Welsh Green Dragon

Combating Food Waste in Wales by Chris Halpin

How much money do we waste on food each year?

Consumers in Wales will spend twenty four thousand pounds in their lifetime on food that they will never eat.

This equates to around 15p in every pound you spend on your weekly trip to the supermarket, or each year around £480 for the average UK household, increasing to £680 a year for households with children – an average of just over £50 a month.

However, environmental campaigners are saying that supermarkets themselves are needlessly throwing away around 1.8 million tonnes of food each year that is still good to eat, and that they need to do more.

Food for the vulnerable

Charitable organisations like Bristol based Fareshare South West are trying to tap into this waste stream.

They work with food distributors directly and receive weekly palettes of produce that never make it onto supermarket shelves. This food is often within date, and is returned because of packaging errors or over-ordering by certain stores.

They then break down the food, including ready meals, fresh fruit, vegetables and cereals, and distribute it to 27 organisations which work with vulnerable people like drug addicts and the homeless.

Jacqui Reeves, manager of operations for Fareshare, says they are only scratching at the surface in terms of how much waste supermarkets produce.

“It’s really seasonal. In the winter we get loads of soup, now we’re getting a lot of smoked salmon. It’s all perfectly good to eat and otherwise it would just end up in landfill – it’s madness really”

‘Bin diving’

Other people are taking advantage of supermarket throw aways for themselves.

So called ‘Bin Divers’ monitor skips round the back of stores at the end of each day to see what they can find. Gareth Blake from Splott in Cardiff has been ‘diving’ for nearly two years. When asked why he shouldn’t pay for his food like everyone else, he said.

“Well anyone can do it if they want, it’s free to everyone.I’m doing the supermarkets a favour really, and think of all the methane that’s being saved from when it decomposes at landfill”

Finding your dinner in a skip is perhaps not everyone’s idea of a healthy balanced diet though. When posed with this, he was still resolute.

“If you look at where food comes from, like the blood and guts from a slaughter-house or pesticides and herbicides or animal manure from the farm, it’s [the food] not particular hygienic to start with”

Friendly food fight

There are also an increasing number of stunts that environmental campaigners are pulling to try and engage the public in the food waste issue.

Cardiff East Transition Group worked with Fareshare and bin divers to collect food for a mass friendly food fight. It might seem quite perverse to be throwing food around to highlight how wasteful we are, but according to organiser Tim Fisher, it’s not just about the serious message.

“We’ve had a food fight because it’s a fun thing to do, and something people can relate to. We’re chucking stuff around to show how we should stop doing this”

Will landfill tax lead to higher prices?

So three very different approaches to making the most of the food that never makes it into your shopping trolley. However with landfill taxes rising, the supermarkets may well be forced to clean up their acts and start reducing their waste – which means we might be getting higher food bills instead.


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?

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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.