Green Tau issue 34 

Fancy a Refill?

Buying milk in glass bottles that are returned empty and refilled has a long

tradition in the UK. The glass bottles can be used 50 or more times although the average reuse may be closer to 20. The system is facilitated by the door to door delivery of milk and simultaneous collection of the empties, which are then returned to the dairy where they will be cleaned and refilled. 

This refill system avoids the production of waste or hard to recycle materials. It is more efficient than putting milk into plastic containers which are, once empty, collected by a waste collection service, sent to various recycling facilities before being remade – ideally – into a new plastic milk carton. Currently plastic milk cartons are made of 40% recycled plastic and 60% virgin plastic. 

In the past beer and fizzy drinks were sold in bottles with a deposit that was repaid when the bottle was returned. These bottles were returned to the manufacturer and refilled. This practice continues today in countries such as Germany. (Having bought a bottle of beer on a German train, I then found in the corridor a specially designed cupboard into which the empties slotted for their safe return). Whilst we are still waiting for this approach to be reintroduced in Britain, there is a growing number of local outlets where you can refill your bottles with beers, wine and milk etc.

Milk delivery services are branching out and supplying not just dairy milk in refillable bottles but also plant based milks, and fruit juices. Milk and More has partnered with ‘Fill’ to supply refillable bottles of cleaning products: empty bottles are simply returned for reuse along with ones empty milk bottles. Here in Sheen the Micro Beer shop has a changing selection of beers on tap each week – buy one of their beer bottles or take your own sealable 1 litre bottle. Apple and Bees offers red and white refills from Borough Wines. The Source Bulk store in Richmond has oat milk on tap and Gilcombe Farm brings a churn of its raw milk to the Barnes Farmers’ Market – again buy one of their bottles or bring your own.

Can other food stuffs be sold in reusable containers? Yes. 

Tesco has teamed up with Loop. In selected stores customers can buy a range of products sold in reusable containers, paying a deposit which is refunded when the empty container is returned for reuse. The Loop range includes items such as peanut butter and jam, pasta and rice, porridge oats and muesli, tea bags and dishwasher tablets, ketchup and face cream. Abel and Cole offer a similar scheme for their customers, supplying lentils, pasta, rice, oats, dates, quinoa, raisins and chocolate buttons, in returnable reusable containers. 

There are a growing net of refill/ bulk stores which stock terms in bulk allowing customers to decant and buy as much as they want. Typically the store either provides paper bags for the produce or invites consumers to bring their own bags or containers. The latter provides the more desirable zero waste outcome. Various supermarkets (Aldi, Asda, The Central England Cooperative, M&S, Morrisons and Waitrose) are also experimenting with the refill concept – either along the lines of bulk stores with items dispensed into paper bags etc, or wit products sold in returnable containers. 

Local for East Sheen, Culver and Nelson has a refill section for various dry goods. The Source Bulk store in Richmond sells both dry goods,  liquid commodities such as oil, vinegar, maple syrup, and tamari sauce, as well honey and nut butters etc dispensed into reusable jars. Both The Source and Apple and Bees sell liquid cleaning products – washing up liquid, laundry detergent, hair shampoo, liquid soap, toilet cleaner – as refills.

Beyond food there are other items that can be bought as refills such as ink for fountain pens and ink for printers (eg Epson). 

Green Tau issue 33

10th February 2022

What happens to the plastic in our recycling bin?

Each week, here in the Borough of Richmond, our black recycling boxes with their mix of metal glass, metal and plastics are collected and taken away. What happens next?

The collected waste is transported to a materials recovery facility in Mansfield where iron and aluminium, glass and different plastics are extracted via various mechanisms including magnetic drums, weight and size sifting, infra red detection and hand sorting. Once sorted the recyclable plastic is compacted into bales and dispatched on the next stage of its recycling journey.  

At the recycling facility in Leeds, the plastic waste is sorted according to the type of plastic – HDPE (high density polypropylene, PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) – and according to the form of the plastic – bottles or tubs, semi rigid or film. From here the sorted plastic goes to reprocessing plants either in the UK or elsewhere in Europe. The waste plastic is turned into either flakes or pellets which can then be used to make new plastic items, either totally or partially replacing virgin plastic.

From Richmond’s waste, PET bottles are recycled in the UK where they are reprocessed as new PET bottles. HDPE plastic (such as milk cartons) are sent to plants either in the UK or in Belgium where they are reprocessed into moulded items such as containers, pipes or packaging. The semi rigid pots, tubs and trays made of polypropylene (PP)  are recycled either in the UK or elsewhere in Europe. The recycling process includes thoroughly cleaning the plastic to remove any contamination (you should still clean your plastic before putting it in the recycling bin). The recycled plastic are pelleted into a form that can be used to make imitation wooden items such as garden furniture. However new plants are being built which can produce food-grade recycled polypropylene (rPP).

“Packaging producer Berry is building a new polypropylene (PP) recycling facility in Leamington, United Kingdom, that  will produce food-grade materials with a target purity standard of 99.9 percent..Packaging produced from this rPP material will result in 35 percent less CO2 emissions, [&] require 50 percent less water consumption” https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/berry-uk-polypropylene-recycling-plant/

Soft plastics such as crisp packets, biscuit wrappers, breakfast cereal bags, frozen vegetables bags etc are not – at present -collected by local authorities. Most supermarkets will collect plastic carrier bags for recycling and an increasing number are now also making provision to collect and recycle all soft plastic packaging. These items are made from LDPE (low density poly ethylene). Being lightweight and flimsy they need different recycling equipment from that used for the denser more rigid HDPE. To recycle LDPE new recycling plants are being built.

  “Yes Recycling is currently constructing a new facility in Glenrothes, to specialise in dealing with hard-to-recycle soft plastics – including cellophane, bread wrappers and film lids – which would previously have been added to landfill, burned or exported for processing… Financed in part with a loan from Triodos Bank, the new plant will be capable of processing 15,000 tonnes of soft plastic each year, giving the waste a new life by turning it into plastic flakes and pellets for manufacture, as well as a pioneering alternative to plywood, developed over the past 12 years, that can be used in construction.” https://www.triodos.co.uk/articles/2022/saying-yes-to-recycling—how-a-pioneering-new-facility-is-tackling-plastic-waste  The recycling plant is co-owned by the Morrisons supermarket chain.

To close the loop, we should expect to be able to buy products in bottles and containers made of recycled plastic. As of September 2021 all plastic bottles of 500ml or less for Coca-Cola will be made of  100% recycled plastic and will continue to be fully recyclable. 

Hellman’s squeezable mayonnaise bottles are also made of 100% recycled plastic whilst Persia laundry liquid bottles are made of 70% recycled plastic. Both brands are owned by Unilever. 

As consumers we can ask producers to both supply products in recyclable packaging and ask  that such packaging itself be made from recycled material. Equally we can seek out products that do not require additional packaging or that can be dispensed into refillable containers. This avoids the need to collect and recycle the packaging which – as can be seen above -can involved shipping waste over long distances and through various stages of processing. 

Green Tau Issue 32

Why Recycle? 

Recycling has over the years become a more topical subject, linked to a growing

awareness of concern for the environment, and in particular concerns about climate change. Over the last decade recycling rates in the Uk have been increasing. In 2010/11 42% of waste (that is waste from households) was recycled. Recycling rates reached a peak in 2019/20 of 45.5% – but last year they fell back to under 44% (a rate last recorded in 2012/13).  2020/21 also saw a small increase (1.3%) in the total volume of household waste.

Why do we seek to recycle more? How does it help the environment? How does it impact on climate change?

Reasons for recycling:

  • Reduces  the space needed for landfill. It is better for the environment if land is kept in its natural state rather than being filled with waste. The experience of the covid pandemic has shown us the value of green spaces.
  • Reduces the risk of pollution. Landfill as a means of waste disposal leads to air and water pollution as obnoxious chemicals and particulates escape. Landfill creates long term pollution as  toxic chemicals remain lodged in the soil. As materials rot, landfill sites become a source of methane one of the more powerful green house gases. Disposing of waste by incineration causes pollution, both from poisonous chemicals and from particulates that cause lung diseases. Incineration also produces greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Un-disposed or improperly disposed waste creates litter. Litter is an eye sore and detracts from people’s quality of life. Litter can harbour and spread desirable bacteria etc. Litter can blocked drains and rivers, leading to flooding. It can be consumed by animals causing injury or death. Through the food chain, micro quantities of plastic are now being found in the bodies of all living creatures, including ourselves. 
  • Recycling conserves limited natural resources. There comes a point at which the supply of natural sources of materials – iron ore, helium gas, lithium etc -will run out. Then we will have to rely on reusing these materials.
  • NB Helium gas cannot be manufactured. It has to be carefully mined as once released into the atmosphere, its light weight means that it floats straight out into the outermost part of the atmosphere. Helium is an essential gas used in the operating of MRI scanners – we cannot afford to use it in party balloons.
  • Recycling conserves energy used in producing raw materials. Aluminium in particular requires large amounts of energy to extract the metal from the bauxite. Far less energy is needed to create fresh aluminium from pre-used aluminium.
  • Recycling can save or earn money. Metals such as gold and aluminium obviously have a high scrap value, but as too do other materials such as glass, plastics, paper and card although the economies of scale vary.
  • Recycling allows for the replenishment of natural resources. Recycling – ie composting – food waste allows the nutrients in the waste to be returned to the soil to maintain its fertility. 
  • Recycling materials can avoid the destruction of habitats. Using recycled paper and cardboard avoids the need to cut down trees and the associated destruction of woodland habitats.
  • Recycling reduces pollution. Using recycled plastic to make a bottle cause far less pollution than would be  involved in first extracting and transporting oil, and  then in processing the oil to  turn it into a plastic ready for making into a bottle.
  • Recycling can save water. Making clothes from recycled cotton uses less water than growing cotton to produce new cotton. Recycling paper uses less water than making paper from timber. 
  • Recycling can reduce transport costs and emissions. If the recycling takes place locally, it avoids the costs of transporting raw materials from further away. The converse is also true. Recycling is not energy efficient of the materials to be recycled are sent far away/ overseas to be recycled before being returned as new products. 
  • Recycling only works if people then buy the recycled product. Recycling paper, but never buying and using recycled paper does not help. Recycling plastic bottles only helps if we then buy drinks/ laundry liquids etc in recycled plastic bottles. Recycling aluminium foil only helps if we then buy recycled aluminium foil. We need to close the loop!

Recycling does benefit the environment and does limit some of our production of carbon dioxide emissions. Why then are recycling rates so low? Can we afford financially and environmentally to throw away more then 50% of our household waste?

See also:-

Recycling eco tips https://greentau.org/2021/12/20/eco-tips-16/

Stewardship of things https://greentau.org/2021/09/20/eco-tips-8/

The ins and outs of packaging https://greentau.org/2021/08/16/eco-tips-packaging/

Zero waste https://greentau.org/2022/01/27/eco-tips-zero-waste/

Green Tau: issue 30

The challenge of rising sea levels for Pacific islands.

20th January 2022

Last week the Green Tau focused on Richmond and the likely effects of the increased risk of flooding arising from climate change. This week the focus will be on Tarawa, one of the 33 atolls that makes up the Pacific nation of Kiribati.  

Tarawa is one of the largest of Kiribati atolls and is home to one 60,000  people, about 53% of the total population. Seen from above, Tarawa is a long thin strip of land that curves to form two sides of a triangle, in the middle of which is a lagoon. (Atolls are islands created by volcanic action. The former crater forms a dip in the middle). The third side of the triangle is below sea level and is home to a coral reef. It has a very long coast line in proportion to its land area. The land is flat and low lying, rising to about 2-3m above sea level.  Beaches on the lagoon side tend to be wider and shallower than this on the ocean side.

Scientific research suggests that the rise in average sea levels for Tarawa, by 2100,  will be between 0.5  (if the global temperature increase is kept below 1.5C) to 1.2m (if the increase in the worst case is 5-6C). Present projections suggest we are on track for a 2.7C temperature rise – and a projected sea level rise for Tarawa of 0.6m. High tide is typically 1.2m above the mean sea level, but is subject to variation. For example tide levels rise during periods when the El Niño weather system is dominant because the high pressure lifts sea levels. Because of its shape, with along coast lines and narrow low lying land mass, Tarawa – like many similar atolls and islands – is very vulnerable to rising seas levels. The people of Tarawa can see that before the end of this century they may no longer have an island on which to live! 

Sea levels also rise markedly when drive by cyclones. The Republic of Kiribati used not to be affected by tropical cyclones but with increasing global temperatures and changing weather patterns, this is no longer so. Not only do cyclones produce flooding with high waves, but the strong winds are particularly destructive to low lying lands such as on Tarawa with the winds breaking sea defences, ripping up vegetation and blowing away soil. (Soil depths are already shallow because these volcanic atolls are relatively youthful in geological terms). 

Tarawa is located on the Equator and it has a tropical rainforest climate. It rains on average every other day, with a high of rainfall of about 300mm a month in January and a minimum of 100mm in September. This ensures that the  water table is regularly topped up.  However the land above sea level at Tarawa is narrow, with saline after on both sides. Rising sea levels leads to the contamination of freshwater supplies with salt. This reduces water for drinking etc as well as damaging agricultural crops and plant life generally. 

Rising global temperature affect not just the air but also ocean temperatures. Since preindustrial times, global sea surface temperatures have risen by 0.7C. The rate of increase has risen in recent decades and particularly so in the last 6 years. Temperatures rises are not uniform and have been more marked in the southern Pacific waters. The IPCC predicts sea temperatures may rise by 1.2 to 3.2C by 2100 (depending on our ability to reduce carbon emissions). Rising sea temperatures affect marine life generally and reefs in particular. Temperature rises in the region of 1C can cause the bleaching of coral reefs. This draining of colour shows that the coral is stressed, and is likely to die.  Associated with heat rises accentuated by El Niño, Tarawa has had repeated incidences of coral bleaching. When coral reefs die and break down, they no longer protect local shores from erosion nor protect lagoons from destructive waves that destroy the particular ecology of those calmer waters. The loss of coral reefs also leads to losses  of  marine biodiversity.

Tarawa and the rest of the atolls in the Republic of Kiribati are not alone in facing these devastating effects of climate change. In 1990 they and other similarly vulnerable countries formed the Alliance of Small Island States to give themselves collectively a more voluble voice in discussion and proposals around the climate crisis. The AOSIS was a particularly strong presence at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015. Their voice was also heard at the Glasgow COP last year although because of covid fewer delegates were able to attend. One of those unable to travel was the former President of Kiribati, Anote Tong. Speaking from home, he told ITV News that beyond 2030 “our very existence might be in jeopardy”. 

In 2012 Tong bought a 2700 hectare estate on the island of Vanue Levu in Fiji as a refuge for the citizens of Kiribati, plus a further 2000 hectares in 2014. Between 2003 and 2015 the Kiribati Adaptation Plan was executed using money raised by the United Nations from wealthy donors such as Australia This included projects such as planting mangrove palms to limit coastal erosion, strengthening sea wall defences, and installing rainwater butts to help safeguard fresh water supplies. 

In 2020 the new President of Kiribati, Taneti Maamau, announced plans, in conjunction with China, to artificially build up parts of Tarawa, to raise them above projected sea level rises.

In the mean time other adaptations projects are on going to improve the islanders’ living standards and build up their resilience in the face of flooding. These include encouraging islanders to develop traditional food gardens to protect against sudden food shortages (much of Kiribati’s food is imported), developing fish management schemes to prevent over fishing, and increasing provision shade to protect people from adverse temperatures. Consideration is now being given to using the land bought in Fiji to provide food for Kiribati. It seems that due to poverty, the people of Kiribati are not well equipped to cope with the extra demands and risks of the climate crisis. Equally important are these projects designed to improve their living standards, health and well being.

Green Tau: issue 30

Flooding in the Thames is a threat that comes from both upstream and downstream

12th January 2022 

World wide action to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis are aiming to keep global temperature rises to 1.5C. Whilst that is the target spoken about by governments and businesses, Climate Action Tracker, analysing actual actions being taken, predict that we are on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7C (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-59220687). This level of temperature rise will lead to a faster melting of ice caps and glaciers, causing sea levels to rise  and more extremes bouts of weather, increasing the severity and frequency of floods.

Here in south east England sea levels are projected to rise by approximately 1.4m  – a little under a meter if the  temperature rise is brought below 1.5C (https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/news/2019/uk-sea-level-projections-to-2300). The Met office also predicts that 1 in 10,000-year flood events are likely to occur more than once a year by 2300. 

The Thames is tidal all the way up to Teddington Lock. At present the Thames Barrier is raised when ever there is a high tide that threatens to flood London. High tides are caused not just by the movement of the moon, nor by rising global sea levels. They are are also affected by weather systems. For example the height of a tide coming in from the North Sea can be increased by an on shore wind or by  a low pressure system over the sea. Rising global temperatures that are causing rising sea levels and more frequent and intense weather systems means that the time will come when  the Barrier will no longer be able to hold back an incoming high tide. The Corporation of  London is considering plans to tackle this, including increasing the height of the Barrier and raising the height of the walls that bound the Thames – eg  along The Embankment – by a further meter. There is debate as to whether this should be with glass so as not to obstruct the view of or from the river. 

When the Barrier is raised to slow an incoming high tide, the water that is held back has to go somewhere – that is somewhere in the Thames estuary downstream of the Barrier. There is a flood storage area at Tilbury and on both sides of the Estuary there are area of marshland and farmland where flood waters can flow. These are in between  other at risk built-up areas which have their own flood defences. Such provision will need to be reviewed as tide levels rise.

The Thames Barrier is also closed when there is a risk of flooding upstream. The Thames has a large  drainage basin that extends all the way up into Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds. Heavy and/ or persistent rain anywhere in the area can raise river levels  such that places such as Windsor, Thames Ditton, Richmond, Hammersmith risk being flooded. In such circumstances the Barrier can be raised at low tide, to prevent sea waters entering the lower part of the Thames so creating a reservoir where high volumes of water from upstream and be stored until the risk of flooding is lowered. The protection offered by this scheme is not going to be sufficient to cope with predicted rises in water levels due to the climate crisis.

The following map shows areas of London that will lie below the anticipated annual flood level based on the IPCC’s climate change forecasts. (https://sealevel.climatecentral.org/maps/


Boroughs along the Thames, such as Richmond, are having to develop plans to both limit or avert factors that contribute towards the risk of flooding and to constrain the adverse effects such flooding will cause. In part they will be dependant upon actions take by other people and organisations further upstream. For example, if further a.one the Thames, houses are built on the flood plain, then water that might otherwise be held or absorbed by that flood plain, will instead flow on down stream exacerbating the problem in Richmond. Similarly if surfaces that are currently – eg covered with grass and other vegetation – are replaced by hard surfacing such as tarmac, then again more water will flow more rapidly off the land and into the river. In a similar way areas of woodland are cleared, then less water will held in the land and instead will add to the volume in the river. Conversely recreating water meadows to allow flood waters to accumulate safely up stream, replacing hard surfaces with soft one, and planting trees, can all help reduce the volume and speed with which water drains off the land and into the river. In the Old Deer Park there are plans for the ‘re-wilding ’ of the land allowing formation of seasonal ponds/ lagoons and the growth of water-loving plants that increase the water absorbing capacity of the land. You can read more about this here – http://thames-landscape-strategy.org.uk/what-we-do/rewilding-arcadia/

Green Tau: issue 29

Caring for creation with every meal – Use your LOAF!

What we eat impacts the world around us – the welfare of animals, the welfare of wildlife, the fair sharing of water, the  fertility of the soil, the  well being of those who grow and produce food. It also contributes to the climate crisis. Making step by step changes, we can better care for creation.

The organisation Green Christian has produced the nemonic LOAF – Local, Organic, Animal friendly, fairly traded – to help us buy and eat sustainably with care for the world. https://greenchristian.org.uk/gc-campaigns/loaf/

L locally grown, locally produced. 

Local reduces the carbon miles attached to our food. Local keeps us in touch with those who grow, make and sell our food. Growing our own keeps us in touch with the soil itself!

O organic.

Food, whether that is crops grown or animals raised, that is produced organically removes chemical fertilisers and pesticides from the environment where they cause damage to water supplies, wild life and human health. Instead organic farming works in harmony with the environment boosting its well being and biodiversity.

A animal friendly. 

Animals including birds and fish, should always be treated with care and respect. Factory farming for example, treats animals as profit-making commodities. Arable farming also has a responsibility to be animal friendly, including the wellbeing of birds and insects.

F fairly traded. 

Throughout the supply chain from farm labourer to shelf stacker, lorry driver to barista, each person deserves to be treated fairly.

In a previous issue of the Green Tau – https://greentau.org/2021/08/14/green-tau-issue-12/

I have written about food and our carbon footprint. The Ethical Consumer’s Climate Gap Report notes that to be on track for net zero we need to reduce the carbon footprint of our food by 15% by 2030. So far (ie since 2019) reductions have not even risen above 0%.  It is imperative that we do look at and adjust what we eat, to reduce waste, to reduce our carbon footprint and to reduce the negative impact we have on the environment. Eating sustainably we can safeguard our own futures and improve that of the world in which we live.

  1. Eat less meat and dairy, replacing these with plant-based alternatives. “Veganuary” makes this a good time to try different vegan options. See the Eco Tips page on swopping to a vegan diet – https://greentau.org/2021/10/12/eco-tips-11/
  2. Use local food shops. Buy locally produced food. 
  3. In supermarkets choose UK grown rather than imported fruit and vegetables. 
  4. Eat what’s in season – strawberries in May/ June, blueberries in July/ August. 
  5. Subscribe to a veg box – eg Riverford’s or Abel and Cole – or OddBox which fills its boxes with fruit and veg that would otherwise go to waste.
  6. Use local farmers’ markets 
  7. Expand the variety of fruits and vegetables that you buy. Biodiversity is an important way forward for farming – https://greentau.org/2021/10/08/the-green-tau-issue-20-2/
  8. Opt for UK produce over imports. Hodmedod sells UK grown beans and pulses rather than those that come from Canada/ China etc.  https://hodmedods.co.uk/
  9. Opt for organic produce.
  10. Opt for fair trade products. This article relates to chocolate – https://greentau.org/2021/12/11/green-tau-issue-26/
  11. Use refill shops – also known as bulk stores. Take your own containers or use the shop’s paper bags to buy loose ingredients such as beans and pulses, grains, dried fruit etc. 
  12. When buying meat, find a butcher who knows where the meat comes from and how it has been raised.
  13. Be prepared to pay more for meat and diary products that have been reared to a higher ethical standard.
  14. Use a milk delivery service such as Milk and More for both dairy and oat milk in refillable glass bottles.
  15. When buying fish, check whether it is sustainably sourced and/or farmed. Refer to the Marine Conservation Society’s guide as to which fish are not endangered.
  16. Plan your meals and your shopping to avoid throwing food away – https://greentau.org/2021/08/09/eco-tips-4/
  17. Keep a habit of saying Grace at meals. Appreciation and gratitude go together. 

Green Tau: issue 28 

22nd December 2021

Sugar sweet?

Sugar cane is the source of about 80% of the sugar consumed across the world. It is a plantation crop that goes back centuries and has a history linked with exploitation and slavery. As a plantation crop it has been responsible for the deforestation of tropical landscapes and as demand for sugar continues to increase this is still on going – especially in Brazil where sugar cane is also grown to produce the fuel ethanol: ‘The Atlantic Forest, or Mata Atlântica in Portuguese, is found on the Atlantic coast of Brazil. It should be full of life, supporting thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else. It’s different from the Amazon rainforest but equally important. Around 500 years ago it would have covered an area of more than 1.5 million square kilometres. Now, more than 90% of it is gone, cleared mostly for timber, pasture and sugar.’ (https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/sugar-a-killer-crop.html)

 Sugar cane occupies approximately 2.4 million hectare world wide. 70% of production is for domestic use (which for example would include the production of ethanol in Brazil) but for some countries the production of sugar for export constitutes a significant part of their national income eg Cuba and Belize. Volatile global prices makes for great uncertainty for local growers/ plantation workers who can do little to control their incomes. Whilst the premium paid through the Fair Trade scheme undoubtedly helps, the production of fair trade sugar – 528,000 tonnes – is a fraction of the 200 million tonnes of sugar  produced globally (2019). 

Sugar cane as a crop, aside from the issue of deforestation, has unwanted adverse affects on people and the environment.

  • it requires large amounts of water, often taking the water away from other crops and  natural vegetation 
  • It requires large amounts of pesticides and fertilisers which flow into the water system damaging other ecosystems 
  • Before harvesting, old leaves are burnt off to assist the harvesting process. This kills wildlife, important natural organisms and pollutes the air. As nutrients in the leaves are burnt rather than being returned to the soil, the fertility of the soil is reduced requiring additional fertilisers to be used
  • It is an annual crop requiring the land to be cleared each year and the exposed soil is then susceptible to loss during the rainy season and with not roots to absorb moister, flooding too increases.
  • It is a labour intensive crop where child labour still happens.

Alternative sugar crops are grown, of which the main one is sugar beet – accounting for about 20% of world production – which is grown mainly in Europe. It too can be reliant on pesticides and fertilisers: organic sugar beet is grown in Europe but not as yet in Britain. Other sugar crops include coconut palms and oil palms where the sap is harvested. 

There is a further downside to all sugars: sugar damages our health, causing major problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. The WHO urges that sugar consumer should be reduced to between 5 and 10% of a person’s daily calorie intake. The NHS advises sugar consumption be limited to less than 30g per day: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-does-sugar-in-our-diet-affect-our-health/ Yet sugar consumption globally is still rising. The USA tops the charts with an average consumption of 126.4g per person per day. Britain comes in at number 7 with 93.2g per day (2019).

As well as being concerned about the damage sugar growing causes to the environment and it’s work force, should we be acting to reduce the demand for this commodity?

“Too often, divisions in civil society can be exploited by powerful commercial interests. ‘Don’t go too hard on health, as it will threaten jobs’ or ‘Don’t raise pollution standards, as they’ll be undercut by another country somewhere’ or ‘Don’t mention labour pay rates, or we’ll drop the preferred status.’ Or ‘Don’t stop sugar beet as it’ll affect tourism brought by geese feeding on sugar beet tops in winter’. Such horse-trading happens in realpolitik, of course, but we think now is the time to take the sugar debate back to ecological public health basics: land, labour, capital, health and culture…We see this future food world as one where less not more sugar is produced and consumed, and land use and labour are liberated from the folly of sugar production. This is hardly a vital product. It has been injected into culinary culture on a scale it does not deserve. Nor should a sugar reduction strategy be compensated for by a growth in use of artificial sweeteners which industry constantly seeks. Artificials, whether relatively ‘old’ such as aspartame or ‘new’ such as stevia, merely normalise the sweetening of diet as well as maintain the processing industries’ option to sweeten a product to sell it.”  https://foodresearch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2015/06/Does-Sugar-Pass-the-Environmental-and-Social-Test-23-june.pdf

Green Tau: issue 27

15th December 2021

“Palm oil piece”

Palm oil comes from the palm oil tree which grows in tropical regions of the world. Its fruit – both flesh and kernel – are processed to extract the oil. The oil is attractive for many reasons. 

It contains no trans fats making it healthier than other oils.  It is a good (and affordable) source of vitamins A and E and antioxidants. It is resistant to oxidisation giving it, and things made with it, a long shelf life. It is a highly productive crop: where sunflowers produce 0.7 tonnes of oil per hectare, palm oil produces 4 or more tonnes. It can be used to make a wide range of products from soap to biscuits, toothpaste to icecream, lipsticks to pizzas, pet foods to chocolate. Some is also used as a bio fuel.

Not surprisingly it is in high demand. Global production has increased from about 2 million tonnes in 1960 to 70 + tonnes in 2018 (https://ourworldindata.org/palm-oil). Production on this scale has led to vast areas of land being repurposed for palm oil plantations – with individual plantations covering 10,000 hectares (approximately 10,000 international rugby pitches or a little smaller than Jersey).  

Monoculture on this scale comes with many environmental issues, that lead to droughts, wild fires and flooding – and require widespread use of fertilisers and pesticides which pollute both water supplies and the air.  These detrimental effects are further compounded when the land cultivated involves the destruction of native forests. An estimates 5% of tropical deforestation is attributable directly to oil palm plantations  although on a positive note, the annual loss is decreasing as countries and companies respond to public criticism (https://palmoilalliance.eu/palm-oil-deforestation/).

In places such as Borne and Sumatra much of the land is covered with virgin forest which is home to many plant and animal species and notable home to large mammals such as orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants. Expansion of human enterprises removed the equivalent large mammals many centuries ago. One hopes that we will not allow the same to happen again.

On the other hand palm oil production is an important cash crop for many developing economies. As with the cultivation of cocoa beans (https://greentau.org/2021/12/11/green-tau-issue-26/) the profitability of this crop often does not benefit the workers on the ground. In response to both this and the threat to biodiversity – especially orangutans – some consumers and manufacturers actively avoid palm oil. The following logos are used  by

https://www.palmoilfreecertification.org/

Iceland Foods and the https://orangutanalliance.org/

Ethical Consumer has produced a list of manufacturers who avoid the use of palm oil – or use  sustainably sourced palm oil: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/palm-oil/palm-oil-free-list

The main industry certification scheme for sustainable palm oil is provided by

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. However its scheme is not always transparent, and includes companies who are working towards sustainable production. As with cocoa beans, companies can use the certification if they pay the premium that pays for sustainable production somewhere within the supply chain. For more information see https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/food-drink/what-rspo

Traidcraft for one, did not feel that RSPO assured a fair trade product. They have established their own small scale certification platform, Fair Palm through their work with Serendipalm in Ghana. Here oil palm growers use regenerative farming techniques growing a mix of trees and shrubs that provides a range of sustainable – organically grown – crops. In addition the processing of the palm oil fruits is kept small scale so as to employ people rather than automated machines. This video clip shows the process of change from monoculture to agroforestry:  https://youtu.be/moRmOu634rk

If consumer power has already seen a reduction in the rate of deforestation , continuing consumer power should be able to demand truly sustainable and fairly traded palm oil. Careful research will be needed  as the presence of palm oil products may not always be obvious. Palm oil may be hidden under the general title of ‘vegetable oil’ or may be given a chemical name such as aluminium stearate, ammonium Lauretta sulphate, capric glyceride, or ascobyl palmitate. Ethical Comsumer’s palm oil list will help you evaluate which products you wish to buy and which you might prefer to avoid. 

Green Tau: issue 26 

11th December 2021

The ethics of chocolate 

One of the many treats we associate with Christmas is chocolate. In the UK we spend about £325 a year, supporting an industry worth around £4 billion. However at the other end of the story cocoa farmers in Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire (the largest producers of cocoa beans) may earn as little as 75p a day – or about half what is needed to cover the essentials of food, housing, health car and education – and some cocoa plantations are known to use child slave labour.  This hardly seems fair! Why is it so?

  • Large cocoa companies buy through a global commodity supply system – a sort of global wholesale market. This system is designed to ensure a stable cocoa supply at the lowest possible price. It is not designed to have regard for the sustainability and well being of individual cocoa growers.
  • Whilst cocoa companies can opt to buy certified eco or sustainable beans. This certification process does not mean that the beans they actually buy is eco/ sustainable but that somewhere an equivalent amount of beans has been so produced. This process lacks transparency.
  • Few large cocoa companies have direct links with the bean growers so there are no shared or common interests. 
  • Global cocoa prices do, despite the global commodity supply system, fluctuate as intermediate  traders buy and sell cocoa options. Such traders operate on a short term basis whilst bean growers must operate on a minimum five year basis: it takes five years before a cocoa tree produces its fruit.
  • Poorly paid bean growers do not have money to invest in fertilisers or to learn new farming techniques so as to improve their productivity. Often they themselves are poorly educated because they too grew up in times of poverty when free education etc was not widely available.
  • The impact of climate change – hotter and wetter weather – damages productivity. The changes in weather allows new pests and diseases to develop which damage the crop. 
  • Large cocoa plantations are focused on the  profit made from their sole crop. Such plantations do not diversify into other cash crops that can be grown along side cocoa trees nor into crops that produce food for the workers. Both of these options could help workers survive poor harvests and down turns in commodity prices. Instead workers from large plantations are  readily sacked when these things happen.
  • Small scale growers do not have the money to invest in new  cocoa  varieties that are more productive and/ or more adapted to the changing climate.
  • Much of the profit derives from the sale of chocolate comes from the value added during the manufacture of the chocolate rather than from the production of the beans. However the economies of many cocoa growing countries is still shaped by the patterns of the colonial era which sees these countries as exporters of raw commodities to the west. 
  • Chocolate manufacturing involves a high level of investment in factories, machinery and transport, including refrigeration. Chocolate manufacture also relies on accessing supplies of sugar and milk which may need to be imported with the possibility of additional tariffs. 
  • Climate change is causing bean growers to move to land at higher altitudes. Here existing forest cover is destroyed to plant cocoa trees.
  • When cocoa tree age and productivity declines, many growers simply plant clear existing forest cover and plant new trees which thrive initially on the fresh soil. Long term however the loss of this forest exacerbates both  the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity which adversely impacts the health and wellbeing of the local population. 

In a recent report, the Ethical Consumer magazine recommends that consumers should check up on the chocolate they buy: 

Does it come from a company where the manufacturer of the chocolate is closely linked to the grower of the cocoa beans?

Is it made from organically grown cocoa and sugar?

Is the production of the beans linked to deforestation and/ or slave labour?

Are the producers of the cocoa beans paid a fair income?

Is the chocolate manufactured in the country where the beans are grown?

The Rain Forest Alliance and Fair Trade are both organisations  set up to ensure the welfare of those who grow the beans and to ensure the environmental sustainability of the farming methods used. They can provide a direct link between supplier and producer. They also provide a certification system which helps the consumer to buy sustainable chocolate products. 

Sustainably  and fairly produced chocolate will cost more than the cheaper alternatives, but this is just  one way in which we can make our money work to improve and protect life on the earth.

For more information watch this informative YouTube programme: https://youtu.be/-XbP4cn8xhU

Further reading: https://newrepublic.com/article/156569/challenge-sustainable-chocolate

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-56687427

https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/food-drink/shopping-guide/ethical-chocolate

The Green Tau: issue 25

Murdo Madleod/ The Guardian

8th December 2021

The first issue of Green Tau included a quote from  Paul’s Letter to the Romans – “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). – and a quote from the Guardian: “Change is Possible. hope is Power.”

This issue was written looking forwards – without much optimism – to COP26. Six month later I am not sure much has changed. 

But there still has hope. As long as we have hope, however small, then there is something to strive for. Later in his letter Paul suggests that by its nature what we hope for is something we can’t see, for if we could see it, what would our hope be about? (Romans 8:24). Here I think I disagree with Paul. I think in order to have hope we have to have some idea of what it is we are hoping for, however vague or indistinct that vision might be. If our hope is for life after death, we have to have some – however tenuous – understanding of what that life might be: eg a life free of fear and pain, a life of joy etc.

In terms of the climate crisis, I think we have to have some kind of vision, some sort of imagination, of what the world would be like if we could alleviate the crises. Perhaps a vision of  a world where there are great expanses and multiple pockets of re wilded landscape; a world teeming with different plant and animal species; a world of clean air and un-polluted water; a world where there are no extremes of wealth and poverty; a world where there is neither industrial farming nor industrial fishing … and so on. If we didn’t have any such vision, then we what would be hoping for? And if we had nothing to hope for, why would we bother trying to change things?

Hope is important because it becomes our inspiration, a catalyst, a source of energy. And hope that is shared multiplies it’s effect. As a group sharing one hope, we can share the burden of keeping that little flame of hope alive. We can share the load of working for change. We can back each other. We can become each other’s supporters. We can take turns carry each other when the effort becomes too overwhelming. 

It is therefore important that we come together with our neighbours, with our church and faith communities, with local campaign groups, business groups – and work together and share the vision . 

One such group of local businesses came together in Glasgow to create a visual sign, a sculpture, of what hope was, post COP26. “The Hope Sculpture started as a conversation with Ramboll and became a gift from 50 companies to Glasgow. It is a testament to the power of collaboration and dedication to deliver a better future” said the artist Steuart Padwick. His sculpture comprises a 20m tall beacon, on top of which is a child. The child’s arms reach out as if embracing its surroundings, hopeful of a green, better future. It is constructed using low carbon, reclaimed, recycled or sustainable materials, of which, almost all were locally sourced. (https://ramboll.com/media/rgr/gift-of-hope-low-carbon-sculptures-legacy-to-glasgow-and-cop26)

We are often reminded in the Bible how cause and effect spread between generations. From the Book of Exodus when the people are embarking on a new life travelling with God into a new land, a journey surrounded by threat but focused on a great hope for a better future: “I, the LORD, am a God who is full of compassion and pity, who is not easily angered and who shows great love and faithfulness. I keep my promise for thousands of generations and forgive evil and sin; but I will not fail to punish children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for the sins of their parents.” Exodus 34: 6-7. And in the prophetic words of Mary in the Gospel of Luke, as once again humanity begins a new journey and a new relationship with God: “He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who honour him”. Luke 1: 50 

What we do now in our time will have consequence for generations to come. And maybe that is where  our hope does the environment, for the world, has to lie. We will not turn round the crises we face in one generation. We can only be the instigators of a new way of life, a new journey, that will have repercussions for generations to come. To keep our hope alive, maybe we also need some short term projects where we will be able to see effort rewarded. One of the Advent readings from Isaiah was not a prophesy for the long term, foretelling the coming of the saviour, and for the short term, foretelling a time of peace that would come about in a matter of years.  

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.  He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.  For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted”. Isaiah 7:13-16.

Maybe we need to focus too on changes that we can bring about by the time this year’s new borns are  eating solid foods – or maybe at primary school learning about right and wrong, giving us a five year time frame. Reducing the numbers of petrol and diesel vehicles on our roads and this reducing air pollution. Changing our UK diets such that eating meat is an occasional treat, leading to a reduction in the factory farming of animals, and an increase in land set aside for rewilding. Halving our carbon footprints, such that global temperature rises are still below 1.5C.

Together let’s us maintain – and work for – the hope of  better, greener future.