Friday, 14 March 2008

Zero Waste Week: Saving more waste from landfill

"Zippahdeedoodah, Zippahdeeyay....

It's still just one plaster that's been thrown away!"


And that was how Day 4 of Zero Waste Week ended...

...but it was close!

I went into our bathroom after my husband, the 6 yr-old Union Rep and his little side-kick had gone off to Work, School & Nursery (I am so glad I got the order right).

There, placed on top of the loo was a can of shaving gel.

I knew what that meant.

Even before I picked it up and gave it a shake, I knew it was empty, because that is Mr A's code.

If it's placed on top off the cistern, it means "throw it away and get me a new one ... (please)".

Of all the weeks! No pressure then!

The aluminium can is something that we used to dump in the black bin, even with the plastic lid intact. However, with Zero Waste Week upon us I had to make the effort and check.

So I rang up the council! (My apologies if that's beginning to sound like a catchphrase).

The lovely Kate in the waste department, must have been wondering what I was going to hit her with this time!

I asked her about the can and she confirmed that it can be taken to the local recycling centre, which is brilliant, especially as I've now got into the routine of collecting the odd loose item that can be dropped off when we're passing. Of course, I can take the lid off first and just put that into our normal recycling.

I wonder whether the recycling centre can take aerosol cans too, if so it means that our local authority would be amongst the 75% in the UK that can process them. Even though 75% is good, I am intrigued why it isn't 100% and would love to find out more about the inconsistency of recycling facilities across the UK. In the meantime, if you want to find out more information about recycling aerosol products, take a peek at the British Aerosol Manufacturing website (BAMA).

My other recycling query yesterday was to Cereal Partners, who manufacture Shredded Wheat, which Mr A bought on his way home from work one evening.

When serving breakfast, I'd noticed that the Shredded Wheat portions are wrapped in paper packaging, unlike other cereal products that use plastic bags or film. It looked like it could be recycled as normal paper, but I decided to ring and check.

I was right. The whole of the Shredded Wheat packaging can be recycled! That was fabulous news and I really think Cereal Partners should include that as a unique selling point in their marketing campaign, as it's a major plus point when you're following The Rubbish Diet!

Now that would start a trend don't you think. Maybe a "TOTALLY RECYCLABLE" label could follow in the footsteps of the ORGANIC, FREE-RANGE & FAIRTRADE markets. It is becoming increasingly evident that consumers who care are wanting proper labelling like this and agree that it would help to influence their purchasing decisions and this is a market in waiting.

However it has also become apparent that as there are so many differences in the collection services that local authorities offer, a "TOTALLY RECYCLABLE" type of label might be misleading if local facilities are not be available for that product. If you have a look at some of the plastic film packaging, you might see the phrase "Recyclable, where facilities exist", which highlights the problem perfectly.

Products are often labelled with recycling logos such as these, which are listed on the Wasteonline site. They were developed by the Society of Plastics Industry (SPI) in the US.

Recycling Logo


Polyethylene terephthalate - Fizzy drink bottles and oven-ready meal trays.

Recycling Logo


High-density polyethylene - Bottles for milk and washing-up liquids.

Recycling Logo


Polyvinyl chloride - Food trays, cling film, bottles for squash, mineral water and shampoo.

Recycling Logo


Low density polyethylene - Carrier bags and bin liners.

Recycling Logo


Polypropylene - Margarine tubs, microwaveable meal trays.

Recycling Logo


Polystyrene - Yoghurt pots, foam meat or fish trays, hamburger boxes and egg cartons, vending cups, plastic cutlery, protective packaging for electronic goods and toys.

Recycling Logo


Any other plastics that do not fall into any of the above categories. - An example is melamine, which is often used in plastic plates and cups.

I don't know about you but it can be pretty hard work as a consumer to keep on top of these labels and the system is prone to confusion, which can lead to contamination of waste, as people get frustrated or indeed have lazy moments.

I think the problem lies in that the industry uses labels and codes to communicate if the item can be recycled, (but even this appears to lack consistency in usage) and local recycling facilities communicate the extent of their facilities by using descriptive terminology, e.g. cardboard, plastic bags etc.

Perhaps it's just me and my need for simple systems, but wouldn't it make things much easier if the manufacturers and recycling services spoke the same language?

It's almost like the packaging/waste management process could benefit from a very simple classification system, you know, the kind of thing that you see in libraries. A librarian knows exactly where to shelve a book, not just because it is about Art, Literature, or History, but because it has a classification label, e.g. 700, 800 or 900 respectively. These numbers also help library users find an item. It's an age-old system that was invented by Melvil Dewey over 130 years ago. When a book is printed, its classification number is often included in one of the front pages, so that librarians across the world know how to deal with it in a standardised fashion.

So what if such a system was applied to packaging and waste management information? If the packaging industry developed a simple Consumer-friendly set of standardised codes across the board and if every council used these codes as part of their communication processes, the consumer might find the recycling process a lot simpler. I know I would.

It would almost be like a game of snap. e.g. if you see a "5" on plastic packaging, all you need to do is check your council's recycling list for a "5" and it would tell you if and how it could be recycled. As we've seen, codes are explicit in a way that descriptions sometimes aren't.

Now I admit to being on unfamiliar territory here, as I have no experience in the packaging industry whatsoever or indeed waste management, but I do have a background in information management and data standards, as well as information dissemination, which is probably why I get so frustrated with the inconsistency and confusion that exists.

Anyway, before I get charged with teaching grannies to suck eggs and how to label the egg-carton, I'll get back to a much lighter note with my other news from yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon I popped up to my son's school, to see how the Zero Waste lunch was going. In fact, the children were doing brilliantly. Very little packaging could be found in the lunch boxes and most of the trays were going back empty. All those who made an astounding effort received a certificate. So here's a big thumbs-up to the Zero Heroes at Abbots Green.

It was a proud moment to see my own son's tray being returned empty, but before he took it off to the washing-up pile, I called him over for a photo opportunity with the East Anglian Daily Times photographer. My 6 year old looked slightly bemused, but played his part beautifully.

The school is indeed an inspirational place for learning opportunities such as this. It already promotes environmentally-friendly schemes, has its own kitchen garden area as well as composting facilities and we've now got hold of a Green Cone food digester, which allows cooked food to be processed. The cone is just waiting to be installed (i.e. to have the waste basket dug into the ground), but it should be great for getting rid of the odds and ends at lunchtimes. Once it's installed, I'll update the site with its progress.

So after an extremely busy week talking rubbish, today's focus will be catching up with overdue work deadlines (after recording the Wiggly Wigglers podcast, which was postponed from yesterday). It will be strange to get back to something that's not connected with the subject of waste, which has of course taken precedence this week.

But I couldn't leave you without pointing you in the direction of this You Tube video, set to the music of Jack Johnson, the same track that Woman's Hour used on yesterday's column for The Rubbish Diet.

Turn up the volume, press play and enjoy!



Anonymous said...

I do try to be good about recycling, having three wheelie bins makes things much easier, but I do sometimes worry that everything I put in my 'blue bin' should actually be going in there.
It all seems a bit random, and must be a bit of a nightmare to eventually sort out!
I shall go back over your blog and re read to see if I can pick up any tips, your zero waste week has made me want to do more, but I don't think I could ever aspire to nothing in the 'black bin'.

Karin said...

I heard you on Woman's hour earlier in the week. Great blog. I shall keep reading for tips on reducing rubbish. I do try, but then I think I should treat my family to a yummy pudding or something and find I have some excessive plastic packaging to get rid of. I think it's a matter of learning to be more organised.

Little bits of paper like the wrappers for Shredded Wheat I'd probably pop in the recycling bin. I think that would count as 'brown stuff'. I also put egg boxes, loo roll inner tubes and small cardboard boxes in for the same reason.

I thought you had to be careful with aerosols because of high pressure gasses, so I'm not sure I could put them in with the cans the council collect. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of your book and ring the council to ask them.

Joyce said...

LOL! My husband uses exactly this same technique! I wonder what he'd think if I came home with a cake of old-fashioned shaving soap. I'm not sure he's interested in being that green!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your week, I heard your blog on Woman's hour and am now inspired to go further with our recycling.
I also am confused about the inconsistency. I am a member of Garden Organic and their magazine arrives in a perfectly recycleable plastic bag, so why is it they can do it but others cannot?

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to say a huge thank you for such a wonderful blog, and for bringing the problems associated with unnecessary packaging to the publics attention.

I try to avoid purchasing products that I know will be difficult to recycle, but after regularly reading your articles I know that anything is possible.

If there were more conscientious people like you around I'm sure we wouldn't be in the situation we are in now!

Keep up the good work : )

Scenic Suffolk

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi a.n.other - thanks for stopping. Until I started the Zero Waste Week challenge, I too was working on guesswork. Good luck in your efforts though. It may seem a little extreme, but I hope I'll be able to get a visit to the recycling sorting centre - it will be great to get a behind the scenes view.

Hi Karin - Thanks for listening in and for your compliments about the blog. That's great recycling. Yes there is an issue regarding aerosols and you should check with the council. Indeed, ring them about anything. Which one is it by the way?

Hi Joyce - LOL, glad I'm not the only one who's had to decode the messages. Best not go for the soap bar by the sound of it...but you never know......;-D

Hi Anonymous - Thanks for your support. I am glad you and others have found the whole thing inspiration. When I took up the invitation, it was a bit of a risk as I didn't know how people would react, but I put my trust in the production team and they were fabulous. Great news about Garden Organic. Do let me know how you get on.

Hi Richard - Thanks for the compliments. It has been a great project, which I think is going to continue. Glad to see you're promoting Suffolk by the way. It's great to see so many people like yourself making the effort with recycling...long may it continue.

Karin said...

When I mentioned 'brown stuff' for the recycling bin I meant for the compost bin, but of course you probably knew that.

timx said...

I was out driving my van when I caught your item on Woman's Hour. I am fairly conscientious about my recycling, and am on my local council's 'focus group' on the subject. So, my attention was caught when you mentioned washing out yoghurt pots. In my area yoghurt pots cannot be economically recycled, and I was wondering exactly what happens to yours once they leave your house! I know that in some areas (e.g. my daughter's in Lincolnshire)the council take away everything plastic - but all this 'recycling' waste is separated (very inefficiently) by mechanical means, and the percentage that can actually be reused is very small. I know also that a lot of recycled paper paper cannot be used because it is contaminated with powdered glass. I think that it is unfortunate that some local authorities (not yours I think)have developed schemes which give us the impression that we are doing well when actually we are not.
I wish more people would take an interest in the detail of exactly how their waste is being recycled.
Keep up the great work, and the blog. Let me promote one of my favourite 'green' charities - - a worldwide effort to get rid of plastic shopping bags!

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Karin - Don't worry I knew what you meant. ;-D

Hi Timx - thanks for popping by. It is interesting isn't it that each authority treats recycling is different ways. Things like yoghurt pots can be recycled up this way. I don't know what happens to them once everything's been sorted at the materials recycling facility. I know a lot of stuff goes to China for recycling but that's all. I think I've mentioned somewhere already, but I am planning on going down sometime for a nosey as they operate an educational visit scheme. Cheers for the Morsbags link. It's reminded me that I need to set that link up.

Karin said...

Btw, this is the recycling page for my local council

I've just emailed them about aerosol cans and included a link to your blog.

Mel said...


My hubby uses "old fashioned shaving soap" and we both love it - he finds it better for his skin and gives a closer, smoother shave (and the whole proper brush bit makes him feel manly!) and I think he smells great.

He uses Crabtree & Evelyn's, each refill lasts about a year and comes wrapped in paper in a cardboard box (all recycleable/ compostable)


Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Karin - good on you for emailing your council, may it be the beginning of a fruitful relationship, and thanks for sending them the link. Thanks also for their link ;-D

Hi Mel - thanks for the info about the Crabtree & Evelyn shaving products. I'll definitely look that up.

Karin said...

I had a reply from my council already and the answer is 'yes', aerosol can be recycled along with the tins and cans.

I'm glad you brought that up as I had always asumed you couldn't. I shall circulate the reply amongst members of our local ethical matters group in case others have thought like me.

Layla said...


Been wondering about this here!!

The green booklet doesn't seem to say anything, so I'll have to ask..

Mum used to give her hair colored foam empty aerosol cans to 'dangerous waste' (?) & Dad's shaving foam.. hmm.. who knows? the bin probably!

Mel's hubby is inspiring too!! I wish I could find a good brand here & maybe give a sneaky gift?! ;)

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