Thursday, 28 January 2010

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

It's the Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend, an event held by the RNIB nationwide to track what is happening to our garden birds. In Cornwall, you're more likely to see unusual birds that you wouldn't normally see up country, such as the Balearic Shearwater or even the Chough, the national bird of Cornwall. 

Back in our gardens, spending an hour watching for and identifying the birds that come and visit is the way to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, so binoculars at the ready! Put some bird feeders out prior to your hour of observation to attract birds into your garden, and make a note of what you see. You can get a list of what birds to look for from the RSPB website. Out of the top 10 birds spotted in Cornwall in 2009 was the good old house sparrow, which is excellent because these birds are actually in decline. It's important to encourage birds into your garden because they can help it in so many ways - more about this later.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Website for ecocornwall

I've spent the majority of today working on the design for the ecocornwall's website, from which readers will be able to download pdf articles, access this blog and of course link to Facebook posts and tweets! It's going to be bright, colourful and loaded with content, reflecting the huge wealth of information and activities available for all of us in Cornwall who want to lead more environmentally conscious lives. Watch this space!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Green events

I have now set up the events page for ecocornwall on Facebook, and will be continually adding to the list. I'm personally very interested in a documentary called Message in the Waves, which is being shown by the Helford Marine Conservation Group, about plastic bags and the effect of marine pollution. 

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Energy Saving Month at Cornwall College

Throughout January the Saltash campus is embarking on a measure to reduce the amount of energy wasted by leaving electrical appliances and lights switched on. Read more here!

Cleaning without chemicals part 2 - using alternative products

Yesterday I went to my local Co-op and bought their own brand 'ecological' washing up liquid, which will replace my current washing up liquid (normally anything that is cheap and does the job). The washing up liquid is priced at 89p compared to Co-op's normal own brand washing up liquid, which is priced at 72p. The bottle has an EU 'Ecolabel', which is apparently given to goods or services that meet its requirements. These include "a high level of biodegradability, restricts use of chemicals harmful to aquatic environments, and cuts down on packaging waste."

The Co-op range of ecological cleaning products. Get more information on how the Co-op aims to reduce the retailing of harmful chemicals here.

I also bought Antony Worrall Thompson's 'Fresh and Green' wipes. I love these wipes and have been buying them for quite a while. They are expensive though, at £1.99 a pack. However, I think it's worth it because all the ingredients come from plant sources, and even the packaging is chalk-based. Using these wipes means I don't have to use a spray cleaner full of harmful chemicals on my work surfaces.

I will keep you updated with more eco-products as I replace the old ones, and in due course I will be posting a detailed price list

Monday, 18 January 2010

Cleaning without chemicals part 1 - what is in my everyday household cleaner?

In a discussion on the ecocornwall Facebook page about chemical cleaning products, I was made aware of the 'cocktail effect' induced by mixing different chemicals together to create a particular product. To look into this further, I have simply dug an all purpose spray cleaner made by one of the major cleaning product manufacturers out of my cupboard and examined the ingredients that make up the spray. Here they are:

<5% Nonionic surfactants
A surfactant is actually a blend of 'surface active agent' - basically it becomes active when sprayed on a surface and cuts through grease and grime (I sound like an advert don't I - terrible!) That's fine but what is it exactly, where does it, or they, come from?
According to Wikipedia:
"Some surfactants are known to be toxic to animals, ecosystems and humans, and can increase the diffusion of other environmental contaminants.Despite this, they are routinely deposited in numerous ways on land and into water systems, whether as part of an intended process or as industrial and household waste." 

This one was quite confusing. But from the research I've done they don't sound too nasty. Basically phosphonates prevent the build-up of limescale. I get the impression that they are used as an alternative to phosphates, which are harmful to fresh-water environments because they encourage the overgrowth of algae. I'm not too worried about these personally.

We all know what soap is, it's a detergent (meaning simply that it cleans). I don't know what type of soap as it doesn't say, and that could be good or bad.

According to the Archives of Dermatology, in a study conducted into 'Antimicrobial Allergy from Polyvinyl Chloride Gloves' (washing up gloves made from PVC, otherwise known as 'marigolds'), this chemical is 'a biocide that is mainly used in industrial settings'. A biocide just means a substance that is capable of killing living organisms, so I strongly suspect that this is the antibacterial agent.

Perfume, Citral, Hexyl Cinnamal, Linalool and Limonene
These are all used to make the cleaner smell 'nice'. Apart from perfume, which could a mixture of various chemicals, Citral, Hexyl Cinnamal come from plant extracts, namely plants such as Lemon Verbena and Chamomile, while Linalool is also found in nature. Limonene is a chemical that according to Wikipedia has not been found to be carcinogenic, although it is a skin irritant. What I want to know is why my cleaner needs so many fragrances to make it smell good.

The general impression I get is that, although the cleaner does make use of natural plant extracts, it also uses some quite harsh, synthetic chemicals that are less than beneficial for both us and our surrounding environment. I don't like the fact that all these chemicals are listed in teeny-tiny writing, and that words like 'soap' are used instead of the actual chemical. I know this is done because companies have the right to preserve their secret formulas, but in the interest of public health?

Friday, 15 January 2010

ecocornwall is now on Facebook

Hi everyone, please feel free to visit the ecocornwall Facebook page. It would be lovely to see some faces and meet up with my fellow greenies!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


I must apologise to all those who were looking forward to an environmentally-friendly gardening post, first I have to talk about cars. Why does this topic relate so closely to Cornwall? Well to start with it's widely known that people in Cornwall tend to use their cars a lot more and for a lot longer over the course of a day, week, year etc. Although the county is paving the way for greater environmental thinking in many areas, many of us live in rural or semi-rural areas poorly covered by public transport. The road networks themselves are in need of improvement - Penzance to Falmouth anyone? - and as a result the need to use our cars on a daily basis is far greater.

First of all I love driving. Although I haven't had a car for over a year (the old one died and I didn't need to replace it), I still miss having a car. I'm very interested in the concept of zero-emission cars, not just because they could help to protect our global climate in the future, but because they could make such a difference to air quality and pollution levels. Also, are they quieter? Could noise pollution be potentially reduced as well? I've just seen the advert for the Renault Electric Cars that are due to be launched in 2011 and I love it! I must admit I'm a real sucker for advertising and whoever is the brains behind it really knows how to work their audience, but I think it's fantastic. I for one would love an electric car, or even better, a hydrogen car (I don't think these ones are going to be mass produced any time soon though).

Image courtesy of See it on its original page

I must draw attention to a very well kept secret that is hiding in my home town of Penzance. Did you know you can actually lease electric vehicles, both cars and commercial, from a company called ecodrive. I believe that there will also be vehicles available to buy from them in the very near future as well. For my part I hope that once ecocornwall becomes a magazine, I will be distributing them using an ecodrive van!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Composting part 2 - the really good bits!

This is where I get to advise anyone who isn't sure, of what they can and can't put in their compost bin! Before I start, I must mention something else that came to light when I sent out the questionnaires - it may seem quite obvious but not everyone has a garden! My solution to this is to either work an arrangement with a neighbour who has got a garden / composting facilities etc, or take your kitchen and green waste to your nearest Household Waste and Recycling Centre, where you can also get rid of white goods such as fridges and washing machines, and electrical items like computer monitors (do not take the computer itself to be recycled if any personal data is still on it). 

Back to composting - I will lay down the basic advice as it is provided by Recycle Now. First of all, you should put your bin on a level, well-drained spot, which will help excess water and liquid to drain away, and makes it easier for creatures like worms to get in and start breaking down the contents. If you put the bin in a sunny spot this will also help. 

Next, you can start filling it up! But there is more to composting than just chucking anything in; it has to be the right mix of ingredients, a mixture of 'greens' and 'browns'.
Greens are quick to rot and provide important nitrogen and moisture. They include:
  • Fruit and vegetable waste
  • Teabags
  • Plant prunings, flower heads, spent plants etc.
  • Grass cuttings
  • Eggshells
Browns are slower to rot but they provide fibre and carbon, and also allow important air pockets to form in the mixture. They include:
  • Cardboard egg boxes
  • Scrunched up paper and newspaper
  • Fallen leaves
There are some things that you should never place in a normal compost bin:
  •  Cooked vegetables
  • Meat and fish
  • Dairy products
  • Diseased plants
  • Animal faeces and litter
  • Baby's nappies
  • Perennial weeds or weeds with seed heads
  • Plastics, glass and metals (these should all be recycled separately) 
Just one additional tip here: if you have a Green Cone you can actually compost many of the normal 'forbidden' items such as meat and fish. I think I will be putting this brilliant invention on my birthday gift list.

So what next? Well you've started filling up the bin with all the right kind of waste, now you have to keep it balanced. If your compost is too wet, add some brown waste (I usually chuck in old newspapers at this point), and if it's too dry, add some green waste, usually whatever I have in the compost caddy. These little things are brilliant, I would always recommend having a little plastic caddy in your kitchen to use like a little second bin when you're cooking. My tip, which I am passing on from a clever fellow reader of Gardener's World magazine, is never line the caddy with compostible liners - you will just have to keep buying them, and they don't actually compost down that well. Just use old newspaper, which composts very well. 

Don't forget to mix your compost every so often. Personally I just shove the garden hoe in there and beat it all down, tun it over a bit. I'm not sure it's a good way to treat the hoe but the compost gets aerated! After approximately 6-9 months the finished compost will be ready for spreading on your garden. I have used mine for digging in around my climbing rose, and also my rhubarb. I can feel a gardening post coming soon!

You can buy this compost bin from

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Composting part 1 - what you should know about landfill first

Before I introduce the topic of composting, can I give you some background information. It is my ultimate goal to turn ecocornwall into a printed magazine this year, and with that in mind I sent out a number of questionnaires in order to find out if there was a market for a printed eco magazine in Cornwall, what potential readers might like to see included as article features, as well as simply finding out how green people in Cornwall really are. Two of the questions I asked were, "how often do you recycle" and "how often do you compost". 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most individuals said that they recycled materials very regularly, even all the time, but never composted any of their kitchen waste. There are so many messages that come through the media telling us to recycle, that it is good for the planet etc, and it always seems to me to be bundled up with the general messages about protecting our climate. So why doesn't composting seem to have the same level of importance? If we are going to concentrate on the local environment (and by local I do just mean Cornwall), then surely it is important to keep as much waste out of landfill as possible. 

The present situation as I understand it, is that SITA (the contractor responsible for public waste management in Cornwall) manages two landfill sites in the county. One is the Connon Bridge site near Liskeard, and the other is United Mines near St Day, Redruth. At the moment all waste that would normally go to Connon Bridge is being diverted to United Mines. The reason for this as I understand it (and please feel free to interject anyone who has more accurate information), is that the United Mines site must close this year (I don't know why but I believe there is a legal reason behind it - is there a law saying you can't use one site for landfill for more than 30 years because of the environmental impact? That would seem logical to me) however, the site is not yet full, the reason why all Cornwall's waste is going there before it is closed.

None of this is particularly cute and fluffy, unlike many 'green' or 'eco' messages that are sent out to us from the government, the EU or anyone else interested in promoting greener living. However, it is important, because knowledge is a key part of being responsible for the environment around you. According to Cornwall Council, only 34% of our waste is recycled (which they take to mean both recycling materials and composting waste), which means that there is plenty of room for improvement. As an individual I recycle everything I possibly can, but I also compost my kitchen waste. As a result I estimate that I keep about 60% of my waste out of landfill. Can you imagine what things would be like if everyone did this? For me it's a no-brainer, an obsessive compulsion even (I'll happily admit to that!) but for others, it would mean a real change in thinking and lifestyle. 

So why doesn't kitchen waste work well in landfill? It should just rot down right? Apparently not. Both kitchen and garden waste needs to be exposed to the air and not contaminated with other materials such as plastics. To produce good compost, wet waste (for example, eggshells and banana skins) needs to be mixed with dry waste (such as newspaper, cardboard, dry leaves), fairly evenly and be turned over every so often to aerate it. This doesn't happen in landfill. Everything just gets dumped in together, and the magic processes that turn kitchen and garden waste into lovely compost never get a chance to take effect.

Image thanks to the fantastic blog at

Composting and Recycling - Cornwall Council   

Why landfill is bad and composting is good - Cornwall Council  (this is a particularly good link and explains everything that I have said in more detail)

Saturday, 9 January 2010

How you can make a difference from the start

Probably the easiest way to be greener is simply to start recycling - and that means sorting your paper (cardboard, envelopes etc), glass, tins and your old newspapers and magazines. You can use your green box but personally I am quite fussy about doing my recycling and always take what I've got to a supermarket car park and put it all in their recycling bins. If you sort it all out into different bags before you leave home it's much quicker once you get to there to get rid of it. You can also make things even easier by getting specific bags for recycling and putting them in your kitchen; either just separate them as you go into plastic bags or get some made especially for this purpose - I saw some at B & Q and Penzance. I would link to the online page for these bags, which I think are brilliant, but after having scoured Google I cannot find them! So my advice is to go into the shop and have a look, I expect they will be stacked near the bin bags. 

Don't forget to actually recycle your plastic bags either; I'm only human and yes I do sometimes forget to take my lovely Co-op cloth bag with me when I go out (try and keep it in your handbag or pocket if you can though), in which case I will get a plastic carrier bag, however, I always reuse or recycle the bag. I have included this brilliant link to Recycle for Cornwall, as it gives a lot more advice and information than I could ever possibly give; it also has a page on home composting, which I do religiously, and will be covering in my next post!

Recycle for Cornwall

Friday, 8 January 2010

What makes Cornwall so 'green'?

When I began researching this topic, I was bombarded with answers. Big names come to mind first of all, words like 'Eden' and Wave Hub', and yes it's true, Cornwall is home to both these projects. The Eden Project really has put Cornwall on the map for so many reasons, being home to the world's largest greenhouse and drawing many thousands of visitors from across the world to see its iconic biomes every year. The Wave Hub is an exciting new project based in Hayle that aims to harness the power of wave energy; essentially it will act as a form of 'socket' for wave energy converters to be plugged into, with the aim of providing power for 7,500 homes once connected to the National Grid.

But what about before these fantastic new enterprises made their mark on the Cornish landscape (and seascape)? What about 20 years ago when the environment wasn't a hot topic and the green consumer barely existed? Cornwall was leading even back then. In 1991, it was the site of the UK's first ever commercial wind farm,
which was constructed at Delabole, near Camelford. Today, it is home to several more sites, all doing their bit to generate power from a sustainable source. I will leave the many controversies surrounding wind farm technology until a later date!

Eden Project Wikipedia entry
Wave Hub Wikipedia entry