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.