Thursday, 4 December 2008

Playing tag

Earlier in the week Mrs Average from The Rubbish Diet tagged me - not once but twice! Well, actually she said to take my pick, but I can't resist doing both ;)

1. Six from six
The sixth image from the sixth folder in my photos directory is above. It's some mushrooms growing on a dead, half-fallen tree in Danby Woods, a small patch of woodland near where I live - I liked the colour of them as a contrast to the blue sky, and thought the shape of them was kind of cute. I suppose you could call them one of nature's recyclers :) One of the things I like about where we live is that we have not only the woods but also Marston Marshes practically on the doorstep, although we don't go specifically *to* them very often. I do run past them quite a lot though!

2. Another six
Six "interesting" facts about me... hmm, tricky! I'll try not to bore everyone to tears :)

Fact 1
I'm into the crazy world of triathlons - races where you swim, bike and then run. I started running a few years ago, and have cycled (commuting) for longer. A couple of years ago some of my neighbours asked if I wanted to come on a bike ride with them, "just 12 miles", so off I went on my trusty (heavy) commuting bike, with all of them on their sleek racing bikes. I not only kept up with them, but I loved it. Said friends tempted me to join them in Tri-Anglia triathlon club, and I started going to swim training too. Since then I have done three sprint (400m pool swim, 20km bike, 3km run) triathlons and two Olympic distance ones (1500m open water swim, 40km, 10km), and I've completed the Norfolk 100 mile charity bike ride. Amusingly I even managed to win the ladies' category in one of the Olympic races (due to low entry numbers I have to say!). Well, it gets me out of the house...

Fact 2
I can drive a Chieftain tank. And assorted other military vehicles. I used to work weekends for some friends with an activity centre (as did a certain Alex), and ended up instructing customers in driving various pieces of kit. They all had their special attributes, but I think I liked the Chieftain the best. Fifty-six tons of very heavy metal, the best part of 700 horsepower, and a LOT of mud. (I'm not reinforcing my environmental credentials much, am I?) I did get a bit of a kick out of confounding some people's expectations, stepping forward from among the other (male) instructors to take the customers over for their tank drive (which was sometimes over a car). Tank grrrrrrl indeed.

Fact 3
I volunteer as crew on a traditional Norfolk Broads wherry. These are the traditional boats of the area, around a hundred years old, with very distinctive large single sail. Crewing involves raising and lowering the sail, raising and lowering the mast for passing under bridges, and quanting (like punting but on a much bigger scale!) when the wind is absent or against us, and of course there's swabbing the decks and making the tea too. Actually since last year I have been chairman of the Friends of Wherry Yacht Charter Trust, looking after three of the eight remaining examples of these beautiful boats. Two of them are sadly not in sailing order - one is being worked on, and the other is waiting patiently for her turn - but we will be out sailing with the beautiful Edwardian pleasure wherry Hathor again next summer. Please come and sail with us, or come and look on board when we are moored up. It's the best way to see the Broads. You can even get involved as a volunteer or member. Just contact me if you want to know more!

Fact 4
I'm a map geek. I love maps, especially Ordnance Survey ones. I can sit and read them for hours, and always have to buy one when we go anywhere new. As I also love taking photos, I was very happy when I learned about the Geograph project - a web-based community project to document the whole of the British Isles, by adding map references and descriptive information to the photos. I don't get time to contribute so much these days, but I still browse often, and have a stash of photos just waiting to be uploaded when I get a free (!) day. I do have over 2,000 already there!

Fact 5
I do like a civilised tipple - real ale is my thing. I'm a paid-up member of CAMRA, and no I don't have a beard. The range of different beers you can get now is amazing, but I have a soft spot for treacly winter ales, easy-drinking dark milds, and fragrant summer beers. Norfolk has lots of excellent breweries, and Mark and I had Tipple's Redhead and Lady Evelyn on offer at our wedding - after a suitably serious tasting session to make sure we'd made the right choice!

Fact 6
Ich lerne Deutsch. I am lucky enough to get "personal and professional development" opportunities at work, and they agreed to pay for me to learn German via an Adult Education course. So, every Wednesday lunchtime I cycle over to King Street in Norwich and join my classmates for two hours of cases, conjunctions and the all important Kaffeepause. I do have work links with Germany - next time I go over there, perhaps I'll get the native-language lowdown on their excellent recycling system :)

That was surprisingly difficult! I'm still quite new to this blogging lark and so I don't have lots of people to tag, but I will tag Waste Free Alex - if only because I know she will have a bloody brilliant photo to share with us :) Thanks for the tag Mrs A!

Monday, 1 December 2008

See what happens...

...when you don't plan ahead and end up doing chunks of your shopping in random bursts? Our bin weights is 1.2kg for the past two weeks. In mitigation I will say it contains a completely stripped chicken carcass, and we have not eaten out as much this fortnight as we have before! There are several meat trays in there, and a bit of ham that hid at the back of the fridge until it was unusable, plus other unrecyclable plastics from pasta, spinach, celery and other things it seems impossible to buy any other way.

Tonight I will knuckle down, make a list, check out the freezer, and see how well I can plan out the week. I have to try and convince Mark that he can shop at the market (all of 200m from his office)! I'll also use up some of the many bananas I brought home from the half marathon leftovers, and turn them into my new favourite banana cake recipe, so there'll be no need to buy cereal bars etc.

Wholesome Banana Chocolate Breakfast Bars
(from 101 Cookbooks via Chocolate and Zucchini)
  • 200 grams (2 cups) rolled oats or mixed rolled grains
  • 60 grams (2/3 cup) ground almonds, a.k.a. almond meal
  • 30 grams (1/3 cup) dried, unsweetened grated coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 120 grams (4 1/4 ounces) good-quality bittersweet chocolate
  • 4 very ripe, medium bananas, about 400 grams (14 ounces) when peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) whole almond butter (can substitute olive oil, or slightly warmed coconut oil)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and grease a 9" square tin (or equivalent) with vegetable oil.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the oats, ground almonds, coconut, and salt. Set aside. Chop the chocolate so the largest pieces are about the size of a chocolate chip. Set aside.

In another medium mixing bowl, combine the bananas, vanilla, and almond butter, and mash thoroughly using a potato masher. Add the oats mixture and mix well. Fold the chocolate in gently.

Pour into the prepared baking dish, level the surface, and slip into the oven. Bake for 25 minutes, until the top is set and golden-brown. Let cool completely before slicing into bars.

The recipe happens to be vegan, gluten-free, and no added sugar, but primarily the bars are just yummy! Oats, bananas, nuts, a little dark chocolate - all good stuff. A couple of notes on the ingredients: you can get almond butter in health/whole food shops if not in the supermarket. I haven't seen unsweetened shredded coconut (desiccated is too fine I think) so I substituted chopped pecans, but seeds would work well too. I guess you could put good old soaked fruit instead of chocolate.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The word is spreading!

This weekend's been a busy one - it was the City of Norwich half marathon today, and as I am a member of that club I've been helping out with the event, which I've done for the past few years. I don't get involved in the planning side, so it was a big and very nice surprise to arrive for set-up yesterday and see positive moves being made on the waste front!

Bear in mind that this is a big event. We had over 2,600 entries for the half marathon, benefitting the Big C cancer charity, and another 200 people running a 5km race for the East Anglian Children's Hospice, plus of course all their spectators. Among other things we have to provide them with water at several points around the course, and we give out goodie bags at the end. It's a big undertaking to try and make it waste free, but this year's positive steps include:
  • reusable cloth bags for the goodie bags, not plastic carriers as we have seen before
  • recycling bins around the place for plastic bottles (water is given in the goodie bag)
  • cardboard recycling bins for all the boxes (goodie bag food, t-shirts, the bags themselves, etc.)
  • leftover fruit (from goodie bags) donated to the local YMCA/YWCA
When you look at the event with a waste-aware eye, there are lots of things you notice. All the medals and t-shirts came in individual plastic bags; timing chips were held on to shoes with wire ties; the five water stations use thousands of plastic cups and 2L bottles. Putting up signs etc. uses several miles of cable ties, I'm sure! Then there are the caterer's stands selling coffee and hot dogs and so on, and refreshments for the army of 200 volunteers. But these are an expected part of big running events and the club's priority has to be to make the runners' experience as good and smooth as possible, and to appreciate its volunteers. I would like to think that we have seen the start of some real improvements, though, and the club deserves credit for making that start. We'll be looking for ways to improve too.

Some clubs are starting to make inroads on having environmentally-friendly events - Crystal Palace Triathlon this year aimed to be zero-carbon, for example - and there is a small but growing demand from competitors for their events to do better. I think this is a trend that will continue, and I will be interested to see how far it goes. Some people would be most upset to lose their finishers' medals and t-shirts!

Here are a few photos I took - sorry for the quality, they were on my phone.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Paying and throwing and wondering

There's an interesting post by Mrs Green over on My Zero Waste, about a radio programme discussing Pay As You Throw in response to a government pilot scheme. Quite a range of views were represented, but the thing that really stood out for me was the show's presenter saying from the start that this is a good idea. With all the moaning, knee-jerk, "stealth tax", "it's what I pay my council tax for" reactions that usually make their way into any debate on this subject, it's quite different to see the positive viewpoint put forward so clearly!

That said, I have a bit of an internal disagreement over how I feel about introducing PAYT. It would work if everyone actually cared and understood that we need to reduce waste. But not everyone understands or cares. Some just don't give two hoots, and some people seem to be actively against the idea that we should put less stuff in the bin (possibly an automatic reaction to what they see as nanny-state-ism). I am definitely worried that PAYT would lead to more flytipping problems and people's bins being "hijacked" by others with more waste. Education and awareness raising can go some way to help, and some councils are very successful at prosecuting flytippers, but I do feel there is a core of quite solid resistance that will be hard to overcome.

In any case, it looks like there is no interest in PAYT in Norfolk at the moment, according to this article in the local press. South Norfolk says "people don't want it", Broadland says it's "unpopular and costly" (and with their great food waste scheme their recycling rate already tops 50%), and Norwich says it's "just another tax", and it would be more interested if the scheme was based on rewards rather than penalties. No council wants to antagonise their residents, naturally. However the national survey quoted in the same article says that over 70% of people thought either carrot or stick would work - incentives would encourage them to recycle more, and penalties would make them "be more careful about creating waste". Over 50% of respondents thought that a link between amount of waste and amount paid would be fair.

I wonder if the councils have fallen victim to the phenomenon that often affects "what do you think?" consultations? If you get a bit of publicity about the prospect of PAYT (as we have had locally due to South Norfolk Council having microchipped bins, although the chips are no longer used), then people who feel really strongly will contact the council and complain. I doubt there is anyone who feels as strongly pro-PAYT as some people are anti it! However, when a national market research company (NOP) does a proper survey, approaching over 1,000 people and asking what they think, I think I'm more inclined to trust their results.

It has been acknowledged that the South Norfolk trial was not successful, for various reasons including the unreliability of equipment. But the fact remains that other countries do use PAYT. So the question is how? Can our apparently immovable national trait of being rubbish (ha ha) at governmental IT projects ever be overcome? We can talk about it until we are blue in the face (and believe me I think talking about this issue is a good thing), but unless implementing it is actually a practicality, should we redirect some of our effort to other solutions?

Last word on this comes from a letter in the Times. And it's a good point. In Waste Free Week I reduced the weight of my waste by 25% (that sounds quite pathetic now!) but the volume of waste was reduced by 70-75% as far as I can visually estimate. When you think in terms of bin lorry trips and landfill sites, it's clear that volume is more important. But as my estimate just here shows, it's easy to measure weight and harder to get a quantitative measure of volume for such a random and irregular thing as a bag of rubbish. There have been arguments over this in the past, suggesting that councils concentrate on collecting heavier recyclables like glass as they are better for meeting purely weight-based government targets. It's worth thinking about - how can we really measure the reduction we are looking for here?

Buying nothing - a traitorous deed?

Having previously ruminated on the way life as we know it seems to be tied to our willingness to buy shedloads of tat, I was interested to come across a couple of articles on the BBC news website; Should shopping be our patriotic duty? and The paradox of thrift.

There is an interesting mix of viewpoints in the first article, ranging from a Buy Nothing Day supporter who believes Now Is The Time to start trying to shed the rampant consumerism, to a "shopping guru" who says fun is an essential of life (yes, but is buying things all we can think of to do for fun?), and likens only buying essentials to being under a harsh dictatorial regime (maybe a tad extreme!). While I agree to some extent with the first chap, I think the most sensible approach comes from the retail writer who suggests that we take a moment to think before buying: does this purchase support or negate the type of change I want to see in the world? Surely the most fundamental question of ethical shopping.

The final short word in that article comes from an economist, who points out that whatever the benefits of shifting away from our shopping addiction, doing it overnight will cause as many problems as it solves, a theme taken up by the second article which tries to explain why such desperate measures are currently being put in place to try and get us to keep spending.

I think you probably need a degree in economics to fully understand it all, but I doubt for one minute that Buy Nothing Day will seriously destabilise the global economy. But it might make people think a bit.

(I won't be buying anything, but I will be out of reach of sales assistants and online shopping so maybe that's not much of an achievement!)

Monday, 17 November 2008

Update from the ISBO

Tesco have replied to my query:

Dear Katy,

I have contacted my Business Support Team who have looked into this further for me.

When they investigated they found that all of our sealed packs are laminates, this means that different kinds of materials are glued together. The only thing you can do is recycle in a special way for laminates or incinerate the packaging.

It is not a mono material so you can not put it in a bin of a determined plastic.

I hope this information helps.

Thank you for asking us about this.

Well. What can I say? If it is the case that "the only thing you can do is recycle in a special way for laminates or incinerate the packaging", it seems a bit disingenuous to say that the packaging "can be recycled where facilities exist". I know this is strictly true, but the likelihood of a customer having access to those facilities is effectively zero. The aggrieved consumer is presumably supposed to lobby their beleaguered local council for facilities to recycle special laminates!

Wouldn't it be great to see large and influential companies like Tesco taking the lead in making it easier for people to recycle more, and in particular taking responsibility for the packaging used on their own-branded items. I would like to see some sort of commitment to using packaging materials that are more commonly recyclable in domestic collections, and clearly labelling them to assist the consumer with recycling. After all, as they keep telling us, every little helps!

I've replied to Tesco with the above comments. I don't expect them to reply and say that thanks to my suggestion they have changed their packaging policy, but maybe if we all said a similar thing...

Backsliding a bit

Sad to say our good habits have undergone a little slippage in the past couple of weeks. We haven't undone all the good work, but it shows how good intentions can be overridden by life in general.

Last weekend I was away with friends, and the week's food shopping had to be fitted in at Tesco on Friday evening before I left, so there was a bit of a resurgence in plastic packaging in our bin. I brought home what recycling and leftovers I could from the weekend away, but we still had to leave about a quarter of a black bag in the landfill bin there. A lot of that was ash from the coal fire, for which we had no alternative disposal. And some of the leftovers also brought waste with them that ended up in my bin, e.g. cheese and houmous.

Over the past couple of weeks we have been doing some computer upgrading at home, and so there's been some more foam packaging and little plastic tie widgets, but lots of cardboard and poly bags have been recycled. Old computer parts will go on Freecycle if I can persuade Mark we don't need them "just in case".

This weekend just gone ended up being a bit of a mad rushing about time as we were organising a charity quiz night, and it made more sense to go to the supermarket on the way from another errand, especially as we ended up food shopping on Sunday when things shut at 4 or earlier. The worst offenders waste-wise are still meat and fish, although we tried to mitigate by buying things which will do for multiple meals, like a whole chicken. It was interesting to see minor differences at Sainsbury's, as our usual supermarket would be Tesco - they sell chopped tomatoes in Tetra cartons (not sure why; I feel a can is more immediately recyclable), and I can pick up a large pack of wholemeal pasta rather than several smalls. But really the two are much of a muchness.

I haven't weighed the bin yet, but will do when I get home, to get a 2-week total (it's the same bag). I think the volume may have gone up due to plastic, but the weekly weight will have gone down as we have refrained from eating duck lately :)

Update: 730g for 2 weeks, i.e. an average of 365g per week.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Buy less - buy nothing?

Following up on yesterday's post about the mountains of recyclables building up - I wonder whether there is another ideal opportunity here. For a long time, councils and national government have pushed the recycling idea hard, promoting it perhaps (in my opinion) beyond its third place in the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle hierarchy. Perhaps this is because the other two have less council involvement, and so they just have less to tell us about those options, but I still feel they are the poor relations sometimes. Of course, we do need to recycle things - but where are the strong messages on not throwing away so much into any kind of bin? On making things last, repairing them, and finding new uses for old stuff? Or (gasp) buying less stuff in the first place? There's the beginnings of a movement on reducing packaging, but the idea of just not purchasing so much doesn't really seem to be getting as much exposure. Yet, if we didn't purchase so much, we wouldn't have to deal with so much recycling.

As I wrote yesterday, the Bank of England had just cut the interest rate by a massive 1.5%, to try kick-start the economy and keep us all buying stuff, so that we can continue with "business as usual". How big a financial crisis does it take to make us realise this isn't a sustainable way to live? (Answers on a reused envelope please...)

Neatly wrapping up these rhetorical musings is a reminder about Buy Nothing Day, 29th November. The wrapping is even recycled as it was used a couple of days ago by Mrs A over on The Rubbish Diet :)

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Recycling - the clue's in the name

Recycling is a hot topic - there's no way we could even be thinking about "zero waste" without it. Yet how many people cheerfully fill up their blue bin, put it out every fortnight, and think no more about it? How many people are clamouring to be able to recycle plastics, Tetra packs, foil, batteries and all sorts of other things from the comfort of their own doorstep? After all there's nothing to lose - it all gets taken away and dealt with in a green way, and you don't have to worry about it.



The current global financial climate means that markets for recyclables (i.e. the contents of our recycling bins) are reducing or disappearing (as reported in this Times article today). Councils are having to store collected materials in the hope that prices will recover and they can sell them before long, but so much is being stored that a relaxation in storage regulations is being considered. The councils' whole recycling systems are built on the idea that someone, somewhere finds used newspapers/plastic bottles/steel cans a useful resource and is willing to pay for it. That income then helps pay for the recycling collections, centres, etc.

Now, that income is falling or disappearing. Less stuff is being manufactured, so less material is needed. As well as the question of where we can put all the stuff that is piling up, it seems that this could have implications for council coffers (some already under pressure following the Icelandic banking problems) if it continues, at least in terms of recycling services.

What sometimes seems a bit forgotten, and is not always emphasised enough in official recycling literature, is this. Recycling is called recycling because there is a cycle involved. Check out the logo! (One major exception was the series of TV ads remindng us that "the possibilities are endless" and that today's drinks can could be tomorrow's aeroplane... or drinks can. That campaign is now over.) But I think the constant (often negative) media focus on fortnightly collections and differing council policies detracts from that message, and makes it seem like recycling is "just about the bin".

For recycling to work, there has to be something completing the cycle, filling in the bit that goes from our recycling bin to the stuff we buy. How many people forget that bit when out shopping? Some things, like recycled kitchen roll, are pretty much mainstream, but other recycled things are still sold as "special", almost novelty items. Pens that tell you they are made from old drinks cups. Fleeces that are badged as being from plastic drinks bottles. Wouldn't it be great if these things were the norm, and you had to have stickers on things that were made from virgin materials instead? If everyday people, who didn't consider themselves "green", were supporting the market in recyclables without even knowing it? This already happens with some things, such as newspapers and food/drink can - is there any way the same can be done for other materials?

Our responsibility for an item doesn't end when we pop it in the blue bin. Without consumer demand for recycled items, that bottle or cardboard box you're about to put out could have nowhere to go. I'm not saying buy more - but collectively we could perhaps buy better?

Tuesday, 4 November 2008 moves to reduce packaging

I've just been forwarded this press release. Amazon are working with some major manufacturers to reduce packaging on some items in the USA, and the scheme will be rolled out internationally in 2009. Good to see such a big company making a start on this - clearly they carry clout with manufacturers, and perhaps they can inspire other retailers too.

Two posts in a day! It won't last ;)

Brought to you by the ISBO

This morning I finished off a packet of cranberries. I'm collecting plastic film for recycling with Polyprint, and I know they can take types 2 and 4, which Waste Online tells me is high- and low-density polyethylene, or HDPE and LDPE. But I'm still not sure whether that covers my cranberry bag - websites giving examples of types of plastic usually just describe HDPE as used in opaque milk bottles, and LDPE as carrier bags. So, I check the packet, and sure enough there is a "recycling information" panel. Woohoo!

It says: "Bag: plastic. Recyclable where facilities exist."

ISBO = Institute for the Statement of the Bleeding Obvious.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Waste free week summary

It was all going so well until I was derailed by that damn duck yesterday.

Our Waste Free Week total is.... (drumroll)...

Everything Else: 308g (plus one large and two small plastic cups, a plastic fork and some disposable chopsticks while out and about - so call it 350g?)

The Duck: 675g (tray, film, giblets bag, carcass, skin, and a yoghurt pot full of fat) - that's nearly twice as much as the whole rest of the week! The whole duck when bought was 1.9kg + packaging so that's 33% unavoidable waste.

Overall total 1.025kg, but in a much smaller bag (left) than last week's 1.4kg (right). I've filled in my record sheet - have you?

Reflecting on the week, then... going waste free really does come down to planning and thinking things through. You have to be on the ball and taking waste seriously all of the time. One dodgy decision can put paid to a lot of previous careful behaviour!

Of course, you can't change 100% in a week. It takes time to work through what's already in the cupboards and to change ingrained habits. But the good effects of this week's shopping will carry forward, as there are fewer waste-heavy items in the fridge and cupboard waiting to be used up.

I still have to get myself sorted to take advantage of a few more waste-free tricks (yogurt maker, more tupperwares to take to the butcher, maybe a bokashi bin). And I think there are some things that cause waste I'll just have to accept for the moment - for example, boxed pasta is much more expensive than the stuff in a bag, and it is hard to get wholewheat pasta in either boxes or in bulk, but it is a real staple food for us. But the week has definitely opened my eyes to exactly what I would have to change and do without to be truly waste free. That's a big step at the moment, and I am not sure we are ready to go that far, but if even everyone just did "the easy stuff" that we've tried, think of the difference it would make!

Well done and thanks to all the waste free bloggers who've been writing and commenting this week - I hope there might still be at least the occasional post from all of us as waste free week recedes into history? A slim bin is for life, not just for a week in late October ;)

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Day 7 - feeling deflated, and a dastardly duck

Oh dear - nobody wanted the balloons on Freecycle. One person asked for them, but when emailed back she never replied. They are looking rather sad now.

However, perhaps all is not lost. A bit of an experiment shows that I can actually untie the balloons so they can be reused (employing two dessert forks and some cooking oil - let your imaginations run wild...). There are also some more balloon reuse ideas on How Do I Recycle This? The ribbon can certainly be reused too.

The rest of the day has definitely not been up to the standard of the rest of the week. This is partly due to finishing off various food bits that have non-recyclable packaging: a ham packet and superfluous bag (see last Saturday), a cereal bar wrapper and two plastic bottle caps. Finally, I made some flapjacks for munching in the week, so there's a plastic butter wrapper too (I'll spare you the recipe this time!). Away from food-related waste, I might also have an inner tube to deal with, but hopefully the puncture I got this morning isn't catastrophic and can be fixed. If not, I will have lots of rubber bands :) I did find a use for knackered old toothbrushes and washing up sponges in cleaning my bike after the ride though.

Back to food waste now because this is the big let down: we had roast duck for dinner (not bought this week) - it had a plastic tray and wrap for packaging, not to mention that fact that there was a lot of unavoidable food waste in the form of bones, skin, and fat. Really, I could have thought that one through much better (d'oh), but I didn't twig until it was already defrosting and too late to put it back and keep quiet about it.

To be fair, it was already bought and we would have eaten it some time (otherwise there'd have been even more waste!) but it was a bit stupid of me to get it out during waste free week. So, I've done everything I can, stripped every ounce of leftover meat off the bones, even made stock, but now it's sat there in the bin resolutely pushing up my weekly total. Quacking hell! We'll measure the damage tomorrow.

A couple of notes: you can make stock but you still generally chuck away the same amount of bones and stuff afterwards; and poultry fat doesn't seem to solidify so you can't make fat/seed balls for the birds like you can with meat fat (and of course it should never go down the drain!). So I am wondering whether to go for a bokashi bin, but have just seen the price - £65 for 2 bins and 3 bags of bran (eek) - and wonder where I could fit it in my kitchen. Come on bokashi fans, convince me?

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Day 6 - shopping again

Not too much shopping this week, as with all last week's social activities we have enough meat and fish left in the freezer to see us through. So, it's veg, fruit, bread, and a few pantry items on the list.

This time we went to try another local shop, the Green Grocers. It actually covers three shop units in a local shopping parade, and sells everything from fruit and veg to cleaning products and pet food, all as green as possible, as well as having a cafe. In practice, this means that most things are organic, which is great to see but perhaps a bit of a shock to the wallet if you suddenly do your whole shop there and haven't been used to buying organic. We were a bit selective and went for the veg we usually eat raw (carrots, celery, cucumber) plus one or two other bits including some brazil nuts (plastic bag) as I had rather missed nuts on my porridge this week.

After that it was back to last week's grocers where we picked up the rest of our fruit and veg, some bread (in no wrapper at all this week :), and dried fruit weighed out of bulk containers, which I requested in paper bags. At this point I notice they also do brazil nuts by weight too. Darn. Round the corner to the Co-op for tinned stuff, cheese, and butter for baking. Even butter wrappers have gone from foil/paper to plastic - unless I can find full cream milk in a glass bottle, and two hours to churn it, I guess I am stuck with that ;) The cheese is similarly devoid of alternatives, but we did buy a large pack so we can freeze some. Compared to last week's ham, the waste generated for a week's sandwiches using cheese is defnitely lower.

In the evening it was off to a party for some friends (I spent the afternoon regressing to 8 years old to make a card (left) out of a shoe box - all to avoid another plastic greetings card wrapper!), and who else should be there but fellow waste blogger Alex? She put me to shame a bit with her sheer commitment to waste free - the sense of relief was quite clear when someone came up with a china alternative to the paper plates on offer, and saved her from hovering by the buffet all night eating finger food one bit at a time :)

So to be fair, we have to add a couple of plastic cups and a fork to our week's waste - but in mitigation, to help out our friends we brought home some cardboard and paper (including food packaging) for recycling, and pumpkin lanterns to go into the compost bin. I even grabbed some helium balloons that were going spare, in the vain hope I can find a new home via Freecycle before they go droopy! If not, I'm in trouble...

Friday, 31 October 2008

Day 5 - halloween goodies

What I neglected to add yesterday was the day's waste total: one of those annoying plastic seal thingies from a new jar of honey, one plastic bottle top, and two crisp packets and two small chocolate wrappers which were on the snacks we were given while helping out at the running club, stuffing 3,000 race packs for the upcoming half marathon. Also the wrapper from a greetings card as it was Mark's birthday - and he got given a box of chocs by his workmates, but that's not empty yet :)

On to today - it's Halloween of course. We don't usually get trick or treaters, but I knew some neighbours' kids would be dropping by. Not wanting to buy packaging-heavy sweeties, I decided to get baking again (any excuse!), and quickly put together some banana cupcakes. It's another favourite recipe of mine, and a great way of using up very ripe bananas (that you might not want to eat on their own) as all the other ingredients are store cupboard staples.

Banana cake/cupcakes
50g margarine or butter
75g light muscovado sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 ripe bananas, mashed well - riper = more banana-y
few drops vanilla extract
175g self raising flour (or plain flour + 3tsp baking powder)
pinch of salt

Grease a 1lb loaf tin, 9" round or square tin, or 12-muffin pan. Preheat oven to 180C.

Beat the butter/marg and sugar together until light and fluffy (this is the key to light cake!). Add in the eggs a bit at a time. Mix in the mashed banana and vanilla. Sift in the flour and salt, and combine well. Pour into tin and bake for around 25 mins for cupcakes, or 45 mins for large cakes. Check with a skewer to see when it's done (see Delia if unsure).

Optional additions: dates, nuts, Werther's chewy toffees (packaging red alert though - they're all individually wrapped in two layers). For Halloween, add a liberal blob of orange icing (icing sugar, water, red and yellow food colouring).

Hey presto - happy trick or treaters, and no immediate waste. I just hope my two takeaway containers come back when they are empty :) Sorry there are no photos this time, but I had to leap into action to ice the cakes while still warm when some witches and skeletons turned up on the doorstep!

Today's waste: the plastic lid from the apple juice bottle I opened on Monday, and the bottle cap from a bottle of beer. Er, and we also received our new laptop. However, the packaging is not actually too bad - one soft plastic/foam bag, two expanded foam inserts, two cardboard boxes, and four poly bags holding discs, cables etc. We are going to hang on to it all for now in case anything has to go back (!) but eventually it will all be reused or recycled. The "problem" items are the foamy bits, but they can be used for padding, packing, insulation, plant pot drainage, etc. I think we might have just about got away with that one ;)

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Day 4 - precycling, planning and treats

My other blog posts have been a bit epic, so I think I shall keep this one short. I am also upset that I failed in my quest for completely alliterative titles ;)

As I was reading the paper in the staff coffee bar (one paper, many readers, less recycling to do :), an article caught my eye. It gave a name to what lots of us waste-free bloggers have been doing this week: Precycling, i.e. selecting what we buy so as to reduce the amount of waste and recycling generated. In the Guardian article, Tanis Taylor discusses trying to cut down on food packaging, and in particular muses on the need to plan ahead and be organised, and stick to that plan. She also tells us about some examples of shops who positively encourage people to bring their own packaging - more, please!

Planning ahead is something I have struggled with occasionally this week as I am very much an impulse buyer, especially around the bargain shelf. Before, I would not have thought that much about picking up reduced items packed in plastic, even though they were "treat" items that I could have done without (small sweet peppers, prepared tapas-type dishes). Somehow the "bargain" aspect seems to click in and override the more rational part of my brain dealing with waste (and calories, for that matter!). But to be honest I haven't really missed them this week - although I did confess to getting caught out by the bargainous chocolate on Tuesday.

This is odd, as in lots of other ways I am pretty organised and I generally love planning things. I do usually think in terms of whole meals when I shop, for example. But I am a sucker for extras, "treating myself" to something, especially in that afternoon slump. It couldn't hurt to find a few more non-edible treats I can still enjoy easily (like going for 5 minutes' walk in the fresh air!).

So, fellow bloggers: what's your waste-free treat?

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Day 3 - waste at work

One thing I didn't count up last week was what went in my bin at work, but this week I will take it all home in my (accumulating) lunchboxes to add to the total. However we are actually reasonably lucky with recycling in the office, and so there is not much waste.

Our desk bins are recycling bins, taking paper/card, and clean plastic bottles and tins. Battery collection has also just started in a small way. Elsewhere in the office are larger (communal) wheelie bins which take the non-recyclables. (This is actually a bit of a pain as things like tissues and chewing gum I just want to get rid of immediately rather than traipsing through the office! But it does make you think about your waste.) We can take glass to bottle banks near the shops, but there is no food waste collection in offices, communal areas or food outlets.

Being in Environmental Sciences, there are some green-minded people about who come up with their own solutions in the office. For example, sometimes people will put small compostables bins in one or another of the kitchens, and take them to their home or allotment, but the problem is there is always more waste than space! As I bring a lunch box every day, I can take my fruit debris and teabags home that way, and this week I am making a real point of doing so. But I noticed when attending a workshop at Leeds University last month that they have various recycling bins in communal areas, including ones for compostable waste. I was only in one area of one department, but I saw at least two - I think that's excellent and I will try and chase up why we don't do that.

I also said I would investigate the waste-free lunch possibilities. My quick and unscientific survey was not encouraging, unfortunately. However, we have a few more options than your usual canteen as there is a small supermarket on campus. The packaging waste potential is there, as you would expect:
  • poly wrap and paper/cellophane bags (sandwiches, cakes)
  • waxed paper sheets, trays and cups (paninis, potato wedges, veggie meals, soup, hot and cold drinks)
  • condiment sachets
  • plastic cups for water and smoothies
  • all the usual hot drink detritus: cups, lids, wooden stirrers, sugar sachets (but milk in a jug), individually plastic and cardboard wrapped tea bags (!) in some outlets
  • rigid plastic pots (salads - all with spork!, chunky fruit/veg pots)
  • the usual crisps, sausage rolls, flapjacks, confectionery, bottled and carton drinks
  • lots of shop options e.g. Asian pot noodley things (polystyrene cup, shrink wrap, flavour sachets)
  • I think the "winner" is sushi from the shop: 2-part plastic tray, plastic/wood extendable chopsticks, plastic "fish" bottle of soy sauce, plastic packets of ginger and wasabi.
The best food options seem to be:
  • eat-in meals (but more expensive)
  • pizza slices, samosas and other snacks on unwrapped cardboard trays
  • fruit - unwrapped everywhere except for some bulk items in the shop
  • loose veg in the shop - e.g. peppers and carrots (if you can prepare them)
  • individual bread rolls, cookies and doughnuts from the shop, which can go in paper bags
  • sandwich fillings from the shop could include tinned tuna, peanut butter in a jar, er... Jam? Nutella? Spam? It's a bit limited after that.
Whenever I can't make myself lunch, the aspect I usually worry about is getting a healthy meal, but if I was going for zero waste as well, the choices would be even smaller! Long live the lunchbox is all I can say. I will stick to my salads, fruit and cakey things. I also usually have a packet of almonds on the go in my desk drawer, but have given those up this week (which may be why I snacked on chocolate yesterday, thus negating any saving!)

I went to a gig tonight (this is an unusually social week for me, honest) and ate my dinner in the campus canteen beforehand, so no direct waste there. All I have managed to generate today is a very small tangle of sellotape, some tissues, one piece of chewing gum, and the disposable earplugs (with little plastic bag) I had to ask for at the gig because I seem to have turned into an old fogey. I didn't bring it home but I hereby admit to one plastic beer cup too (if I drank rubbish like Smirnoff Ice I could have had it in the bottle, but not St Peter's Organic Ale!). Mark contented himself with a tin of soup for tea and a quiet night in (bless).

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Day 2 - sneaky snacks

I managed really well until I went to the post office/shop in my morning break. Now the students are back at the university there are lots of special offers (nobody cares about those of us who work there when there are no students... sniff) and today it was a newspaper and a 100g bar of chocolate (plastic wrapper) for 30p. I was hungry and I caved in. Somehow I can't resist a "bargain". I think I told myself that buying in bulk saves waste long term ;) but afterwards I was a bit disappointed with myself!

Moral: don't shop when hungry.

I also bought some cottage cheese, to make a good afternoon snack (which I need before an evening run) with a crispbread left over from last week. The tub will become my loose change pot and help me tidy my desk drawer! But the crispbread wrapper can't be recycled, and I am not sure about the foil lid sealing the cottage cheese tub. Anyone?

Dinner generated:
  • one small plastic bag (from our two pork steaks from the butcher)
  • a small amount of fat trimmed from the pork
  • a yoghurt pot and plastic lid (last week's purchase, going out of date)
  • a cereal bar wrapper (oops)
With the pork we had onions and peppers (no packaging) and rice (bag not finished), plus spices from the store cupboard.

Dilemma tomorrow as I have run out of lunch boxes! For boring reasons relating to not cycling home today or yesterday, both mine are still at work. But I am sure I can dig a bag or box out of the cupboard tomorrow morning, otherwise it would have to be a purchased lunch :( The random things which can affect your waste-free efforts are truly mind boggling.

Actually, I may investigate the waste-free lunch options on campus anyway, in a purely theoretical way. Enquiring minds need to know. Then there is the whole issue of rubbish at work...

Waste for today:

Day 1 - baking and beer

Okay, Waste Free Week here we come!

It dawned on me as I got breakfast that I had already fallen behind my plans - I had meant to bake some cake bars on Sunday for packed lunches in the week, but I was catching up on Freecycle moderating and forgot (a moderator's work is never done ;). But, to prove that you CAN fit this sort of thing in with "normal life", I made them in the morning, before I went to work. Eat your heart out Nigella. So today you lovely readers get a waste blog and a recipe!

Here are my ingredients, measured out while my porridge was microwaving:

180g oats
180g Grape Nuts

60g light brown sugar

60g butter or margarine, room temperature

240g dried fruit/nuts (this time - apricots, dates, sultanas, stem ginger in syrup, lemon zest)
2 medium eggs
220ml fruit juice (local pressed apple) or cold tea
spices to taste (1tsp ground ginger)

The only thing I used up was the Grape Nuts; everything else went back in the cupboard. The Grape Nuts inner bag was my First Bit Of Waste, quickly joined by the plastic seal from the glass juice bottle, but the other "waste" was recyclable or compostable. I know the store cupboard's plastic packets (sugar, sultanas, margarine) will have to go in the bin in the end, but there are good things too like jumbo oats (local mill via farm shop) in a paper sack. We also buy large amounts of things like oats and sultanas where practical, to get more stuff for less packaging.

The recipe method is very quick and easy, and I was just about able to mix it and get it in the oven just about by the time my porridge was done (3 minutes) and cool enough to eat! Basically:

Mix all the dry stuff together (chopping any large fruit like dates and apricots), then whisk the eggs up with the juice and stir that into the dry ingredients. Stir in the butter (chop it into little bits if it helps). Quickly grease a 9" square cake tin (or similar) and press the mixture down into it. Baking time is about 25 mins at 180C in my fan oven. Allow to cool, and cut (9" pan nicely makes 4x4 squares).

While it was cooking I ate breakfast and had a shower; the cake needs to cool but by the time I had made my lunch and got my stuff together for work, it was just about ready to cut.

So this is the waste I generated in the process: one plastic inner bag and one bottle seal. Next to it is the sort of thing I would usually buy. However, it's not a fair comparison. The boxed cereal bars last me a week, but the recipe above makes 16 individual bars/squares, so you have to think of 3 boxes and 15 wrappers as a comparison. I think even if you count the bars as responsible for the eventual binning of part of a sugar bag and a margarine tub etc., it's reasonable. And I like to think they are tastier and healthier too! Ta-daaa:

So, breakfast done, lunch and cake done, what about dinner? A group of us went out to the Norwich Beer Festival, stopping off at Wagamama on the way. Is eating out cheating? Hmm. Only as I write this do I realise that I could (should?) have kept the disposable chopsticks to reuse as plant supports or something! However, the beer festival itself has to be one of the lowest-waste nights out you can have - one glass, re-used all night, and most of the beer out of barrels (only exotic imports come in bottles). I will try and ask if they recycle the paper tokens (used to avoid cash at the bars) but I suspect the organisers may be busy this week!

So, can it really be true? One poly bag and a bottle seal for the day? Okay, I admit to a few tissues and two bits of chewing gum at work. And I haven't fully interrogated Mark as to his day either. But that's it! Tomorrow may be a truer test as we'll be eating at home...

Monday, 27 October 2008


It's sort of a benchmark, anyway. The bin bag that went out this morning (before any more waste was generated!) contained 1.4kg of waste. I think it might stretch back beyond last Sunday (as I wasn't organised for WFW then!), but let's call it a week's worth. That's for a household of 2 adults. It's quite a big bag as it is mostly unsquashed plastic with some non-compostable food waste (fish skin and chicken bones).

Photo to follow. Can you contain your excitement?


Saturday, 25 October 2008


Today we went food shopping for next week, at the local independent shops.

We did reasonably well, but have already knowingly bought some things which have non-recyclable packaging! Oh dear. Here's our haul:

I should say that this is not everything we will eat over the week :) Plans for next week also include a couple of nights out (Norwich Beer Festival, hurrah) and a party with friends, so less cooking than usual. I hope that isn't seen as cheating! ;)

To report on the shopping...

Fresh fruit and veg all went into paper bags, or straight into our fabric shopping bags. Big tick. We also got some tinned tomatoes and beans etc., and some local apple juice that came in a glass bottle instead of a tetra. I should plug the shop - Ford & Yarham on Gloucester Street in Norwich - as they are friendly and have a fabulous range of things including very local produce when available. Most things are unpackaged, but two of our staples, cucumber and celery, come only in plastic so we gave them up this week. (Later on I found unwrapped cucumbers at the Co-op, and let out an "Aha!" that made me look like some weird cucumber freak.)

In the bakery (Breadwinner), our Belgian buns went into a paper bag, but the bread we were expecting to get in paper was bagged in plastic after we said "yes" to getting it sliced. Turns out that as the loaf would have poked out of the top of a paper bag when whole, it would have been very messy when sliced! We'll know next time - and we'll re-use the plastic bag! Ironically we only bought bread on Mark's suggestion that he takes his lunch to work next week instead of buying a sandwich from Tesco.

The meat (Banham's butchers) and fish we bought came in those thin white plastic bags that get sealed with tape. We won't be able to re-use these, but at least they are small and use far less resources than the supermarkets' typical combination of tray, wrap, and juice-absorbing-pad-thing. Annoyingly, though, while I was pondering over next Sunday's roast dinner, the butcher bagged up the ham I'd just asked for - even though it already came in vacuum packs. And I had to buy two as he had nothing except packs of 3 slices. So that wasn't exactly a packaging victory! Next time we'll see if the other butcher nearby (Spurgeon's) slices cooked meat on demand. I have seen other people comment about taking their own containers to get meat etc. put into, so maybe that is also worth a try (we don't have many containers though, so if it works it's perhaps a good excuse to get a Chinese takeaway? ;)

Dried fruit, bought by weight from larger containers, also went into thin poly bags, but they will be re-used to carry the cake bars I'm going to make with the fruit (as a replacement for bought cereal bars). At least the shop knotted those bags instead of taping them! From the same shop, our eggs came in a re-used box with the farm's own label over the top of the original logo. Eggscellent! (Sorry...)

Finally we had to get new toothbrushes, which of course came in blister packs. I remember that the Natural Collection catalogue had toothbrushes with replaceable heads, so that's on the list to try.

Things we avoided compared to our usual weekly shop are:
  • celery
  • yogurts
  • biscuits/cakes/cereal bars
  • crisps
  • prepared stir-fry vegetables and sauce
  • fresh herbs
Things we didn't need this week but that would have given us problems:
  • breakfast cereal
  • pasta/rice
  • flour/sugar and other baking ingredients
  • toilet rolls/kitchen roll
  • margarine
  • cheese
We also forgot to get any milk!

To smugly polish our slightly green and very small halo, for the first time we cycled to the local shops and set not a foot inside a big supermarket (just a small Co-op). It is slightly embarrassing to admit it's the first time we have ever done it, but better late than never! We spent less than we would have in the supermarket, supported local businesses, were home quicker, and got a bit of exercise too. We easily fitted our stuff into four panniers, and nothing was damaged when we got home. It helped that the sun was shining though!

So, we've made an early and not exactly perfect start on Waste Free Week. The real challenge begins on Monday though - that's when we start keeping count!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Pre-challenge report

It would be a bit tedious to list everything we have chucked away this week - I'm not that much of a bin geek (yet). But the general pattern is much the same every week, since hubby Mark and I are creatures of habit. And if I am going to blog this usefully, it's worth setting out a bit of context.

As we live in Norwich we can recycle paper/card, glass, plastic bottles (but no other plastic, and no lids), and cans in the blue wheelie bin. We have a compost bin and a caddy, where I chuck fruit and veg waste, teabags, eggshells, eggboxes and brown paper bags - even hair from my brush and when I cut Mark's hair. Some garden waste goes in there occasionally but big branches and weeds get saved up for the household waste site. Our local supermarket has a Tetra Pak bank. And... everything else goes in the bin.

So the "other" waste bin gets mainly plastic, as you can imagine. Off the top of my head, packaging for: pasta, rice, biscuits, crisps, dried fruit and nuts, meat, fish, cheese, inner bags from cereals, some vegetables (where we had no choice), yogurt pots and lids, margarine, magazines, toothpaste, medicine blister packs. Freezer bags where I have bought in bulk and bagged up things in portions. Small amounts of cooked food (bones, fish skin, trimmed fat), but I think we must be quite greedy as there are hardly ever edible food leftovers in our house! Plastic bottle tops and metal jar lids, and some tissues and kitchen roll as I don't like to put too much of them in the compost or down the loo. This week I was annoyed to accidentally break a bottle - the broken glass had to go in the landfill bin, wrapped in newspaper, so the recycling took a double hit! (Hm - could I have emptied the broken glass into a bottle bank and then recycled the newspaper? Surely bottle banks contain broken glass?)

We have alternate weekly collections, and with just two of us we probably put each bin out at most once a month, if not every 6 weeks. We never have problems with pests or smells, though. We often forget to put out the green box (glass) too, and so to the neighbours it looks like we have a crazy beer and peanut butter binge every 2-3 months (oops, the secret is out). Amusingly it took me over a year to work out that it would make more sense to have the more heavily used recycling bin by the front door, and the poor neglected waste bin tucked away by the garage. Duh!

It actually looks like most of our zero-wasting is going to be done not at home but at the shops - packaging is the key, given our lack of plastics recycling. This is going to be quite a challenge - can we live without yogurt and crisps? (Oh the unbearable tension...) Tune in next week to find out!

Setting my sights... low

Hello! So you've come to read about the contents of my bin? Welcome!

Yes, it's yet another zero waste type blog... well, I am not aiming to compete with the brilliant likes of The Rubbish Diet or My Zero Waste, but this blog will at least cover my participation in Norfolk's Waste Free Week 2008. I'm intrigued to see how little waste I can generate, and how I could take that amount even lower.

Like most people, if asked how much waste I produce, I would say not very much. I think of myself as quite waste-aware, being a moderator on Norwich Freecycle, but now I have been challenged by my friend and fellow newbie waste-blogger Alex to see how good I really am! I sense a bit of healthy competition coming up.

I am feeling all fired up having just attended the Norfolk Waste Partnership annual conference today, which included an inspirational talk from Karen of Rubbish Diet fame! So, it's time to compile my rubbish history for this week, ready to compare with the challenge week starting on Monday. Thrilling times ahead...