Monday 30 March 2015

Litter reports

There's a major new British Parliament cross-party committee report on Litter and fly-tipping in England (Web version with witness statements), also as a PDF version (no witness statements).

Also some recent UK think-tank reports on the topic:

A Clean Sweep: rethinking the way we tackle litter.

Exploring the Indirect Costs of Litter in England: Final Report to Keep Britain Tidy.

Scotland also has a rather dull 2014 National Litter Strategy.

Sunday 29 March 2015

Bill Bryson on Britain's Litter Problem (2008)

Bill Bryson: Britain's Litter Problem (2008) and part two and part three...

Thanks to Crosbyeyes for keeping this otherwise unavailable Panorama programme online via YouTube.

Don't Mess With Me: full series on YouTube

Don't Mess With Me is an excellent recent TV series on litter, which has just been re-commissioned for a second series. Here's the first series, free on YouTube:

Don't Mess with Me Episode 1.
Brighton Beach / Birmingham to Lichfield trains / Microplastic pollution in our seafood / Edinburgh street dumping wardens.

Don't Mess with Me Episode 2.
London's Leicester Square / A litter experiment / Canoeist litter picker volunteers on Leicester's River Soar / Collecting litter from inaccessible coastal beaches.

Don't Mess with Me Episode 3.
Birmingham New Street station and approach lines / Northamptonshire fly-tippers / Leicester can collector / A psychology experiment in Hay-on-Wye.

Don't Mess with Me Episode 4.
A poster experiment in Portsmouth / London's Gay Pride march / Underwater litter pickers in Devon / Croydon's cigarette butt wardens.

Don't Mess with Me Episode 5.
Essex fast-food giants / Hampshire dog poo wardens / Cleaning up motorway verges / An experiment in Essex.

Toward a historical timeline of litter in the UK

A quick attempt at a timeline of the history of litter in the UK. This is just meant to quickly capture my recent reading on the topic, in the hope it may help someone researching the topic in the future:

1930s: Council for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE) is concerned at level of picnic waste from motor-coach 'day trips' excursions, and the then-new rambling groups, from the cities to natural beauty spots.

1930s: Women's Institutes (WI) take up the CPRE concerns, adding urban concerns about Bank Holiday Weekends, and coastal concerns about seaside beaches, etc. The WI lacks national backing or a coherent campaign.

1940s: Intensive recycling during wartime.

1950s: Soft drinks and beer are still sold in returnable/refillable glass and stoneware bottles, on which a cash deposit had to be paid. Lack of a bottle smashing 'yob' culture, outside of small parts of London and Glasgow.

1951-53: Conservatives launch first national anti-litter campaigns.

1954: Keep Britain Tidy Group formed by the Women's Institutes (WI), Queen Mother as Patron.

1958: Government gets behind Keep Britain Tidy. Conservatives propose and passed The Litter Act in Parliament.

1969: The famous "Tidyman" logo starts to appear on some packaging.

1970s: Keep Britain Tidy Group becomes more professional, uses celebrities in TV ads.

1970s: Rise of 'disposable' fast food packaging, non-returnable glass bottles, cans. Spread of fast food franchises.

1970s: IRA terrorist bombings cause the removal of litter bins in some urban public places.

1970s: TV children's series The Wombles (1973–1975, repeats later) introduces a generation of children to litterpicking as a hard but worthy activity.

1974: Keep Britain Tidy Group focussed only on those groups most likely to casually litter: school children, young men, smokers. Schools still able to organise pupils for litter picks.

1983: Conservatives proposed and passed the new Litter Act of 1983 in Parliament. Also the Environmental Pollution Act 1974.

1986: Mrs Thatcher forms a 'Litter Task Force' headed by Richard Branson. Leads to the Tidy Britain campaign, personally launched by Mrs Thatcher.

1980s: New large landfill sites needed across the country, to cope with the vast amounts of litter and packaging being generated annually.

1980s: Dog population starts rising rapidly, from a base of 5 million.

1980s: Spread of large out-of-town supermarkets, and more use of single-use plastic carrier bags.

1980s-2000s: Large increase in heroin addicts and drug dealers, who cause extensive localised crime and litter.

1990: Conservatives bring in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in Parliament.

1990s: Health-and-safety doctrines prompt councils to move away from roving solo litter pickers, toward more vehicle-based street cleaning services. These then tended to become distinctly town-centre focussed, as the growing 'night-time economy' threw down ever more litter.

1990s: Schools and parents increasingly see litter picking as a 'demeaning' activity. This interacts with the new 'health and safety' doctrine, and some schools stop requiring litter picking by their pupils.

2000s: A growing rift between adults and kids, meaning adults could no longer admonish a kid throwing litter or smashing a bottle. The last soft drinks companies stop offering refundable deposits on glass bottles. Growth of the bottle-smashing yob culture.

2000s: Dog population is now much increased. 3.2 million more dogs are in the country than the late 1970s, meaning much more dog poo. Emergence of the bizzare and disgusting practice of hanging small bags of dog poo on bushes, trees and fences.

2000s: Rat numbers increased by 29% from 2001-2006, feasting on a new type of half-eaten fast-food litter. Consequent rise in the health risks of litter.

2000s: Terrorism fears after 9/11 cause the removal of litter bins in some urban public places, such as train stations.

2000s: Strongly rising population of urban foxes, which find ripping open bin bags at night easier than catching rabbits. This spurs the increasing introduction of wheely bins. This is followed by the rise of kerbside seperated-item recycling boxes for each household, which are often overflowing and/or opened up by high winds/foxes/cats, causing litter dispersal.

2000s: Rise in numbers of 'buy to let' landlords and university students — thus more fly-tipping of the left-behind goods of previous tenants.


* "Blowin' in the wind: a short history of litter in the twentieth century"

* The Politics of Expertise: How NGOs Shaped Modern Britain.

* "Number and ownership profiles of cats and dogs in the UK".

* "KEEP BRITAIN TIDY CAMPAIGN AND RATS!", BBC News 30/09/02 and Google Books searches.

Friday 27 March 2015

Where to buy a good litter pick up stick in Stoke

Back before Christmas I was lucky enough to get a wonderful litter pick-up stick/tool for just £1, at Home Bargains in Stafford. A very nice little bargain, and it proved excellent for litter picking. Sadly I broke it early this week, trying to force it to open up just a bit too far around one of those super-fat plastic cider bottles. Something plastic and fragile inside went backwards, then went ping! — and the stick was totally dead.

So, time for a new stick. Amazon UK have them by mail-order of course, but I really didn't want all the hassle of a courier delivery. Especially for a low value purchase. So I needed to find one locally in Stoke-on-Trent.

* Home Bargains's website showed that they had long ago sold out, and no longer sold any litter or pick-up sticks.

* None of the other Poundland and Poundstretcher type stores had any, according to their websites.

* B&M, Festival Park. A few weeks ago I had been all around their Festival Park store, looking for something else, and hadn't seen any. A quick look at their website confirmed that.

* The Homebase DIY store in Wolstanton doesn't appear to sell them.

* Wickes don't appear to sell them.

* Tesco Extra, Hanley? No.

* Morrisons, even in their rather useful new mini gardening section? No.

* Trentham Garden Centre? Doesn't appear to have a website that lists their stock. I presume it must be a proper garden centre, with just plants sold in there?

* Stoke-on-Trent City Council? Nope, no mention of their selling subsidised litter-pick kits to community groups, or giving them away for free to citizen volunteers.

* B&Q, Festival Park. B&Q's website reported them in stock, at £5.99 and £11.99 for a more expensive version. But after searching the B&Q store at Festival Park high and low, I was told that that both the cheap and expensive types had been "sent back" because they were "taking up too much room". One would think that, in a massive warehouse plus a garden-centre yard, they might have found a space for them somewhere. I suspect that was just the polite way of implying: 'No-one in Stoke can be bothered to pick up litter, they just weren't selling...'.

* Argos, Festival Park: They only offered a sort of picker-up stick for old people needing to pick up the TV remote, with the aid of two Dalek-like suckers. But it was vastly over-priced at £11.99 and out-of-stock anyway.

* Wilko, Hanley: Wilko Garden Pick up Tool at £7. But would Wilko have them in stock? Their website didn't offer an in-stock check. Plus, the stick looked a little shortish, was cheap looking and presumably made in China — I found that has identical ones for about 85p each, if you import 200 to 500 of them direct from China. After having one cheapo stick break, I was wary of buying another.

* Ableworld, near Hanley. Ableworld's Classic Long at £7.19 was much more like it. It looked very similar what's said to be the best UK litterpicker, the Helping Hand Litterpicker 80cm at £14.99, just with not so much space between the pincers and yellow colouring rather than red. Yet Ableworld's was 2cm longer than the Helping Hand. That had to be worth a trek along the Cauldon Canal and down to 430 Leek Road, Hanley on the bicycle to investigate. (Note that Google Maps/StreetView's map pin is astray on this address, the Ableworld shop is actually up by the hideously busy traffic island).

Ableworld had two of the Classic Long left in stock. A nylon cord, rather than a stress-prone plastic rod, is used to connect the handle with the jaws. I bought one. A bargain, and British-made too. Underneath it actually had a "Helping Hand" logo, so it's a rebranded Helping Hand anyway. But at half the price of the Helping Hand Litterpicker on Amazon! An hour of litter-picking on the estate later, it had proved its worth. The only thing its smaller jaws couldn't handle was a really heavy thick glass 12" tall Shloer-type bottle with some water in it. Nor was it great on grabbing a closed-up styrofoam clam-shell burger-case. On everything else it was fine, having a full pincer grasp that's about the size of a typical can of Heinz soup, and more than enough to grasp cheap rot-gut beer cans and Coke cans. It's also good for fine work too, able to pick up cotton-bud sticks for instance.

Ableworld Classic Long, actually 84cm (I measured it).

Helping Hand Litterpicker 80cm.

So, in conclusion: if you want a good litter-picker stick for only 20p more than the Chinese made one in Wilko, then pop down to Ableworld. Note that you may want to cut off the hook on the end, if you find it snags in the bin-bag plastic too much. I didn't find that a problem, but if you're digging into brambles and hedges you'll probably want it off. The 84cm size is right for a grown man of average height, in boots.

Ableworld also had some other types of reacher / pick up sticks in stock, including a short folding version of the Classic at about the same price, which looked like it would be good for putting in a camping bag or rambling rucksack, or for giving to kids in middle childhood / the early teenage years.

A quick update for later readers. The purchase has proved to be of enduring make and is still going strong at summer 2019.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Toward a green manifesto for Stoke-on-Trent

What would a genuinely green election manifesto for Stoke-on-Trent looks like? I don't mean the half-baked ideological mish-mash of the economically illiterate Green Party. I mean proper old-school green measures, to do with wildlife, strengthening ecosystems and cleaning up local environments. Here are my suggestions:

* Litter and dumping:

A constant multi-year rolling programme of 'showcase' prosecutions of fly-tippers and dumpers, modeled after the successful and unrelenting anti-drugs Operation Nemesis. Use 'smart water' sprays, roadside stops, license enforcement, sting operations, cameras and audio surveillance, license plate ID, and all the other tools available.

Local councillors should be asked by voters to commit at least 10% of their Ward budget to community litter picks. And in the worst areas, so as not to replicate existing Council provision.

Free litter pick-up tools / bags / gloves, offered to those committing to organise regular litter picks.

A public campaign to target the idiots who feel compelled to hang sickening little plastic bags of dog poo on trees, bushes and fences.

Double the litter picking budget for the city, with new part-time 15-20 hour a week posts to make it attractive for older people.

* Vehicle pollution:

Stoke-on-Trent is one of the worst in the country for potentially deadly air pollution along roads. We need a formal scientific investigation into the reasons for this, which also lays out the practical measures we can take to reduce it. Possibly it has to do with our clogged roads, which causes so many vehicles to stop/start in heavy traffic.

Force another few thousand "old clunker" cars off the roads of the city.

Mandatory monthly spot 'health checks' on all buses entering Hanley bus station, in terms of how heavily the 'heavy black' type of diesel fumes roll out of their exhaust pipe as they climb the short hill up to the bus station.

Search for a suitable space in the city to which we could move all the city's car scrap yards / 'orrible car repair yards / old car tyre sellers.

* Environment restoration:

Restore and 'daylight' a highly polluted tributary of the Trent, the Fowlea Brook.

Officially decide which of the "fence and forget" brownfield wasteland in Stoke is never going to find a use, and properly restore them with basic tree planting, simple pond-making and by breaking up concrete surfaces so that nature can take over.

Consider a joint Stoke-on-Trent/Newcastle-under-Lyme project to expand Bradwell Wood beyond its current margins, by using field margins and nearby disused brownfield sites.

Link environment restoration to local schools in an ongoing way, via a small cross-schools cadre of 'young citizen scientists', doing real science.

* Wildlife:

We need a proper timetabled 'wildlife and green places strategy' such as the one Newcastle-under-Lyme has been enacting for the last decade. Something better than Stoke's vague and too-late 2014 'green space strategy'. In terms of wildlife this just has a paragraph of hot air in a larger report, without any deliverables or timetable.

A major urban wildlife survey, to find out what is in the city, where it is and what new 'corridors' might better connect it together.

An expansion of the successful programme to allow grass to grow tall on parts of playing fields, grass verges etc, which doesn't appear to have caused any added grass fire hazard.

Commit to a 20% increase in 20 key species in the city by 2020 — frog and newt friendly ponds, hedgehog protection, hawks, owls, bees, rare plants, etc. Consider crowd-funding or bringing in business sponsors on this on a per-species basis, to cover the cost of the project.

* Light pollution:

A survey of practical measures to further reduce light pollution in the city. It's probably better than it was (it's been reduced by 25% in the West Midlands since the early 1990s), but the night sky above Stoke is still a-glow on a Friday and Saturday night, just as if the old blast furnaces at Shelton Bar were still going.

* Noise pollution:

This seems to be ever-increasing. Explore measures for reducing it. For instance, require council tenants in flats to use wireless headphones to listen to music and TV, rather than big amplified sound systems.

* Allotments:

A commitment not to sell allotments or build on them for the next 20 years.

* Public footpaths:

A commitment not to permanently close off-road footpaths in the city, and to maintain the off road cycle-path network.

Friday 20 March 2015

Hotspot or notspot?

Re: the geothermal power proposal for Stoke-on-Trent, for which funding has reportedly now been secured.

Deep Geothermal Review Study: Final Report, UK Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC), October 2013.

The report's mentions of Staffordshire: zero.

The report's mentions of Stoke-on-Trent: zero.

Map showing a "volcano" or heat "bubble" hotspot under Stoke: mysteriously missing...

Indeed, according to the map we are remarkably chilly (blue is cooler, red is hotter), compared to other parts of the UK. So far as I can see the hope of 'hot rocks' rests on a set of linked assumptions, assumptions that the government report above doesn't seem to place much faith in. Certainly not enough to put Stoke on the map.

The story behind these assumptions starts back in 1920. In 1920–21 the Apedale No.2 Borehole was sunk to 1294m (0.8 miles) under the influence of Sir John Cadman, near Stage 8 at Apedale colliery, three miles west of Stoke-on-Trent. The site owner was apparently seeking oil. Instead he was disappointed, finding under the coal only an "at least 840m thick" layer of useless volcanic rock (called 'tuff' by geologists)...

"Apedale No.2 Borehole, drilled almost on the peak of the Apedale anomaly, proved over 840m of volcanic rocks buried by less than 450m of sedimentary rocks." — Geology of the country around Stoke-on-Trent (1998).

The Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London stated of the Apedale borehole that it...

"encountered an exceptional thickness of igneous rock, indicating either that it had entered a volcanic neck or that it had crossed the axial plane and was in steep-dipping lavas or ash beds"

So a possible volcanic cone neck. But no certainty.

It was later "postulated" by a geology paper for the local geological society that Apedale was thus the cone of the ancient volcano that had produced the "tuff", and that its volcanic rocks might extend out to the east under Stoke-on-Trent...

So far as I can find no-one has ever followed up this "postulation" (a guess, in plain English) with actual test boreholes in Stoke. Even the deepest coal mines seem never to have discovered what lay below the lowest coal line in Stoke. But the age of these volcanic "Apedale tuffs" rocks is congruent with what's been mooted in the press about the current geothermal project, with talk about a "350 million year old" volcano under Stoke. Actually the cone may have been three miles west of Stoke, rather than under the city — but that's beside the point.

The proposers of the current plan then appear to assume that these volcanic rocks might, perhaps, still be more than naturally radioactive in some way. Unnamed "unstable isotopes" have been vaguely mentioned in the press by Prof Peter Styles, a geophysicist at Keele University. It's then suggested that this radioactivity might be what causes the flooded mines in Stoke to be hot. There is said to be "hot water at 800-1000m in centre of city" in flooded mines (Stoke-on-Trent PLEEC Energy Efficiency Strategy - Stakeholder Workshop 1 document).

How hot, exactly? The council document City Systems Integration: A Feasibility Study for the Technology Strategy Board mentioned the "40° C water of the flooded mines at depths of 600m beneath the city". The BBC reported in June 2012 that Prof Peter Styles — who it said was the one "who suggested the [whole] idea to the council" — claimed that the water temperatures could get up to "43°C in some places" in the North Staffordshire coal field. That does seem to be hotter than normal (mines are always warm, and get warmer as you go deeper). Though I haven't been able to find out for certain exactly how or when or where this mine water temperature was measured. Given the depths mentioned, the measurements could have been from the Hanley Deep mine (now Central Forest Park), whose deepest shafts went to 880 yards (800m) and were dug and in use circa 1901-1970s.

But the matter is complicated because the Hanley Deep, along with the nearby Sneyd Colliery was later "connected underground to the refurbished Wolstanton Colliery in 1962" and was pumped from there. The idea was to run all three mines through one pithead at Wolstanton, to save money. This plan was accompanied by a huge underground reconstruction under Stoke-on-Trent that spanned the years 1951 to 1975. The deepest the combined and expanded Wolstanton ever achieved appears to have been 3750ft (1140m or 1.14km), and presumably the Coal Board took readings of the water temperatures at the time. All of the shafts in this mega-pit flooded in 1986 after the pumps were turned off. Given the depth at which Wolstanton was still finding coal, one wonders where the volcanic tuffs were? Presumably further down, perhaps dipping down and away from the high volcano cone at Apedale and thus buried somewhere toward the 2km level — if there was a volvano at Apedale and if its lava flow ever reached Stoke, and then escaped being washed away by some sea in the intervening 350 million years.

But the site of the proposed geothermal power plant suggests a backstop option, one nearer the surface. According to the planning maps the power plant will be on the far Etruria side of Festival Park. Right next to the planned Wolstanton road bridge over the A500, just north of the point at which the new road is to touchdown on Festival Park. So presumably that means the geothermal pipe could go down from there into the old Grange coal mine area. The Grange was used as a dump for "pumping water" from 1917 to 1937, after the Grange mine itself was abandoned to total flooding in 1917. Specifically, after 1917 it was remembered as having been "used as a pumping pit" to take the water out of the 470ft (173m) deep "Racecourse Pits at Etruria" (Mr. W. Jack, Norton-in-the-Moors, who gave information in 1959 for the A History of the County of Stafford, 1963). If going for such an easier mine water option, what if the heat in the depths of the Hanley Deep simply isn't present in the presumably shallower Grange mine? Or is there a fallback intention to put a pipe into some long-forgotten deep hot shaft of the Hanley Deep, which might strike out from Forest Park and run directly under that particular spot at Festival Park? In the absence of a map of the final 1970s layout of the Wolstanton / Hanley Deep shafts and tunnels it's difficult to tell.

But I imagine that the greener option for Stoke's geothermal — compared to pumping up highly polluted mine water and hoping it doesn't ever leak into the city — will be to try to tap the deeper "tuff" hot rocks that may exist far under the old mines. Certainly the hazy press reports make it seem that way, now that methane extraction from the mines has been ruled out on cost grounds. Perhaps all the options will be tried, since I guess it's as cheap to drill a three step borehole (Grange mines to 300m? / Hanley Deep mines to 800m? / "hot rocks" to 1.5-2km?) and see what comes up from the probes and cameras at each step, once you have the drilling rigs up and the engineers on site. Rather than go hell-for-leather for the 2km level. The borehole itself is presumably a fairly low cost and low-risk endeavor, with the bulk of the £50m only being committed later to the district heat network of pipes, if the borehole discoveries justify the investment. On that basis the government's backing is presumably not: "You're definitely on top of a volcano, so we're backing you" but rather "Well... if you can prove it's down there, then you're guaranteed the core funding".

So if the new Council offices in Hanley are "build it and they will come" then the proposed geothermal borehole seems to be "drill it, and see". That seems to be true of the hope for hot rocks and for hot deep mine water. Nice if it all happens, and if it does then I'll celebrate along with everyone else. But it looks to me like we won't actually know if the volcano theory is correct until the borehole drill-bit cuts through the millstone grit and drops into whatever is down there under Stoke's coal. Hopefully it won't be a live volcano.

Monday 9 March 2015

Tony Chilton, gent's barber of Stoke

Sad to hear that Tony Chilton, a traditional gent’s barber of Stoke-on-Trent, has passed away. He was my barber for about seven years, at Tony’s Barber Shop, 121 College Road by the University. A real character and a nice bloke, he's very much missed.