Accessibility statement

New Year Resolutions Q&A 

What is better for the environment - an electric heater, an oil heater or a log burner?

Ivana suggested: A few years ago, the answer might have been different but now there is a sufficient amount of clean renewable electricity on the grid that an electric heater wins. That is presuming you mean a heater burning oil, which is a fossil fuel, rather than an oil-filled electric heater. The Centre for Sustainable Energy has a good guide to different portable heater options. Ideally, room heaters should only be used as a secondary or supplementary source of heat. Even then, you should use the right heater for the space you want to heat, and carefully control the temperature and the time you have the heater on. Some provide heat instantly while for example oil-filled heaters will take time to heat up but will keep radiating heat after being switched off. Choosing a heater with time and temperature controls will save you money. When it comes to log burners, sadly it's increasingly becoming evident that the air pollution associated with them has a high impact on human health and we're living in one of the least forested countries in Europe so there simply aren't enough trees to balance the emissions out. Just like with diesel cars, they might have seemed a good idea before everyone started using them.


I want to get my young children outside as much as possible even though it's cold and icy or raining. I thought giving them a project to do looking after the wildlife would be motivational - what things can you recommend?

There are lots of wildlife projects that your kids could engage with. If you have a garden, think about how you could make this as wildlife friendly as possible. You could make a bug hotel, or a footprint trap to find out if mammals such as hedgehogs are visiting your garden. The OPAL project developed a series of citizen science surveys that you can do at different times of the year in your local area, such as bird watching. If the weather is poor, look at ZOOniverse for online citizen science projects to engage with nature. 



We recently had an extension built and were told that it was so well insulated the rooms would be so warm. They aren't! What is the best way to insulate your house and what are the cost implications/how would I find out?

You are experiencing a performance gap - the resulting extension is not performing as well as it was supposed to, which is much more common than it should be. It's likely that it either didn't get enough insulation or that the insulation wasn't properly installed. This time of year is good for checking houses with a thermal imaging camera which can show up gaps in insulation and sources of draughts, and you can borrow one from York Community Energy. Armed with the evidence, you could then go back to your builders. If your contract specified an energy efficiency standard, explore what official guarantees you got with the work. Generally speaking, the best way to insulate a house will be determined by the way the house was built, your ambition to make it as zero carbon as possible or not, and what level of disruption and cost you can afford. The aim is to reduce heat losses with insulation and improving airtightness, which means reducing uncontrolled infiltration, but this needs to be balanced with ensuring good fresh air supply and healthy humidity levels. A good starting point is getting a whole-house energy assessment tailored to your home and needs before making big decisions. For example, cavity wall insulation is popular because of its low cost and disruption but it is unsuitable for some houses, doesn't reduce energy use by that much and may cause problems. Try to find a community energy group that can give you impartial advice such as Carbon Co-op in Manchester, or locally York Community Energy can help you.


We recently had to fell a big tree that was starting to uproot & become too tall and dangerous for where it was. We would like to plant another tree or bushes in its place. We wondered about a fruit tree, what would be your suggestions?

Full question reads: I am the director of the management company that looks after our street. We recently had to fell a big tree that was starting to uproot and become too tall and dangerous for where it was. We would like to plant another tree or bushes in its place. We wondered about a fruit tree so we could all reap the benefits from it. What would be your suggestions?

A fruit tree is a great idea, and some community projects around York will be able to give you advice on your specific site and requirements (Edible York - for pruning courses etc, they also have a community growing guide on their website which could be useful if this is the first time your street is going to start growing). An apple tree is the most obvious choice, and once it reaches a productive size you could do communal harvests and juice. Things to be aware of are size - not just to fit in the site you have in mind, but also to make the fruit easier to harvest, think about buying a tree on dwarfing stock. Also, think about waste, some fruit trees can be very productive, and it may be difficult to harvest all the fruit in time. Is fallen fruit and leaves going to inconvenience or annoy any of your neighbours? Could also give excess fruits to food banks (recommended in edible York community growing guide)



As part of the management company we have on our street, I am trying to make it a much greener street. What things do you think we could collectively do to make it a "green street"?

Full question reads: As part of the management company we have on our street, I am trying to make it a much greener street. Last year I bought two big compost bins that we all use and this year I am thinking about recommending water butts for everyone. What other things do you think we could collectively do to make it a "green street"?

How about tool and equipment sharing? If you have gardens, shared lawn mowers and other gardening equipment could work, the same for DIY tools. This does require a certain amount of trust and some clear rules about how the tools are to be used and maintained. How about setting up a 'green street challenge' where you pledge to take certain actions and measure carbon reduction using a footprint calculator before and after? or set up a citizen science project to understand and tackle a 'green issue' of your choice, see for example this review of citizen science projects for understanding and reducing food loss and waste, Pateman et al 2020). Another option is setting up a bulk buy scheme for insulation or renewable energy sources to make it cheaper and for peer support, e.g. a group of residents at Derwenthorpe are buying solar panels.


How can climate action be presented as more carrot than stick?

I think this is a really important point - we need to get across the seriousness but avoid paralysing people with the fear of being seen to over-catastrophize so people do not feel their efforts can make a difference. I am, of course, not trying to say it isn't essential. For me this is about showing how small/individual/local actions can have "value-added benefits" - e.g., energy/water-saving options can help key your bills down or help you access energy services you couldn't before. Local efforts to plant more trees can help with biodiversity and our mental health and wellbeing (as well as helping to trap carbon) - indeed, GPs and other health professionals are beginning to prescribe walks and outdoor activities to help with health (physical and mental health and wellbeing), and numerous studies have shown the importance of engaging with green spaces for our wellbeing. It's very important to engage with people, understand their attitudes/motivations, understand their circumstances and design interventions that help them to make changes. So, I would be emphasising how every possible intervention can help both tackle climate change, but also improve our quality of life - and our livelihoods (e.g. green jobs, finances, health, community resilience and spirit, improvements in our local and more distant areas).

How do I stop drafts in my house?

Ivana found:

Draughts account for around 15% of heat losses in an average home and even more importantly, they affect our thermal comfort. Whether we feel warm or cold is only partly dependent on the air temperature around us. Cold moving air and cold surfaces make us feel cold. Stopping draughts is a good start to making homes more energy-efficient and comfortable. Common sources include unused chimneys, gaps around windows and doors, between floorboards and behind skirting boards. All those can be sealed and there is a lot of advice online how to do that, including a recording of York Community Energy's Draught-proofing Workshop via This will also highlight where you should not seal such as trickle vents or air bricks under suspended timber floors because we do need to keep fresh air coming in, we just want to be able to control it. The long-term solution needs to be retrofitting the whole house by insulating it to a high standard of energy efficiently as. 

Draft excluders are great for doors, as well as floorboard draft fillers and skirting board gaps. In case of single glazed windows see if you can switch to double-glazed windows (but expensive.) You can also get "covers" for windows but I'm not sure on how good they are. Make sure you don't cover up window vents though, because that stops air circulating. You can also look at various forms of insulation - cavity wall, loft, solid wall (not about drafts per se but helps keep your home insulated).


What material is the best for lunch boxes?

Don't throw away plastic Tupperware- use these first before buying other items. Boxes made of bamboo are a more sustainable option or you could use beeswax wraps to wrap up food items instead of tin foil and plastic wrap. In the source below is a comparison of the different options with pros and cons.


How can I reduce my plastic waste?

In York, three zero-waste shops are open for delivery- The Little Green Weigh , The Bishy Weigh and Alligator Wholefoods, where you can bring your container to fill with food and cleaning products. Nisa on the University of York campus also gives the opportunity to bring containers and fill them up. You could also make simple swaps in your life such as bringing reusable bags to shops, as plastic bags require 12 million barrels of oil to produce as they are made out of petroleum-based polyethene, using beeswax wraps instead of tin foil and clingfilm, purchase a reusable bottle or coffee cup, use bar soap instead of gel soaps etc. Some advice on how to start can be find here:

You can also switch to plastic-free reusable alternatives (e.g., incontinence and menstrual ware), bamboo toothbrushes, tooth"paste" pellets in non-plastic containers, washing bags to capture microplastics from clothing containing plastic fibres (and avoid those sorts of clothes), subscription services for washing detergents e.g. eco-egg/Smol (or buy from those local stores as suggested where you can refill your containers). Some supermarkets also now let you take reusable containers to refill. 


How can we get involved with and support the new York Community Woodland?

This project is heavily based on community involvement and you can get involved by giving your “views and ideas about what is important for people in the design, layout and features of the woodland; helping plant the trees; getting involved in looking after the woodland and using it as it matures”. You can register your interest at the City of York Council website. 


How can I make my diet more sustainable?

To kick-start a more sustainable diet, some people participate in Veganary (being vegan for the whole month of January) or you can start making easy swaps when you are shopping, such as trying a plant-based milk or meat alternative and introducing more vegetarian meals and eating organic. Eating seasonable products produced locally is also a good way. 

If we think about sustainability from the perspective of greenhouse gas emissions, the easiest way to make your diet more sustainable is to reduce consumption of red meats and dairy products which are produced from animals that ruminate, i.e., pass methane, which as a greenhouse gas has about 25 times the heat-trapping ability of carbon dioxide.

Another way to make the diet more sustainable is to reduce food wastage. An often quoted, shocking fact, is that if food waste were a country it would be the third-largest emitter in the world. Things I find useful to reduce food waste are to plan out my meals in advance and buy what I need. For people who don't have the time to do this, I recommend using the food storage tool on the love food hate waste website. It shows which foods can be refrigerated and how to freeze them to be cooked at a later date. I also like to look up recipes for my food scraps. Cauliflower leaves fried in salt and pepper are a firm favourite of mine.

It is a myth that purchasing food locally is always better for the climate as most food is transported on a boat, which can carry a lot more food than a truck for example. Only 0.16% of foods are transported by air. The foods that are transported by air include things like fresh berries and asparagus. These foods have a much higher carbon footprint when purchased out of season than in season. So, another way to be more sustainable is to buy fruit and veg that are in season. However, despite buying local making little difference in terms of GHG emissions, it is very important to support local businesses if we are able to do so.



What can I do to reduce the impact of buying clothes?

Avoid fast fashion as it is the second most polluting industry in the world, try a year without buying new clothes-instead buy second-hand, rent items or buy domestically made products. You could also donate your old clothes or have a swap shop in work/school.

Another important point is to avoid buying clothes with plastic in them as microplastics are released when they are washed. Some plant-based materials are cotton, viscose and modal.

I am not able to compost food scraps in my apartment/city. Should I throw them in the trash, or into the sink garbage disposal?

Food in landfill is not great as when it decomposes methane is released. A sink disposal grinds food waste up so it can go down the sink and into the sewerage system depending on whether the sewerage system can handle it, but if it can, it does seem to be better than landfill.

The information we found on this said it depended on how the wastewater is treated. If the solids from the wastewater end up in landfill then the food waste has ended up in the same place as if you tossed it in the normal bin, and in a landfill site, the food waste will produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as it decomposes.

However, if the solids from the wastewater are treated in an anaerobic (i.e., without oxygen) digesting system, the methane produced from the decomposing food can be used by the factory. So, to answer the question of whether to throw it in the bin or garbage disposal, it depends on how the wastewater is treated.

You could consider giving your food waste to a local gardener who produces their own compost or you could look up recipes with the things that you have leftover. For example, the leaves of cauliflowers and beetroot stalks are great when roasted or as part of a stir fry.



What are our best options right now to reduce the carbon footprint of our home? Any guesses when new technologies for sustainable home heating and hot water will become readily available and affordable in the UK?

You could start by switching to a renewable energy provider as well as using a solar hot water system. Octopus Energy is one of the cheapest and greenest energy providers within the UK. You could also improve your home insulation so that no heat is wasted. 



What's the current cost-benefit of fitting new solar panels or pv tiles to a traditional brick semi? What impacts do you think the community power generation bill could have in York if it goes through?

The local generation bill is a 'presentation bill' - it is a long way off being adopted. As currently phrased, I don't think it will help the community or renewable energy much. Fitting new solar panels have a payback time of about 17 years - and prices aren't coming down anymore, this isn't changing much. Battery raises the payback period to well over 20 years and may not pay back within the lifespan of the battery! The situation will be affected significantly by EVs & 'smart' dynamic tariffs. Solar roof tiles, I'm personally sceptical about unless you're (re-)building the roof, more expensive and also means two failure modes: leaking and not generating.


What steps can I take to reduce my energy consumption?

There are a range of things you can do to reduce your energy consumption:

  • Shutdown your appliances rather than leaving on standby
  • Use LED lights as they use 75% less electricity than incandescent bulbs and last 25 times longer
  • Install a draught excluder
  • Insulate with thermal wallpaper
  • Bleed your radiators to ensure heat is circulating effectively
  • Defrost your fridge and freezer as when more ice builds up, the harder they have to work to keep cold.
  • Installing external wall insulation can prevent up to 40% of heat loss from your home
  • A new gas boiler is 25% more efficient than a 20-year-old boiler and could save £270 a year on bills
  • Washing clothes at 40 degrees C uses 1/3 less energy than 60 degrees C
  • Fill a washing bowl rather than running under a tap. 
  • Make sure the kettle is filled with the amount of water you need for that moment. 
  • Try to reduce the washing load by one a week. 
  • Install a water-efficient shower head and try to spend less time in the shower (and if possible have showers rather than a bath each).
  •  Unplug chargers and devices once finished with them. 
  • Use alternative transport rather than a car for small journeys and combine purposes for journeys. 
  • Add layers rather than turning the thermostat up. 
  • When cold don’t ramp the thermostat up to max to try and quicken heating - it'll heat up at the same rate, but you'll probably then get overly hot and end up trying to get rid of some of the heat. 
  • Only have radiators on in the rooms you are using. 
  • Turn off the lights as you leave the room. 
  • Don't keep the fridge door open for too long whilst doing other cooking tasks (e.g., milk in coffee - a bad habit of mine I'm trying to break!).
  •  Look at the energy efficiency of goods whenever buying new ones. 

Understand your bill and have discussions about how you are all using energy - our energy use is 'intangible'' heavily reliant on habits that we don't tend to think about much or realise where we've developed them from - the first step is awareness! 

A key issue is some people need to use more energy due to their health and wellbeing, so if the cost is a factor try using switching sites to look for better deals and look at if your local authority organises a collective energy switch (e.g., East Riding do YORSwitch - not sure what York City Council does). You can get energy surveys done for bespoke tips on what you can do in your home or contact services like the Yorkshire Energy Doctor. Although they cover North Yorkshire, they're happy to hear from other areas and recommend services in your area plus their website has brilliant information.

Make use of microwaves, slow cookers and pressure cookers as these appliances cause the least GHG emissions because they have the lowest cooking times and energy demand. Ovens were found to be the least sustainable way to cook. I love my slow cooker for casseroles and curries. A tip that saves both energy and time is to microwave potatoes before roasting them instead of parboiling.

GHG emissions of cooking: