Archive for July, 2013

Plastic-Free July: time to move things up

July 28th, 2013

Plastic-Free July is drawing to a close, and I’m getting the same feedback from everybody: it was seriously tough. The aim of the game was to “consume no single-use plastic during July” and I don’t know anybody who actually managed this. The creators of the challenge obviously expect this, which is why they emphasise that it’s just an “attempt”.

Why doesn’t anybody manage it? Is it because we can’t resist going for the plastic-heavy option over the plastic-free one?

No. People don’t fail at Plastic-Free July because of bad choices; they fail because there are so few choices. We’re being set up to fail by a system that makes it almost impossible to live a normal life without buying and discarding at least some single-use plastic.

Several people have reported back that Plastic-Free July did actually help them reduce their plastic consumption, by forcing them to look really hard for alternatives. That’s been my experience too. But mostly, Plastic-Free July makes you realise how little power you have, as a shopper, to avoid the stuff.

So what’s the next step? It’s time to move up the supply chain. We need companies to start actually making plastic-free options for us to buy. Which means it’s time for supermarkets and other retailers to do their bit – because they have a hell of a lot more buying power than we do. But it’s not going to happen unless there’s pressure from us, the shoppers. When you’re dithering between two different plastic jars of peanut butter, you have no choice and no voice; but if a hundred shoppers explicitly ask for glass jars, we might start seeing results.

I’ve created a number of template letters to shops which you are free to adapt for your own use. My only caveats:

  • Please don’t just copy a letter without reading it through and making sure you’re happy to put your name to it. It’s from you, not me.
  • Please don’t use anything that isn’t true, e.g. don’t say you’re a customer in the Witney store if you actually shop in Wallingford.

More template letters will be added over time. (If you have one you’d like to share, get in touch!)

Template letter to Waitrose

Template letter to the Midcounties Co-op

Template letter to Boots

I know some people think that contacting companies is a waste of time – even if they don’t have to write the letters themselves. For those people, I offer the example of American snack company Frito-Lay, who trialled a biodegradeable crisp packet. It was withdrawn from sale – because of complaints from consumers that it was too noisy. It’s time to exert a bit of consumer pressure in the right direction for a change!

If letters aren’t your thing, consider opening a conversation with brands on social media. Or ringing that helpline they keep promoting. All ways of getting the message across are valuable.

If you’ve stayed with Plastic-Free July this far, congratulations. I’ve learned a lot that will be useful in the long term and I hope you have too. The survival guide is still being updated and contributions are very welcome.

And finally…thank you for taking part!

Living Art

July 26th, 2013

Feel Free from StoryTravelers on Vimeo.

Powering the world without fossil fuels

July 24th, 2013

I’ve previously written about how we need to move away from our dependency on our energy suppliers, and in turn, the use of fossil fuels (which continue to make up the majority of energy generation, averaged out over all tariffs), along with some easy starting points in achieving this. The need to move away from fossil fuels has never been greater, as we continue to move closer to runaway climate change, and significant irreversible effects on our planet. Arguably, we have already succeeded in this, as the greatest mass-extinction of species on Earth, since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, is well underway. This is the 6th mass-extinction event the world has experienced, but for the first time, it is caused by just one species; humans.

But, can it be done? Is it possible to move away from the need to burn fossil fuels, but still be able to generate the energy we require to continue to enjoy the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed?

Today sees the launch of a groundbreaking new web resource from UK Tar Sands Network, which brings to life two possible models of energy production and consumption for the year 2035. The first, ‘Fossil-Fueled Future’, is the future the International Energy Agency forecasts we are heading for if governments and fossil fuel companies follow through on their current promises on energy and climate change. This future is not the worst-case scenario: it’s the best that politicians and businesses are currently offering us. In this world, global temperatures will rise by at least 4–6°C this century, resulting in inevitable runaway climate change.

The second ‘Cleaner Fairer Future’ draws on extensive research including the latest Zero Carbon Britain report by the Centre for Alternative Technology (released just last week). It shows that currently available renewable energy technologies can meet the energy needs of our growing global population in an equal and environmentally sensitive way. In this world, there is a decent chance of avoiding runaway climate change. The health outcomes for the planet, humans and all other life are markedly better.

Two Energy Futures

I’ve been in contact with Jess Worth, from the UK Tar Sands Network, who says:

‘We’re now standing at a crossroads. It’s time for humanity to make a choice. Do we sit back and allow fossil fuel companies and oil-friendly governments to dig, drill and frack us into a dark and dirty future? Or do we stand together with communities around the world to stop these extreme energy projects, and head down a different path? There are people all over the planet taking action to ensure a cleaner, fairer world. We hope that this website will arm them with the information they need to help bring about a fossil-free energy future.’

Here at Sustainable Witney, we certainly agree with Jess that now is the time for change, and we hope the new interactive info-graphic built into the UK Tar Sands Network’s website will be helpful, particularly for anyone who has found themselves in the situation of having to convince others (or themselves!) that a fossil-free future is possible. This resource is available at:

Urgent: insurance threat to Leafield landmark

July 23rd, 2013

An ancient chestnut tree on Leafield village green is threatened with felling – because an insurance company believes it is to blame for cracks in nearby buildings. The huge horse chestnut tree, which dates back to 1927, could be chopped down as soon as next Monday.

Horse chestnut tree on village green

The tree has been a Leafield landmark for nearly a century.

The problems began when residents living near the green contacted their insurance company about cracks in the walls of their house. A geotech engineer and a tree surgeon working for the insurance company concluded that the cracking is the fault of the tree and that the tree must go.

However, other residents believe that the professionals did not take the full picture into account. For example, the surveyor was not aware of underpinning work done by the previous owners of the property and also did not take into account how one of the wettest summers on record would affect a clay soil.

But Leafield Parish Council has agreed to cut down the tree and has set a date of 29th July. Campaigners believe that the council is being pushed into a hasty decision by the insurance company, Royal & Sun Alliance. They are asking for a “stay of execution” to allow for more evidence to be gathered and reviewed.

The parish council is holding a public meeting tomorrow (Wednesday 24th July) where people can raise their concerns about the tree. Resident Anney Harris said: “Once insurance companies are involved in a claim, it becomes an unstoppable juggernaut, and this is what makes our chances of changing their minds so frail. But the more people who join the call to save this tree, the more chance we have of being successful.”

The public meeting will take place at 8pm tomorrow in Leafield Village Hall, off Lower End. All are welcome. Please come along and speak out to save this piece of local history.

Want your house to be thermally imaged? Bookings are open!

July 23rd, 2013

It feels like the wrong time of year to be thinking about heating your home, doesn’t it? But a well insulated, draught-proof house gives you options for keeping warm and cool; and whatever the temperature outside, it isn’t going to last….

So if you’re worried you might have a draught too many, or you normally just can’t get the house warm whatever you do, then help is at hand. We offer a voluntary service to Witney residents, where we take thermal images of the outside of your house. With these to hand, you can more easily work out what improvements to your home can have the most impact on its insulating properties. We’ll even have a public meeting some time in March 2014, where we’ll give you your images, explain the results, and offer you a one-on-one consultation with an expert.

Because of the nature of the survey, we have to do it in the colder months, but we’re now taking requests for November and February, when we’ll next have possession of the thermal camera offered by WODC.

Over a hundred Witney residents had their homes imaged by us in the season of 2012/2013: if you’re interested, then you should email us on, to get on the list for next winter!

(Also because of the nature of the survey, which is very weather sensitive; and because we’re volunteer-run and have limited time available: we can’t guarantee a time or date. But we’ll let you know when your house has been imaged! We should also be clear: there’s no commercial involvement in the public meeting, and no pressure to buy anything.)

Raised-bed cooking: chard pie

July 21st, 2013

It started with a pallet. Sustainable Witney member J-P dismantled a wooden pallet into its component planks, then built a raised bed out of it . Then he turned it into a mini allotment and when you last heard from him in May, it was doing well.

I’m his wife and I’ve decided to blog about the fun bit: turning what we grow into tasty meals!

Picture of raised bed with greenery in it

Our raised bed in mid-June

By early June, the raised bed was a riot of green, with a lot of spinach and chard. (The picture of the bed was taken after I gathered enough for that evening’s meal.) Here’s my recipe for chard pie.

Pie base

100g grated carrot
100g wholemeal flour
100g oats
100g butter
Pinch of salt
Teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda


Chard (and spinach, if you like)
1 onion
A few garlic cloves
1 egg

What to do

Mix all these ingredients together until there aren’t any offensively dry or offensively buttery lumps. “Crumbing” with your fingers helps to get the texture right.

Then press the mixture into a lined, greased, baking tin, roughly 8 inches in diameter. Chill it for half an hour, or if you’re impatient, freeze it for ten minutes.

Then bake the pie base for about quarter of an hour at 200C.

Colander with green leaves in itIn the meantime, gather your chard. (You can easily add spinach to this too; nobody will notice.) I gather mine in a colander so I can wash it in the same container.

Chop and fry an onion and a few garlic cloves. Chop the green stuff. When the onion is going brown, add the chard (and spinach, if you like) to the mix.

Beat an egg and add it to the mix. Turn the heat off as soon as you add it and keep stirring. Add salt and pepper and keep stirring.

Put the mixture onto your pie base. Top with cheese – any cheese will do, really. Then put back in and bake for about half an hour at the same temperature. Then take out of the oven, leave to cool for ten minutes, remove from the tin and serve!

Chard and spinach pie on table


  • I didn’t create this recipe; it’s adapted from one I came across several years ago. If anyone knows the source, let me know so I can credit it.
  • Making and chilling the base is time-consuming, so I always double up on the quantities, make two bases and pop one in the freezer.
  • While the pie is in the oven you can (with any luck) go out to your raised bed again and get some lettuce for a salad to go with it!

Introduction to tree pruning workshop at Cogges

July 20th, 2013

On Saturday 31 August, Cogges will be running a workshop for summer fruit-tree pruning. Along with a tour of the fruit trees in Cogges, you’ll be taught techniques for healthy and sustainable management of your fruit trees through pruning.

Starting at 9.30am, it’s a ticketed event: tickets are £10, but the proceeds will go to a new greenhouse for the garden. Bring secateurs, gloves and something for taking notes!

Cogges August Big Dig

July 20th, 2013

On the middle-most Saturday of every month, Cogges plays host to the garden volunteers for their Big Dig, and you can join them!

This August, they’re meeting up on Saturday 17, 9.30am-1pm, to maintain, crop and plant in the organic Victorian garden. Come along wearing clothes suitable for gardening, and help out. No experience necessary: if you want to pick up some skills, and you’re willing to put your back into a bit of digging and weeding too, then you’re more than welcome!

Swap shop

July 20th, 2013

On Sunday 6 April we’ll be organizing one of our swap shops at Cogges.

Bring unwanted but usable items from around your home; or come along, browse and pick up a bargain: all for free and with no obligation to bring before you take! And there’ll also be a seed swap with Edible Gardens, so do bring along any seeds to swap.

Items can be dropped off from 9am; doors are open to browse 10am–12.30pm. We accept books, clothes, electric items (we’ll PAT-test them) and even old bras to send to developing countries. If we can divert it from landfill, it’s suitable for a swap shop!

If you’re interested in supporting Sustainable Witney’s work, here’s a poster you can put up to advertise this event.

Refashion: recycle, upcycle or gift your old clothes

July 20th, 2013

Refashion is back! On Saturday 16 November, Sustainable Witney and WODC (among many other groups) will be hosting this year’s event in Witney.

Refashion is a celebration of all the ways you can do something better with your clothes than just throw them away: previous years have had swishing events (swapping clothes) supported by a pool of really good-quality clothes from local charity shops; repair and upcycling workshops, for making your old and maybe tatty items of clothing live again; and a presence from the charity shops, rag banks, a bra bank etc. if you just want to get rid!

Last year’s Refashion was amazing fun and incredibly successful, with attendance rivalling that of similar events in nearby cities that we won’t deign to name…. There’ll be more details on the site closer to the time, but put it in your diary now!

The Early Bird

July 19th, 2013

Introducing the Farmers Market from Sweetpea Bicycles on Vimeo.

2013 Carnival Parade

July 18th, 2013

The sun turned up for the carnival last weekend where Sustainable Witney joined the Witney Mountain Bike Club’s cycling float. Forty children plus parents and trainers made the most of the weather and the traffic free streets to celebrate cycling in ‘Witney Through the Ages’ – this year’s theme.

Bikes are an important form of independent transport for many of us, and that’s especially true for children and teenagers. Witney Mountain Bike Club’s Go Ride sessions are a great place to start for children, both to learn to ride and to keep Witney riding through the ages…












Introduction to herbs workshop at Cogges

July 15th, 2013

On Sunday 4 August there’ll be an introduction to herbs workshop at Cogges, 10am-4pm.

Concentrating on the growing of herbs in the Victorian walled garden, and their uses in the Victorian kitchen (with examples to hand!) the day will cover the basics of growing and using herbs at home, and include both the history of herbs and practical tips for growing herbs at home as well as harvesting and storage.

It’s a ticketed event, so you’ll need to book ahead.

Cogges beer and cider festival

July 15th, 2013

Cogges, the living, breathing Victorian farm and food museum on your doorstep, is having a beer and cider festival on August 2-3.

Along with over 40 locally brewed beers and ciders, there’ll be a pub quiz, barbecue, Aunt Sally and other games, and even live music: Eloise Rees, Roukes Drift, The Lash and much more. £8 advance / £10 on the door; over-18s only; doors open from 6pm each day till 11.30pm. Price of ticket includes a commemorative Cogges tankard and two free half pints!

Also on Saturday 3 August, Witney BUG will have its regular afternoon meeting at Cogges. There’s every good chance that, all business having been conducted, it might segue into the beer and cider festival….

Plastic-Free July: your survival guide

July 14th, 2013

Anybody who’s tried it for a week will know: avoiding single-use plastics is very difficult. This post is intended as a guide to avoiding plastics in various areas of your life. We’ll keep updating it as new suggestions come in, so please comment with your additions – and if you spot any out-of-date or otherwise inaccurate info, please let us know! (Information will tend to have a Witney-specific flavour.)


Witney Co-op, Sainsburys and Waitrose all sell unwrapped loaves and rolls that you can put in a bag yourself. The bags supplied contain plastic but you can reuse them until they fall apart or bring your own paper bags.

Sliced bread: the Waitrose and Sainsburys in Witney will both slice an unsliced loaf for you, for no extra charge.

Gluten-free bread: the only low-plastic option we’ve found is to buy the flour in a paper bag (from Waitrose, the Co-op or Beanbag on Wesley Walk) and make your own – but we haven’t found a plastic-free source of yeast yet.


Dairy Crest delivers to Witney (through its brand Milk & More). Ring 01993 702347 or visit the website to set up deliveries. (Milk is delivered in glass pint bottles which you wash and put out for reuse.)

We’ve looked into Tetrapaks (25% plastic, 75% cardboard) but concluded that these are worse than all-plastic bottles, because it takes more energy to recycle plastic when it’s combined in a mixed-materials container. If you have more info on this than us, please get in touch.


Windrush Dairy have a stall at the Thursday market in central Oxford. They use less plastic packaging than supermarkets.

Other dairy

We’re still looking for: more plastic-free or low-plastic ways to buy milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice-cream, cottage cheese, yoghurt drinks and so on, ideally in the Witney/West Oxfordshire area.

Fruit and vegetables

Getting a weekly veg box is the most convenient way to avoid plastic: everything is delivered to your door in a reusable cardboard box that you leave out for the delivery driver next week. Abel & Cole and Riverford deliver in this area. There are occasional plastic bags in the boxes but you can leave these out for re-use too.

Or buy loose fruit & veg from the supermarket. Reuse the plastic bags provided until they fall apart or use your own paper bags. We’ve tried using our own bags in Waitrose,  Tesco and the Co-op and had no problems from checkout staff apart from the odd grumble. Onya Bags sell reusable “weigh bags that are strong, light and washable. It’s £9 for 5 bags that will last you for ever.

Witney Market (Thursdays and Saturdays) sells fruit and vegetables in paper bags, though it’s hard to stop them putting all your paper bags in a plastic carrier bag at the end! However, soft fruit like strawberries is sold in plastic punnets for obvious reasons.

Store cupboard food

The People’s Supermarket in East Oxford sells refill packs of lentils and rice in paper bags.

SESI in Oxford also supplies refills of items such as rice, cereal, pulses, nuts and dried fruit. They appear at various markets in Oxford: East Oxford Farmers’ Market, South Oxford Community Market and Leys Community Market. (Despite what their website says, they no longer seem to be doing Wolvercote Farmers Market.)

The Chinese supermarket on Church Green sells bamboo shoots in a tin (only available in plastic from the supermarkets).

We’re still looking for: Witney-based solutions for buying store cupboard basics like rice.


We’ve asked around, but haven’t found any butchers where it’s possible to buy meat without getting it wrapped in plastic. Please get in touch if you know of one in Oxfordshire.


It’s hard to find convenient, on-the-go snack options without single-use plastic. If you’re planning ahead things get easier, e.g:

  • make your own houmous using a glass jar of tahini (available from Beanbag), loose garlic from Waitrose, a tin of chickpeas and olive oil.
  • buy olives in glass jars and put them in a little Tupperware container
  • grab a piece of fruit bought in one of the ways described above.

The People’s Supermarket on Cowley Road in Oxford sells sunflower seeds in a compostable plastic pot.

We’re still looking for: low-plastic ways to buy nuts, crisps, rice cakes and oatcakes. Also very keen to hear about any snack food that’s sold in a plastic-free or low-plastic way for on-the-go eating.

Takeaway tea and coffee

Buy a travel mug you can reuse again and again. There are loads available online but they also appear regularly in the Animal Sanctuary charity shop (Corn Street) often still in their boxes! And (whisper it) the Vitaburst stall at Oxford station has been known to offer a little discount if you buy tea from them in one of these mugs.

Household cleaning and laundry

Beanbag (the health food shop on Wesley Walk) does refills of Ecover cleaning products, including washing-up liquid, laundry detergent and fabric softener. (If you’re in Oxford, the Windmill Shop in Headington offers the same service for a wider range of Ecover products.)

Fabric softener: buy Ecover and get your bottle refilled at Beanbag, or try using white vinegar (sold in glass bottles in Waitrose and the Co-op) instead.

Laundry detergent: most shops sell washing powder in cardboard boxes. Or buy Ecover liquid detergent and get your bottle refilled at Beanbag.

Washing-up liquid: buy Ecover, get a refill at Beanbag.

Washing-up brushes: you can buy brushes with replaceable heads, which means you only have to replace the head rather than the whole thing. Both the brushes and replacement heads are available from the Oxfam on Market Square in Witney (info correct Sept 2013).

Personal hygiene and beauty

Lush is currently the only chain store selling these kinds of products to make a serious effort to reduce unnecessary packaging. Many items are sold in black plastic tubs and if you bring five of these back to the store for reuse you get a free face pack! The nearest branch is in Oxford (on Cornmarket Street).

Bubble bath: Lush sell a whole range of fun bath-y things in reusable packaging or no packaging.

Deodorant: Lush sell this in a block wrapped in paper. Messier than a roll-on but it does work.

Exfoliator: buy one from Lush in a black plastic tub and return to the store for reuse

Moisturiser: also sold by Lush in the black plastic reusable tubs.

Periods: for reusable internal menstrual protection you can’t beat the Mooncup. Available from Beanbag Natural Health and the Witney branch of Boots, or buy online. It costs £19.99 and lasts for years with proper care.

If you prefer sanitary towels, the Natracare brand is plastic-free. Sold in Beanbag and some branches of Oxfam, including the one on Market Square in Witney. Or go for the high-maintenance but very green option of reusables, available in a surprisingly varied range of designs.

Shampoo: Lush sells solid shampoo bars, each of which (they claim) lasts as long as three plastic bottles of shampoo. (Kate estimates that one bar lasts her about four months.) Buy two and get a free travel tin. A tip: don’t leave them lying around in the shower to go all gloopy and they’ll last even longer.

Shaving: Lush sells a choice of shaving creams, again in the black plastic tubs which you can return to the shop.

Toothbrushes: the Montebianco range has a clever design allowing you to remove and replace the head (the bit that gets worn out) without replacing the whole thing. Packs of replacement heads are available online or from certain branches of Oxfam (but sadly, not either of the Witney ones).

Toothpaste: Lush again! They’ve come up with Toothy Tabs, small chewable tablets packaged in a small box rather like a matchbox. Nibble one tablet between your front teeth to break it up, then brush as normal. Weird at first, but it works! There are lots of different flavours including a Fairtrade one.

We’re still looking for: low-plastic ways to buy cotton wool pads, cotton wool buds, dental floss, razors and wet-wipes. Also looking for alternatives to Lush for people who find the over-friendly sales staff a bit intimidating!


Lush will wrap gifts in vintage scarves for £3.95 extra, and obviously your delighted recipient gets to keep the scarf too! (The Japanese art of Furoshiki can be used for gift wrapping, grocery shopping or just decoration.)

Presents for kids: If they only play with a plastic toy once, does that count as single-use plastic? The Fairtrade shop in Oxford (on Cornmarket Street, underneath the church) has a range of kids’ stuff that’s plastic-free. Great for babies and toddlers, not so good for older children.

Big thanks to Katharine Mann for her help with the info in this blog post.