I kept it all low key. I didn't go on about it. There were no daily weigh-ins, no photos or any intrusive monitoring. I just planted a simple seed of a challenge, that was all, and observed the consequences that would come!
And the challenge I set my two children was to see who could create the LEAST amount of rubbish during the last week of the Easter holidays.
Of course, my youngest son - formerly known as the Bin Saboteur from the days when he'd throw banana skins in the recycling bin - remained true to his reputation and thought it would be much more fun to see who could create the MOST amount of rubbish. However my instructions were clear..and it was noted that there would be a tenner in it for whoever could generate the least. I know it wasn't necessary for a financial carrot to be dangled, but I was also experimenting with motivations and sadly it was only when some cash was mentioned, did the interest and excitement start to build.
I soon realised that the last week of the holidays was probably not the best time for such a challenge, as I'd set my sights high and was hoping for at least one boy to attempt zero waste. However, this is real life, and for them it also became a lesson in trying to dodge the rubbish that the world throws at you, especially with a long-distance train trip to Bristol and Wales, including a mini-excursion to the seaside too. With a varied week of activities planned, naturally there would be many surprises. What I hadn't planned for was that I would be one of the biggest culprits of them all.
It all started on Day One of the challenge, when ironically I'd been to a Zero Waste meeting in Ipswich. On my way home, I picked up the children from Holiday Club to find quite a lot of tuna pasta left in my youngest's packed lunch.
When we started talking about it, he told me that it was my fault for giving him too much food when he doesn't really eat that much. He simply couldn't eat any more, despite lots of encouragement from the staff, so he left it and the container was then packed into his bag.
And do you know what, he really did have a point. This conversation got me thinking about the amount of food he eats at home. He has always had a smaller appetite than his brother, but at home he also has the luxury of choosing how much he wants to put on his plate and if there are leftovers, quite often they are covered for later or fed to the chickens. With many solutions preventing this leftover food becoming bin waste, it's a topic that rarely gets brought to the table these days.
However, when sending him off with a packed lunch, my natural concern was that I didn't want him to go hungry, so I admit to packing him off with plenty! It's very rare that the children have packed lunch as we rely so much on school dinners, but it certainly got me thinking about the challenge that many parents face when planning such meals and juggling the idea of waste.
Of course, the former "Defender of the Bins", his older brother, stepped into the role of the Jedi warrior very well, returning home with an empty container on each occasion, quite proudly stating that he was the least rubbish of the two. His competitive streak was truly shining through.
By the end of the week, they had done pretty well. Admittedly they ended up with the odd crisp packet as a result of my own weak moment, but I was really proud of them and impressed with their growing awareness of why it is important to continually drive down the amount of waste that's created. They started to talk about environmental matters and the need to preserve resources and reduce energy. I'm not a preachy mum at all and was pleased that this came from them, not me.
And the idea worked well in many ways...highlighted by the way they rejected a pack of their favourite sweets in the supermarket, telling me that they couldn't recycle the packaging. I should add though, their next suggestion was to head for the sweet shop where they could come away with some "pick-and-mix" sweets in a paper bag. The next day, whilst in Bristol, they also swapped their favourite ice-lollies for locally-produced ice-cream in a cone, not that they knew it was manufactured locally. That was simply a very happy co-incidence. They even took an interest - allbeit a small 'we're used to this by now' - in the promenade recycling bin at the seaside resort of Barry Island.
And as for me.. forewarned is indeed fore-armed. The boys will need a packed-lunch next week when the school hall is being used as a ballot station for Election Day. So this time I'll get my 6 year old to choose exactly the amount of food he wants to take in with him and give him some responsibility on the matter...my only concern though, is that he'll forget about the lessons learned and with eyes bigger than his belly I'll be busy arguing him down!
Kids eh! However, after such a successful week, which left them feeling good about themselves, the next experiment is to get them to keep a food diary and record how much of their own school dinners they waste. I'm not sure when we'll kick that one off but I can't wait to see what they say. I might be in for a shock, so please do wish me luck and keep watching this space!
P.S. You'll be relieved to hear that no chocolate was wasted in the Cannard household over the holidays and all eggs came in just cardboard and foil and the only bonkers bit of rubbish created was the polystyrene cartons at a chippy in Barry Island...shocking! Whatever happened to good old paper wrapping eh!