Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Avoiding rubbish at the sales...

(Photo Credit: Flickr's DavidDMuir)

... and using the sales to avoid rubbish!

So the winter discount season is officially in full swing, with high street stores and online sites already reporting bumper sales activity.

But what's good for the till might not be so great for the bins. With every sale comes a whole sackful of potential rubbish - and I'm not criticising the quality of the goods purchased, it's the consequences of the sales that concern me. When the UK is out shopping, the bins naturally get fuller, whether it's on the high-street or when we return home with all our brand new goods.

Take a look at a typical shopping scenario, and you'll see what I mean.

Unless you walk to the shops, your first encounter with potential rubbish is on public transport or at the car park with paper-based tickets being issued. And that's just the start of the paper trail. By the time the tills are ringing louder than Jingle Bells, you've also got a till receipt, a credit-card receipt, perhaps some tissue wrapping to protect your purchase and if you're in a designer shop you'll have a posh paper bag to top it all off. And we haven't even started on the the tags that hang off clothes or the other products that are protected by packaging, batteries that come with gadgets or even dealing with the obsolete goods that your new purchases have replaced, those pre-loved items that are now your history.

Every purchase is followed by a natural waste trail, but the good news is that hitting the sales doesn't mean stuff has to end up in landfill, especially if you look out for waste-traps and avoid whatever rubbish you can, such as polystyrene and anything else that you can't recycle locally. The trick is to be prepared in a way that allows you to grab some bargains without spoiling your fun!

Here's my guide to making the most of the sales with a Rubbish Diet twist.

1. Take an old bag shopping, even when you're buying clothes!

But before you ask, I don't mean me... cos at the moment I feel all shopped out and I'm far too cosy sat at home, thank you very much!

It's a reusable bag you need, or indeed several, so you can Say No to Unwanted Bags (SNUB) when the till assistant automatically starts shoving the stuff into their free carrier bags.

Remember, reusable bags aren't just for supermarkets! They're for other types of shopping too!

For many people, a carrier bag lasts just the journey home before it gets binned or recycled, including paper bags, which should not necessarily be seen in a better light than a plastic one . Even if a shop is offering disposable bags made from recycled materials, it is still better to decline and use your own shopping bags instead. As BBC Radio Suffolk's Rob Dunger highlighted on Monday, there is a certain feel-good factor to avoiding the ubiquitous bag and I can't help but agree. I've even turned down bags in Harrods, feeling quite peachy as a result.

So if you haven't already got a smart bag or a rucksack to pop your shopping in, perhaps that should be your first treat in the sales. Most chain stores sell their own at little cost, but there's a wider range available on the internet. The most practical are those that are rain repellent and can also fold up into your handbag. Check out, Onya Bags as well as the totally self-contained Trolley-Dolly, which is perfect for supermarket shopping too.

For more bulky goods, jute ones are best thanks to their hard-wearing properties. I particularly love the colourful bags from the British Red Cross as well as the ReSACKel bags made from oriental rice bags, which can be bought from MyZeroWaste.

Once you've made sure you're all kitted up, you can decline as many bags as you like and carry your shopping home with pride. Besides I predict that as fashion becomes more homogeneous, the best way to let your individuality shine will be through the bags that you carry!

2. ReThink your bargains!

Of course one sure way to cut down on rubbish is to prevent it in the first place and rethink whether you actually need that bargain. Buying something that you've had your eye on for a while is one thing, but it's the impulse purchases that you need to be wary of. We all love a bargain and it is so easy to fall in love with an item when you're hit by the adrenalin rush that invariably comes with sales shopping, especially when discounts show 75% off and you're on a time limit. But what happens when you get it home? Often the magic wears off.

So before you part with your hard-earned cash, ask yourself if you'll still be in love with that item in one month's time or even six month's time and whether you are really saving money in the sales. If you have the slightest doubt, turn around and leave the object of your affections on the shelf because there's no such thing as a bargain if you don't really want or need it and all you're buying is a piece of future junk. It sounds harsh, but your bank balance as well as your rubbish bin will be better for it.

If you really have some spare cash to splash around this Christmas, and are serious about making lifestyle savings, then rethink the bargain and consider buying practical yet fun things that will help you slim your waste and keep a bulge in your wallet when the holiday season is over.

You might want to try some of these for size:

Travel Mugs are perfect if you're a commuter. Just froth up a coffee before you leave the house in the morning and you'll have a latte-to-go. With the amount you'll save on take-away drinks, you'll soon claw back your investment, saving at least £40 a month if a daily visit to a coffee shop is a regular habit. If you need to grab a hot drink when you're around town, the great news is that companies such as Starbucks offer a 25p discount when you hand over a reusable mug. Travel mugs can be picked up at most supermarkets, coffee chains or department stores, but if you'd like some inspiration, check out the Brugomug and help make disposable coffee cups history.

Water Bottles have the same impact too, saving money on bottled water that comes in plastic bottles which are often difficult to recycle when out-and-about. If you've got kids, who are always thirsty on days out, a refillable water bottle will soon reduce your rubbish footprint and save tonnes of cash. So pick one up while you're sale-shopping and start using it straight away. As designs are constantly changing, you should be able to bag a bargain.

Rechargeable batteries may seem an expensive option when you consider cheap "two-for-one" offers on disposable batteries, but take some time to think about the amount of money you're throwing away each time you bung those batteries in the bin. Single-use batteries soon become the more expensive option, especially if they're used to power computer game controllers. My favourite rechargeable batteries need no extra kit, as you can plug them straight into your computer's USB. See for details. Alternatively, there are currently great bargains to be had on docking stations that charge-up handsets, such as those used for the Nintendo Wii. From prices currently under £7, you really can't go wrong. However, if you you've received a lot of free alkaline batteries with gifts, try the Alkaline Battery Recharger, which claims to recharge single-use batteries up to 10-20 times.

Christmas fabrics have become a popular alternative to wrapping paper and expensive gift bags, so make a point of visiting fabric shops or market stalls to look for end-of-season bargains. Switching to material for wrapping up your family presents will save a fortune on paper in years to come. Influenced by the Japanese art of Furoshiki, there are many ways in which you can use fabric to wrap gifts. See for details.

Pretty floral dishcloths are probably the last thing you'd want to look out for in the Christmas sales, but if you are seriously interested in grabbing a bargain, hunt out some cool dishcloths and start using these in favour of paper kitchen towel from now on. I've already saved £130 since I picked up mine last year, which means I've had an extra £130 to spend on stuff that I really want to buy, rather than on something that gets bunged in the bin. When you add in a microfibre cleaning cloth that just needs water instead of chemicals to clean windows and other surfaces, that's a few more tenners in your pocket.

3. Look out for goods made from recycled materials.

These days there are so many products that are made from recycled materials, that at last the conscious consumer is beginning to have real choice. Including umbrellas and fleeces made from PET bottles to solar powered calculators produced from recycled electronics, the quality of these products easily matches competing products manufactured from virgin materials. To ensure the recycling economy works to its full potential, it is really worth voting with your wallet and where possible choosing recycled goods in the sales.

4. Remember your WEEE responsibilities when buying electricals.

If you've been browsing the electricals aisles in any UK department store lately, or have visited an electronics retailer, you will have most probably seen notices advertising the latest regulations for recycling end-of-life WEEE products - otherwise known as Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment.

With the amount of electrical waste generated in the UK - which is enough to fill the whole of Wembley Stadium six times in just a year- this is serious stuff, and local authorities are working hard to keep it all out of landfill. The new recycling regulations affect all brand owners, importers, distributors and retailers of electrical and electronic equipment.

So if you're visiting the sales to replace an electrical or electronic item that is beyond repair, ask the retailer if they will take your old equipment in exchange. Most stores will now do this free of charge, on a like-for-like basis, as long as you take your old products back to the shop within a defined period after purchase (e.g. 30 days). If you are buying larger items such as televisions and washing machines, your old goods can be taken away when your new products are delivered. Alternatively, if your old appliances are in good repair, consider other ways of repurposing them (see the Furniture Reuse section below).

For smaller broken items, it might just be easier to take them along to your local Household Waste Recycling Centre. You can check whether it has WEEE recycling facilities using the postcode search at

The other news on this is that from 1 February 2010, UK stores that sell 32kg or more of household batteries will have to take back these batteries in-store, free of charge, when they become waste. In the meantime, check if your local HWRC accepts household batteries for recycling. All of Suffolk's 18 sites do and in Bury St Edmunds, we can recycle them via our kerbside collection.

5. Watch that TV!

Continuing on the WEEE theme, with digital television currently being rolled out across the UK, one particular temptation this year may be to grab yourself a brand new digital TV. However, if your existing television is relatively new and you're finding the prospect of replacing it so soon rather hard to swallow, be rest-assured that even with the digital switchover, you may not need to splash out on anything more than a digital-box. Even then, if you've bought a DVD player in the last few years, the chances are it will already have an integrated digital receiver, so you might already be sorted. So before you hit the sales, it's really worth checking what equipment you actually need. For more information, check out this factsheet at Where I live, in Suffolk, we don't actually switch over until 2011, by which time technology will have moved on even further, so it's worth holding out as long as possible.

If there is still life left in your old TV and you decide to go for an upgrade after all, rather than trade it in where it would only be dismantled to recover materials, why not earn great karma by giving it away on Freecycle or donating it to a charity shop or re-use store that accepts electricals (see below).

It feels a real shame to send working technology off for recycling, especially when others can make good use of it. On the other hand, recycling facilities for end-of-life electronic products are a very welcome addition to the waste management sector, which is a growth industry in the UK. If it's of interest, you can see what happens to old televisions in the BBC video here:

6. Furniture Reuse

Christmas is a time when many people also reassess their interiors, taking advantage of massive savings that can be found in the winter sales . Many of these purchases are to replace items that have worn out or have simply gone out of fashion. If your initial response is to throw away your old items in anticipation of welcoming in the new, or letting the retailer get rid of it for you then it's worth pausing for a moment to consider what other options are available.

It's a sad fact that of the 10,000 items of furniture that are thrown away each year, almost a third of these items could be reused and even more could be repaired. Furthermore, according to the Furniture Re-use Network, four million children live in households that cannot afford to replace worn-out furniture.

The Furniture Re-use Network has a membership of over 400 furniture and appliance re-use organisations across the UK, providing used and repaired items to local people on low incomes, who suffer from hardship, distress and poverty. Given the opportunity, it is far better to breathe life into old furniture than assume its only destination is landfill, so it's always worth contacting your local organisation to ask if they would like your redundant items. To find your nearest re-use charity, visit and click on their UK map.

7. Beware of the Snack Attack!

Beating your way through the sales can be hungry and thirsty work and even if you're normally good at managing waste, it's easy to hit the rubbish danger zone when you're out and about.

When you're snacking on the go, drinks bottles, aluminium cans and even paper packaging are more prone to be bunged in the rubbish bin than when you're sorting out your stuff at home.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing to stop you bringing an empty bottle or drinks can home with you. Once you consider such packaging as a resource with vast potential for making new things rather than rubbish to be buried in landfill, bringing it home for recycling seems a natural extension of your regular recycling activities.

But if this all feels one burden too far when you're bags are already stuffed with your shopping, you'll be relieved to hear that an increasing number of urban centres have now introduced on-street recycling facilities, including our county town of Ipswich. So all you need to do is keep your eyes peeled and use them wherever possible.


After all that, I'll bet you'll be glad to put your feet up and grab a cup of tea.

But before I finish up today, I just want to highlight one final thing that will make your sales shopping really go with a bang!

Remember bags aren't the only thing you can decline. There are plenty of other things that shop assistants try to shove in your bags when you are least expecting, including vouchers you'll never use and freebies for you to try out. If you're not interested, just say so.

And if you're offered a coathanger, remember to say no to those too...

... especially if it's a plastic one. They're far more tricky than the blimmin' bags!

And on that note, Happy Shopping and may all your bargains be waste-free.


If you've enjoyed this post, then why not listen into today's Rob Dunger show, where we will be discussing many of these issues live on air at BBC Radio Suffolk from 11:10 this morning and covering even more content during the rest of the week.

And if you're feeling particularly benevolent today, pop along to the Green Web Awards and vote for me in the Social Media Hero Category. While you're there, it would be great if you could support some of my other favourites too including MyZeroWaste, Waste Aware Love Food and Suffolk's Adnams brewery. Voting closes tomorrow, so you'll need to hurry.



Aly said...

Your so on my wave length! I'm going to come back to this post later tonight and check out some of the links.I will be writing my own posts about being more green and rechargeable batteries are next on my list.I have blog meme to get out of the way first then I'll come back and comment some more.Excellant!

Pippa said...

Lovely Lovely Lovely. One of my tasks for this year is to follow your example more... Shall use this as a springboard!


Hi Aly - great to see you. It's always good to meet up with folk of similar mindsets. Do come back and join in the discussions and once you've done your blogpost, let me know and I'll include it in my carnival. Details will be announced tomorrow. :-D

Hi Pippa - that is really fantastic to hear. I've got a diet plan for the new year which might be of interest to you and keep up your motivation levels. Drop by soon for more info. :-D

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