Friday, 14 August 2009

The dreaded lurgi

No, I'm not ill - but there's something wrong.

I still carry on my Zero Waste Week habit of baking some sort of tray bake for the week, rather than buy packaged cereal bars etc, but the past two weeks have ended in disaster. Green, furry disaster. Despite being stored in airtight containers, my cakes (banana last week, date and walnut this week) have been showing mould after just 4 days. And I don't mean a mouldy corner that you can cut off before eating the rest of the cake (I'm not squeamish!) - I mean a fine fuzz of filaments across the cake.

At least the birds have had quite a feast!

Both cakes came out quite moist, so I wonder if that is it - in this humid weather I guess any mould spores in the air will just go crazy given some yummy sticky sweet bits to feast on.

I think I will have to bake something I can freeze this weekend - if I take a piece out in the morning it will be defrosted by lunch time. I'm just very annoyed at the waste :(

Monday, 3 August 2009

Laugh, cry, your choice

As householders we can do our bit to cut down out own waste, and we can try and buy items that are intelligently packaged. However, sometimes you have to order things online or otherwise remotely, and not only do you not have a choice about the item's packaging, you also don't get much say in how it's sent to you. There's usually cardboard, polythene, polystyrene, and possibly lots of plastic clippy things or twist ties.

Sometimes you can sort of see the need. No-one wants a broken laptop delivered to them. Recently we needed a printer, and bought a Canon one which was very efficiently packaged with lots of cardboard (less polystyrene) and lots of ingenious tucking of wires and manuals and things into gaps.

But think for a moment. Even if you don't buy very much stuff at all, even if you are determined to exist without unnecessary gadgetry, and get things from Freecycle when you do need them, the fact remains that you still deal with lots of organisations, from banks to shops to online providers like Google. And they all have IT infrastructure, and are presumably almost constantly upgrading and repairing and keeping things going, ordering kit as they need it.

And it looks like the companies that supply these organisations (big names, like HP and Dell), are creating more than enough idiotic and unnecessary packaging waste for the rest of us!

Who makes these decisions? Who looks at 2 A4 sheets of paper, puts them in a foam-lined cardboard box, and then puts that in with 15 other boxes (same contents) into another, bigger box to send to the customer, and thinks it's a good idea? Have these people not heard of envelopes?

And is anyone receiving this idiocy going to say anything to the supplier? I'd like to be proved wrong, but I say probably not. How on earth can we combat this sort of thing?

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Oh dear

What a shame. This chap didn't do very well in the election. Now he should have time to find a new use for every damn one of those DVDs.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Keeping tags on rubbish

Thousands of pieces of household rubbish are to be tracked using sophisticated mobile tags (BBC News and MIT press release)

Three thousand smart tags are going to be attached to things being thrown away. OK, so the researchers say that the resource use and manufacturing of the tags is justified by the information that will be gathered, but how does adding a tag this size (we're not taking a James Bond micro-gadget here) not contaminate the recycling stream of whatever it's attached to? One of the items mentioned is garden waste - I don't think they will compost, somehow. And the tag is made of electronic components, which are hard enough to reprocess thanks to all the toxic metals and so on.
"We hope that Trash Track will also point the way to a possible urban future: that of a system where, thanks to the pervasive usage of smart tags, 100 percent recycling could become a reality," says research assistant, Musstanser Tinauli.
Hang on - I can accept that for one research project it could be a good idea to track a load of rubbish. Pervasive (i.e. much wider) use of smart tags does not, to me, seem to be the way to go. Tags tell you where your stuff has been (if you care) when it is/after it has been there. What needs to happen is that the information from the research project needs to be used to identify where the biggest improvements to recycling flows can be made, so that consumers who do throw things away don't have to worry about it - as long as they put them in the appropriate bin, they are dealt with properly. There's no need to tag everything!

(Of course this research should also just be a part of the bigger picture, where efforts are also put into reduction and re-use so that there is less to recycle anyway, rather than reinforcing the idea of "I recycled it, so that's OK" regardless of whether or not the item was actually necessary in the first place, or still had useful life left in it.)

Concerns aside, I'll be interested to see where the tags end up, at what point they get removed (will they be crushed and melted down if attached to a glass bottle? Will they get recycled themselves if they are on other electronic equipment? What happens when an item is split up, e.g. mobile phone into plastic casing, screen and circuitry?), and whether the information gathered matches up with what we think we know from the conventional records of where particular waste streams go. It could shed some light on the old "recycling collected by X council actually goes to landfill" stories we see in the media from time to time. But as ever, the important thing is then what's actually DONE with the information...

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

A long-lost meme

I don't seem to get notifed when I have a comment, so this meme tag from (*cough*) some time ago got lost! Sorry :(

1.What are your current obsessions?
Raising money to keep three Norfolk wherries going. Browsing charity shop bookshelves, and planning travels!

2. Which item from your wardrobe do you wear most often?
My "infinityMPG" t-shirt from Threadless.

3. What’s for dinner?
We're clearing out the freezer for a de-frost, so it's pork mince with rice, veggies (onions, broccoli, peas) and miscellaneous spices, followed by vanilla ice cream.

4. Last thing you bought?
Six books and a lovely skirt from the Cancer Research shop.

5. What are you listening to?
In The Music, from the Trash Can Sinatras.

6. Do you have a pet and if not, why not?
No. I'm just not a pet person.

7. Favourite holiday spots?
North Norfolk coast, and Canada. I love love love Byford's in Holt. But really I love getting away anywhere in the countryside.

8. Reading right now?
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies. See #4 :) Only just started it but it seems very interesting so far. Also just finished Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, from the same batch, which was one of the best books I have read in a long time. Great story, nothing too clever but brilliantly written. And it was 75p!

9. 4 words to describe yourself.
Independent, loyal, untidy, procrastinator

10. Guilty pleasure?
Anything from Hotel Chocolat...

11. Who or what makes you laugh until you’re weak?
Bill Bailey. We bought the CD of his Tinselworm show when we saw him in Nottingham a couple of years back and it stayed in the car for months - we never got bored, and it's still funny. "The home base of Al-Quaeda? That's how we'll get them - find out where they're buying their patio furniture." Part Troll is even better. And this is the pinnacle.

12. First spring thing?
Oh dear, I think this shows how long I left it - I will change it to summer and say local strawberries, the best smell around!

13. Planning to travel to next?
Canada - Vancouver, across the Rockies to Calgary, and home.

14. Best thing you ate or drank lately?
Home-brewed beer from someone in my German class - wunderbar!

15. When did you last get tipsy?
In Bristol, visiting friends after completing a huge triathlon.

16. Favourite ever film?
It's a cliche, but the Shawshank Redemption is top stuff.

17. Care to share some wisdom?
Gut instinct is right more often than you might think.

18. Favourite song?
I go through phases of putting things on repeat. The last thing like that was Emmy The Great. My pre-race psych-up song is Don't Stop Me Now by Queen, and comedy wise Rob Brydon on ISIHAC is classic (see my other blog)

19. What's your favourite meal you make without sticking to a recipe?
I make many things without a recipe! Probably sausage casserole (proper local bangers only).

20. What was the last thing that made you say "that's so STUPID!"?
That, in my job, if you get promoted you have to do the same work but in less time, because you get paid the same amount overall but at a faster rate.

21. Facebook or Twitter? Other or Neither?
Facebook. A bit. Mainly for Wordscraper (like Scrabble).

22. Name one thing you do now that you would never have imagined 10 years ago.
More or less any form of exercise but especally triathlon!

I still don't have many blog friends but I will tag Alex and Just Gai, in the hope it might wake them up and bring them back out to play.

Rules: Answer questions on your own blog. Replace one question. Add one question. Then tag people.

What a waste

There is a by-election coming up in Norwich following the de-selection of Ian Gibson. I am not in that constituency, so have been spared the doorstepping and reams of leaflets that are no doubt clogging the recycling bins of Norwich North as I type, but I still see things in the local media.

Like this:
With piles of election leaflets landing on the doormats of families in Norwich North, one candidate has hit on a way to stand out from the rest - he has posted a DVD of his election address to just under 80,000 voters.

(Update: I had a link to the Evening News story, but it's now gone.)

Good grief. How many of those will even get watched? Even if they do I doubt they will be kept as a cherished souvenir. But can they be easily recycled? No. So all eighty thousand of them will end up in landfill. Wonderful.

Are you ready, fact fans?

A stack of 25 DVDs on my desk is 12cm in diameter and 4cm high, so has a volume of about 450 cm3. 80,000 will have a volume of 1,440,000 cm3 or 144 m3. That's just under an quarter of the volume of the shallow pool at the Sportspark (1.2m x 25m x 8 2.5m lanes). Or, since a quick Google (I have no scales!) informs me that 50 DVDs weigh about 900g, that means 80,000 of them have a total weight of 1440kg, i.e. 1.4 tonnes.

What a colossal waste of resources. Grr.

*Yaaaawn* .... *stretch*

Coming out of sleep mode to comment on a few things :)

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Hubble, bubble, soil and trouble

Ah, spring. Flowers are blooming, leaves are unfurling, and bank holidays are in the air. And what do we do on fine, sunny bank holidays in spring? Sensible people go to the beach or for a lovely country walk. I quite often manage to fit in a bike ride, which usually involves tea and cake. But this time the garden called.

If you are imagining me wafting around the garden with a trug and a big floppy hat, doing a little light pruning, then stop. Our garden is not big enough to waft around, for a start, and far from in need of light pruning. Industrial lopping, maybe. But what was calling me was the conglomeration of pots and planters from previous years, now mostly sporting weeds and moss. They looked a mess, and were depressing me every time I looked out of the kitchen window. Time for a spring clean!

We grabbed some rubble sacks from the garage, and set to emptying the pots. I didn't want to reuse the soil, for various reasons. It's full of weeds, not to mention stones and crocks used for drainage, and we have nowhere to put it except the veg patch (which is not in need of more stones or weeds!). As we stopped for lunch, I quickly checked the excellent online recycling centre info and found that soil is not permitted with garden waste - it counts as DIY waste and is limited to one 80 litre sack per week unless you pay.


I didn't really want my soil going to landfill anyway - I just wanted it out of the pots. It could be reused but I think it needs revitalising first, e.g. mixing with some of the compost from my bin, not to mention sieving to get rid of the stones. Where to put it in the meantime? Well, we have had a couple of pallets lurking in the garage for a while, with the idea we could make a compost heap enclosure when we fond another couple. You know what? No time like the present!

By 3pm we had decided to go ahead and make an enclosure. By 3:05 I had found some instructions online and by 3:15 we had dug out the pallets and a leftover chunk of kitchen worktop about the same size. By 4:20pm we had fenced off an area for our heap :)

Two pallets make the sides, and the worktop supports at the back. Old canes keep some cardboard pressed up against the pallets to keep things inside. We had to cut one of the pallets down, and the extra struts form a mini fence at the front. Garden wire helps keep things together.

It's not really a fully-functioning compost heap - the green bin will continue to take a mix of kitchen waste and paper/cardboard, plus some of the less-woody garden trimmings, and produce lovely compost. The enclosure is more for the tougher, woodier garden waste, and the soil from the pots. We also put in some bags of garden waste from a while back that didn't fit in the green bin but which we hadn't managed to take to the waste centre yet.

After all this we still took a tip to the recycling centre. In clearing for the enclosure we grubbed up a lot of ivy that had crept in, and knew that if we put that in either bin it would just grow and grow. So we took that, and also grabbed up any tetra packs, metal, foil and other things that don't get collected. Previously we have always gone to the waste centre in the city (Mile Cross), but this time we took a short journey south to Ketteringham. What a revelation. There was no queue of cars, and the skips were out in the open air, nothing was overfull, and there was no hint of that lovely "dump smell". The two workers there were very friendly and even the welcome/info signs were brightened up with flowers. It was 5:15pm on Good Friday and they were open for another 45 minutes. Overall we were in and out in a flash and everything was super-easy and very impressive.

The only thing that made me sad was a cooker fly-tipped at the entrance... *sigh*

So, our garden is now a bit tidier, and I think something like about 50kg of soil and stones have been kept out of landfill. Not bad for a day's work - just about worth missing a bike ride for :)

Note - the wooden box with the rope handle is a repurposed ammunition box now growing herbs :)

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

New shopping opportunities...

It's been a busy couple of weeks... not much to report on the waste front but I have taken advantage of a couple of new (to me) shopping opportunities that score well on various green credentials including waste.

First up it's the HFG Farm Shop at the local garden centre. Their boast is that for most produce they can measure "farm yards" rather than "food miles" - everything is labelled with its origin and indeed there is lots of stuff from within 10 miles or so, grown on HFG farms. There were also goodies from local bakeries, meat producers and other food businesses. So, local credentials firmly in place, how do they do on packaging? Pretty well I think.

Almost everything we wanted veg-wise was unwrapped - including celery, which is uncommon. However, peppers were only available wrapped and on a tray, and herbs were in plastic boxes rather than unwrapped bunches. We also passed on the loose onions to buy a (cheaper) 5kg mesh bag, although I am confident we'll find a use for the bag or maybe just take it back and refill it. None of the manufactured/prepared foods were unwrapped, since they are not processed on the premises - meat, fish, cheese, bread and cakes all have plastic wrap and (for meat/fish) polystyrene trays. So I think we'll stick to the butcher and fishmonger for these. But there is an interesting selection of frozen goods - loose fruit and also bake-yourself croisssants etc. which Alex tells me can be put in your own containers.

One slightly offputting aspect was that bicycle access is not good. A cycle path runs right by the entrance, but it's an awkward turn to get in and you then have to run the gauntlet of the car park to find... no cycle parking. However, I sent an email suggesting that they might improve this aspect and got a positive response to say they are about to rethink cycle access so I look forward to it getting easier in future.

On to the next new discovery - Wholefood Planet. This was flagged up in our county council magazine lately, and is very close to where we live so we decided to check it out. They sell a range of ethically-sourced and environmentally-friendly products, including organic foods and Ecover refills, operate a coffee shop inside the store, and they also employ people with learning difficulties and are committed to fair wages.

The shop is located on a small industrial estate, a bit out of the way but well signposted. It's not really near other shops but it's more the sort of place to do a monthly stock-up so that's not a problem. I was delighted to find lots of Suma things on sale - just the sort of thing that I wanted to order direct but was unable to due to the minimum order cost. Prices were very reasonable too, and compared well with organic products on sale elsewhere. I was a bit disappointed by the packaging of these things as it didn't seem very efficient - the packs are very large and flat, which leads to a greater surface area (i.e. amount of packaging) for the same volume of goods. But I understand that the thick polythene used is accepted by Polyprint for recycling, so that is a plus.

We'll definitely keep shopping at Wholefood Planet, and will probably go to HFG occasionally, but the greengrocer we usually use is closer to other shops (butcher, baker, Co-op) and we have got to know the people who work there so feel quite loyal to it. But if you are off to the garden centre anyway then it is well worth a look!

There is such a thing as a free lunch

As reported in today's EDP, there is such a thing as a free lunch - at least at one pub near Halesworth in Suffolk:
Monday lunchtimes, traditionally the quietest time of the week for pubs, at The Plough are now pulling in credit crunch-busters from miles around, thanks to a clever idea by landlords Nick and Debbie Sumner.

“On Mondays we always used to clean out the fridges,” said Mrs Sumner. “We were throwing a lot of food away. We said, 'Instead of throwing it away, why not give it away?'

“As long as people buy a drink, they can have free food instead of it going to the chickens.”
What a great way to reduce food waste and help attract more customers to the pub - community pubs are struggling in this recession and need all the help they can get. And the idea has certainly been successful on that front:
The couple admitted that the popularity of the offer had escalated through word of mouth, and now necessitated food being prepared solely for the purpose, rather than just using up leftover produce.
It can be hard to estimate demand for food, and no pub likes turning hungry customers away when they want to buy food and drink, so you can understand owners erring on the side of caution when buying their food supplies for the week. If you pride yourself on serving fresh food, then perhaps there is a limited amount that can be done with freezing things - so it's good to see a bit of lateral thinking. Let's hope the chickens still benefit from any scraps left behind on plates!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Zero-waste treats

This waste reduction lark doesn't have to be all vegetable soup and knit-your-own-yoghurt you know. Recently I found a couple of luxurious and delicious shop-bought puddings which might make you fearful for your waistline, but leave your bin resolutely slim.

First of all, it's Chocolate and Vanilla Cheesecake from those quirkily-umlauted people at Gü. Small but perfectly formed, these are cute glass pots of indulgence, with foil lids and a simple cardboard box to hold them. The ramekins can be kept and reused, for cooking or other purposes (ideal as tea light holders as they are quite thick).

Next up it's a true champion of real food, the Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding people. Their puddings come in a sturdy foil tray (easily reused or recycled), cardboard lid, and cardboard sleeve. And if I said that this was one of the most lip-smackingly, plate-scrapingly, more-please-ingly delicious things I have ever tasted in my entire life, that would be no exaggeration.

Don't get me wrong, I still love cooking and baking, but these two really are well worth a try if you want a real treat without going near a hot stove. And not a bit of plastic packaging in sight.

Something to celebrate!

Goodness me - what a lovely surprise waiting for me on Sunday night when I logged on after a busy weekend. Nothing less than an AWARD for this very blog! Even better, it was from one of my favourite bloggers, Almost Mrs Average - and of course it was recycled :) That certainly brought a big smile to my face - thank you Mrs A!

On receiving my coveted Rubbish Blogging Bug award, I went through a succession of feelings... first of all, I was of course pleased and not a little surprised to be mentioned in such illustrious company! Secondly, I was a bit embarrassed, as looking at my blog recently you would not see much evidence of the blogging bug biting - I do have a few half-written posts to be polished up and published, but the public face of the blog has been a bit cobwebby lately. Thirdly, I was inspired and motivated to rectify this situation by the other great blogs and bloggers nominated for the various awards - many are now bookmarked for a good old nosey through their archives when I get chance.

But finally, and lingeringly, I can't help but be sad that these awards are prompted by Mrs A's decision to move on from the world of waste blogging. Karen was my first inspiration, a mere five months ago, to try not only a bit of waste reduction but also sharing my successes and frustrations with the online world. I can't claim to be anywhere near the true nirvana of Zero Waste yet, but I am certainly closer than I was before, and by blogging along the way I've made contact with some great people. But it's true, there is a bigger world out there than waste blogging, especially when you put so much time and effort into it. From videos to interviews to full-on soul-searching about motivation and meaning, The Rubbish Diet has always been a rich and varied source of thought-provoking stuff, and I am very appreciative of all the time and effort that must have gone into it.

So forget the rambly acceptance speech thanking my poodle's kennel maid and my nursery school teachers - it's a big thank you from me to Mrs A, and a very sincere hope that The Rubbish Diet will still burst into life just occasionally to update us on goings-on at Average Towers. Cheers :)

Wednesday, 11 March 2009


A report from Which? suggests that as people try to adjust to the current financial situation, healthy food choices are increasingly taking a back seat to price considerations.

You can bet that, if healthy choices are in the back seat, then thoughts about packaging and recycling are in a trailer somewhere, or possibly walking along the hard shoulder, trying to thumb a lift.

I have always had a sneaking suspicion that the idea of healthy food being more expensive is bunkum - but I've never actually checked up on it. Recently I read a forum post from someone who said she bought 5 ready meals for £4 and challenged anyone to buy the ingredients for 5 home-cooked meals (for one) on the same budget. Several people responded, but the only way to get close to 80p a meal seemed to be to buy a £1.99 chicken (is that Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall I can hear crying?) and some potatoes and veg, to have a roast and then various permutations of curry, etc. Even this didn't quite get down to 5 meals for £4.

This got me thinking about a comment made by Mrs Average last week about taking the waste message to areas where people are on restricted incomes. How do we do it?

This is a really tough one. Should we be trying to bombard everyone with the message at once, when we are already trying to get them to eat healthily in the first place? I am particularly thinking of areas which could be described as food deserts, where you could barely get an apple before, let alone now when even more shops are closing. If the local corner shop has their tiny fruit and veg display with some plastic bags of apples, and potatoes that are all but sprouting already, what do you buy? The messages conflict. Buy fresh food! Avoid excess packaging! Don't let produce go off! In the end it's much easier to reach for a microwave meal and not have to think about it.

Can we treat these areas the same way as others? Is it unrealistic and out of touch for us to swan in to such an area, yapping about making the most of tired tomatoes and not letting the last of the Sunday roast go to waste, if those two foods are not making an appearance anyway? What if your leftovers are two slices of a frozen pizza and the coleslaw that no-one likes from a KFC bucket? Not many LFHW recipes for those. Is the nature and scale of the food waste problem different in deprived areas, and if so, how? The figures are always presented as if we were a homogenous nation, which we aren't, and I imagine we don't create food waste equally either.

If you happen to eat a lot of takeaways and ready meals, are you more likely to bin the leftovers than if you had put the effort in to cook the meal yourself (easy come, easy go)? On the other hand, if you do your best to eke out your weekly food budget, are you more likely to avoid waste than someone with more cash to splash? If the leftover chicken biryani or last slice of the 2-for-1 supermarket pepperoni pizza becomes tomorrow's breakfast because that saves a couple of quid on cereal for the week, that's great for food waste but not so good for a balanced diet - which is the bigger priority? Can we let the healthy eating message take hold first and then come back to food waste - or can we tackle them both together?

I don't mean to be stereotypical. I know for sure that not everyone who lives in a deprived or run down area lives on takeaways and ready meals and I know there are people doing their bit to feed themselves and their families well. There are also more affluent people who also eat a lot of junk food! But what I am saying is that if you already have to make a hell of an effort to find healthy food that you can afford, or even just food you can afford full stop, the idea of food waste and packaging waste probably isn't a big priority, and you are probably not going to be too motivated to do anything about it if you are feeling lectured about it.

Maybe you watched Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food programme, teaching people in the deprived area of Rotherham to cook simple, healthy meals and then share their new skills and enthusiasm with others. That sort of scheme is brilliant - but what an opportunity to also pass on ideas about reducing food waste at the same time. Not making a big thing of it, but casually mentioning keeping fruit and veg scraps for the compost bin, highlighting that a particular recipe works fine with oldish carrots, or suggesting ideas for what you could do with leftovers of this or that recipe. Even ideas on portion sizes would help, to avoid overbuying - when you have never cooked, relating weights of items to what you actually eat is really hard! The point is that healthy eating and food waste are intertwined and perhaps it's best to address them in that way - together.

I'd love to hear other thoughts on this.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

LFHW - wrapping it up with soup

So, my week of LFHW blogging comes to an end. This morning I was out on a bike ride, much tougher than expected thanks to the incessant headwind for the first 25 miles, and so I had a bit of emergency refuelling to do. This would not have been the case had I not let us get into the parlous state of having NO CAKE in the house when I left. No cake!! I rectified that this afternoon, making the parsnip cake that horrified Mrs Green with its lack of butter and eggs. I can confirm it is still very much delicious, proved by the fact that I seem to have eaten four pieces. Oops...

So how's our waste total for the last day?

Breakfast: same as Monday, porridge/cereal and tea.
Food-related waste: a teabag.

Lunch: The other half of yesterday's soup, and an individual fondant fancy wedding cake each, from yesterday.
Packaging waste: paper cake case.

Snacks: banana, cereal/fruit/nut bar, bottle of fruit juice, lots of home made cake and tea.
Food-related waste: banana peel, more teabags.
Packaging waste: plastic wrapper, plastic bottle and lid

Dinner: Roast pork fillet, roast potatoes and parsnips, carrots and peas; stewed rhubarb and yoghurt.
Food-related waste: a few manky bits off the potatoes, parsnip peelings, rhubarb trimmings.
Packaging waste: thin plastic bag from pork.

Compostable food waste: 145g.
No non-compostable food waste.
Recyclable packaging: 2g (cake cases).
Non-recyclable packaging: 45g (plastic bag, wrapper, bottle*).

*sadly I just wasn't able to carry the juice bottle home to recycle, and there was no recycling bin in the village where I bought it, so I've counted it as non-recyclable.

This brings the total for the week to:

Compostable food waste: 1890g
Non-compostable food waste: 433g
Recyclable packaging: 1282g
Non-recyclable packaging: 133g
Grand total: 3738g

So, of all my directly food-related waste, 85% (by weight) has been composted or recycled. I could only make serious inroads on that with something like a bokashi bin (worth it for less than 500g?). I hold my hands up to one "could have been eaten but wasn't" item (the sauerkraut) but overall I think those numbers are not too bad at all. The secret? Just a little bit of forward thinking:
  • Plan it! Think about your shopping before you go, and think in terms of meals rather than individual items. Look for links between meals to help you use all of an ingredient if you can't buy exactly how much you want.
  • Get friendly with your freezer. Use it to store up whole meals or excess ingredients (if they will freeze), and use it to help you save time and effort through cook-once-eat-twice thinking.

That's my LFHW week over, but the campaign continues, and if you can count on anything at all you can count on there being more low-waste and leftovers recipes appearing on this blog as it continues!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

LFHW day 6 - quick and simple

Another night out tonight - it's a friend's wedding and we are off to the reception to join the celebrations. What was a little bit of a dilemma (lots things to do before going out early evening, but we need to eat as we know it's just nibbles tonight) is neatly solved by the second helpings of chicken and chick pea casserole I made the other night. Heated through, it's definitely quick and easy, and will see us through a few glasses of champagne I am sure!

Lunchtime also saw our old friend soup make an appearance. The chicken stock from earlier in the week, plus an onion, carrot, wrinkly potato and the floppy yellow middle bit of the celery; the last of the chorizo and the shreds of meat from the stock bones add a bit of protein, and some parsley from the windowsill adds colour and a bit of freshness. Mop it up with some slightly stale bread from last weekend, and that's a brilliant lunch.

That makes our food related waste stack up as follows:

Breakfast: same as Monday, porridge/cereal and tea.
Food-related waste: a teabag.

Lunch: Soup and bread, fruit, home made flapjack.
Food-related waste: veg peelings, chicken fat and the cooked-out veg from the stock.
Packaging waste: paper bag from the bread, plastic celery wrapper, plastic chorizo tray.

Compostable food waste: 95g (including paper bag).
Non-compostable food waste: 145g (chicken fat and the stock veg it contaminated).
No recyclable packaging.
Non-recyclable packaging: 10g (celery bag, chorizo tray).

Friday, 6 March 2009


I'm loving food, hating waste, and eating out tonight :) As I don't want to embarrass my friends I shall try to refrain from quizzing the waitress about the restaurant's food waste policies...

Thanks to my inability to get bored by eating the same thing for breakfast (porridge) and lunch (salad) every day, you can work out my food waste habits today from the rest of this week's posts! Home alone, Mark (not invited to the girls' night out...) cooked pasta and tomato sauce and created some further veg trimmings.

Compostable food waste: 320g.
No non-compostable food waste.
No recyclable packaging.
No non-recyclable packaging.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

LFHW day 4 - stock it to 'em

An old favourite for tea tonight - chicken, chickpea and lemon casserole. When we bought the chicken from the butcher, rather than four ready-skinned and boned thighs we got two leg quarters. So not only do we have enough meat to make double quantities of the casserole, but I also chucked the bones in with an onion, celery and bay leaves to make yummy stock for the weekend's soup. As I am apparently quite useless at boning chicken, there was plenty of meat left on said bones! So, what might have done us for one meal if we had simply roasted the chicken, has stretched to 3 with the addition of a few extra, cheap ingredients (vegetables).

How about food waste today?

Breakfast: same as Monday, porridge/cereal and tea.
Food-related waste: a teabag.

Lunch: Salad again (but no more manky celery, hurrah), orange, cake. While ferreting in the fridge I found a very old jar of sauerkraut (a phase I went through...) sadly past its best.
Food-related waste: veg peelings and seeds, sauerkraut.
Packaging waste: glass jar and lid.

Snacks: apple, banana, nuts.
Food-related waste: banana peel, apple core.

Dinner: See above!
Food-related waste: leek and broccoli trimmings, lemon pips, onion and garlic skin, chicken bones, skin and fat.
Packaging waste: stock cube foil wrapper, thin plastic bag from chicken.

Compostable food waste: 380g (including 75g sauerkraut!).
Non-compostable food waste: 280g (all from the chicken).
Recyclable packaging: 540g - glass, metal lids, foil.
Non-recyclable packaging: 5g.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

LFHW day 3 - the F word

No, not food. And certainly nothing to do with Mr Ramsay. Freezer!

In the campaign against food waste, the freezer is a staunch ally. It takes the rush and repetition out of having leftovers that need using, and lets you take advantage of all those BOGOF bargains to help keep the shopping bills down.

We had a (planned) raid on the freezer tonight. Dinner was a warming sausage casserole (very welcome - it was freezing as I cycled home), with the stars of the show being some rather tasty venison sausages from Pickering's. Now, there are two great things about Pickering's. One, they have an incredible selection of unusual and delicious sausages, and two, they always seem to be doing "buy 2lb get 1lb free" on their Norwich Market stall. (Oh yes - and they wrap them in paper! Make that three great things. I'll have to ask about containers next time...) No matter how much of a banger fiend you are, you'd be pushed to get through 3lb (about 21 sausages) before they went off, so this is where you need your trusty freezer. It would be an absolute crime for these sausages to end up as food waste.

We split the 1lb packs and find that 3-4 sausages squeeze perfectly into a takeaway carton, which stacks nicely in the freezer. Margarine tubs are also OK but they can get brittle when frozen so take care. You can write on the top with a chinagraph pencil to remind you what's inside (you wouldn't want to mix up your Aunt Ednas and your Cornish Tiddlers, would you?) and what date it was frozen. As you can imagine, 6 lots of sausages lasts us a while!

Our freezer holds all sorts of goodies. There are frozen herbs from the summer, lemon juice, bread, home baked cakes for the week, and even grated white chocolate from some previous cooking adventure. In the autumn there were stewed apples ready for making crumble, and I've also done bananas when there has been an end-of-the-day bargain on offer. Sometimes it also holds meals where we've deliberately made double. If I'd thought to get two lots of sausages out to defrost yesterday we could have done that tonight! And the best thing is, your freezer runs most efficiently when it's full. So get filling!

Just time for a quick overview of today on the food waste front:

Breakfast: same as Monday, porridge/cereal and tea. I also found that one of the oranges had gone mouldy in the fruit bowl (only bought on Saturday), so I halved it - ate the good half with breakfast and composted the mouldy one. Tasted fine!
Food-related waste: a teabag, half an orange.
Packaging waste: empty honey jar, seal strip from new one.

Lunch: Back to my usual salad today. Unfortunately the outer stems of the new head of celery are not good - hollow and brown inside. I salvaged the top half of two, and will see what the rest is like tomorrow.
Food-related waste: veg peelings and seeds, 2 half celery sticks.

Snacks: lots of home made cake marking a colleague leaving for 2 months. Due to the cake I didn't eat all my fruit and nuts today :)
Food-related waste: banana peel.

Dinner: See above!
Food-related waste: leek trimmings, green bean tops and tails, garlic skin.
Packaging waste: stock cube foil wrapper, bean tin (plus paper sausage wrapper at the weekend), beer bottle and lid.

Compostable food waste: 340g
No food waste to go in the bin.
Recyclable packaging: 625g - glass, metal lids, tin and foil. Actually the jar and lid will be saved for reuse during jam season!
No non-recyclable packaging.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

LFHW day 2

Today's LFHW launch went really well - some supportive launching-type words from Galton Blackiston and people from the council and WRAP, and lots of mingling. I had extremely interesting chats about the Broadland food waste collection trial, ways to improve my compost (air and cardboard is what I need), favourite leftovers recipes, and how this scheme is going to work. I also managed to ask Galton Blackiston about the professional kitchen and food waste, specifically the issue of binning "imperfect" food I blogged before. He was pretty much convinced that the Masterchef example I gave was dramatised to make good TV, and that professional chefs in a real kitchen would not waste food in such a sweeping way. Reassuring to hear! He seems very committed to top quality food from local sources and with a minimum of environmental impact, and having been lucky enough to eat at Morston Hall, I can report that the food quality is not in the least impaired by paying attention to these things!

I also appreciatively collected a cotton shopper bag (yes, another one!) containing goodies such as a fridge thermometer, pasta portion sizer, recipe book and cards, and best of all two Freshpods. These are now lurking in my fruit bowl and salad drawer, guarding against the deterioration of my fruit and veg. The lunch provided was rather tasty, and I just hope that any leftovers were offered around to the event's public visitors! By the time I left, the stalls seemed to be drawing in all sorts of people who were passing through the Forum, for composting advice, food waste freebies, and of course loads of advice, which is excellent.

One of the most interesting discussions I had was actually with another invitee, about how to engage people and what sort of people we reach with these events. He put forward the point that the vast majority of people at the Forum today were middle class, intelligent, and almost certainly already engaged with recycling. Are these the people who are wasting a third of the food they buy? How can we best get through to a wider selection of people - particularly in some of the more deprived areas? We agreed that the best way is to take the information to the people, rather than expecting them to come to you and ask for it, but my personal view is that there is also no harm in starting with an "easy win". That is, talking to the people who are ready to engage and just need information as opposed to persuasion. I always reckon that starting with a bit of success boosts morale and fires you up to go and tackle something a bit more challenging.

All that said, this was just the launch event, and most of the people there, at least initially, were people who had been invited due to the job that they do or the organisation they are with - so that is one reason for it not being an especially varied audience. I am sure there are plans to further develop the LFHW campaign here in Norfolk, and I look forward to seeing what they are! Kudos to the Norfolk Waste Partnership team and WRAP/LFHW guys for a great launch.

How has our food waste day been?

Breakfast: same as yesterday, porridge/cereal and tea.
Food-related waste: a teabag.

Lunch: a couple of sandwiches at the event, with the rest of it later in the afternoon at my desk, consisting of rice cakes, peanut butter, a pepper, a tomato, and an orange.
Food-related waste: pepper stem and seeds, orange peel.
Packaging waste: rice cakes wrapper, paper salt sachet found in my desk drawer.

Snacks: an apple and a banana, some almonds, and a creme egg.
Food-related waste: banana peel, apple core, foil.

Dinner: Chicken stir fry with cabbage, carrot, onion and pepper, sauce and rice.
Food-related waste: cabbage stalk, onion and carrot peel, pepper seeds and stem.
Packaging waste: thin plastic bag from the chicken, empty sauce sachet.

Compostable food waste: 290g
No food waste to go in the bin!
Recyclable packaging: 5g paper and foil
Non-recyclable packaging: 35g plastic

Fridge invaders!

Oh my goodness - there seems to be a strange man rootling around in Alex's fridge!

But it's OK, it's only Wally Webb from BBC Radio Norfolk. He's visiting her to talk about food waste and the big LFHW launch on Norwich today, and to check that she practices what she preaches (I know for a fact she does, so no worries there). I'm sure she'll blog it herself later on, so I just wanted to say well done Alex on being a model zero-food-waster for the county this morning! :)

Monday, 2 March 2009

My perfect waste campaign... LFHW day 1

Well, it's true. I love food, and I hate waste!

As tomorrow sees the launch of the LFHW campaign in Norfolk, and I have been lucky enough to bagsy an invitation, I will have loads of information on reducing food waste coming up on tomorrow's blog.

I have also decided that this will be my own LFHW week, and I'll tally the waste we create with particular attention to food. First it's worth saying a bit about the start of the week, which in food terms is the weekend as that's when we shop.

On Saturday morning I sat and planned the food for the week - a mix of old favourites (stir fry, tomato and bacon pasta) and new recipes to try (white fish with spicy beans and chorizo, sausage and butter bean casserole), plus any baking I want to do. This gets translated into a list and we go out shopping - to the greengrocer, fishmonger, baker (all the same shop!), butcher, and then to the supermarket for tinned and dry goods and non-food. Using the list, we should find that we don't overbuy - buying things loose from independent shops also helps with this. Over the weekend I baked banana flapjacks with some almost-past-it nanas, and made a big pan of vegetable and pasta soup to do for lunch both days.

On to today, the start of my LFHW focus, and it went something like this:

Breakfast: porridge with fruit, nuts and honey, and a fruit tea. For hubby it's weetabix.
Food-related waste: a teabag.

Lunch: I have a big salad with spinach, cucumber, celery, pepper, carrot, cherry tomatoes, tuna, and sweet chilli sauce, followed by an orange and one of the fruity oat bars I baked last week (packed in a reusable tub). Him indoors doesn't do packed lunches, not that I haven't tried! It's usually a supermarket sandwich, yogurt and fruit, but today he was at a meeting with lunch included.
Food-related waste: inedible vegetable and fruit bits (peels, cores, seeds, etc.)
Packaging waste: celery wrapper.

Snacks: an apple and a banana, and some nuts (a small pot, filled from a big pack at home). Mark manages to munch some cake.
Food-related waste: banana peel, apple core.
Packaging waste: empty almond bag.

Dinner: haddock fillet with spicy beans, chorizo and cabbage, crusty bread, then yogurt and some flapjack. Clean plates all round apart from the scaly haddock skin!
Food-related waste: tough ribs from the cabbage's outer leaves, onion and garlic peel, fish skin.
Packaging waste: tomato and bean tins, plastic yogurt pot and lid, thin plastic bag from the fish, foil yogurt lid.

As you can see, there is plenty of "unavoidable food waste" (i.e. non-edible bits), but the vast majority of this (320g) can be composted. Just the fish skin (8g) has to go in the bin. Of the packaging, the tins and foil (110g) can be recycled, but the plastics (38g) can't.

One thing I do know is that there will be less compostable waste for me tomorrow as the launch event includes a buffet (suitably low-waste I hope...)

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Waste vs. waist

As part of my efforts to get fitter and healthier, I'm a member of a diet and fitness website, and often read the forums on there. I have noticed that when people ask for food ideas, there is recommendation of home cooked food as well as "diet" ready meals, which is brilliant to see. A recent thread on what to have for dinner for about 300 calories not only gathered suggestions of Weight Watchers ready meals, Quorn cottage pie, boil in the bag fish and rice, and other pre-packed stuff, but also ideas including fresh fish and meat, and recipes for vegetable soup, butternut squash casserole, and Spanish omelette.

This must also mean a reduction in packaging. Ready meals have at least a plastic dish, film lid and cardboard or plastic box/wrapper. Supermarket "healthy goodies" often come in acres of plastic, sometimes wrapped separately in individual portions "for calorie control". Fresh fruit and veg, however, can be had with minimal packaging, as can meat and fish if you venture beyond the fluorescent-lit halls of Tesco et al. So it's great to see people recommending these things to each other - I think that is generally much more successful than a finger-wagging nanny state - right, wastebloggers? :)

Of course, it's not an absolute link. You can buy plenty of chocolate in recyclable paper and foil, and wine and beer are not known for their unrecyclable packaging either, to give two examples. But I have found that the two things are often mutually supportive:
  • I make fewer frivolous/impulse purchases, and those I do make often involve fruit.
  • I make more effort to buy in bulk, and use small pots and tubs to take what I need to work or out for the day.
  • I bake my own cakey snacks which are tastier and more satisfying than the shop alternatives.
  • I plan the week's food in advance, and don't fall victim to "I can't be bothered, let's order a takeaway" syndrome.
  • I know how much food I should be eating, and I don't have lots of extra things hanging around the house being tempting.
I've said before, I do have the luxury of no picky eaters to feed, and time for planning, shopping and cooking (although by no means do I slave over a hot shopping list for hours) - not everyone is in the same position. But this time last year you didn't find me cycling to the local shops for my fresh produce (more health benefits!) or taking half an hour on a Saturday morning to look up a few recipes and decide which old favourites are coming up this week. These are small changes I've made that are really working.

I don't think what I do is a particular hassle. And if it has double benefits, then surely it's even more worth it! What other benefits are you all finding from your waste reduction efforts?

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Fab winter warmer from the end of the veg drawer

This is almost turning into a food blog, but here's another delicious recipe that makes great use of leftover / slightly past-it veg. We had it for dinner yesterday and found it very filling and satisfying. Flippin' cheap, too. It works brilliantly with potato, carrot and parsnip as here, but why not try sweet potato, squash, celeriac, add a chilli, bit of ginger, some chick peas, spinach... use your imagination!

Winter warmer root vegetable and lentil casserole

Serves 4

A little sunflower or vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed or chopped
2 med baking potatoes, diced (I scrub them and leave the skin on)
3-4 carrots, diced
2 parsnips, diced
2 tbsp curry paste
1.5 pints/800ml vegetable stock
100-150g red lentils
fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes. Add the root veg, curry paste, and a splash of stock, stir well, and cook for 10 mins, stirring occasionally. Add the stock and lentils, stir, bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer and cook (covered) for another 10-15 minutes. Take the lid off for the last few minutes to allow it to thicken, adding the coriander at this point to keep the fresh taste. Save some for sprinkling on top if you feel like being fancy pants.

Delicious with a dollop of natural yogurt, mango chutney, naan breads or chapattis (or pittas or tortillas...). It has a beautifully sweet-spicy taste with the freshness of coriander, and the comforting texture of root vegetables.

Friday, 20 February 2009

The right direction

A few days ago I commented on another blog:

If the government has to prop up industry in these lean times, why can’t it do it by supporting/promoting new recycling technology and manufacturing items from recycled materials? There must be so many relevant and useful skills suddenly out there in the job market - let’s use them!

Then today I read that there's to be a recycling plant specifically for disposable nappies and similar items. Based in Birmingham, it will take 36,000 tonnes of used nappies each year, recycle the plastic and fibres (making first tiles, and later cycle helmets among other things), and eventually also reclaim methane to use for electricity generation. It's not *quite* what I meant (the company is Canadian, and "creating 22 jobs" is not exactly mass-scale employment) but it's a start. The principle is there - let's make better use of a wider range of things we throw away.

Now, there is the argument that reusable nappies are better, and the counter-argument that all that washing makes them roughly equal to disposables (PDF). I've yet to be persuaded either way, and for me it's an academic question! But (and sorry if anyone finds this distasteful) the plant will also take incontinence materials - that's something I have never seen commented on before, but clearly nobody is suggesting "washables" for a problem that will surely increase with our ageing population. So while some see the plant as an annoying excuse for parents to continue to use disposables, let's look at the wider picture.

More initiatives like this, please...

(As a cyclist as well, I am not sure how well "It'll make cycle helmets" will help to sell the project, as that's another contested issue, but I guess the media like to grab on to quirky things for their headlines!)

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Healthy carrot or parsnip cake

This one's for Mrs Green and her Abel & Cole veg box parsnips :)

This cake is brilliant! For a start it is fat, egg and dairy free, so not only is it vegan, but it needs no fresh ingredients (apart from carrots!) and has fewer containers to dispose of afterwards. As you simmer and steep the carrots, old ones work fine. You can also substitute parsnips for a more golden-yellow colour and subtler taste (I tried this and gave it out to friends - they all loved it and couldn't guess the secret ingredient!). All the other ingredients are store cupboard favourites, with lots of scope for variation according to taste. It's dense and satisfying and keeps well. It also cooks well as cupcakes or muffins. What's not to like?!

The original recipe is in cups as it's from an American book, the Moosewood Book of Desserts (Moosewood is a famed vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, NY). I have a set of measuring cups so I have never converted it to grams, but I recommend this website for ingredient-specific volume/weight conversions. I will try and make one of these and confirm the conversions soon!

Carrot or parsnip cake

2 cups [~250g] (packed) finely grated carrots (or pasrnips)
1.5 cups [~330g] packed brown sugar*
1.75 cups [400ml] water
1 cup [150-200g] raisins or other dried fruit (chopped to raisin size) - apricots and ginger are good with carrots, cranberries go well with parsnips
1 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups [375g] plain flour
1 tsp cinnamon
0.25 tsp ground cloves
0.5 tsp ground nutmeg or fresh grated
0.5 tsp ground ginger (or grate a thumb size piece of fresh and put it in with the carrots)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder

*this is the original recipe amount of sugar, but it can be reduced (even halved!).

Combine carrots/parsnips, sugar, water, fruit and vanilla in a saucepan - bring to the boil, simmer for 5 mins, remove from heat, cover, sit for at least one hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 300F / 150C / Gas 2. Oil and flour a 9-10" round pan or equivalent.

Sift flour, spices, salt, baking soda and powder together into a bowl. Stir carrot/parsnip mix into dry mix just until no dry traces are left.

Pour into pan, bake until firm and a skewer comes out clean - about 1 hr.

Cool in pan for 10 mins, then invert onto a plate. Dust with icing sugar.

Monday, 16 February 2009

The great salad shame

Just read this interesting article in the Observer, containing the shocking idea that in Britain we import twice as much salad as we actually eat. That's a horrendous and stupid amount of waste, the equivalent of half of what we import AND anything that we produce ourselves. It just made me do a genuine double take when I read it and I had to share!

The article also includes a part that links to the post I made the other day about professional kitchens and food waste. With regard to the Love Food, Hate Waste campaign:
...while British house-spouses have clearly mislaid the poker-work sign that said "Waste Not, Want Not", it [is] pretty obvious that they [are] not the chief villains. Wrap puts the total of food waste at 20m tonnes. Three times as much food is wasted by retailers, processors and manufacturers, including agriculture. But the easy option is to put the blame and the pressure on the consumer. Industry is a much trickier target.
My first reaction is that I hope thatthis information is not seen as a reason for people to think "oh well, so why should I care about my food waste?" and carry on binning stuff. But on the other hand, I do agree - why are these campaigns always directed at the household when there is so much to be done on a commercial and industrial basis? Switch off campaigns, recycle more, waste less food... these all apply to businesses and organisations just as much as to consumers. But they apply at the sort of scale where a bit of thinking and leadership could make massive differences to our overall impact on the environment. Are there similar schemes and campaigns at that level? Let's hear more about innovations and successes beyond the household scale, and let's fix good "green" behaviour into life everywhere, not just at home.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Another winter soup from leftovers

This recipe came from a classmate in my German class, and when she served it to us at a get together we were all hooked. It just goes to show that keeping a few herbs and spices in the store cupboard can lift an ordinary use-it-up soup into something really special.

Potato soup with caraway seeds

2 medium potatoes (or equivalent of small ones), peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
2tbsp oil
1 pint vegetable stock
0.5 pints milk
1 tsp mixed herbs
1 tsp paprika
0.5 tsp caraway seeds (if you have the time to toast and lightly crush them, even better)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the vegetables and spices until the onion is transparent, then add the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Blend to a smooth consistency, and thin with a little extra milk, if desired. Adjust seasoning to taste and reheat to serving temperature.

Recipe time! End of the week minestrone

Inspired by Mrs Green's yummy tomato and chickpea soup recipe the other week, here's what I had for lunch. It just so happens that we had done our weekly shop and so had all the ingredients fresh, but it's something that would work really well at the end of the week when there are only a few slightly wizened carrots and some floppy celery lurking in the salad drawer.

Tinned tomatoes (maybe with herbs), beans and stock cubes are top store cupboard items and to be honest you could add most sorts of veg to that and make a good soup! One of the best ever investments we made was a big cooking pot - I swear we use it 6 times a week for stew, soup, curry, chilli, spag bol.... you name it. You can probably tell we are of the "bung it in the pot" cooking school rather than nouvelle cuisine!

Minestrone soup - serves 4 hungry people or 6 polite ones :)

1 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, well smashed
2-3 carrots, diced small
2-3 sticks of celery (including leaves if you like), chopped
8-10 outer leaves savoy cabbage, shredded
(of course, you can increase or decrease the quantities of all the veg according to what you have)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin beans (cannellini, black eye, whatever you have)
600ml (ish) stock
salt, pepper, mixed herbs to taste

Optional additions:
2 rashers bacon, chopped - or any leftover cold meat e.g. chicken, ham
2 tsp pesto (really makes a difference to the flavour)
4 sun dried tomatoes, chopped
handful of pasta - small shapes are great - good use for broken spaghetti!
fresh herbs - we had some sage left over from another recipe
croutons made from stale bread

Sweat off the onions and garlic with a little oil, the pesto, and a bit of water or stock if needed to keep things from sticking. Add bacon (if using) and cook through. Add carrots and celery and some more of the stock. When the carrots are starting to soften, add the rest of the stock, tomatoes, cabbage and beans, dried or fresh herbs, pasta and any other ingredients you're using. Simmer for 10 minutes or so, check the softness of the veg and the seasoning, and cook longer if needed.

Serve with fresh bread, croutons if you like, maybe save some fresh herbs (if using) or celery leaves to sprinkle on the top if you want to be posh! :)

Monday, 9 February 2009

Food waste - the professionals' opinion?

Idly browsing, the headline 'A fish head in a bin makes me cry' caught my eye. Michel Roux Jr of Le Gavroche talked to the Telegraph about food waste in a short article plugging his new book (which seems to have nothing at all to do with getting the most from your food, except maybe via the anecdotes in the article).

However, being a bit of a Masterchef addict ("COOKING JUST DOESN'T GET ANY TOUGHER THAN THIS!!" *ahem*) I also find myself, if not crying, then shouting at the TV when contestants do the round in the professional kitchen. Why? For the slightest deviation from the chef's vision of a "perfect" dish, the entire plateful is binned. Expensive cuts of meat, fish, lovingly prepared vegetables... if the dressing has been messily squirted on or the cooking isn't absolutely correct, in the bin it goes. I get the impression this happens too with dishes from regular staff (just hopefully less often).

Now, I can see that chefs have a reputation to uphold, and many of the likely customers in top-end restaurants are going to be knowledgeable and expect high standards (after all, they are paying for them). But to what extent does this contribute to our food waste as a nation? Binning food because it's not absolutely perfect seems to me to be more of a waste, more pointless than binning something you forgot about in the back of the fridge. Do restaurants have food waste collections that do something useful with the discards? (Aha - some do. And there were other London options in 2007 - what about now I wonder?)

If a fish head in a bin makes him cry, what would Michel Roux Jr do with a plate of not-quite-perfect food from one of his sous chefs? That I'd like to know.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Progress check

I have been sadly neglecting my blog lately so thought it was time for a progress check. How am I doing with the low-waste habits?

The positive points:

- we are shopping at the local independent shops more often. This has cut down on plastic waste especially meat and fish trays, and we are much better at avoiding impulse buys. From the butcher in particular we are finding the produce much tastier, too. We try to cycle there and so it also keeps us fit! (Particularly cycling back with laden panniers :)

- we are buying some things in bulk to reduce packaging - yogurt in 500g pots and dried fruit/nuts weighed out to order and put in paper bags.

- most of the time there are home baked cakes/flapjacks in the cupboard instead of packaged cereal bars.

- I make a point of saving foil and miscellaneous metal (bottle caps etc.) as I know that can go to the recycling centre now.

Still needs work:

- we still buy some things in unavoidable plastic packaging: celery, spinach, cheese (occasionally), yogurt (although see above), pasta, rice. These last two could maybe be bought in bulk, but I haven't seen large packs of wholemeal pasta or brown rice anywhere.

- I am doing longer runs now and need to consume energy gels which come in foil/plastic sachets. I might try going back to jelly babies! But the gels are easier to eat on the move.

- we haven't yet invested in any reusable containers of a suitable size for buying meat, fish etc.

- I need to get another reusable water bottle for travelling. With the liquids regulations on planes, airports even seem to be reluctant to let you take an empty "disposable" bottle through security, so you have to bin it and buy another (cunning). At least at Luton they had recycling bins for them. I had a flyer from Jarrolds this week telling me about new recycled plastic water bottles, UK-made, that they are selling for £8. I can't find the flyer (think I recycled it :) so I can't give more details, but I will probably invest in one of those, to support recycled manufacturing and to help me avoid disposable bottles on the move.

I mention travelling as I was away in Poland this week. Breakfast at the hotel was one of the least waste-friendly operation I have seen in a long time! Although you could help yourself to cereals, juice and milk from large containers, and bread from open baskets, everything else (butter, jam, yogurt, cheese, pate, tea, sugar) was in single-serving plastic cartons with plastic/foil lids. The best effort I have seen was in Germany where everything was help-yourself from bowls and plates, ranging from sliced meat and cheese to yoghurt, cereal and nut/seed toppings.

Just a few thoughts. I feel quite happy with how we are doing, and think that to go further would mean some serious rethinking of the way we live and, particularly, eat. Maybe in the future when the current habits are really entrenched, we'll look at going further towards zero waste?

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Happy landings

The Worn Again bag has arrived - hurrah! I mention it again not to gloat (not much :), but because the sum-total of the packaging is as follows:
  • a plain re-usable cotton shopping bag, with my address written directly on it
  • some brown parcel tape
  • a paper Worn Again label
  • Royal Mail labels for postage, Signed For delivery, and Local Collect
Inside, the bag and...
  • an order/packaging note (just paper, no fancy returns labels or anything)
  • a paper Worn Again Virgin label (feels recycled) tied on with raffia string
  • a flyer (also feels like recycled paper) about TheNag and AntiApathy climate change action websites
How cool is that? Kudos to Worn Again for showing other companies how it can be done.

I would have actually had it on Friday but I wasn't in to take the parcel - that's phenomenally fast delivery considering I ordered it on Thursday afternoon! I had to have it redelivered to the post office near my workplace, and the unusual packaging was also noted by the counter guy (even if he did just say "I dunno why they put it in that... er... webbing stuff").

I will have to put decoration of the bag on my to-do list, since I'd like to cover up my address! Time to talk to my friend Lizzie about fabric scraps I think :)

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Come fly with me

Just a quickie - I have had my eye on these recycled bags for a few weeks, having read about them over on Inhabitat. I browsed over there today to find they have 30% off until the end of January!

Having invested in a laptop, I've been looking for a bag for it, and the Sherman is perfect. Made from recycled Virgin Atlantic aeroplane seat covers, seat belts, and bits of bicycle inner tube, this is a funky bag that should be hard-wearing - and it's a good example of creative re-use. A bit like Alex's cushions the other week! I'm really looking forward to getting it.

Bonus points to Worn Again for swiftly helping me to correct a mistake I made on the order (chose the wrong colour - d'oh). Good job I noticed as they are already processing it!

Thursday, 8 January 2009

The best laid plans...

I was polishing my halo last night. Having made the last lot of low-waste festive goodies, for presents at Christmas number 3 this weekend, I had 4 egg whites left over. There are already 4 in the freezer (bit of an experiment, not sure that will work but we'll see) so as the oven was on anyway I figured I'd make meringue.

Over to BBC Good Food for a recipe. Egg whites, sugar, whisk, easy. The meringues even keep well in a tin, or will freeze. Excellent.

I glossed over the instruction "Line 2 baking sheets with Bake-O-Glide non-stick liner or parchment paper (meringue can stick on greaseproof paper and foil)." - I don't have Bake-O-Glide (whatever that might be) or parchment, just good old greaseproof. Besides, I'm standing here with a bowl of meringue mix, it's now 9:30pm, the cooking time is 1h45, and I just need to get on.

Big mistake. I now have a large pavlova-size meringue with a resolutely unpeelable papery bottom. Forget superglue, next time you need to weld something, use egg white and sugar. Bah. I'm going to peel the crunchy bits off the top and save them for a pudding, but everyone knows the gooey middle bits (completely 100% stuck to the paper) are the best. In the bin they go.

So, if there are any other egg white recipes out there, I'd love to hear them. Until I find something less prone to disaster (or invest in some Bake-O-Glide or maybe rice paper), I'm just going to have to find biscuit recipes that don't demand only yolks. Very inconsiderate of chickens not to lay them separately, I say.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

That was Christmas...

As the waste blog world is summarising its collective Christmases, I thought I would join in!

We had a pretty low-key Christmas, thinking we would try it at home on our own this year - it was nice, although the family visiting season is now much extended into January. I'm not counting those as Christmas (is that cheating? :)

Our tree is plastic (gasp) but was bought back in hubby's bachelor days and therefore nothing to do with me :) It's decent quality, and will see us through several more years, so I think for now we'll leave the pine needles on the trees in the woods, and not on our carpet. We splashed out on decorations and bought 2 (count 'em) new baubles, loose, which were wrapped in tissue paper. What we didn't do was put our unwanted old decorations on Freecycle - next year!

Pressies given were mainly home baked goodies (gingerbread and shortbread) in cardboard gift boxes. There was barely any non-recyclable waste apart from some butter wrappers and a sugar bag. I chose to use greaseproof paper when packing them, to avoid greasy marks on the gift boxes and make them reusable, but that itself can't be recycled. Choices! We also gave some charity gifts from Good Gifts, gift vouchers, and books.

We'd asked for no pressies, still got a few but they were remarkably good on the whole and included a pretty tin with home made fudge (yum!) and a large Toblerone with cardboard and foil packaging (well thought out, Alex!). Other things like silicone bakeware, a running top and some books all had minimal or no packaging, mostly cardboard. However, special mention has to go to the best and worst packaged items:
  • Best: six bottles of good beer from my brother, in a re-used cardboard box, packed with recycled brown paper packing. A consumable present in fully recyclable packaging and wrapping! Bonus points for delivering it in a reusable hessian bag.
  • Worst: sad to say it was a Hotel Chocolat Dark Chocolate Immersion box from hubby. Six tablets each of six types of plain chocolate... all individually wrapped in plastic, held in a plastic tray, in a cardboard box that was wrapped in film. (Note that the packaging is not fully shown on the website...)
I do appreciate that the flavour is the key with the chocolate (the box came with tasting notes) and so you wouldn't want the types affecting each other - there were ginger, orange and chilli flavours as well as three types of "just chocolate". And the chocolate is absolutely heavenly (yes, there is some left! On twelfth night!). But it is a little bit of a shame to see so much packaging and I have to confess to a brief twinge of disappointment on seeing it (the packaging, not the chocolate). Now that sounds rather mean, and I have to stress that it's no reflection whatsoever on the giver - the scale of packaging simply wasn't apparent until opening. And I suppose if anything I am even more determined to savour and enjoy the contents so that the packaging was not in vain ;)

Food was also a reasonable success. All the fruit and veg came from the greengrocer in paper bags or no bags at all. We visited another local butcher for all our meat, and so there was a small amount of thin plastic waste but no trays or other packaging. We bought a turkey crown and boned ham, so there was minimal food waste there - in fact minimal food waste overall. I didn't get around to making mince pies or bread, so we bought those and a few other sweet and treat bits, and therefore had a few bits of plastic to deal with.

I haven't weighed it all but in a qualitative sense I feel like it's not a bad showing. A bit more planning next year and I'll get those mince pies and snacks sorted too :)