Welsh Green Dragon


The Green Gym by tanyamercer

It’s that time of year again. The excesses of Christmas have caught up with us. Those jeans have either shrunk in the wash or I’ve put on an extra pound or two. Gym membership deals are posted through the letter box and everywhere you turn there’s an advert for some fabulous diet that promises you’ll lose 16lbs in 2 weeks.

But realistically, am I going to stick with the gym? Probably not. I find them incredibly dull, and lycra and me are not a good combination! Similarly, diets are always started with great vigour, but then abandoned by the end of January.

And, just when I was losing hope, I think I’ve found a way to keep fit that challenges, reinvigorates and doesn’t involve running machines or eating solely carrots for a week. Plus it helps the environment.

It’s called the green gym.

It’s a BTCV idea, which hopes to inspire people to improve both their health and the environment.

Experienced leaders guide ‘gym goers’ through a range of practical projects, giving the opportunity to tackle physical jobs in the outdoors – improving strength and stamina, boosting practical skills and confidence and benefitting local green spaces.

To find out more I visited the green gym volunteers at Cymtillery Allotments.

It could just be that this is the type of gym to stick with!

Green gym volunteers

Green gym volunteers

Green gym leader Bryan Brown

Green gym leader Bryan Brown

The allotment at Cymtillery

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Crackdown against fly-tipping in South Wales by Chris Halpin

Fly-Tipping Action Wales Campaign – Radio Feature

You know what they say, where there’s muck there’s money. However in this case its leaving local authorities in South Wales a deficit to the tune of three million pounds per year, and in the end we’re the one’s who pay through higher council tax bills. Tonnes of illegally dumped rubbish is left at roadsides and wasteland each year, and now there is a new drive to tackle the problem.

The Environment Agency are once more trying to convince businesses and families that fly-tipping is not on, with partnership agencies like Keep Cardiff Tidy and Cardiff City Councils Prosiect Gwyrdd (Project Green) on board.

Notorious areas for fly-tipping are the lanes which run between Caerphilly and St Mellon’s where you can find dozens of dumping grounds. The usual suspects include old furniture, settees and large white goods like fridges and washing machines, but alarmingly also a lot of trade and industrial waste like building materials and toxic asbestos. People may think places like this are out of sight so out of mind, but it causes considerable disruption as many sites block farmer’s gates and of course have a devastating impact on the environment.

Duty of care

The new campaign which is backed by the Welsh Assembly Government is designed to remind homeowners and businesses that it’s their responsibility that waste gets disposed of properly. If you’re using a tradesperson like a builder or plumber you must check that they’re registered with the Environment Agency as a waste carrier.

This latest crackdown has been timed for January as it’s the worst month for illegal dumping when people have their annual new year clear out. Surprisingly almost two-thirds of waste found is actually normal household waste in black bin bags which could be left out for the dustbin man.

Hi-tech police crackdown

As technological advancement races on, South Wales Police are developing cunning ways in which to catch illegal fly-tippers out. Forensic techniques like SmartWater and aerial surveillance are being employed to chart illegal dumping sites and track down the culprits.

With the risk of landing a fine of up to £50,000 or even a prison sentence is it really worth the bother?  The scale of the problem is only demonstrated by the fact that out of 55,000 cases between 2008-1009 only 72 arrests and prosecutions were made. Some people argue that the council need to make it easier for people to get rid of waste, especially large electrical items. With the opening of smaller local tips, or Civic Amenity sites like Waungron Road in Fairwater, legimate ways to chuck away waste are being made more accessible – the only stipulation is you can only take waste that will fit in your car; larger vehicles must go to the Recycling site at Lamby Way. Alternatively you can ring Connect 2 Cardiff, Cardiff City Councils helpline and they will arrange collection of larger white goods free of charge. For more information visit the Fly-Tipping Action Wales or Cardiff City Council website.

The root of the problem?

From the people I spoke to it seems part of the problem comes down to disposal cost and people tightening their belts because of the recession. This is especially the case for small tradesmen and businesses disposing of composite or dangerous materials like plasterboard or asbestos. When it comes to waste they often operate at a loss and if they do jump through the right hoops it’s seen by many as a lengthy bureaucratic nightmare.  One builder I spoke to challenged me to try and dispose of some asbestos myself, just to see how hard it really is.

This is no justification for flagrant littering, but unfortunately the age-old dilemma rings true once again; the environment is not everyone’s main priority – time and money are more important. Despite the threat of a hefty fine or time behind bars, the blight that fly-tipping causes looks set to stay. One must hope this new campaign attempts to get to the root of why people lack a conscience when it comes to driving out to the middle of nowhere under the cover of darkness and using the countryside as a dumping ground.



Putting Cardiff on a car diet by helenglaberson


Cut back on cars, not just carbs this New Year

Cardiff Council plan to introduce car clubs to the city, as part of their strategy to cut down the numbers of cars on the roads.

This is part of Cardiff’s wider Sustainable Travel Plan which, if all goes well, will be implemented in other parts of Wales. The Council has already developed green alternatives that aim to cut down on cars, such as park and ride schemes, improving cycling facilities, and a drive to work car share scheme. They also plan to launch a new car club next year, to encourage people to rent out a vehicle instead of owning their own.

Hopefully the public will be inspired to take up a car diet for their New Years resolution. Less cars will mean a reduction in problems such as traffic, parking and of course the big greasy beast that is pollution, making the city a more sustainable and enjoyable place to live.

Cardiff’s sustainable travel plan

Ieuan Wyn Jones, Transport Minister says, “Commuter levels in and around Cardiff have increased significantly over the past few years. This is an exciting opportunity to develop and implement a range of innovative transport solutions which will benefit the 210,000 people who travel into the city on a daily basis.”

Executive Minister for Transport, Delme Bowen expands on car sharing and car club schemes:

Car Clubs

Cardiff Council is currently in the process of awarding a contract for an operator to run a car club in Cardiff. It is hoped that car clubs will encourage residents to rent instead of buying their own vehicle.  “A car club, along with car sharing, helps to promote choice and the greater use of sustainable modes of travel.” say Cardiff Council.

Car clubs follow a model that has been around since the 1970s in Europe, and is now used in many cities all over the world.

Car clubs are new to Cardiff, but they have been implemented overseas since the 1970s.

Scientific studies and customer surveys have provided substantial evidence that car clubs can help cut down on toxic output. More Options for Energy Efficient Mobility through Car Sharing (MOMO) have provided a paper bursting with the advantages of car hire.

The club scheme does not only yield green benefits – it is also hugely cost-effective for users. People will cut down on the high annual cost of tax and insurance, with the car company responsible for overall maintenance.

“The car sharing scheme is part of the answer to dealing with Cardiff’s congestion problem and provides people living in Cardiff with another option for how they go about their daily business.” says Gwenllian Lansdown, a Plyd Cymru Councillor who backed an 100-strong signature petition last year, urging the city council to support such a car club scheme. “This scheme has proved successful in other cities across the globe and I look forward to it starting in Cardiff” says Landsdown.

Car clubs will reduce congestion in the city.

A chosen car company will operate their rental service on behalf of the Council. If the scheme is successful, the contract will be renewed. Richard Drew, the South West Manager of City Car Club, is currently responsible for the plans in Cardiff.”We’ve been informed that we’ve been the most successful bidder but they haven’t made a final decision to say that we’re definitely going to go ahead yet” he explains.

The clubs would be aimed at people who would consider buying a second car, or those who are not completely dependent on having one. Users would pay a one off membership fee of around £75 and then they would pay around £3 an hour for car hire.

“If all goes well, we’re looking to start  the early part of spring next

Feedback has been positive towards car sharing and car clubs.

year.” Drew said last December. Before then, the company will need to decide where to base their cars. Drew explained, “what we’d be looking for in the first instance is people that know the area well that can suggest places where there’s real issues with parking.”

So how is the public responding to the Council’s Sustainable travel plan? “Feedback has been good so far, and car sharing generally is increasing. In Cardiff County Council alone there’s 18,000 people both recycling and car sharing. That’s looking good.” says Delme Bowen.

It looks like car slimming plans are running smoothly. Let’s hope the city won’t crash diet but will maintain a regular slimming regime, with healthy portions of sharing and regular car club rental.

Extreme car sharing:

How many people can you fit into a Smart car?

Cut back on cars not just carbs this New Year…


Are Google moving into the Energy Sector? by Chris Halpin

Not intent on being an online ‘power house’, it now seems that Google has its sights on becoming one in a more literal sense.

In what seems a very perceptive move, it’s been reported that Google have applied to create a subsidiary company in the US (imaginatively called ‘Google Energy‘) with which they can start trading energy on the open market. In entering this sector, it seems they are taking the future insecurity of energy supply into their own hands.  Some commentators are sceptical that Google Energy is a business move purely for the money, yet Google insist they are doing it for the more philanthropic reason of reaching carbon neutrality. Producing their own energy at their Californian HQ, this move will enable them to trade the excess created and pump it back into the grid. However, future investment in the renewable energy sector clearly makes keen business sense.

In all honesty I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few weeks and was initially going to discuss the role of smart meters and the UK government’s plans to roll these out by 2020. Like the previous post about boilers, smart meter systems are hardly the most glamorous of devices to discuss, so Google’s very recent movements into the energy sector has spiced the whole affair up a bit. This is especially because their innovative technologies make the UK utility companies plans look prehistoric even before the meter fitters have chucked their tools in the back of the van.

You’ve probably heard or seen in the UK media about how ‘smart meters’ are the future. The idea behind them is that in keeping tabs on our daily usage of Electricity or gas, we can curb how much we use and determine when we’re being wasteful. Our currently dubbed ‘dumb meters’ which require that quarterly annoyance of letting in the meter reader (or more often than not when our energy provider spuriously estimate your bill) means that as consumers we’re often paying over the odds for the energy we actually use. Imagine if they applied the same process to a contracted mobile phone – no itemised bill but instead a rough guess on how much you’ve been yapping on the phone for the past 3 months. That doesn’t seem to make any sense does it? Here’s a radio feature created by my colleague Jim Turner just before Christmas on this very subject .

So these so-called ‘smart meters‘ are meant to be the answer, but may not actually be that ‘smart’. They will cost between £85 -£100 for each household and work by sending usage data directly to the power company each day. However the technology they contain is not that up to date at all. They work by sending through how much energy you’ve used by SMS text message to your Utility Company who then use the data to create an itemised monthly bill. This mobile phone technology has been around for almost twenty years and for this reason the Energy sector in UK are having second thoughts on a nationwide meter upgrade.  They fear that by the time each and every home has been visited the smart meters will have become obsolete.

And this is where Google comes in hot on their respective heels. Smart meters are old news and now Google Powermeter is being heralded as the next big thing.This is in effect an online power monitoring tool which can be incorporated as a widget as part of your iGoogle home page. Initially developed to work with smart meters, Google have now in fact bypassed the need for them and work through a broadband connection rather than the aforementioned SMS technology. This means you don’t have to wait for your Utility company to process the information; the Google application will do it in near real time and you can check it online whenever you want. Clever eh? Here’s an example of how the data might look:

This is some way off for every customer in Wales though. Currently the only company who offer this service are first:utility and you do need a smart meter installed for it to work.

Being more energy-efficient is obviously inextricably linked to freeing up some more of our incomes. In years to come, if winters look set to be as harsh as this one, then we’re certainly going to have to trim on energy usage to avoid bankrupting ourselves to keep warm and watch the telly. For more tips on how you could save, check out Energy Circle’s 10 big ideas for home energy efficiency in 2010.



Boiler on the blink? Brave the blizzards and bag a bargain! by Chris Halpin

With what’s already been dubbed as the coldest winter in thirty years and sub-zero temperatures becoming the norm these past few weeks, the last thing you want is a boiler that’s on the blink. That said, if your house is anything like mine with the central heating blaring out at all hours to keep you toasty, you’re probably charging through oblivious like we are. Deep down inside of you is the terminal dread and a modicum of guilt to how much it’s all costing. But, hey who the hell cares when its -4°C and it’s like this outside?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I may be ‘as snug as a bug in a rug’ as I write this but unfortunately I bet many of us will be in for a nasty surprise when our next quarter’s gas bill drops through the letterbox. Such a cheery thought.

So with that in mind, although it is completely irrelevant to me as I don’t own my own bricks and mortar yet, I still found it fairly interesting to see that the government has a trick up its sleeve to help us save energy  [money]. Perversely by spending some more and shelling out a couple of grand buying ourselves new boilers. Yesterday Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched a boiler scrappage scheme similar to the one the government employed to help the flailing motor industry last year. First mooted at the start of December it has created quite a buzz within the industry. To qualify you need an inefficient boiler deemed as  G-rated (usually meaning it’s over 15 years old) and you can then trade it in to the tune of £400 off your new shiny one. Landlords up and down the country will be pleased to learn they can get in on the action too.

Now I’m not going to deny it, boiler talk is certainly not sexy. I’m not even going to attempt to pretend that it is. I remember when I was studying for my Bachelors Degree in Architecture I had to endure an entire hour and a half long lecture on the different types of boiler and heating systems one could choose, their efficiency ratings, values this, values that… blah blah blah. It bored me to tears. Sufficed to say I’m not in that industry anymore, yet the boilers have come back to haunt me. However, if it’s good for the environment then I suppose for one post only I can become slightly enthused about our unsung household heroes. And the boiler is a tireless workhorse – it’s only when it lets you down that you ever really notice the arduous blighter, and then you curse it, poor thing.

So then swiftly back to the point. This scheme is estimated to be costing the government around £50 million pounds and aswell as ridding households of inefficient gas guzzling monsters that help rack up our gas bills, it will also keep around 130,000 boiler fitters in employment. It will presumably mean too that companies like Worcester Bosch, Baxi and Calor are now breathing a huge sigh of relief. Not only the manufacturers will be onto a winner though; energy companies like British Gas are expected to use the scheme to drum up new business. As the biggest installer of boilers in the UK they are looking set to match the government’s £400 discount alongside NPower who like British Gas are offering the same discount.

You might be thinking – well why bother? The Energy Saving Trust reckon about 3.5 million homes in the UK have the least efficient G-Rated boilers. An easy way to determine whether you have such a beast of a boiler is if it has a permanently lit pilot light – if it does then I’m afraid it should be out with the old and in with the new. Another way of checking is to go through this simple online boiler checklist. As 14% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from domestic heating, this is an obvious way parliament can coax us to be more efficient and for them to reach their targets. Cynicism aside – you could save up to £200 a year on your energy costs so you don’t need me to tell you that’s no bad thing.

So as we look set for at least a few more weeks of slippery pavements and icy roads, get your boiler checked out and imagine what it’d be like if it gave up on you right now. But you better be quick – the offer is only open to the first 125,000, so out of the 3 and a half million suspected dodgy boilers – thats  a potential 3,375,000 households who could literally be left out in the cold. Or should that be left in in the cold.