Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Just Gai's Zero Waste Challenge

It may seem like a Tale of Two Cities, yesterday Bath and today Bristol, but I am very pleased to venture over the border into my husband's home city to discover how blogger Just Gai got on with her Zero Waste Week, which was organised by Bristol City Council.

Having already been fairly green for a while, Just Gai and her family of four were initially inspired by the Rubbish Diet and Mrs Green’s Zero Waste Challenge. She had even been considering setting up her own independent challenge. However she admits that it might never have happened if she hadn't seen an advert for Bristol’s Zero Waste Challenge Week in a local magazine. The advert was the impetus she needed and was perfectly timed to give her a few weeks’ practice before the real thing.

Even though Bristol's main event was last week in the form of Zero Waste Challenge Week, her own challenge actually started just over four weeks ago, when she began blogging about her experiences over at

I am delighted that Just Gai allowed me to interview her to uncover more about what she did and how she did it. So, please sit back and relax, while Just Gai and I talk rubbish!

How much waste did you regularly throw out before you started your Zero Waist blog 4 weeks ago?

Approximately one swing bin liner a week.

How does this compare to the amount you threw away during the week before the Zero Waste Challenge Week?

The week before the challenge I threw away 135g of waste, which was about the equivalent of a 1\4 of a carrier bag.

That's a huge difference and in just three weeks. What recycling facilities did you have at your disposal?

In addition to our fortnightly regular bin collection we have a weekly kerbside collection of our black recycling box and brown kitchen waste bucket. We are able to recycle paper, cardboard, glass, tins, aluminium foil, batteries, spectacles, clothes, shoes etc in the black box and raw and cooked food waste in the brown bucket. Plastic bottles and drinks cartons are not collected but can be recycled in bins in our local supermarket car parks. I also have a compost bin and a wormery.

What has been the hardest part of the challenge?

Being organised enough to avoid having to make wasteful purchases. I tend to live from day to day, often picking up food on my way home from work. This is alright if I can get to my local shops but not if I have to resort to my nearest supermarket where almost everything is wrapped in layers of plastic.

What was easier than you thought?

I decided to ask local shopkeepers to place items such as meat, fish, olives etc directly into my plastic containers rather than in a plastic bag. I was afraid they would refuse to do so or, even worse, not take me seriously, but I needn’t have worried because, in the event, they were all very happy to oblige, even in my local supermarket.

Do you think it has been easier or harder living in a city, or did it make very little difference?

Never having lived in the country I am not qualified to answer this question but I would imagine, perhaps incorrectly, that a city council would be able to offer a wider range of recycling facilities than a rural one. Also, unless the rural community was able to offer a variety of local shops, which is increasingly unlikely, then residents might be forced to use neighbouring supermarkets, which are generally more wasteful.

Do you think that blogging about your experiences made a difference to how you tackled the challenge?

It was your blog and that of Mrs Green that set me on this path and posting my experiences on Zero Waist helped me concentrate my thoughts and inform my actions during the run up to and the challenge week itself. It was also the means by which I was featured in Bristol’s Evening Post which enabled me to reach a wider audience. I was encouraged by the comments and support I received from those who read my blog and were kind enough to leave comments. Blogs are useful vehicles for exchanging information and useful tips. They put a human face on what can be a rather depressing subject.

How do you think the challenge will impact on family life from now on?

I will never be able to shop again without giving as much consideration to the outside of a product as to what’s inside. Which is not to say that I will never buy anything wrapped in plastic again. However, when I do, it will be because there is no viable alternative. My family were very supportive of my challenge and, with the exception of the odd packet of sherbet and bag of crisps, went without many of their favourite foods. I am acutely aware of the danger of forcing the issue with teenagers, but I hope that my daughters (aged 14 and 16) appreciated what I was trying to achieve and that, even if not immediately, it will have a positive influence on their lifestyle in the future.

How would you encourage others to have a go at a Zero Waste challenge?

I would urge them to give it a go. I relish a challenge and so I had to go for broke. To those who are less foolhardy than myself, I would suggest that they start with one thing and wait until they are comfortable with it before moving on to another. Investing in a reuseable shopping bag to avoid plastic carriers is as good a place to begin as any.

From reading your blog, it is evident that after a "shaky" start, you managed a number of consecutive Zero Waste days, when nothing went in your bin at all. I am sure readers will be keen to find out what you had in the bin at the end of the week. Can you show us?

At the end of Zero Waste Week I threw away 5g of waste, comprising 2 pieces of plastic tape and 5 plastic labels and a metal seal from a string of chorizo sausages.

And what amazing results too, just a tiny amount of plastic that can easily fit into the palm of her hand.

As you know, I'm getting to like poking my nose in other people's rubbish and I am truly grateful that Just Gai obliged and something tells me her swing bin could be looking for new accommodation.

But seriously what will happen now? On her blog Just Gai acknowledges that she won't be able to keep this up on a permanent basis as there are too many essentials that her family just can't live without such as pasta, couscous and pitta bread, all of which are packaged in unrecyclable plastic. However she plans to carry on taking her containers to the shops, will recycle all plastic bags and will continue to bake more.

The other great news is that even though the challenge is over, Just Gai hopes she will continue to blog about various waste issues from time to time over at her Zerowaist blog.

So while I'm cracking open the champagne to celebrate her hard work and resounding success, please do keep popping by her blog to see how she's getting on. If she's not around, try her other excellent blog, which can be found at



Jo Beaufoix said...

Brilliant work Just Gai. Well done.

Mrs Green said...

brilliant post - it was great to see Just Gai's answers and to share her success. Thanks for doing the interview, Mrs A and sharing it with us :)

Mrs G x

esther said...

I just saw her blog yesterday, and have to say, thumbs up, for this lady!! she does have a big chance thougn, that her comunity recycles that much, even spectacles! wow!!

Kate said...

Wow, that is amazing!

You know what would be great? If there were some sort of manufacturer or bread/pasta/cereal/ and other essentials that come in unrecycled plastic who decided, no more. It all can only be in recyclable containers.

Or even they could give us the option to order their products in recyclable containers! It could be on their website.

I would do it...I think it would be an excellent challenge and possibly a competitive strategy for companies out there!

Great post, thank-you!


Hi Jo - Cheers for your support, the best thing is, she didn't even do any junk modelling, unlike me! :-D

Hi Mrs G - I'm really grateful that Just Gai was happy to do it. It's great to have the opportunity to showcase individual scenarios to inspire others. I'm glad Just Gai will carry on blogging too. that's fab! :-D

Hi Esther - it is true that if your council recycles lots of different types of waste, it is a hell of a lot easier to slim your bin. So, if councils can find the buyers for recyclates and can set up the systems to collect, just look what people can do ;-D

Hi Kate - now wouldn't that be amazing. I'd be a customer too and I know a lot of people who would as well. ;-D

Mole said...

Full marks to Just Gai for her initiative in taking her own containers to the shops. I thought it was interesting that the retailers (even the big one) did not try to hide behind 'regulations' or 'elf and safety' when offered a shopper's own pot to fill. This has to be a better way forward than acquiring the plastic and then having to dispose of it.


Hi Mole - great to see you over here. It's interesting isn't it. I rang a supermarket head office a few months ago and the official line was that they would not support container usage because of the old Health and Safety issues (LOL at elf and safety). But if you go to a store, the staff are happy to oblige...strange that ;-D

just Gai said...

Thanks for featuring me on your blog Mrs A. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge but it was definitely only the beginning! It's good to be able to share our ideas and experiences and to encourage each other in our campaigns.rf

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin