My fourpennyworth (Greenery)


Wednesday 22 November 2006

Just how friendly can bacteria be?

Yesterday, after a delay of something like five months, my Bokashi kitchen composter arrived, out of the blue. I’d ordered it, along with a water butt, back in the summer when I had a bit of spare money. The butt arrived fairly swiftly, by mail order standards – though I still haven’t got round to attaching it to the drainpipe. (In the end, I probably won’t bother, as it’s a little too large for the passageway where it needs to go – poor planning on my part, though as I recall I only bought it because there was some impressive reduction on it, courtesy of my County – or was it City? – Council). But there was no sign of the composter. Then last month I received a catalogue from the mail order company, including a £5 gift voucher* and an apologetic letter – I was clearly not the only person this had been sent to, so I wondered whether the original company had got into financial trouble (like so many eco-friendly companies before it**) and had only recently been rescued. Anyway, I rang about the missing portion of my order, then over the next few weeks began to forget about it, so that when the postman arrived with this huge parcel I had no idea what it might be.

So, Bokashi. The kit consists of two basic items: a plastic container on legs, with a tap at the bottom, with a removable slotted shelf with a very close-fitting (and thus ‘airtight’) lid; and a substance that resembles something a health-nut might sprinkle on their cereal, made of bran, molasses and the mystery ingredient ‘EM’ (for ‘Effective Micro-organisms’). It appears that the bran is the ‘Bokashi’ part of the kit: the plastic container, after all, is merely a sort of modified keg. The idea is to put your organic kitchen waste – including such otherwise impossible to compost items as meat – into the container and sprinkle a handful of the bran on top. In two weeks the waste becomes a pleasant-smelling ‘pickle’ that can be added directly to a compost heap or worked straight into the garden; in addition, the liquid you draw off it using the tap at the bottom apparently has any number of uses, including keeping drains clean. Just like those other ‘friendly bacteria’ found in particular kinds of yoghurt, the ‘effective micro-organisms’ used in this system were developed in Japan. (Not sure how this is relevant, but thought I’d mention it.)

As I’ve only had the kit for a day, it’s impossible to know how well, or indeed whether, it works. If it does, it’s a very useful development. My main feeling is that, as usual, consumers are having to overpay for a ‘green’ product: after all, the plastic container on its own costs around £35 (as you tend to need to buy a pair, there’s usually a discount – say, £60 for the two), and cannot be said to be a very specialised object. (To go back to my earlier ‘keg’ comparison, I wonder whether you could put together a similar product, at a much-reduced price, by using home-brewing equipment – after all, fermentation is used in both processes.) In fact, I can already see a number of ways in which the container could and should be specialised – particularly if it is to become a standard item in British kitchens. (I’ve added a description to my ‘Repository of Mad Ideas’ at madideas.html#bokashi.)

In turn, the Bokashi activated bran itself is perhaps rather pricey too: 600g costs £4. (I’ve checked at my local healthfood shop, another area of commerce whose products are ‘never knowingly underpriced’, and bran – organic, mind you – costs less than 75p per 500g.) There’s an alternative in the form of the ‘EM Activator System’ (sold at the enterprising if cutesy ‘Wiggly Wigglers’ site:, which purports to allow you to make your own EM liquid – the site compares the process to using a yoghurt-maker – which can then be mixed with shop-bought bran and molasses to create home-made Bokashi. I couldn’t find any recipes for doing this on British sites, typically enough, but here’s one from across the water: (Another US site that gives a huge amount of information on all aspects of ‘EM’ is: I suspect ‘DIY Bokashi’ would only be attractive to real hardcore eco-types, but one can imagine certain garden centres and green-leaning shops (and that’s another idea for my ‘Repository’ ) making it up themselves and selling it at a more legitimate price.

* Of course, the postage is also £5, so it comes out even.

** One of the things the Americans seem to do so much better than us is to translate their interests and enthusiasms into businesses. I’ve no idea why this should be the case (let’s be honest, I’ve no idea whether this is the case): perhaps they read more business guidance books, or work together better, or maybe the US is just a better place to set up a small business. It certainly seems true that the UK’s ‘green consumer’ sector attracts more than its fair share of well-meaning bumblers. (And I should know – I’ve almost been one myself a couple of times.)

(Category: Greenery)

1.57 pm

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Thursday 6 July 2006

Comic timing

Caught a good deal of Robert Newman’s ‘enhanced’ stand-up show about oil on More4 last night. Pretty good balance of comedy and hard (not to say depressing) news: with a bit of work, one could imagine an indigenous version of those greenish, faintly gimmicky, anti-capitalist documentaries the US are currently producing in droves. It seemed much more effective than comparable shows by Mark Thomas and Mark Steel, partly because Newman is, as ever, a bit of a charmer, and partly because he gets the tone more or less right: he has a good line in self-deprecation, and is able to use the fact that he is middle-class and over-educated to suggest a sort of complicity both with his audience and with the ‘enemy’.

His website – – looks pretty good, too (though the fondness for Victorian-style typography is slightly baffling). There’s a link to an unexpected site called, which suggests alternatives to air travel, including the means to get across the Atlantic by ship (an option if the musical That Pig, Morin ever gets off the ground, which it is more likely to do than I am). Lengthy (a fortnight each way) and expensive, though. I keep wondering why airships aren’t regarded as a useful alternative to planes. Naturally, they can’t go nearly as fast: I seem to remember seeing a reference to a top speed of around 125 mph, more or less equivalent to a 24-hour journey across the Atlantic. But you’d think someone would have twigged by now that aeroplane travel is simply unsustainable at its present rate and be looking for alternatives, given our increasing propensity to take our pleasures away from home. There’s a slightly eccentric-looking website ( that suggests a cruising speed for one of its futuristic prototypes – the ‘Bio-Technical Airship’ – of 274 mph. The blurb splendidly, if foolhardily, refers to ‘an airship like those only imagined more than a century ago by adventure writers like H G Wells and Jules Verne’.

Cripes – my environmental (emphasis on the ‘mental’?) entries, of which this is officially the first, look likely to be as absurdly discursive as the film ones. No wonder even I think I’m a bit bonkers…

(Category: Greenery)

7.38 pm

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