Getting Started with Refillables

Sustainable Silchester met Vikki from Ecosentials to find out how to get started with Refillables.

Refillables means topping up existing bottles and jars, rather than buying yet another plastic bottles.  Vikki is clearly passionate about the subject. “Not only do you use less plastic, but I choose environmentally friendly products that are kinder to the environment , better for  sensitive skin, babies and children.” 

So how does it work?

When you finish with a bottle, wash it out, remove the label, if you can and then drop it round to Vikki.   Vikki will refill the bottle and drop it back to you within a couple of days.  Vikki is based in Tadley, but also visits Silchester Market each month.  Any bottles dropped off at the market will be back with you by Tuesday. 

Some bottles are quite difficult to get the lid off, particularly duck shaped toilet cleaners, but Vikki was confident that she could get the lid off most bottles.

What are the most popular products?

Vikki didn’t have to think about that one!  The most popular products are definitely washing up liquid, laundry detergent and fabric softener, and toilet cleaner.  

A number of people have reverted to using bicarbonate of soda and vinegar to clean because there are no harmful chemical, and so she sells a lot of vinegar – often 3-5 litres at a time.  She also has a wide range of hand soap, shampoo and conditioner in different scents. 

Some customers just buy one type of product, and are happy with that, others buy from the full range.  Vikki doesn’t mind what people choose – every purchase is another bottle saved from landfill or incineration and that’s what keeps her motivated.

Sounds simple, why doesn’t everyone try it?

Well, a lot of people do!  Vikki has customers all round the area including Bramley, Sherborne St John, Baughurst as well as Tadley and Silchester, and many customers have been with her since the start.

The biggest barrier seems to be getting into the habit of hanging on to your empty bottle and dropping it round to Vikki, rather than putting it straight in the bin and adding another to the weekly shop.  However, once people get into the habit of refilling, they seem to stick with it, so Vikki knows that she is doing something right.

Ladies Clothes Swap and Social Evening


Ladies Clothes SWAP and SOCIAL EVENING

Tuesday 24th May 2022

Silchester Village Hall 7:30 – 9:30pm


We will be joined on the evening by a few selected retailers to help accessorise those new clothes.  We are delighted to welcome:

Nivatali UK Handmade skincare

Susie P Accessories

Chapel Cards

Tropic Beauty products

Arbour Hollow Handmade beaded jewellery

Stylish Accessories

 How Does it work?

Enjoy an evening out & get a free wardrobe refresh!

1. Sort out any clean, good-quality clothes, shoes or accessories that you don’t wear.

2. Drop them off before the day at one of our drop off points and receive a voucher for each item accepted.  Items should be clean, ironed and if possible on a hanger

3.  Come along on the night, and enjoy a drink and a cake whilst you browse the items and our commercial stalls.

4. Exchange your vouchers for any other item that takes your fancy.

5. Additional vouchers will be available to purchase on the night.

drop off points

Contact Us


Sustainable Brownies

Retrofitting a Heat Pump

In November 2021, we decided to take the plunge, remove our gas boiler and have an air source heat pump fitted.  The main driver was to reduce our personal carbon dioxide emissions: our heating and hot water generated around 3.26 tons CO2 per year, and we thought that with a heat pump we could get that down to around 0.9 tons, and that this would reduce as the grid decarbonises.  However, I will admit that we were also curious as to how it would work.

A heat pump is essentially a fridge working backwards, extracting heat from the air and delivering it to our home.  If you burn gas in a boiler you get less useful heat energy out than the energy you put in.  The great thing about a heat pump is that, because it extracts energy from the outside air, you get more, useful heat to your home than the electricity you use to run the pump.  At least twice as much!  This ratio of heat energy out vs electrical energy in is known as the coefficient of performance or COP.  When it’s cold the heat pump has to work harder to extract heat from the air and therefore has a lower COP. As it warms up the COP also improves.  This graph shows how the manufacturer’s stated COP of our heat pump varies with the outside temperature:


The first stage to getting a heat pump fitted was to calculate the heat loss from our home.  Our supplier, Xpert Energy, created a model of our house, and calculated the heat loss through walls and roofs by room, both to give a total heat required to size the heat pump, and to that they could also check the size of radiator required for each room. 

We also had an air tightness test to check how airtight our home is.  This involved putting a large fan in our front door, raising the air pressure in the house slightly, and looking at how quickly this went down.  This was optional, but in our case worth doing, as our house is pretty airtight for its age, and having this evidence enabled us to buy a smaller heat pump.

Overall, the calculation said that at -3 oC, our house would need 6kW to maintain an internal temperature of 21 oC.

A heat pump is much more efficient when it is heating the water to a lower temperature, so the best strategy is to have larger radiators running at a lower temperature, or underfloor heating.  I had been afraid that every wall would need to be covered in radiators, but in the event about half our radiators were big enough already although we did decide to change most of them anyway.  The new radiators were all actually smaller and a little deeper than our existing radiators, so that was one fear allayed.

The installation took about 2 weeks.  It was more disruptive than it needed to be because of our decision to change all the radiators, and there is quite a lot of gubbins (technical term!) pictured below that we had to find space for.  On the positive side, we’ve gained a cupboard where the boiler used to be.  

We also had to have a new larger hot water tank. As the heat pump heats the water to a lower temperature than a boiler you need more water from your hot tap and less from your cold to fill a bath.  Fortunately, the larger hot water tank still fitted in our airing cupboard (just!).

I had been very nervous about how noisy the heat pump would be as Silchester is so quiet, but I think it makes less noise than the exhaust from a gas boiler.  So that was my biggest fear allayed.

We have a separate electricity meter for the heat pump, so we can see daily how much energy we used.   There is a very close correlation between external temperature and energy usage.  This is the data for November:

The benefit of this close correlation is that it is very easy to try different heating strategies, and quickly see the effect on energy usage.

For interest, I also looked at the correlation between our gas usage and external temperature.  This was our gas usage for November 2021:


Heating Strategy

We now have a thermostatic radiator valve (TRV) on every radiator, separate upstairs and downstairs heating circuits with thermostats, and the heat pump regulates the temperature at which it circulates water depending on external temperature.

We had been told that the most efficient way to heat our home was to leave the heating on at a steady temperature all the time.  This seems counter-intuitive.  Since the house loses less heat when it is at a lower temperature, surely it is more efficient to only heat it when you need the heating?

After experimenting for the last 3 months, I can report that they were right!

Initially, we tried to control the heating like we did with a gas boiler, setting the temperature to warmer in the mornings and evenings and cooler overnight and during the day.  However, we struggled to get the house warm at the right times.

After a while, we stopped changing the thermostats and reduced the temperature at which the water circulates round the radiators by a couple of degrees so that the thermostats rarely do anything.  The house got warmer, it felt more pleasant because the radiators were always on and the energy usage didn’t go up.  I’m told that in Sweden they don’t bother to fit thermostats to houses at all – the heating is simply controlled by sizing the radiators correctly and adjusting the water flow temperature and I can now see why.

I think that the reason is that reducing the temperature at which the water goes round the radiators by 2oC cut our energy usage by about 10%, which compensated for the slightly higher average temperature in our home.


One of our criteria for fitting a heat pump is that we didn’t want our energy bills to go up as a result, so how have we done so far?  January is traditionally the month in which our heating bills are highest.

In January 2021, we used 2741.9 kWh of gas, generating about 600 kg CO2

In January 2022, which had a very similar average temperature, our heat pump used 962 kWh of electricity, generating about 170 kg of CO2.

Utility prices are in turmoil, but at our current prices the energy used by the heat pump was 10% more expensive over the month than gas would have been (not counting the savings on the gas standing charge).   Since the heat pump is expected to be less expensive than gas as the weather warms up (I think the breakeven point is about 6oC), so far it’s looking about where we expected it to be.


Heat pump in situ

It’s taken a couple of months to get used to it, but we are very happy with our heat pump.

The temperature of the house is much more stable, and generally warmer than we used to have it when we had a gas boiler.  We cut our carbon emissions in January by about 400kg, and although not the most beautiful piece of kit, our heat pump is quiet and delivering the expected performance.

Repair and Restore

It’s much better to repair and item than to replace – both for the planet and for your pocket! 

John runs a small local company producing chemical products for the hobby industry.  He believes that we can all make a small contribution to improving the environment by repairing products and not throwing them away.  How often do you want to repair a precious item, or one that can’t be easily replaced?  What if you can’t simply buy a new on as it’s out of date or no longer available? Yet, with a simple repair it can be given a new lease of life.  Here John explains how he repaired a broken garage door operator.

A broken garage door operator made in hard plastic, (probably ABS) has broken so can longer be attached to a key ring. These cost £30-£40 each. It works perfectly so why buy another?

We built a small dam around the fractured area to contain the Fusion resin to be applied later.

We mixed the Fusion adhesive. It is a powder and liquid and mixed in a 1:1 ratio. Once mixed the mix is allowed to sit for a few minutes. During this time the powder dissolves into the liquid to create a liquid so slowly thickens. An adhesive tape was used to create and seal the base and thus form a dam to hold the Fusion mix in place while it cures.

The fusion has been poured and is now set (about 10mins). Importantly it is strongly bonded to black plastic case and has created a hard, tough, plastic material. It is far tougher and harder than epoxy so it can be filed or drilled even tapped with a thread.

A final shape with a dremel tool

Painting to look the part is easy.                  



All done and ready to go.  

Fusion resin is available from at Unit 12 Cufaude Business Park, Cufaude Lane, Bramley



COP26 from our own Correspondent – Week 1

Our own correspondent was at COP26 in Glasgow this week.  Here is his report on the first week.

COP26, or to give it its full name, the 26th annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is currently taking place in Glasgow.   Our very own village correspondent has been there this week to bring you an exclusive report on week one.

This year COP is divided into distinct areas – the blue zone for the negotiations, managed by the UN; the green zone for selected companies to exhibit, managed by the UK, and a fringe event across all of Glasgow for everyone else, ranging from businesses to pressure groups to direct action protestors.  Over 50,000 people are attending the blue and green zones with many more being drawn to the fringe events.

The blue zone is where the main discussions take place and hosts the government negotiators and advisors; the non-governmental observers; the media; and around 100 mainly government sponsored pavilions providing presentation areas and meeting spaces.  Many of these pavilions organised a continuous programme of presentations, panel discussions and workshops, so in addition to the main negotiations and set piece speeches, at any moment there are perhaps 50 or more parallel sessions taking place on all aspects of climate change and what to do about it.  Many of these are live streamed and can be downloaded e.g. the UK Pavilion here and the US Center here.

While the main political declaration from COP won’t happen until the end of the second week, it has already been a tremendous success in advancing action to tackle climate change.  Probably the biggest change from previous COPs has been the position of business.  Previously most business leaders waiting on the side lines, not wanting to be the first to move.  Now it’s quite clear the starting gun has been fired and large businesses are competing to ensure they are not left behind on the pathway to sustainability.  This provides great grounds for optimism, because while governments can invest billions, business can invest trillions in tackling climate change.

Some of the notable announcements that you may have missed over the past week include:

  • Commitments to achieve net zero emissions from countries that have until now resisted setting climate targets including Australia and India.
  • 450 financial firms representing $130 trillion of investment committing to meet the goals set out in the Paris climate change agreement.
  • 100 countries pledging to end deforestation by 2030 including Indonesia, China, Canada, Russia and the US.
  • A pledge to cut emissions of methane by 30% by 2030 involving over half the world’s biggest emitters (methane is potentially 80 times as bad for global warming as carbon dioxide).
  • A commitment to end use of coal for generating electricity, signed by more than 40 countries including some of the most coal reliant.
  • The announcement of the Breakthrough Agenda to identify and track the developments needed to make clean and sustainable solutions the natural choice in power, road transport, steel and hydrogen.

So, despite some of the more downbeat press articles, the first week of COP 26 has achieved some noticeable successes.  These are best highlighted in the International Energy Agency’s assessment that, if all climate commitments made to date are delivered in practice, this would put us on a target towards 1.8 degrees temperature rise rather than the 2.7 degrees pathway suggested by the UN before COP26.  There’s a huge “if” in this projection and it’s still not 1.5 degrees, but it shows how far we have come.


How one household halved their electricity usage

Jules and Becca have been looking at how to make their home more energy efficient.  As part of this, they looked at their electricity consumption, and with a few simple changes were able to halve their electricity usage, saving themselves around £600 per year.  Here is Jules’ account of how they did it.

Becca and I decided that we should look at optimising our energy usage, initially electricity. Our basic strategy was:

  1. Work out how much energy we were typically using
  2. Find out what the main contributors to it are
  3. Choose the easiest things to improve
  4. Go back to step 1.
Typical electricity meter

We worked out our average electricity usage by looking back through our bills for pairs of dated meter readings. The meter units are in KWh so the difference between two readings divided by the number of days between them gave us the average daily KWh.

Our average of 20 KWh seemed pretty high, the UK average is less than 10 KWh per day and we use gas for our hob, hot water and central heating. Every KWh we could save from average daily usage would be £60 a year.

We now had motivation but we needed a way to figure out where all that energy was going. We started recording our meter reading daily.  We don’t yet have a smart meter so,  I installed an energy meter (I used an OWL Micro+ CM180, which cost about £50, there are many others available).  The meter clips to the cables that feed our fuse box and gives a continuous estimate of electricity consumption on a wireless digital display.

So, one evening, with energy monitor in hand, we decided to figure out where all that money was going. The monitor was going up and down pretty regularly as fridges and heating were going on and off, and we knew we weren’t going to get rid of them quickly so we just turned them off (temporarily) and that largely stabilised the reading.

Then we powered down anything that wouldn’t handle a power cut well, basically our desktop computers and our server (NAS), and noted the change in reading for each one.

Shutting down our NAS saved about 60 watts on the meter, as 1 watt of base load (ie on all the time) costs about £1.50 on our annual bill, that’s using about £90 a year.

That left a lot of base load, and a seemingly random fluctuation.

We then went through a process of turning on/off fused circuits and plugs to figure out what the rest of the usage was. It actually turned out to be easier to get things down to zero and then build back up, but in the end we had a pretty clear picture of where the power was going and a set of ideas for reduction.

So, what did we learn?

  • Our energy meter could take 10 seconds to update and was only accurate to maybe 30 watts, both got worse as the load got smaller (a smart meter should be more accurate)
  • Biggest surprise was: we have a couple of 28 Watt fluorescent lights with night/movement sensors on the front of our house; these use a ridiculous 144 watts and were coming on randomly day and night. In the short term we’ve pulled out the bulbs until we can fix the sensors.
  • In general our energy saving bulbs do their job, but we have a few lights that use an unexpected amount of power, mostly 2D fluorescents, and some of those are on a lot. The worst culprit is our fluorescent kitchen lights. Those that are on the most we’ll switch to LED bulbs, and we’re more aware of turning off lights that aren’t needed.
  • It turns out we had a bunch of devices that were using significant power (> 10 watts) when in standby mode. Our Sky box and SONOS speakers are both examples of this. We’ve found we can turn off most of these when they’re not in use.
  • Some of the equipment we had on all of the time, was a pain to turn off, but in many cases we’ve found ways to make it easier/quicker or discovered it wasn’t that inconvenient once we’d changed our habits.

Over a couple of weeks following our time figuring out the usage, we made a series of changes and fixes. We’re not completely done but I think we’ve definitely had the biggest wins.

In the process we got our base load down by maybe 200 watts and cut our daily usage in half. I was actually really surprised how painless it has been, and we should have an extra £600 a year to spend on something else.

Getting started with Composting

Composting is not just about gardening – it helps the environment too.  Keeping waste out of the dustbin saves all of the cost and energy associated with the collection of the material.  Digging the compost back ito the garden completes the carbon cycle and can help to offset your emissions.  So let’s put this valuable resource to use, help your garden and get composting!

330 litre compost bin

Compost bins can be obtained from most home and garden shops, or using the Sustainable Silchester group purchase scheme (contact us for details). 

Place your composter in a sunny spot onto well-drained soil.  It can be placed onto concrete or other solid surface, but place a layer of soil beneath it.

Loosen soil beneath the compost bin in order to help drainage and to make it easier for worms and bacteria to eneter the bin from the earth surrounding it.

It is essential to have a good mix of waste material in your compost bin to aid decomposition.

Add different types of material in layers approximately 7-15cm deep.  You can compost:

  • Vegetable and fruit peelings
  • Tea leaves. coffeee grounds and crished egg shells
  • Grass cuttings (some is great as it’s a natural activator, but avoid using too much)
  • Hair
  • Animal manure (from vegetarian animals such as guinea pigs).  Best mixed with straw.
  • Vacuum dust – the contents of a vacuum cleaner sack compost well, particularly if you have woollen carpets.  Do not try and compost if you have primarily synthetic carpets as this will not breakdown.

Add Sparingly to your compost bin

  • Evergreen clippings – they take a long time to decompose and should be added only in small amounts
  • Leaves – contain lignin and take a long time to decompose, the same as wood.  best dealt with separately in leaf mould piles
  • Prunings – only add in small amounts andd chop up well
  • Paper (in small amounts, shredded or scrunched up)

Things to Avoid

  • Disposable nappies or used paper hankies (in case the pathogens that cause disease aren’t all destroyed by the composting process)
  • Excrement – human/cat/dog (for the same reason)
  • Hard objects, stones, bits of glass, metal, plastic
  • Cleaning fluids and other household/garden chemicals
  • Meat (cooked or raw) – the smell can attract animals
  • Fish and dairy products are not recommended

Getting the Best Results

  • Activators such as grass, nettles, pond weed, comfrey, urine, horse, cow, sheep, pig and pigeon manure and rabbit or guinea pig droppings help speed up the composting process.  This is particularly useful during the cold winter months
  • Always keep the lid on your compost bin – it retains heat and moisture when the weather is dry and protects it when it rains
  • Site it out of the wind, as you need a fairly high temperature in your compost bin
  • Do not let it dry out.  Add water when necessary in very dry hot weather.
  • The compost is ready when it is brown and crumbly.  This takes 9-12 months.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will my Compost Bin attract Rats?

Living in the countryside, there are already rats around.    Rats are more likely to visit your compost bin if it is a source of food, so avoid adding cooked foods, dairy products, meat, fish, or bones.   Regularly used compost bins are much less likely to attract rats.  if you are concerned, then try placing some chicken wire, or heavy gauge mesh under your bin to stop them getting in.

Why do I get a lot of ants in my bin?

Ants are part of the home composting process, but it could mean that your bin is too dry.  For a quick fix, add some cold water to your bin.  Over time, you may need to add more ‘green’ nitrogen rich items such as grass cutting and vegetable peelings to keep moisture levels up.

Why does my bin smell?

You need to add more oxygen in your compost bin so that the waste can break down aerobically.  By mixing bulky items such as toilet roll tubes, cardboard or shredded paper into your bin you can introduce pockets of air.

I seem to have a lot of small black flies in my compost bin?

Fruit flies do not carry disease and do not harm your compost.  However if you find them unpleasant you can reduce their numbers by ensuring that the organic waste destined for you bin is always kept covered in the kitchen or whereever it is stored.  You can eradicate them by leaving the lid off the bin for 3-4 days allowing predator beetles to gain access and kill them for you and by covering the compost with an inch or so of soil to prevent the hatching flies from being able to escape.  They are not an indicator of a failing bin.

I’ve waited a while but I still don’t have any compost at the bottom of my compost bin.  Why is this?

It takes 9-12 months to make finished compost.  Keep adding a good balance of greens and browns and the creatures will keep composting everything down.

Glow Worm Walk

Silchester Common, new date of 14th July 2021

The first few weeks of July see a really unusual wildlife event happening in Silchester – the annual display of glow worms. If you’d like to see these creatures literally glow in the dark and learn a little more about them then please feel free to join a walk on the Common organised by Sustainable Silchester’s Stephen Hodgson.


The walk will begin outside the Calleva at 9.45pm and is free of charge (although a small donation towards Sustainable Silchester’s running costs would be appreciated). The walk will take just over an hour and finish back at the Calleva. Just bring a good pair of boots or wellies (in case its wet) and your camera and we will see how many we can find.

This walk was last done in 2019 and we saw 29 glow worms on the common. Please note, the presence of glow worms is not guaranteed but early July is often the best time to see them.


Bee Orchid spotted in Silchester

An early benefit of Sustainable Silchester’s No Mow May campaign is that a bee orchid has been spotted in one of the verges next to housing in Silchester.

These orchids are rare to see because it takes as long as six years for the orchid to flower and many bee orchids only flower once in their lifetime.

The flowers are designed to mimic female bees, both in scent and appearance. In this way the male bee is tricked into landing on the flower and attempting to mate with it. When the bee moves on to another plant, the pollen it has picked up from the first orchid is transferred to the next. Unfortunately, the correct species of bee is not found in the UK so our bee orchids are all self-pollinated.  

But there’s more – another beneficiary of No Mow May is that a pyramidal orchid has also been spotted in the uncut verges. These orchids are quite common but it is, nonetheless, great to see them in the verges at the side of the road.