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...