Sunday, 30 October 2011

Washing with an Ecoegg

Having had a week of half-term fun, it's time to channel the domestic goddess spirit and get back to the chores.   Can you sense my lack of enthusiasm?  Well I suppose a girl can't be off enjoying herself all of the time and before the excitement of Halloween kicks off, today's task is catching up with a huge pile of laundry!

Anyone who's followed this blog for a while will know just how much I adore my relationship with the washing machine.  In fact this old post about washing with balls was as true then as it is now, except for the tiny detail about the balls.

Don't get me wrong.  The Eco Balls have done a fabulous job, despite one getting lost and another getting warped, leaving me with just one single ball to tackle the washday woes! They've also saved us loads of money that we would have otherwise spent on detergent.  However, with only one fully functioning ball after three years of usage, I was recently left wondering how effective it all was.

Then just as I was pondering a temporary return to washing powder until I sorted out an alternative solution, out of the blue, in the guise of a fairy godmother, I received an invitation to test out something new.

Of course if it had been the real Fairy Godmother, my pumpkin would have turned into a carriage, I'd have been adorned with glimmering satin and glittering diamonds and despatched to the nearest high society ball, with the local mice dressed as handsome footmen.

Instead, I was offered...... an Ecoegg!

I suppose that despite my dreams of running away from the domestic drudgery of the laundry, and having already won over my Prince Charming 19 years ago, this fairy godmother knew what I really needed and so the trial commenced.

Three months on, having tackled piles upon piles of laundry, I am pleased to say that the Ecoegg is still going strong. I haven't lost it!  It's still in one piece and all's good. 

I can't tell whether the Ecoegg is more effective than the Eco balls in terms of washing results.  They are both comparable, absolutely perfect for getting your average laundry pile as fresh as a daisy but in need of extra help when it comes to more grubby marks that the children sometimes get on their clothes.

However, having experienced the two products, I admit that I like the Ecoegg more.  I love the fact that it's a single item and from a design perspective, well it feels less clumsy.

If you've never considered the switch from laundry detergent before, I'd seriously recommend giving it a go.  I can't remember how much we used to spend on monthly top-ups now but I'd hazard a guess that since 2008 we've saved somewhere in the region of £350.

Admittedly the lack of "fresh laundry" scent takes getting used to at first, but it doesn't take long to realise that it's actually one of the advantages and soon becomes more preferable to the chemically induced detergent scent that previously filled our drawers.

Well I guess all this talk of laundry is not actually going to get it done.  I've already admitted how I let the side down for womanhood when it comes to multi-tasking.  So for now I'll bid you Adieu and go and salute the washing pile and then it's time to hunt down a pumpkin....Fairy Godmother, if you are looking in, I still fancy the idea of turning it into a carriage once Halloween is over and perhaps popping to the ball too.  

What's that..."In my dreams"?

Oh well - Washer Woman it is then - see you next week!


More information about the Ecoegg and how it works can be found at  As a comparison, you can also find out more about the Eco Balls here.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Adding glamour to zero waste

Vivienne Westwood Skyscraper design
Forget cardboard compactors.  These days jumping on your used pizza boxes in killer heels is the way to go to for adding extra sex appeal to recycling. Especially if you're wearing zero waste shoes.

Okay, I jest. I know I like to entertain my friends but the only way these shoes would add such glamour to my recycling activities is in carrying my feet towards my kitchen bin!   Performing star jumps in high heels just to crush old boxes is a little far fetched, even for me.

However, the zero waste aspect of these shoes isn't.  They're one of the latest designs to come out from Melissa, a Brazilian based shoe manufacturer that prides itself not just on great design and ethical policies but on zero waste operations too.  Not only does the factory recycle its waste water, but any excess material used in its current collection gets recycled into the next season's shoes.

Melissa shoes, made from its mono-material MelFlex (apparently a toxin-free adaptation of PVC, developed from bio-engineered and recovered plastics) have emerged as one of the darlings of the eco-style world and have become popular with vegans and the eco-conscious alike. They even come with the promise that they can be 100% recycled.   And I admit I too have fallen for them this season.  Thanks to a friend bringing them to my attention, I was quickly seduced by a pair of Vivien Westwood heels especially designed for Melissa's Anglomania range,

Yes I admit, they add that special "je-ne-sais-quoi" never witnessed by my wardrobe in recent years and their comfort will hopefully ensure they remain a key item for many decades to come.  However, despite my love of having shoes that have been made via zero waste production, I feel it fair to dispell the promise of a zero waste nirvana when it comes to recycling such items in the UK.

Just because a shoe is made from a single material that says it can be recycled, it doesn't mean it can be easily recycled.  The Melissa range is the only collection of shoes I know that have a recycling triangle on them, (revealing type 3 for PVC), however in the UK, the municipal collection of this type of material is not particularly widespread.  With that said, it is a sector that is currently being met by major research and development in Europe and eco-efficient collection and recycling processes, which replace less sustainable ways of managing such waste, should see much improvement over the next decade thanks to the development of voluntary agreements such as Vinylplus.

The recyclability may be marketed as a selling point when it comes to the end of a shoe's life. However as any "zero waster" should know, it's the product maintenance and reuse aspects that are the most obvious solutions to enjoying an item and managing its life-span post use.

As with anything, post-consumer recycling is just one consideration when making a purchase, but commitment to longevity and an ethical manufacturing process should be high on the agenda too, and for those reasons I think I'm going to enjoy my relationship with my Melissa shoes for many years to come.

I really was joking about jumping up and down on pizza boxes.  I think these shoes are more suited to moments of enjoying cocktails and wine.

And of course, the closest they will ever come to a recycling centre, is if a touch of glamour is needed when recycling the empties.

More information about the Melissa shoe range can be found at, supplemented by a wealth of reviews appearing in Eco magazines that include Ecosalon, Dare2Magazine and The Ecologist.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Ornamental melons & food waste

(Photo credit: Bettnet on Flickr Creative Commons License)

How I wish I had the patience to carve fruit like this.  The best I can do is to create an oddity of star-shaped slices from a hacked apple, a technique I learned a while back when trying to reinvigorate my children's interest in fruit.  They were going through that phase, turning up their noses at anything but grapes and for a while much of the produce that I used to cart home from the supermarket would end up in the compost bin.

In short, our home was embellished with a weekly bowl of fruit whose purpose had become increasingly ornamental and it seemed I was the worst offender.  Not only did I keep buying it automatically without thinking the issue through, I'd repeat shopping habits that were just plain daft.

For instance, take my love of melons.  I'd spot them in the supermarket and pop one - or even two - in my trolley in anticipation of enjoying it later, thinking about the mouthwatering taste and refreshing texture.  Then I'd arrive home, unpack, juggle the children and cook dinner and end up too blimmin' knackered to even think about taking a knife to the fruit I'd imagined myself devouring.

This pattern would repeat itself for days, with the melon perched on my kitchen worktop. Against a backdrop of busy family life, thoughts of its stickiness and mess-creating potential would stand in the way of the promise of it tickling the tastebuds.  Eventually, it would just go off, creating that all familiar pungent melon stink and end up being tossed into the compost bin.  The following week it would be replaced by a whole new fresh piece of fruit and the cycle of desire and inconvenience would begin once more.

When I told this story on  Radio 4's Woman's Hour last week, I was met with an incredible response from friends and Twitter followers.  The tale of my ornamental melons attracted a fair portion of light-hearted innuendo banter, but after the laughs were over, reactions settled into shared stories of similar habits that friends recognised in themselves, telling me about their ornamental pineapples and other fruity installations.

It really is startling that - thanks in part to habits like this - as a country we still throw away 8.3 million tonnes of food, which could have been eaten.  That amounts to roughly £50 of food being wasted in domestic bins per month.  Extrapolate the melon story to the contents of the fridge and wasted leftovers, it becomes easy to see how this mounts up.

The experts say that tackling food waste comes down to planning and they are right.  Planning meals, budgeting properly and taking a shopping list really does help.  However, I'd go beyond that and say it also requires much more. Realising the impact on the family budget. awareness of why food waste is such an environmental issue, being able to identify with your own daft habits, developing a conviction to change and then adopting new ideas that enable you to do so are all equally important factors.

Four years ago I was totally pants at managing food waste.  As well as the fruity debacle, I'd think nothing of tossing out-of-date yoghurts in the bin along with leftovers from the serving bowl.   I'm a terrible planner, a half-hearted cook and even now a shopping list still fills me with fear of control as opposed to the helpful guide it should be. 

However, I stumbled through all sorts of changes in my habits.  I stopped buying the stuff that I'd regularly throw out. I swapped the time-consuming huge weekly shop for a couple of very short visits, instead buying only the fresh produce that we really needed and I also got into the habit of using up leftovers.  We saved loads of dosh in the meantime.   I admit that I am by no means the picture of perfection.  Threats from my husband, who sometimes reveals an unusal desire to post up some of my more dodgy looking carrots, could bear witness to that.  But addressing food waste has really made an enormous impact on our household.

So, if food waste is your thing and you are now determined to do something about it, don't just take my word for it.  I can tickle you away from using your rubbish bin, but for some really decent advice you'll find no better website than  It's full of facts and figures to get you motivated and is packed with top tips that range from using up veg that might appear to be at death's door, recipes for leftovers, how best to use the freezer and understanding date-labelling.  If you use Facebook, you can also keep in touch with updates via the new Love Food Hate Waste community page.

Now coming back to those melons...I've just done a quick calculation and reckon I've probably saved somewhere in the region of £300 in the last three and a half years... and that ladies and gentleman is without the "Two for £3" deals. 

Flippin' 'eck. 


For once I declare myself officially speechless!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A rubbish hack to help sort out your waste

Amongst many things, the Dispatches documentary on Monday demonstrated how confused people still are over which packaging can be recycled in their local bins.

Packaging information, especially in relation to plastics, is still inconsistent and even though the on-pack labelling is getting better, for many the uncertainty of what can be recycled locally still pervades like a bad smell.

So if you're one of the hundreds of thousands who are still confused, here are my top tips.

1. Get the latest information from your council

Before you do ANYTHING ELSE, yes,  even embarking on reading the rest of this post, get on the blower to your local council, and ask the recycling officers EXACTLY what you should put in your bins. I know it sounds obvious, but if you've been pondering how complicated it all is, this really is the best place to start.

Council information generally describes recyclables by product type and you'll find local authorities mainly fall into two categories; those where you can recycle most types of plastic packaging (and will include yoghurt pots, margarine tubs and fruit punnets) or those that can't, thus limiting your plastics collection to simply bottles (including drinks bottles, detergent bottles, milk containers & toileteries).

If the information isn't clear.  Then ask questions so that you are clear on what can\can't be put in your local bins.

Another excellent source at your disposal (please excuse the pun), is the Recycle Now website.  You just pop in your postcode and Bob's your uncle, as the system will return the results of what can be recycled at your kerbside, as well as Bring Banks and Household Waste Recycling Centres.

Once you are confident about your council's rules, you will become less reliant on packaging labelling and hopefully less frustrated.

After all, if you can't recycle a plastic fruit punnet through your local collection, you just can't recycle it regardless what  message the packaging information might tell you, so don't fall into the trap of getting hot and bothered.  Instead try and buy the product loose instead.

2. Find out what the recycling labels really mean.

Even though your local recycling officer is the best source to use, the new on-pack recycling labels can offer some extra help, and that's mainly to raise awareness of the materials used and the likelihood that they can be recycled.

Again, the best place to find out about the labelling guidelines is at the Recycle Now website.  Remember, the labelling advice should be followed as a call to action, prompting you to check with your local authority (coming back to point 1) as opposed to a definitive guide in itself.

Once you are familiar with your local rules, even if the packaging doesn't have the correct up-to-date information printed on it you'll be more confident about what you should do.  For example, whilst shopping in a supermarket the other day, the own-brand bread packaging showed that it couldn't be recycled, despite the fact that a new in-store collection had been introduced only a month or so earlier, which actually collects packaging film such as bread bags and toilet-roll wrappers.

3. Avoiding packaging that can't be recycled.

With all the controversy surrounding recycling, with its complications, targets and whether it is sorted properly in the first place, it is very easy to lose sight of what we as consumers actually can do to reduce our waste contribution. 

We might not feel as though we have much power, but actually we do...lots!   There are many small changes that we can make, which can have a huge impact if they are applied across the nation.  I'd hoped to include some of these this week on Woman's Hour, but we simply ran out of time.  This list is not exhaustive by any means, and should really be considered as a starter for ten....

  • Avoid packaging: Buy loose wherever possible, and support independent stores such as Unpackaged, which actively promotes that you use your own containers.
  • Switch packaging: If there isn't an unpackaged option, switch products you can't recycle for those that you can. For example one particular major toothpaste brand comes in small thin plastic bottles, made from the same plastic as fizzy drinks bottles and can be recycled widely.
  • Choose reusable: You can also reduce your packaging by switching from disposable products to reusable ones and prevent other waste too.  Jackie, who was featured in the Dispatches programme, took my advice about ditching floor wipes and bought a reusable mop.  This will save her loads of cash as well as reducing the amount of rubbish thrown away.  If you're an avid baby wipe user, try using soft washable cloths instead.
  • Upcycle: If you can't recycle the packaging or avoid it completely, try upcycling it instead and raise some cash for your favourite charity.  Terracycle offers an upcycling service for packaging from brands that include Johnson's baby wipes, Ella's smoothies, Kenco coffee refills and Aquafresh toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes.  It's a great scheme for schools and local community groups.  The products are turned into new things that are sold on the Terracycle website.
  • Split It: If you live in one of the areas that doesn't recycle plastic yoghurt pots, check your supermarket shelves for products that use less plastic.  There are pots on the market that now have a thinner plastic liner and a tear-off cardboard outer (just like the one in the photo).  These can be separated, with the cardboard being recycled and less plastic actually going to waste.   More packaging will move in this direction, especially thanks to innovations such as Split-it, so keep an eye out on the shelves for products that can help you reduce waste.
  • DIY: That's right, do it yourself! If you're hacked off with not being able to recycle your ready-meal trays, see if you can save money and waste by making it yourself.  Or if you've got a great friend who can really cook, and I mean really cook, invite yourself around and have a great night out instead of worrying about what you're going to do with the dirty plastic tray and ikky film. Then invite them over next week for some beans on toast!
These few ideas are just touching the surface, but I hope it at leasts provides some food for thought.  I am sure you'll have loads more suggestions to add to this, which suit your lifestyle better.  And if you want more inspiration, then check out The Rubbish Diet Challenge, which you can read online for free.

Of course, all I've covered here is just packaging waste.  Food waste is much more of a significant issue.  If you're interested in tackling that, watch this space as I'll be back soon with more tips on what you can do at home.


If you missed the Dispatches "Britain's Rubbish" documentary on Monday, it is still available for the next 27 days at 4OD. It's packed with footage about fly-tipping, plastics, recycling systems and politicians arguing their case as well as the story of how Jackie, a mum from Manchester reduced her family's rubbish from 13kg a week to 5kg.  I know I'm biased, but for me, that's the best bit.  (Just in case you're looking out for it, my appearance is at 15 minutes and 28 minutes into the programme).

If you want to catch up on the Woman's Hour broadcast this week featuring Bob Gordon, Head of Environment for the British Retail Consortium and Liz Goodwin, Chief Executive of WRAP, you can 'listen again' via the BBC Woman's Hour webpage.  Just look for the chapter on Zero Waste.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Me being serious on TV: Dispatches, Britain's Rubbish, C4 8pm

Morland Sanders, investigates Britain's rubbish for C4 Dispatches

I recently did some filming for the Dispatches documentary that's being broadcast tonight. It's called "Britain's Rubbish" and will be aired at 8pm on Channel 4.

When I was asked to contribute, a huge part of me wanted to batten down the hatches, draw the curtains and say "Thanks but no thanks". I normally stay away from the heavy stuff and regular readers will know I don't normally campaign against issues, but instead promote ideas that help empower householders to reduce waste, even if it's just by a small amount.

But as I was about to say "No thank you" to the documentary makers, my thoughts turned back to why I keep raising awareness of recycling and waste reduction. It's because it really is such a serious issue, despite my own natural tendency towards lightening the mood. And I am still as passionate about getting people to talk about their rubbish as I've ever been. Furthermore I'm a constant troubleshooter, who loves sharing positive information that I've gathered, even if it has turned this average householder into a bit of a waste geek. So, as I gave my reply I found myself changing my mind and saying "yes".

I knew the documentary could offer another avenue to raise awareness of all the advances that have taken place in recent years, including the fantastic On-Pack Recycling Labelling standard that helps shoppers better understand whether an item can be recycled. There's also the news how popular brands have made steady inroads into "lightweighting" packaging, designing out wasteful components as well introducing a greater percentage of recycled materials into their products. Such developments should make it far easier for shoppers to dramatically reduce their waste.

However, it soon became clear during filming that whilst being able to demonstrate some of the aforementioned positive points, the experience actually revealed that we are still a long way off from the ideal of a totally transparent system that consumers can easily rely on.

Participating in the documentary gave me the first opportunity in ages to examine a wide range of packaging and I was shocked at that no matter what strides have been made in the last couple of years, labelling across products is still highly inconsistent, with many lines not giving any clear instructions. There were plenty of examples where the text was too small to read easily or simply had outdated advice. Where some products would state that the packaging was recyclable (where facilities exist), other products packaged in the same material stated that it could not yet be recycled. 

Despite well thought-out labelling standards, design guidelines developed by the British Retail Consortium and WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) and strong engagement campaigns to get these adopted by retailers and brands, it has become clear that much of the grocery sector is still lagging behind the need to hurry change. Coupled with this are many examples of overpackaged products that have are still being introduced as new lines.

As a shopper, consumer, householder and waste geek, this is far more than just frustrating. It is a major concern that clear consumer advice is not coming at the speed that is needed and that if the government is serious about its Zero Waste goals and waste prevention strategy, change in the manufacturing sector needs to be implemented faster than is currently tolerated, whether by government or by industry itself.

And the same could be said for the processing of mixed plastics packaging. It's seems very much a futile exercise to invest in labelling if recycling facilities aren't widespread.  It is very encouraging to see commercial plants for mixed plastics being implemented by Biffa and new developments in sorting technologies that are starting to be rolled out by Veolia, but the UK needs deeper investment to make more plants available at a faster speed with flexible contracts that enable disposal authorities to use them.

As things stand, it is increasingly difficult for busy households to shrink their packaging waste when so many local authorities are still unable to recycle common items such as yoghurt pots, margarine tubs, meat trays, ready meal trays, fruit punnets and the cake tubs, the latter of which are becoming an increasingly ubiquitous item in the confectionary aisle. I often argue that it's the consumer's choice to buy these products and I agree that many could chose to vote with their wallets and make alternative choices. However, not everyone has the impetus, the awareness, the time, motivation, access to choice or even the money to tackle their household waste in such way, and we shouldn't be expect it to ultimately be our responsibility either.

So whose responsibility is it to tackle the UK's waste problem?  Naturally we need to start with the brands and the manufacturers. After all, that's where our rubbish actually starts, during the design and manufacturing process. However it only then becomes rubbish if waste operators and local authorities can't collect it because the facilities aren't in place or they don't have markets onto which it can be sold on. However demand is changing and I've spoken to a variety of manufacturers, ranging from bottling plants to recycled plastic tile-makers who want to buy more recycled plastic from the UK.   So it's their responsibility too, to find sustainable solutions and a steady bank of customers. But then there's government, which has the power to legislate, to set much tougher targets, show greater leadership and make better investment to kickstart zero waste economies.

But it's all too easy to fall into the blame culture, which we often witness when one sector has a foodfight with the other.  It's time to move forward from that and whilst the big boys battle it out, I believe that consumers can have a key role to play too in reducing our residual packaging waste and food waste where possible. Whether that means taking a small amount of time to clear up any ambiguities over local recycling advice, switching from disposable to reusable products, boycotting overpackaged products, composting,  following great campaigns such as Love Food Hate Waste, Recycle Week or Zero Waste Week, or even asking for better recycling facilities in local neighbourhoods, it means we can take more control over our bins. And if you're unclear on the packaging guidelines tell your supermarket that you'll leave it all with them, asking that they get back to you.

The waste problem won't go away until we all start working together.  Waste reduction won't be sorted without the help of us, the consumer, even if we are mostly beholden to what's for sale in the shops. Against the background need to preserve our material resources and save energy, as a society, it starts by individuals taking more interest and being more aware of some small changes that could make a big difference and the wider consequences of what happens to the stuff that we chuck in our bins.

The documentary will be aired tonight and I'll be happy to follow up on any issues raised, as soon as I can.   However, I'm away for much of this week, including joining a discussion panel in London for tomorrow's Woman's Hour (BBC Radio 4, 10-11am)

So in the meantime, if you're a householder who is interested in how you can battle the elements of your rubbish bin and reduce the waste that goes in there, and are great places to start, as is the fantastic website  Of course you can also ring your local council for advice and if you're the chatty type, talk to friends and neighbours about how they reduce their rubbish.  You'll never know what local tips you'll find out.

But remember, don't feel guilty about what you can't do, just feel relieved about what you can!


Many thanks go to the production team at Blakeway for inviting me to add my small contribution and also to Jackie and her family who were brave enough to let us go through their rubbish on camera.  I don't know which of my contributions will be featured but I'm looking forward to watching what else was unearthed during the wider filming.  More information about tonight's programe is shown below:

Dispatches: Britain's Rubbish, Channel 4 10 October 2011, 8pm

Dispatches lifts the lid on Britain's bins and asks what the plan is to tackle the country's growing rubbish problem.

Reporter Morland Sanders travels the UK in the wake of the government's Waste Policy Review to find out about bin collections, litter, excessive packaging and Britons' secret bin habits.  He finds householders angry about their bins not being collected every week and fly-tipping setting resident against resident.

He asks whether we can do more to help reduce the rubbish problem ourselves and sets a family the challenge of living without a bin for a fortnight. Can they really recycle everything?

On the high street, he questions whether we are simply sold too much packaging with the things we buy, making us throw far too much away, and sifts through litter to see who should be doing more to keep Britain tidy.

He also talks to the people who collect, sort and recycle our waste and discovers what happens to our paper and plastics once they are collected. Does profit win out over green considerations?

And he investigates whether the waste companies are really solving our rubbish problem.


Friday, 7 October 2011

Karen meets Kevin at Grand Designs Live

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Kevin McCloud at the Grand Designs Live exhibition. Given that I'm a random blogger, I suppose it could have been any Kevin, so it was a real privilege to finally meet the man who, since the launch of Grand Designs on Channel 4, has left me and millions of others day-dreaming about designing our own homes.

But I didn't trek all the way up to Birmingham to talk to him about that perfect self-build dream, nor to wax lyrical about my obsession with proper lighting, one of his other passions.  What really interested me on this occasion was Kevin's Green Heroes, the range of eco products that he has selected to highlight at the show as a showcase for strong eco and ethical design.

So while Kevin McCloud was busy greeting visitors following the official opening, I took the opportunity to have a quick glance at the products that he'd chosen.  The ones that particularly caught my eye were "slate" roof tiles made from recycled plastic, unusual picture frames and a chest made from old tyres and some beautiful lights designed from old books that would have otherwise been discarded into landfill. There was even a gumdrop bin that was actually made from recycled chewing gum. 


Here's the gorgeous Lula Dot paper lampshade designed by Lucy Norman, which is made from discarded old books.

On meeting Kevin minutes later in the VIP Lounge, I asked how easy it was to discover such products.

Of course, it's a process he actually finds quite easy. Through his work he has access to a wide range of technologies and ideas and when he sees something new, it really does catch his attention.  However, he highlighted that one of the key criteria for this year's show was that the products had to be market-ready, as it is frustrating for visitors if they are inspired by the designs but unable to buy them.

As he settled into the conversation, Kevin's passion for his Green Heroes showcase was clear.

"What I love about these products is that they've been recontextualised," he revealed.

My ears pricked up and although I was recording the interview, it was a word I didn't want to lose.  In other settings I've heard the term "upcycled" but this concept seemed more specific.

"Recontextualising is when you take something and you change the setting contextually," he added "taking a functional quality material and changing it into something beautiful, thus persuading you that it's something else".

He went on to add that the first rule of recontextualisation is that the object being recycled should not be changed that much. Processing it minimally and turning into something else is the trick to clever design.

Kevin illustrated this point with the Tread Tyre recycled eco products, highlighting how the tread looks like carved wood and plays on the visual language of something else and it's the amazement that it is "something else" which contributes to the joy of ownership.

It was at this point that I showed Kevin my much-coveted handbag, which is made from decommissioned firehouse that would otherwise be discarded in landfill.  Could this be described as a recontextualised product?

After a moment of admiration, he confirmed that it indeed fitted the bill, with its clever design, using the different textures of a practical piece of emergency equipment and changing it into a desirable fashion accessory that resembled leather.

Changing mindsets

Like many of the designs that have been chosen for the Green Heroes showcase, I highlighted that such businesses with their size limitations can only "rescue" a small amount of waste for redesign and broached the question over how we get the wider industry to notice the same issues and follow greater opportunities to turn waste into useful products.

"It's a slow, somewhat painful and long process," Kevin replied.  "And in the context of the bag, one day other companies such as Mulberry will probably make them and then you'd likely find two or three brands flooding the market."

And he made another equally valid point,  "On one hand you want everyone to do it but on the other you'd like the small companies to thrive as well.  The issue is as much about creating a change in mindset in consumers and users."

Kevin explained, "There are lots of ways in which we can and should reappraise our relationships with made things.  Fundamentally the real problem is not whether we are making items out of leather or firehose, it's whether or not  it is made in a giant factory by people who are underpaid, exploited and the environment is damaged, the local ecology and biodiversity is wrecked, materials are squandered and carbon is burned."

Suddenly we'd progressed from the appreciation of clever design to the worrying issues of global manufacturing, something that is easy to forget when you're so mesmerised by the glossy world of a lifestyle exhibition such as Grand Designs Live.  Kevin McCloud's concerns run very deep.

"The root of the problems that we face is the disconnection that has happened between us and the things that we make, consume and use.  If we all met the people in the factories where our goods are made, we would think twice or even offer more money."

We were now broaching the need for wider education and Kevin McCloud is in a privileged position to do this. I asked if there were any more projects in the pipeline that would help make people more aware and adopt more sustainable practices.

He mentioned his new TV series as one particular example, which will be broadcast this autumn about his sustainable housing scheme in Swindon.  He says it's a project which came about in no small way because of what he'd seen in Mumbai, during the filming of Slumming it, where he spent two weeks living in the city slums.

He added,  "It's the principle of sharing, which underscores both a coherent civic society but also a more sustainable way of life, with low carbon and low resource use.  That use of sharing is what I saw in India, occuring in every walk of people's lives and it's something that we could be doing a lot more of here in our society."

"There are lots of ways of sharing, whether it's signing up to a car club, joining a food network, growing veg and swapping it with your neighbour or simply taking a bus.  It's down to how we eat, live, move around and consume.  These ideas point to a much more efficient way of life and much more lower carbon impact and resource use. It's only one in a small army of approaches but it's a real powerful one.  The whole idea of shared time, shared work, shared responsibility and shared ownership, is really interesting."

As we approached the end of the interview Kevin pointed to the key position that the UK holds in global society and asserted,
"This country was once the cradle of the industrial revolution and because of that we have an ethical responsibility to the rest of the world to demonstrate what the post industrial solutions should be."
I've often pondered this very thing and wondered whether we can actually succeed. I looked at Kevin and asked what he thought.

There came a light shrug and he replied, "For every wonderful new idea there is a terrible groan from a corner as the government backtracks on policy, or local council does the wrong thing or a business decides to give up on an idea due to the recession."

And as we were about to discuss the way that communities harness roots-based projects at the time of recession, our time was up and Kevin McCloud needed to move on to his next appointment. It was unfortunate as I could have listened to what he had to say for hours.

I thanked him for taking time out of his busy schedule to be interviewed by a random blogger.

"A blogger and a bag," he laughed as he picked up my recontextualised handbag again, coveting it once more. After he asked to look at the lining, he responded with a teasing comment and a warm smile  "I'm a blogger. You don't know me, but here are my credentials. That's a great calling card"

And as Kevin McCloud admired the lining that had been made from orange parachute material, I immediately regretted not recycling all my old receipts. Honestly woman!  If you're going to show Kevin your bag, the top tip really should be to declutter the contents first.


Design guru and TV broadcaster Kevin McCloud also hosts Grand Designs Live. Based on his popular Channel 4 series, the inspirational and innovative home improvement, self-build and design show is running at the Birmingham NEC (7-9th October) and will run next year from 5-13 May 2012 at the London Excel Centre. The show boasts over 500 exhibitors as well as offering free consultations, catering for both home owners looking for new ideas to renovate their homes and aspiring self-builders looking for advice, inspiration and value to build their very own Grand Design. Book ahead and see Kevin at the live show

Also, if you fancy living rent-free for a year to test out an Eco Home, check out the competition that is being promoted by Velux.

(Updated 8/10/11 with extra images & extra info about next year's show).

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