Blog: 2015

Anyone for cricket?
Kay Hill tucks into a cricket flour snack bar.. yum...
I’ve always found cultural attitudes to food intriguing – why is it that a few miles across the Channel you can sit down to a horse steak and frites with no-one batting an eyelid, yet mention it in Britain and you’d be kicked out of the Country Club? Travel further afield and tastes can get even more exotic – I’ve dined on crocodile and snake in Australia, deep fried baby frogs in Thailand, brain burgers in Iran, and some strange pink energy drink that looked (and tasted) like frogspawn in Pakistan.
So what is it about eating insects that tends to make even the hardiest of us have a little shudder? We’ve all seen Bear Grylls chomping away on rhino beetles, giant larvae and even the occasional poisonous spider; but let’s face it, he doesn’t exactly make it look enjoyable, does he? Enter the good folk at Gathr, who're on a mission to persuade us that eating insects is not only pleasant, but also good for the environment as well. They've launched onto the market with Crobar, an energy bar that contains flour made from 32 plump and juicy crickets.
If you are about to say uggh and move swiftly on, then consider the following:
*Crickets like to live in small spaces so they require little land use 
*They're less likely than mammals or birds to pass on diseases like bird flu and mad cow disease
*They can be grown organically
*They contain more healthy fats than meat, have high levels of vitamin B12, are as high in protein as beef and have 3x the level of iron, 5x as much magnesium and 2x as much zinc as beef.
In other words, using cricket flour instead of regular meat to supply our protein needs could save on resources and improve human health.
I'm well aware of the health and environmental benefits of tofu, for example, but would rather eat my own snot than consume something so manifestly disgusting (and yes, I have tried it smoked, stir fried, marinated…). So the question with cricket bars is, of course, what do they taste like?
The fairest way to answer that question was to test it on my unsuspecting family. Energy bars are a staple in our store cupboards – with a husband who thinks 100-mile road cycling sportives are a fun way to spend a weekend and a son who's a downhill mountain biking champ, any shortage of 'bars' is seen as a definite failure on the catering front. (The household favourite is probably Nak’d bars..)  
So I chopped up a Crobar Cacao and Cricket Flour and a Peanut and Cricket Flour and we all dug in. The verdict was mixed. My husband felt that Crobar stuck to his mouth a bit, especially the peanut version, while my son felt that texture was very similar to Nak’d bars and satisfyingly chewy.
I thought they were perfectly nice and you wouldn't have a clue you were eating crickets if you hadn't been told - though crickets, do apparently, have a nutty taste when roasted. Flavour wise, three of us liked the peanut version best – thought my daughter, in the way only 13-year-old girls can, said the cacao one was delicious. That was  until I revealed the secret ingredient, at which point she fled, looking green and making retching noises…
Good stuff...but the price isn't right
Although the company says in the long term cricket flour could prove cheaper to produce than meat protein, at the moment it's imported from a cricket farm in Canada, making the bars rather on the expensive side at a pricey £2.29 for a 40g bar. And in these cash-straitened times this may well prove another barrier in the campaign to get us all snacking on Jiminy Cricket.
Crobars are available from selected Nutri Centre and Gathr 
eco friendly
Mattresses On The Re-bound
Alex Murray says we must stop sending mattresses to landfill

Did you know....20 million mattresses make their way to landfill in this country every year? This is ludicous and we need to find ways to re-use them.

The main reason most of us need to get rid of a mattress is because we’ve got ourselves a lovely new one. But while some companies remove the old within the delivery agreement for your new purchase, plenty won’t.
So, we're left with the problem of how to get rid of the old one..and in some areas this disposal is solved by the careless, non-eco method of discarding it in the neighbourhood, in other words 'fly-tipping'
In others, effort is made to take the offending old mattress to the local landfill, where it fulfils a dubious destiny as one of some 20 million thrown into landfill each year, where it may or may not biodegrade depending on the materials it’s made of. Although this effort smacks of trying to do the right thing for disposal, there’s a better option – recycling.
Mattresses Moving On
There are several ways to recycle a mattress, all of which have the advantage of being the good thing to do environmentally - although several methods have distinct disadvantages:
Freegle / Freecycle: a local method for passing on unwanted items to those who may be able to use them, Freegle has a growing momentum in the UK. It'd be great to assume that the popularity of this pass-it-on method is due to a greater collective social and eco-consciousness, but sadly it’s mostly influenced by the economic climate – Freegle is a way to get a potentially useful item for nothing. However, the problem with using it for mattresses is that it can take a while to find someone who needs and wants it (strangely enough not everyone loves a pre-loved mattress: micro-dust mites, dead skin cells, stains and all), so this method is not necessarily a quick one.
Local council pick-up methods: Many town and city councils do now offer bulky item collection services, partly to help with recycling but for many in response to fly-tipping, preventing mattresses, old fridges and other unmentionables cluttering up the streets. Although this sounds like a viable option, for those places where the service is free particularly, the wait time for collection can be up to eight weeks (in Leeds, for example). Although an increasing number of councils offer this free collection service, in other areas collection comes at a cost, often on a sliding scale depending on how many items are to be collected. So, it might cost you £18 in Sheffield, £21 in Rotherham or £22 in Cambridge.
Private collection companies: Alternatively, there are a growing number of private companies that run collection services and have direct links with reputable recycling depots. Such companies - and they usually offer a local service within a certain radius of the depots - will not only pick up mattresses at a lower cost than the council, but also arrange more prompt collection. One of the cheapest at the time of writing is Collect Your Old Bed which operates nationwide and has prices from £9.99. This means that you, the customer, benefit from getting rid of the mattress cheaply and quickly, but with the reassurance that the mattress will be appropriately recycled. Just make sure you ask them for their waste carrier license before you contract their services, so you’re sure they are doing everything by the book. The Environment Agency also provides a search facility so you can find a registered waste carrier in your area.
Mattresses Coming Apart
The recycling process for a mattress largely depends on its material construction, but most recycling centres follow the same broad process of:
Separating types of mattress by material type.
Depending on the type of material, mattresses are then either mechanically shredded or manually stripped using specialist tools.
The by-products and materials extracted from the mattresses, such as polyester, foam, cotton and steel, are then bundled and passed on to other recycling outlets or manufacturers to re-start their future as another product …
Mattress on the Rebound
The fabrics and fibres salvaged from your old mattress could bounce back to you in new form:
*Cotton and foam could be recycled into pillow stuffing; furniture upholstery; carpet foam or underlay padding.
*Other textiles such as rayon and sisal might be recycled into new mattresses.
*Steel from sprung mattresses can be melted down for use in many other products.
*Wood from box springs is often chipped and recycled as garden mulch, animal bedding or used to for biomass fuel.
So, finally, if you’re environmentally-conscious, it’s worth enjoying a certain karma which comes from arranging for your old mattress to be properly recycled. Many more eco-friendly mattress brands are made including recycled textiles, so by recycling your mattress responsibly and buying eco-brands, you’re helping that next new mattress be more eco-friendly too.
eco friendly, recycling, upcycling
Designing a re-use revolution
By Lucy Chamberlin of The Royal Society of Arts
Everyone has a story about bulky waste. The sofa in the garden, the mattress at the bus stop, the fridge in the parking lot.
A quick survey of researchers and staff here at the RSA uncovered a plethora of anecdotes, mostly told with enthusiastic exasperation. Matthew P suffered from a large sofa blocking his hallway that the landlord had promised but apparently 'forgotten' to remove. Jonathan R was plagued by guilt in having to take a child's mattress to the dump which was almost-new, apart from a small stain which meant that the local charity wouldn't accept it.
And these problems are not new, it seems. In a 1968 lecture given at the RSA, FLD Flintoff noted that ‘bulky refuse is a fairly new problem, but it is growing fast.' And grow fast it has. In the UK we now produce around 1.6million tonnes of this large-item waste stream every year, and most of it still ends up buried in landfill or burnt in an incinerator.
The RSA Great Recovery’s latest report, 'Rearranging the Furniture', is about our design residency project run in partnership with SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK and focused on furniture waste. The brief was to conduct an exploratory, observation-based 'residency' with four designers over ten days, gathering insights and learning from experts whilst at the same time providing ideas on how product or indeed system redesign could enable more furniture to be reused rather than scrapped. It enabled the designers to learn valuable lessons about the end-of-life destinations of some of the products they were creating, and to provide some valuable design thinking and ideation to the processes of waste disposal that they witnessed.
Re-use is better than recycling
Over the 10 days we visited a community recycling centre in Leatherhead, various sorting and retail outlets of the Surrey Reuse Network and went behind the scenes at IKEA. We spoke to experts from the national Furniture Re-use Network, the SKA rating programme for commercial interiors, and the pioneering waste team at Warwickshire County Council. And we also conducted a 'tear-down' exercise on a high street brand sofa that we fished out of the landfill skip (in great condition but missing its fire label and therefore not re-sellable by the reuse charities).
Finally, we convened a roundtable discussion between designers, waste managers and other stakeholders at Fab Lab London – closing the loop at least conversationally on our furniture waste.
And the project didn't stop at the 10-day residency. It was picked up by Camira, a UK-based textile manufacturer that wanted to develop some new fabric for our ex-landfill sofa using waste offcuts from their own suppliers. Next stop was Clerkenwell Design Week, where we got members of the public making buttons for the sofa and talked to them about the challenges of designing furniture for a more circular economy. The sofa is now on display at RSA House formed part of our display at Fab Lab London during London Design Festival, before being loaned to Camira for an exhibition in the run-up to Christmas. Meanwhile our sofa story film was picked up by the Community Channel and has been re-edited for release on national TV.
One of the report’s main messages is to stress the importance of re-use as opposed to mere recycling. According to Craig Anderson OBE, CEO of the Furniture Re-use Network, the FRN brought in over 78,000 furniture and electrical items last year, saving families on low incomes £12 million on essential goods. This is on top of the 3 million items supplied by FRN’s members across the UK that have saved 380,000 tonnes of CO2 and helped nearly one million households save £340 million on essential goods. Says Anderson: ‘If the various sectors have the audacity and scope to make the circular economy vision a reality then let’s start with re-use, and get the retailers, manufacturers and consumers involved and on-side.’
If the design model that most fits with a circular economy is one of design for longevity, then re-use is the means of extending a product’s longevity. And for a revolution in re-use to take place, designers, waste managers, retailers, citizens and authorities must all recognize the critical difference between recycling and re-use. Designers and manufacturers must create items that can be passed on, with fire labels that can’t be cut off and materials that endure.
Residents must be aware of the re-use alternatives to bringing their sofas to the dump. There must be incentives for staff at waste sites to separate re-usable goods from recyclable (downcyclable). Local authorities must ensure that re-use is specified in their contracts with waste managers. And waste managers must begin to consider their role as resource stewards, providing a platform and a service for the re-allocation of valuable items.
Ultimately all of these actors must have a view to the life time of the product itself, looking outside the narrow remit of their job description to see the chain reaction that their decisions will have.  
The RSA Great Recovery’s report, Rearranging the Furniture, can be downloaded from
eco friendly, recycling
Prefabricated modular houses: an affordable, viable solution to the housing crisis
Abby Trow, Deco editor, is wowed by BRE latest show houses

I've just got back from the BRE (Building Research Establishment) Innovation Park in Watford where I feel I've seen the future of housing.

And it looks great.. low cost, low energy, generous-sized homes that people could buy based on multiples-of-income mortgages..for which I mean around the £100-£150,000 mark (taking an average salary as being in the £25-£35,000 bracket); or which, given their cost, could be rented at genuinely affordable rents. These surely should get everyone involved in social housing truly excited.

The houses in question are called volumetric accommodation, or super duper prefabs in common parlance. That's because they're assembled from insulated prefabricated units that arrive on site fully fitted out with cables, wires and pipes, electric sockets, doors and windows, kitchens and bathrooms and walls painted and merely in need of a picture or two. And your roof can be clad with terracotta tiles that are, in fact, photovoltaics, so you can generate your own electricity (see the opening image).

The pods are manufactured in South Wales and this semi-detached building, which divided into a two-storey and a three-storey house, is the result of collaboration between Swiss not-for-profit technology company Userhuus, which is focusing on sustainable solutions for the built environment, and Edinburgh-based Tigh Grian, which develops structural insulated panel system houses (SIPS) aimed at alieviating fuel poverty.

The homes are incredibly energy efficient, being highly insulated and heated using a whole house mechanical heat recovery ventilation system, with wall-mounted electric panel heaters (no, I'm not entirely sure what that means, but think warmth...). So the aim of the houses is to give the lucky occupants very low energy bills - est £300-£500 a year - and even lower if you have the PV roof tiles. 

The exterior of the houses can be clad in different materials, so we can build social housing communities that aren't full of identical rabbit hutches a la Wimpey.

And inside, well, I was genuinely impressed. Rooms were pretty generously sized, ceilings weren't so low those over six ft have to stoop (I reckon they were 8.5ft), kitchens were big enough for a six seater dining table and if you're interested in interior design, you've got a great blank canvas to do something wonderful with. In short, it wasn't a doll's house experience.

These houses come in at around £1,000 per m2 - about half the price of a conventional brick build. So they should be affordable for many people on that average salary; and the younger generations should take comfort from the fact there are are great brains working out how they can  get on the housing ladder without having to force mum and dad to sell up and move to a caravan park for their twilight years.

Eight week build time

And another amazing thing about them is the construction time - just eight weeks from factory to completion onsite.

But...what about land prices?

But...of course, the big problem when it comes to affordable housing isn't about the cost of building a house, it's about land. Because land in Britain is stockpiled by the big house builders, councils have already sold off a lot of the land they held and the land they have they want market prices for, and landowners sit on their acres... so the price of land continues to rise. As anyone who's ever thought how nice it would be to do a little self-build in London or the South East..or South West..will know.

So until government takes action to make land affordable, you can have all the affordable high tech houses in the world ready to go and be erected in eight weeks... but if individuals or communities or housing associations, or local authorities have to raise millions for a plot, well, everything will just remain a set of drawings.

That said, we should all congratulate Userhuus and Tigh Grian on their remarkable achievment. I hope your kids and mine will have the affordable joy of living in an Userhuus when they come to want a home of their own in a few years' time.

eco friendly, eco home, self build
From loo paper to gift wrap, choose recycled paper
Tracy Umney of Re-wrapped gift wrap champions recycled paper
Recycled paper can be more expensive, yes, but prices are coming down - I notice, for example, that recycled loo paper in the supermarkets is the same price as the non-recycled.
Gift wrapping paper comes in for criticism as being wasteful, given that most of us can't wait to rip it off to get to the gift inside. (That said, I'm sure most of us do recycle it...)
I'm in the wrapping paper business so I obviously don't urge people to forgo the wrapping paper and hand over gifts au naturel, so to speak! But I think the giftwrap industry should make more use of recycled paper and we have put our money where our mouth is with our company, Re-wrapped, because our wonderful designs are all printed in the UK on recycled paper - which is of course recyclable too. Indeed we like to think we may well get the paper back from our customers at some point so we can print it with a new design.
I try to be green and my inspiration for Re-wrapped came from years of searching online and in gift shops for recycled wrapping paper. I did find some product online, but nothing at all in my local gift shops.
It struck me as odd that offices across the country were starting to use recycled paper, but the giftwrap manufacturers weren't. So after the birth of my son I began designing a few sheets of Christmas paper and found a printer who would print on the quality of recycled paper I was after.
In 2011 Re-wrapped had three designs in print. Fast forward five years and we have 23 designs and are working with some amazing artists/designers. Crucially, our papers are priced the same as most quality non-recycled giftwraps, so customers aren't faced with that dilemma of how to reconcile the need to save money and be greener in their purchases.
I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but it's worth recapping on few facts and figures:
* Every year, Britons use enough wrapping paper to circle the globe nine times - or to reach the surface of the moon.
* The production of recycled paper uses fewer chemicals and 70 per cent less energy than production of virgin paper.
* And recycled paper production reduces the amount of waste paper going to landfill and therefore greenhouse gas emissions. 
* According to environmental charity Waste Watch, for every tonne of 100 per cent post-consumer recycled paper purchased instead of virgin fibre paper, we save:
- at least 30,000 litres of water.
- 3,000 - 4,000 KWh electricity; enough power for an average three-bedroom house for one year.
- approximately six mature trees and 3.3 yards of rapidly diminishing landfill space.
art, eco friendly, upcycling
How we made a country retreat from an old lorry trailer
Paul O'Leary, director of Loughborough-based deVOL Kitchens
I wanted a place to have fun with the kids, which was the motivation for this cabin. It's near the river, close to deVOL's Cotes Mill showroom in Loughborough. It was made by me and my colleagues Phil, Dean and Josh. It cost around £30,000 all in and and took about four months to build. 
I wanted every decision about materials to be based on function, cost and ease of fit. We used the metal frame of an old lorry trailer and studwork timber insulated with rockwool and lined with membrane roofing laths and OSB (oriented strand board)
The wooden cladding is made up of green oak boards that we left outside for three months to be rained on, dried and bleached in the sun. The roof is made from ply and rubber and the edges are lined with lead. 

The cabin is roughly 390 sq ft (40x9.5). We used tongue and groove on the walls and cheap clip together flooring on the ceiling and instead of tiles in the shower, we used Corian. The kitchen was made of some unused deVOL furniture taken from the Mill. Everything was designed to take movement. How did we get water and electricity in - well, we used a water pipe and power cable running underground to the showroom. There's also an ex-Army water bowser from eBay, perfect for waste water and effluent. And yes, we can sleep there. There's a lovely bedroom with a big double bed as well as a sofa in the living room. Phil, our estates project manager, actually spends a lot of his weekends at the cabin.

You might be wondering 'What about the planning?' Yes, well I wondered about that too. I read every planning policy I could find and was pleased to find out that you can park up to four mobile homes in your garden. This was pretty much a mobile home - though there was a question as to whether this was a garden.. But I figure that as we have a house and residents and it’s all on the same title that it does count. And so far no one's come knocking to tell us to take it away...

eco friendly, eco home, garden sheds, self build, upcycling