Friday, 3 October 2008

Can it get any better than this?

One week's rubbish, two year's on.

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.

If Judith does end up with any rigid plastic containers, she will save them up until she has a decent amount to mail to GHS Plastics in Portsmouth, which I recommended to her after seeing the company featured on

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


Jane said...

I have just noticed Oxo-degradable wrappings and wondered what they were and how to dispose of them. Composts only with a certain brand of stock cube was all that sprang to my mind!

A quick update on my Zero Waste week minus 1 - I have 65g of rubbish so far, with just the rest of today and the weekend to go. Its almost all food packaging and oxo-degradable bags. All hints on reducing plastic food packaging, especially meat and soft fruit cartons, down to zero for next week would be greatly appreciated (and will save me from a week of tinned food).


Hi Jane - LOL, I'm afraid the OXOs (for short) can only be disposed of in landfill.

Apart from looking out for the compostable paper cartons for things like Strawberries and taking your own containers to buy meat, check out a shop called Unpackaged.

It's in London and can be found at

42 Amwell Street

You just take your own containers along and fill up and go.

You'll find a list of the stuff that they sell here:

Good luck ;-D

esther said...

I think it's such a great thing to be able to mail the plastics! I have no idea if this works in France and how to find out if this exists, but that will be my next chore to do!

Jane said...

Thank you for the tips.

The Unpackaged shop has a beautiful exterior, like an old chemist, so is well worth a cycle ride for that alone.

I'll try taking some boxes to Waitrose this weekend and see how I get on at the meat and fish counters. Though I might try another branch so as to not face the embarrasment of returning next week in case they refuse in horror.


Hi Esther - it's great isn't it. Hopefully you'll find something en France too. Do let me know if something turns up. :-D

Hi Jane - always a pleasure :-D
Good luck with your visit to Waitrose, if they don't do it, see if they can wrap in paper instead.
Do you fancy doing a review of your visit to Unpackaged, as I'd love to know what you think. If so, feel free to email some text and I'll feature it on the blog over the next couple of weeks. If you're up for it and can take a few digital photos too that would be fab. But no pressure, honest :-D

Mrs Green said...

Mrs A, I loved your piece today and I'm so pleased you caught up with Judith and Simon to find out what they are now up to. I've always found this with documentaries and the like - how are people getting on in 2 years time? We rarely find out, which is why I was excited to read your post and delighted to hear that they are still doing brilliantly.
Congratulations to them both and good luck to everyone taking part in Zero waste week.

I'm off inspecting Impact Recycling now but I can't find much about household recycling; well, only for local people. Do they accept things by post do you know?

Have a wonderful weekend,
Mrs G x


Hi Mrs G - thanks for your lovely comments. I was thrilled when I found Judith and she agreed to the follow up. I wonder if someone will do the same to us in a couple of years time. LOL, we could do it for each other Ha ha!

It may sound too good to be true but Impact recycling does accept stuff through the post. I jumped up and down with excitement when I found out, especially as they recycle so much. Great news for all. :-D x

Fr. Peter Doodes said...

Thanks for this Mrs. A. The Polyprint contact details were a great help and I will send a link to the groups I belong to.



Hi Peter - Great to see you and glad to be of service. Polyprint's service is one that is well worth sharing amongst as many people as you can. Thanks for spreading the word.

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