transition Circles which had begun earlier that year. Others were active in other Transition groups, writers and artists or contributors to the News bulletin.

On the last day of our retro-blog this post is a quick glance through our first 12 months, as we all experience the full range of personal carbon reduction, from allotments to zero waste. Happy reading!

Peak Oil - Joy of a Full Woodshed - OCTOBER
Blog starts with our second anniversary party on 4 Oct. Jon Curran introduces the five day week with posts ranging from foraging for sweet chestnuts to wind power. Charlotte on Car-Free day and Autumn Equinox on the river (wood pile by John).

Economic Downturn - Market Forces - NOVEMBER
Five day week explored by Charlotte, Mark and Jane. Transition themes in Norwich streets, kicking the hot water habit and the Transition East Gathering. Elena bakes low-carbon cumin and carrot scones, Mark discovers long johns (Market stalls by Jane).

Climate Change - Waving Not Drowning - DECEMBER
We take to the streets in Norwich and London. Snow falls and we photograph a white world and reflect on a dark one - weather, transformation, new year resolutions and the winter solstice. Weeks by Mark, Charlotte, Jane. (Mark at the Wave photo by Charlotte).

Transition Patterns - Permaculture - JANUARY
Weeks by Tully, Andy and Mark. Indoors we look at home carbon reduction, burning marmalade, permaculture and the health system. Outdoors it's snowing still. John writes about wood burners. Erik joins the blog and posts about food preservation, Helen joins the blog and brings laughter (Permaculture Principles photo by Mark)

Powerdown - Changing the Dream - FEBRUARY
Weeks by Charlotte, Jane and Elena. Low Carbon Loves, teaching children in the woods, looking at food in the city. John finds the first newt of spring (Russet apple twigs for grafting in community orchard by Mark).

Reconnection with Nature - All Hail Great Spring! - MARCH
First of our topic weeks on the Elephant in the Room, Flying, led by Jane. Last 5-day week by Gary. Three-day weeks begin with posts by Jon, Charlotte, Mark and Helen. Charlotte talks resilience, Jon talks transcience. Mark has a rethink about peak oil and hedgerow medicine. Reports from the Low Carbon Roadshow. (Snowdrops by Mark)

Reskilling - Weaving the Web - APRIL
Topic week on the Industrial Food System, led by Chris, Garden photoblog suggested by Elena. Three-day weeks continue with Tully on economic breakdown and Erik on the biosphere's carrying capacity. Nettle soup, bike revolutions in London, new moves in NR3. (Knitting with Pride by Helen)

Celebration -The Kind of Party I Vote For - MAY
The blog is strewn with flowers. Everyone is talking gardens and bluebells. Elena hosts a Seedling Swap, Mark makes a Medicine Jelly. Topic week on the 7 Deadly Resistances, led by Helen. Chris reviews Tribes by Seth Godin (Strangers' Transition Circle and the Wholefood Co-op by Mark)

Networking - Transition Conference - JUNE
Topic week on Cycling led by Chris. Kerry joins the blog with Doodle Power. Charlotte goes to the Transition conference and reports on the Stoneleigh effect and Transition Patterns. Blog gets into vids (I can sing a rainbow/Sailing to Little Japan) (Grand Opening with Sophy by Ed Mitchell)

Low Carbon Travel - On the Transition Road - JULY
Three-day posts by Jon, Charlotte and Mark. Start exploration of Transition Patterns (Standing Up to Speak, Becoming the Media, Pause for Reflection). Transition Book Week, led by Jon. Kerry's first log from the Otesha tour (My Bike by Kerry)

Inner Transition- Sunrise on the Edge - AUGUST
Mark leads week on Personal Resilience. Reports from the outside world: holidays, bees, vegetables in the garden from regular and occasional bloggers. First week on Transition Food patterns in celebration of the Norwich CSA, led by Charlotte (Mark and Sun by Charlotte).

Transition Food Patterns - Foraging - SEPTEMBER
Second week of our Food Fortnight. Including Market Gardens, Artisan Bakers and Wholefood Co-ops. Make Do and Mend week, led by John. Features week on Magdalen Street/ NR3 begins, led by Helen (Parasol Mushroom by Charlotte).

Neighbourhood - Magdalen Street Celebration - OCTOBER
Features week on the Magdalen Street Celebration, followed by a retrospective of our first year.

With love and thanks to all our contributors (in order of appearance) Jon, Mark, Jane, John, Elena, Tully, Andy, Erik, Ed, Helen, Gary, Chris, Matt, Tom, Chris, Kerry, Josiah and Rachel (photos of the Big Day by Andy Croft).