Thursday, 22 December 2011

So boys, what should you do when you get cold?

Over the next few weeks I will be working with British Gas as one of their Smart Mums ambassadors, thinking about the significance of energy conservation this winter.

This project comes hot on the heels of the energyshare campaign, where I saw the hard work of communities who are trying to create energy from renewable sources.  With all the complexities of such a project, it's a far cry from the simplicity of flicking a switch in our homes to immediately emblazen rooms in light or to turn up the heat.

With the festive season being one of the coldest times of the year and now the boys are off school, it's been a good time to have a chat with them about how we can save energy over the holidays.

I caught them by surprise, this Sunday, just as my youngest came home from swimming and my eldest was about to embark on a Pokemon Fest at the computer, wearing just a short sleeved top  - his choice - brrrrr.  The house was not particularly warm that day.

"What should you do if you get cold?" I asked.

A simple question.

"Turn up the radiators!" shouted one.

"Dive under a blanket!" called the other.

The first was just being a frivolous tease.  He knows we have a permanent choice of blankets in our living room, which are always put to good use whenever we're sat around watching television, or using the laptop.  Aside from the technology, it takes us right back to an era when central heating wasn't available. I'm snuggling under one, whilst writing this post.

Of course, being just seven and ten, when the boys are not sat around, they're tearing around the house, using their own energy to keep warm.

It's just a shame I can't harness that and divert it back into the National Grid.

Or the sound of their laughter too, just like in Monsters Inc.

We're actually pretty good at managing the heating and putting on extra layers.  However, our particular downfall is leaving the lights on, especially in the children's rooms, when they are rushing around to get to school.  It's always the bedside lights that are a pain to remember to turn off.

So he who laughed about turning up the radiators has now got his nose to the grindstone, designing mini-posters to remind him and his brother to turn off the lights!

And if that doesn't work, as a back-up plan I'm busy gathering together a load of pennies as a financial incentive, so that each time they remember to turn them off, they will physically be able to visualise the saving too.

The problem with that last strategy is that I can see them turning on the lights especially to turn them off again.

Best not tell them about that one yet then!


This is a sponsored post for the British Gas, Smart Mums project. More posts  are also available at the BritMums Smart Mums Blog.

Monday, 12 December 2011

"No More Socks for Christmas" says Suffolk Circle

Members of Southwark Circle in London.  Suffolk Circle members will be marching with similar banners, 11.30am, Wednesday 14th December, The arc, Bury St Edmunds.

As a little girl, I used to love helping my mother wrap the Christmas presents.  It was one of my favourite things to do... until I got bored.  And I would get bored.  There were always too many presents and they were always the same, with the long monotony of socks, ties, handkerchiefs or bubble bath.  Sometimes there would be bath salts, just to break the routine.

As I carefully wrapped the presents, which would then be dutifully distributed to all the older members of our family in time for Christmas day, I couldn't help but think how awful Christmas Day must be for old people if every year they opened a pile of socks.  It would be like The Day of The Triffids, except with socks. Surely they already had enough socks or if they didn't they were old enough and sensible enough to buy their own.

Some of those 'old' people were only in their forties.

I'm now 43. a ripe old age to be caught in the firing line for chance gifts that belong to the older generation.

"The joy is in the giving, not the receiving" we hear all across the land at Christmas time.

Indeed it is and as a society we get hooked into the joy of giving presents as tokens of our love and kindness, our appreciation and our warmth towards others.  Yet, very often giving is purely duty-bound and an automatic process that ends up with a national pile of unwanted gifts.

"I really don't know what to get Uncle Jim," I heard a lady say last week, as I walked past her and her friend in Bury St Edmunds.  "He never likes what I get but I've got to get him something because it's bloody Christmas!"

It sounded like Uncle Jim's joy would definitely not be in 'the receiving'.  And as for the lady concerned, there was certainly no joy in the act of 'giving' either.  It sounded more like she was desperate for some pain relief!

So thank goodness the world is coming to its senses, at least in Bury St Edmunds, where under the auspices of social enterprise Suffolk Circle, a Flashmob & protest march is taking place this Wednesday to encourage people to think twice about what they buy for older friends and relatives this Christmas.  

Suffolk Circle members will gather in the Arc shopping centre at 11.30am, bringing unwanted gifts from last year.  They will march with banners to Suffolk Circle HQ, where the gifts will be donated to the Gatehouse, a West Suffolk charity dedicated to helping those in material and emotional need.

Suffolk Circle believes that wasting money on unwanted presents is even madder in the present economic climate.  For me it's all about physical waste too, i.e. the embedded energy and water wastage just to get the thing from the factory, to the shop, to the Christmas tree, only for it to sit in a drawer for 12 months before ending up in a carboot sale, landfill or charity shop

It's not about ingratitude, because actually it really is simply "the thought" that counts and the awareness that an unwanted present puts unnecessary emotional pressure on the benefactor as well as the beneficiary and leaves a trail of material and economic wastage in the process, even if it is just one pair of socks!

Of course it goes without saying that no offence is intended, accidentally or otherwise, towards anyone who really adores getting socks or just simply always needs another pair, whether that be at Christmas or any other time of year. 

And I admit, it really is nice to get a snuggly pair sometimes.


If you live in Suffolk and would like to take part in the flashmob, please go along on Wednesday 14th December.  11.30am.  Meet opposite the Costa Café, arc shopping Centre, 14 Prospect Row, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 3DG.

Suffolk Circle is a social enterprise whose members can get practical help with life’s little bits and pieces from local Helpers. They can also get out and about, meeting people with similar interests, reconnecting with their community, doing and learning new things. For family members and friends who live further away it’s a great to make sure their loved ones have neighbourly support, as well as a lot of fun, all year round.  Membership costs £15 for six months or £30 for a whole year.

For further details about the Suffolk Circle or Wednesday's march, please contact:
Finbarr Carter, Head of Membership. Tel: 01284 774880, or visit

Thursday, 8 December 2011

energyshare, Hexham, social media, old friends and me

The last couple of weeks have have been some of the most extraordinary in my blogging life, having spent much of November helping to campaign for public votes to help Hexham River Hydro win energyshare funding of £100,000, WHICH THEY DID ON SATURDAY, so a HUGE THANK YOU to all of you who voted.

With the campaigning over, I now want to take some time out to reflect on what has been a very exciting but overwhelming experience in many ways.

When energyshare first got in touch to ask if I'd like to work with them as a blogging champion for one of the shortlisted entries, it sounded like a very exciting prospect.  It was the first time I'd heard of energyshare, but the idea that it was supporting community based energy creation, based on inspiration by River Cottage & Landshare originator Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was a very interesting one indeed.

What I hadn't expected though was the community project that I would be allocated would be one that would involve a 5 hour train trip, up north to Hexham in Northumbria.

Nor had I expected the impact the community would have on me when I arrived there.

And I certainly hadn't prepared myself for the string of coincidences in my life that would surround Hexham either.

Energyshare recognised that they'd given me a community that was very far away from home and gave me the opportunity to support them remotely.  Having read the project details for the Hexham River Hydro scheme, I knew I could blog about them enthusiastically - I love the idea of harnessing power from water -  but I didn't think I could do it with the level of passion that was needed unless I saw it first hand.

The first phone calls I made with Tamsin, then Gillian and then the rest of the the Hexham River Hydro team revealed the first glimpses of their drive and enthusiasm that I was desperate to harness during my proposed visit there.  And I wasn't to be disappointed.

From the moment I stepped off the train and was welcomed by Malcolm, one of the project team members, I knew it was going to be a 24 hour whirlwind of a visit.  During the short walk to the town centre, I'd already gleaned some information about the town's initial commitment to renewable energy, with Malcolm pointing out the solar panels that had been installed on the roof of the sports centre.

Then came the opportunistic video in the stocks outside the town gaol (you'll need to see my video), followed by the very exciting introduction to the team, who were having a project meeting at their hub, at Scott's Cafe in the Forum cinema.

The Hexham River Hydro Project Team

Once calm had been restored, it was a real privilege to settle myself into the meeting and hear the ideas that the team was planning for campaigning to secure as many public votes as possible for their energyshare funding bid.   There were so many ideas that truly reflected the group's energy

That night after pizza, I was "unofficially inaugurated" into the community by taking part in the Hexham Community Choir.  For 50 minutes, the choir suffered my tone-deaf vocals, until Gillian announced why I was in town. Soon after it was off to the pub for some cider and more singing.  It was a real warm welcome to what was an unfamiliar town in an unfamiliar part of the country.

Hexham Community Choir

The real work started the next day.  Well, I say it was work, it was more of an insightful introduction into the team's enthusiasm, knowledge and commitment as well as their vision on how a hydro electricity generator could create funds for social projects around the town.

On location at the site of the river hydro scheme

And everything that I experienced that day was eye-opening, whether it was watching leaping salmon for the very first time in my life, making Christmas cards with the mums who use the community house No. 28, or meeting the teenagers at the Youth Initiative, who are so grateful for their facility and also realise how it's heavily dependent on fund generation.

The Community House, No 28.

And having the opportunity to meet, conservationists, councillors, the mayor, members of Transition Tynedale, students of the local Mencap college and local schools, really cemented how much Hexham Community Partnership worked hard to create a fantastic foundation for such a great community.

Members of the community, including The Mayor, Transition Tynesdale, Hexham Community Partnership and councillors
I really felt honoured to have met so many people during my visit, which is why when it was announced at the live countdown on Saturday that they had won the £100K energyshare funding, I found myself getting quite emotional over the result too and so pleased for the community that I'd championed.

Hexham River Hydro's Gillian Orrell at the energyshare finals. If she was this pleased about winning a vote rush prize, just imagine how it felt to win the £100k funding. It's just a pity my camera battery ran out, so I couldn't capture the scene.

I've now got a funny feeling, that this isn't the end of my relationship with Hexham. Not only because of the lovely welcome and my interest in following the development of the Hexham River Hydro project.

There are a few coincidences that have come about too.

Having uploaded my photos onto Facebook, it quickly emerged that not only does one of my social-media contacts originate for this beautiful town, but one of my favourite soap-makers lives only ten minutes away too, the fabulous Allyson, with whom I've had many a conversation during the last three years.  Even while I was there, I stumbled upon the gallery of the most amazing artist Matt Forster. We'd started following each other on Twitter well before I'd even heard of Hexham.  His work is truly superb and is really worth checking out.  Here's a peek at just one photo I took during my brief visit to his gallery.

By artist  Matt Forster

However the most amazing coincidence of all is the news that Gillian, had received a telephone call from a good friend of hers several days after my visit, to enquire whether it was true that a Karen Cannard had been in town.

It turns out that her friend is none other than a lovely former colleague of mine, who as a young lady used to work for me at a music digitisation company in London, back in the 1990s. After I'd left, she'd spent time travelling overseas. I moved house several times and then relocated to Suffolk. We lost touch, but I'd always wondered what had happened to her.

Now I know and it was an absolute delight to hear Gillian bring me up to speed a whole decade later.

So, I've now got plenty of reasons to visit a place, which until a few weeks ago, I'd actually never even heard of before.

Huge congratulations to Hexham River Hydro for winning the large category on Saturday and thank you for being such fabulous hosts.

I have no doubt we will meet again and I am looking forward to catching up with my old work friend too.

So thank you to energyshare for pairing me up with Hexham. My personal tale is a very unexpected result indeed.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

My appeal video for Hexham River Hydro (@energyshare)

Last week I had the unique opportunity to visit Hexham and meet the community with whom I have partnered in the bid to win funding from energyshare.

I received the most amazing welcome from so many people in the community, including the project partners, volunteers, Transition Town members, the local Abbey, councillors and the Mayor.  However it was the visits I made to the potential beneficiaries of the funding that inspired me the most, including a local community centre in regeneration area and the fabulous kids who really need their local youth initiative.

Armed with just my very old smartphone, I managed to take some footage while I was there, to ask for your support in voting for a community project that will not just create renewable energy but will help provide some much-needed social projects too.  So please, take a look and then I urge you to join in the EnergyShare vote. The deadline is 5pm 3 December, so Hexham River Hydro needs your support urgently.

To vote, you will need to register your email address at, but it doesn't take long and you will be in with a chance of winning one of five River Cottage books that are being given away each day.  It will only take 5 minutes, and if you vote for Hexham River Hydro and their public vote is successful, you will be making a real difference to a community's heritage and social well-being as well as helping to create an amazing renewable energy project that will be a valuable resource for the rest of the UK.


This is a sponsored opportunity on behalf of British Gas. However, all the author's views and research are her own.

Photos of the visit are now also publicly available on Facebook.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Teaming up with energyshare & Hexam River Hydro

It is very rare that something pulls me away from talking about rubbish, but when I was asked to team up with an exciting hydro energy project that's competing for energyshare funding, it was far too interesting to miss.

Energyshare has been created by River Cottage and British Gas, jointly managing a campaign whereby communities across the UK have applied to energyshare to have their project funded. These communities have been shortlisted into a small number of finalists, all looking to have their project funded up to the value of £100,000.

The competition has also been supported by Channel 4’s Three Hungry Boy’s who spent five weeks touring the South West over the summer, visiting communities just like those shortlisted for energyshare funding. Trevor, Thom and Tim were challenged by River Cottage’s Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall to live off the land and barter their way around the countryside, sourcing the energy for their electric vehicle from renewable technologies.

Today the finalists have been announced and campaigning has now begun in earnest to help generate public votes to choose the winning communities.

All the finalists are brilliant in their own way.  The community that I am supporting is Hexham River Hydro, a fabulous project which will create a100kW community hydro power generation scheme on the River Tyne in Northumberland.   It is a joint initiative by Hexham Community Partnership and Transition Tynedale and for anyone who, like me, has grown up or lived near such a similar powerful waterway, it is very easy to get excited about the possibilities of harnessing such energy.

However, this project is not just about generating renewable electricity, it is also about securing sustainable funding for social and economic regeneration and community activities in the market town of Hexham and its environs, as well as creating an education and awareness-raising tool for residents and visitors alike.

When I say, I'm very excited about this project, I really mean it and can't wait to get to meet the people and the community behind it. Having spoken to team member Gillian Orrell, this afternoon, I am now looking forward to a trip up north to find out more about their hopes and plans. This project may seem that it's about technology, but at the heart of it, it's really about people and harnessing the energy around us, without impacting on the environment itself.  It's amazing to think that it will generate approximately 700MWh of electricity per year – enough to satisfy the average electricity consumption of 150 households, whicle reducing Hexham’s carbon emissions by approximately 400 tonnes CO2 per year.

With such localised energy supply, it is also deemed a project of national significance that will be of interest to other similar communities around the UK.

I will be able to report on my discoveries next week, but in the meantime, if you are over 13-years-old and have just two minutes to spare, please get voting at the energyshare website.  More information about Hexam River Hydro can be found at So, please pop over and if you like what you see, please do hurry and vote for them.

Voting is open until 5pm on 3rd December with the opportunity to win one of 5 books that River Cottage is giving away every day to voters. Furthermore, for the energyshare Group that gets the most supporters voting, there is the chance to scoop a £1,000 cash prize.

So please do get involved now and visit


This is a sponsored opportunity on behalf of British Gas. However, all the author's views are her own.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

It's that time of year again with "Buy Nothing New November"

For the last few years I've welcomed in November with a personal challenge, to get through the month without buying anything new.  And after an expensive few months through the summer and early autumn, once more I'm welcoming the challenge with open arms for 2011.

It's not an anti-consumerism protest as such, although it does give me a great excuse to throw a huge boo-hiss at all the stores that promote the festive spirit months before December has arrived.

Yes, I admit the heavily commercial unseasonal 'seasonal promotions' regularly hack me off, what with Easter eggs on sale in January, back-to-school gear being promoted in June and the gradual appearance of Christmas paraphernalia showing its face as early as August!  Stuff that makes me go Grrrrrr!

However, regardless of what is going on outside my front door, the challenge is aimed at keeping my own levels of consumerism in check and building in a defence system against all those things that would have otherwise lured their way over the threshold.

I know some people thing I'm mad for attempting such a challenge during what many consider as the start of the Christmas Shopping period but it has proven to save me money and in turn, the less I buy, the less I waste.

Here are some examples of the benefits from previous years.
  1. Scrapping November from my Christmas shopping diary keeps me focused.  There are no temptations to buy all those 'extra' presents I would have once bought for the family. Don't get me wrong, they don't miss out, it simply helps to keep on top of the excess!
  2. Less temptation means fewer presents and less wrapping paper.  No longer do I return home with armfuls of wrapping paper, which only end up in the recycling bin. Instead we get crafty with inexpensive parcel paper, magazines, newspapers and reusable gift bags or festive fabric.
  3. Although food is obviously not on the 'banned list', the challenge gives me an opportunity to focus on using up what's already in the freezer and kitchen cupboards to make space for stocking up on the seasonal stuff to take us through the winter.  The Love Food Hate Waste site is always great for ideas.
  4. Less time shopping also gives me more time to have a go at making gifts instead.  There are loads of ideas around the Internet and Violet Posy's Thrifty Christmas site is one of my favourites, along with some great creative projects that can be found at LellaLoves.
  5. I won't be tempted to buy any spangly new outfits or accessories for the Christmas dinners or parties on my calendar.  Instead, I look forward to going through my wardrobe to plan what will work, without bowing to emergency feel-good purchases either in November or December.
So if you normally find yourself in the pre-Christmas rut, why not join me this year.  I admit, it can be daunting at first, but three years in and it's amazing how calm and in control a "Buy Nothing New November" can actually make you feel.  The best bit is, not only are you able to step back from the commercial rush, it makes December far more enjoyable too.

However, if a whole month seems too much of a challenge, there is some good news in that Saturday November 26th is officially Buy Nothing Day.  That's just one day, not a whole month. Much easier by comparison!  If you fancy a go at that, just click on the Keep Calm logo at the top of this post.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Washing with an Ecoegg

Having had a week of half-term fun, it's time to channel the domestic goddess spirit and get back to the chores.   Can you sense my lack of enthusiasm?  Well I suppose a girl can't be off enjoying herself all of the time and before the excitement of Halloween kicks off, today's task is catching up with a huge pile of laundry!

Anyone who's followed this blog for a while will know just how much I adore my relationship with the washing machine.  In fact this old post about washing with balls was as true then as it is now, except for the tiny detail about the balls.

Don't get me wrong.  The Eco Balls have done a fabulous job, despite one getting lost and another getting warped, leaving me with just one single ball to tackle the washday woes! They've also saved us loads of money that we would have otherwise spent on detergent.  However, with only one fully functioning ball after three years of usage, I was recently left wondering how effective it all was.

Then just as I was pondering a temporary return to washing powder until I sorted out an alternative solution, out of the blue, in the guise of a fairy godmother, I received an invitation to test out something new.

Of course if it had been the real Fairy Godmother, my pumpkin would have turned into a carriage, I'd have been adorned with glimmering satin and glittering diamonds and despatched to the nearest high society ball, with the local mice dressed as handsome footmen.

Instead, I was offered...... an Ecoegg!

I suppose that despite my dreams of running away from the domestic drudgery of the laundry, and having already won over my Prince Charming 19 years ago, this fairy godmother knew what I really needed and so the trial commenced.

Three months on, having tackled piles upon piles of laundry, I am pleased to say that the Ecoegg is still going strong. I haven't lost it!  It's still in one piece and all's good. 

I can't tell whether the Ecoegg is more effective than the Eco balls in terms of washing results.  They are both comparable, absolutely perfect for getting your average laundry pile as fresh as a daisy but in need of extra help when it comes to more grubby marks that the children sometimes get on their clothes.

However, having experienced the two products, I admit that I like the Ecoegg more.  I love the fact that it's a single item and from a design perspective, well it feels less clumsy.

If you've never considered the switch from laundry detergent before, I'd seriously recommend giving it a go.  I can't remember how much we used to spend on monthly top-ups now but I'd hazard a guess that since 2008 we've saved somewhere in the region of £350.

Admittedly the lack of "fresh laundry" scent takes getting used to at first, but it doesn't take long to realise that it's actually one of the advantages and soon becomes more preferable to the chemically induced detergent scent that previously filled our drawers.

Well I guess all this talk of laundry is not actually going to get it done.  I've already admitted how I let the side down for womanhood when it comes to multi-tasking.  So for now I'll bid you Adieu and go and salute the washing pile and then it's time to hunt down a pumpkin....Fairy Godmother, if you are looking in, I still fancy the idea of turning it into a carriage once Halloween is over and perhaps popping to the ball too.  

What's that..."In my dreams"?

Oh well - Washer Woman it is then - see you next week!


More information about the Ecoegg and how it works can be found at  As a comparison, you can also find out more about the Eco Balls here.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Adding glamour to zero waste

Vivienne Westwood Skyscraper design
Forget cardboard compactors.  These days jumping on your used pizza boxes in killer heels is the way to go to for adding extra sex appeal to recycling. Especially if you're wearing zero waste shoes.

Okay, I jest. I know I like to entertain my friends but the only way these shoes would add such glamour to my recycling activities is in carrying my feet towards my kitchen bin!   Performing star jumps in high heels just to crush old boxes is a little far fetched, even for me.

However, the zero waste aspect of these shoes isn't.  They're one of the latest designs to come out from Melissa, a Brazilian based shoe manufacturer that prides itself not just on great design and ethical policies but on zero waste operations too.  Not only does the factory recycle its waste water, but any excess material used in its current collection gets recycled into the next season's shoes.

Melissa shoes, made from its mono-material MelFlex (apparently a toxin-free adaptation of PVC, developed from bio-engineered and recovered plastics) have emerged as one of the darlings of the eco-style world and have become popular with vegans and the eco-conscious alike. They even come with the promise that they can be 100% recycled.   And I admit I too have fallen for them this season.  Thanks to a friend bringing them to my attention, I was quickly seduced by a pair of Vivien Westwood heels especially designed for Melissa's Anglomania range,

Yes I admit, they add that special "je-ne-sais-quoi" never witnessed by my wardrobe in recent years and their comfort will hopefully ensure they remain a key item for many decades to come.  However, despite my love of having shoes that have been made via zero waste production, I feel it fair to dispell the promise of a zero waste nirvana when it comes to recycling such items in the UK.

Just because a shoe is made from a single material that says it can be recycled, it doesn't mean it can be easily recycled.  The Melissa range is the only collection of shoes I know that have a recycling triangle on them, (revealing type 3 for PVC), however in the UK, the municipal collection of this type of material is not particularly widespread.  With that said, it is a sector that is currently being met by major research and development in Europe and eco-efficient collection and recycling processes, which replace less sustainable ways of managing such waste, should see much improvement over the next decade thanks to the development of voluntary agreements such as Vinylplus.

The recyclability may be marketed as a selling point when it comes to the end of a shoe's life. However as any "zero waster" should know, it's the product maintenance and reuse aspects that are the most obvious solutions to enjoying an item and managing its life-span post use.

As with anything, post-consumer recycling is just one consideration when making a purchase, but commitment to longevity and an ethical manufacturing process should be high on the agenda too, and for those reasons I think I'm going to enjoy my relationship with my Melissa shoes for many years to come.

I really was joking about jumping up and down on pizza boxes.  I think these shoes are more suited to moments of enjoying cocktails and wine.

And of course, the closest they will ever come to a recycling centre, is if a touch of glamour is needed when recycling the empties.

More information about the Melissa shoe range can be found at, supplemented by a wealth of reviews appearing in Eco magazines that include Ecosalon, Dare2Magazine and The Ecologist.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Ornamental melons & food waste

(Photo credit: Bettnet on Flickr Creative Commons License)

How I wish I had the patience to carve fruit like this.  The best I can do is to create an oddity of star-shaped slices from a hacked apple, a technique I learned a while back when trying to reinvigorate my children's interest in fruit.  They were going through that phase, turning up their noses at anything but grapes and for a while much of the produce that I used to cart home from the supermarket would end up in the compost bin.

In short, our home was embellished with a weekly bowl of fruit whose purpose had become increasingly ornamental and it seemed I was the worst offender.  Not only did I keep buying it automatically without thinking the issue through, I'd repeat shopping habits that were just plain daft.

For instance, take my love of melons.  I'd spot them in the supermarket and pop one - or even two - in my trolley in anticipation of enjoying it later, thinking about the mouthwatering taste and refreshing texture.  Then I'd arrive home, unpack, juggle the children and cook dinner and end up too blimmin' knackered to even think about taking a knife to the fruit I'd imagined myself devouring.

This pattern would repeat itself for days, with the melon perched on my kitchen worktop. Against a backdrop of busy family life, thoughts of its stickiness and mess-creating potential would stand in the way of the promise of it tickling the tastebuds.  Eventually, it would just go off, creating that all familiar pungent melon stink and end up being tossed into the compost bin.  The following week it would be replaced by a whole new fresh piece of fruit and the cycle of desire and inconvenience would begin once more.

When I told this story on  Radio 4's Woman's Hour last week, I was met with an incredible response from friends and Twitter followers.  The tale of my ornamental melons attracted a fair portion of light-hearted innuendo banter, but after the laughs were over, reactions settled into shared stories of similar habits that friends recognised in themselves, telling me about their ornamental pineapples and other fruity installations.

It really is startling that - thanks in part to habits like this - as a country we still throw away 8.3 million tonnes of food, which could have been eaten.  That amounts to roughly £50 of food being wasted in domestic bins per month.  Extrapolate the melon story to the contents of the fridge and wasted leftovers, it becomes easy to see how this mounts up.

The experts say that tackling food waste comes down to planning and they are right.  Planning meals, budgeting properly and taking a shopping list really does help.  However, I'd go beyond that and say it also requires much more. Realising the impact on the family budget. awareness of why food waste is such an environmental issue, being able to identify with your own daft habits, developing a conviction to change and then adopting new ideas that enable you to do so are all equally important factors.

Four years ago I was totally pants at managing food waste.  As well as the fruity debacle, I'd think nothing of tossing out-of-date yoghurts in the bin along with leftovers from the serving bowl.   I'm a terrible planner, a half-hearted cook and even now a shopping list still fills me with fear of control as opposed to the helpful guide it should be. 

However, I stumbled through all sorts of changes in my habits.  I stopped buying the stuff that I'd regularly throw out. I swapped the time-consuming huge weekly shop for a couple of very short visits, instead buying only the fresh produce that we really needed and I also got into the habit of using up leftovers.  We saved loads of dosh in the meantime.   I admit that I am by no means the picture of perfection.  Threats from my husband, who sometimes reveals an unusal desire to post up some of my more dodgy looking carrots, could bear witness to that.  But addressing food waste has really made an enormous impact on our household.

So, if food waste is your thing and you are now determined to do something about it, don't just take my word for it.  I can tickle you away from using your rubbish bin, but for some really decent advice you'll find no better website than  It's full of facts and figures to get you motivated and is packed with top tips that range from using up veg that might appear to be at death's door, recipes for leftovers, how best to use the freezer and understanding date-labelling.  If you use Facebook, you can also keep in touch with updates via the new Love Food Hate Waste community page.

Now coming back to those melons...I've just done a quick calculation and reckon I've probably saved somewhere in the region of £300 in the last three and a half years... and that ladies and gentleman is without the "Two for £3" deals. 

Flippin' 'eck. 


For once I declare myself officially speechless!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A rubbish hack to help sort out your waste

Amongst many things, the Dispatches documentary on Monday demonstrated how confused people still are over which packaging can be recycled in their local bins.

Packaging information, especially in relation to plastics, is still inconsistent and even though the on-pack labelling is getting better, for many the uncertainty of what can be recycled locally still pervades like a bad smell.

So if you're one of the hundreds of thousands who are still confused, here are my top tips.

1. Get the latest information from your council

Before you do ANYTHING ELSE, yes,  even embarking on reading the rest of this post, get on the blower to your local council, and ask the recycling officers EXACTLY what you should put in your bins. I know it sounds obvious, but if you've been pondering how complicated it all is, this really is the best place to start.

Council information generally describes recyclables by product type and you'll find local authorities mainly fall into two categories; those where you can recycle most types of plastic packaging (and will include yoghurt pots, margarine tubs and fruit punnets) or those that can't, thus limiting your plastics collection to simply bottles (including drinks bottles, detergent bottles, milk containers & toileteries).

If the information isn't clear.  Then ask questions so that you are clear on what can\can't be put in your local bins.

Another excellent source at your disposal (please excuse the pun), is the Recycle Now website.  You just pop in your postcode and Bob's your uncle, as the system will return the results of what can be recycled at your kerbside, as well as Bring Banks and Household Waste Recycling Centres.

Once you are confident about your council's rules, you will become less reliant on packaging labelling and hopefully less frustrated.

After all, if you can't recycle a plastic fruit punnet through your local collection, you just can't recycle it regardless what  message the packaging information might tell you, so don't fall into the trap of getting hot and bothered.  Instead try and buy the product loose instead.

2. Find out what the recycling labels really mean.

Even though your local recycling officer is the best source to use, the new on-pack recycling labels can offer some extra help, and that's mainly to raise awareness of the materials used and the likelihood that they can be recycled.

Again, the best place to find out about the labelling guidelines is at the Recycle Now website.  Remember, the labelling advice should be followed as a call to action, prompting you to check with your local authority (coming back to point 1) as opposed to a definitive guide in itself.

Once you are familiar with your local rules, even if the packaging doesn't have the correct up-to-date information printed on it you'll be more confident about what you should do.  For example, whilst shopping in a supermarket the other day, the own-brand bread packaging showed that it couldn't be recycled, despite the fact that a new in-store collection had been introduced only a month or so earlier, which actually collects packaging film such as bread bags and toilet-roll wrappers.

3. Avoiding packaging that can't be recycled.

With all the controversy surrounding recycling, with its complications, targets and whether it is sorted properly in the first place, it is very easy to lose sight of what we as consumers actually can do to reduce our waste contribution. 

We might not feel as though we have much power, but actually we do...lots!   There are many small changes that we can make, which can have a huge impact if they are applied across the nation.  I'd hoped to include some of these this week on Woman's Hour, but we simply ran out of time.  This list is not exhaustive by any means, and should really be considered as a starter for ten....

  • Avoid packaging: Buy loose wherever possible, and support independent stores such as Unpackaged, which actively promotes that you use your own containers.
  • Switch packaging: If there isn't an unpackaged option, switch products you can't recycle for those that you can. For example one particular major toothpaste brand comes in small thin plastic bottles, made from the same plastic as fizzy drinks bottles and can be recycled widely.
  • Choose reusable: You can also reduce your packaging by switching from disposable products to reusable ones and prevent other waste too.  Jackie, who was featured in the Dispatches programme, took my advice about ditching floor wipes and bought a reusable mop.  This will save her loads of cash as well as reducing the amount of rubbish thrown away.  If you're an avid baby wipe user, try using soft washable cloths instead.
  • Upcycle: If you can't recycle the packaging or avoid it completely, try upcycling it instead and raise some cash for your favourite charity.  Terracycle offers an upcycling service for packaging from brands that include Johnson's baby wipes, Ella's smoothies, Kenco coffee refills and Aquafresh toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes.  It's a great scheme for schools and local community groups.  The products are turned into new things that are sold on the Terracycle website.
  • Split It: If you live in one of the areas that doesn't recycle plastic yoghurt pots, check your supermarket shelves for products that use less plastic.  There are pots on the market that now have a thinner plastic liner and a tear-off cardboard outer (just like the one in the photo).  These can be separated, with the cardboard being recycled and less plastic actually going to waste.   More packaging will move in this direction, especially thanks to innovations such as Split-it, so keep an eye out on the shelves for products that can help you reduce waste.
  • DIY: That's right, do it yourself! If you're hacked off with not being able to recycle your ready-meal trays, see if you can save money and waste by making it yourself.  Or if you've got a great friend who can really cook, and I mean really cook, invite yourself around and have a great night out instead of worrying about what you're going to do with the dirty plastic tray and ikky film. Then invite them over next week for some beans on toast!
These few ideas are just touching the surface, but I hope it at leasts provides some food for thought.  I am sure you'll have loads more suggestions to add to this, which suit your lifestyle better.  And if you want more inspiration, then check out The Rubbish Diet Challenge, which you can read online for free.

Of course, all I've covered here is just packaging waste.  Food waste is much more of a significant issue.  If you're interested in tackling that, watch this space as I'll be back soon with more tips on what you can do at home.


If you missed the Dispatches "Britain's Rubbish" documentary on Monday, it is still available for the next 27 days at 4OD. It's packed with footage about fly-tipping, plastics, recycling systems and politicians arguing their case as well as the story of how Jackie, a mum from Manchester reduced her family's rubbish from 13kg a week to 5kg.  I know I'm biased, but for me, that's the best bit.  (Just in case you're looking out for it, my appearance is at 15 minutes and 28 minutes into the programme).

If you want to catch up on the Woman's Hour broadcast this week featuring Bob Gordon, Head of Environment for the British Retail Consortium and Liz Goodwin, Chief Executive of WRAP, you can 'listen again' via the BBC Woman's Hour webpage.  Just look for the chapter on Zero Waste.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Me being serious on TV: Dispatches, Britain's Rubbish, C4 8pm

Morland Sanders, investigates Britain's rubbish for C4 Dispatches

I recently did some filming for the Dispatches documentary that's being broadcast tonight. It's called "Britain's Rubbish" and will be aired at 8pm on Channel 4.

When I was asked to contribute, a huge part of me wanted to batten down the hatches, draw the curtains and say "Thanks but no thanks". I normally stay away from the heavy stuff and regular readers will know I don't normally campaign against issues, but instead promote ideas that help empower householders to reduce waste, even if it's just by a small amount.

But as I was about to say "No thank you" to the documentary makers, my thoughts turned back to why I keep raising awareness of recycling and waste reduction. It's because it really is such a serious issue, despite my own natural tendency towards lightening the mood. And I am still as passionate about getting people to talk about their rubbish as I've ever been. Furthermore I'm a constant troubleshooter, who loves sharing positive information that I've gathered, even if it has turned this average householder into a bit of a waste geek. So, as I gave my reply I found myself changing my mind and saying "yes".

I knew the documentary could offer another avenue to raise awareness of all the advances that have taken place in recent years, including the fantastic On-Pack Recycling Labelling standard that helps shoppers better understand whether an item can be recycled. There's also the news how popular brands have made steady inroads into "lightweighting" packaging, designing out wasteful components as well introducing a greater percentage of recycled materials into their products. Such developments should make it far easier for shoppers to dramatically reduce their waste.

However, it soon became clear during filming that whilst being able to demonstrate some of the aforementioned positive points, the experience actually revealed that we are still a long way off from the ideal of a totally transparent system that consumers can easily rely on.

Participating in the documentary gave me the first opportunity in ages to examine a wide range of packaging and I was shocked at that no matter what strides have been made in the last couple of years, labelling across products is still highly inconsistent, with many lines not giving any clear instructions. There were plenty of examples where the text was too small to read easily or simply had outdated advice. Where some products would state that the packaging was recyclable (where facilities exist), other products packaged in the same material stated that it could not yet be recycled. 

Despite well thought-out labelling standards, design guidelines developed by the British Retail Consortium and WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) and strong engagement campaigns to get these adopted by retailers and brands, it has become clear that much of the grocery sector is still lagging behind the need to hurry change. Coupled with this are many examples of overpackaged products that have are still being introduced as new lines.

As a shopper, consumer, householder and waste geek, this is far more than just frustrating. It is a major concern that clear consumer advice is not coming at the speed that is needed and that if the government is serious about its Zero Waste goals and waste prevention strategy, change in the manufacturing sector needs to be implemented faster than is currently tolerated, whether by government or by industry itself.

And the same could be said for the processing of mixed plastics packaging. It's seems very much a futile exercise to invest in labelling if recycling facilities aren't widespread.  It is very encouraging to see commercial plants for mixed plastics being implemented by Biffa and new developments in sorting technologies that are starting to be rolled out by Veolia, but the UK needs deeper investment to make more plants available at a faster speed with flexible contracts that enable disposal authorities to use them.

As things stand, it is increasingly difficult for busy households to shrink their packaging waste when so many local authorities are still unable to recycle common items such as yoghurt pots, margarine tubs, meat trays, ready meal trays, fruit punnets and the cake tubs, the latter of which are becoming an increasingly ubiquitous item in the confectionary aisle. I often argue that it's the consumer's choice to buy these products and I agree that many could chose to vote with their wallets and make alternative choices. However, not everyone has the impetus, the awareness, the time, motivation, access to choice or even the money to tackle their household waste in such way, and we shouldn't be expect it to ultimately be our responsibility either.

So whose responsibility is it to tackle the UK's waste problem?  Naturally we need to start with the brands and the manufacturers. After all, that's where our rubbish actually starts, during the design and manufacturing process. However it only then becomes rubbish if waste operators and local authorities can't collect it because the facilities aren't in place or they don't have markets onto which it can be sold on. However demand is changing and I've spoken to a variety of manufacturers, ranging from bottling plants to recycled plastic tile-makers who want to buy more recycled plastic from the UK.   So it's their responsibility too, to find sustainable solutions and a steady bank of customers. But then there's government, which has the power to legislate, to set much tougher targets, show greater leadership and make better investment to kickstart zero waste economies.

But it's all too easy to fall into the blame culture, which we often witness when one sector has a foodfight with the other.  It's time to move forward from that and whilst the big boys battle it out, I believe that consumers can have a key role to play too in reducing our residual packaging waste and food waste where possible. Whether that means taking a small amount of time to clear up any ambiguities over local recycling advice, switching from disposable to reusable products, boycotting overpackaged products, composting,  following great campaigns such as Love Food Hate Waste, Recycle Week or Zero Waste Week, or even asking for better recycling facilities in local neighbourhoods, it means we can take more control over our bins. And if you're unclear on the packaging guidelines tell your supermarket that you'll leave it all with them, asking that they get back to you.

The waste problem won't go away until we all start working together.  Waste reduction won't be sorted without the help of us, the consumer, even if we are mostly beholden to what's for sale in the shops. Against the background need to preserve our material resources and save energy, as a society, it starts by individuals taking more interest and being more aware of some small changes that could make a big difference and the wider consequences of what happens to the stuff that we chuck in our bins.

The documentary will be aired tonight and I'll be happy to follow up on any issues raised, as soon as I can.   However, I'm away for much of this week, including joining a discussion panel in London for tomorrow's Woman's Hour (BBC Radio 4, 10-11am)

So in the meantime, if you're a householder who is interested in how you can battle the elements of your rubbish bin and reduce the waste that goes in there, and are great places to start, as is the fantastic website  Of course you can also ring your local council for advice and if you're the chatty type, talk to friends and neighbours about how they reduce their rubbish.  You'll never know what local tips you'll find out.

But remember, don't feel guilty about what you can't do, just feel relieved about what you can!


Many thanks go to the production team at Blakeway for inviting me to add my small contribution and also to Jackie and her family who were brave enough to let us go through their rubbish on camera.  I don't know which of my contributions will be featured but I'm looking forward to watching what else was unearthed during the wider filming.  More information about tonight's programe is shown below:

Dispatches: Britain's Rubbish, Channel 4 10 October 2011, 8pm

Dispatches lifts the lid on Britain's bins and asks what the plan is to tackle the country's growing rubbish problem.

Reporter Morland Sanders travels the UK in the wake of the government's Waste Policy Review to find out about bin collections, litter, excessive packaging and Britons' secret bin habits.  He finds householders angry about their bins not being collected every week and fly-tipping setting resident against resident.

He asks whether we can do more to help reduce the rubbish problem ourselves and sets a family the challenge of living without a bin for a fortnight. Can they really recycle everything?

On the high street, he questions whether we are simply sold too much packaging with the things we buy, making us throw far too much away, and sifts through litter to see who should be doing more to keep Britain tidy.

He also talks to the people who collect, sort and recycle our waste and discovers what happens to our paper and plastics once they are collected. Does profit win out over green considerations?

And he investigates whether the waste companies are really solving our rubbish problem.


Friday, 7 October 2011

Karen meets Kevin at Grand Designs Live

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Kevin McCloud at the Grand Designs Live exhibition. Given that I'm a random blogger, I suppose it could have been any Kevin, so it was a real privilege to finally meet the man who, since the launch of Grand Designs on Channel 4, has left me and millions of others day-dreaming about designing our own homes.

But I didn't trek all the way up to Birmingham to talk to him about that perfect self-build dream, nor to wax lyrical about my obsession with proper lighting, one of his other passions.  What really interested me on this occasion was Kevin's Green Heroes, the range of eco products that he has selected to highlight at the show as a showcase for strong eco and ethical design.

So while Kevin McCloud was busy greeting visitors following the official opening, I took the opportunity to have a quick glance at the products that he'd chosen.  The ones that particularly caught my eye were "slate" roof tiles made from recycled plastic, unusual picture frames and a chest made from old tyres and some beautiful lights designed from old books that would have otherwise been discarded into landfill. There was even a gumdrop bin that was actually made from recycled chewing gum. 


Here's the gorgeous Lula Dot paper lampshade designed by Lucy Norman, which is made from discarded old books.

On meeting Kevin minutes later in the VIP Lounge, I asked how easy it was to discover such products.

Of course, it's a process he actually finds quite easy. Through his work he has access to a wide range of technologies and ideas and when he sees something new, it really does catch his attention.  However, he highlighted that one of the key criteria for this year's show was that the products had to be market-ready, as it is frustrating for visitors if they are inspired by the designs but unable to buy them.

As he settled into the conversation, Kevin's passion for his Green Heroes showcase was clear.

"What I love about these products is that they've been recontextualised," he revealed.

My ears pricked up and although I was recording the interview, it was a word I didn't want to lose.  In other settings I've heard the term "upcycled" but this concept seemed more specific.

"Recontextualising is when you take something and you change the setting contextually," he added "taking a functional quality material and changing it into something beautiful, thus persuading you that it's something else".

He went on to add that the first rule of recontextualisation is that the object being recycled should not be changed that much. Processing it minimally and turning into something else is the trick to clever design.

Kevin illustrated this point with the Tread Tyre recycled eco products, highlighting how the tread looks like carved wood and plays on the visual language of something else and it's the amazement that it is "something else" which contributes to the joy of ownership.

It was at this point that I showed Kevin my much-coveted handbag, which is made from decommissioned firehouse that would otherwise be discarded in landfill.  Could this be described as a recontextualised product?

After a moment of admiration, he confirmed that it indeed fitted the bill, with its clever design, using the different textures of a practical piece of emergency equipment and changing it into a desirable fashion accessory that resembled leather.

Changing mindsets

Like many of the designs that have been chosen for the Green Heroes showcase, I highlighted that such businesses with their size limitations can only "rescue" a small amount of waste for redesign and broached the question over how we get the wider industry to notice the same issues and follow greater opportunities to turn waste into useful products.

"It's a slow, somewhat painful and long process," Kevin replied.  "And in the context of the bag, one day other companies such as Mulberry will probably make them and then you'd likely find two or three brands flooding the market."

And he made another equally valid point,  "On one hand you want everyone to do it but on the other you'd like the small companies to thrive as well.  The issue is as much about creating a change in mindset in consumers and users."

Kevin explained, "There are lots of ways in which we can and should reappraise our relationships with made things.  Fundamentally the real problem is not whether we are making items out of leather or firehose, it's whether or not  it is made in a giant factory by people who are underpaid, exploited and the environment is damaged, the local ecology and biodiversity is wrecked, materials are squandered and carbon is burned."

Suddenly we'd progressed from the appreciation of clever design to the worrying issues of global manufacturing, something that is easy to forget when you're so mesmerised by the glossy world of a lifestyle exhibition such as Grand Designs Live.  Kevin McCloud's concerns run very deep.

"The root of the problems that we face is the disconnection that has happened between us and the things that we make, consume and use.  If we all met the people in the factories where our goods are made, we would think twice or even offer more money."

We were now broaching the need for wider education and Kevin McCloud is in a privileged position to do this. I asked if there were any more projects in the pipeline that would help make people more aware and adopt more sustainable practices.

He mentioned his new TV series as one particular example, which will be broadcast this autumn about his sustainable housing scheme in Swindon.  He says it's a project which came about in no small way because of what he'd seen in Mumbai, during the filming of Slumming it, where he spent two weeks living in the city slums.

He added,  "It's the principle of sharing, which underscores both a coherent civic society but also a more sustainable way of life, with low carbon and low resource use.  That use of sharing is what I saw in India, occuring in every walk of people's lives and it's something that we could be doing a lot more of here in our society."

"There are lots of ways of sharing, whether it's signing up to a car club, joining a food network, growing veg and swapping it with your neighbour or simply taking a bus.  It's down to how we eat, live, move around and consume.  These ideas point to a much more efficient way of life and much more lower carbon impact and resource use. It's only one in a small army of approaches but it's a real powerful one.  The whole idea of shared time, shared work, shared responsibility and shared ownership, is really interesting."

As we approached the end of the interview Kevin pointed to the key position that the UK holds in global society and asserted,
"This country was once the cradle of the industrial revolution and because of that we have an ethical responsibility to the rest of the world to demonstrate what the post industrial solutions should be."
I've often pondered this very thing and wondered whether we can actually succeed. I looked at Kevin and asked what he thought.

There came a light shrug and he replied, "For every wonderful new idea there is a terrible groan from a corner as the government backtracks on policy, or local council does the wrong thing or a business decides to give up on an idea due to the recession."

And as we were about to discuss the way that communities harness roots-based projects at the time of recession, our time was up and Kevin McCloud needed to move on to his next appointment. It was unfortunate as I could have listened to what he had to say for hours.

I thanked him for taking time out of his busy schedule to be interviewed by a random blogger.

"A blogger and a bag," he laughed as he picked up my recontextualised handbag again, coveting it once more. After he asked to look at the lining, he responded with a teasing comment and a warm smile  "I'm a blogger. You don't know me, but here are my credentials. That's a great calling card"

And as Kevin McCloud admired the lining that had been made from orange parachute material, I immediately regretted not recycling all my old receipts. Honestly woman!  If you're going to show Kevin your bag, the top tip really should be to declutter the contents first.


Design guru and TV broadcaster Kevin McCloud also hosts Grand Designs Live. Based on his popular Channel 4 series, the inspirational and innovative home improvement, self-build and design show is running at the Birmingham NEC (7-9th October) and will run next year from 5-13 May 2012 at the London Excel Centre. The show boasts over 500 exhibitors as well as offering free consultations, catering for both home owners looking for new ideas to renovate their homes and aspiring self-builders looking for advice, inspiration and value to build their very own Grand Design. Book ahead and see Kevin at the live show

Also, if you fancy living rent-free for a year to test out an Eco Home, check out the competition that is being promoted by Velux.

(Updated 8/10/11 with extra images & extra info about next year's show).

Friday, 30 September 2011

Dear Mr Pickles

Well, sir.  You've stirred it up again this time!   Like Father Christmas bringing the promise of happiness to the masses, dropping down our chimneys weekly to empty our overflowing rubbish bins!

Nice one!

Oh stuff any chance of this being an erudite post.  I haven't got time for that. Instead I'll just say it as it is.

The weekly rubbish collection bribe that your department has announced amounts to nothing but backtracking on any other forms of common sense that has come out of this year's Waste Review, especially with regard to encouraging greater recycling rates.

Today's media talks about treating the public with respect.  How about treating us with intelligence as well as  respect and not just a herd of sheep who will welcome your proposals with a happy bleat.

Our country would not have a problem with overflowing rubbish bins if manufacturers designed out unecessary packaging\product waste and the government invested in proper nationwide recycling infrastructure of mixed plastics.  Really, I cannot believe that we are in 2011 and the majority of the UK can't recycle a bloody yoghurt pot! 

Voters complain about smelly food waste hanging around for a fortnight.  I empathise.  So did I a few years ago and to honest, it's not nice!  But I did something about it.  I followed the advice of and even though I'm still not the picture of perfection, most weeks are better than others.  Yes I've had a blimmin' good stab at not creating the waste in the first place and saved a small fortune, thanks to listening to some common sense.

Of course my best advice for your Chicken Tikka Masala test, is instead of letting it become fodder for flies stinking out your bin, cut down your order at your local Indian or invite some friends around and get them to share it.

It's hardly rocket science.

But recycling is...needing well designed  innovations and scaleable solutions that can serve communities and support our economy.

That's where our money should be going Mr Pickles, to actually help provide solutions that wouldn't create the problem of overflowing or stinky bins.  Separate out that food waste and if the councils don't have the infrastructure to collect the caddies weekly, invest in community projects that can, by creating new jobs and feeding the revenues back into the communities themselves. 

There are even solutions in the UK for now recycling nappies and other absorbant waste products, that you could throw some of your money towards or better funded campaigns to support washables.

What's that old saying?  Rubbish In Rubbish Out! Well that's what this country's going to keep getting unless policy and investment change in line with the sustainable future this country and the global society needs.

Today's statement was far too broadbrush. Yes there will be councils that will value the funds, and this money should be used to support and develop the infrastructure in those areas that it's needed, even if it's in certain enclaves of a local authority's collection area, but please don't consider it as a single opportunity for all.  Not all of us want to go back to the dark ages.

Personally, I think this is a lot of fuss about nothing and if one good thing's come of it, there will be much chatter about rubbish as people debate the other solutions that are out there.

Yours sincerely,

Almost Mrs Average!


As it's a Friday, I thought I'd dedicate this post to Kat's "Dear So and So" feature at Three Bedroom Bungalow.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Measure your recycling with the new Recyclometer

Coca-Cola Recyclometer

Measuring the impact of recycling is always a challenge, especially when trying to communicate the wider benefits of what is, let's face it, a pretty mundane household task.

However, during the summer, along with other bloggers, I was brought in to help road-test Coca-Cola's Recyclometer, a brand new stats-crunching tool, which has been developed in association with WRAP.   After a few tweaks, the Recyclometer has now been officially launched, on the company's website and at Recycle Now. providing consumers with a means of calculating the wider impact of their recycling activity, by simply translating the action into energy saving data.

Saving energy and fuel resources are one of the key beneficial outcomes of recycling and the Recyclometer tool demonstrates the savings across a wide range of materials that you'd find on your cupboard shelves.

For example, simply totting up the contents of my recycling actions today reveals that I've saved enough energy to power a lightbulb for 12 hours.   Widen the impact of this nationally and the figures highlight that enough energy would be saved to power over 84,000 lightbulbs for a whole year.   That's quite an incredible figure from just a few juice bottles, a can, our local newspaper, a breakfast cereal box and a loo roll tube.  It also demonstrates how wasteful it would be if I just bunged these into landfill.

To work out your own stats, just click on the image above.  Alternatively visit  the company's own website, where there are also links to the organisation's waste-reduction actions, including lightweighting innovations, implementation of recycled materials and, more recently, their usage of plant-based fibres in plastic packaging.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Almost Mrs Average gets to speak at waste exhibition

It was a real honour to speak yesterday at RWM, the UK's largest recycling and waste management exhibition, especially as I was sharing the stage with the very inspiring Joy Bizzard, chair of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC)

The context was very much how local authorities can engage with householders to help individuals and communities reduce waste.  Joy's presentation was packed with advice on how councils can raise awareness and find new ways to inspire new audiences, despite the current economic culture of squeezed budgets.

The area that particularly interested me was the subject of peer endorsement, i.e., the difference that can be made by engaging ordinary members of the public to share their own stories amongst their peer groups.  It's a subject that has fascinated me for a long time and certainly set the scene for me telling my own tale of the Zero Waste challenge that I undertook in 2008 and the events that have unfolded since.

It is an extremely surreal experience addressing an audience of waste and recycling professionals.  I've done it a couple of times before and it's very difficult not to feel like a waste geek groupie, especially when you know how hard officers are working to battle against the problem of waste, which comes with its own set of economic and contractual constraints, misguided government strategies and often divisive public opinion.

And as I said yesterday, I am no expert in behaviour change. I can only tell my own personal story.  However, since taking St Edmundsbury's Zero Waste Week challenge in 2008, I have become more aware of the challenges that exist, the opportunities that are available and the need for formerly disparate groups to work together in accepting increased responsibility, whether that's producer responsibility, local authority responsibility, individual responsibility or from further along the waste chain.

In context to yesterday's event, I really feel that to work towards the UK's 2020 Zero Waste goal, local authorities are going to need to work harder and smarter in engaging their immediate community groups and actively seek out more formal relationships with individuals, who are themselves happy to inspire others within their own communities.

Last week, I made this very point at the Making 2020 Zero Waste Work conference in Coventry.  So you can just imagine my delight, whilst returning home from yesterday's exhibition, I read news of a volunteer training programme that's been rolled out by Zero Waste Scotland.  It's fabulous news that the Scottish agency has already created a blueprint for this and are putting such ideas into practice, having itself been inspired by the Master Composter network.

And for any doubters, who might raise an eyebrow over the effectiveness of such action, I could highlight many examples of personal stories that I've received from my own community where I've seen the impact locally.  But even more significantly than that, I'd like to point readers in the direction of one of the most successful peer endorsement case studies of the last three years, and that's the story of  "My Zero Waste".

You may have to enlarge the photo below, but pictured at the centre of the presentation slide is the Strauss family, who were unknown to me four years ago.  However, thanks to St Edmundsbury Borough Council engaging me in a Zero Waste challenge, and as a result of me writing about it on the Internet and my story being broadcast widely on national radio, word soon got around.  Rachelle Strauss noticed and consequently felt empowered to reduce her own family's household waste.  Driven by environmental concern, she led the way in creating her website,, attracting a growing community of people keen to seek advice and share ideas about reducing their waste.  This year Rachelle hosted her 4th National Zero Waste Week, a simple grassroots campaign that received over 12,000 hits within just a few days of being announced at the end of August.

Yesterday's visit to RWM was most certainly an interesting one and my only regret is that I didn't get a chance to have a proper gander around the exhibition, but that's only because I was too busy catching up with some of the folk who spend their professional lives trying to inspire others.  I'll just have to make sure I visit next year.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Shedwyn gets her skates on for the end of National Zero Waste Week 2011

To celebrate the last day of National Zero Waste Week, I sent the 1000 Bins mascot Shedwyn, into Suffolk's  rollerskating venue CurveMotion, to check out their recycling.

They have great recycling facilities behind the scenes, but don't have any specific recycling bins in the public zones.  Consequently customers end up throwing their empty bottles and cans into the general rubbish bin.

Even if there were public recycling bins, there is a real issue that the number of unemptied containers that are often thrown away by the customers, would quickly contaminate any efforts to recycle properly. So Shedwyn was on a mission to think of ways that could improve recycling without having to rely on expensive and sticky recycling bins.

After a spell of whizziness with the laptop and a touch of lamination, a simple methodology was born.  A  sign advising customers to leave their containers at the servery counter instead of shoving them in the bin!

Whether it's an effective solution, only time will tell, but it is an idea that's worth trying and if response is low it's well worth testing out new wording or different poster designs.

So with the job done, Shedwyn was ready to do a few laps around the roller rink before scooting off home to put her feet up for the rest of the day, but the bonkers old bird got so inspired by CurveMotion's Charity Skateathon that she challenged herself to 50 laps, "Anything for charity", she said, knowing it would be a struggle to keep on her feet for even 25.

However, fifty laps later she was still going strong.

After a wobbly start, taking a tumble over a fallen-down child at lap 75, and peforming a spectacular forward-slide-and-knee-bounce herself during the 200th lap, our recycling bin champion knocked us off our chairs as she made it to 211 laps, the equivalent distance of a half-marathon!

The poor old girl couldn't walk for ages after she'd come off the rink and was soon caught napping when she should have been on binwatch.

211 laps eh!  Who'd have guessed that would happen this Sunday, rounding off National Zero Waste Week  with bruised knees.

So, could the moral of the story be that no matter what your goals, assumptions or expectations, Shedwyn has shown that it's possible to exceed these, even if obstacles and setbacks get in the way?  We just need to to keep setting our sights much higher and pushing ourselves just that little bit more whether that's about recycling, reducing waste or other ambitions (government and industry are you listening?)

Then again, as a friend suggested after Shedwyn's super-impressive tumble, perhaps the moral of the story is that she really should have worn kneepads! 

So, while the bespectacled roving reporter nurses her knees, I wish you a happy end to National Zero Waste Week. I hope it's been a great week for you.   Of course, if like me, you've enjoyed Shedwyn's expoits with the 1000 Bins Challenge, it would be fab if you could sponsor her for her charity skateathon today.  It would help her knees get better much more quickly and it's for a a brilliant cause too:  St Nicholas Hospice in Bury St Edmunds, which needs as much money as it can get to continue its great work.  You can find all you need at my Justgiving page or click the blue fundraiser badge at the top of the page.

So thank you all for your support this week and during the last three months's 1000 bins challenge.  It's been spectacular.  Here's to National Zero Waste Week 2011.  Special thanks go to Mrs Green at MyZeroWaste for organising it.  With another successful week over, who knows what will happen next year! Whatever happens, I bet your bottom dollar it will be exciting.


This post has been written in support of National Zero Waste Week 2011, which is hosted and organised by This year's theme is reducing waste away from home.  The photo competition for the 1000 Bins project, promoting "recycling on the go", ends at midnight today (11/9/2011).  See for details.  Huge thanks to CurveMotion for extending a very warm welcome to Shedwyn today.  More information about their Charity Skateathon and other events can be found at

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