Tuesday, 7 October 2008

How the Bakers fared in Zero Waste Week

Last week, I promised I would catch up with the Baker family regarding the successes of their Zero Waste Week challenge, which was organised by Bath and North East Somerset Council.

Judith kindly provided me with a full summary of how the week went. It really brings home the actual issues to hand and helps put things into perspective for the average family, which is why I've sought permission from Judith to publish the full update.


"First the good news: the bin lorry passed my front gate at 8.30 this morning but there was no bin bag for it to collect from the Baker family. So it was indeed Zero Waste Week, for the first time ever. Should we break out the elderflower champagne?

Later perhaps - and, as always, the truth is more complicated.

Just before the screeching of brakes announced the imminent arrival of the Bath & NE Somerset Council refuse truck, I snapped on my rubber gloves and delved into the bin under the sink to see whether there was anything to put out.

There was indeed a little bit of rubbish. Not much, less than a quarter of one of our normal mini-swing bin liners. It was pretty well all plastic film of one sort or another, the sort not taken by Polyprint or Impact (at least, not according to their website). But there was nothing smelly or 'orrible, so I just weighed it (200g) and left it. And there was yet another lightbulb (150g). Hmm, what is going on here - that's three in two weeks. Low energy, short life?

Not all rubbish makes it into the main kitchen bin immediately, so one regular Monday morning task is to empty the bins in other rooms.

  • Sitting room: all paper and card - no problem.
  • Giant bin in my home-worker office: full to overflowing, but all paper which will go in the green crate on Thursday.
  • Bedrooms: one family member has had a heavy cold so there was a mass of tissues. Someone once told me you can put used tissues on the compost, but I draw the line at putting tissues full of cold germs in with my vegetable peelings and grass clippings. Instead I wrapped up the tissues and put them in the bathroom bin, which is where the bad news breaks.
Those of a sensitive disposition should look away now:
  • 2 old toothbrushes and one empty tube of toothpaste (35g); 1 empty bottle of cold remedy with an non-removable metal-and-plastic cap and two empty plastic pill packets (another 35g); Tissues and ummm ... feminine hygiene products (sorry, I did warn you) 200g The dratted contact lens pods - a rigid plastic dish and a plasticised foil lid (150g, two weeks' worth for 3 of us)
It was not a huge amount, certainly not enough to make me change my mind and run after the bin lorry, but it is clear that this is an area that needs a lot more work.

Finally, a review of the recyclables. In the cupboard under the stairs, along with the green crate for bottles, paper, tins and soft plastic containers, there is 475g of plastic wrapping destined for Polyprint.

I really do not mind sending one pack a month of very tightly screwed up magazine wrapping, frozen pea bags and bread bags to Norwich at a modest £1.52 a time.

Also awaiting action is 100g of rigid plastic.
I tried hard not to acquire any at all this week, but my daughter and I would have starved on the long train journey home from York to Bath if we had not bought a prepared salad and a yogurt each.

I will send it to GHS, so it did not end up in the bin this week. But I am not going to make a habit of it, because the economist in me screams "This is madness".
The pots needed washing up (warm water, eco-washing up liquid) and careful drying; they are bulky and will make an awkward parcel. And I simply do not believe it is sensible for individual households to post yogurt pots round the country.

I have heard a rumour to the effect that Bath & NE Somerset is considering collecting a wider range of plastics in the next 2 years. For me, that can't come soon enough. I would even be willing to take them to a Council depot, as I do with my Tetra-Paks, as long as it does not mean a special journey. (By the way, one of my neighbours takes his plastic back to the supermarket, on the basis that if they are confronted with it, they will mend their ways and start wrapping food in compostable or fully recyclable packaging. But garbage guerrilla action isn't my thing. Yet.)

Two lessons from this week: (1) packaging and forgetfulness are the enemy of zero waste, at least in this household, and (2) I would do a lot better if retailers reviewed their packaging policies and the Council collected plastics. "

Huge congratulations go to Judith and her family for reducing their rubbish to just under 800g in a week. The event has shown that even if a family's rubbish is still low, it is always worth signing up for a Zero Waste Challenge as it provides new opportunities to reassess the facilities that are available.

However, the news doesn't look good regarding Judith's plastics. I caught up with Sarah George, Waste Campaigns Officer for Bath & North East Somerset, one of the key organisers of the challenge, who confirmed that despite rumours there are no timescales or definite plans for extending plastics recycling at present. I guess this may change as markets are firmed up and infrastructures are developed in the future.

I also asked Sarah for some feedback on the council's Zero Waste challenge.

"We've been really pleased with the response to this year's Zero Waste Challenge Week". She told me

"Altogether 4 adjacent authorities have taken part and we've had staff teams, schools and community groups all getting involved and giving the challenge a go. We are looking forward to seeing how we can develop this challenge further in the future."

One of the adjacent authorities that Sarah mentioned was Bristol, where Just Gai has been participating her Zero Waste Week. So as we leave the Bakers with a congratulatory round of applause, do come back later this week to see how Just Gai has got on.

But before we head off to Bristol, I'd like to thank Judith for both participating in and supporting this blog. Her insight is a valuable one, as we strive to tackle this thing we love to hate...waste....! And her experience has definitely proven that once you've done a Zero Waste challenge, life can never be the same again.



Mrs Green said...

lovely to hear how they did after their zero waste week.
Thank you for chasing up this story and letting us take a peek into their lives :)

I'm always so inspired to hear how other people get on

Mrs G x

Tracey Smith said...

A brilliant posting here - so good to see another regular 'Joe' getting her head around making the migration towards a smaller bin.

The dratted contact lens pods get me too - lolol....

Good luck for making it smaller still,

Jane said...

This was really interesting - thank you. It is inspiring to hear how other people got on, and encouraging too.


Hi Mrs G - It's always a pleasure to find out what other people do. You hear so much in the press about the people who create so much rubbish, it's great to highlight those that don't and it is true, it is always very inspiring ;-D

Hi Trace - lovely you to see you, you very busy lady. As for the podsI'm lucky my husband sticks to his glasses, except when he goes swimming....or has special photos taken ;-D

Hi Jane - I hope it all helps with your Watch Your Waste Week this week. I hope it's going well and I can't wait to share your news soon. Keep that bin slim this week ;-D

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