Are compostable bags really compostable? Part 3

Part 3 of an experiment in home composting.

I am conducting an experiment to see whether The Guardian’s compostable bags do actually degrade in a home compost heap.

I checked up on the heap again on Sunday 4 August, four weeks after the last check and fourteen weeks after I started the experiment. Again, I removed the material carefully with a spade and trowel, placing it all into a large bin. A few inches down, I came across the material I had deposited four weeks ago. On the left you can see what it looked like then – a paper cup and a large transparent bag, which had been a bread wrapper.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that there is very little left of the transparent bag – in fact the printed label is the only distinguishable bit remaining. Here is what it looked like:

So hats off to NJB who say they make a compostable film. My experiment would seem to justify this claim. The compostable coffee cup has decomposed less, but it looks as though it is also on the way to breaking up completely.

I carried on removing material in order to reach the bottom of the heap, where the two original compostable bags were placed back in April. Here is what I found:

There is now very little left of either bag. The pieces shown above were the only traces of both, and I therefore have every hope that there will be nothing left to report next time round.

My latest addition to the experiment is a pouch which once contained Happy Pear granola, manufactured by the Israeli company TIPA. The packaging tells you to put this into ‘industrial composting’ (i.e. a brown bin) but as I only use our brown bin very rarely, I decided to see how well it goes in a home compost heap. Here is how I left it:

I’ve now returned all the compost to the heap. I will keep on adding more material on top and we will see what it all looks like again in a month or two.

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Cricket Loverley Cricket, At Lord’s Where I Saw It

Freddie Flintoff and Brett Lee, photographed at the end of the England-Australia 2nd Test at Edgbaston, 2005

Great news that the Cricket World Cup Final will be live on terrestrial TV on Sunday. This will be the first time I’ve been able to watch live cricket on TV since the wonderful Ashes summer of 2005.

Are compostable plastic bags really compostable? Part 2

Part 2 of an experiment in home composting.

I am conducting an experiment to see whether The Guardian’s compostable bags do actually degrade in a home compost heap.

I finally got round to checking up on the heap on Sunday 7 July. This was exactly ten weeks after I had begun the experiment. Longer than I meant to leave it, I know, but various things intervened.

I began by removing all the material carefully with a spade and placing it into a bin. As I got near the bottom, I could see that there were two obviously separate large pieces of partly-decomposed plastic, but it wasn’t possible to tell which one was the Guardian bag and which was the one made by Greensax. There were also a number of smaller fragments which could have come from either bag.

I had to move them around a bit to get enough material exposed so that I could take a photograph, but this is roughly where they were when I uncovered them, and these are the biggest pieces I could find.

On checking back their positions in the dump from my earlier picture (left) I reckon that the fragment on the left is the Greensax bag and therefore the one on the right must be the Guardian. I was pleased to see that there were a lot of worms in the heap so they must have been doing a good job. There was no sign of the two wooden plant markers which I had carefully dated, which made me think that in the interests of science I should probably have used plastic markers. No matter.

I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised that so little is left of the two bags after just ten weeks. In my regular composting activities I have been using two or three Greensax bags every week for at least the last two years, and there are many fragments of plastic bag left over in all my bins. I have diligently moved these back to the large bags in which this autumn’s leaves will be kept, when the cycle begins again.

Having returned all the compost to the heap I then added two further distinct items, both of which claim to be compostable.

The first is a ‘compostable’ cup, acquired by my daughter at an event in the AirBNB offices. The second is the clear packaging from a loaf of bread, bought in a local food co-op. This is made by an Irish company, NJB. The company says that this is made from vegetable resources and is completely compostable.

I’ve covered all this with grass cuttings to a depth of an inch or two, then topped it off with more garden waste and vegetable peelings etc from the kitchen. I will carry on adding to this for another four or five weeks and then take a look at what has happened below the surface.

Deerie me

Yet more underwhelming signage in the Phoenix Park about feeding the deer. These ones look as though they were probably produced by staff in the Laboratory of Wildlife Ecology and Behaviour at University College Dublin, as they carry the Laboratory’s logo. It’s a shame that whoever designed them never went to the first year Information Design class which I used to run at UCD. (I see that this course is still being offered, by the way, although it is now under new management.)

There is a much better piece of design on the Laboratory’s Twitter feed, shown above, but it’s not clear whether this is meant to be a poster or a one-off exhibition panel (I suspect the latter). The typography and the use of clipart could be improved, but overall the message is clearly presented. The Twitter feed has a lovely little film clip showing the first of this year’s fawns, by the way.

Meanwhile in more Phoenix Park news, a consultation process over a new set of proposals for its future has just ended. The 18 page executive summary contains the usual guff about enhanced visitor experiences (including a possible funicular railway) and potential retail areas but not a single word about the lack of recycling facilities which means that thousands of plastic bottles and aluminium cans are left strewn in the open or dumped in rubbish bins every day.

Close, touching

Pic: Nick Shinn on Typedrawers

A great post on the Typedrawers forum reminded me of what typesetting sometimes looked like in the 1970s. Throughout much of this time I worked for the Folio Society as a publicity and production assistant. Part of my job was to design and create the artwork for publicity material – including prospectuses, forms and flyers – and press ads. Most of the typesetting for these items was still done in hot metal from various specialist Monotype houses: I still have the specimen book from the one we used most, Watkins Repro Services. After proofing, the final ‘report quality’ pulls were done on a special press on baryta paper, which gave a lovely crisp finish to the typesetting.

Less often, we used output from the various phototypesetting companies: I remember that we had a big set of ringbinders which contained the Conways catalogue, and there were others as well. I would use this for headlines if we needed a particular typeface which wasn’t available in Monotype. It was while first ordering this kind of typesetting that I came across the need for specifying letterspacing and, most of the time, I would use the instruction ‘Close, not touching’. However, at the time there was a vogue for much tighter letterspacing, as can be seen in any edition of the Sunday newspaper colour magazines of the time.

Nick Shinn’s post above brought in comments from a bunch of other big names from the type design community besides Shinn himself – Mark Simonson, Ray Larabie, Stephen Coles amongst them – as well as discussion as to whether the output had actually been generated by a phototypositor or by hand, using Letraset. August company indeed, but they don’t seem to have come up with a definitive answer.

I googled around on the subject and came up with a page which shows pictures of 1970s phototypositors, which are presumably similar to those in use in the London bureaus at the time. As all the pics say ‘Rights Reserved’ I haven’t nicked one, but you can see them at this link.

Are compostable plastic bags really compostable? Part 1

Part 1 of an experiment in home composting.

I am conducting an experiment to see whether The Guardian’s compostable bags do actually degrade in a home compost heap.

I have been using compostable plastic bags in my normal composting activities for several years but in order to run this experiment I decided to build a separate new compost bin and start a new pile from scratch. So today I have created a new heap in my brand new bin, using two loads of kitchen compost waste in separate compostable bags. One is from a Saturday edition of The Guardian, the other is from the normal range I buy in my local supermarket, made by the Irish company Greensax. I put both of these into the bin and added in some extra kitchen waste, some in a brown paper compost bag, the rest just a random pile of peelings, teabags, used coffee grounds, apple cores and the like. This is the pile shown in the photograph below, resting on some old slats at the bottom of the bin.

I then added a small amount of other garden waste (some grass cuttings and some specially cut nettles) and topped the whole thing off with a couple of spadefuls of compost from one of the other bins which have already done their work.

Here is what the new bin looked like this afternoon, after I had finished work:

I will keep on adding ordinary garden and kitchen waste to this over the next month, and then turn the heap over how much of the two plastic bags have disintegrated. Watch this space!

The Colonel B Four

The four MPs who gave the real name of ‘Colonel B’ in the House of Commons on 20 April 1978. L–R: Jo Richardson, Chris Price, Robert Kilroy-Silk, Ron Thomas. Pics from the Times Guide to the House of Commons, October 1974.

At last week’s launch of the Crispin Aubrey Archive, held in the MayDay Rooms in Fleet Street, a colleague and I were reminiscing about the ABC campaign and we realised that neither of us could recall the names of all four backbench Labour MPs who named Colonel B in a House of Commons debate.

Googling this was no use and neither was Wikipedia, although I was able to establish that it happened in April 1978. I then went through that month’s debates on the wonderful Historic Hansard website, which revealed that the naming happened during Business Questions on 20 April 1978. This was the day after the Director of Public Prosecutions had tried to block discussion of various motions mentioning the Colonel’s real name at the National Union of Journalists conference in Whitley Bay, Northumberland. The naming occurred in the form of questions about the order of business put to Michael Foot, who at the time rejoiced in the full title of Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons. They weren’t all asked in a continuous sequence, so I have pasted in below the transcript of each one, as recorded in Hansard, leaving out the other questions.

The first was asked by Jo Richardson, then MP for Barking, and also a member of the NCCL’s Executive Committee. She later became Shadow Minister for Women, but died in 1994 before Labour came to power.

Miss Richardson Will my right hon. Friend try to find time, next week if possible, for a debate on Press freedom, in view of the restrictions on Press freedom in connection with the case of Colonel Johnstone, otherwise known as Colonel B?
Mr. Foot I cannot promise any debate on that subject in the near future.

She was followed by Chris Price, the MP for Lewisham West. He was also on the left of the party and had a long-standing interest in civil liberties. He lost his seat in 1983 and died in 2015.

Mr. Christopher Price Will my right hon. Friend say when we are to get a White Paper on official secrets and a debate on the subject in view of the crisis that has emerged between the Government and the NUJ over the Colonel Johnstone affair?
Mr. Foot I cannot give my hon. Friend a promise about the date of the White Paper. I am not sure that the two matters he refers to could be dealt with together. Of course, Questions can be put down in the House on these matters, but I do not think that we should necessarily say that the two subjects should be discussed together.

Next to get in on the act was Robert Kilroy-Silk, at that point the MP for Ormskirk. He was never regarded as being on the left of the party, and was often seen by his colleagues as a bit of a careerist. He later became a Shadow Home Affairs spokesperson under Neil Kinnock’s leadership. He resigned his seat in 1986 in order to take up the presentation of his own TV show Kilroy, later going back into politics as a UKIP MEP. He then left UKIP and set up his own new party, Veritas.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great disappointment in the country at the Government’s failure to implement their manifesto commitment to legislate on official secrets and a freedom of information Bill? Will he give an assurance that the Government will legislate in this Session and that we shall not have a continuation of cases of the sort that have surrounded the publication of Colonel Johnstone’s name?
Mr. Foot I can give no promise that we could legislate in this Session. The House has had indications that we do not believe that it would be possible to legislate in this Session in such a far-reaching matter. I have said — and I believe my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has indicated this to the House — that there will be a White Paper and that it will be debated. We shall have to see then how we should proceed. I am not saying that there is not considerable interest in the subject in many quarters, but I suggest that what I have proposed is the best way to proceed now.

The final MP was Ron Thomas, MP for Bristol North West for one parliament only, between the October 1974 and 1979 elections.

Mr. Ron Thomas If it is not possible to have a debate on Press freedom, could the House at least have a statement on what to all intents and purposes looks like interference by the Attorney-General in the democratic proceedings of the National Union of Journalists annual conference in regard to the activities of Colonel B, who the whole world knows is Colonel Johnstone?
Mr. Foot I would not accept my hon. Friend’s description of what has occurred. In view of the legal position, I doubt very much whether a debate in the House is the best way in which to proceed. I have no doubt that some of my hon. Friends who wish to make representations will make their representations to the Government on this matter.

Because Colonel Johnstone had been named under parliamentary privilege, the mainstream media now published his real name, with it being reported on both main national TV news bulletins that evening and making headlines in the press the following day. The whole Colonel B affair was another example of the ham-fisted prosecution of the ABC case, which would reach its final act in the Old Bailey a few months later.