The green roof: Saving energy and producing energy!

turf roof

Check out this article from the ABC in Australia-

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bydesign/img6008-editjpg/5452406

I have seen this ‘Green Roof’ used several times on the UKs greatest show ‘Grand Designs’ (starring Kevin Mccloud-the UKs greatest export! in my opinion anyway- what a rockstar 🙂 ) so when i read about this guy incorporating it into his design in Australia i thought i would share it. It appears that a roof like like has many positive attributes. The use of this roof reduces energy input into the house which not only lowers the cost of bills but also the impact on the environment. The roof would also support native animals and in some small way increase possible habitat for birds, bees etc. and most of all, lets face it, it looks pretty cool:)

But perhaps the coolest develop of late is the fact that they can now PRODUCE electricity from your green roof. A Dutch start up company called ‘Plant-e’  have developed the technology to harness electricity from plants.How does it work…. well what it does is uses the process of photosynthesis and the eventual release of neutron and protons as by products to create the electricity (don’t ask me how). In urban areas they have plans to create this system along side the green roof and estimate that help the households energy requirements could be met through the use of ‘Plant-e’ electricity. I would recommend checking out the below video for an overview of how it works.

So for all you possible builders, architects and and home renovators- keep your mind open, challenge the norms, and incorporate greener ways to build. Build a green roof that actually saves and makes your electricity-

peace and happy building!

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Benefits of worm farming & Building your own recycled worm farm.

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In the UK 7 million tonnes of food is thrown away each year. This contributes to land fill and and the production of methane gases which contributes significantly to greenhouse gases. Landfills produce a toxic liquid, called leachate. Leachate is a mixture of organic acids, battery acids, dissolved chemicals and rainwater. It can contaminate surrounding land and waterways which can be reduced if we recycle our food waste. United Nations environmental programme estimates on a world wide scale we waste 1.6 billion tonnes of food, and that if we composted our home waste, we could potentially divert up to 150kg of waste from land fill per household. Considering that owning a worm farm or compost is so easy and easily maintained, its a wonder most households do not already have one.

What I’m going to look at in this blog is worm farms. I love worm farms- i don’t know what it is about them but I’ve had several store bought worm farms in the past whilst living in Melbourne, and enjoyed establishing and growing the farm and producing castings (worm poo) for my garden. It was also a great way of reducing my organic waste in a purely natural and environmentally friendly way. Its a great system…. you give them your old food and they give you castings, and best of all it doesn’t require a whole lot of ongoing maintenance once established.

Ive decided that the likely hood of me moving again in London is high and i don’t want to spend the money or the energy input into buying another worm farm, therefore what i have decided to do is to build a recycled worm farm. I managed to find many different models online using both styrofoam boxes or plastic buckets. I opted for the styrofoam boxes as it was the first material i was able to track down, and to be honest i didn’t have to go very far as i found what i needed within my local area.

For the materials of the box I’m using recycled styrofoam- its important that you used recycled styrofoam, as this material is not great for the environment and it doesn’t break down, requires high amounts of energy and creates greenhouse gases for production as well as ending up in the oceans putting our wildlife at risk- so use what is there, do not contribute to the production of more. I got my styrofoam boxes from the local deli/fresh food shop. I just went in and asked if they had any styrofoam boxes available and although slight apprehensive, they found some and gave them to me. They advised that they generally crush their boxes and throw them away, so its good that these boxes will be getting a second life. The boxes that you will get may be all different shapes and sizes, and it will depend on how big your space is as to how big you may want your worm farm. In my case the size of my worm farm is determined by the size of the boxes that they had available. The best way to start is to get three boxes of the same size if possible. In my case i managed to get two the same and the third one slight larger, although not ideal aesthetically, it will still work fine. The reason we want the boxes the same size is that you want the boxes to create a seal when placed on top of each other. Regarding the worms- you can buy these form your local hardware store, or alternatively you can buy them online. I recently purchased mine from a site called worms direct and they were a mix of tiger worms and Dendrobaena. The worms were delivered the next day and cost 11 pounds for 250 grams (which incidentally was the total cost of this project).

You will need to decide which box out of the three you will use for the bottom level of the farm- this box will be used to collect the worm juice. This box will always remain the worm juice collector and will not require and modification. The other two boxes will require holes put in the bottom- you want the holes to be plentiful and spread evenly out, however you do not want them to big as too prevent the castings coming through, but big enough to allow the worms to travel through.

Place some bedding (straw, soil wet newspaper) in one of the boxes with the holes in the bottom and on that place your worms. Cover with some soaked newspaper. Slowly add the food scraps and as your box fills with castings you will place the empty box on top and and start filling it with food scraps. This will bring the worms from the full box up into the top box. When you feel the box in the middle is full and the worms have composted everything, move that box and empty the castings. This box will now be used when the other box fills up. Always keep a lid on the box with the worms to prevent exposure to the weather (worms do not like sunlight or cold temperatures), while also prevent other animals to eat the worms or the food scraps.

Watch my video (first attempt- be kind) which shows me building my worm farm.

Its easy to make and a great way to reduce your wast impact on the environment, whilst also creating rich castings that your garden or vege patch will love.

cleanup.org suggests uses for your worm castings which include:

Mixing it with potting soil and used for houseplants and patio containers.
• Used as mulch (spread in a layer on top of the soil) for potted plants.
• Finely sprinkled on lawns as a conditioner.
• Used directly in the garden around existing plants or dug into the soil.
• Made into liquid fertiliser by being mixed with water until it is the colour of weak tea.
Moisture drained from the worm farm’s bottom crate is also a good liquid fertiliser, once diluted.
Voila..here you have it, a simple worm farm!

Note: Do not put meat or dairy products into the worm farm. They will eat most organic waste including vegetables, fruits, tea bags, newspapers (soak them first) and garden clippings. lawn clippings. However the do not like fruits that are acidic (citrus fruits) and anything from the onion family.

Peace and happy worm farming!

Say No To Plastic Bags!

NoToPlasticBagsLogoMed

Plastic Bags..my pet hate.If you use a plastic bag in a supermarket to carry your shopping and particularly if you use it to carry one or two items, you will definitely be seeing me wishing for some karmic intervention. I honestly find plastic bag use pretty hard to take sometimes…and yes i have at times in the past used plastic bags when an impromptu shopping trip may occur and i have an armful of shopping. Generally (95% of the time) i will either use a reusable shopping bag, or if i happen to go to the shops under prepared and forget my bag, i will carry my shopping sans bag, which often means filling all my pockets to the max, and juggling the remainder like some amateur circus performer, but i get the job done. So it pains me when i see someone use a plastic bag just because they can, and only to carry one or two items….carry it in your hand!! its not that difficult! or at best either put it in your hand bag or backpack. I mean seriously is it that difficult to carry your carton of milk or block of cheese in your hand. I promised a shout out to a mate of mine, the T-Man, who literally yesterday used a plastic bag for one bottle of wine…

Me: “ Dude why do you need a plastic bag for that… you can carry that bottle or put it into your bag”

Him: “but he gave me a bag” – that was his whole explanation and justification..

so i guess its ok then, as long as he gave it to you…….WTF?! ‘he gave me a bag’ lets kill the world one passive gesture at a time (ok ok maybe slightly dramatic). Although i can imagine the comfort of that sea turtle as it gasps for its last breath ‘my life was sacrificed for the comfort of the T-man- lets hope he never has to carry anything without a bag again or ever be put into the uncomfortable position of saying he doesn’t want to plastic bag’.

To be honest that is generally how it goes.. its probably easier to accept a bag than tell the server “hey no bag please”. And although I’m picking on the T-man (which i promised him was his punishment for his indiscretion yesterday) its directed at the many (including myself at times).

So lets have a look at why plastic bags are so bad for the environment?

It is estimated that the European union alone throws away 4 billion plastic bags per year. That number is huge and imagine what that total would be if the rest of the world was also included in that figure!

Plastic bags are eaten by animals and can lead to illness and death. This is of particular concern to marine animals which can become trapped and end up choking or being strangled by plastic bags. Plastic bags are not biodegradable, and at best will break down into tiny plastic particles which are further digested by animals which will lead to poisoning at a primary level or further up the food chain.
There is also the trash vortex the size of Texas in the north pacific ocean with is also a concern. This is a collection of ocean rubbish, much of which is made up of plastics and particularly plastic bags. It has become a real threat to marine life and ecosystems due to its large size and toxicity.

The health of the oceans are particularly important as they are currently overfished and being exploited on a serious level due to the insatiable human desire for seafood, and thus it is imperative for us to think about the way we shop, and choose less packaged items and use less plastic bags.

It needs to be noted that the reusable bags one can buy are either made of plastic or fabric and can per unit have a larger carbon footprint then a single plastic bag, and will thus will need to be reused many times to justify its manufacture (on an energy per unit / carbon per unit scale)

What can we do?

Well we can start by using less plastic bags, and hopefully move on to using no plastic bags. It is also no use continuously buying fabric or plastic reusable shopping bags, unless you use them consistently, as the energy and carbon input is high to manufacture them. If you use them consistently, then that is a great way to reduce the use of plastic bags. Similarly use backpacks or baskets when you go shopping that many of us usually have sitting at home, we don’t need to buy a specific shopping bag (remember its not a fashion accessory but a practical accessory) , an already existent bag is perfect. If you do happen to use a plastic bag for whatever reason, reuse them again for shopping, or for bin liners or any other use, don’t just throw them away!

Here are some awesome uses for the collection of plastic bags that you may already have:

Making a basket out of plastic bags http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-a-basket-out-of-plastic-bags/

making a shopping bag out of plastic bags: http://www.instructables.com/id/Shopping-bag-from-plastic-shopping-bags/
Peace and sustainable shopping!

Eating in an environmentally conscious way

feedlot

We can all make environmental decisions about the food we eat, and lets face it, this may be the simplest way in which someone living in an urban landscape can make positive environmental decisions on a day to day basis. It does not require any specialised equipment, or technical knowledge, but rather some patience- and maybe a little sacrifice- in order to understand and research how our food choices impact on the environment.

So what can we do? Easy… Eat less Beef (or meat in general but especially beef). I myself have stopped eating beef (and pork..but for a different reason) for several years now for this exact reason… do i miss it? no not all, however it must be said that i do eat meat in the form of chicken and lamb which i do acknowledge does hold its own issues for the environment, so i am hardly the environmental poster boy, but my reasoning is that these small changes are better than none, and any reduction in eating beef would be positive, and may spark bigger changes and bigger commitments to positive environmental lifestyle choices in the future.

So now let me explain it it simply….The worlds cattle industry contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than the worlds combined transportation, and is second only to the energy industry. There are several ways in which cattle are a poor choice for the environment..

The methane (otherwise know as cow farts) they produce is 20 more times more powerful than carbon dioxide which contributes to climate change and the acidification of the oceans as well as a plethora of other side effects. It is estimated that 18% of greenhouse gases are attributed to livestock production with a large majority from cattle.

As the demand for beef increases the amount of grazing land required also increases with estimates putting the current livestock agricultural use at 30% of the earths land with this expected to double in the near future. This leads to increased land clearing, destruction of forests and general land degradation. The destruction of forests contributes an astronomical amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. It also decreases and impacts biodiversity, as the home of certain organisms are destroyed at the expense of more grazing land. There is also the noted occurrence of desertification which happens when cattle over graze the land and prevent grasses and other plants from growing, and essentially the land turns into a desert and can be difficult to recover from.

Feeding these animals then becomes another problem as often he land is unable to support the large numbers of livestock which are raised on it. As such livestock is fed by corn, which creates large numbers of farms dedicated to maize. This type of monoculture (the production of one type of product from a farm) drains the earth of nutrients and leads to petrochemical fertilisers which are themselves bad for the environment ( i will definitely have to do another blog on this particular issue). This destroys the local ecosystems as the local organisms of animals often require more than one type to plant to survive for example bees. Cattle also requires large amounts of water and is regarded as highly water intensive. This can cause environmental proves as water is diverted to the production of cattle at the expense of local plants and animals and their ecosystems which rely on this water to survive.

So we can see how the livestock/cattle industry impacts on the environment. So now what are our options?

As mentioned above- either stop eating beef or meat or cut down on your consumption. For most people this is unrealistic and somewhat unnecessary if you make conscious meat eating decisions. Cut down on meat and especially beef consumption. Not only will these reduce the impact on the environment, but also likely to increase health benefits (as humans consumption of beef is on average above the suggested weekly intake).

Choose local meat from local farmers where you can. This reduces the transportation of meat and reduces greenhouse gases further. This can be done by buying at local farmers markets. From experience i know this can be done no matter where you live. Farmers markets were easily accessible in Sydney, Melbourne, and in London. I have a farmers market literally 5 minute walk from my place and i live in zone 2 (close to central London). Yes, the cost is more than a bulk buy steak in either coles or tescos, but if you cut down your consumption i am sure you make the costs even out. Don’t be scared to ask questions about the meat your buying if you are unsure where it comes from- your a paying customer, you deserve to know.

Choose organic meat when possible. Although the phenomena of intensive feed lots (form of intensive cattle production which is a highly destructive form of farming) are not common place in the UK or Australia as they are in the USA, it is still important to be aware of the quality of the meat you are eating, particularly if you are purchasing frozen meat where the meat may have come from overseas.

Eat sustainable meats- sustainable meats are those that have minimal impacts on the environment and do not require large amounts of human input. In Australia it is possible to eat kangaroo. kangaroo is not farmed and is often culled due to the high numbers. It is also a native animal which means that it lives in harmony with the environment and its existence is not detrimental to the local environment. Obviously care is needed as you do not want to put any animals existence at risk through overconsumption, however in Australia this is a good alternative to farmed beef. Similarly eating wild invasive species is also a good alternative. Again in Australia there are several introduced species that are causing havoc with our environments and local ecosystems. These include camels, buffalo, wild pigs and rabbits. Make an effort to source butchers that kill invasive species, this way you are assisting the eradication of these animals from the local environment, however ensure that they are wild and not farmed as this would defeat the purpose. Research the areas where you live to determine what invasive species are around and if it is possible to utilise them in a culinary way. I strongly believe that this is the future of addressing rising food demands and the problem of invasive species.
So if you want to be more environmentally friend in your day to day living, addressing this aspect of your life is a good start. Cutting down on the amount of meat you eat on a daily or weekly basis will hardly change your life that much and will probably benefit your overall health at the same time. There’re several other ways in which you can reduce your impact on the environment, and in the case of eating invasive species-can also assist the environment. Any little change is positive and you can start to do his immediately.

If you have an questions or comments please feel free to leave them here.
Peace and happy eating:)

The Enviro Lifestyle begins

So this if officially the first post of The enviro lifestyle.
So what is this blog all about?

Well, essentially its about me trying to learn and share. The topics and issues that i am hoping to learn and share about are of an environmental nature. I guess i have always had an interest that is slowly developing into a passion for the environment and how we can live in a modern world and make positive environmental decisions that don’t necessarily require massive changes to our day to day life.

My belief is that too often we view ourselves as separate from the environment we live in, and that an ‘us vs them’ mentality exists, and this leads to destructive behaviours or even just becoming passive observers of the environment. I believe that we are part of this environment and that in a way we need to live more harmoniously with nature, and that preserving environments, landscapes and ecosystems will ultimately benefit us al in the long term.

I am currently an Aussie living in the UK. I have lived most of my life in big cities (Sydney, Melbourne, London), and can often feel that living in this urban setting has limited my capacity to be more environmentally conscious. I mean how can i build a composting toilet or rely completely on self generated solar panels, when i am renting, don’t have the money, and don’t have the technical skills. And so maybe i cant make these big changes, but i can make smaller changes, and so its about adapting some this knowledge to our own setting, and making a small effort to do something a little bit better.

So what will this blog achieve- well hopefully it gives me a forum to post things about the environment that interest me, and ways that we may be able to alter our behaviours which will bring us closer to that harmonious relationship.

If there is anything that interests you please feel free to let me know and ill see what i can do to explore it and bring it here.