Thursday, 12 June 2008


Well my last update post was mainly about my war on overpackaging. The result has been the contents of our recyclable waste bin going down by about 50% which is brilliant.

In this update, it's back to the back to the black bin to assess progress as that is, after all what this is all about! I mentioned last time I was going to analyse the contents of my black bin waste and although I haven't been particularly scientific about it, I have been quite diligent in making sure nothing goes in there that could go elsewhere.

This meant no more lazy throw aways. Things like pots of cream with half the cream left in it, and old jars from the fridge with food still in - well it's much easier to chuck the lot in the landfill bin rather than washing out the containers and disposing of the contents, but this past fortnight I have waved goodbye to that habit. To be honest it is my conscience doing that now that I know more about landfill problems and I think I'm developing the same kind of aversion to throwing away recyclable items, as I have to littering.

Another part of my landfill reduction this past two weeks is unfortunately a bit less postitive and can't count as proper reduction at this stage. Here is what it's all about:

Recyclable rubbish more difficult to deal with

This is what I kept on one side this week, which I will normally put straight in the landfill bin. None of these things can be recycled in the recycling bin collection. There are Tetra paks here, and a variety of plastic bags - particularly salad and vegetable bags, and other food wrappers. At our local recycling facilty, there are recyling bins for many of these things. However, I have made the decision at this time that it's too much to deal with. I hate having all these things hanging around the house and I know that our family won't cope with fitting in a weekly trip to the recyling centre. The stuff will end up piling up, and it will need containers / boxes in the house to sort it all. A bit of a cop out perhaps, but I my own way of coping is to now comit to buy even less things packaged in bags I can't manage to recycle. I've started already in fact.

Coriander and flat leafed parsley by my back doorstep

Rocket leaves growing from seed

I haven't grown stuff for about five years, but it seems like an ideal time to start again with one or two things. I love salad and herbs and buy a lot, so that's what I've started with. We also have mint, thyme, and I'm growing tomatoes and peas too. I also intend to get more salad leaves growing in pots, having seen the quantity of salad bags we get through. We'll probably save quite a bit of money doing this as salad bags are not the cheapest of supermarket purchases.

Our black bin is a quarter full after 1 week - over 50% improvement

Back to something very positive - look at our tiddly amount of landfill bin waste in one week, compared to what it was before! The bin is only just a quarter full. Polystyrene packaging, an old barbecue tray, and bubble wrap are the main contents.

Contents of our compost bin after 2 weeks

One thing which has made a major reduction to the contents of the landfill bin has been the acquisiting of our compostable waste bin. Here it is after 2 weeks, ready to be collected and almost full. It makes me wonder how I have managed without one!

Our personal bottle bank is now better maintained and dealt with regularly
Yes, our personal bottle bank is still in existence, but now hidden away in a corner of the garden by the barbecue. I am even more scrupulous now about recyling glass, and all glass containers - even awkward to wash out chilli sauce bottles - are saved from landfill. It gets emptied regularly to make way for more.

So really, I' m feeling very pleased with all of this. There's still room for improvement, and I think things will improve, slowly but surely as we go along. But I reckon our rubbish has been reduced by more than 50% - which was the original target - so that's just fantastic!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Overpackaging #2 in a series

Look at my fine row of bins! But that's not why I've posted this picture. It's actually on here for the bike and my rucksack. Yes, I went shopping by bike today, to Waitrose, to stock up on a few bits and pieces of fruit and veg.

And guess what? When I'd got everything I needed and paid for it at the till, it would only just all fit in the rucksack - but the rucksack would not zip up - at all! Not good for cycling home with it on my back.

So I did what seemed to be the only reasonable thing to do, and started to remove things from their bulky plastic boxes so that they'd fit in my bag more easily (none of the stuff I bought in a plastic box& wrapper was available in the store loose, on this occasion). Sadly I didn't have my camera with me, but would have liked to have taken a photo of the neat row of boxes left on a seat in Waitrose - I bet the staff must have thought it was an anti-packaging protest! Good! In a way, it was.

Tomatoes in the cellophane wrapping, but without the silly plastic box. Why is that box even necessary?? Well, Waitrose got to keep it this time, hee hee!

Here's one that I didn't notice in the store: sweet corn in a wrapper and also on a plastic tray. Grr!

Useless item that need not exist - a sweetcorn tray.


A month since I last posted on here!!

So how are we getting on?
Well, last but one bin collection saw a huge breakthrough in that the recylables bin wasn't even full - as a direct result of me buying less packaged stuff. I would say our recyclable rubbish was reduced by 50% - so there was no overflow going into the black bin and to landfill.

Buying less packaged stuff meant more home cooking - which I have been enjoying, and getting the kids to help! Landfill bin waste was also significantly down - and I don't even feel like I've made loads of changes in what a buy yet - not as many as I could anyway.

But how about NOW - and this bin collection. Well ... this is what we have at the moment:

Black Bin (Landfill):
Just over three quarters full in two weeks - will be collected tomorrow.
This, frankly, is a bit more than last time, but still LOADS LESS than before we started on the Rubbish Diet. Before, my bin was always overflowing and had to be compacted. NB - there is a big slab of manky wood in here that Mr Ruby must have put in, and it's taking up loads of room. If that wasn't in, it would look less (honest!).

Brown Bin (Compostable Waste):
LOOK! I have a brown bin! It arrived on Monday and is already in use!

I was very excited when this arrived. I've had to wait a bit because the council didn't have any spare, but at last it's here. This bin is really going to help reduce what we send to landfill.

I clean out our guinea pigs' cage either once or twice a week, and as it's quite a big cage, the old newspapers, hay, sawdust etc does fill up the bin quite a bit. So now they can go straight in here - and will make good compost. Our veg peelings go in too, and you can see some screwed up greaseproof paper, which I've been using to wrap the kids sandwiches in, instead of dastardly clingfilm.

Blue Bin (Recyclable Waste)
About a quarter full after one week. One week to go before collection.

Do you know, I thought this was going to be up, but it isn't particularly. I've been quite busy this week, hence the quiche and pizza boxes. But on the whole, not a lot of recyclable stuff. If you wonder why I'm worried about this when it isn't even going to landfill, it's just that I am conscious about excess packaging and am trying to avoid it.

What do I do next?
One thing I need to do over the next couple of weeks is get my hands dirty - and analyse what's still going into our black bin. I know there's stuff going in there that could be recycled at our local tip where there are special facilities (e.g. for plastic wrappers, plastic bags, tetra packs etc, none of which can be put in the ordinary blue recylables bin). But what's the other stuff? I'm not really sure.

Almost Mrs Average mentioned recycling routines - and I am going to have to work on this. What I really don't want to do is collect loads of junk for recycling and having it lie around for weeks, waiting to be taken to the recyling centre. But I need to get my butt into gear because I am feeling more than a bit guilty about some of the stuff still going to landfill. Mr Ruby would be the obvious person to take all the stuff once a week or so as the tip's a way off, and I don't drive but he does.

I'll tell you what though - rather than have to faff about with all this stuff like this, I really do wish it didn't exist. Most of this RUBBISH (and I mean that in the derrogatory sense of the word) actually didn't exist a few years ago, and I really wish it still didn't. Most of it is just useless stuff that wasn't ever needed in the first place.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Overpackaged #1 in a series

I'm a sucker for buying overpackaged stuff because it somehow makes it look nicely presented. I am going to have to fight this one if I want to try and cut down on the insane amount of stuff I have to send to be recycled.

Mr Ruby loves pitta bread and brought these home from Tesco today. Yes, the plastic container here is recyclable, but surely there is no need for it to exist in the first place?

My Rubbish Diet Plan by Almost Mrs Average

I thought I'd better post my Rubbish Diet Plan, worked out for me by Almost Mrs Average:

"After revealing her rubbish to us on Monday, this week I've been busy working on Ruby's diet plan, with the aim of slimming her bins. Even though it won't be practical for her household to go down to virtually nothing, the plan should help her reduce her rubbish by half.I thought it would be useful to include the list of recommendations here as there's nothing like publicly revealing the plan to encourage progress, as I too discovered a couple of months ago. However, please note that the information below is based on the recycling facilities that are available in St Edmundsbury. Local facilities may vary.

Problem 1: Overloaded Recycling Bin
Symptoms include: not enough space after roughly a week in service; rubbish often needs to be crushed or added to landfill bin.
Recommended Solutions:
Try to buy products with less packaging.
Identify items that could alternatively be composted.
Identify items that could be taken into school for junk modelling activities.
Buy extra blue-bin bags from the council, so that recycled items can be disposed of properly and saved from landfill (note - this is the last option, if all else fails)

Problem 2: Landfill bin is full to capacity
Symptoms include: rubbish needing to be crushed before collection; extra bags are sometimes put out for collection.
Recommended Solutions:
Consider composting opportunities* to remove fruit peelings, tea bags/coffee grains and guinea pig waste from landfill bin.
Identify items that can be recycled at the local recycling facility and store those away for separate recycling: e.g. aerosols, tetra paks and plastic bags can be taken to the local recycling point.
Implement a routine, perhaps a monthly drop-off at the local recycling centre.
Remember that plastic and foil trays, including meat trays, can be washed out and recycled in the blue bin. Plastic bottles can also be recycled.
Try to replace products that have non-recyclable packaging with items that have no packaging or are packaged in materials that can be recycled.
Consider reducing take-away portions and other cooked food portions, if leftover food is a real issue.

Priority targets:
To Reduce packaging to improve condition of blue bin.
To Remove items from the black bin that can be either composted or recycled at local recycling facilities.

Ruby is going to implement this plan over the next month, with a review half-way through to see how things are going. To help the "Ruby household" on its way, I've presented the following suggestions:
Packaging alternatives:
1. Avoid packaging where possible, but if packaging is needed, try to choose recyclable or compostable packaging. If using an Internet site, next time they are in the supermarket the family should try to look for alternatives to over-packaged culprits that they regularly buy.
2. When buying chocolate bars, consider replacing the products that are wrapped in plastic film with those that use paper and foil.
3. Buy fruit and vegetables loose rather than pre-packaged. If using Internet sites, use the comments box to request that items aren’t bagged and then return shopping bags to the driver. If items are delivered bagged, call the shop manager to consider changing their policy to accommodate the request.
4. If tinned food is normally bought in multi-packs, find out if buying single tins is just as cheap and order those instead. That way, the plastic wrapping that is used for multi-packs can be avoided. Pet food, baked beans, tomatoes and tuna are regular culprits.5. Have a go at supersizing non-perishable products. Less packaging is often needed for one large container than two smaller sized ones. This can also save money in the longer term.
6. Instead of wrapping leftover food or packed lunches in clingfilm, use aluminium foil which can be washed and recycled. Better still use containers, which can be reused.

Composting alternatives:
1. The solution with the least impact on the family would be to ask the council for a brown bin, which can be used for kitchen and garden waste. The items that can be put into St Edmundsbury's local brown bin collection scheme include: Shredded paper; plain cardboard (without printing); fruit and peelings; vegetable peelings and salads; tea bags and coffee grounds; ash (must be cold); grass cuttings and hedge prunings; leaves and bark; plants and dead flowers; straw; sawdust and untreated wood. The best thing is that in our area, there is no extra charge for a brown bin collection.

2. Alternatively a home composter could be purchased. This would have the benefit of composting guinea-pig waste as well as egg-cartons, newspaper and cooking oil which would remove a number of additional items from both the black and the blue bin.. Note, a composter cannot take wood or very hard hedge prunings, but I can’t see that being a problem for the Ruby household. Estimated cost: £30
3. If cooked food waste continues to be a problem, this can be composted in a Bokashi system, which is an indoor bucket that can be filled with most food waste, including cooked meat products. Active bran is added to the food in layers and left for two weeks to ferment. The liquid must be drained off regularly and can be poured down the drain or diluted with water as a fertiliser for plants. After 2 weeks, the fermented food can be put into the composter. Estimated cost: £50-£85

In reality, I think that option 1, the free brown wheely bin, will be more suitable for the Ruby household, as it will have the least impact on the family's lifestyle. Ruby has a small back garden and even though it would be a nice idea to grow some plants and possibly vegetables, there are currently no opportunities for using compost from a home composter. We've agreed that Ruby's 10 year-old daughter will be the bin monitor to help the family keep on track. Apparently she's great at organising people, including busy parents, which is what's needed for a project like this."

©The Rubbish Diet 2008. Originally published here on the Rubbish Diet blog, 4 April 2008.

How it all began

As someone who spends a lot of time in the company of the lovely Almost Mrs Average both socially and work-wise, it has been impossible for me not to be swept along in the wake of the Rubbish Diet - her attempt to reduce the rubbish she sends to landfill to zero.

Both she and I made basically the same new year's resolutions for 2008, although one of hers was to reduce her rubbish - which wasn't on my list. Then when our council set people in the borough a challenge to work towards a "Zero Waste Week" to take place in March 2008, she took things further and started to work towards the goal in earnest, charting her progress by keeping a blog about it.

If you think I have been a role model for the perfect supportive friend all along, let me tell you that my main pleasure when she started off was doing stuff like purposely leaving empty plastic coke bottles in her car, and even, on one occasion, slipping a non-recyclable empty crisp packet in to her eco-friendly shopping bag when she wasn't looking.

But being with Almost Mrs A. so much, and witnessing what she was doing first hand, I was actually impressed right from the beginning. Which is why I agreed to let her come round and have a look at our own household's rubbish, and work me out an easy-to-implement rubbish diet plan that would suit me and and my family. Here is a post about me and my rubbish on her blog. And here's one with the rubbish reduction plan she did for me.

And a couple of things from her Rubbish Diet campaign so far have made the most impression on me, have been these:

Almost Mrs Average's visit to a local landfill site. The post on this and photos are quite shocking, especially the one of the lorry tipping out its horrible cargo into the countryside. Almost Mrs A. said that leaving her own bag of rubbish here, which she took along with her, felt like littering. I could see exactly what she meant. The whole lot is like littering.

- Being with Almost Mrs A when she was buying flowers at the market. She asked for no sellotape on the paper which wrapped them, but the man was on auto-pilot and put it on anyway. "Why didn't you want it?" I asked as we walked away. She replied "Because there's no way you can dispose of it. No-where you can send it except landfill."

Well, I am now just over two weeks into my own rubbish diet plan and will be posting updates and bits and pieces along the way.