Win a place at the Forum and Feast Conference, 05 November 2011

Do you want to come to our fantastic Forum and Feast Conference? Do you want to a free ticket? We thought you would.

To win a free ticket to the the event all you have to do is answer this simple question.
What percentage of the food that goes to waste in the UK is wasted in the supply chain? Is it
a) 12 %
b) 60 %
c) 90 %

The answer to the question might be contained in this blog post. Please email us your answer.

Renewable energy in Wales: conference at CAT October 17th

Current protests over wind power are threatening the future of the renewable energy industry in Wales, slowing down the development of sustainable low carbon technologies and starving our communities of vital investment in regeneration, jobs and infrastructure. Furthermore, they are obstructing the development of green skills, training and research which could revitalise our manufacturing industry to the benefit of many small and large businesses. It is time for the renewable energy industry and its supporters  to work together to communicate a shared vision to build a sustainable, low carbon Wales and rebuild confidence and trust in the future of our Welsh green economy and the many benefits that renewable energy offers.

The Future of Renewable Energy in Wales / Centre for Alternative Technology / October 17th / book your place

The conference in October will provide a forum for discussion over a new vision to deliver a successful future for clean energy generation in Wales. Ultimately this may lead to the launch of a broad organisation to speak for all individuals and organisations that want to see Wales do more to generate electricity from renewable sources.

Turbine Nacelle

Environmental data mashup project. (It’s really not as geeky as it sounds. And it’s happening in the Dyfi Valley)

This very cool sounding project is happening just down the road from CAT. Researcher Dr Nicola Thomas explains…

Imagine being able to access a wide range of environmental, social and economic data under one virtual roof, and at your fingertips use a wide range of tools to filter, analyse, visualise and compare any scenarios you wanted. That’s the vision for the UK-wide Environment Virtual Observatory (EVO) initiative and its local exemplar here in the Dyfi valley.

The project aims to “mash up” data from various sources and use it to improve desicion making about issues such as flood prevention, climate change and biodiversity. As they explain on their blog

a mashup is a hybrid web application, that blends – or mashes up – different data streams, visualisation tools and/or functionality – to create two or more services within a seamless user experience. The beauty of this integrative approach is that new knowledge can emerge that may not have otherwise come to light.

If it all sounds a bit geeky for you don’t worry. They are running a series of local events where you can find out more.

Podcast: Peter Harper on decarbonising the food system

Peter Harper is head of research at CAT. He lectures on CAT’s postgraduate courses Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies and Renewable Energy and the Built Environment. He also teaches on many of CAT’s short public courses and is author of the land-use section of Zero Carbon Britain.

You can stream the podcast or

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Previous podcasts

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Rude Cow!

Is small still beautiful? We look at the legacy of E.F. Schumacher 100 years after his birth

It’s over thirty five years since a group of young idealists adopted a derelict slate quarry  to create the Centre for Alternative Technology. They were inspired by the notion of building a living community to test sustainable technologies. At that time “being green” was less defined, and a lot less tested. Society had just emerged from the swinging sixties, and few people were watching the problems, let alone looking for the solutions. This original community set out to develop and prove, by a positive living example, new technologies which would provide practical solutions to the problems that are now worrying both the world’s ecologists and energy analysts.

Much of their vision was drawn from the life and vision of E.F. Schumacher; author of Small is Beautiful and A Guide for the Perplexed and pioneer of green economics. Today CAT remains an active member of the Schumacher Circle – a collective family of organisations in the UK that have all been inspired, one way or another, by Schumacher’s vision or involvement and who cooperate informally to support each other’s work. Schumacher was always encouraging people to see the connections between things, so the Schumacher Circle is a practical expression of this approach. It helps to provide the “joined up thinking” which gives the environmental movement its coherence and helps the individual organisations get a wider perspective on their work. The Schumacher Circle members are the Schumacher SocietySoil AssociationPractical ActionGreen Books and the New Economics Foundation.

2011 is a celebration, marking the centenary of Schumacher’s birth so this year’s annual conference will be special. The annual Schumacher Lectures have been held in Bristol since 1978, and last year featured CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain work . Not only will they be presenting a selection of speakers, the event will be capped with a world music concert, with an incredible line-up from Africa, India and the UK.

CAT is pleased to be contributing to this important celebration. On the Saturday in Colston Hall as one of a range of presentations from the range of Schumacher Circle organisations, I will be presenting an overview of the origins of CAT, some of the experiments we have tried out and what we have learned over the past 35 years plus some indications of where CAT is heading next.

On the Sunday, CAT’s Head of Innovation Peter Harper is part of a team presenting a workshop “How can householders join the energy revolution?”. Renewable energy is developing fast at all scales. The workshop will explore the prospects for householders to generate their own energy, or become involved in large-scale developments.

We are pleased to contribute to such an important event which celebrates the wisdom and insight of E.F. Schumacher, so it may to inspire a new generation who are seeking relevant and practical solutions to heal a world in crisis and build a sane, humane and ecological society – we hope to see you there.

Why does 60% of all food waste happen before the food reaches consumers?


Here’s a disturbing statistic: UK households waste a third of all the food they buy. Or how about this: every year we produce 5.3 million tonnes of avoidable food waste.

This picture – in which we waste £12 billion each year – is a particularly concerning one in the current age of austerity and deepening environmental concern.

Thankfully, there’s inspiring work being done by the like of Fare Share, FoodCycle, and Food Not Bombs. These three groups share a common ethos: that food headed toward landfill can be put to good use, feeding those in need, providing opportunities for volunteer cooks to build skills, and to engender community spirit.

Yet, while it’s heartening to think that we’re combating the issue of food waste by redistributing what’s left unwanted, it’s worth considering that what can be found out the back of a supermarket isn’t representative of the large-scale losses the workings of the food industry cause.

It’s been estimated that 60% of all food wasted is wasted before it reaches consumers – which makes the problem considerably larger. Starting right from the beginning of the supply chain, needless excess is produced, and wasted.

Wales-based This is Rubbish were formed in 2009 at a mass waste food feast. Committed to making changes higher up the supply chain, 2011 has seen them holding feasts all over Wales. Featuring a pop up cafe and community events, the tour has raised awareness about the surfeit of wasted food.

But how much is wasted? Rachel Solnick from This is Rubbish talks me through the waste-cycle of an average potato crop.

The problems begin with the agreements between farmers and supermarkets. In order to meet demand, supermarkets require farmers to meet their required tonnage exactly. But as anyone who has gardened knows, the matter is rather more inexact than that.

For fear of losing their contracts, farmers are encouraged to over-produce, growing 140% or so of the required amount in case of disaster. It’s unlikely this produce will be sold; farmers may be restricted by contract, or there may not be another interested buyer on the horizon. At this stage, the excess will probably be left to compost in the ground.

Then it’s on to harvest. The potatoes lifted will be subject to stringent aesthetic standards. Supermarkets evidently live in fear of the horror the British public will experience if presented with an unsightly tuber – and act accordingly.

As an indicator of how much these requirements affect the accepted yield, the experiences of 2007 are illuminating. Tristram Stuart reports in his book Waste that the potatoes were adversely affected by flooding, causing the loss of 40% of the crops. Supermarkets still managed to source most of their produce from the UK, however, simply by relaxing the aesthetic standards.

Potatoes that do make the grade will then go through production, and packaging. By this stage, the amount of wasted food will have mounded up, concluding with that thrown away by supermarkets in accordance with use-by dates which may or may not be accurate, and further aesthetic standards.

As Rachel notes, “there’s something that twangs in all of us” at the prospect of throwing away food. However, we’re not just throwing away food. When a potato goes to waste, the energy and water used to grow it, the paid labour that lifted it, the cost of transporting it, and the energy and water used in processing and storing it are lost too.

All up, it’s a massive loss – an estimated 3% of the UK’s domestic greenhouse emissions, and 6% of all domestic water usage.

What’s causing this situation? While supermarkets are not keen to claim responsibility, the constricting contracts they have with farmers no doubt contribute.

Then there’s the lack of communication up and down the supply chain. Excess produce could find another buyer; unsightly produce could be used where its appearance is immaterial. Wherever the origins of the current arrangement lie, the present situation, which generates and discards an excess at every stage of production cannot be called efficient by any standard.

So what’s the solution? This is Rubbish ask that industry takes on the task of auditing themselves, so a realistic picture can be drawn, while also encouraging the government to introduce legislation to effectively reduce food waste.

And for the passionate, there are plenty of options for making a difference at the personal level, from using consumer power wisely to getting political.

Download This is Rubbish’s top tips for making a difference to food waste here.

6 blogs about food waste you should be reading


Love Food Hate Wate
UK households throw away an estimated third of all the food they buy. Love Food Hate Waste helps individuals make changes to reduce the amount of wasted food – there’s tips for rescuing wilting produce, recipes for leftovers, and information on getting portion sizes spot on.

Tackling wasted food and food poverty while encouraging volunteering, FoodCycle supports communities to collect surplus food and cook meals which are served to those in need.

The Waste and Resources Action Programme assists different groups – from local authorities to the retail supply chain – in working toward a world without waste.

This is Rubbish
While other organisations concentrate mainly on the food thrown out by supermarkets or in the home, This Is Rubbish concentrate on the food wasted before it reaches consumers. Launched in 2009 at a mass public food waste feast, TiR have been touring Wales this summer with a popup food waste café.

Working to relieve food poverty while also reducing food waste, FareShare provides food for those in need sourced from surplus products from the food and drink industry. In 2010/11, their work helped make 8.6 million meals.

Food Not Bombs
A global movement that protests against war and poverty by recovering food that would have been discarded and sharing it. Begun in the United States, there are now over 1000 local groups, from Asia to the Middle East.

Recording the seasonal events that show the impact of climate change on wildlife….

… is the purpose of the Woodland Trust’s new Nature’s Calendar website. We’ve been exploring it since it’s suprising finding that British blackberries seem to be declining. The purpose of the website is to get volunteers recording seasonal changes that will show the affect climate change is having on British wildlife.

As they say

Nature’s Calendar is the home For thousands of volunteers who record the signs of the seasons where they live. It could mean noting the first ladybird or swallow seen in your garden in spring, or the first blackberry in your local wood in autumn.

If you have the time and the inclination this sounds like a very interesting crowd sourcing project to get involved in.

British Wildlife Centre

Where have all the blackberries gone? (we mean the fruit not the phones)

Yesterday the Guardian reported research from the Woodland Trust showing that…

… 2011 has been one of the worst years for blackberries in a decade. Across England and Wales, brambles have produced a pathetic number of fruit, researchers say. And the berries themselves are smaller and less juicy than normal.

The cause remains a mystery

The south of England had an average year, but yields in the north and Midlands were well below normal. “We have looked at temperature, rainfall and sunshine records but we really can’t explain the regional difference,” he said. “It remains a mystery.”

Can anyone hear shed some light on the matter? Post a comment.

VIDEO: My job at CAT in less than a minute. Grace Crabb – tutor on CAT’s woodland courses

Coppicing the trees in the reed beds at CAT

Sustainable Woodland Management (5 days) Mon 24 Oct – Fri 28 Oct, 2011

This course is aimed at those currently managing or planning to manage woodland. It covers both practical and theoretical aspects of managing a small wood and will lead to accreditation at Level 3 with the Open College Network.

Coppicing the trees in the reed beds at CAT

Practical Woodland Management (5 days) Mon 28 Nov – Fri 02 Dec, 2011

This course is an introduction to practical coppicing in small woodlands. Learn the ancient skills of growing and harvesting using traditional coppice methods. Including sessions on horselogging and biodiversity surveying, this course can be claimed as part of a CPD (Continued Professional Development) programme for those wishing to start out in woodland management or progress in the field.