Thursday, 28 May 2009

From Fined to Found!

The saga of the zero waste parking ticket!

This story starts on Monday, when on returning from a half-term visit to the cinema, I was met by a Parking Penalty notice ungraciously attached to my windscreen.

With my blood pressure starting to rise, I spluttered the words made famous by Victor Meldrew....

"I don't believe it!" I ranted, getting all hot and bothered in the car park.

I was convinced I'd paid for the ticket and I was certain I'd placed it carefully on my dashboard, but with two children who were frollicking around like a pair of ferrets, who knows what could have happened.

As I peered into my car, I could see the flimsy piece of paper lying on the floor in the footwell. It must have blown off the dashboard while my little ones were getting out of the car.

I was vindicated.

As a honest citizen, I'd felt enraged that I'd been accused of bypassing the system. Geez, I don't even give other people my unspent parking tickets, so to be fined £20 when I'd already paid was enough to send me into a spiral of discontent.

"It would never have happened if the bus service was running." I muttered.

"And it certainly would never have happened if the council still used those annoying stick-to-your-windscreen parking tickets. They never used to blow away"

And that was it. I had obviously lost the plot, because only months earlier I had been praising the benefits of the new ticketing system as a means of reducing paper waste. No more gummy paper to send off to landfill, just simple lightweight paper tickets I could bung in my compost bin.

So while I work on my appeal and gather the evidence of my innocence, I must remember to add one more thing to my shopping list.



Sunday, 24 May 2009

When is a wheelbarrow not a wheelbarrow?

Well it might look like a kids' wheelbarrow, but those days are long gone thanks to a crack in its side.

This children's gardening toy was bought brand new from the Early Learning Centre about five years ago. But after several years of wear and tear at the hands of our young bin saboteur, it finally gave up the ghost last year. It almost ended up in one of Fran Crowe's exhibitions, but it was given extended life in the garden and experienced a touch of reincarnation this weekend.

You see it's no longer a wheelbarrow.


Yes, yes, I know it still looks like a wheelbarrow.

However, bung in some compost, a couple of tomato plants and some basil, and hey presto, we've got ourselves a new plant pot with integrated drainage facilities.

Just in time too, because even though it might not be the best invention in the world, it can certainly be classed as a re:invention or indeed an example of re:use, which is rather timely for the Guardian/Junkk Re:use competition that is being hosted at the Junkk website, the place on the web where rubbish gets a whole new meaning.

I'm not sure if my re-invention will get anywhere, especially with the number of geniuses out there, but I've entered the competition with some my fingers crossed that I might be in with a chance. If you fancy having a go yourself, all you need to do is register your entry at by Sunday 31st May.

So it's time to get cracking and see what other stuff can be kept out of the landfill. Better hide your old toys kids. Nothing's safe while I'm sporting my thinking cap!


Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The boots that walked on landfill

They now stand proud with floral grace.

even though they are broken and torn,

with holes and gaps that let the water in.

Yes they've been loved, adored and well-worn.

They were bought at a country living fair,

in the heart of our capital city.

The next day they were spotted in a local shop,

Shame I'd travelled so far. T'was a pity.

But these boots weren't made for just walking.

They were born to be centre-stage.

They can brighten up the dullest of days,

even when they've faded with age.

They've even brightened up a landfill site

during a visit I made last year.

But they didn't distract me from all that waste

where I almost shed a tear.

So they are now past their sell-by date.

At least where my feet are concerned.

But I couldn't send them to landfill again,

Not after everything I've since learned.

So instead of bunging them in the bin

They've been planted up with flowers.

And now stand proud on our doorstep,

Where they can be enjoyed for many more hours.


Written in honour of the BBC's Poetry season, just the for the fun of it.

Recycling facilities for wellington boots are hard to come by in the UK so reusing them as planters is a great alternative to landfill. We've got a garden full of them thanks to boys with feet that grow faster than leylandii. It's a good idea to make some holes in the boots first to help with drainage.

A search on Google has revealed that old rubber wellies can be sent to a Mr R Harrington at a Dunlop recycling site in Liverpool. However I have also read that the service is no longer available. If anyone has up-to-date news on this, it would be great to hear it. After all, it would be a shame to bombard an innocent citizen with unwanted boots.

But don't think there's no hope for old wellies. Smile Plastics, based in Shrewsbury, recycles wellies rejected by charity shops, turning them into new funky plastic sheets, which are sold to designers as material suitable for table coverings, flooring, and waterproof mats.

And last year, organisers of the Glastonbury Festival collected revellers' discarded welly boots, which they then sent to Senegal inAfrica.

So it looks like there's new life in old boots after all eh.

Well one thing's for sure, mine have got a whole lot of life in them yet!


Monday, 18 May 2009

Check this out! I've made some zero waste crisps!

Well folks, if you squint and focus on the above picture, you'll see the results of my latest challenge and I am chuffed to bits!

As you know I love crisps.

But as you also know the packaging ends up in landfill.

So, I've strived forth and attempted to make my own.

And it's worked! What you see above is my third batch. The best thing is that they're so easy and cheap too and can be quickly baked in the oven while you're cooking something else. Using a couple of spuds from my latest sack of potatoes, tonight's batch must have cost about 10p at the most, including the spray of olive oil.

So if you want to have a go yourself, here's the low-down!

1. Slice the potatoes very thinly and lay the slices on a baking tray.

2. Spray with olive and season with a little salt. Alternatively add pepper, a sprinkle of chilli powder or another seasoning of your choice.

3. Place in a hot oven (preheated at about 200 degrees) for approximately 30-40 minutes, turning them over after the first 15 minutes. With a little patience, you'll soon have your very own zero waste snack.

Top tip: after 25 minutes, it's worth checking about every 5 minutes to retrieve individual slices as they finish cooking. Otherwise you'll end up with a snack that's burnt to crisp than one that you'll enjoy.

So that's one less things to buy at the shops. And with results like this, I think I might even be able to give up the quavers. After all, I might have succeeded at my own crisps, but curly cheesy snacks could be just one challenge too far.


Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Calling all eco-friendly credit-crunching media stars!

As most readers of The Rubbish Diet share an enthusiasm for either talking rubbish or saving their hard-earned cash - or indeed both - I'd like to alert you to a couple of opportunities where you can share your passion with a wider audience. That's right - an opportunity to grab a piece of the limelight on both the small screen and on a DVD.

The first is a chance to star in a new TV programme, which is currently being developed for Channel 4, by London based production company Red House TV. The programme is described as a positive feel-good show which focuses on thrifty living and cost-effective spending.

So whether it's an ability to track down a bargain, a knack for household economy or simply a talent for surviving on little or no money, no matter how unusual your tip, they would love to hear from you. For an informal chat please call Cecily Ancliffe on 0207 855 7450 or email

The second opportunity to share your wisdom is the call for participation from Little Shiva, the fabulous blogger behind the Visible Trash Society, a website that highlights fabulous ways of reusing "rubbish" as art.

Her latest project is a video montage that she is creating for a travelling exhibition called Visible Trash - Art into Action. She is inviting blog readers to send her a 2 second movie (high res) to be included in the montage. All you need to do is be filmed standing in front of something you consider to be rubbish and say the word "TRASH". The deadline is 13th June. You'll be credited on the video and will also receive your own copy of the DVD. For inspiration, there is an example of a video clip as well as full instructions on her latest blogpost.

So if you decide to take part in either of these ventures, you won't let fame go to your head will you? I'd like you to still come and visit me. Selfish I know, but I just love your company. Whatever happens, it would be interesting to find out how you get on. So don't be shy now, switch on your webcams and start talking money or trash....

...or if you can't help yourself.... both!


Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Thinking differently: An international perspective

(Photo credit: The Green Giving Company)

Yesterday I had the privilege of giving a presentation about The Rubbish Diet to our local International Women's Group.

I say it was a privilege not just because of the chance to share ideas about zero waste but because of the invaluable opportunity to find out more about other people with vastly different backgrounds. It was great to listen to their stories about how waste is regarded in the places they have lived or through which they have travelled.

But what struck me most deeply was a conversation with a lady from Russia, who moved over to the UK about seven years ago. She told of her surprise over how different things were here compared to her home country.

One particular anecdote she shared was the culture of giving presents and she related her experience of growing up in a society where friends and relatives gave each other gifts that were unwrapped. No paper was involved. Just the gift itself.

Of course when she arrived in the UK, she was surprised at the waste created through the process of gifting with the wrapping paper, tags and ribbon, which might all be able to be reused or recycled but often end up dumped in landfill with no further use at all.

Her story really got me thinking about the way we do things as a society and how we accept our traditions because they are simply the traditional way. It also made me reflect on my own expectations and what I would think if someone gave me a present that was unwrapped.

And indeed I recall a particular occasion, ten years ago, when we visited friends at Christmas time. As I handed over our own beautifully wrapped and festively adorned presents, they passed back several gifts in a Tesco carrier bag, with an apology that they didn't have enough time to wrap them.

At the time I felt rather put-out. Didn't they care? Didn't we matter to them? And yes, I felt cheated - because I'd cared enough to make their presents look pretty and I'd stayed up late to make sure they were wrapped in time for the visit because that was tradition and how things were done. And it was polite!

Goodness me, I can't now help think what utter nonsense!

My ingratitude! I was like Hyacinth Bouquet - or should I say Bucket - from Keeping up Appearances, fussing over just a few sheets of paper.

How blimmin' petty!

And I am very pleased how I've changed.

Of course these days if someone offered me an unwrapped gift, whatever their reason I'd say "good on you" and thank them as much for the unwrapped status as I would for the gift itself.

I now consider a gift to be a lovely surprise in itself because it's the offering of that gift and connecting to the recipient that is really important. And despite being an admirer of luxury presentation with beautiful adornments, which can often cost as much as the gift itself, I now feel that such things are unnecessarily excessive.

When thinking about such matters, I can't help recall the words of eco-designer Oliver Heath and the wisdom that he shared during an interview last year.

When I asked him about the experiences that have had the most prolific influence on him, without any pause for thought he said travelling. He told how it had given him the opportunity to see how different societies lived and how he has soon realised that just because we do things a certain way in our society, it doesn't mean it is the right way.

Those words still ring loudly in my consciousness and meeting people from other walks of life keeps the message at the forefront of my mind.

These days I like to encourage friends to ditch the wrapping when passing presents on to me and when I give gifts, depending on the recipient and their expectations, I offer them unwrapped, or in reusable packaging such as a material Kerchief. I also have a large present sack at hand for special events such as birthdays in the Almost Average Household.

Gifting is only one cultural habit where waste-free practices can make a difference but I can't help wondering what other opportunities there are for comparing with other cultures and the chance to enjoy the sustainable benefits of other societies.

So I'd like to thank the ladies at the Bury St Edmunds International Women's Group for listening yesterday but most of all I'd like to thank them for sharing their perspective and wisdom. It certainly makes you wake up and realise it's actually okay to think differently.


Thursday, 7 May 2009

Creating an edible garden in a small suburban space

It might seem like I've been in hiding this week and in truth I have. In fact, I've been busy focusing on the garden, trying to make the most of our space to grow a plethora of vegetables this year.

I know it doesn't look much like a vegetable garden and indeed until now, our little piece of land has operated as a simple "snacking garden" with some rhubarb, blackberries, redcurrants, a pot of potatoes and a couple of pots of tomatoes as well as a few herb plants that have matured into shrubs, such as rosemary, lavender and sage.

But behind the scenes - or should I say behind the bushes - the Almost Average household has been busy greening up our green fingers.

Here's a brief tour revealing how we've managed to fit some growing space into our already-established and multi-functional back yard and to set the scene, here's another photo taken from the back of the garden towards the house.

Bet you can't see much action eh! But trust me, there's a lot happening compared to this time last year. So come and see.

Behind the children's play den, we've reinstated a small veg-patch.

As well as celery, spring cabbage and carrot seedlings taking root under the home-made polytunnel, we've also planted some runner beans and peas, plus a couple of potato and tomato plants growing in pots. It's also encouraging to see the raspberry canes starting to grow. Hopefully soon they will cover the side of the playden. They should have a great start as they've been planted in soil that includes home-made compost from all of our kitchen and bokashi'd waste that was created last year.

Against the wall of the house, we are gradually adding a range of wall hanging containers for cherry tomatoes plus a window box for herbs including marjoram, basil, coriander and oregano.

And on the other side of the kitchen door is our little growhouse, which is currently protecting more tomato seedlings and peppers. It's wonderful to see that the watering trays are now made from recycled plastic, as Mr A announced one day on his return from a visit to Wyevale.

If you look carefully in the border that runs alongside our pergola, you'll see three potato sacks, planted up with a few second-early spuds as well as some main-crop, using most of the smelly old compost handed out by the council last weekend.

As well as planting up the garden, we've also been putting some old things to good use. Here are some runner beans planted up in one of our old tub trugs, seen resting on an old tyre (formerly used as a sandpit when the boys were small). The tub is camouflaged by geraniums which have been planted in the tyre.

And here we have a tray of lettuce and rocket as well as some scattered "cut-and-come again" seeds, planted in an old nectarine box, which I picked up whilst shopping in the market last winter. There are also some annual flower seeds planted alongside the edge of the outer tray, which I can't wait to see blossom and surround the greens with pretty blooms.

All we have to ensure now is that we keep our plants safe from the likes of this little lady, one of our three chickens who are intent on scratching at surfaces, whether planted up or not.

We're so excited with our progress that we've decided to extend further and have also given up some of our front garden to even more fruit and vegetables.

Just behind our fence we've tucked in some more beans, peas, carrots, spring cabbage and broccoli. By now, we'd run out of our own compost so used a bag full of New Horizon, which is made from composted garden waste.

We've also got some blueberries hiding in pots behind the bushes... well as some strawberries and swiss chard tucked into the border.

And there's some delicious Pak Choi and more rocket, growing under our front window.

And I mustn't forget that we've got even more potatoes - some Anyas - planted in an old spare recycling tub, which we brought with us from Hemel Hempstead when we moved about 6 years ago (shhh, don't tell 'em will you, but it's made a fantastic container for growing spuds these last few years).

It's amazing what you can grow in a small space but there's still lots more to do. I'd like some more hanging baskets on the pergola and make even better use of the border alongside it.

We did have an initial outlay, including the new greenhouse cover, but at least we reused the old one as a polytunnel. We'd also run out of old toilet rolls inners for seedlings (a top tip from Mrs G) so we needed to get some more seeding pots, all of which worked a treat to create most of what you've seen in the photos. And although we've spent a fair few pounds on the fruit-bearing plants, the broccoli, some herbs and beans and peas, most of the plants have been grown from seed or seedlings passed on from friends or through my LETS group, which is always a great source for such things. I'd especially like to thank blog reader Mel for kindly sending in some of her spare seeds, which we have already used and have more plans for them over the next couple of months.

Of course with such a lot of plants in containers, I must now ensure they are watered carefully and are nurtured into full production. And with that in mind, we've decided to buy a second water butt, which will be conveniently placed in the front garden.

It's just a shame it arrived with so much plastic wrap, which made me blush like a strawberry and which will probably undo all that plastic we will have saved by growing our own. Aaaarrrgh! But eh ho! I suppose we live and learn and at least we won't have to suffer the same next year. And of course I can take it along with the compost bags to the local recycling centre and then drop off the plastic pots at Wyevale when I'm next passing.

Right, so no rest for the wicked. I'm off to put the kettle on so I can enjoy a cup of tea while watering the plants and planting up more seeds.

And while I'm busy beavering in the garden, don't forget it's still Compost Awareness Week, so if you are inspired to join in the gardening fever and start making your own compost, there's lots of advice over at CompostWoman's Compost Bin blog as well as a whole range of tips and problem-solving ideas at Mrs Green's MyZeroWaste.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Compost 'n' Toilet Seats

"Just so you know, I've bunged the old toilet seat in the bin."

Bloody hell, you'd think he'd have learned by now wouldn't you! It's been sixteen months since Mr A's bin-filling activities have been under close surveillance. However the King of Declutter has been let off for good behaviour in recent months thanks to a reduced propensity for landfilling all and sundry. Things are normally so good these days that Bin-watch Status in the Almost Average household has been reduced from Severe to Low.

Well it looks like I've got to be on my guard again.

You see Mr A took the trouble to replace our broken wooden loo seat last week and as he said - only in passing - that he'd bunged the old one in the rubbish bin.

At least he had the decency to warn me even if I don't take things lightly when it comes to landfilling our rubbish. He hadn't checked the recycling options so I thought I should and consequently researched the council's website. I couldn't find any information so I decided to call the Waste Department, a far cry from when we last changed our loo seats four years ago when I wouldn't have given it a second thought.

A lady answered.

"Can you recycle wooden loo seats?" I asked.

"Yes you can at the HWRC" she replied. "Just put it in the wood skip."

"Even if it's got metal fittings still attached?" I probed a little further, hardly believing my luck.

"Hang on - I'll just put you through to Dan. He'll confirm matters."

A brief moment of silence filled the phone line as I was put on hold to talk to the Strategy and Policy Manager, the man in charge of last year's zero waste week and with whom I have since given a joint presentation and enjoyed several meetings about waste reducing initiatives.

You get the picture! I wasn't sure whether I should be talking toilet seat strategy with the man in charge, especially when risking my professional dignity!

Why do I always ask more questions? Why didn't I just accept "Yes" as the answer. How embarrassing was this conversation going to be? Feeling a bit of a prude, I wondered whether I should hang up.

But it was too late, Dan quickly answered and confirmed the positive news before I rapidly changed the subject to a less personal and more tasteful matter, hoping that this conversation would never ever come back to bite me on the bum, so to speak.

And on the topic of changing the subject....(notice how I swiftly did that)....I have some great news.

While I was conducting my intensive research, not only did I find out that we can recycle our old wooden loo seats in Bury St Edmunds' recycling centre (even with their metal fittings), but I also discovered the recycling centre was giving away free soil improver.

So with offers of free compost on the agenda, we quickly headed off to the recycling centre with our toilet seat and took a couple of garden tubs to fill up with some of the advertised soil improver.

And who better to fill 'em up than Mr A. Yes the perfect opportunity to dig himself out of the hole he'd created with his rubbish antics, especially as we've used up all the compost that we've made in our own bins at home.

Ah revenge is so sweet....and definitely far sweeter than the smell of that compost.

How it ponged!

Yet despite its smell it will be good for the rest of the veggies that I'm planning on planting this week.

Meanwhile, it's back to Severe Bin-watch status. And if he's not careful, that Mr A will be getting more than a compost digging session at the recycling centre. I might have to go as far as threaten him with his very own compost loo in the garden. Never mind recycling the toilet seat!

With measures like that I'm sure he won't be automatically feeding the bin with any more loo seats or much else for that matter.

But we'll just have to wait and see.... because Mr A I'm now watching your every move - well almost!


The free soil improver offer is to promote Compost Awareness Week, which is jointly organised by WRAP and Organics Recycling (formerly known as The Compost Association) to encourage the use of compost for growing fruit and vegetables at home. Over the next seven days a whole host of events are taking place across the UK, including opportunities to purchase a low-cost compost bin.

If you live in the St Edmundsbury area, the soil improver will also be available at the HWRC at Rougham Hill on 9th and 10th May. Please remember to take along your own bags and containers.

However as I've aready discovered, composting at home is remarkably easy. We've had a compost bin for over ten years and have been amazed by the results that even novices like us can achieve.

So the good news is as part of Compost Awareness Week, Suffolk residents have the opportunity to buy Compost Converters for just £12 (+£5 delivery) available from Recycle Now. (Just remember to quote the reference SHOE9 when ordering). If you live outside Suffolk, please check with your own council for details of local offers, as you too might be in luck. Further advice can be found at Recycle Now's Home Composting website.


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