In the UK, gardens cover more land than nature reserves, so what we do in them matters. Alex Chadwick shares some tips on creating your own little wildlife haven.
Exploring the loom band craze
Its a question that has been bothering me for a while as I watch my son Neru gleefully produce another bracelet for his already covered arm. Surely these things must have an environmental impact. I stuck my head in the sand and got on with enjoying my son’s abundant creativity. The thing is, I work at CAT and eventually the niggly voice took over; this is what I found out.
Everywhere you go these days you see them – on trains and buses, at play parks, libraries and schools: tiny colourful elastic bands being transformed into a myriad of different things. The loom band craze has taken of at a phenomenal rate; kids everywhere are getting creative and making jewellery with these easy to use and appealing elastic bands.
Yet the environmental consequences of loom bands are becoming increasingly apparent. The massive increase in demand has led to the building of new plantations in East Asia, with activists pointing to air and water pollution from the production process. Animal welfare groups have sounded the alarm of the threat to animal and marine life. In addition, the loom bands are not recyclable.
Loom uses non-latex rubber, which means the bands are a synthetic product made largely from silicone. Synthetic materials require less land to produce, but they aren’t renewable, as natural rubber is. Recycling consultants WasteConnect said loom bands are a growing problem;
“They can’t be recycled and when a child does eventually get bored with them and the craze dies out, they will just be taking up space. I really don’t know what can be done with them that would solve the growing problem.”
In the Philippines animal welfare organisation PAWS has warned pet owners to keep their pets away from loom bands due to the risk of intestinal obstruction. In the US some veterinarians have treated dogs and cats with severe vomiting or diarrhea caused by ingesting one or more loom bands. Intestinal blockages can form as a result of swallowing several bands at a time, without surgery it can be fatal. Animals with smaller digestive systems such as Cats are particularly susceptible.
Wildlife can experience the same effects from elastic bands, ducks are among the most vulnerable creatures, with the bands getting wrapped around their beaks or necks . The animals sometimes ingest the bands, which can cause problems as they pass through the digestive tract. Paul, director of conservation at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, said: “’Loom bands, like any plastic item, are capable of persisting in the environment for many, many years and there is abundant evidence of small plastic items making their way into the diets of marine animals and seabirds with tragic consequences. I’d be particularly worried about loom bands being taken to the beach, due to the likelihood of them getting into the sea.”
In the US, an online petition has been set up calling for a ban on the bands until they can be ‘produced and recycled in an environmentally-sustainable way’. The petition says:
“Surging demand for Rainbow Looms has led to the development of new rubber plantations in East Asia. Not only does rubber production task the regional environment, but it also contributes to air and water pollution. The synthetic materials used to produce the looms are not renewable or recyclable.”
The Centre for Alternative Technology runs kids’ activities throughout the summer that make recycled green jewellery. There are some really easy to ideas on line that use natural materials such as clay, stones, shells, yarn, etc. Friendships bands used to be a huge phenomenon and involve plaiting coloured pieces of thread together, resulting in a mini work of art that is biodegradable, easy to do and much more environmentally sustainable. Better get the yarn out then!
In light of this week’s conference in Turkey we urge supporters to donate to our ‘Gardening for the Future’ campaign at CAT. Hosted by the IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecological Services), the talks focus on the value of soil and the revival of less intensive, ancient farming techniques which have been proven much more sustainable – many of which are taught here on site.
At CAT we know all too well the devastating effects that climate change and peak oil pose to our current food supply and prices. The addiction to and damage caused by petrochemicals currently used to transport and fertilise our food and control pests, make it absolutely essential that we develop and share alternative methods of farming.
We aim to teach, train and inspire people to use more sustainable methods of farming and gardening by demonstrating our more natural growing techniques. We are researching better composting methods, the use of green fertilisers, forest garden techniques, organic pest control and much more. We urgently need to raise £23,300 to keep this vital work happening. This will allow us to provide students, volunteers and visitors with the training and tools to become a new generation of green growers, helping to create a greener tomorrow.
Please follow the link to donate; we appreciate all your support.
How should we value the environment, and how does that effect how we behave? This week’s podcast excerpts from a talk by Media Officer Kim Bryan to students on CAT’s MSC Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course. Kim includes personal anecdotes and global examples to shed light on philosophies from free market environmentalism to deep ecology and eco-socialism.
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The Centre for Alternative Technology will be at Grand Designs Live this weekend (12th-14th October). CAT staff will be available all weekend to answer your questions regarding sustainable living. This will include an ongoing demonstration of the skills involved in building a simple DIY timber frame structure using environmentally friendly materials.
Carwyn Jones will be building the outer structure to house a compost toilet, demonstrating how natural materials with low embodied energy can be used to build practical and beautiful structures. The basic techniques he will be using means that anyone can learn the skills needed. The demonstration is a work in progress beginning on Friday and reaching completion on Sunday.
As well as demonstrating timber frame building techniques, Paul and Rosie will be there to answer any questions about CAT and sustainable building. CAT has a comprehensive range of postgraduate education and short courses which we will be showcasing at the event. You can find us next to the Grand Theatre and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). So come along and say hello!
(Next week – 5 low tech, down-to-earth eco buildings)
Masdar is an eco city rather than just a building. In spite of its building work being cut short by the economic down turn, Masdar is still probably the largest hi-tech sustainable building project ever. When the project started, TreeHugger magazine put together a panel to discuss whether Masdar represented a genuine step towards sustainability or simply hi-tech greenwash.
The first phase of the project opened this year but some of the green features were scaled back after they proved too expensive.
2. Floating islands
For the optimists among us there is the hope that a legally binding climate deal keeps global warming to below 2 degrees above pre-industrialization levels. For the pessimists there are floating island cities. Some island states threatened by climate change are apparently considering moving to these futuristic alternatives to real land.
3. City Centre Las Vegas
This is everything you’d expect from a Las Vegas building project, except that this development claims to be greener than the rest. Apparently it is a…
…blueprint for the future combining a healthy quality of life with a global commitment to sustainable design.
4. The Eco-Egg sky scraper.
If you like your badly-sited wind turbines encased in a glass tower then you’ll love this.
5. Stackable public transport
Where the urban crush means there is no space to park normal cars perhaps the answer is to make them stackable.
It’s all go in site community this Summer… for the last few weekends the cottage area of site has been opened up for visitors to come by and take a look at what is going on. The community at CAT started in 1975 when a group of people disillusioned by modern day living and concerned by what they saw as a looming environmental crisis moved to the abandoned slate quarry that is now known as CAT. Over the years, the hard work and enthusiasm of 1000’s of people has meant that the quarry has transformed into a fertile oasis with abundant flowers, fruits, vegetables and tree’s. Although CAT has expanded and grown there is still a living community here at CAT. It is home to 16 people including three children and three cats ( of the feline variety) who live in a variety of different houses, from renovated old slate cottages to eco-buildings, tried and tested at CAT.
The site community residents aim to put into practice the ethos of CAT through sustainable low impact living. All the houses are very well insulated, water is heated through a combination of wood burners and solar water heaters. Wood also provides heating for the houses. The community aims to reduce it’s carbon footprint by sharing resources such as washing machines etc buying food together and putting into practice sustainable low impact living. As well environmental sustainability the community is also concerned with sustaining ourselves as a community. All the decisions about the community are made through consensus decision making process in which all residents are involved. Regular meals together and work days are also important elements of community life.
As well as the weekend tours this summer, residents of site community are also working on their amazing new kitchen. The building dubbed ‘mini WISE’ as it is in the shadow of the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education is a timber frame, straw bale building with a hemp and lime render on the outside and clay inside. The kitchen is going to provide much needed cooking and eating space for the site community and long and short term volunteers who come and stay at CAT.
by Alex Randall Media Department
This summer children visiting CAT had the chance to explore climate change and renewable energy in a series of play activities and carnivals. The activities allowed children to explore how our reliance on fossil fuels affects the climate and what the alternatives are.
Here are some photos from last weeks ‘Power Down’ carnival in which children made their own transport out of recycled materials, dressed up as people from their vision of a zero carbon future, paraded around site and finished on the lawn with smoothies from the bike powered smoothie maker and music powered by our bike generator.
For schools, colleges and universities in Wales, the centre at Machynlleth in Powys, half an hour’s drive from Aberystwyth, is a resource that runs a free information service, visits for schools and residential courses.
The centre has teamed up with the University of East London which validates specialist diplomas and Masters degrees delivered by academic staff at the centre. It offers an architecture MSc and a Masters in renewable energy and the built environment. Student Owen Morgan, 26, says enrolling on the MSc course helped him land a job with Bright Light Solar, a mid-Wales renewable energy company which provides solar powered vaccine fridges, water pumps and heating systems to rural areas worldwide.
“Everyone is there because they are passionate about sustainability. We inspire each other to push the frontiers of what can be achieved,”
By 2007, there were 2GW of turbines installed. The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) says 9GW of offshore wind will be in place by 2015, overtaking installed nuclear power. This month, Centrica and RWE npower came close to approving two offshore wind farms costing an estimated £3bn.
According to the Centre for Alternative Technology, wave power could supply 10% of the UK’s energy needs but this technology is at a much earlier stage. Although there are scores of British designs for wave energy converters, none are anywhere near commercial scale.
The Centre for Alternative Technology, a think-tank for energy-saving devices for more than 35 years, says the credit crunch has led to a surge in interest in eco-measures.
“People are beginning to think about investing their money in something that will provide them with affordable, reliable energy, whatever the economic climate,” says spokesman David Hood.