/ Sustainability

What does it mean to live sustainably?

We’re hearing a lot these days about sustainability, Eco living, saving the planet, war on waste, plastic bags, recycling and a lot more. All these issues are part of something much bigger; to use a time-worn phrase, it’s all about living within our means.

This is a guest post by Which? community members Alfa and Ian. All views expressed are their own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

That used to mean not spending more than we earn, but in a way that’s exactly what we’re doing with the planet.

We’ve become used to the idea of disposability – using something once or twice then throwing it away. That can’t go on. At least, it can’t if we want our children and their children to survive. Because that’s what it’s all about. 

Our planet is rich in resources, but they’re not unlimited, as we’re seeing with fish stocks, birds, bees, water and even something we take for granted – fresh air.

As a species we’ve proved time and time again that, without imposed limits, we will simply consume resources until there’s nothing left.

More we can do

It’s a very complex and very large subject, covering areas as diverse as climate change, air pollution, ocean health, food production, energy use and reusability. But it has to be tackled.

Although we, as individuals, are making efforts, by recycling, re-using bags and mending and repairing items we once thought nothing of replacing, it’s not enough. 

Experience has shown repeatedly that the major corporations will focus purely on selling their wares unless they are compelled by governments to adopt strategies and policies that reflect the concerns surrounding sustainability.

But we also know governments are essentially reactive: they won’t take action unless the pressure to do so becomes glaringly incontrovertible. 

Working together

We, as consumers, need a body that will be prepared to coordinate approaches to sustainability, informing and educating, lobbying government, monitoring use and waste across industry.

Above all, this body needs to keep the public’s minds firmly focused on the target: Living within our means. Then perhaps our descendants will have a planet they can still enjoy.

This was a guest post by Which? community members Alfa and Ian. All views expressed were their own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

What does it mean to you to live and buy sustainably?  Where do you feel that we could do more to live in a sustainable way?

What tips and advice can you offer others on living sustainability?


There is a recent Horizon programme about our growing population problem, loss of biodiversity and other problems: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000dl6q/horizon-2020-1-chris-packham-77-billion-people-and-counting

Which? is to stop promoting products without replaceable batteries as Best Buys: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/02/built-to-fail-the-hidden-cost-of-your-cordless-gadgets/

As the article explains, this only applies to Cordless vacuum cleaners Handheld vacuums Robot vacuums Electric chainsaws Battery powered grass trimmers Hedge trimmers Lawn mowers Pressure washers Electric bikes. It’s too late for smartphones, where none of the current popular models have a user-replaceable battery.

I hope that reviews of products that do have a replaceable battery will show the cost of replacements, and maybe in future we could be told how long manufacturers plan to keep spares available for.

I do hope that Which? will continue to promote sustainability.

Absolutely. Having sensibly priced spares is essential and that should apply to all spares, not just batteries.

It would help to have standardisation of battery packs so they can be swapped between brands, so that the same pack can be used for a wide variety of products. Most power tool manufacturers now use battery packs that can be swapped between a variety of products but exchange between brands only happens if they are produced by the same manufacturer.

I would like to see all laptop, tablet and phone batteries to be user-replaceable. Apple led the way in making such things very difficult for the user to replace, but could do a u-turn and promote sustainability.

I’ve revived a number of products by swapping batteries that were not intended to be changed, for example two expensive Braun electric shavers that I used alternately over 18 years. One still works but the motor of the other has failed. I converted a cordless tyre pump into a corded one that runs off the cigarette lighter socket when the battery failed.

It’s encouraging that the 18650 lithium rechargeable cell (18mm diameter x 65mm length) has become very widely used in battery packs.

On 18th February, Malcolm R said:

“I commented earlier that we need approximately 12 more Hinkley Point C size power stations (by my calculation) just to provide the energy needed to replace the government’s declared termination of natural gas for domestic use. HPC has not yet been built. There are only 5 more nuclears “in the plan” but none have completion dates (not sure any have start dates either).”

This is a perfectly valid point about the need for power generation that does not pollute to the same extent as fossil fuel, and I suspect belongs in here. There are, however, numerous questions. including whether the government timetable is realistic, whether we can use the SMRs due to been constructed over the next ten years, what other sources of fuel there may be and how feasible the switch-off of gas will be.

From New Scientist Magazine:

From Patrick, Dublin, Ireland

I was pleased to read your article on energy efficient homes, but sorry that it is dismissive of solar photovoltaic panels. A properly designed system would allow all power generated to be used in the house or returned to the grid. Conventional power station generation and distribution is only 30 per cent efficient, so local solar generation saves around 2.7 kilowatts’ worth of carbon for every kilowatt used at home.

Here in Ireland, no newly built houses are allowed to install gas boilers. The only new systems allowed are heat exchange.

So it seems that Ireland is somewhat ahead of te UK in the transition from gas to electric.

I presume that ‘heat exchange’ is what is better known as heat pumps. Ground-source heat pumps are a very effective way of using electricity for heating, compared with using normal electric heaters. It’s easier to build homes with heat pumps than add them later.

All new buildings, both residential and commercial, should have a solar roof (rather more attractive than adding solar panels) and be orientated to optimise yield of electricity.

Which? have a series of useful articles on ground source heat pumps – this one is 2 of 4:

I’d suggest they are only suitable for new builds, unless major renovation is taking place and the capital cost of installing underfloor heating plus the heat pump can be justified – if cost saving is the objective. Otherwise it might be more cost effective to just replace the old boiler.

With electricity units costing 5.5 times gas (in my case) and coefficient of performance of around 3, for example – so you get 3kwh out for 1 kwH in – then I’d be paying around twice as much for heating with a heat pump – plus capital outlay. If you can use off-peak electricity (bearing in mind your peak time units will cost considerably more) then you should save on electricity costs – https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/utilities/economy-7/. although with a CoP of 3 I’d still be better off on gas.

Just saying the numbers need working out plus, of course, the recovery of the capital cost. On a new build a particularly high standard of insulation and building design and orientation could render expensive heating installations less economic – https://www.norwich.gov.uk/news/article/270/new_eco-houses_become_homes

If we are going to move towards living a more sustainable lifestyle then yes, there will be costs. In recent years we have been paying to introduce more renewable energy. Wind power now makes a very useful contribution. Some homeowners and tenants already use electricity for heating.

Moving from gas boilers will have some advantages to offset the increased costs. Gas boilers have significant running costs when maintenance, repair and replacement is take into account. With smart metering, cheaper electricity should become available to everyone at times of low demand, so no need for two meters. As you say, there is the opportunity to make new buildings more efficient and rising energy costs could help this happen sooner than later.

The low temperature differential of heat pumps could be overcome by using two heat pumps in series, a technique widely used in refrigeration. This would remove the need to use underfloor heating and allow more flexibility in heating systems.

I would not consider using electricity for heating from choice, even off peak. I calculate an average user, if all heating and cooking were moved from gas to electric and at off-peak rates, would be paying about double their current bill.

The answer, surely, is to legislate to build really energy-efficient homes on future to minimise fuel use. Existing home owners could be helped to increase the energy efficiency of their homes with loans, offset by fuel-cost saving where the economics work. In needy circumstances there is a case for grants.

Rather than just looking at increasing generation we should be actively looking to reduce fuel use in all sectors, from business, industry, domestic, transport.

I understand the Polish building regs are extremely severe with regard to insulation. Possibly the UK might learn something from them?

Heat pumps, btw, can work out cheaper than using gas to heat spaces.

Heat pumps have their drawbacks. They don’t produce as much heat and therefore need more room inside to spread it -larger radiators or underfloor piping. Ground ones, are expensive to install and require a garden of some size to lay piping. Air ones require the same compressor -outside and noisy. In really cold weather they need a back up heat supply. I wrote elsewhere about electric central heating. Briefly, 50 amp boilers taking most of the household supply, leaving little for domestic use and….. car charging…. Even these are less efficient than gas and much more expensive to run. That leaves the dreaded night storage heaters and the immersion heated tank. Neighbourhood heating requires massive infrastructure, probably costing more than HS2. It will be interesting to see what the Irish do in their new built properties and whether this is a temporary solution or a way forward for all of us at some time. Part of my building work this summer will be a new boiler and that will be gas.

It would be interesting to see the calculations comparing gas heating and heat pumps.

I should be interested to know whether hydrogen would be a satisfactory substitute for gas in domestic central heating boilers. As I understand it, from 2025 it will be illegal to install a gas boiler in a new build house.

For a mass conversion [similar to how we changed from town gas to North Sea gas in the 1970’s] the existing gas supply network could possibly be used but would that be the case if there remained a requirement for gas for cooking? For properties off the mains gas network then there is the storage and refill problem, but not insurmountable as many homes using LPG demonstrate. Presumably existing gas boilers could be adapted to run on hydrogen. The production of hydrogen might have its environmental downsides and the cost of production might be high so it could be worth setting up a trial scheme under government sponsorship.

I must admit that I find it difficult to believe that there is [or will be by the critical dates] adequate electricity generation capacity to cope with the elimination of gas for (1) domestic space heating, hot water and cooking, (2) industrial and commercial heating and hot water plus manufacturing processes where heat is required, (3) hospitals, schools and other public buildings, (4) further electrification of the railways, and (5) the substitution of fossil fuels in road transport. Only item (5) could predominantly be overnight consumption [incentivised by tariff adjustment].

Vynor – It is possible to upgrade the supply fuse in many properties to 100 amps, which will support a continuous load of 23 kW short term loads well above this figure: https://www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk/electricity/fuse-upgrade My home, which was built 20 years ago, has an 80 amp supply fuse.

At present heat pump systems don’t raise the temperature enough to run a wet heating system (i.e. with radiators) or produce hot water at 60°C, but a two-stage heat pump system would achieve this.

John – Here is an article about moving tow using hydrogen as a fuel in the home: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/22/uk-hydrogen-heating-2050-emissions-targets-gas-boilers-electric-climate-change

Since hydrogen would need to be produced from electricity, the only advantage of using hydrogen rather than electricity is that there is the possibility of storage and that is far from easy. I have not studied the subject and may have missed something.

I have seen no information to suggest that existing natural gas boilers could be adapted to use hydrogen.

Thanks, Wavechange. The article in The Guardian might not be up-to-date as it conflicts with something I have read recently [although I don’t remember where] which suggested that gas boilers would not need to be replaced to run on hydrogen, or perhaps a natural gas / hydrogen gas mixture, and that the existing mains could still be used thus solving the storage problem. I imagine that very large scale hydrogen production plants would be established in appropriate locations with on-site storage; former oil refineries and gas intake terminals might be suitable. So long as there was adequate storage capacity, production could take place exclusively when renewable energy was available, and if tidal power was harnessed that would improve reliability of supply round the clock.

The economic question could be that hydrogen produced entirely by using electricity from renewable energy sources might be a cheaper fuel at the point of consumption than electricity because transmission losses would be avoided.and it would have a higher energy efficiency than natural gas.

malcolm r says: 21 February 2020
It would be interesting to see the calculations comparing gas heating and heat pumps.


VynorHill says: 21 February 2020
Heat pumps have their drawbacks. They don’t produce as much heat and therefore need more room inside to spread it

Our air con units are inverter heat pumps, and designed to heat as well as cool. I did the calculations based on our gas usage to bring our main rooms up to 20C in terms of both time and cost. In terms of cost, it worked out cheaper to heat the rooms using the air con. However, our gas is Propane, delivered by Calor. I have no figures for piped gas.

In terms of speed it was about the same, but the central heating covers the entire house whereas the heat pumps only cover the main upstairs rooms (our house is inverted).

John – You could be right about the Guardian article. If hydrogen becomes a real possibility as a domestic fuel we will know more in the next few years.

I’m interested by Ian’s comments that heat pumps can be cheaper than gas for heating, which is encouraging. This may refer to LPG, which is a very expensive way of heating your home.

The move away from using fossil fuels provides an additional reason for ending development of fracking in the UK. Apart from the widely publicised environmental damage, shale oil may be needed as a source of chemicals by future generations.

Edit: Ian – I had not seen your post but thought you might be referring to LPG, which is substantially more expensive than natural gas.

As far as I know the major manufacturing processes of hydrogen involve either fossil fuel or electrolysis – https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/low-carbon-energy-programme/hydrogen-production/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIsOOS__nk5wIVVODtCh2nlwpxEAAYAiAAEgKXCPD_BwE

Electrolysis brings us back to requiring sufficient generating capacity. Fossil fuel requires carbon capture.

I see a danger in being totally dependent upon one source of energy – electricity – that for most of us is distributed from central sources. As we have seen, serious disruption can occur.

I’d like to see the evidence that heat pumps can generally be cheaper than natural gas. LPG and oil are, for most, not the fuels of choice and relatively expensive.

Which? have a useful (but 2 year old) article on lpg for home heating. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/home-heating-systems/article/home-heating-systems/lpg-central-heating
Comparing the economics of heat pumps with lpg can give a favourable result but lpg is an expensive fuel, 3 or 4 times the cost of piped gas per kwh.

LPG is undoubtedly expensive, but many homes in rural areas depend on it. I presume the plan is to phase-out its use as for natural gas. There are more likely to be exemptions for LPG because of the costs and practicalities of supplying sufficient electricity to remote areas.

The Renewable Heat Incentive will help offset the cost of installing heat pumps and this document gives the basics: https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/system/files/docs/2018/07/essentialguideforapplicants_july_2018.pdf Both ground source and air source heat pumps are eligible provide they meet specified criteria. Air source pumps are less efficient but cheaper and can be installed in existing property where it would be impractical to install ground source heat pumps.

A heating alternative for homes not on mains gas is oil.

I feel that special consideration should be given to the situation in rural areas where there is not the choice of fuels that towns enjoy.

LPG is used as much as oil in many country properties and many rural dwellers also burn logs and waste to supplement their heating at lower cost or free. Another point is that many country properties do not lend themselves to higher insulation values at an affordable cost. Added to the extra expense of motoring in rural areas the impact of the changes that will have to be made in country people’s way of life could be quite severe.

I don’t know the relative costs and calorific values of heating oil and LPG but oil does seem to have a reputation for being more expensive and also prone to theft. In a carbon-free future both energy sources will be outlawed I expect and money will have to be spent beefing up the electric power supplies and making them more resilient.

As far as I know, oil is the cheaper and more popular option but costs can vary on the amount purchased.

If gas is phased out, those in rural areas without mains gas will no longer be disadvantaged in having to pay more for energy.

I suppose the relative costs of heating oil and LPG will depend on what sort of heating plant is used in the home. It is possible that individual room heaters could use LPG and be used economically as required whereas oil is more suitable for a central heating and hot water system using a stove or furnace perhaps also with cooking heat as a by-product. The economics of each household would need to be assessed and the cost of replacing the system [relative to the owner’s expected period of use] factored in if the price differential favoured a change of heating plant.

The levelling up of energy costs will no doubt please many people off the gas supply network but if hydrogen substitutes for natural gas that will not apply. Oil and LPG users have to pay for delivery by motor transport every time they restock their tank and that will only increase in cost. For areas connected to the gas mains the unit cost for delivery per connected household is very small and every new connection to existing infrastructure adds revenue potential for no additional capital cost.

Living in a rural area can be extremely costly. I have family living in the highlands of Scotland and most of the food shopping involves a 30 mile round trip since no supermarket will deliver. Petrol is more expensive, online orders are usually subject to an additional delivery charge because of the postcode area. Petrol costs more. Oil for heating and cooking costs more than it would in an urban area. Buses are infrequent and taxis are prohibitively expensive because of the distances involved. On the other hand, property prices are very reasonable compared with the south of England. For them it’s a lifestyle choice.

The lack of winter daylight, the rough weather, the lack of facilities, the extra cost of living and, in places, the midge, are all negatives, but the positives of the stunning scenery, wonderful people and the quiet surroundings make up a lot for that. The different culture can be a challenge for those of us not used to it and hours of Jimmy Shand and his band non stop on the radio would drive me south in a hurry. My sister in law sent me a programme for her local arts centre and its contents did not appeal. The superb mix of classical concerts and exciting theatre I can get to here-abouts is something I’d miss.

Living in the mountains I find I do miss easy and quick access to major concert venues, Theatres and even cinemas. But the rough weather (it’s rained and blown hard for coming onto three weeks, now) can be quite pleasant, when watched from inside.

The views, walks and meeting interesting people during the better weather when walking is possible also compensates for the relative isolation, but then that can work against you when there’s a medical emergency.

Oh – and there are other sources of music available on the radio, Vynor; our house is networked for any type of music that’s wanted through the media server. The only downside to that is power outages. They’re not uncommon.

UK wind turbines, solar farms and other renewable sources of energy generated more electricity this summer than coal and gas power stations, marking the first quarter in history that renewables have eclipsed fossil fuels in the country.

In a significant milestone, an analysis by climate website Carbon Brief found that renewables generated 29.5 terawatt-hours across July to September, versus 29.1 TWh from fossil fuels.

“It is no longer a question of whether renewables can form the backbone of the UK grid, generating more electricity than any other source – it is a question of when they get there and how quickly and how far they continue to expand beyond that. That in itself is a massive change,” says Simon Evans at Carbon Brief.

“This milestone highlights the fact that the UK’s electricity system is in the midst of a stunning transformation, which is only set to continue,” he says.

Renewables have contributed hugely to the UK’s energy requirement. However, I’d suggest to get more reliance upon them we need diversification and storage. Solar is, of course, only effective when there is light, and variable throughout the seasons. Wind is also variable. I suggest water power – tidal storage, wave, tidal flow – offer a predictable huge source of energy that the UK is blessed with and would be a great adjunct to other green energy sources.

I have reservations about nuclear – the seemingly indeterminate cost of large power stations, unreliable and, seemingly, constantly extended timescales, safety if they are rushed (bearing in mind we are not the only country that will go down this route) and handling waste. Small reactors seem a long way off. I hope those reservations can be dispelled. Why the UK cannot be encouraged to become self sufficient at the design and construction of nuclear plants beats me; I don’t want reliance on the French, Chinese or others when we should be looking after our own interests.

I have reservations about nuclear power too, but it may be needed as an interim measure.

My top priority would be to reduce wastage of electricity, and there are so many ways that this can be achieved.

One way we can easily help to make the UK more self-sufficient is to buy energy from UK companies.

The idea of SMRs came about because they’re already being produced for Submarines, aircraft carriers and icebreakers. They’re well proven technology and producing them for around the UK would drastically reduce the cost of the immense new stations. And we’re going to need them, with HS2 now having been given the green light.

“One way we can easily help to make the UK more self-sufficient is to buy energy from UK companies.”

Perhaps you could explain this. Most of our electricity is produced in the UK, even if companies are not UK owned. Some gas and oil comes from the North Sea but unless we start fracking we will inevitably buy more from abroad. I don’t see where UK companies makes us more self sufficient.

Where we could be more self sufficient is if we brought generation design and construction to the UK instead of France and China (for example) – nuclear power for example. Be also good if we built our own HS2, as it seems it must go ahead.

I’m looking more broadly than buying energy or materials needed to make it. Using UK companies makes us more self-sufficient by giving us more control of how they operate and what they charge.

At present we have a great deal of problem with dangerous and counterfeit products imported into this country. If we were more self-sufficient and they were manufactured by British companies our government could more easily take action to ensure that they comply with the applicable standards.

Scouts learn to be self-sufficient, and that’s far more than having taken supplies when camping.

I, like you, have suggested several times I’d like to see the UK making more stuff for itself. Maybe now we have left the EU we will have less restriction and more incentive. I’d also like to see us grow more food and make us less reliant upon imports.

Some while ago I watched a documentary on mis-shapen vegetables and how much perfectly good food gets rejected because it does not look perfect. Bent carrots are just as good for me as dead straight ones – I don’t care. We should somehow ban this kind of waste, together with the stranglehold the supermarkets seem to have on farmers. One parsnip farmer chucked it in because of continual rejected parsnips and last-minute cancellation of orders because the supermarket – Morrisons – got it wrong. Mind you, being a specialist parsnip farmer with just one major customer does not seem like a good business plan.

I think being out of the EU allows us to promote British (UK) goods once again – but we need to get behind it and make Britain “Great” again (where did that come from?). Maybe Which? could play a part in this?

I would hope that the UK content of HS2 will be as high as practically possible. Generally the civil engineering and architectural design will be home made. The track formation will be largely an earth-moving operation. With luck the steel rails, bridges and electrification gantries will be UK manufactured [if we still have a steel industry left]. The power and signal cabling could be British. The stations could have a high UK content – the more concrete the better but the fit-out will no doubt involve a lot of imported materials. The most doubtful part is the trains which could well be imported from China the way things are going. The staff uniforms will probably come from Milan.

If Rolls Royce-made small modular reactors [SMR’s] can fit inside submarines, is there any good reason why they could not power trains such as on HS2? Then we could do away with all the clutter and cost of electrification masts and wires. Overbridges and tunnels need not be so high and the problem of dewirements in strong winds could be avoided.

Could SMR’s not also provide the power required for the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen as a substitute for natural gas?

Here’s an extensive review of small modular reactors. https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-power-reactors/small-nuclear-power-reactors.aspx

As far as I understand it the military types are not suitable in cost and output terms for commercial use. Rolls Tiyce predict getting something up and running by 2031, if the get government funding (if so, lets hope we share in the outcome).

They are still quite complex units and we still have the problem of waste disposal. With a national grid system I’m not too sure about the need for portable or local reactors unless they will be threatened.

If we are to invest substantial money in R&D I am not sure why we do not do that in tidal energy, at the very least as an interim measure that really requires development rather than research and could be online relatively easily.

If I may go back to Malcolm’s post, I’m very keen on the UK producing more, provided that pollution and other environmental damage can be controlled. I can confirm that Morrisons still sell ‘Naturally wonky’ carrots grown in the UK because I bought some this afternoon.

Pressure from consumers and campaigners was responsible, I believe, rather than on the supermarket’s initiative.

At least if we produce in the UK we know what pollution and environmental damage might be possible and have the means to control it, unlike products from overseas. Time we incentivised investment in UK industry – support is what it needs. We are good innovators, we have some good universities, we should capitalise on their talents and productionise the good ideas. Maybe we could include electric vehicles since we are so keen to introduce them more quickly?

I have done my bit to try to support UK industry, but companies usually move production overseas or charge eye watering prices, focusing on customers that are prepared to pay. I purchased the first DAB radio (Evoke-1) produced by British company Pure, in 2002, only to find ‘Made in China’ in small letters on the back panel. 🙁 The Evoke-1 is still working fine, as is the Evoke-3 model that I went on to buy. The company us still British and still manufactures in China or elsewhere in Asia.

One of our most successful British manufacturers in recent years has been Dyson. Many have supported it by buying its innovative products and others have been highly critical, preferring to buy imported goods. Of course Dyson has followed the lead of most manufacturers of electrical/electronic goods and moved manufacture abroad.

How do we incentivise UK manufacture? Yes we are good innovators, yes we have good universities and it would be wonderful if we could design and build electric vehicles in the UK. I am not keen that that we just assemble cars for Japanese and German manufacturers.

John: as of yet, an SMR cannot be made small enough for a train nor (in all likelihood) would it be politicly acceptable, as most people have an unreasoning (and generally uninformed) terror of radiation and nuclear power in general.

I think there would also be significant practical difficulties with using a nuclear reactor in the duty cycles needed by a train.

Conventional civil reactors are designed to only operate at constant power. They cannot rapidly throttle up or down.

Thanks Ian and Derek. It appears that there are at least two good reasons why it would be impractical to use an SMR in a railway train. But presumably it would be possible to use such a generator to power a section of line or a branch line or a major station.

The public objection to being close to a nuclear reactor might have to change as there is no possibility that renewable energy alone will be sufficient to provide round the clock energy reliability for the whole country.

I mentioned this in The Newsroom, but it might be of more interest here.

21 February 2020
The sale of domestic coal and wet wood is to be banned:

Replacing coal with smokeless fuel will greatly reduce sulphur dioxide emissions, which are harmful, particularly for those with respiratory problems.

This makes sense and keeps the log burners alight safely. Those who forage ought to leave wood to dry before use anyway as wet wood tars the chimney.

You might be interested in reading the consultation document and government response, Vynor: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/air-quality-using-cleaner-fuels-for-domestic-burning

It will still be legal to sell larger quantities of wet wood but they must be accompanied by information about the need to dry it before use. Incorrectly stored, dry wood soon becomes wet wood.

The ban on sale of housecoat is something I have been waiting for, since my asthma is triggered by sulphur dioxide. Sale of smokeless fuels will not be affected by the new legislation provided that they meet certain requirements.

I’ve skimmed through the report and its conclusions and have been impressed at the comprehensive nature of the consultation and the sympathetic nature of the government response, based (it seems to me) on common sense and environmental concerns. If the sulphur coal is unavailable it can not be burned and the added calorific value of the alternative partly compensates for the extra price of it. Like everything else there is a change of behaviour needed to stop people throwing anything available on the fire without thought.
I would suspect that most households are now free of coal fires for primary heating. The consultation refers to those who have it in general terms but it doesn’t identify the quantity of such fires, or where they are. They also don’t mention the burning of peat, traditional in Scotland and its islands. It is probably not a problem up there. The smell of the fire is evocative.
Over the years there has been a growing desire to have wood burning stoves as a luxury item in the house. Not only is it attractive as a focus point in the house, but it produces large amounts of heat and saves on other types of heating in the house. These have proliferated and the restriction of what can be burned on them is necessary since there would be an outcry if the stoves themselves were outlawed. The government is correct in its legislation and I hope the compromise between doing without and burning efficiently is one that will work for everyone.
Heritage railways are exempted and I hope the running of these is small enough not to be significant in terms of pollution. As always there is a calculation to be made. I, for one, would be sorry to see this wonderful feature of our life pushed out by those determined to remove every drop of pollutant from the sky.

I am impressed too, though I have been waiting for action for years.

Heritage railways will be able to continue to use coal. I remain to be convinced that they could not use cleaner fuel.

Burning of peat and its use in horticulture and by gardeners is another major environmental issue. One reason why peat is despised is because peat-free composts can contain herbicides such as glyphosate. At least we are starting to control extraction of peat: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/27/ireland-closes-peat-bogs-climate-change

I suppose the coal used by heritage railways will increasingly need to be imported as the number of active coal mines reaches zero. Many heritage railways also use old diesel locomotives or railcars for regular services; they could be more harmful than steam engines.

We inherited a multi-fuel burner in our sitting room when we moved a few years ago. There is also an attractive gas fire in the dining room. We have never used either but we have a shed full of wood in case we need to light the stove in an emergency. The gas fire could be useful if the boiler packs up although it wouldn’t heat the whole house. I am glad I had it checked by a gas engineer soon after moving in as the chimney was blocked by screwed up newspaper that the previous owners had pushed up to stop the draught!.

The smell of coal and wood burning round here is quite nostalgic and there are many chimney sweep firms operating. As Vynor says, it has become a bit of a luxury trend despite the amount of effort and dirt involved.

I find it interesting to imagine how history books will describe this era. From about the 1600s to 1952 the human race exploited natural resources for their own ends, which translated into mainly financial advantage. It took the deaths (in London, of course) of an estimated 10,000 directly attributable to Smog to bring about the first major change through legislation.

But that only addressed a small polluting component. Since the mid ’50s the exploitation has continued apace, with almost nothing being done about the major cause of pollution–the ICE.

Finally, the human race, which has thus far attempted to ignore the reality of finite planetary resources, is starting to accept that possibly–just possibly–we are poisoning the planet and the consequences for the human race could be very serious if something isn’t done.

And throughout this period, deliberate misinformation from those who stand to make great fortunes from the exploitation of our resources has delayed effective action, particularly in the US, where corruption seems to run deep. Major pharma, Tobacco and Oil have for years spent vast sums on lobbying, think tanks and ‘reports’ slanted to deny climate change and disparage those concerned about pollution.

I started this wondering about what history’s verdict would be, but that does assume there will be a future generation. Or, whether like the Buddhists in Vietnam in the ’60s, the human race commits the greatest act of self-immolation in history.

Funnily enough, I was also just wondering whether future archaeologists will some day excavate and try to comprehend relics of our by then long lost industrial civilisation.

There are many steam engines in the UK, not just rail locomotives, powered by coal. How miserable if they were to wither away because they could not get their coal. Oil is no alternative to preserve the past. I’d suggest they are such a small contributor to emissions, and such a great contributor to many people’s enjoyment, that we should ensure they are kept alive and well.

I’ve thought all wood-burning stoves were polluting to a greater or lesser degree whether using dry or wet wood. I was surprised when a condition of a planning application for a new house required there to be a second source of heating – in a house with both gas and electricity – and a log burning stove was suggested by the planning authority.

My understanding is that Glyphosate is broken down in the soil and has a fairly short half life, and I have not seen evidence (but some may have it) that it has a presence in peat-free compost or that it is damaging. What is damaging is Clopyralid, used to treat lawns, and if those clippings go into your council’s green waste for composting. https://conversation.which.co.uk/food-drink/compost-contaminated-weedkiller-herbicides-growing-plants-gardening-wrap/

I prefer soil-based JI compost for sowing and potting on and shy away from peat-free composts because of their frequent rubbish content.Where I can I use home-made compost – I do not treat my lawn – with spent mushroom compost, loam from turves, and fertilisers. Growing my own food is a contribution to sustainability (well, mine anyway 🙂 ).

I suspect it will be seen as important to preserve heritage railways and even some classic steam engines from the past, if only for historical purposes. The problem’s going to be making this world-wide.

Malcolm wrote: “I’ve thought all wood-burning stoves were polluting to a greater or lesser degree whether using dry or wet wood…” Yes – this is well documented and better stoves that produce fewer particulates are approved by Defra. That will leave many non-compliant stoves in use.

If glyphosate was safely broken down in soil then it would not be found in food. Ian did mention vested interests spreading misinformation for financial benefit.

There is no intention to stop use of coal by heritage railways.

Their views have been listened too. The forthcoming ban relates to household use of coal. Alternative smokeless fuels with a low sulphur content are available and apparently these can be more economical than coal.

I’d be interested to see more on glyphosate that is not from vested interests.

We blame the internal combustion engine for pollution. Rightly because of its use in vast numbers. Do we mean pollutants damaging to health or to the planet?
The primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States 2017 are:
• Transportation 28.9 %
• Electricity production 27.5 %
• Industry 22.2%
• Commercial and Residential 11.6 %
• Agriculture 9.0%
Our UK electricity emissions are reduced by renewables.

I wonder if we turn the clock back to pre-ICE days when industry, transport, home heating and cooking were powered by burning coal just how damaging those emissions were compared to today, particularly to health.

From what I recall the correct coal for steam engines is hard coal as used to be mined in Wales. “Welsh Dry Steam Coal (Cobbles)
Steam coal, a type of thermal coal, is a semi-smokeless fuel which is softer than Anthracite and burns cleaner than House Coal”
. I wonder what the heritage railways can get hold of?

Thanks for that link, Derek.

The future for coal use on heritage railways was just a hunch on my part so it’s gratifying to see that I was not far wide of the mark. Clearly if demand for lump coal declines dramatically, as is now occurring, and UK extraction becomes uneconomic, foreign substitute coal will have be imported at significant extra cost. The users of coal for a wide range of heritage purposes cannot be saved by government policy.

I know someone who worked on a heritage railway and the reverse is true. The high quality steam coal the engines were designed to use is getting hard to find and expensive. Imported coal, mainly from Poland, is cheaper but not of the same quality. He tells me one consignment they had was actually green in colour but they had to use it, like many of the 200 plus heritage railways they were operating on a shoe string.

Possibly for a heritage railway which operates under light railway rules with a maximum speed of 25 mph and little risk if an engine fails it doesn’t matter too much. A steam locomotive operating on the main line however needs to maintain much higher speeds and not stall through lack of steam pressure.

For static steam engines if the original solid fuel boiler is in place and serviceable then they are (or were) permitted to go on using coal, wood or whatever, If a new boiler has to be installed then in the past it has had to be gas. Kew and Kempton both have gas boilers.

It’s the clash between living the “modern” ordinary life as developed for centuries, or accepting change, which no one likes doing, and living a new life devoid of many features we now take for granted. In our own life time, when we weren’t destroying each other, we looked to the future as one of progress where we could do more with each new invention and things got better. The exception was the pollution in cities and the clean air act didn’t stop us having fires.The new fuel was seen as a development not a drawback. The prophets of doom began to be heard in the later years and were ignored because no one wanted to listen. Gradually our planet is bringing home to us that we have to listen and if we don’t it will do the job for us in its own way.
The problem we face is to decide what is important and what is panic for the sake of it. It is easy to sweep the board and ban everything or restrict because it feels good. I think scientists have – mostly – discovered what is causing the problems and the type of things we need to consider doing. Not everyone – for various motives as well as ignorance – wants to do these things. The population goes about its daily life and objects to being inconvenienced. Industry has an aversion to losing out to climate change and politicians don’t want to upset their voters or their economy and world status. There are also many other pressing problems to sort out which take the emphasis away from saving the planet. The Middle East is one such, trade wars and power struggles bounce around the globe. The result to date is a kind of piecemeal approach to the climate, where each new natural disaster triggers a new plan of action and everything moves forward in a haphazard fashion. Some countries do this and that, others do this and some carry on as normal. Climate conferences result in paralysis and protesters are not helping when, for the best of motives, they stop public movement and cause mayhem.
I’m sure there is good work and planning going on in our government, but I would like to see more evidence of it and evidence that our new way of life is going to be effective in placating the planet and not “hair shirts” because they suddenly become trendy to wear.

We, in the UK, are, however, a very small part in this. It will need the very large nations to make the changes if we are to make any real progress.

So long as the population keeps increasing at a rate that outstrips the resources needed to feed and clothe it, provide a roof over its head and allow it mobility then we are doomed . . . we’re all doomed. This is the fundamental problem that defies resolution.

It’s wonderful that so many people in first world countries can live to be centenarians, isn’t it? Or is it?

We cannot make the planet bigger so we shall have to make the population smaller. I cannot see any other way of restoring equilibrium. Trying to reduce consumption as a way of balancing the conflicting pressures doesn’t seem to work, especially in a society where the better off can buy more resources than they fundamentally require and justify it by saying it provides work and welfare for the less advantaged. Ultimately it’s economic madness.

To be positive, the plans to restrict use of polluting cars in cities and the forthcoming measures to reduce pollution from fires and stoves will have a significant effect, helping those who have to live or work there.

When we have to feed and water a burgeoning world population I’ds suggest restricting the use of polluting cars in the UK (and some other) cities will have a negligible affect overall. We are simply putting off the evil day.

As John says, we have a fundamental problem to address in population growth. It is inexorable and will not be controlled by disease or warfare. If we are to survive as a species, with or without motor cars, then we need to consider how we can control, and reduce, world population. We’ve managed it with many other species; time to look to ourselves 🙁

”Our testing has just revealed one of the best washing machines we’ve found for a while, and it’s less than £200.

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/02/weve-just-found-the-cheapest-best-buy-washing-machine-in-years/ – Which?

I’m guessing it is this BEKO machine.

But is it a “sustainable” buy? BEKO are in the bottom part of the list for reliability. It only has a 12 month guarantee. They have had a much higher than normal incidence of glass doors shattering. How long might it last? And can it be economically repaired? Something I hope Which? will start to report on.

We can’t make the planet bigger–that’s true, but we could invest a great deal more in finding alternative planets on which to live. And we know that relatively clean energy can be produced but it will need the first world to fund the third world in that respect.

I’m not sure population size is at the root of all this. I would finger greed as the main culprit. The planet can sustain more people but only if resources are shared more evenly. It’s the desire for wealth, acquisitions of all kinds and the thirst for power that make it so difficult to engineer change. Capitalism is not good for the world, and neither is the polar opposite–communism.

Sadly, we live in a world cursed by three things: Religion, language and skin colour. Not until our reactions to those are consigned to the garbage bin of history will the human race finally stand a chance of survival

I do not see any sign that we could move sufficient people to other planets.

”There has been a remarkable global decline in the number of children women are having, say researchers. Their report found fertility rate falls meant nearly half of countries were now facing a “baby bust” – meaning there are insufficient children to maintain their population size.

Maybe this is the means by which a natural balance will be struck.

Possibly so . . . but longevity is countering the trend.

I am not sure what right the Earth people have to populate and ravage another planet!

That’s an interesting philosophical debate. John; Mars seems the most likely candidate, as it seems devoid of life, from what we can tell at this distance. In fact, I’d bet there’s still life there, as it used to be full of seas and rivers, and still has huge reserves of water.

Restoring an atmosphere would be the next step, and given sufficient determination that could be done. However, a space elevator would almost certainly be necessary for long-term Mars occupation and that’s a bit beyond our technology at the moment.

Climate change: New rules could spell end of ‘throwaway culture’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-51825089

“Proposals aim at making environmentally-friendly products the norm. It could mean manufacturers using screws to hold parts in place, rather than glue.” Anyone who has had a go at replacing a battery or screen in a modern phone or tablet will have struggled with parts that are glued in place. Not one of the most popular phones now has a battery that can be swapped by the user.