Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Blooming marvellous!

I have spent a glorious spring and early summer as an "In Bloom" volunteer for a project aiming to improve the town and in particular with plants. Rather than sitting for seven hours a day on a computer I have been outside in the open air learning about the care of roses, edging techniques, planting up enormous town centre pots - the list is endless. I feel much healthier for it too.
planting out in central reservation
My other local environment volunteering is focused on litter picking and prevention and as I have blogged before although it has its moments it can be pretty disheartening and people, for all sorts of reasons, do not often engage with you. Here a morning in the park tending the roses means contact with all kinds of people from newcomers to the town who don't have many connections yet to parents and grandparents with children in tow. If I ever had any doubts about the value of this kind of initiative I will remember a remark from an older man who strolled past us as we tended some planters with the remark "It makes you feel glad to be alive". In fact most people, even in these times of strictures can see how uplifting plants can be. I say most people - one man used  a stage whisper to utter "More bloody flowers" the other day and I don't know how we managed to keep calm! Still he was a very small, miserable voice.
planter by canal

Of course it is not just the plants. Once you start looking in more detail at the spaces around you there are all kinds of small things that you can do from clearing all those pesky weeds to repainting posts and staining benches - all part of the In Bloom work. And then of course litter picking dovetails in here too [changes hat].

But I love the variety. One day you could be planting in the river - we have had some new berms put in recently, and the next you could be painting posts.
river planting
repainted posts

The In Bloom volunteers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. They include people working full time who take annual leave to get involved, to retired people with no knowledge of gardening [most people profess to having no knowledge of gardening!] or people who have not got enough garden of their own and more time now, to people with special needs who find a role they can cope with. Then there are the groups of children. This year six year olds planted all our sunflowers and made posters. School children planted fruit trees and tended vegetable gardens. It takes a lot of coordinating and I am glad not to be in that role but the team work is amazing! Not for me boring office meetings about some nonsensical topic, but tea breaks discussing pruning techniques and if we need waders in the river! Love it!

Thursday, 29 May 2014

A load of rubbish

I am involved in a litter action group and we have become very interested in recycling as a result of picking up so many cans and bottles on the way. Nine of us went to see what happens to the rubbish from our town.

 The waste management facility is very geared up to visitors with 10,000 children a year coming to learn about recycling and landfill. We started with a presentation that included a look down on the 500 acre site and all its services from the Mechanical Biological Treatment [MBT] to the Materials Recycling Facility [MRF] to the anaerobic digesters and composters and the inevitable landfill.

So much to see and learn.We were particularly interested to know what happens to our blue binned rubbish - co-mingled recyclables. Our presentation took a live camera peek at some of the 20 people dealing directly with our waste at any one time, in the MRF cabins. Workers stand at a fast moving conveyor belt removing particular materials into skips in 8 hour shifts. We were transfixed by the large plastic film removal area. Other cabins were looking for 3D, plastics etc. You can see the categories they remove in the picture below. 95% of the co mingled rubbish received is recycled.
recyclable materials reclaimed

Much of the facility is mechanised.
paper recycling
We were impressed that the MBT facility picks out some of the recyclables [our black bins] and that all is not lost if for some reason rubbish has been assigned the wrong bin. It is however much better for the environment - and cheaper - to put it in the correct bin in the first place. As a litter picker who gets some less than savoury plastic bottles and cans - the best place is the black bin rather than mix with the cleaner blue bins materials.

I think the plastic bag issue hit us the most. Not really any plan for them beyond baling them up for some, as yet, future use.
plastic bag bales

Our group picture included a Mors Bag - made from recycled fabric and given free as a replacement for plastic bags. More information from www.morsbags.com.

The drive round the facility created a lot of questions about landfill, methane gas and slurry and the relative merits of burning rubbish which some countries favour. We knew from earlier training that authorities are charged as much as £103 a ton for rubbish that goes to landfill and that there are big targets for recycling.

I think it is safe to say that we went away with a much better understanding of what happens to our waste, a little depressed at the sheer volume of it all and with more questions buzzing around in our heads! 

Oh and did I mention the smell? How could I forget that!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Not messing about on the river

Working on looking after the local environment in the most practical way I know - clearing litter - continues with an exciting new twist! Our group has purchased a dinghy to attempt to retrieve sunken litter and litter on riverbanks inaccessible from land

We wanted to pick up some tips about using boats to collect litter. Four of us spent an afternoon on the River Soar, a much bigger river than our meandering River Welland. Here we met experienced  litter pickers working with the Outdoor Pursuit Centre. Right in the middle of the city there are monthly sessions which often involve 20 volunteers on the water in canoes or on the riverbanks above them.

We started out being kitted up with gloves and of course the life jacket which felt more like a strait-jacket and makes you feel a little less agile! 
volunteer in life jacket 
The sight of the canoes - see right of picture - gave me the jitters - especially when I realised we were to work in pairs. I am notoriously uncoordinated on boats - the steering confuses me! However needs must. Next the litter picking gear - two types of picker - big pincers were new to us but we were going to be lifting heavy sodden litter and they are better at this than the traditional pickers. And very impressed to find we were to separate our litter into two hooped bags - one green and one red.

bags ready
Off we went in our canoes and had to learn very quickly how to steer especially as we were competing with vast groups of canoeists out for the afternoon. And the current is very strong in places. Some frayed moments - not only in terms of litter...

I found there was a knack to keeping close to the bank to allow your partner to pick the litter. Need to have something to cling onto even if it is only a blackberry stalk..Taking pictures at the same time was not an easy option..
I'll just get that Warburton's wrapper..

The worst offenders are plastic bags which either drape themselves in overhanging branches or languish on struts and offer all kinds of terrors to wildlife. Very heavy to lift out too.

I chatted to two litter pickers on the riverbanks - regulars who had seen some sights in their time. They spoke about finding an old safe in the river, a bag of passports, bags of puppies and kittens. Not for the squeamish in a river this size I think. You never know what you will find. We took "on board" a heavy bag the river bankers had collected to save their shoulders.

The weather wasn't ever so kind to us novices - it rained and even hailed - but we were wet from the start and it was another lesson we learnt I think! Wear waterproof trousers next time...