Thursday, 19 June 2008

My Top 10 Myth-Busters!

Oh the intrigue!

"How the heck did you throw away just one plaster?" my friends often ask.

Which is followed by...

"Go on...was it really just a plaster?"

Well yes it's all true, it was just one plaster, but it's not the plaster that's significant here, it's more to do with the fact that our weekly rubbish now amounts to just a quarter of a carrier bag.

That in itself appears to be just as amazing to all those who listen.

You can see the eyebrows raised, the lips pursed and almost hear the cogs going around in their minds.

The questions flow and flow and flow, while friends ponder how they can possibly fit a Rubbish Diet challenge into their own lifestyles.

They ask all sorts of buts, hows and what ifs, tripping over every reason why they would fall at the first hurdle.

So, I thought it was about time I pulled these together and try and bust some of those myths in one fell swoop...and here are my top ten myth-busters

1. Isn't it expensive?

No, not really. Before slimming our bin the weekly supermarket bill used to be around £90, with an extra £30 or so spent on a top-up shop. Now, I spend around £40 a week on the market, with a couple of top-up visits to our local Tesco Express or Waitrose, costing about £40.

Better portion control and buying basics like washing-up liquid and toilet roll in bulk means fewer or shorter trips to the supermarket and fewer temptations to buy things that I don't really need. So on average, we're now saving ourselves around £30-£40 a week. I'm not the kind of person who takes a written shopping list, but if this method works for you, even better!

You don't need to buy things like a bokashi system or a wormery, especially if you have a dog or live in an area with a food waste collection. However, savings made on our regular food shops have already paid for these extra "luxuries" which means we no longer have to send wasted food to landfill.

2. But don't you have less choice?

Because slimming your bin means cutting back on things that can't be recycled in your area, people often assume that this means less choice and perhaps in some circumstances it might be true.

However, I have found that the Zero Waste challenge has opened up a whole new range of choices. Take chocolate bars, which is my particular specialist subject. Before I started the Zero Waste challenge I was a creature of habit, I would always buy a Flake or a bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk for me and chocolate buttons for the kids. When I found out that the wrappers can't be recycled in our area, I looked for other choices.

I've since discovered other chocolate bars in all kinds of flavours, like the Lindt range and have switched over to these because both the cardboard and foil packaging can be recycled. They might seem more expensive, but we just share a bar amongst the whole family, which means it doesn't actually cost us any more. Talking of sharing, maybe it's also time to share my new addiction for Rolos. Where I could once resist the chocolate covered caramel delights, sadly it's now the paper and foil packaging that tips me over the edge.

The odd packet of buttons might slip through the net, but it is now only once in a while.

The one big lesson I've learned is this: If you are stuck in your ways, your choices are few, but if you look for alternatives, a whole range of opportunities become available.

3. What about space? Don't you need lots of room for recycling?

How I wish I was blessed with a garage or annex where I could organise my recycling beautifully. A cellar might be nice too.

Instead I am "blessed" with a kitchen with insufficient room to swing a cat and a garage which is only accessible in an emergency, involving trudging along a muddy lawn, having to unlock the back gate and meander across a shared driveway.

Indeed some might add that I visit my family in Wales more often that I venture out to the garage.

So, I guess I'm living proof that you don't really need much space at all. In my tiny kitchen I have bags on hooks for aerosols, which can be taken to the recycling centre and another bag for well.. er bags. The Bokashis are tucked away at the side of my fridge and my old 50 litre gorgeous Brabantia has been promoted from rubbish bin to recycling bin. We also use a trio of matching green bins for rubbish, kitchen waste and glass.

I only keep the last two bins because I am too lazy to step outside the kitchen everyday to visit the compost bin and keep forgetting to take the odd bottle to the bottle bank. I wouldn't need them if I was more organised.

Outside we have a modern but small suburban garden, in which we have hidden a compost bin and a wormery, both of which have helped us reduce our kitchen waste.

The most important thing is that you have a system that works for you and your lifestyle and that you exercise your choice accordingly. For example we don't have enough space to collect Tetra Paks, so we don't buy them. Instead we buy juice in plastic\glass bottles, some of which is even delivered by the milkman.

So if you feel your own system is in need of a shake-up and you want to flash some cash, it might be time to get some new bins. Who can't resist a shopping spree? But before you do, make sure you buy the right one for you.

4. But can I really reduce my waste if I live in a flat?

This is a tricky one because it will depend on your lifestyle and local collection services. If you live in a flat, or apartment and have the privilege of co-mingled recycling it is much easier, because you just gather all your things in one bin without the need to sort. If your food waste is collected or you have access to a compost bin even better.

However, if you don't have the pleasure of either and you feel that your hands are pretty tied, then there is still hope.

The best way of tackling the problem head-on is to rethink your shopping and see if you can reduce the amount of things that would otherwise put you in recycling hell.

If food waste is a problem, experiment with shopping more regularly, perhaps dropping into a store on the way from work or picking up a few things when you are out and about. Try buying only the things that you need for the next few days, so you don't have to throw so much away. Cook smaller portions and reuse leftovers more creatively.

If your recycling facilities are poor or you haven't got enough space, look for alternative products with minimum packaging. Try to focus on reusable products and loose produce where available.

If you rely on recycling centres and you have a car, store your clean recycling in your car-boot and it will be ready to drop off next time you're passing.

5. But I'm not a great cook and don't have time to cook from scratch?

Well the good news is you don't have to. Obviously, cooking from scratch can be healthier and can mean a saving in both money and surplus packaging, but it isn't always necessary to reduce your landfill waste. You can always supplement your purchases with portions of fresh-fruit and vegetables.

If you're not a domestic goddess or a culinary god in the kitchen and rely on ready-meals, simply look for the options that have reduced packaging. Seek out healthy choices, where the packaging can be recycled in your area. For example, I can recycle the foil and cardboard from a ready-made quiche, but can't recycle the polystyrene base from a pizza, so for me the quiche wins every time!

However, if you're not a confident cook but want to give it a go, try and take some small steps. Grab a lab coat instead of an apron and start experimenting. Begin with some simple things and swap ready-made custard in cartons for custard powder in tins. All you need to do is add milk.

If you want to go further, butter up your stale bread and layer it in a dish with some sugar, raisins and nutmeg. Soak in some whisked egg and milk and you have a bread and butter pudding ready to bung in the oven.

My top tip is to discover just five short-cut recipes that will make you look like a master chef even if you think you're not.

My personal top five are bread and butter pudding, fairy cakes, sweet and sour balti chicken, fish pie and bolognese sauce.

6. But don't you need a car to recycle so many things?

It can be difficult to take materials to a recycling centre without a car, unless it is located on a significant bus route.

So you need to think outside the box! Or should we say the recycling box?

I have discovered people who SWAP recycling as a solution to not having access to a car. One lady I know in a village outside Bury St Edmunds, gives her mum Brita cartridges which can be recycled at the local chemists and takes away her mum's tetra paks, which she can recycle in her village.

So talk to your friends about their recycling problems and you never know what opportunities will arise.

You never know, one of them might already be a secret recycler, in need of a weekly fix. They could collect your things or you could join them.

7. I'd love to do it if I had the time, but I'm just too busy!

Now this one is the real toughie because we are all so busy... busy going to work, busy doing the shopping, busy looking after the kids, busy watching television, busy going out for drinks...

... off to the theatre... off to the to the playground...and when we're not doing that, we're busy catching up on our schnoozles.

Reducing your waste might be the last thing you think about when you're busy, but the good news is that it doesn't take any extra time just to simply think about it.

So when you're having a shower, washing the dishes or commuting to work, take 5 minutes for a ponder about what goes in your bin and how you could reduce it. Just 5 minutes, that's all.

The great news is that you don't need to be a brain surgeon or a genius to come up with the answers. When you're stuck for conversation or want to entertain your kids or friends, ask them what they'd do. You're bound to get loads of suggestions but be prepared for some rude ones too.

If you're too busy to do anything else about it, just try one thing... simply focus on what you're buying in the shops. The next time you're at the supermarket, give yourself just an extra twenty minutes to look for alternative products that you know you can recycle.

You see, you don't need to be obsessed or even see it as a major challenge. Just five minutes here and twenty minutes there might be all that you need to make a real change to your bin.

8. But what about my wife\husband\partner or kids, I'll never get them motivated?

You could be surprised. If you've got a waste saboteur in your house, it's time to get them converted. You never know, you might uncover their inner geek and find they are raring to go with the challenge. It happened to Mrs Green.

But if you're keen and they're not, just turn it into a competition. Pull out the old bribery and corruption if need be (as long as it's legal) and look for any favours that you might be able to dangle as a carrot.

You'll have a whole new learning experience in the making and who may find a reformed character under your roof, who ends up whipping you into action during a weak moment.

9. But doesn't it just go to landfill anyway?

Do you believe everything you read in the press? Occasionally some recycling will end up in landfill but it's a minority story even if it makes a big headline. Sometimes an odd cock-up in facility management or contamination may cause recycled materials to be condemned to the dark side, but the majority of items will be sorted, baled up and despatched to the relevant recycling plant for processing.

10. But we really don't have the right facilities!

I really love this one and is probably the easiest to deal with and you hardly need to lift a finger. If you would really like to have improved facilities in your area, the likelihood is that many other people would love them too.

Whether you're needing a tetra pak bank, mixed plastics or food waste collection, ring up your council and encourage your friends to do the same.

A solution might not be guaranteed, especially with the complication of the economics of cost and levels of supply and demand, but there's no harm in asking. Just think of that old saying..."if you don't ask you don't get"... so give it a go.

If you're already motivated and raring to go, just click on the LETS Recycle site now and look for your local recycling officer. Give them a call straight away and remember to smile and sound happy. It makes their jobs just that bit more pleasant.


So if you've got a friend who would love to reduce their own rubbish but has an if, but or whatever that gets in their way, send them over here and see if we can help with the answers.

Admittedly, it's not always easy and there's no "one size fits all". So if you live a lonely life in a tiny flat on a remote island with no recycling facilities and no-one to help for miles, you might have a bit of a problem. If you think I'm being extremist, trust me, I'm not. Neither sarcasm or extremism are my style. The reality is our glorious country can feel like a remote island sometimes and there are many people out there who are not blessed with the same fortunes as others, whether it's mobility, ability, facilities, support or finances

But imagine...if we could work together to help everyone save just one more thing from landfill each week, by avoiding it in the first place or turning it into a resource instead, that would be truly amazing.

If you need more inspiration, just take a look at Gail Porter's video that she did for Recycle Now's Recycle Week 2008. If you need the help of the kids, see if Cbeebies are on tour near you, as the lovely characters are helping to spread ideas to the young and old. Or if you prefer the "boot up the backside" approach, click here to read about my visit to landfill in April. I've just read it again, and it's certainly given me another nudge in the right direction.



Anonymous said...

What a fabulous post hon; I think you will put a lot of people's minds at rest with your questions and answers.

1/4 of a carrier bag per week - amazing; totally amazing. I really hope we will be joining you on that one soon. What an inspiration you are :)

Have a wonderful day,
Mrs G x

Jo Beaufoix said...

Brilliant post. You keep it so simple and don't patronise or admonish, it's just pure encouragement. I love it. :D

Unknown said...

Fabulous motivational tips that most of us can do without going too far out of our way.
In Uttlesford council district we're lucky enough to have great recycling facilities including food waste, which helps no end - our dog will happily eat many food scraps but isn't keen on potato peelings, egg shells, tea bags or banana skins! They'll also take TetraPaks, yogurt pots, marg tubs and kitchen foil.
Most of our rubbish consists of wrappers of one sort or another, though I am consciously trying to reduce the number of these we buy -hubby's crisp addiction doesn't help, though I've cut him down to 2or 3 times a week in his lunchbox instead of every day!
We get lots of fruit & veg from my parents' allotment, which is fantastic. BTW - why do supermarkets shrinkwrap cucumbers?
I'm going to start using my breadmaker again - partly cos my mum got me a huge bag of flour from the mill when she went to Norfolk recently, partly cos shop bread's now so expensive. I make all our cakes now and I'm going to start experimenting with biscuits (another of hubby's weaknesses).
Keep up the good work!

Karin said...

Thank you for the encouragement. I think the thing we need to work on is the amount of plastic packaging, which may involve me planning better so I can make more puddings.

I do happily buy Waitrose own pizza as it does not come with polystyrene on the base, they use cardboard instead, but there is still a plastic film.

My favourite chocolate is Divine, which has recyclable packaging and is also Fairtrade, so the extra on the price goes to pay the cocoa farmers a living wage.

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Mrs G - Thank you and thanks again for all your support too...and don't worry I have every confidence you'll get there and it won't take you long either. By the way, I'm enjoying your revamped site. :-D

Hi Jo - I am so pleased you said that, because rubbish is really personal and everyone is so different that it could be so easy to offend..your words bring the relief I need. Must catch up soon and please say hi to Rosie for me. x

Hi Gemma - Thanks so much for your support and for your tips. I love the fact that you've cut down your hubby's crisps.

And you're right...cucumbers in wrappers! I go out of my way to avoid the now and I pick up some fantastic ones at hour local market. Good luck with the bread and as for the cakes, I am now feeling hungry ;-D

Hi Karin - oooh if it's plastic packaging you're looking at, I've got a real treat for you tomorrow. Hopefully it will motivate you even more.

mmmm...Divine chocolate is truly divine isn't it? I'd buy more of it if it was sold at our local Bleepsco Expreesh. But I sometimes pick some up in town. LOL...that Waitrose pizza sounds like swings and roundabouts to me, half a dozen of one and half a dozen of the other. It's enough to sent me batty and this reply is the living proof. They are yummy though. :-D

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