Friday, 16 September 2011

Almost Mrs Average gets to speak at waste exhibition

It was a real honour to speak yesterday at RWM, the UK's largest recycling and waste management exhibition, especially as I was sharing the stage with the very inspiring Joy Bizzard, chair of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC)

The context was very much how local authorities can engage with householders to help individuals and communities reduce waste.  Joy's presentation was packed with advice on how councils can raise awareness and find new ways to inspire new audiences, despite the current economic culture of squeezed budgets.

The area that particularly interested me was the subject of peer endorsement, i.e., the difference that can be made by engaging ordinary members of the public to share their own stories amongst their peer groups.  It's a subject that has fascinated me for a long time and certainly set the scene for me telling my own tale of the Zero Waste challenge that I undertook in 2008 and the events that have unfolded since.

It is an extremely surreal experience addressing an audience of waste and recycling professionals.  I've done it a couple of times before and it's very difficult not to feel like a waste geek groupie, especially when you know how hard officers are working to battle against the problem of waste, which comes with its own set of economic and contractual constraints, misguided government strategies and often divisive public opinion.

And as I said yesterday, I am no expert in behaviour change. I can only tell my own personal story.  However, since taking St Edmundsbury's Zero Waste Week challenge in 2008, I have become more aware of the challenges that exist, the opportunities that are available and the need for formerly disparate groups to work together in accepting increased responsibility, whether that's producer responsibility, local authority responsibility, individual responsibility or from further along the waste chain.

In context to yesterday's event, I really feel that to work towards the UK's 2020 Zero Waste goal, local authorities are going to need to work harder and smarter in engaging their immediate community groups and actively seek out more formal relationships with individuals, who are themselves happy to inspire others within their own communities.

Last week, I made this very point at the Making 2020 Zero Waste Work conference in Coventry.  So you can just imagine my delight, whilst returning home from yesterday's exhibition, I read news of a volunteer training programme that's been rolled out by Zero Waste Scotland.  It's fabulous news that the Scottish agency has already created a blueprint for this and are putting such ideas into practice, having itself been inspired by the Master Composter network.

And for any doubters, who might raise an eyebrow over the effectiveness of such action, I could highlight many examples of personal stories that I've received from my own community where I've seen the impact locally.  But even more significantly than that, I'd like to point readers in the direction of one of the most successful peer endorsement case studies of the last three years, and that's the story of  "My Zero Waste".

You may have to enlarge the photo below, but pictured at the centre of the presentation slide is the Strauss family, who were unknown to me four years ago.  However, thanks to St Edmundsbury Borough Council engaging me in a Zero Waste challenge, and as a result of me writing about it on the Internet and my story being broadcast widely on national radio, word soon got around.  Rachelle Strauss noticed and consequently felt empowered to reduce her own family's household waste.  Driven by environmental concern, she led the way in creating her website,, attracting a growing community of people keen to seek advice and share ideas about reducing their waste.  This year Rachelle hosted her 4th National Zero Waste Week, a simple grassroots campaign that received over 12,000 hits within just a few days of being announced at the end of August.

Yesterday's visit to RWM was most certainly an interesting one and my only regret is that I didn't get a chance to have a proper gander around the exhibition, but that's only because I was too busy catching up with some of the folk who spend their professional lives trying to inspire others.  I'll just have to make sure I visit next year.


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