Friday, 29 February 2008

Making Progress #3

You've heard the age-old expression...

"Time flies when you're having fun"

And so it does.

For all those who've been with me since the beginning, can you believe that it's been nearly six weeks already? Yes SIX WHOLE WEEKS!

That's 40 days and almost 40 nights of talking RUBBISH. It sounds very similar to the duration of Lent, except that what I have given up during this period has been so much easier than suffering withdrawal symptoms from chocolate or wine.

Anyway It's FRIDAY AGAIN and regular readers will know that every Friday before bin-day I love to have a peek inside the black bin, tempting you to come back for the update on Sunday. If you could just see how little rubbish there is today, you will kick yourself if you don't come back and look at the evidence in a couple of days time.


...well hardly anything by comparison to what I used to throw out just a few weeks ago.

The Bokashi system that came from Wiggly Wigglers has made a huge impact in vanquishing food waste from the bin. I've also managed to discover a few new personal care and toiletry products, which have also helped to reduce packaging.

I promise, I will blog about this soon...but if there are any guys looking in, you might want to close your eyes, because I WILL be talking about sanitary products.

And of course I shouldn't forget my remarkable visit to the butchers or indeed the milkman paying his regular visit and leaving a few extras along the way. After all this time, I now know what to do with the little things that he doesn't take away. Yes it's the little foil tops, which I now know can be rolled into balls to put into the recycling bins.

There have been other exciting things happening. This time it's really big ... and I don't just mean the visits I've received from the Houses of Parliament or The Audit Commission! I'm not sure whether I should have mentioned that, but eh rubbish is such a huge issue for both them and me, I am happy for anyone to drop by.

I've got some exciting news that I am itching to share. If you haven't heard about it on the grapevine already, come back next week, when I'll have more info.


Thursday, 28 February 2008

Fruit Juice News (plus more)

Ha Ha you remember when I first started The Rubbish Diet, I proclaimed that I would ditch fruit juice that came in Tetra Paks in favour of "juicing on demand".

My new proposition was to change my shopping habits and buy fresh fruit instead.

The aim was to reduce the amount of waxed packaging because it couldn't be recycled at home and we had got into the habit of throwing them in the black bin. Since going for Zero Waste, Mr A has done a brilliant job of taking the remaining cartons to the local collection point, but it is a tad inconvenient.

... and so, (I've discovered), is juicing...

Which is why I still have the UK's grapefruit mountain sitting in my fruit bowl, where they have remained for about three weeks!

But don't worry because there was always Plan B, which my dear friends, has come in the form of our milkman.

About two weeks ago I received a free bottle of orange juice with my morning's milk delivery. We've had them before, but I've never really been able to take to what looks like a bottle of orange milk. Somehow it looks all wrong.

But now, thanks to the need for desperate measures, I have become grateful that this facility is available and it is effortless.

All I needed to do was tick the order form that the milkman had left and hey presto we had juice on our doorstep the following day.

I love the fact that glass milk bottles are still used for doorstep deliveries. It is such a British Institution. If truth be known, it would be easier for me to order 2 pint plastic cartons, as they can be stored more conveniently in my fridge. But how could I say no to these lovely bottles that can be simply washed out and used again.

There is interesting news on the milk bottle front, in that WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) is supporting Dairy Crest (the delivery company that I use) in its programme to research, design and produce a handle-free plastic milk bottle. The aim is to reduce packaging waste from UK milk sales by 5,000 tonnes each year.

Apparently the milk industry is reported to generate at least 130,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste per annum. At worst, the guesstimate is 150,000 tonnes. That's one hell of a lot of milk, six billion litres in fact. At least when this new standard is in place it will mean a 10% reduction in weight per bottle

But I don't really need to worry my little head about plastic bottles, not as long as I continue to use the glass variety.

Anyway, I think that I might have become my milkman's favourite customer, I've also ordered a fruit and veg box, which can be delivered every weekend. There'll be more on that another time. the meantime, I'd better go and find that little foil ball...I've got a few more bottle tops to add before it hits the recycling bin.


Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Foiled again?

So what do you do with the milk bottle tops that come with old fashioned doorstep milk bottles?

Until now, I've collected them for school or just thrown them in the bin. I've not really known what do with them. However this week I had a stroke of genius and thought I should really check with the experts.

So I rang up the council and was given a really big top tip by Kate! Apparently you can recycle all foil wrapping such as milk bottle tips or even that used in confectionery (which will be handy with Easter coming up). But don't just throw them in the bin, as they are far too small and can drop through the machinery.

The trick is to make a foil ball, rolling lots of small pieces of foil and when it's large enough it can be put in the recycling bin.

I'm currently working on it, but I'm not sure the council will accept anything of these giant proportions? What do you think?

I'm sorry, but I can't really take credit for Flora the giant foil ball. She is actually the masterpiece of the Flying Pie Pizzeria in the US. The only shame is she doesn't look as though she is recycled.

On the subject of recycling here's a fascinating fact that I've discovered. During World War 2, US residents were encouraged to collect scraps of foil and such items were used to make war equipment. For more info, check out this link, where you'll find a few more foil balls.

I think I've uncovered an obsession that I never knew existed...I promise that I'm not going to fall into that trap....honest.

But if you've got any spare foil going, you now know what to do!


Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Have a butchers at this!

It's an independent butcher shop, which is one of three butchers in Bury St Edmunds town centre. The shocking news is that I haven't been in any of them until today and I've lived here for about four and a half years.

In fact, with the exception of the odd farmers market visit, I haven't been into any independent butcher shop ever since leaving my home town in Wales...22 years ago, when I left for the big city and went off to do my degree.

I don't think I am unusual in this. What's put me off until now is the simple fact that I don't know what to ask for. How daft is that!

You see, there is always the back-up option of picking up what I need at the supermarket, where no conversation is needed. I can just pick up the packet and, without revealing any holes in my knowledge of meat cuts, I can simply head off to the check-out to pay the bill.

It's only recently that I've developed even the smallest understanding of weight measurements which can be a tricky element in itself.

So today, with the benefit of reinforcements (my mum and small son in tow) and the need to get some ham for sandwiches...I went on an adventure to the butchers.

The good news is that I wasn't eaten alive, nor embarrassed and came out with what I wanted. (The butcher even wrapped the ham in paper, which I think I can wash and then compost).

It was the same feeling that I get when shopping in France, when using my best French, although not as an exciting experience by comparison.

Anyway, here's a date for your diary...

10 - 16 March is National Butchers' Week, the objective of which is to encourage shoppers to use their local butcher as their first port of call and to make use of the butcher's expertise in choice of cuts as well as cooking meat.

It's great that it coincides with St Edmundsbury's Zero Waste Week. That means there should be little excuse not to use the butchers, even if it is for one week only. I know I'll be going back again, but I won't be waiting for the awareness weeks. I might just drop in during my next visit to the market.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Slow Down and Green Up with Tracey Smith

Today's guest post is by Tracey Smith, the writer and broadcaster who has launched the successful awareness campaign National Downshifting Week. Since submitting this article, it's even been supersized to INTERnational Downshifting week, as Tracey inspires people all over the world to take things a little easier.

Of course, you can make efforts to slim your bin whatever your pace of life, but in Tracey's words, there are times when it's easier to slow down. Tracey tells us how she started and how her slowing down helped her to reduce household waste. So while I sit and relax, it's over to Tracey...

"Some 30-years after Tom and Barbara first graced our screens in “The Good Life”, we’re still glued to repeats of this BBC classic and looking to the radical ‘Surbiton Two’ for advice on greenfly and for a jolly good belly laugh.

For some however, a deeper motive lurks behind this façade – they’re watching for inspiration as they plan their escape from the dirty ‘Rat Race’.

My husband and I spent about a year preparing for our downshift. We cut up the credit cards, got rid of the second car, started buying all (yes, all) our clothes and household goods from the charity shops and cooking meals from fresh, ditching the pre-packed options and take-aways.

These progressive adjustments presented us with their own challenges, but because we were eager to ‘positively embrace’ living with less, the overall effect was rather pleasing and certainly not spiked by feelings of missing out, to the obvious shock and horror of some of our friends and family.

We tried earnestly to grow our favourite fruit and veg but mostly it was a crash-course in cultivating chaos and we learned more by our trials and errors.

Thankfully, we ended up with bountiful crops of the things we loved and the joy of working out what to do with that abundance was almost indescribable.

It fuelled our passion to do better the following season, growing organically of course. That itself is a huge challenge, particularly when there’s not a handily placed, green-fingered parent to hand, to advise on coping with inevitable pests without adopting a chemical stance. One of the other amazing bonuses came in the form of reduced packaging and waste, which had predominantly come from our groceries.

Last year, I discovered a fantastic book called ‘Organic Gardening, the Natural No-Dig Way’, by Charles Dowding - I only wish it had been my trusty companion when I started out, as there’s been many a hot-water bottle placed on my achy bits as a result of excessive and unnecessary spade-action.

As a writer, it was fantastic to focus my attention on journaling and uncovering the secrets of simple living. I pulled in a few commissions and before I knew it, there was a column, then the odd bit of radio, even a bit of telly, all probing and undressing the very broad subject of downshifting.

Emails came from all over the world and it seemed there was an enormous collective of people who had ‘stuff’, money, houses and cars, but no work/life balance or contentment. They were looking for a way to explore downshifting, generally cutting back and embracing living with less and needed reassurance they weren’t the only ones with these mad ideas.

One extremely cold November afternoon (we had no central heating), I sat typing an article on how to downshift abroad (my general advice being, downshift in your own 4 walls in England and see how you feel about it long before you reach for a map and your wellies), two of our kids had chicken pox, money was frighteningly low, the septic tank was giving us untimely gip, one of my ex-battery hens had just committed suicide by getting her neck jammed in the gate and I had the light-bulb in my desk lamp perched directly over the keyboard to keep my fingers warm, so I could continue typing.

Then suddenly, I had a brainwave about putting together an awareness campaign called National Downshifting Week. It hit me like a smack on the rear end and I could see, this would be the way to give people a ‘hook’ to hang their (not so) crazy ideas about pulling back from a super-consumer society and getting more enjoyment from life by spending less!

My husband passed by me in the hall and I blurted out the news….he smiled, laughed gently and said something like, “Oh yea! Great! Will it pay the bills honey (small though they were, we still had bills) – can’t you just focus on getting a few more articles out there instead?”

Naturally, his worked like the proverbial red rag to a bull and I steamed ahead, fiddling around haplessly, trying so hard to get all my thoughts into tidy boxes on a website I proudly called

When it was finished, it looked like a dogs dinner in terms of layout, but the content was bloody brilliant! And so National Downshifting Week and her simple suggestions were born.

Tonight, I’m still sitting in a house with no central heating, a jumper and a scarf, but no lamp over the keyboard, I’ve just got used to it and I’ve put many more hours of work into this labour of love I call NDW.

It’s like a 4th baby and needs more attention than my kids ever did!

She (of course it’s a ‘she’) exists purely to encourage participants to slow down their pace and lean towards the green and I still love getting emails that say, “Where on earth do I begin?”

I am full of admiration for projects like Karen's (aka Almost Mrs Average) 'Rubbish Diet' and my hat goes off to her for getting this simple topic between her teeth and shaking it to an upbeat conclusion. Another shining example is the Zero Waste Programme being run by St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which is set to inspire folks up and down the country to trim back on their superfluous waste!

I think the most effective campaigns are the ones that are the easiest to get involved with and this one couldn't be simpler. It's shocking when we sit back and actually take stock of the crud that surrounds us and we must be mindful of the fact that 'most' of it could be avoided with a few savvy changes to our shopping decisions."

To find out more about National Downshifting Week,which runs from 19th-25th April visit Also, for some great music and top advice, tune in to Tracey's regular weekly slot, 10am-1pm on Wednesdays at Apple AM.


Saturday, 23 February 2008

Putting an end to food waste in landfill

So what should you do with chicken stew that's been hanging about in the fridge for four days?

I did my best. I fed it to the kids, the husband and the cats. I even invited some friends around, but it hasn't gone away, despite my best efforts in adding some chinese spices just to make things more exciting. Don't get me wrong. It's delicious, but bad planning has meant that it wasn't used up as quickly as it should have been, not with Mr A being out in late meetings around the region and my lunchtime meetings around town.

Now it's got to that lingering know what I mean...when the stew gets past its use-by-date and just hangs around in the fridge, in a sealed container, waiting to be thrown in the bin.

There it waits and waits and waits, cluttering up the fridge, until it's the right time to be thrown away. Timing is everything. After all I don't want it smelling out the bin or turning into a health hazard in the fridge!

However, that is about to change because....thanks to some great advice from composting guru Simon Sherlock, yesterday I received my new bin from Wiggly Wigglers. It's not just any old bin...oh no...indeed it is a very special bin, which should help me solve our food waste problem.

Regular readers will know that I don't create food waste lightly and I've been making great inroads into reducing what we buy and how it is cooked to ensure that portions are correct and that food doesn't go to waste...but guess what...I am only human and can't be perfect all the time.

Determined to get rid of food waste in time for the Zero Waste challenge, I have already made great use of the wormery, which arrived a few weeks ago and which accepts food scraps and kitchen waste. However, food waste that contains meat or fish cannot be place directly into the wormery so this is where my new bin comes in.

Its official name is the Bokashi Empowered system. Now that sounds all posh and technical for what appears to be a fairly normal looking bin (Bokashi is in fact a Japanese word for Fermented Organic Matter). Now, I'm not technical, but my understanding is that the bin itself is made of a special plastic that has been injected with EMs (Effective MicroOrganisms). It can be placed in the kitchen and used as a normal kitchen waste bin for most food waste such as vegetable peelings and leftover scraps.

Of course, the aim is to reduce leftovers but there are times when you can take the horses to water but there is no way you can make them drink! This means I now have somewhere to put those annoying leftovers that the boys don't manage. Whether it's tuna, potato skins, pasta, rice, chicken, lamb, beef, fish pie, shepherds pie, breakfast cereal, or many other things that don't take their fancy.

The technique is to place all the food in the bin and sprinkle a layer of Bokashi active bran over the waste and then keep adding in layers until the bin is full. It is then left sealed for around two weeks. In this time the waste ferments. Liquid can be drained off for use as plant fertiliser and then the fermented food waste can be added to the wormery.

Those who are quick off the mark will no doubt be thinking about what happens to the rest of the food waste that is generated while the bin is left to ferment for two whole weeks. That's easy. The kit comes with a second bin, which can be placed on top of the other one or even at its side. My challenge with such a small kitchen is to find some space for the system. However, one bin is only the size of an average kitchen pedal bin, so it shouldn't be a problem. If I can't find a space, there is always the option of leaving it outside the kitchen door.

With this system in place. I am hoping that the next official "weigh-in" will see the bin bag drastically reduced in size. That's a whole week to go, so keep your fingers crossed. What's more important is that I am confident this will bring an end to the smelly black bin syndrome that penetrates the air in the warmer summer months.

If you want to know more about the Bokashi System, there is more information about how it works at the Wiggly Wigglers site and at Wikipedia.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Recycling Men

I love this cartoon and have spent much time in fits of laughter when I should have been getting on with my backlog of work. Many thanks go to my new mate, Ray Smith, for letting me use it. He's a much talented illustrator, who injects that extra smack of fun into recycling and waste management. Superb! His website should be up soon, so watch this space.

One man who should definitely not be put into the recycling bin is St Edmundsbury's Daniel Sage, who is the Strategy and Policy Manager for the council's Waste and Street Scene service.

The word on the street is that our Daniel is officially hot. And it's true. Thanks to his fantastic work in spearheading new initiatives such as the Battery Kerbside Collection Trial and Zero Waste Week for the borough, he has made it into the UK's list of the Hot 100 people contributing to environmental change through waste management. Published by the industry's Resource magazine, his entry in at 99 puts him in the very good company of figures such as Jonathon Porritt and Zac Goldsmith.

It's great to see that it hasn't gone to his head. Although Dan won't be able to attend the Zero Waste Week promotion stand at in Bury St Edmunds and Haverhill next week, you should be able to catch him at one or more of the following events that are coming up:

  • An evening about recycling at the Erskine Centre in Chedburgh, Suffolk. 10 March. 8pm-9pm.
  • Business Waste Surgery: 13th March at the Borough Office in Haverhill. 1-3pm
  • Business Waste Surgery: 14th March at the Borough Office on Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds, 10am-12pm.
(The business surgeries will advise businesses how they can reduce waste as well as increase energy efficiency)

As you can see this Zero Waste business is really interesting stuff.

If you live in St Edmundsbury and would like to get involved in Zero Waste Week, Waste Development Officer Kate McFarland (who is also fabulous) will be available at the Zero Waste stand next week to answer your questions. You will be able to find her at :
  • Bury St Edmunds (outside Woolworths) on Monday 25th Feb - 1pm-3pm
  • Haverhill Peas Market Hill on Wednesday 27th Feb - 1pm-3pm
If you are unable to make it along, Kate can also be contacted on 01284 757337.

If you're not in our area, why not try your own hand at your own Rubbish Diet. You could even see if your own council is willing to run a Zero Waste campaign. It really is fun and thought- provoking at the same time. Councils are always up for some new ideas and you never know what benefits you will see in your area.

You might even track down your own environmental hottie, who can make it into the Hot 100 next year. I certainly hope that we won't be recycling Daniel or his team for some time, not with the fantastic work that they are doing in St Edmundsbury.


Thursday, 21 February 2008

Working out at the market

For the last few weeks I have been in training. As with any diet, there comes a time when the weight-loss won't happen unless you put in extra effort to shake off some pounds. Determined to hit my Size Zero goal I have been exercising my new regime twice a week...but not at the gym....oh no...I'm not that kind of girl and anyway, the gym is not what this kind of diet needs.

My twice weekly workout has been down at our local market and boy oh boy, for a molly-coddled consumer like me who has been brought up on a diet of supermarkets, the market has taken some getting used to.

Molly-coddled? Bet you've not heard that phrase associated with supermarkets before but it's TRUE.

Let's consider the following factors: easy and often free parking; trolleys that young kids can sit in; shopping in a warm environment; the luxury of filling a trolley as high as you can and wheeling it straight to your car after paying with a credit card (which actually doesn't feel like paying with real money at all). Even better, with online ordering there is the option of doing all this from the comfort of your own living room, without lifting a finger, apart from when you need to click on the mouse.

That's a lot of comfort to throw away in the face of market shopping, which offers none of the above luxuries and indeed I hadn't considered them luxuries before I'd embarked on The Rubbish Diet.

However, every diet requires a change of habits, which if successfully applied leads to a much healthier lifestyle. Perhaps it's time to look at the evidence and how shopping at the market provides its own recipe for success, despite taking me out of my comfort zone.

1. No car park - no worries: Turn the lack of easy parking into a positive, with a healthy walk from the town centre car-parks or even ditch the car and take the bus.

2. No trolley for the kids - I say if they are too small, leave them in the care of another responsible adult while you shop in peace. Older children can be taken along for the experience and to share the load. Okay, they might complain a little bit, but you should be able to bribe them with something trivial.

3. No shelter from the wind and the rain: at least you can get in and out within a 30 minute pit-stop or 10 minutes if you're quick. You'll feel lucky compared to the poor stall-holders who have to stay out in those conditions all day. Feel happy in the knowledge that you've made it worth their while.

4. No credit card machines: Take the opportunity to use some real money. Take along £20 and I bet you'll find it hard to spend it all. Not just for frugality's sake, but the thought of having to carry it all home.

5. As for the carrying bit: be happy in the knowledge that unless you invest in a pull along trolley, your body will develop biceps in no time at all.

6. And finally, the actual point of this exercise is to work towards Zero Waste and therefore reduce packaging. To achieve this, just take along your own reusable bags and you can put your unpackaged produce straight into them. If you're offered extra bags or packaging that can't be recycled, ask for an alternative. Stall-holders are great people who will be happy to help.

We are lucky to have a great market in Bury St Edmunds, which was recently highly commended in a competition run by the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA), thanks to a nomination from our very own Ruby who writes the Living in Bury St Edmunds blog.

Before The Rubbish Diet I felt that I was too busy to visit the market, or I was put off by the thought of taking the children. With work flooding in and new projects on the go, I am now probably busier than ever but I have been pleasantly surprised how easy market shopping is. I just fit it in around lunch-breaks and pick things up elsewhere as I go along. Saturdays are now spent enjoying an hour to myself, picking up fresh produce in town. It's no longer a hassle. In fact it's now a treat.

The Stall holders are getting used to my requests to reduce packaging and some of them, including the fruit and veg stall just along from the Early Learning Centre are now offering their own reusable bags (as shown in the main photo).

I'd like to give a big 'thumbs up' to William Lewis who owns the Say Cheese delicatessen trailer for responding to my packaging request with great enthusiam. Rather than wrapping the cheese in plastic film, he offered me greasproof paper, which can be composted instead. The other great news is that following advice from his daughter, he has switched over from plastic bags to paper bags. Result!

The other news that I've picked up on this week, which will be of interest to Londoners is that the London Assembly has published a report, which is proposing the "Hundred London Market Strategy", to protect and promote markets throughout London. More information can be found at the NABMA website.

The only market strategy that I have in mind is to perhaps invest in a shopping trolley. Having carried my shopping from the market to the car parks in the far reaches of town, I feel that I have developed arms like Mr Tickle. If ever you've seen images of Mr Tickle, you will understand what I mean. The character's arms can stretch upstairs, downstairs and in all directions.

So this morning, I am able to make a coffee in the kitchen with one hand, while being on the Internet in the lounge with the other. You never know, I may even be able to dispose of whatever little rubbish we create, without having to even leave the house.


Wednesday, 20 February 2008

One Bin Day

Here's a new challenge, which might be right up your street. It depends on how brave you might feel and how much you like to meddle in the work environment to support a great cause.

This Thursday (21st February) is One Bin Day and the aim is to raise awareness over the amount of waste that is thrown away in businesses around the UK. The idea is that you remove all the bins from your colleagues' desks and just leave one bin in the middle of the office.

According to Envirowise, the organisation behind the awareness campaign, the bin should quickly fill up with waste that can easily be reused and recycled and will be a great indicator of how much is actually wasted in a company environment.

Envirowise are keen to hear from anyone who would like to take part or discuss the issues. Even if you just want to see what is happening out there, you can visit their website to see what other people have submitted.

If anyone does participate, it would be great to hear your stories.


Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Money for old rope

Alright...I know this post isn't quite about old rope. In fact, apart from the heading it doesn't go anywhere near the subject, so apologies to anyone who thought I might be offering suggestions for recycling something whose only future might be destined for the annual charity Tug-of-War.

However, yesterday's guest post about recycling woolly jumpers from Jane Perrone at Horticultural prompted me to plug the news about the M&S and Oxfam Clothes Exchange.

These high street names have got together to encourage folks to recycle more clothes with Oxfam (and of course increase sales at M&S). The deal is that if you take any old M&S clothes into an Oxfam charity shop, you will receive a £5 M&S voucher, which can be used against purchases of £35 or over during that particular calendar month.

Oxfam is the only major charity that has its own textile sorting facility. If it can't resell donated items, the charity is still able to sort and reuse them to raise money for its campaign. With estimates of 1 million tonnes of clothing being discarded in the UK each year, this is yet another good reason to support the charity's work.

So perhaps it's time to go through your wardrobe and drawers and bag-up those things that you no longer wear before the moths decide an alternative fate. If you dig deep, you might find that unwanted jumper from Marks and Spencer, which Aunt Gladys gave you the Christmas before last. The good news is she has probably forgotten about it by now and you can bag yourself a £5 voucher that can be used against clothing, homeware or beauty products at M&S.

Don't forget though, don't use the voucher just to "grab a bargain", as your bargain might just be back at the charity shop next month. And of course, keep a special eye out for the packaging.

I can't end this post without plugging my latest discovery, which will come in handy for the real thrifty ones among you. I've just discovered Oxfam's online shop for donated clothing. This is perfect for me as someone who is blind to spotting great items in charity stores. Take a look at:

Oh yes...the rope...of course you can get money for old rope, if that's what you are really into. Some of you might remember the BBC documentary about eBay which was broadcast a few years ago. If you missed it, here's the article:

I'm now off to see what's at the bottom of my wardrobe. If I don't emerge soon, send in a rescue party.

Monday, 18 February 2008

10 uses for a woolly jumper

Today's guest post has been provided by Jane Perrone at Horticultural. Once again, it's time to settle yourself down with a cup of tea and enjoy the top tips and links from those with more experience. Today's topic is one that we all take for granted, the woolly jumper. I had never known there could be so many ways to recycle this everyday item, with many more options to hand than simply the clothing bank. Don't forget to pop over to Jane's blog for some extra wisdom, especially if you fancy taking things one step further and getting your very own veg patch. So without further ado, it's time to put your feet up and enjoy..."

"It really troubles me when I hear a friend say they've just chucked a load of clothes into the bin. Textiles are one thing that there's absolutely no reason to trash - if something is too old, stained or holey for the charity shop, then consider dropping it into one of the many clothing collection points you see in pub and supermarket car parks. Anything that can't be sold on as clothing will be sent for recycling to make lagging and other products - nothing will go to waste.

But if you happen to have an old woollen jumper that is even too ropey to do the gardening in, there are lots of other uses you can put it to. Here are a few of my ideas: I am sure you can come up with some more:

1. Lining a hanging basket.
A 100% woollen jumper makes a great liner as it holds water well and will mould to the sides of the basket. After a few years it will decompose - just replace it with another.
2. Plant ties.
Cut the arms into strips and use for tying back larger plants - it's a lot softer on delicate stems than string. The same applies to old pairs of tights.
3. Make your own mittens.
4. A compost heap cover.
Wool makes an excellent compost heap topper, keeping the heat in and letting in just the right levels of moisture. Again, it'll decompose in time - just add another as it disintegrates.
5. Unpick the wool and knit something new.
Knitting is now very cool so get your needles out!
6. Use as a mulch around fruit bushes.
If you are worried about it looking a bit odd, just top off with some straw or compost. Will the weeds down and the moisture in.
7. Make a scarecrow for your allotment
This is a fun weekend job that children will particularly love - a woollen jumper will keep your bird scarer toasty through the winter.
8. Keep your worm composting system toasty.
If you buy the Can-O-Worms setup I recently got for my birthday it comes with a moisture mat, but if you are making your own wormery, a woolly jumper works just as well (and is free!)
9. Make your own wool nappy wraps for cloth nappies.
Instructions here: You'll also save on disposables and cut down on your waste.
10. And finally ... make a woolly friend.
Seek some inspiration here: and get crafting."

Want some ideas on recycling T-shirts? Read Jane's post here:

Jane Perrone is the author of The Allotment Keeper's Handbook and she writes about organic gardening, allotments, composting and ethical consumerism on her blog, Horticultural

Sunday, 17 February 2008


Check out my rubbish!'s only one bag, which is not even completely full.

It can hold 50litres of waste but there is still room for lots more. I guess that's about 45 cubic litres of residual waste that our family has collected over the last two weeks.

"I thought this was about ZERO Waste", I can hear some people say.

Well yes it is and in four weeks time I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of the Brosnan family from Bath, who managed to achieve Zero Waste, with the exception of only a couple of things that had to be thrown away. However, if you look at the results of the last weigh-in, which was two weeks ago, it is really encouraging to see that progress is already being made:

I am pleased to see that the efforts made over the last month have made a real difference, where as a family we had been responsible previously for generating around two to three bags of rubbish every two weeks. Huge thanks go to everyone who has sent in their top tips. They have really worked. Having made some small changes to our choices, we've already managed to reduce our rubbish by at least 50%.

With only three weeks to go until the start of St Edmundsbury Borough Council's Zero Waste Week, the challenge is to reduce things even further.

Following the success of the wormery and having changed some of my shopping, cooking and cleaning habits, it's probably time to get a little more personal.

I think I now need to delve a little into the uncomfortable area of personal hygiene as well as reveal how I intend to become our milkman's favourite customer.

And on that cliff-hanger, I shall leave you poised until the next series of posts.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Making Progress #2

I know there are a few days to go until the bin is put out for collection, but I am feeling pretty confident that by Sunday evening the black bin waste will be limited to just one bag, which includes some rubbish that was still hanging around in our kitchen bin the weekend before the last collection.

We've made a few changes, which have had a great impact on working towards Zero Waste.

Firstly, I have turned to baking bread (or rather, bunging ingredients into my faithful breadmaker) and have been enjoying waking up to the smell of fresh bread each morning. This has already made a difference because it has reduced the number of bread bags that we put in the black bin. If we've gone a day without bread-making, I now supplement with a fresh loaf sourced on my travels.

The arrival of the wormery has made a huge impact as we've been able to easily discard spare rice, pasta and bread, which would have otherwise gone into the black bin. The worms have now settled in and when I looked in on them yesterday they seemed to be quite busy working through the layer of food that we've added this week. We have had to be quite careful with the amount of food that we've put in and for the moment we can't add more than one layer. So it is a good job I am still being conscious of portion sizes and trying to reduce the amount of food cooked.

With a full wormery, we have been making continued use of our compost bin, However, it looks like next week might present a challenge, as even the compost bin is looking a bit overwhelmed at the moment.

I have also been busy cancelling junk mail that comes through the door. Even though it doesn't have an immediate impact on the black bin, it will help the overall reduction in waste. As well as cancelling the catalogues that have been sent by a couple of companies (in the hope of getting another order) I have also contacted Royal Mail to request that they stop delivering the leaflets and other unsolicited marketing bumph that normally gets pushed through the door.

Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert, provides some excellent advice on cancelling junk mail, including ways of reducing unsolicited calls and emails etc.

Things are still going well on the shopping front. However, having placed an online order from Waitrose, requesting produce to be placed in PAPER bags, I was a bit gutted when my shopping turned up with all the fruit and vegetables packaged in the flimsy plastic kind (including the grapefruit).

However, since then I've been picking fruit and vegetables while I have been out-and-about. My favourite shop so far is definitely the Aldeburgh Market shop, which is located on the high street of the lovely coastal town in Suffolk. It's the first high-street greengrocers that I have seen for a long time and is a real treat.

By the way, for anyone who still might be thinking that this is an impossible challenge, you may (like me) be encouraged by the progress of other families. Check out this link, which features the Brosnan family from Bath, who attempted the very same challenge back in 2006 and during their Zero Waste Week managed to limit their refuse to just a yoghurt pot, toothbrush and some plastic wrapping.


Thursday, 14 February 2008

Valentine's Day Unwrapped

If you're celebrating this day of romance, I hope you've managed to do it with waste in mind. I think I've managed well, having bought nothing but a roll of red paper to cut out lots of red hearts to decorate the house. I promise that once their initial use has passed, they will be re-used or recycled.

Some people won't be spending this morning in such romantic surroundings. Instead you will find them here at a Sustainability Packaging through Resource Efficiency seminar in Lincolnshire, which has been organised by Envirowise, a government funded organisation that advises businesses in environmental awareness. Attendees will be given practical advice on how to reduce waste and packaging as well as the legislative responsibilities of packaging regulations and duty of care.

If you've wondered what happens to paper and card in the recycling process, take a look at the SustainPack site, which has a wealth of information including how paper is categorised.

Other useful resources which outline why paper and card should be recycled include the Waste Online site.

The following factsheet at also reveals recycling targets for major paper users, including Newspaper Publishers, the Direct Marketing industry and the Periodical Publishers Association:

It's all interesting stuff. However, what's more interesting is the little free valentine's gift that came with a present that Mr A bought me from a very well-known store in Knightsbridge. It was already pre-packaged and the first that Mr A knew of it was when it was unwrapped and he is in complete agreement that it is probably the most useless thing ever for his happily married, average-sized wife.

Hmm, I am too embarrassed to put it on Freecycle and the ladies in the local charity shops would most definitely blush upon opening it. And of course, I can't send it to landfill. Perhaps the only thing for it is to send it back to the store, with a little note that says "thanks, but no thanks, who really needs such useless tat?". So if you work in customer services in Knightsbridge and you get a little package from Almost Mrs Average who's on a Rubbish Diet, you'll know why.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone. I hope you have a lovely day, wherever you are.


Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Which came first, the carton or the egg?

With various discussions and comments about overpackaged products appearing on the blog lately, I spoke to the people at INCPEN to find out what steps manufacturers are taking to resolve the problems.

INCPEN is a research organisation, which among other tasks encourages industry to minimise the environmental impact of packaged goods and to continually improve packaging.

I invited INCPEN to submit some information about their vision. The following slideshow is a guest presentation that has been sent in by them, outlining the commitment to sustainable production of the organisation's members. Members include international and UK companies that are involved in all aspects of packaged products in the retail chain, from material suppliers, manufacturers, producers, wholesalers right through to retailers. Household names such as Unilever, Coca-Cola, Kellogg's, Boots, Sainsbury's and M&S are among its list of members.

A more detailed vision statement can be found in document form here. It is also worthwhile visiting the INCPEN site, which provides links to a variety of resources including its Code of Practice for optimising packaging and reducing waste. There are also factsheets on a range of subjects, which include Deposits on Packaging Containers, Litter, Packaging, Plastic Carrier Bags and Waste Management.

If you are interested in researching the history of packaging, there is an excellent timeline which can be found in the education section, which offers a whole host of fascinating facts. For example, did you know that potato crisps were packaged in tins in the 1920s or that aerosols first became popular in the 1940s?

For schools, the education site also introduces a range of educational resources for KeyStages 2, 3 and 4 of the National Curriculum.

INCPEN focuses on a holistic approach to sustainability and not just pushing for compostable or recyclable packaging. The research organisation also argues that some "overpackaging" is better than "underpackaging" when considering the issue of food waste.

If you have got some time to spare, it's worthwhile popping over to INCPEN to find out more. Visit

P.S. Of course I know the carton came after the egg, but isn't it great that the polystyrene cartons of the 70s have been replaced with compostable cardboard. Now that's what I call progress, even if I did enjoy the sound of breaking up the polystyrene egg boxes as a child.


Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Cleaning with Waste in mind

The photo of the brush reveals a great deal about my approach to cleaning. Take a closer look and you'll see what I mean.

It's not the most eco-friendly sweeping brush in the world. Just look at all the garish colours on the plastic handle. The manufacturing process of making it must be much more complex than that of a plain old broom. However, even though I am reasonably environmentally-friendly, I make no apology because this multi-coloured brush is fun and as I am no domestic goddess, it makes the job of housework just that little more palatable.

I'd love to tackle cleaning with the same levels of joy as Kim and Aggie, the UK's "Queens of Clean", but I think I'd need a whole personality transplant to make it possible. You see, I'm more like cinderella, easily distracted by chatter, sing-song and the thought of going to the grand-ball.

However, with the little that I manage, I have stepped back and reassessed my habits, not with regard to how to clean better (that's beyond help) but how I can produce less waste in the process.

Regular readers will have noticed that since starting The Rubbish Diet, I have changed my food shopping habits. I have also made some changes to my range of cleaning products along the way.

Before, I had been a real fan of everything disposable, things you could use once or perhaps several times over and then throw in the black bin. If I was expecting visitors, you could almost hear my black bin groan with exhaustion, filled to capacity with cleaning products and forced closed withing seconds of the doorbell ringing.

So, second to food waste, cleaning waste has undergone the widest review.


Many people will probably be shocked at my previous levels of wastage, but after some fine adjustments I have now replaced my old habits:

1. Washing up sponges, which were once bought in large packs. Their life would start at the kitchen sink, then plunge the depths of the bathroom sinks, followed by a quick flirt with the toilets before being sent to die in landfill.

2. Anti-bacterial wipes, for surfaces, floors and toilets, which would be used once and sent the same way as the sponge.

3. Lots and lots of kitchen roll, used for light-cleaning of surfaces and windows and a saviour for quick mop-ups, where the final destination for the soggy paper mess was again landfill.


On an early trip to the supermarket I chose several products to replace my black bin nasties and I have been very pleased with the results, especially after the initial shudder at the financial outlay. These include:

1. A reusable sponge that can be thrown in the washing machine (along with my trusty old mop cover) and washed 300 times and I bet even after that it will still be useable.

2. A pack of four very pretty looking cloths (remember, I need the injection of fun), which can be used for all kind of surfaces, (even cleaning windows) and then washed again and again and again.

3. A vileda heavy-duty floor cloth, which will tackle even the most difficult of tasks.

I admit to keeping some kitchen paper because after such a life-long dedication, it would be hard to give that up completely, but I have now changed to a Recycled product. I now only use it for light tasks, dipped into ecover washing-up liquid and can then discarded into the compost bin.

With Zero Waste in mind, these changes have proven to be extremely effective in reducing my residual waste and I have seen a great impact on the bin. Admittedly, I did spend a few extra pounds than might have been necessary and if this is a consideration, alternative suitable products could be sourced from hardware stores as well as local markets.

For those who want to take things a step further down the path of environmental enlightenment, I can recommend the range of Ecover products.

As well as being environmentally friendly, Ecover's range offers another bonus to eco-aware consumers and that is the option to SUPERSIZE.

You won't normally find Supersizing being recommended with any form of diet and certainly when thinking about attempting size zero the word would would send shudders down certain spines, but not in this case.

If you're attempting to reduce your waste rather than your waist, supersizing with products such as Ecover is the way to go, as it also helps to reduce the packaging sent for recycling and in addition to that it can save some money too.

The starting point is to upgrade from a 1 litre bottle to a 5 litre container of your usual product. These can be found in local shops such as Bury St Edmunds' Butterworths or the local Longwood Farm, which is a few miles outside of the town centre.

However, if you're based further afield, online companies can also satisfy your order, sometimes with even larger containers. Examples include:

Ethical Superstore
Wiggly Wigglers

Wiggly Wigglers also offers a ReCover service, providing refills on as many products as possible, They even include a free return-postage label so you can send the empty container back when finished.

If you live in or near Bury St Edmunds, Longwood Farm in Tuddenham St Mary also offers a refill service, where you can take along your empty containers and refill them on the spot.

With all these options available, it should make my cinderella duties all the more easier. However, I still prefer my usual distractions, even if there is risk of my carriage being turned into a pumpkin at midnight.

At least it could be carved, cooked and composted.


Monday, 11 February 2008

My little pink hook

Thank you to Kate Mcfarland of St Edmundsbury Council for the prompt response to my request for a little pink hook. It arrived this morning, with the blue bin collection.

Dare I admit that I've had Pink Hook envy whilst walking around Moreton Hall and seeing lots of household bins with this groovy looking accessory. I'm now wondering whether you've guessed what it is yet. It took me a little while.

To save you from any form of mental torment, I can reveal that the pink hook is for battery recycling and comes complete with a little bag into which you put your old batteries. Hang it on the hook and "Bob's your uncle"... the binmen will then take them off to be recycled into new batteries or other products.

After receiving funding from WRAP, St Edmundsbury is the first council in Europe to trial kerbside battery recycling collection. The results of the trial will help decide the best methods of collecting and recycling batteries across the UK, which is great when you consider that 600 million batteries are thrown away every year. That must mean a hell of a lot of remote controls and toys across the land.

I'd love to know what products the batteries are turned into. If anyone out there has any ideas, please drop me a line.


Here's a great link kindly sent in by regular reader Baba, which provides more information about recycling batteries:


Sunday, 10 February 2008

No Bags Please

Yesterday I had a great shopping day from a Zero Waste perspective. I bought a few things in town and managed to return home with no plastic bags, not even the little tiddly one that was almost thrust upon me!

The first stop was very early in the day to buy an emergency present for a birthday party. I found two fabulous dinosaurs in the Early Learning Centre. They weren't boxed, so no useless packaging to discard. After politely refusing the carrier bag, the next stop was Clinton Cards to find a gift bag, where I declined another offer of an even larger carrier bag. After all, we were en route to the birthday party (which actually reveals how disorganised I was - too busy with the worms I think).

After picking up some craft paper and a bunch of bananas (and then balancing them carefully through the market), I spotted a stall that was selling daffodils without the usual plastic wrapping that is used to protect flowers.

As I paid for the daffodils, I asked the stall-holder for permission to take a photo and whilst doing so he kindly dropped my bananas into a small carrier bag.

I teetered over rebuking his kind gesture, as I hate saying no to people and I never like to offend anyone. However I stuck to my guns and politely gave it back. He probably thought I was a mad old toad...but eh... so do plenty of others.

However, I am certainly not unusual in rejecting carrier bags. There is now greater awareness about their effect on landfill and the ecology and an increasing number of people are now using reusable shopping bags.

There are several shops in Bury St Edmunds where shopkeepers make the effort to ask if a plastic bag is needed and top marks go to shops such as Boots, WHSmith, Rymans, The Body Shop and Woolworths who always pose the question. There seems to be less proactive measures taken by the independent shops, with the exception of a few, Butterworth's being one of them.

It would be great to see Bury St Edmunds follow in the footsteps of Modbury, which is the UK's first Plastic Bag Free town. This trend has since seen Overton, Hebden Bridge and Tisbury all signing up to be free of carrier bags. According to this link on the Modbury site, it looks as though the local towns of Ipswich and Newmarket are also in the planning stages, which is encouraging news, so maybe things will happen in Bury St Edmunds after all.


Saturday, 9 February 2008

Look at my lovely worms

As you know, my Can-O-Worms arrived yesterday and I was like a child at Christmas, very excited about unwrapping it and setting it up. It was extremely easy to put together and within about 90 minutes, I had it set up and ready to use.

Most of the time was spent soaking the bedding, which I just left in a bucket of water for one hour. I didn't take photos of the whole process, but Jane at Horticultural did and I recommend taking a look at her Can-O-Worms blog post, so you can see how easy it really is.

The hardest part for me was the thought of unpacking the worms. One worm I can deal with and perhaps two, but any more than that represents a squirmy wormy, wriggly wiggly jumble that affronts my squeamish side. I could never really have made it as Charlie Dimmock, as Mr A reminded me when I created our garden a few years ago.

However, a quick snip of the packaging (having shaken the bag to make sure that that no worms would be damaged in the process) meant that I could just pour them into the wormery. A couple had escaped and I managed to scoop them up and pop them back in.

Having been all "eurgh" about the wriggly creatures, I seem to have developed an immediate fondness for them and have adopted them as our new pets. As with all pets, it was time to give them some food, a breakfast of banana skins, bread and egg shells, with the odd piece of red pepper.

After that, it was time to cover them up, leave them to it and get on with some work (both me and them).

I am really pleased that I found a great sheltered spot in the garden, which has suitable screening, where they can be left undisturbed.

I'm now looking forward to giving them the leftover cheese sandwiches from last night's tea, which would otherwise have ended up in the bin. We have to be very careful to not overfeed the worms at this stage and take it very slowly, but once it's fully up and running, this new addition to our garden will make a valuable contribution towards my Zero Waste goal.

If you've been inspired, have a look at the Wiggly Wigglers site for more details and if you have any queries, the lovely people there will be very happy to help. They even have a blog, which covers lots of other interesting topics.

If you want to take a look at more applications of composting, I've just received a link from Simon Sherlock, which will answer many of my own novice questions:


Friday, 8 February 2008

Opening a Can-O-Worms

There is nothing like opening a Can-O-Worms to kick off discussions! I have the wormery and the book, which arrived safely from Wiggly Wigglers this morning. All I need is some extra tips from anyone out there who has already mastered their own Can-O-Worms.

While I sort out the worms, if you have some time, have a browse down the sidebar to take a look at some of the new links I've added. I've included a very useful feed from The Guardian's Waste section. It makes some very interesting reading.


Thursday, 7 February 2008

Enough is enough (or is it?)

What a week. Talk about dilemmas and quandries!

There I was considering my next step of The Rubbish Diet. I'd already pondered upon the problems in our household where we often buy and cook too much food, when really what I needed to do was buy enough and cook just enough.

While ruminating upon this, I followed a link from Tracey Smith's blog at the Sustained Magazine and came across a great new book by John Naish, called Enough, Breaking free from the world of more. Now this looked interesting and right up my street, so I tootled off to Waterstone's to get my copy (perhaps I should have got it from the Library, but this is one book that I am keen to pass around).

The book is interesting because it discusses how humankind has developed a sense of always striving for more, whether that be information, food, stuff, career progression or happiness and it addresses the effects of this on personal ecologies and the planet's ecology. Through this, John Naish advocates that what we need now is to develop the art of enoughness.

Having read most of the book, I agree with much of what Naish is promoting and being one who regularly suffers from Information Overload (purely voluntarily) and having in the past accumulated too much stuff, I know that I need to make some major inroads in these areas.

The problem is that before starting The Rubbish Diet I thought I had enough. However, since starting the project, I have had to put my own sense of enoughness on hold, as I continue to make progress towards my goal of Zero Waste.

Yes...this week, I have sadly been busy buying more...but even though the quandries are making my head spin, I hope to justify my actions because I hope that the following will actually really help me in my quest to slim my bin.

1. First on the list is choosing to SUPERSIZE. Instead of buying my usual 1 litre bottles of fabric conditioner and washing up liquid, I've supersized them to the 5 litre containers, which will save the number of items I have to recycle, but will also save us some money!

2. Then there is the fun item of lovely scrummy reusable cupcake cases, which come in all sorts colours which will save paper cases, encrusted with cake, being thrown away.

3. I also found a stainless steel egg-shaped soap, which claims to remove strong smells such as garlic, which will hopefully save on liquid soap and the containers that come with it.

4. I followed the tip from Mel at Beansprouts about deodorants and placed an order with Lush for a deodorant that comes in the form of a cake and also bought a bar of shampoo. I really hope these work, as it will remove the need for aerosols which can't be recycled and will save yet another plastic container.

5. The big decision though has been to invest in a wormery. I've ordered this from Wiggly Wigglers and I am getting extremely excited that this will arrive today, as it will help me reduce the amount of food waste that goes into the black bin.

So, I think that as far as this project goes, I have now bought enough. I hope so as I've decided I really don't like spending much anymore.

By the way, before you go, do take a look at John Naish's enoughness site, where he and his team are promoting the Landfill Prize, where you can vote for the most pointless, frivolous and over-complicated consumer item that gets dumped onto landfill. The worst offenders will be named and shamed in the national press sometime this month.


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