Compost Toilets: a Grand Design or a Space of Waste?

Last week CAT headed to London for Grand Designs Live. We had been asked to provide live demonstrations as part of the ‘Natural Building Methods’ section – an area CAT has some experience in! After much discussion, we decided on glue laminating demonstrations for making arches for a Timber Arc construction. The Timber Arc is a beautiful example of timber frame building, using local and low-carbon materials. It’s also a dual-chamber compost toilet.

CAT's stand at Grand Designs Live

Our goal at Grand Designs Live was twofold: provide the public with an interesting demonstration of glue laminating, whilst also raising awareness of different methods of dealing with human waste. Compost toilets are not for everybody, if you are connected to a local sewage system then chances are you will not need to deal with your own waste. However, some off-grid locations mean that people have to be a little more creative in the sewage solutions.

Glue laminating at Grand Designs Live

During our time at Grand Designs Live, one thing that kept cropping up again and again was bafflement. People often asked us why we were making a compost toilet, especially one so beautiful. Well, compost toilets can be efficient and practical, resulting in nutrient-rich soil to be used in the garden. They don’t use any water or chemicals, although most types of toilet need a fair bit of room to allow composting to occur at a steady pace. We have several composting toilets up at CAT, working alongside our reedbed sewage system and providing us with fertiliser for our gardens. Furthermore, why not make a beautiful building to house your compost toilet? It’s a place you visit each day after all! We also liked how the idea of it fitted in with the ‘grand design’ aspect of Grand Designs Live.

Work on the arches for the compost toilet

People certainly seemed to agree with us, judging by the level of interest we received each day. Engaging with people on environmental issues whilst also showing how we go about dealing with these problems was wonderful. Moving people’s thoughts away from bafflement and towards more environmental ways of thinking is key. Hopefully in the future CAT will be able to visit even more shows to keep spreading the word.

For more information on alternative sewage systems check out CAT’s information page on the subject. We also run short courses on sewage and waste water management. Further info here.

To see more of the Timber Arc, head to Jules’ website.

Glue Laminating at Grand Designs Live

This year CAT has been on bit of a promotional tour – travelling to London, Birmingham and London again to attend exhibitions, study fairs and conferences. Each event gave us the opportunity to talk to people about CAT’s work in the field of sustainability. From this coming Saturday however, CAT will be doing more than just talking.

We’re spending nine days camped out in the miniature village that is Grand Designs Live at the ExCel in London. Each day CAT will be providing demonstrations of glue laminating (or glulam) used to build the beautiful ‘wigloo’ you can see onsite in Wales. Jules, the carpenter who designed the toilet in association with Crafted Space, will be doing two demonstrations each day. As well as this, we have some examples of sustainable building techniques with us and the opportunity for people to ask CAT experts questions about their building woes.

Timber Arc Compost Toilet
The glue laminated compost toilet up at CAT

So what exactly is glue laminating?

It’s a process where several layers of timber are bonded together using a durable, moisture-resistant adhesive. The resulting structure can be used in both straight and curved configurations. The build that Jules undertaking requires curved lathes so he uses a ‘former’ to help hold the layers in place as the glue dries.

 

So why glue laminating?

Glue laminating has much lower embodied energy than reinforced concrete and steel, although of course it does entail more embodied energy than solid timber. However, the laminating process allows timber to be used for much longer spans, heavier loads, and complex shapes.

Glulam is two-thirds the weight of steel and one sixth the weight of concrete – the embodied energy to produce it is six times less than the same suitable strength of steel. Wood has a greater tensile strength relative to steel – two times on a strength-to-weight basis – and has a greater compressive resistance strength than concrete. The high strength and stiffness of laminated timbers enable glulam beams and arches to span large distances without intermediate columns, allowing more design flexibility than with traditional timber construction.

Glue Laminating
Jules clamping some glue laminated timber onto the former

We’ll be following the build live each day over on Facebook so have a look and see how it progresses!

If you like the look of the compost toilet, take a look at Jules’ website.

Grand Designs Live is open to the public from Saturday 4th to Sunday 12th May. More information can be found on their website.

 

Spring at CAT

Despite the unusually cold weather for this time of year, the garden volunteers here at CAT have been busy hoeing our plots and planting bulbs for our organic produce. We’re planting potatoes, parsnips, beetroot and onions. Hello spring!

 

CAT runs plenty of short courses offering practical experience of sustainable skills.

Be a CAT Volunteer for a Week in May

 

Do you fancy spending a week at our beautiful site, and being part of a team doing practical work to help CAT prepare for the main summer season?

 

We’re holding a short-term volunteer week from 27-31 May, and we’d like to invite you to take part. The exact range of tasks on offer will depend on a number of factors, including the weather, but is likely to include work in the gardens, with our buildings and maintenance team, and with our water and natural resources team.

 

It’s a great chance to enjoy staying on-site at CAT at a lovely time of the year, to get “behind the scenes”, interact with staff and other volunteers, and maybe learn a few new skills. If you fancy taking part, please contact Sally Carr (sally.carr@cat.org.uk, 01654 704976).

 

We have different accommodation options available depending on your budget and preferences:

 

En-suite rooms in our beautiful new facility, the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education (WISE), fully catered – £200 per person

Rooms with shared bathroom facilities (not WISE), fully catered – £150 per person

Self-catering accommodation (with lunches provided) – £70 per person

 

Volunteers in the garden
Volunteers working in a polytunnel at CAT

 

Cwrdd yn y Canol/Meet in the Middle

 

[Scroll down for English]

Lleoliad cynadledda cynaliadwy yng nghalon Canolbarth Cymru

Mae WISE yn ganolfan sydd wedi ennill gwobrau lawer, ac mae yma gyfleusterau modern, trawiadol, a chynaliadwy ar gyfer cynnal cynadleddau, cyfarfodydd, sesiynau hyfforddi a digwyddiadau unigol. Mae’r lleoliad yn nyffryn hardd Dulas yng nghanolbarth Cymru ac yn hawdd cyrraedd ato ar hyd y ffordd fawr ynghyd â gwasanaethau trên rheolaidd i Fachynlleth gerllaw.

Mae WISE yn cynnig profiad cynadledda unigryw, lleoliad gyda theatr ddarlithio o 200 sedd wedi’i wneud o ddaear gywasgedig. Mae nifer o stafelloedd llai ar gyfer grwpiau o wahanol faint a digwyddiadau llai. Mae WISE hefyd yn cynnig llety en suite ar gyfer hyd at 48 o bobl a gwasanaeth arlwyo hyd at 200 o bobl.

Mae WISE wedi’i leoli ar safle canolfan eco fwya blaenllaw Ewrop, sef y Ganolfan Dechnoleg Amgen sy’n defnyddio pŵer trydan adnewyddol. Mae WISE yn rhoi naws gwahanol i ddigwyddiadau.Rydyn ni ar hyn o bryd yn cynnig gostyngiad o 20% ar bob archeb tan ddiwedd Ebrill. Os gwelwch yn dda, a wnewch chi gyfeirio at yr hysbyseb hwn wrth ymateb?The WISE building

Cysylltwch â Sarah ar 01654  704973 neu e-bostiwch venue.hire@cat.org.uk
www.cat.org.uk/venuehire

Meet in the Middle
Sustainable conference venue in the heart of Mid- Wales

WISE is an award winning venue, with impressive, modern and sustainable facilities for successful conferences, meetings, training sessions and one-off events. Nestled in the stunning Dulas valley in mid-Wales and easily accessible by road, with regular rail services to nearby Machynlleth, WISE offers a unique conference experience. The venue features a 200 seat rammed earth lecture theatre and a number of smaller rooms that can cater for different size groups and smaller events. WISE also offers en suite accommodation  for up to 48 delegates  and catering facilities for up to  200  delegates.

Situtated at the site of Europe’s leading eco centre, the Centre for Alternative Technology and powered by renewable electricity,  WISE inspires events with a difference.

We are now offering a 20% discount on all bookings until the end of April. Please mention this email when responding.

Please contact Sarah on 01654  704973 or email venue.hire@cat.org.uk
www.cat.org.uk/venuehire

Visit Festival of the Future: Six weeks of fun and inspiration at CAT

 

Today we unveil our summer plans: CAT will be hosting a six week ‘Festival of the Future’ for tens of thousands of visitors. Daily activities for all the family and a programme of special one-day events mean a day trip to the Centre for Alternative Technology this August could inspire a revolution in the way you live.

Festival of the Future takes place throughout the school summer holidays from 21st July until 31st August. Daily activities will incorporate creative renewable energy and sustainability themed activities for children, with talks and informative tours led by staff and researchers at CAT for adults. Every Wednesday will see special events for kids and adults such as storytelling and specialist tours of CAT’s renewable energy systems.

Two one-day special events will form the climaxes of the summer programme: Energy Day on the 8th August and an Arts and Sustainability Fair on the 29th August. Both days will be packed full of informative and inspiring activities and entertainment including stalls, music, workshops, storytelling, exhibitions, guest speakers and more, all themed around building a brighter, more sustainable future for the UK and beyond.

We will be posting a series of articles on the blog on the theme of Festival of the Future.

This packed summer programme aims to provide a fun and active day out for families and other visitors to CAT, but also to give people ideas about the positive contribution they can make to a sustainable future.

Visitors will be able to meet face to face with some of the experts from CAT who will be giving guided tours and hosting engaging discussions about eco-lifestyle changes and action that people can take in their own community to respond to bigger picture challenges.

Allan Shepherd, author of CAT’s latest book The Home Energy Handbook will be one of the CAT staff members talking to visitors. Allan said:

“There are loads of positive things that people can do to help build more sustainable communities that are fun to take part in. Festival of the Future is a great opportunity for people to come and learn a bit more about sustainable futures as well as picking up tips on everything from eco-friendly living to getting involved in your local community. It should be entertaining as well as inspiring.”

All the events going on as part of Festival of the Future are included in the normal CAT entrance fee. The Visitor Centre also has a restaurant serving delicious vegetarian food and a shop selling books and gifts. A full programme of Festival of the Future events, which run from 21st July to 31st August, can be found on the website: http://visit.cat.org.uk/festival-of-the-future. Festival of the Future is sponsored by Good Energy, the UK’s only 100% renewable electricity supplier.

 

 

Gardening blog: Chloe marvels at the wonder of the small

A few weeks ago i bought myself a new toy – a digital microscope. These things aren’t expensive and they really do open up a whole new world. One of the most beautiful things i’ve seen so far is the embryo of a french bean seed. Here i go – humanising the plants again, but it’s so fresh and innocent and ready for life, i can’t help being in awe when i look at it.

 

 

On the microscope’s highest magnification things are even more wonderous. One of my favourite plants is Wild Garlic or Allium ursinum. It’s a staple wild food around these parts with springtime bringing much consumption of wild garlic and nettle soup, wild garlic fritters, with a bit of wild garlic salad on the side (if you like garlic anyway). The flowers are over now and the seed are forming – here you can see the developing seed, and a close up of the seed inside the “fruit” (which used to be part of the flower).

 

 

We often use a one of these gadgets on the CAT gardening courses to get a good look at what’s going on, but it’s great to have one on hand at home, just for wonder and curiosity.

Chloe is a tutor on the CAT Gardening for a Sustainable Future course in Late July

 


Gardening blog: Organic gardening and the arms trade

 

By Chloe Ward:

I wonder if any CAT members are like me, fans of the podcasts from Radiolab? From New York, it’s part of the movement to make science more accessible to ordinary mortals – something which must be essential if we are to make progress in good decision making.

The subject of one episode has been going around my head for a while now. It was about Fritz Haber – known to many as the inventer of the Haber Bosch process for fixing nitrogen (along with Carl Bosch). This is the chemical process by which artificial fertilisers are made – a subject which makes an organic gardener sit up and listen.

The podcast was all about the concept of “bad” and what makes a bad person. The Haber Bosch process wasn’t all that Fritz Haber invented. He was also responsible for developing the chemical process for gassing huge numbers of soldiers in the first world war trenches. Radiolab tells us that not only did he invent the process, but he personally oversaw its implementation.

So, the radiolab presenters are discussing “badness” and weighing up Fritz Haber’s moral credentials. One the one hand, they say, he killed great numbers of people in a nasty, painful way. On the other hand, he saved many from starvation by increasing agricultural yields with the invention of artificial fertilisers.

But, to those of us who like our nitrogen fixed by bacteria, there’s another issue here – was the invention of the Haber Bosch process a good thing at all, or was it the cause of deeper food security inequalities, and mass destruction by agriculture on an unprecedented scale? Or is it another example of something which could be put to good use at appropriate times if only the human species had a little more wisdom?

Lots to think about, lots of questions – no answers from me. But visit Radiolab here.

Chloe is a tutor on the CAT Gardening for a Sustainable Future course in Late July.