Carbon neutral action

Laura White
Laura White

By Peter Embling

Many towns and cities are aiming towards being carbon neutral, but Exeter City Council, after declaring a climate emergency, is beating many to the cause by setting out clear and deliverable plans to reach that goal by 2030.

Exeter City Futures was asked to work in partnership with the city to create a clear delivery process, setting out the scale of it all plus provide a guide to what actions and investment would be required.

Their work culminates in the production of ‘Blueprint for a Carbon Neutral Exeter by 2030’, launched now; a 20-page document – 14 pages of easy-to-read text including a programme of events which will be a ‘meaningful and imaginative opportunity to explore changes we’ll need to make and identify everyday challenges and barriers we’ll need to overcome together’.

Helping the Council with the events (dates available on the Net Zero Exeter website, is local arts organisation Encounters. The calendar of dates builds up to The Net Zero Exeter Mobilisation Summit: a mix of formal presentations, discussions, sharing of ideas and the start of a series of fringe events across the city. The ‘Summit’ is at Exeter City Football Club on Thursday, 26th March.

Exeter City Council explained: “Many of the features of the plan present significant financial, technical, political, attitudinal and behavioural challenges. As we explore these challenges as a City we will begin to set out the roadmap. Together we can achieve our ambition.”

Advice and information on what we, the people, can actively ‘do’ to help us all reach carbon neutrality can sometimes be confusing and contradictory, posing more questions than giving answers. It won’t be enough though, to follow the bits we choose to follow and keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best, doing all the cuddly things that make us feel better while others formulate plans.

We’re being told now that it is probably better for us to use plastic bags than paper bags. Fair enough, here’s why: ‘paper production and
transportation uses significantly more fuel, water, energy and land than plastic production’. Thus writes Denis the Dustcart in his column for ‘Exeter City Council News, 7 February 2020’.  He goes on to explain further and I would encourage everybody to read what he says, even visit his Facebook page where he writes about many aspects of recycling in the Exeter area. Also, I would suggest, as part of gleaning as much information as possible and making up our own minds in readiness for action, registering with
Exeter City Council for their weekly ‘News’ bulletin.

There might be some rules and laws being made in the future, both locally and by Westminster, but largely this is down to us. It is the consumer who should be looking at what we consume, how we obtain it and how we carry it home. Denis the Dustcart advocates the use of a woven plastic bag with sewn-in handles. Why? Because they last so long that their carbon footprint must be ‘pretty small’.

It’s time to think about these things: the processes involved in recycling paper and cardboard, how many times can you actually re-use a paper bag, is using the little plastic carriers really that bad? Denis the Dustcart says that Exeter does recycle plastic responsibly. However, Denis says, ‘it is better to reuse than recycle’. Recycling is still ‘throwing it away’. And even paper can only be recycled a certain number of times before the fibres become unusable.

More information from Denis: “The embedded carbon in a paper packet and the biodiversity loss caused in its production are significantly greater than for its plastic equivalent. A single-use paper bag needs to be reused three times to lower its environmental impact to that of a single-use
plastic bag. A plastic bag-for-life requires four reuses – one more reuse than the paper bag – but will no-doubt be able to be reused dozens and dozens more times, whereas the paper bag…no chance.”

Reuse what you’ve already got in the way of bags until they no longer hold your shopping and then move on and buy one of those woven plastic bags with sewn-on handles! That’s until different advice comes along. All we can do is try – and every little bit will make a difference. Back in the 60s, my mum took her shopping bag to the greengrocers. Potatoes and other roots would go in the bottom, apples and oranges on top, greens on top of that and then any soft fruit (when in season) – and only the soft fruit went in brown paper bags – held at each top corner and swirled around to seal. Job done! I’m sure it wouldn’t take much to get back to that sort of system in the supermarkets would it?

Bring back seasonality to cut down on transportation and reduce packaging of all types. If we can invent a tiny, hand-held device to use while standing in a field and talk to somebody on the other side of the planet, I’m sure that we can deal with this.

Green IssuesLocal Life