I’ve often wondered what life must be like several years after doing a Zero Waste Week. So you can imagine my excitement in discovering the Baker family from Bath who took part in a similar challenge two years ago
Judith and her partner Simon signed up to the challenge, along with their teenagers Matt and Laura, when Bath and North East Somerset council launched their first Zero Waste Week in 2006, a concept which had just been introduced to the UK from an idea that had already been spreading around New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk to Judith about her thoughts on waste and what initially attracted her to the original challenge.
“As a post-war baby, I had grown up with the waste-not-want-not message.” She told me, “My family were already behind the idea of leaving a smaller footprint on the earth and the Zero Waste Week supported both these ideals.”
Before their Zero Waste Week challenge, the family weighed their rubbish, two bin bags (swing bin size) which came in at 4.5 kilograms. By the end of the week they had reduced this by 80% to an amazing 900g, amounting to just half a bin bag.
Judith was already used to recycling, sorting newspapers, magazines, greetings cards and scrap paper, as well as glass bottles, jars, tins, cans for their kerbside collection. They were also lucky to have plastic bottles collected too along with batteries, textiles and shoes. Everything was sorted into plastic bags for their fortnightly collection. They generated very little food waste, so this wasn’t a problem. They also composted their peelings and whatever scraps were left would always be put out for the birds.
With excellent recycling facilities and with a garden waste service to boot, which also accepted cardboard, it might have seemed that there was nothing else to tackle. However this was not the case.
“Things like plastic fruit punnets weren’t collected by our council,” said Judith “neither were yoghurt pots or margarine tubs. We would also have had a problem with Tetra Pak cartons and polythene bags but I found out we could recycle Tetrapaks, posting them to Perry’s in Bridgewater and we could send magazine wrappings, frozen vegetable bags and bread bags to Polyprint in Norfolk”.
After all this effort I wondered what did actually end up in their Zero Waste Week bin two years ago. Judith enlightened me.
“Just some miscellaneous plastic packaging, such as crisp packets, a plastic tray from a tiramisu and a croissant wrapper as well as some scrambled eggs and baked beans that went wrong, which in retrospect could have been put on the bird table”.
Having made a massive reduction to their household waste, I was also keen to find out whether this effort was sustained after Zero Waste Week. What was the impact of the challenge and how much does the family now throw away?
Judith revealed “We now throw out one swing bin’s worth of rubbish per week. We learned a lot from the challenge and I have continued sending my polythene wrappings to Polyprint. It costs £1.52 per month to post a package weighing just under 500g. It would make things so much easier if the council collected all types of bags and wrappings. We also continue to recycle Tetra Paks, but no longer have to send them to Perry’s thanks to a recycling service set up by the council.”
This is a fantastic example of how once an individual or a family experiences such a challenge, life can never be the same again. Admittedly the amount of rubbish went up after Zero Waste Week, but the reality is that there is a regular reduction of 50% that has been constant over the last two years. It really does demonstrate the longevity of the effects of such a campaign on a family’s lifestyle.
The great news is that Judith has signed up for the Zero Waste Challenge again, the one that is currently being organised by Bath & NES, which is taking place this week. The only change in the family circumstances is that son Matt has now gone off to university. I wanted to find out what she thought might happen this time.
“I know that plastic will be my downfall,” she asserted. “I will make an effort not to acquire certain plastics but I don’t have access to a street market which would help to reduce this. I also know the bathroom bin will be a problem. We all wear contact lenses, so there will be a mass of plastic pods. There is also the problem of new types of polythene packaging, such as the bread bags introduced by the Co-op which are labelled Oxo-degradable. These can’t be recycled so will have to go to landfill.”
I managed to catch up with Judith on Wednesday evening to get an update about how things were going this week. Just like in 2006, the first task was to weigh the amount of rubbish from the week before. Quite timely for the Bakers, Day one was also Bin Day. So how big was last week's rubbish?
"We only put out one bag, which weighed a shade over 2 kilos, well under half of what we used to put out before ZWW 2006. More than half that 2 kilos was one single item - a large tub of tile grout, nearly full, which had gone off since the last time we did any DIY and was unusable. If I treat the grout as one-off or exceptional item, I was putting out just under one kilo, or roughly the same weight as I did at the end of ZWW 06. So we haven't been backsliding too badly. "
That's a great starting point, just one bag! But how were things faring by Wednesday night, Day 3 of the challenge? I asked Judith to have a quick check on their current rubbish.
As she poked about her bin, this is what she had to say.
"OH NO did I really put the eggshells in there? Shame on me. Into the compost with you, my beauties, along with the tealeaves (a moment's inattention from someone who shall be nameless). The rest is crisp packets from packed lunches and a few of those pesky semi-degradable plastic wrappers, unsuitable for Polyprint. But there are notable absences: no yogurt pots this week because I bought a brand which comes in a re-usable clear pot with a cardboard stiffener, and the chocolate mousses came in earthenware pots which are eminently re-usable."
And is there anything else?
"There is still a bit of clingfilm but a lot less than usual. I have been trying to give it up, honest. It's just that it is so very useful for covering left-overs in the fridge in such a way that I don't forget they are there ...So half-way through, I can see that even now it won't be zero waste, but I am hoping for an improvement on last time."
Well, I think that's fantastic and I am looking forward to their final weigh-in next week.
I’ve also got some some more news for Judith and anyone else who’s participating in a Zero Waste Challenge. As well as GHS and Polyprint, I’ve discovered that Impact Recycling in Kent will accept deliveries of a whole host of household waste items, including the plastic punnets that Judith found tricky the first time round. The great news is there’s not a minimum requirement, just a simple request to sort items into separate bags.
So that's another source that will help the Bakers slim their bin even further, even if something odd pops up like a cracked CD.
There are still a few nerve-racking days until the end of the challenge, so while we’re waiting to catch up with the Bakers next week, you might want to find out more about the resources mentioned in this post. The links are listed below:
GHS: Tel: 0808-100-1456
Impact Recycling: Tel: 01634 255400
Perrys Recycling (office recycling): 01935 850111
Polyprint Mailing Films: 01603 721807
And please remember, if you're planning on sending items through to the companies concerned, please call first to check their current arrangements.
More information about the Bath and North East Somerset's Zero Waste Challenge Week, can be found at www.bathnes.gov.uk