Answers provided by experts: Corin Bell (Open Kitchen), Sean Ruffell (Organic North), Liz Wildman (SLH Co Chair).

Corin Bell: Bulk cooking food, freezing it then warming up the microwave is a great way to reduce energy use and the carbon emissions of our meals. Plant based is even better.

Corin Bell: Reusable plastic containers are great for this. Plastic itself isn’t terrible, it is single use plastic waste that is bad. Top tip – label the containers with what’s in it, when it was cooked, and how many it will feed. Everything looks beige in the freezer and labelling helps to avoid the surprise!

Sean Ruffell: Large-scale factory farming is not as a big a problem in UK compared to other places such as the USA. Biodynamic farming is growing movement where Victorian era practices e.g. pear trees and foraging pigs are being re-established. There is an increasing number of restaurants using small growers. At same time it’s important not to lose sight of farms of 100 and 300 acres. These are the types of farms where there are farmers producing at a scale where a change in practices would create a  change in the system, Unfortunately, these are the farms  on the cusp of folding because the farmers are looking to retire and there is no one to pass it on to. Hard to get land back into farming at that scale once it’s lost.

Sean Ruffell: Asparagus is a good example – don’t touch it when it’s out of season. The carbon emissions for out of season asparagus is terrible. In terms of how to buy seasonally, at Organic North we have 5000 lines of produce in our records and we have been working towards building a database where every line will have the season start and end, the farms where it’s grown, how to cook, historical origin of the variety etc. Making good progress but there are some limitations such as interchangeable nature of common names and the added complexity of varieties. The long term aim is to make the database publicly accessible.

Corin Bell: At the domestic scale you can get posters from places like Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton and The Goodlife in Heaton Mersey (hopefully be getting some in soon). Information on eating seasonally to reduce you carbon footprint can be overwhelming and it isn’t always a straightforward decision. A good example is tomatoes. UK grown tomatoes can result in higher carbon emissions, compared to say Spanish tomatoes, if they are grown in a hot-house in the UK. But then there gets to a point in the year when UK tomatoes aren’t grown in hot-houses and then those tomatoes have relatively lower carbon emissions. It can be difficult for the consumer to work out what the best choice is. That’s why it’s a good idea to shop with vendors who are in the know and have done all the research for you. These types of vendors can help you to source your food ethically because of the ethical principles guiding the ways in which they stock their shops. In short, deal with people who care and share the same values as you. This is one of the many good reasons to shop local. On a side note, if you aim for perfection you’ll drive yourself mad. A practical guiding principle is to do less harm by finding sources you can trust.

Sean Ruffell: When you visit a farm shop it is important to ask lots of questions as some are not as good as others. When you speak to the vendor ask; was this grown on the farm? and if not, where is it from? How did you source it?  It’s a cynical, broad-brush response, but farm shops can be known to put a huge, unwarranted mark-up on produce. Yes they grow some bits, but many buy a lot in. As a rule, think about how the farm shop is operating.

Sean Ruffell and Corin Bell: The first paper is out and the second phase of the reporting is due. In terms of exposure, at the moment there a good level of awareness at the industry level. We think it is broadly going in the right direction and addresses the important topics of carbon foot print, caring for the soil, etc. The report highlights how in the UK we face limitations of scale of in terms of operation, for example food production that was national is now international. Overall it is pushing in the right direction.

Liz Wildman: start looking seriously at environmental labelling to enable people to make a choice in the moment and understand the impacts of their choices in terms of waste, water and carbon. Carbon emissions are important and we also need to know about what food producers and vendors are doing about land use and water use impacts too. Overall we need better tracking of product impacts. This is something the EU is proposing and hopefully UK will adopt.

Sean Ruffell: More education in schools. We need to cut through alienation between kids and where their food is coming from. It would be good to see land acquired with the aim to grow more food domestically. At the moment land is held by so few and this means control of the land and how it is farmed is dominated by a small number of landowners. I would like to see the public shopping with reputable people that are part of reputable food production chains. I believe that through these actions we can bring about changes in the food production system.

Corin Bell: I would like to see mandatory reporting of food waste at all points in the food production system. As the saying goes, the first step in solving a problem is admitting there is a problem. Food businesses are too closed-off about their food waste and waste stats. I think we need mandatory, audited food waste statistics to address the problem and do something meaningful about food waste. There is lots of international lobbying asking for this. Unfortunately, right now there isn’t visibility of the food waste problem and that’s a problem in itself.


Answers provided by expert speakers: Liz Atherton (SMBC), Stephen Dootson (KAST), Mel Godfrey (Consultant), Philip Marples (musicMagpie), Phil Korbel (Carbon Co-op)

Mel: There are no easy answers yet but it is not a developed market. The Federation of Master Builders have been pushing for a level playing field for a new generation of advisors, but there hasn’t been government interest to date.

Liz: Greater Manchester has just launched YourHomeBetter. This is a programme aimed at helping those who can pay for the retrofit to get advice on what to do and direction in finding suppliers and fitters to do the work. 

Phil K: Carbon Co-op looks at co-op approaches to retrofitting so a good resource to use. Key tip is do the research and don’t necessarily go for quickest or cheapest to get good quality services!

Liz:  I think there are national planning regulations that are tying the hands of the council. Some greener regs are coming through and there is support from the team on this – watch this space.

Stephen: This is a matter of thermal storage and efficiency. Some radiators and clever heat pumps can really be an asset on this. However, for most kit and set ups in the home it is not more efficient to keep it on full time. 

Mel: if you have a draughty house then that makes the temperature differentials even bigger which will impact this. 

Phil K: top tip is to do the obvious and quick stuff first! 

Stephen: triple glazing windows is a 45 year ROI. Sealing around the windows is a much better approach!

Mel: sounds like a leaky house where sealing around windows wasn’t done properly and air is filtering in. It will need careful assessment and expertise to give a view.

Phil K: Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. Produced by many processes but vast quantities

It only lasts in the in the atmosphere for 12 years but it more effective (damaging) than CO2.

Phil: There is a government standard that we should be adhering to on security and data destruction. Check with the company you drop the item off with that they have these standards and there is no need to worry!

MCS certifications are available to show that installers are qualified and equipped to do the job properly – look out for this before paying for services!

Phil: It all depends on the item. Polymers can be reused for plastic goods, metals and minerals can be extracted and applied elsewhere, the remainder will be incinerated for energy.

Stephen: Hydrogen is the most abundant resource in the universe but the costs of generating it for fuel is too expensive, that’s why Blue Hydrogen is in.

There are companies in the North West investing in developing for a wider range of use but it all depends on the size of the technology in question and the anode and cathode set up. For a bus, for example, this is a set up that works. However, for smaller infrastructure it’s not quite possible. We will see hydrogen trains, buses, lorries but it is a good few years away for at home. That said, we’re expecting to see a hydrogen mix in the gas suppliers and blends will be more common in the home as a route to this.

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