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Friday, July 27, 2007

TetraPacks: A bigger problem for recycling than the 'weeky or not' row. 

The next big recycling problem is almost upon us – Tetra Packs and similar cartons, and even more so the new compact pouches originally developed to hold US military rations.

Cans and glass jars are due for a steep decline as supermarkets make more and more use of the pouches–and that will change the whole balance of the waste disposal cycle. If we don’t get a grip on this change before The Market leads us into it we will find ourselves with a massive increase in landfill flow and greatly increased costs to the taxpayer.

Most areas do not have facilities for recycling Tetra Packs, something which the TP company commendably tries to tackle. It has a website with lots of links, notes on policy initiatives and a call on the public to contact their local authorities if they do not have TetraPack recycling facilities locally. Unfortunately things are not quite the way described on the website… for example the only facility in the UK capable of dealing with tetrapack-type waste has just closed down so all material needs to be exported to European facilities. And there are real practical problems with the solutions suggested on the web.

However a number of new Pack Collection Bins are due to be opened for business on 31st July across the UK in various authorities. These are provided free by Tetrapack. Keep an eye out for these, and do note how well they are administered. As with all these central collection facilities (outside supermarkets for example) a key question is how often the bins are cleared. There are a lot of packs out there and overflowing bins would be a real public nuisance.

The use of these packs for fruit juices and smoothies has resulted in a big jump in this waste flow – but the big big impact will come with the new pouches. These are the snip-the-top, stand-up-in-the-microwave packs. For things like cook-in sauces, soups, and similar foods now sold in cans or jars, they represent a huge attraction for the shops as they are much easier to store and display. Plus, a whole new range of prepared dishes are emerging in this new packaging. Market forces are selecting this as the first cycle of costs and benefits shows clear cost and handling convenience pluses for producers, retailers and shoppers. But the choices freely made in this cycle lead to big costs in the next round. We need to think about this carefully…

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In addition to tetra-packs, no one really in our local council seems to be grasping the issue of recycling cardboard packing - not the corrigated stuff, just the thing that wraps around a ready meal,fish-fingers,etc. Why have they been able to do this for over 15 years in Australia, but not here...???
 
The pouches that I've seen seem to be much smaller and lighter than the equivalent capacity jars and cartons. Surely then, this is a reduction in packaging which is even better than recycling - and something to be cheered, not bemoaned.
 
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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Soils and flooding - key research from 1999 not followed up. 

One of my local centres of excellence is the National Soil Research Institute at Cranfield University – which has a lot to say about the current floods. It has a damning comment on the failure nationally to follow up on research after the 1999 UK floods. This expands on a key point raised by Jonathan Calder on the impact of intensive agriculture on floods.

“After the severe floods of November 1999” says Dick Thompson, NSRI Director “and with the help of the Environment Agency, we looked at the soils within affected catchments and found many to have poor structure.
“Soils were waterlogged on their surface but dry to five cm depth beneath and were not absorbing the rain falling on them. We recommended further field-based investigation to establish properly the link between field soil conditions and flooding.
"Seven years on”, he continued “a field-based study has yet to be commissioned and damaging floods appear even more frequent."
Soil scientists at NSRI believe that the severity of the weather may only be part of the story.
The majority of rain, probably 90%, falls on open countryside where the soil and
vegetation absorb rainwater before it is discharged slowly to the river network.Flooding occurs when the rainfall exceeds the ability of the land to absorb and retain it. Compact or 'capped' soils have much reduced infiltration capacities and rainfall runs off into the rivers more readily. This sort of uncontrolled run-off is a cause of local flash flooding. It needs to be established in detail whether such effects have contributed to the current floods.

The ‘current floods’ referred to in that release were the June Events in the North.

Another NSRI initiative was launched on 18th July. Planning authorities and others concerned about flood risks for specific development sites may be interested in Cranfield’s new ‘Soil Site Reporter’ database and information service,

The Soil Site Reporter is a new, easy-to-use, soil reporting tool which produces site-specific soil information with maps and soil descriptions.
As the national authority on the sustainable management of soil resources for England and Wales, NSRI holds a vast collection of soils information, now available in a matter of minutes with the input of a grid reference or post code.
Each report, downloadable in pdf format, provides detailed information on the expected soil conditions at the site and outlines interpretations of the suitability for different uses. It also details a variety of environmental issues such as the potential of damaging ground movement or pipe corrosion, and the ease with which chemicals can leach into groundwater or runoff into rivers.

Please note I am not in any way connected with Cranfield University still less of NSRI – I only report with local pride something of national impact with clear relevance to very serious developments.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Iraq - the C4 report on Saturday 

Those of us who fall asleep in front of the telly having turned on to 'Big Brother' by mistake may may be waking up early in the morning to a very different Channel 4 programme. 'The Iraq Commission' is a series of hearings chaired variously by Paddy Ashdown, Baroness Jay and Tom King grilling witnesses with a wide variety of views on the appaling situation in that country.

Selections of that evidence have been broadcast recently in two-hour long C4 programms beginning at about 10 minutes after midnight.

The final programme is at a much more civilised hour on Saturday 14th July (starts 7.30 pm) and will be the report of the commission given on the basis of the evidence presented.

Ming Campbell presented evidence to the commission on 11 June (Broadcast on 5th July).

All witnesses transcripts are available online (in .pdf). Videos of presentations available, and other submissions are also on line including a written submission ( .pdf) from the Party.

Incdentially Ming referred toa third document teh LibDems were sending to the commission, but this does not seem to be up on the website. Maybe we could make it available online ourselves?

Much, much better Channel4. Pity a slot could not have been found for an earlier transmission time for the main evidence sessions.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Nasin ante li pona tawa jan ante 

Different strokes for different folks - (different ways suite different people) a good Liberal sentiment expressed in Toki Pona. This language with a claimed total of 120 words was invented by Canadian linguist Sonja Elen Kissa. Looks quite fun. Imagine writing a FOCUS in this language - offical guidelines here.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Farewell the one and only George. 

So farewell then George Melly, one of those people who must have been quite exciting to know.

I never met him despite my son (on his mothers side) being first cousin once removed to his brother’s wife and so second cousin to his brother’s children. One possible reason for this is that the connection is through a family of outstandingly conventional solicitors and estate agents in Torquay.

I did meet the solicitors and so on... but how we waste our life’s opportunities… dreaming our dreams away.

Tributes in The Guardian to George include the story of how he always kept 'underneath the arches' in his repertory of songs, and said he would do so until the only homeless were those who chose to be so...


Underneath the arches
We dream our dreams away
Underneath the arches
On cobblestones we lay

Every night you'll find us
Tired out and worn
Happy when the daylight comes creeping
Heralding the dawn

Sleeping when it's raining
And sleeping when it's fine
Trains travelling
By above

Pavement is our pillow
No matter where we stray
Underneath the arches
We dream our dreams away

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy 'Lucky Escape' day! 

Yes it is the 4th of July again, the anniversary of the second day after the US Declaration of Independence was actually voted on.

US Independence was a huge and lucky escape for Britain and the world.

Britain learned after US independence that trade did not depend on colonial controlls. Cross-atlantic commerce boomed after peace was made. This astonished the French who thought they had engineered the beginning of the collapse of the British Economy by cutting off Britain's colonial lifeline.

It was the first practical sign of the reality of Free Trade and the power of the ideas of Adam Smith.

Britain thus also avoided involvement with the rolling slaughter of the US expansion westwards - one of the real causes of the Revolution was the sincere attempt of the King to protect people who had become his subjects, namely various Native American nations some of which were settling on the western lands and becoming farmers. Land speculators in the colonies (such as George Washington) were the backbone of the revolt, frightened that native americans might suddenly put a block on reaising their investments. It is impossible to see how conflict between British Authority and this powerful class of speculators could have been avoided. At least the war and the revolutionary settlement occured at a time when the revolutionary elite was at a high point of Enlightenment enthusiasm and managed to hijack the revolt from the cruder elements powering the grassroots radicals. So we have the various documents and declarations that made a civilised outcome possible, and can even inspire a Briton today.

Another point. Without US Independence , Britain would have remained snared in the politics of the slave-owning colonies which would have built up massive vested interests in Parliament.

The UK abolition of the Slave Trade, and subsequently of Slavery itself, owed a lot to the political isolation of the West Indies planters, giving campaigning room for the various abolitionist campaigns. If the planters had found allies amongst the still-colonial Americas things could have have been very difficult.

And the lingering anti-American sentiments amongst establishment figures helped to make the abolitionist cause politically respectable as Britons gave themselves a license to sneer at the pretensions of a Republic which preached political liberty but practiced chattel slavery. Yes this is not a very happy reaction, but true I think.

So thank you Benjamin Franklin, even if you did subsequently engineer an unnecessary prolongation of the war by bringing in the French (and thus continue to earn personal commissions on the contracts to supply arms to the rebels - the BAe affair does not hold a candle on that scandal).

History is much more interesting than our standard stories tell us...

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Monday, July 02, 2007

A constitutional 

The 'zippo lighter' attacks have obscured the preparations for Browns initiatives on the UK Constitution.

We put in our pre-emptative position on the constitution with Ming's statement on June 29th and the publication of our twenty-step programme for democratic renewal.

Over on the Our Kingdom blog which is spearheding debates on the constitution issues they comment that LibDem blogosphere discussion of this theme seem not to be visible and ask for any links.

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Where is the Lib-Dem debate on how to take forward the democratic agenda?

Anthony Barnett
OurKingdom
 
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