Engineering A Great Day At Heriot Watt

Environmental issues were foremost among the issues raised by Heriot Watt Students’ Union when I met their President and Vice President, Mike Ross and Laura Gregson, along with Naomi Hunter, this week at Riccarton.  They are working with the university to reduce energy use in the student residences (‘student switch off’) and the money saved is being ploughed back into student support services.  They hope to create community gardens for each residence and they told me that this linked to their desire to address mental health issues in the student group.  Gardening is very therapeutic, as we know, and these young people hope that it might help those who have difficulty settling into university, like it helps people at the Redhall Walled Garden run by SAMH  and at the Suntrap Garden nearby.


Mike and Laura would also like to forge better links with the local community.  They have a great idea for using the project work of Engineering students, of whom there are so many at Heriot Watt, to add value to the local community.  We also talked about the gender balance issues in students and staff at each campus; most students in the Borders campus are female and most in the Riccarton campus are male.  The University is part of the national drive to attract more women into Engineering, in particular, and we talked about how that needs to start with attitudes to babies and children.

We were lucky to have this meeting on one of the loveliest days of the summer and enjoyed the cycle ride.  On the way back we met a University staff member who regularly practises his saxophone at lunchtime under a canal bridge – what a lovely sound!  Then we chatted to a family where the Dad had a five-year-old pedalling behind him in tandem style and the baby in a seat behind that.  That’s family cycling!

The Edinburgh company leading the way in the UK on business waste

Some pretty radical measures on waste are coming down the track, and yet they’ve barely been reported in the news and I doubt many businesses are aware of the changes ahead.

As part of Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan, a significant proportion of the resources that we currently send to landfill dumps as “waste” is going to be banned from landfill altogether. The two main things this will affect are key materials (glass, metal, plastic, card) and food waste.

By the end of 2013, all businesses producing more than 50kg of food waste will be required to have it collected for recycling. By 2015, this will apply to all businesses and all local authorities will have to collect food waste from households too. These are bold moves by the Scottish Government and I support them but also want to see much tougher action to get manufacturers to reduce excess packaging at source.

Last week I went to visit Vegware, a company selling compostable packaging all across the UK and internationally, but based in Polwarth, Edinburgh in a lovely office overlooking the Union canal.

With the help of a delicious cake baked by the newest of their twenty or so staff, I helped Vegware launch a fab new website called the Food Waste Network, which offers to link up any business in the UK to nearby food recycling companies or projects. Vegware sells every imaginable type of compostable packaging, and they clearly want to do all they can to make sure that companies that buy their stuff (and those that don’t) do their bit to reduce food waste and take advantage of the unique feature of their products.

Vegware have shown how we can begin to replace the vast quantity of plastic used in our economy with something better, so why aren’t we seeing big commitments from the coffee and takeaway chains to use these types of new material? Hefty landfill taxes mean that we, the consumer, end up paying for the throw-away culture.

This is a great initiative and I hope that it will be of use to many businesses of all sizes in the Lothians and across the UK, linking them up with services such as that offered by the Cyrenians (who take the huge quantity of coffee grounds produced by the Scottish Parliament!). I wish Vegware continued success as they tackle the difficult area of packaging waste head on.

I visited Vegware with the local Green councillor Gavin Corbett, and you can also read his  thoughts about our visit here.

Cycle Lane In A Tram Track? What A Missed Opportunity

You may have seen these images of the new cycle lanes on Princes Street in Edinburgh. Unbelievable!

Here we have a world famous thoroughfare in the heart of Scotland’s capital – what better location to set an example and make cycling easy and attractive? But instead the opportunity presented by the trams project has been missed. Shoving bikes, taxis, buses and trams together in the same lane is inviting disaster.

Of course we’re dealing with historic city centre streets so space is at a premium but come off it, is it really that hard to put in place a dedicated cycle lane either side of Princes Street? I’m afraid this smacks of an underlying desire to maintain access for private cars which we should be discouraging from our city centre to improve the traffic congestion that harms our businesses and our health.