Friday, 30 January 2009

All About You...and your credit-crunching eco-tips!

Photo: Winter Brightness by Grant Macdonald

Well here's a wonderful surprise for the weekend and a fabulous start to February and I'm not talking about the forecast of snow. It's far more exciting than that.

The folks behind (the online home of Good Housekeeping, Prima, SHE, Country Living, House Beautiful and Coast magazine) have asked readers of The Rubbish Diet to have a good natter and submit their favourite eco-friendly tips that can help with the credit crunch.

Examples include making potatoes last longer by adding an apple to the bag (cor, I never knew that) or using vinegar, water and a newspaper to clean your windows.

Once all the tips have come in, I get to judge and submit the best tip to for them to include on their website....oh the responsibility.

So, I'm going to get my thinking cap on and I hope you will too. Feel free to submit as many as you like over the course of the next week. Just simply add your suggestions to the comments below. I'll be announcing the chosen tip for publication on 9th Feb. Right... where shall we start?


Thursday, 29 January 2009

Back to School!

It may have looked like I've been in hiding this week, but in truth I've been out and about enjoying myself.

And the focus has been education. Yes, folks Almost Mrs Average has been back to school. And I've loved it every minute of it.

The main event has been kicking off a new project at my sons' school of which I'm a governor. But I wasn't wearing my governor hat on this occasion. Instead, I'd been invited into Years 3 and 4 as a "parent expert" to inspire almost 50 learners to find ways of reducing waste both in the school and at home.

Well I can certainly say that as far as inspiration goes, it was most definitely a two-way street and I was impressed with what the children knew about environmental issues as well as all their ideas for reducing the problems with landfill.

They've really grabbed this project by the horns and there are lots more adventures to be had over the next few weeks, including a litter pick in our local neighbourhood, which will result in the rubbish being sorted into recyclables, so not just dumped in the bin. They also want to interview me and send letters to manufacturers. Then in the final week, they will give a presentation on their achievements and plans for the future. I am really looking forward to that and I am sure I will learn a few new things myself.

In the meantime, I'll be graduating to big school next week, working with Sixth Formers at a local college. I can't wait to see what happens there.

So from big kids to little kids, the adventures of Almost Mrs Average continue.

I just wonder what will happen next month!


Sunday, 25 January 2009

Busy watching my garden

This weekend is the RSPB's GARDEN WATCH, where they're asking people all around the UK to spend just one hour watching their garden and record the birds that they see. Just one hour that's all, an opportunity to relax and look out for your feathered friends. And if you have leftovers from your Sunday lunch, this is the perfect opportunity to put them to good use, as birds are happy to peck at such a wide variety of food, including mashed up potato and pastry.

And don't forget they love fatballs too. So don't pour your fat down the drain. Instead pour it into a mould and then chill in the fridge. If you don't have a ready-made mould, you can make one yourself with a plastic bag inside a toilet roll inner - [that's what I meant to say in the video last week, but what wonderful alternative suggestions you left]. Remember to feed a piece of string through first and when full, prop up in mug or cup in the fridge for a few hours. Alternatively, spread the fat around a fircone. When the fat starts to harden, coat with bird seed or breadcrumbs.

Lots more information about feeding the birds and how to register your birdwatch can be found at the official 2009 GARDEN WATCH website (Thanks to blog reader Baba for the tip-off)

As well as watching the birds I've got a jam-packed week with children's recycling workshops, sorting out the garden, submitting my tax returns and preparing for another exciting project that's coming up. So not much time to blog.

But before I go, I'd like to send my very best wishes and support to the 1500 folk in Gloucestershire who have signed up for their very own zero waste week. Launched by best-selling author Jilly Cooper, the challenge officially starts tomorrow. Mrs Green and her family over at MyZeroWaste are joining in from the Forest of Dean, so don't forget to pop over to see how they get on. She'll show you how she's using her toilet roll inners too.

So enjoy your bird-watching, bin slimming and other zero waste activities. I look forward to seeing you soon. And if you have to fill in a tax return too...I truly empathise. xxx

Friday, 23 January 2009

Zero Waste: On avoiding obsession

So it's the end of a long week of celebrations. I've just dropped little J off at his chess club and I've got a delicious hour to myself in the lounge of the stunning Angel Hotel, in Bury St Edmunds.

Peace at last eh... one whole hour to stop and pause in the perfect setting, sat next to the glowing embers of the open fire.

Just what I need after the mad rush of yesterday, an opportunity to quietly reflect on the developments of the last twelve months.

Like any other challenge, a zero waste lifestyle requires focus, careful attention and a particular drive to achieve your goal, bringing with it a gradual change of habits. It also demands research and a new learning curve as you explore alternative products that fit your personal needs and that are easy to process through your local recycling system. But above all else a zero waste journey needs commitment if you want to maintain your waste minimisation goals.

Then just like any other learning experience, you suddenly realise that after so much hard work focusing on this, that and t'other, your new lifestyle has become the norm, with new routines, rewarded with unpackaged goods and sustainable brands that suit your needs and your pocket.

It becomes automatic, just like breathing and remembering to clean your teeth.

Now that's a comfortable place to be.

But what about the other side...the other challenge to your zero waste experience?

If you're not careful it can gradually creep up on you and bite you on the bum when you least expect it.

You see, while you're busy changing your ways to reduce what you buy, reuse what you've got and recycle what you don't need, you gradually wake up to the fact that your passion and commitment is benefiting the environment. And every small action you take to save and preserve valuable resources is one small step closer to sustainability.

And that's the real killer isn't it?

Suddenly, you can be left with the burden of saving the planet single-handedly, just you and your bin. And what comes with your new sense of passion is the risk of guilt... the guilt that forgets what you have achieved and focuses on what you haven't.

And let's not forget the deep frustration over situations outside of your control...from the lack of recycling facilities on your doorstep to the unsustainable choices made by certain manufacturers and retailers. Before you know it, you're even following national politics and you may even find yourself glancing at bin bags as you walk along the street, asking don't they know and don't they care?

But beware, because you don't really want your beautiful rays of passion to get lost in the murky world of obsession. And there is a fine line.

Instead you need to keep it real.

You need to keep your passion alive.

And you need to keep perspective.

If things are out of your control, don't worry. If the kids won't co-operate, keep teaching. If there is a lack of facilities in your local area, seek the help of your local council. And if you're not satisfied with a manufacturer's packaging, contact them to find out their plans. Of course, if you're still not happy, vote with your feet and switch products or brands as appropriate.

But then again, you could sit back, relax and wait. There's nothing wrong with that.

You may feel responsible for your actions, but don't feel guilty if you can't resolve everything. After all Rome wasn't built in a day. Just be glad that you've done your best and feel reassured that there are others working with the same goals too. While councils keep focusing on improving targets, responsible manufacturers are continuing to work on their packaging. Changes may not happen as quickly as we would like, but they are happening. Indeed you can follow some of the big names that have officially signed up to WRAP's Courtauld Commitment by clicking here.

And yes I have had my own obsessive moments too, like the time I cried at the Recycling Centre when I saw perfectly reparable bike that had been left when it could have been "freecycled". Then there was the day I happily let a friend take her baby's dirty nappy home with her - at her own suggestion I should add, but still, I could have offered to put it in my bin.

But these days, I'm more cool about stuff. I acknowledge there is too much waste in the world but have trust that the more people who are inspired to reduce it, the more folk they can inspire and so on. And I don't mind if my own bin isn't entirely empty. I could make it slimmer than one small bag a month, but that would mean a lot more work, with time I don't always have. So I just do what I can do and one bag is good enough for me.

So if you start feeling guilty, refocus on what you can easily achieve and if it turns out to be impossible, then don't worry. You are only human after all. Just let the guilt go free and concentrate on enjoying your passion and trust that people will follow your footsteps.


Thursday, 22 January 2009

Our Zero Waste Home in One Mad Dash

Continuing the celebrations of the first anniversary of The Rubbish Diet, I couldn't resist the opportunity for one extra special challenge and give you a quick video tour of some of the zero waste choices that we have made in our home over the last 12 months.

I've tried to squeeze in 25 examples from all over the house, including our laundry choices and a variety of bathroom products. Our yoghurt maker even got a special airing. The great thing is, by reducing what we've bought, buying some things in bulk and swapping product choices, we've also seen a saving in our well-earned cash. It's just a shame I couldn't include everything. But if I had, I'm afraid you'd be here all day.

So, if you're up for some fast, unscripted, unedited and often out-of-breath babbling, come and have a laugh or indeed a cry at my quick stop tour around the Almost Average Household, then see if you can answer the questions below. Just one word of caution, please bear in mind that the products we've chosen have been selected to suit our own recycling facilities and our particular lifestyle. Other options are available that may be more suited to you.

1. So who spotted the huge sack of potatoes that we now use instead of the huge amounts of pasta that we used to buy? Saves us a fortune, £4 for a 12.5 kilo sack that lasts us for about 6 weeks.

2. And did you notice the tub of bicarb and container of white vinegar that I forget to mention? Great for cleaning sinks, but which sink were they next to? I'll give you a clue, there was also a yellow Ecloth in the vicinity which is perfect for cleaning windows and mirrors without the need for chemicals?

3. Why on earth would I suggest you keep your toilet roll tubes? LOL...answers on a postcard. Most inventive and useful answer wins a free copy of the book when it eventually appears on the shelves!

And finally

4. Did you count the number of examples I managed to squeeze in? I'm afraid I lost count. Oh well...any guesses :-D


Wednesday, 21 January 2009

It's Party Time: One year old today!

Blimmin' 'eck. I've got here. One year old today.


I never thought that would happen you know. The blog was only meant to last for eight weeks, as a simple diary for my bizarre Zero Waste challenge. After that I was expecting to take a bow and booger off gracefully, back to what I do best...minding my own business and avoiding the housework.

But there was something about rubbish that got me hooked, and after eight weeks I realised that actually I was only halfway up the rubbish heap and there was so much more to experience. So being keen to see what life was like on the other side, I thought I'd blog on.

And as I carried on talking rubbish, I got even more inspired as I kept bumping into some real inspirational folk on the way. It seemed that we were all after the same thing, to see a world with less waste and one where people can enjoy more sustainable livelihoods.

So, I'm glad I did carry on...because I wouldn't have missed this for the world. You see, I might be celebrating a one year old blog - or indeed the blogaversary of my rubbish challenge - but in truth, I am celebrating the diversity and the wisdom of the folk who have inspired me, mentored me and put up with me along the way.

So many people talking rubbish, from all over the world.

So without further ado, I have the pleasure in giving up the floor to some amazing people who have taken the time to put together some inspirational messages to encourage all those who wonder whether it's worth the effort.

It's a long post and the messages are in no particular order. But please do take the time to read each and every one,....starting with my wonderful friend Ruby, who I must thank for inspiring me to blog in the first place!


"One year of The Rubbish Diet! Congratulations Almost Mrs Average! It seems a long time since I was trying to foil your attempt at zero waste by secretly stashing plastic coke bottles in your handbag. Not only did my attempt fail, but soon afterwards you were looking through my bins too and had me joining in!

For me the penny really dropped when you visited the landfill site last summer, and the sheer horror of the impact waste is having on our environment hit home. You said that adding your own one bag of waste to the site felt like littering, and you're right - that's what landfill is! I was honoured to be the first to take up the Rubbish Diet Challenge, and the progress I made has been a lasting change. There are things I'll never feel the same about again. Plastic bags, for example - I never use them now in the supermarket, and shop locally as much as I can. Thank you for being an inspiration to me and sooo many others.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that some time sooner rather than later during 2009 there will be a copy of the book, The Rubbish Diet sitting on my bookshelf - it will be an invaluable guide to have for both reference and motivation. Keep up the good work Almost Mrs A, and well done on having such a fantastic blog too :-)"



"The fine words that have fallen out of the fingers of Karen Cannard and flowed from her Rubbish Diet website have lifted many a dark day. She says it 'like it is' and puts her non-purist perspective from a regular everyday gal, into many eloquent words, never overspent. I believe that's the most effective approach to take when encouraging others to live with more thought for the planet and the imprint we all leave and I look forward to what her pen will give up in the year ahead."

Tracey Smith, Author of The Book of Rubbish Ideas and Founder of InterNational Downshifting Week, UK.


"We are what we waste - and the megatons of trash that our careless world leaves in its wake are a stark indictment on our whole society. If we don't change, future generations will curse us for our selfish habits - so thanks very much, Karen, for helping to pioneer a better way. Happy Year One."

John Naish, Author, Enough: breaking free from the world of excess. UK


"First, we would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Mrs A on her one year blogaversary. It was this blog, alongside a couple of other things in our life that gave us the kick up the derrière we needed to begin our own zero waste journey.

Throughout our six months of zero wasting we have learned two important things. The first is that we can all do something. We like to get across a message of hope and positivity and share our belief that every one of us who does 'our little bit' has a great collective impact. Let's not focus on the things we can't do, or the things that are beyond our control; let's work together to do what we CAN do and celebrate our diversity. In this way we can take responsibilty for our own impact on the environment.

Secondly, the mantra that keeps us going through all of this is 'There is no such place as away'. When you throw something away; where does it go? It doesn't magically disappear; it goes into a hole in the ground, a ship to China, an incinerator or onto the ocean floor. When you keep that image in your mind, it helps you to make better choices at the supermarket!"

Mr & Mrs Green and Little Miss Green at, UK


"Not everyone can reach zero waste as Karen has or give up plastic as I have, but we don't expect you to! Start where you are. Take the small steps first and see where they lead. Keep your mind and heart open to the possibilities for change that exist around us every day. And let yourself be an example to others. All of our changes together can make a huge difference!"

Beth Terry, U.S.A


"Years ago, I hadn't imagined to know, although virtually, a person like you, far from my country, and I never imagined that you would have inspired me, in the small daily gestures. Suddenly I felt the world close to me with the same problems, same ideas, the same desire to do even better, the same love for people and environment around. I learned a lot from you and all those who comment on your posts every day. A blog is much more powerful than a book, a story that goes through the TV because it isn't filtered and is written from the heart. Blogpost is a more human and immediate writing, not passing through other people and undergoing revisions. But your blog is also fun and it communicates a way of feeling very positive, what we all need on a time when we are realizing the extreme superficiality that characterized our lives up now.

Thanks so much to you and all the bloggers who have made the world better until now. I hope to continue reading these wonderful stories changing my life day by day!"

Danda,, Italy


I used to be that person you'd see throwing the can of diet coke out of the car window....Yes! People can change, I'm the living proof! One step at the time, until the thing you changed becomes a habit, and then take on a new challenge...and it does become in some way, a hobby, to find new ways to not make waste or to save energy. I hope you'll get as much pleasure out of it as I did, and still do!"

Esther, Je Me Recycle, France


"The old expression goes "where there's muck there's brass" but where there's waste minimisation there's gold! I met Karen a year ago now, preparing for St Edmundsbury's first Zero Waste Week and gold is what I found! When I was interviewed for my job I talked about how waste minimisation was my favourite aspect of waste management, so when my manager suggested we run a zero waste week I jumped at the chance.

It was my first project and I attacked it with gusto, organising waste free lunches at schools, signing up businesses to reduce packaging and plastic bag use and recruiting nearly 200 residents to commit to reducing their waste. The cherry on top was something I couldn't have done personally and that has far outlived the original promotion: The Rubbish Diet.

It has served as a source of inspiration for so many people (including me) , I feel proud to have been there from the start. Mrs Average's quirky stories and great advice have continued to keep people enthralled, while my newspaper cuttings are starting to yellow. Whilst the recycling markets tumble and everyone flounders in an uncertain economy, it's more important than ever to reduce waste right at the beginning and not spend our precious pennies on unnecessary packaging and landfilling.

So here's to The Rubbish Diet, still relevant, still interesting, still warm and funny- long may it continue!

I like to talk 'bout recyclin'
It's a subject I find so excitin'
No matter what company I'm in;
I'll rifle in their bin
And always find something worth havin'!"

Kate McFarland, Norfolk County Council, UK


"Hullo dears. This is Baglady speaking from Ballymena, Northern Ireland, which once famous for sectarian rage, now leads the charge to the sustainable age. Here's here's a corny wee little poem on the occasion of the first anniversary of rubbish dieting.

what good luck to celebrate your big day
with President Obama now leading the USA
the world is now in an awful mess
how long it'll last is anyone's guess

so everybody don't be dim
let's not leave it all to him
rubbish diets, Bagladies, Mrs As and Mrs Gs
everyone is needed now
let's save the planet - we know how

it may seem hard to give up cars ,
planes, or fashions, hours in bars
but for our kids, it must be done
so let's get going - and make it FUN!"

Shirley Lewis,, Nothern Ireland, UK


"My grandchildren are sitting looking at me as I type this... but only in my mind because they have yet to be conceived, yet alone born. Cutting down and recycling my 'waste' will ensure that the earth will not be full of toxic waste mountains and that the groundwater will stay clean for them. Those CFL's I have fitted will keep the air clean for them. The local produce I purchase will ensure that our nearby farms will stay viable so they can enjoy fresh food and the scenery that I do. Care in what I buy, Fairtrade, organic and free range will work towards a future free of harmful chemicals for them. Using a renewable energy supplier will ensure that Nuclear Waste does not pollute their world. These actions and many, many more will work towards a future that for them, and for many others around the world, will be one of hope. "

Peter Doodes, Fr Peter's Environmental Notes, UK


"Tips: - Keep checking with your local council as to what type of plastics etc they will recycle not only in the doorstep collection but also at the Household Recycling Facility. Mine collects all types 1 & 2. But at the HRF I can take types 4, 5, and 6. As well as tetrapaks, batteries."

Maisie,, UK


"In order to make things change, it’s really vital that everyone feels there is something they personally can do to make a difference. Otherwise it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by all that needs to happen and by the complexity of some of the issues. This is the real strength - and beauty - of Almost Mrs Average and the Rubbish Diet. It’s full of accessible advice, fun and overflowing with enthusiasm and energy - just like Karen herself, in fact! And it’s not just about rubbish - it’s also to do with thinking about what we consume and how much. Imagine how much less we would spend and have to lug home if only we didn’t have to buy all that packaging and products that have to be replaced every 5 minutes. We all really can make a difference and this is an easy, inspiring and brilliant place to start.

PS. My tip of the week: cut back on all those boring household cleaning products – two or three basic ones is mostly all that’s needed. And always use a lot less than they say on the box – especially with washing powders. It works just as well!"

Fran Crowe, Artist,, UK


"You know, it's barely registered with me that you've only been going for a year with The Rubbish Diet. You sound so settled! Yours was the first zero-waste blog I came across and you're a tough act to follow :) Here's to more years and less waste - cheers! So, what do I want to add to your mass blogaversary post? Can I recycle my thought from a comment a few days ago? (Ha ha...)

One of the most important things you can do as you learn about reducing your waste is spread the word, even if it's only to a few people, or those you think might be receptive. Don't worry about the hardened "bin everything" types (although by all means have a go!), just do what you
can. Not being able to reach everyone is no reason not to try to reach anyone at all."

Katy,, Freecycle Coordinator, Norwich, UK


"I think I can sum Grant’s past up by saying that he was a teenager who regularly threw his McDonalds cup and burger wrapper out the car window. If that isn’t the picture of blatant disregard for the environment, I don’t know what is. Fast forward a decade, and the photo of us holding our respective garbage bins (we’re very competitive that way) illustrates almost 7 months of garbage produced so far in the Clean Bin Project. For us, the thing that helped us truly stop buying “crap” and cut down on our waste was publicly telling people about what we were doing. Don’t be ashamed. Make a pact with a friend that you will do one thing to reduce waste – not using plastic veggie bags for example – then rely on each other to make sure you are staying true to your word. We are all responsible for our own actions, but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone."

Jen Rustmeyer, The Clean Bin Project, Our Consumer Free Year, Canada


"Well done for reaching a full year at the Zero Waste Challenge. The agenda has moved on for you with your Zero Waste Gardening trend, including the chickens. It has certainly been a fascinating time with progress in many areas. Who would have believed that we could interact with businesses to good effect; Boots being your latest contact. We have achieved some kind of notoriety by being described as "misguided" by plastic packaging industry websites. Misguided maybe, but the trend just seems to be getting bigger and broader here and worldwide.

The future looks promising with links to other environmentally-conscious trends improving. Zero Waste is the future and everyone who joins in will be part of the change to a better, sustainable, lifestyle. I wish you all the best for the next 12 months and hope we all can combine our efforts to maximum effect."

John Costigane, Home Zero Waste, Scotland, UK


"Inspiration is all it takes – sometimes it comes quickly and sometimes it has to develop. I’ve learnt to be patient, open minded and positive. Ask questions, talk to people and mention the issues carefully – its amazing how many others are interested and will make small changes with hardly any effort. As Karen taught me – you don’t have to be a fanatic but if we all make a little effort, its better than us all making no effort – and trust me, she’s a good teacher! Watch Wall-E if you want to see what the earth will look like if we don’t try……."

Alison Williams aka Baba, The Wirral, UK


The Beaufoix family have not looked back from our bin slimming venture. Miss E (8) and Miss M (3) have taken the whole thing on board and know exactly where to put apple cores, paper etc and if they're unsure they ask. Our compost is coming on nicely and has been a major part of our bin slim, and I am planning on planting some potatoes and onions soon in an attempt to begin supplying our own veg and therefore slimming our bin and our purse even more.

Our bin "Stinky Simon" is not quite Saintly Simon yet but is definitely sweeter and tends to be about half to three quarters full every 2 weeks which is amazing. We never have to make extra trips to the tip now and are much more careful about picking goods with more friendly packaging or none at all.

Another result of our bin slim is that my parents too are much more environmentally aware and have also acquired a compost bin.

Thank you so much Almost Mrs Average, you're an inspiration and a star. Looking forward to the next year of bin slimming and shrinking our carbon footprint.


Recycling behaviour is continuing to evolve across the UK and statistics shows that for the first time the overall amount of waste created is decreasing in many areas. There is no stronger evidence to prove that those little individual decisions to reuse plastic bags, buy loose vegetables and home compost your tea bags really do contribute to significant environmental benefits.

Thanks for all your work over the past year and lets hope that 2009 will take the Rubbish Diet to the next level. Well done Mrs Average.

Daniel Sage, Strategy and Policy Manager for St Edmundsbury Borough Council


And last...but most definitely not least...a message from a 7 year old boy, who I love, adore and cherish and who's got something to tell the whole wide world on behalf of himself and his 4 year old brother.

"Recycle what you can, eat all the food you buy and put more things in your compost bins."

Joseph Cannard, the bin defender, Suffolk, UK

Well, I don't think I can say fairer than that!

The only thing that's left to add, is to thank you all for inspiring me on this journey and playing your own part in what's been a life-changing experience for us all.

Goodness knows what will happen in the next twelve months...but I'm sure it will be exciting.

Here's to a fantastic year in reducing waste, from whatever angle you look at it. And I'm going to leave you with one of my favourite memories of the year, of which Ruby reminded me last night.

She sent me this, a photo of the occasion I refused a carrier bag while shopping in Harrods Food Hall. Instead I pulled out a reusable bag from my handbag. The only thing I can't believe is that I happily paid £8 for four pieces of fruit....just FOUR pieces of fruit. How things have changed!

So while you enjoy the photo, I'm off to celebrate by listening in to Tracey Smith's Internet radio show on Apple AM, Slow Down and Green up (every Wednesday at 10.00am) ...and then I'll head off to the market for some local fruit with some down-to-earth prices!

Thanks so much for joining in and huge thanks too to all you lovely people who follow the blog, whether you lurk silently or dare to leave comments, as well as all those bloggers in my sidebar - I'll be back with some more fun and games tomorrow!

Lots of love

Mrs A xxx

oooohhh......I nearly forgot one of my favourite You Tube videos below:

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

How it all began!

Almost Mrs Average and her Rubbish Diet - The Inside Story

In January 2008, my local council set up a bizarre challenge: for one week in March, in order to reduce the rubbish that went to landfill, participating households should not buy or use anything that produced waste that couldn’t be recycled or composted.

A Zero Waste Week!

Strangely, reducing waste had been one of my new year’s resolutions. I wanted to do something about my bins. So I was keen.

The council were keen. They wanted to know why I was interested so sent me some questions, and they wanted a photo to feature in their local magazine.

I considered this: images of my smiling face, accompanied by bin bags, would greet residents as they breakfasted, lunched or dined. Everyone would know my business.

I didn’t like people knowing my business.

I was less keen.

But it’s good because you’re average.” They asserted

Hmmm. I suppose I am almost average.” I hesitated.

I could see their point. This kind of stuff was normally the domain of the Greens, or even the Thrifties. I was neither. I was just an almost average woman, with my almost average family, living in an almost average house in Bury St Edmunds.

But this was not your average challenge. This was something that would take me out of my comfort zone. I would need to challenge and change habits of a lifetime – and those of the rest of my family – and if I was to slim my bin in time for Zero Waste Week, which was only two months away, I would need to take it very seriously. And, as I agreed, I realised I would need the help of others, particularly the Greens, the Thrifties and a whole host of everyday folk who knew more about this kind of stuff than me.

I know I’ll never do it” I said to Daniel Sage, the head honcho of our council’s Zero Waste campaign, as he was sat on my sofa eight weeks before our target date – 17th March – the end of Zero Waste Week.

I suppose you could always stop using Clingfilm”, quipped the photographer who accompanied Daniel for the photo-shoot of me and my bin for the council’s newsletter.

"But could I really tear myself away from my much loved Clingfilm?" I wondered. Surely it couldn’t make that much difference, even if I did. Or could it?

So a year ago, my Zero Waste challenge began.

I wasn’t quite convinced that ditching the Clingfilm or indeed anything else would really get me that far. Yet, I was raring to give it a go.

After all, I thought I was pretty good at recycling, not because it was a keen interest of mine, but because I felt I could recycle, so I should recycle and I ought to do my best with the facilities on my doorstep. And we’re always told we should recycle. It’s part of society’s rules.

And having grown up with the mantra “waste not want not” as a child, I’d never really liked the idea of throwing things away. So I’d always followed the rules, but not giving much consideration to why.

(Our WEEKLY landfill waste 12 months ago)

We had two bins – one for general waste and one for recycling. I was always careful about what I did with my cardboard, my paper, and the plastic bottles that came my way, putting it all into my recycling bin.

Then there was my compost bin, which had been swallowing my vegetable peelings for years, not because I put it to good use on some vegetable plot, but because it just simply felt the right thing to do.

I’d also have my lazy days, the victims of which were yoghurt pots with pictures of Noddy and Big Ears, which were too fiddly to wash out so would be bunged in the bin. But I was still frustrated by the amount of stuff my family threw out, including the masses of drinks cartons that weren’t recycled locally, my husband’s holey socks and the kids’ wasted food

It wasn’t entirely out of environmental concern, though that was a factor. It seemed sensible and appealed to the side of my nature that loves a challenge.

But ZERO Waste! Now that definitely seemed an impossible challenge that was right up my street.


Before I could get cracking on my three huge bin bags I threw out each fortnight, I realised I needed a foolproof plan for the next seven weeks. I particularly needed a change in attitude.

So I imagined that I would have to bury my family’s household waste in our very own back garden.

Picture that. Odd bits of plastic, chicken carcasses, crisp packets and kids’ toys buried in your beautiful garden. That was enough to get me motivated.

But I had to keep motivated, so I set up this blog, The Rubbish Diet, the perfect name I thought, because slimming my bin was like a diet, but unlike many other diets this was the only one where aiming for a Size Zero was accepted.

So I announced the challenge to the world. And then I waited for those who had finished watching paint dry, to look in.

And while I waited I wondered who would possibly have the faintest interest in my rubbish? But I didn’t have to wait long to find out because people were interested and began to leave comments.

Even more strangely, I became interested in their rubbish. Before I knew it, I was talking rubbish with hundreds of other people. Advice began to roll in from people all over the world, encouraging me along with top tips about freezing this, recycling that and keeping an eye out for the other.

I even found myself interviewing the odd celebrity and journalist about their rubbish, “gate-crashing” industry conferences, catching up with old rubbish friends and challenging other average folk (such as Jo, Ruby and Mrs Green) to reduce their waste.

And that is how The Rubbish Diet concept was born, with a challenge, a blog and some much needed faith.

As with any other diet, however, I soon realised that slimming my bin was not an unconnected activity. It was linked to my whole lifestyle. It was not just about recycling; it affected how I shopped and the things I bought, right through to how I cooked when I brought the ingredients home. I started to look at every aspect of my life with a fresh pair of eyes, whether I was cleaning the house or enjoying family celebrations. Even school holidays were met with the rigorous tests to see if they conformed to The Rubbish Diet rules.

It may have felt like a mid-life crisis, but what I was really going through was a complete, old-fashioned lifestyle makeover. I revisited everyday habits from decades gone by and updated them for 21st century living.

As the weeks progressed, I became aware that it was not just about me and my family following the rules in our home environment. I gradually woke up to the impact of rubbish on landfill and the environment at large and I began to realise the importance and the urgency of what I was doing.

Finally the big day came and on 10th March 2008 Zero Waste Week began.

It started off badly, when on Day One I cut my finger and was offered a plaster, but we recycled, we composted, were very careful with our shopping and, at the end of the week, that plaster was all my family threw out to landfill.

One single plaster, thanks to some imaginative attempts to eliminate some sellotape and a few sweetie wrappers.

The story was also broadcast on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, which felt as bizarre as the challenge itself.

People now often stop in their tracks when they hear that all I threw out in one week was one single plaster from an unexpected cut. However, the plaster isn’t the important player here.

What’s more significant is since attempting the challenge, the amount of rubbish now sent to landfill by my almost average family can now fit into one single carrier bag.

That’s one single carrier bag per month.

If it wasn’t for the odd clumps of cat litter, we wouldn’t have to put the wheelie bin out for months, or even a whole year.

(Our monthly rubbish: December-January 2009. Just one carrier bag)

However, The best thing about the whole experience is having inspired others to follow suit, a whole host of average people, including ready-made Greens and some Thrifties too. And the funny thing is, a year on from taking up the Zero Waste challenge, I too seem to be turning a funny shade of green and I've become more wise with my pennies too, saving a whole stash of money along the way. Perfectly timed for the Credit Crunch.

I was never the first to slim my bin and I won’t be the last. And there are many others all across the world who live a minimum waste life but don’t shout about it, because it is just part of their lifestyle. It is such a deep part of their nature, they would probably wonder what all the fuss is about.

But there exists a continuous stream of people all over the world who are seeking to reduce their waste and other Zero Waste Weeks have since been rolled out across the UK. Even next week, it is expected that over 1000 households will be attempting their own challenge across the county of Gloucestershire, with Mrs Green and her family leading the way.

But for those new to a Zero Waste challenge, who may feel daunted about taking so much on I say take it easy. Go slowly and tackle your habits step-by-step. And if you're concerned about the effects on your recycling bin particularly at a time such as now, you'll probably find that it will slim down along with your landfill bin. You see it's not just about recycling more. It’s also about reducing your ‘baggage’ in the first place and re-using what you do have.

My Rubbish Diet experience has indeed been serious in nature, but I’ve also tried to show that it’s about fun and that you can still let your hair down. It’s all about enjoying life and allowing your inner cheeky monster to help you deal with challenges that arise. You’ll sometimes need to say no to people and look at your habits with a fresh pair of eyes. And when you start living life with waste in mind, you will find ways to comfortably break free from expectations of 21st century living but without sticking out like a sore thumb.

There will be challenges and unexpected ones at that. But the one thing I have learned is that reducing my waste was a lot easier than I thought and if I can do it, anyone can. You don’t have to be green and you don’t have to be thrifty. You don’t even have to be average. You just simply need the gumption to rise to a challenge that could just change your life for ever.


So that was how it all began, a story which includes some extracts taken from the book, The Rubbish Diet: Achieve Zero Waste in 8 Weeks. However, I also want to tell you how the first year has ended, with the news that my publisher experienced a shake-up just before Christmas, and therefore will no longer be in a position to publish the book. But with the advance winging its way over, and my agent busy looking for a new home for the book, I am still feeling upbeat because this is not the end of the story or indeed my journey. There's no doubt for me The Rubbish Diet is only the beginning of the most wonderful lifestyle makeover that my family could hope to experience. But, there'll be more on that later this week. Come back tomorrow and enjoy some words of wisdom from a whole host of people I've met on the way, including folk who I regard as new friends, and read their inspirational messages.


Monday, 19 January 2009

Don't Bin It - Fran it!

If you were waiting in anticipation of today's news, I am so sorry to have kept you hanging around. It's just that after I cleaned the floors, made some cookies and popped the teapot on the table, my guest of honour arrived and for the rest of the day we both talked rubbish.

T'was a good job Cockney songsters Chas 'n' Dave weren't listening in, otherwise they may have been tempted to change their lyrics.

Yup-yup-rubbish rubbish. Yup-yup-rubbish rubbish

You see, my guest wasn't just anybody. It was my new friend Fran who'd popped over to pick up my booty of unrecyclable odds and single sods as well as a whole stash of broken clutter, that unless rescued by Fran could have easily ended in landfill, including the remnants of my smashed teapot featured at the top of this post.

Here she is pulling out stuff from my special bin-bag...

And here are the contents arranged beautifully on my coffee table...

Look at that gorgeous range of almost useless clutter, a fascinating collection of broken hair clips, netbags, solidified paint, broken scissors, vitamin blister packs, odd slippers, expired marker pens, a bashed phone and all sorts of broken bits of toys. There's even Mrs G's plastic inner from her roll of sellotape in there somewhere.

Now it might seem bizarre to hand over a bag of rubbish to an innocent looking friend and even more peculiar to be handing over Mrs G's rubbish too.

But then Fran is no ordinary friend. She's in fact an artist and no ordinary artist at that. In truth she's a real rubbish artist...hmm - perhaps that would sound better if I said she's an artist who is interested in rubbish. And if you've been following the blog for some time, you might even remember that I interviewed her about her fascinating work, back in July

Anyway, before I get lost in my Ronnie Corbetts or indeed my Harry Hills, meandering on a mile long thread and losing you at the next turning in the road, it's suffice to say that being an artist who is interested in rubbish, my special mission over the last few months has been to collect lots of landfill-destined trash for Fran to put to great use in her next exhibition, which is coming up soon.

Cleverly titled Life Savings: The Art of Recyling, the installation will be on show at New Cut Arts, in Halesworth, Suffolk, running from 10th February to 14th March. If you are in the area do pop along. You can find out more about Fran's fabulous work, which profiles a whole range of major environmental issues at her website

Fran's visit today really couldn't have come at a better time. By sheer coincidence and great timing, meeting up with her today marks the start of a week-long celebration in my zero waste journey.

It was indeed a year ago today I was pondering the daunting nature of taking part in a Zero Waste Week.

Feeling out of my depth at the task in hand was bad enough not to mention the reality of becoming a community champion in the local council's publications.

So I set up a blog. And after many umms and ahhs over the name, The Rubbish Diet was born along with a whole network of friends to go with it, who came to the rescue to help me keep on track as I stepped up to the challenge of slimming my family's bin.

And blinkey blimey it worked!

I never believed it would.

But it did.

And you know the rest.

And as you know, I feel a whole new person because of it, on a path to living lighter and with more consideration for our planet, its people and our resources. I'd never have guessed so much would have arisen from slimming my bin.

So in celebration, my writing this week will be dedicated to looking at the past, the present and the future, with a few little surprises thrown in.

And I would dearly love you to be part of it, whether you're new to the blog or have accompanied me all along the way.

You see, the journey to zero waste is not just about me. It's about you too, no matter who you are, where you come from or why you find yourself here. It's about us all pulling together to make the small changes that will create the big difference in the long run.

Readers of this blog have inspired me to keep going over the last twelve months, as have my own visits to other blogs or websites where I find like-minded people tackling the same issues in their own way.

So with the actual anniversary of this blog being this Wednesday, 21st January, I would like to celebrate in a very special way, with your participation.

Whether you're a regular commentator or a lurker, I would love you to email your words of wisdom, to inspire others who are just finding their feet in their journey to reduce waste. It would be great if you could send a photo to accompany your message too. But if you're shy, just a name will do.

The messages will be compiled into one huge blogpost on Wednesday to celebrate what has been achieved over the last twelve months.

Go on, I'd love you to participate. Almost everyone's got something to say about rubbish and waste. If you can join in, just email your words of encouragement to Please note: all material will need to be with me by tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon (6pm GMT).

Well it's been real fun but long day. I really have got no idea what I will write about in the morning. I've just been too busy to think.

I think what I need now is to sit down with a nice glass of wine and have a real good ponder.

Yes that's it. That's a real good plan, especially as you know I'll recycle the bottle.

So night-night all. Sleep tight. And don't let the nightmares about the world's recycling bite.

Sweet dreams. See you tomorrow. x


Coming of Age!

Hi everyone. Don't have much time to hang around at the moment, because I am expecting a very special guest this morning and I've got so much to do...clean the floors, get things ready, make some bread etc. You know how it is when you've only got an hour or so...blah,blah blah.

But I just wanted to pop in to say that this week is a real special week, which is why I am so glad my guest can make it today...

...because, later this week I will be celebrating the first anniversary of my Zero Waste challenge and indeed the first anniversary of this blog...a blogaversary as they say in the business.

But I just wanted to quickly thank you so much for all your comments and the most special awards that you left over the weekend. After I've hurried and scurried, chatted and cheered then wined and dined, I'll be back on the scene to reply to you all and reveal what's coming up this week and tell you more about my guest....

But there's so much to do first.

Now where's that mop? Oooo, now I am feeling like Cinderella before she heads to the ball!

Fairy Godmother, Fairy Godmother, where are you?


Friday, 16 January 2009

Cosmetic changes in the bathroom cabinet

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Folks, this is what we're up against!

Sourced from an article in yesterday's online Guardian:

"Millions of people who recycle their rubbish could find it becomes a futile exercise due to the government's failure to provide enough facilities to prevent it from being dumped in landfill sites, a report from a Whitehall watchdog warns today.

Homeowners and tenants could also have to foot the bill for fines totalling hundreds of millions of pounds because their council has fallen behind in developing recycling schemes.

The EU has set a deadline of 2013 to halve dumping in landfill sites; the government faces fines if it misses the target and will pass this on to councils.The National Audit Office says there is little chance of completing a programme of building incinerators and large-scale recycling schemes by 2013."

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Oh my word! This is indeed why I keep talking rubbish. I don't want an incinerator nor do I want to foot the bill to pay for other people's trash if our councils fail to meet future targets.

We're all in this together and I say if the chiefs can't sort it out let us ordinary folk tackle the problem. So please keep spreading the word and tell others that they do have a choice and can slim their bins too. That way, we can all keep our hard-earned cash right where it belongs and prevent rubbish going up in smoke.

Well, that's me off my soapbox...normal service will now be resumed.


Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Buying fish on my doorstep

"Are you interested in buying fish?" asked the man at the door.

"Well I'm a bit busy at the moment. Just finishing off my work!" I replied.

Work(?)...gerroff...I was just desparate to put the Eglu video on my blog. I looked at my watch. Time was tight and I'd soon have to pick up the kids from school.

Then came my inner nag. The one that said I should eat more fish along with the rest of the family. I paused. Do I? Don't I? Shall I? Shan't I?

"What's the packaging like?"

"It comes in recyclable cardboard box, which we can take off your hands - would you like me to show you?"

Now if a man wants to show me recyclable packaging, well you know I'm all ears.

And it was true. We went to the van to show me his frozen loins - cod loins of course - all packaged in a single recyclable polythene bag and safely stacked in a reusable or reyclable box.

So I paid my dues, took the fish and give him the box back. Ah...a simple solution for my bin and one less reason to go to the supermarket.

Fish pie anyone?

Huge thanks to Dave from Supreme Cuisine for agreeing to the photo.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Eglu has landed

Looks like we've now got some work to do. So it's time to start preparing the chicken run and get to know some more chicken folk before we go and select our brood.

It's so eggciting... I know, I know. I'm not known for my jokes. But at least I'm a "good egg". Boom Boom

Monday, 12 January 2009

Make do and mend!

Being a stay at home mother, I spend many an hour doing the washing. You know how it is. With two little boys on the go and a husband, my life is surrounded by wet clothes.

And the one thing that has supported me through all this has been my trusty clothes horse, bought sometime last century from Habitat for just £12.50. I remember this detail simply because I only pulled the price label off last year. Life's just been too busy washing pants. Pants here, pants there. Indeed pants every-blimmin-where.

But with so much washing my poor clothes horse has begun to lean under the sheer weight of usage. Like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it was developing a penchant for the right, depending on how you approached it.

And I had to approach it with care.

Except on Friday, when all in a lather to answer the doorbell, I bunged a whole pile of heavy washing on its poorly side. I returned to see it crumpled at my feet. One of the supports had snapped under the strain. I don't blame it really - when it comes to all that washing who wouldn't?

But this time last year, this Almost Average Household would have got our fingers ready on the Internet or jumped in the car to go off and buy a replacement, dumping this one at the tip on way. After all it was only £12.50 and it wouldn't cost us much more for another would it?

But look how things have changed. We've experienced such a transformation even my own mother wouldn't recognise us. Arriving home to witness the collapse of his personal laundry service, Mr A came to the rescue with a screwdriver and a piece of wood and made a splint for the broken support.

It's amazing how things change when you consider a life of Zero Waste. I know the clothes horse would have been recycled if we had taken it to the Recycling Centre. But we would have had the journey and there would also be the hidden costs in buying a new one, including the resources, energy in manufacturing and fuel used in transport.

When you think about it in those terms it highlights that Zero Waste is not just about recycling, precycling or indeed reusing. It's about much more.

For me, the Make Do and Mend philosophy has been one of the hardest changes to incorporate into our lifestyle. In a modern age where NEW is seen as king and the LATEST GADGETS make their predecessors obsolete, the temptations for an easier and more sparklier life have just been too ..... er....tempting.

But at last, I am happy that I don't need a brand spanking new clothes horse to replace the one that's collapsed. Thanks to Mr A, it's still in good shape to last for many years to come.

But sigh...a woman's work is never done.

Well it did take Mr A two days to get around to finishing the repair so my Zanussi and I have got some catching up to do! I can hear the washing machine on its final spin. I think I need to load it with more pants!

Poor old clothes horse!


As promised in the comments, here are a few links to suppliers of the old traditional wooden clothes horse:

Chumleigh Hardware
Pretty Practicals


Friday, 9 January 2009

Ruby's Rubbish Surprise: reporting live from York

Today I am delighted to feature a guest post by my dear friend Ruby. If you've been following
The Rubbish Diet for most of the last year, you may remember her own rubbish revelations when she had a go at slimming her own bin last summer.

After working hard to sort out her compostables in her brand spanking new brown wheelie bin, her recyclables in her old blue one and reducing her HUGE black landfill bin by an amazing 50%... she only went and boogered off to Yorkshire.

Well life's not the same without her in Bury St Edmunds. And as far as rubbish is concerned Ruby certainly got a shock when she landed in the beautiful city of York. Here she is to reveal all.

It's over to Ruby, reporting live from York...

"When I moved to York in August last year, I had a big rubbish surprise.

With a bag of trash for landfill in my hand, I went into the back yard, to find ... no bin!

I checked in the back access alley to the house - no bin there either! And not only were there none outside our house, there were also none outside anyone else's! Had the citizens of York all got down to zero waste already? Did no-one throw anything away?

Our bin-free back access alley in summer

"There are no bins," my mother explained. The council don't allow them in certain areas, because they look unsightly, all left out in the alleys.

"So what do I do with this?" I asked in horror, wielding my bag of stuff for landfill.

"Come this way, " she replied.

And I followed her to the dark recesses of the garden shed, where there sat a black bag.

"I keep it in here so cats can't get at it," she said. "They smell the food scraps, you see. They can make a terrible mess."

I shoved my rubbish inside the bag.

"And these are for recycling," she said, indicating a blue bag for paper waste, and a small green box for bottles and tins.

The blue bag is for paper – but not cardboard. The green box, for bottles and jars, and tin cans

Brilliant that there's a bottle collection from the doorstep - but not so good that cardboard can't be disposed of via the refuse collection - after all, it accounts for quite a lot of food packaging. And the box for recyclables is so small!

What a shock to the system. Coming from Bury St Edmunds where at the bottom of my garden sat my array of three wheelie bins - blue for recyclables, black for landfill, brown for garden waste, this was quite a change around. I am now, just about, getting used to it.

Here are a few pics from round and about the area I live:

Rubbish bags are out in a nearby street – is this cat ready to pounce?

Hmm, this street looks like there might have been a cat attack recently. The bags here were out way too early though. They are officially not supposed to be out before 7pm of the night before collection.

Look! Not even the doctor's has a bin! These are special bags for commercial waste.

I really don't know what to think though about the fact that we have no actual bin. Good or bad? I'm still not sure. What does anyone else think?"

Huge thanks to Ruby for pulling this post together so quickly. I only asked her yesterday after discussing her latest entry on her own blog.

It really does highlight the differences across the country in how our household rubbish is managed, something that we all so easily take for granted. And it's interesting to consider the aesthetics of street-scene as an element to waste management decisions. It is true that wheelie bins can "lower the tone" of an area as indeed can rubbish bags that are left out too early.

So what's it like in your neck of the woods? Are you a wheelie big fan of wheelie bins or are you happy with your plastic sacks? And how does rubbish collection impact on your neighbourhood? I'd love to know.

To see what Ruby's up to in York and indeed the photo that inspired today's post, visit her latest blog


Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Carnival of Trash Time

Welcome to the January edition of The Carnival of Trash, celebrating the new year with lots of ideas and inspiration to help you reduce your waste. Thanks to all the bloggers for their submissions. To see what's coming up next month, check out the details at the end of the post.


Cindy presents The Green Shopping Bag posted at My Recycled, saying, "I'm here this carnival to offer a free pattern and picture tutorial to crochet a green shopping bag. My green shopping bag is made with at least 80 recycled plastic grocery bags that I cut into strips and crocheted them into this handy reusable tote. It's real roomy and holds lots of items."

Cindy who also presents Recycled Christmas Gift Bag Ideas posted at My Recycled, saying, "Recycle some old plastic bags into cool Christmas gift bags this year. I offer free patterns to create several alternatives to the traditional gift wrapping for your presents."

Jim presents The Five Reasons Why I Recycle posted at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

Reducing Waste

Wenchypoo presents An All-Day Sunday Peeve-a-Thon posted at Wisdom From Wenchypoo's Mental Wastebasket, saying, "Why make just a 2009 waste-busting resolution when you need to do it ALL THE TIME!"

Jen presents Day 185: Happy Waste-Free New Years posted at The Clean Bin Project, saying, "We aim to start off this year by cataloging, for a week, the actual amount of trash and recycling we are still producing after 6 months of trying to slim our bins."

Mrs Green presents Happy New Year - it’s the countdown to Gloucestershire zero waste challenge week! posted at MY ZERO WASTE, saying, "We've made two trashtastic resolutions for 2009; have a read and find out what we are planning!"

Almost Mrs Average presents New Year's Resolutions in the Almost Average household posted at The Rubbish Diet, saying, "This year, I'll be digging my way out of packaging!"


makingthishome presents Switch to Cloth Bags posted at Making This Home, saying, "Thanks for hosting this and sharing everyone's ideas!"

That concludes this edition. The February Edition is calling for bloggers to promote local stores or services that help reduce waste. So please take time to applaud your favourite businesses. They could be shops that sell nearly new items or recycled goods. It might be a grocery store that sells unpackaged produce or a skilled tradesperson who repairs items. Please give them a huge shout-out to help spread the word and encourage people to shop wisely and locally.

Please submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of trash using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.


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