Thursday, 26 April 2012

Two fine chaps aid my path to EV

I think I'm getting restless and I certainly confess to a huge element of eco envy, having recently spent time with a couple of chaps who are passionate about their electric cars....and...wait for it.....can also charge them up from energy that has been harnessed by their solar panels.

Yes, no longer satisfied with reducing my rubbish and fighting the good fight to keep our energy usage down, my mind has been wandering in the direction of other ways in which we can reduce our carbon emissions.

And with petrol prices going up and strikes being threatened, I can't help but think about the future of my car.  And herein lies my quandary.

I have a six year old 1.4 VW, which only does 2,500 miles per year.  It's now costing me over £60 in petrol to fill up the tank and for that I get around 300 miles.  I am not a heavy user.  I try to restrict my journeys, walk when I have time and use my bike much more in the summer.  So this car of mine should last me for another ten years at least.  However, that's a decade of higher fuel costs and constant carbon emissions.

But the cost of switching now seems too much of a barrier, so it was interesting to have the opportunity to pick the brains of broadcaster Mark Goodier, who has been driving electric cars since 2003 when he first leased a Ford Think. I caught up with him at the British Gas stand at this year's Ideal Home Show.

Mark's own switch to EV was very much prompted by the congestion charge in London and leasing the Think meant that not only did he save on the urban driving charge, but also insurance and service costs went down. With no road tax to pay and running on electric power, annual motoring costs became much cheaper still.  

Mark now drives a Nissan Leaf and a year ago he also upgraded his home with Solar PV. Thanks to the feed-in tariff he can now effectively run his car from free energy sources. This is backed up by his subscription to British Gas' green Energyshare tariff, which uses alternative energy, so either way he ensures his car runs 100% free of emissions.

I have to confess, he was doing a really good job of convincing me and we soon started to estimate projected savings if I made the switch.

Without exact data it's tricky but even with estimated petrol costs at £2,500 per year, Mark calculated that the equivalent cost in terms of electricity would be around £500.  So over just five years, that could mean a saving of £10,000 alone. Extrapolate that to 10 years and we're looking at £20,000.

Now, I am starting to get excited.  Throw in free Road Tax, cheaper insurance and service costs and we could notch that figure up by a couple of thousand pounds.  Suddenly, it does make the switch to an EV more attractive.

And then there's the thought of never having to visit a petrol station ever again.

Now that's heaven!

Seriously, if I had the cash, I'd be going on a test-drive and would be choosing the right car for me right now!

But I don't have that money and realistically I've got more pressing issues on the domestic front, such as how we can turn our 3 bedroom semi into a TARDIS to accommodate our everyday living requirements.  That's where we need to spend our cash for the foreseeable future.

However, I am not going to take my sights of making the switch and if I am honest, it's trading in my husband's car that would bring us most benefits, both financially and from a carbon saving perspective. Swiftly approaching 100,000 miles on the clock, in a car that is also just six years old, it illustrates how his mileage easily exceeds mine.

So I reckon we'll sit tight for a couple of years whilst the next phase of the market settles and wait for the right car to come along.  Mark Goodier predicts that we will see more accessible options by 2013/14, which really isn't that far away.  

By then, he also forecasts that we will see faster charging points that achieve full charge within just 25 minutes.  Private charging points, such as those provided by British Gas, will be bolstered by a wider network of public charging facilities, including supermarkets and motorway stations.  Chains such as Little Chef are already committing to installing facilities for its customers.

We will also see inductive chargers being installed in parking bays, which will make charging electric vehicles even more streamlined.  And as for the cars themselves, he suggests that as well as prices moving in line with petrol vehicles, there will be options that will enable the customer to purchase the car but lease the battery.  Meanwhile he predicts that petrol models will become more efficient too.

It really feels that the electric vehicle market is starting to pick up pace, and for the first time I am beginning to feel that the next time we trade in one of our cars, we will be looking at an electric alternative. The only thing that isn't clear is which car that will be or whether by then, we will have become a one-car family.

So, can you see why I'm getting restless?

Having had the chance to talk to Mark Goodier, I am now convinced that EV is the way to go. But the observant ones among you will have spotted my mention of two chaps. Yes, it's true, I also had the delightful opportunity of finding out more about the actor\presenter Robert Llewellyn's experiences too, another strong advocate who I met at a campaign launch party.

But don't take my word for it. If, like me, you are keen to find out more, check out the video below, which is the first in the Fully Charged series that he has recorded as for British Gas.

Blogger disclaimer: This is not part of the sponsored post series that I have written for British Gas. However a complimentary ticket was included to gain acess to the Ideal Home Show. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Transition Town opportunity for Bury St Edmunds

If you are interested in any element of sustainability, resource efficiency or community development in Bury St Edmunds, I suggest putting 15th May in your diary and heading along to the Fox Inn (pictured above), where you will find out more about how Bury can become a Transition Town.

Transition Towns have been in place since 2006, founded by Rob Hopkins, who created the first community in Totnes, Devon. Now there are over 1000 similar initiatives in 34 countries, all seeking to develop a more sustainable and resilient society, which strengthens local skills and resources in order to become less dependant on a fossil-fuel based culture.

Proposed by county councillor Mark Ereira, the Bury St Edmunds initiative will have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the more established groups in the East of England including Suffolk's Sustainable Bungay, Greener Framlingham, Transition Lavenham,Transition Ipswich and Greener Sax.  All it needs is the support of local residents, local businesses, entrepreneurs and community innovators to kickstart the action.  The meeting held on 15th May will be the first step to see if this can happen.

Although I won't be able to attend during the evening (due to a prior engagement with another Suffolk transition group), I fully support the launch of a local group and I have already committed to developing ideas that will help reduce Bury St Edmunds' waste footprint both within the community and the business sector.

So whatever your background, if you'd like to know more or would like to take an active part in creating a more sustainable Bury St Edmunds, please do get involved.

The first meeting will be held at 6:45pm, on Tuesday 15th May at The Fox Inn, Eastgate St, IP33 1XX.  For more information, please contact Richard Frost on 07590 515992 or Mark Ereira 07913 818838.

Further details about Transition Towns can be found at

Monday, 23 April 2012

My fantasy landfill bin: please vote for it!

I'm afraid I could resist no longer.  Having admired the very pretty and funky designs that have been entered into Brabantia's 'Design your Bin' competition, I finally succumbed to submitting my own entry.

My urge to 'tell it like it is' in the world of  pedal bin design led to a momentary lapse of 'what the hell' today and with a few flicks of the mousepad, my entry 'Off to Landfill' was live and kicking on the competition website, featuring a photo taken at Suffolk's Foxhall landfill site back in 2008.

I admit it's not the prettiest of designs.  It's probably the most rubbish design you'd ever find on a bin, but then, literally that's the point.  Cheeky I know, but it does tell the story of where rubbish ends up.
So, to all my waste-busting pals out there, if you've got a few minutes, I'd very much appreciate your vote.  Just click here to go straight to my bin.

Although a panel of design judges get to pick the winner, the bin with the most votes gets the prize for the most popular design.  So if that ever happens to this bin, I will be chuffed to bits.

Voting is open until 10 June 2012.  Hopefully, you may even be inspired to enter your own waste-busting design.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Nestlé: An 'eggsample' of redesigning Easter packaging

It's that time of year when traditionally the confectionery industry comes under fire.

"Too much plastic," we cry, as we open those boxes that protect the chocolate egg and its other sweet contents, and despite the reduction of packaging in recent years, an article in last week's Guardian, revealed that there are manufacturers, particularly those associated with the luxury end of the market, that are still not doing enough to rid us of the plastic crud that comes with our chocolate egg,

So it was interesting when Nestlé's press team got in touch last week, to see if I fancied checking out their latest packaging. If that saves me the embarrassment of poking about with my magnifying glass amongst the supermarket aisles, how could I decline such an offer.

I've been aware of Nestlé's reduction efforts for the last four years, since my interest in waste began.  However, the company has been redeveloping its packaging since 2006, with the aim of making its entire Easter egg packaging 100% recyclable. During this time, the company has made great inroads into the 3,000 tonnes of Easter packaging waste.  The branded mug range represents the final set of products to be tackled, helping Nestlé achieve its goal and saving 48 tonnes of plastic in the process.

For a consumer with a geeky interest in waste reduction, Nestlé's work in this area has been a really positive step, especially when it comes to plastic, because even now, many local authorities across the UK still do not collect this material for recycling.  By switching to alternative 100% recyclable materials, Nestlé states that it will save 726 tonnes of plastic waste each Easter.

So what has Nestlé done exactly? The key shift has been redesigning its products so that it doesn't have to rely on plastic to protect the egg. Designing out waste at source is one of the first goals of moving to a Zero Waste future. An example can be seen here, where FSC certified card is now used to secure the mug and confectionary inside the box.

However, the branded mug range still incorporates some plastic in its packaging, but this is compostable film, which is used for the windows.

Nestlé's latest announcement prompted me to have a browse along the supermarket aisles to see what other manufacturers are up to and it was great to see that competitor Cadbury's has also gone down the route of replacing plastic packaging with basket-shaped card.  But as last week's Guardian article claimed, there is still a lot of plastic rubbish still being distributed around the country, contributing to 3,000 tonnes that ends up in landfill.

Of course, despite the positive news from Nestlé, and the other fact that the company has incorporated a 30% reduction in packaging overall, that compostable window still niggles me. Such is the risk of sending such packaging to a Zero Waste geek.

I will happily separate that fillm and see how it breaks down under the auspices of the composter in my back garden, but what concerns me is how many other consumers will follow suit?  Will they notice and if so, will they be bothered? And of course not everyone has a home composter, for which this material is intended.

At least Nestlé includes clear instructions on what to do with the materials, so the lesson to us all is to keep a close eye on labelling, no matter what we buy.

If that is the lesson for us, the consumer, perhaps the lesson for Nestlé then, is to redesign its packaging even further to remove the need for compostable plastic, possibly shrinking the size of the windows in any product that currently needs such protection.

But I know I'm picking at bones here. Nestlé has taken a leading role within the industry by lightweighting its packaging and switching to recyclable materials and it's time that other manufacturers should follow suit.  And while they're at it, perhaps the industry can also come up with an alternative solution for that ubiquitous plastic film which either litters landfill or is poor carolific fodder for EfW.

Ouch, I think this waste-geek needs some chocolate.  

It's just a shame it's all gone.

Well that is the risk that comes with opening up the Munchies Easter egg box to assess the packaging.

And with all this talk of chocolate, I'm now regretting donating the accompanying Kit Kat and Yorkie boxes to our school's Easter Egg Bingo.

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