Thursday, 28 April 2011

The Kids' Trashy Holiday Challenge

Seaside recycling bins at Barry Island.
 "We knew you'd take this photo" shouted my children in unison

I kept it all low key. I didn't go on about it.  There were no daily weigh-ins, no photos or any intrusive monitoring. I just planted a simple seed of a challenge, that was all, and observed the consequences that would come!

And the challenge I set my two children was to see who could create the LEAST amount of rubbish during the last week of the Easter holidays.

Of course, my youngest son - formerly known as the Bin Saboteur from the days when he'd throw banana skins in the recycling bin - remained true to his reputation and thought it would be much more fun to see who could create the MOST amount of rubbish.  However my instructions were clear..and it was noted that there would be a tenner in it for whoever could generate the least.  I know it wasn't necessary for a financial carrot to be dangled, but I was also experimenting with motivations and sadly it was only when some cash was mentioned, did the interest and excitement start to build. 

I soon realised that the last week of the holidays was probably not the best time for such a challenge, as I'd set my sights high and was hoping for at least one boy to attempt zero waste.  However, this is real life, and for them it also became a lesson in trying to dodge the rubbish that the world throws at you, especially with a long-distance train trip to Bristol and Wales, including a mini-excursion to the seaside too.  With a varied week of activities planned, naturally there would be many surprises.  What I hadn't planned for was that I would be one of the biggest culprits of them all.

It all started on Day One of the challenge, when ironically I'd been to a Zero Waste meeting in Ipswich.  On my way home, I picked up the children from Holiday Club to find quite a lot of tuna pasta left in my youngest's packed lunch.

When we started talking about it,  he told me that it was my fault for giving him too much food when he doesn't really eat that much.  He simply couldn't eat any more, despite lots of encouragement from the staff, so he left it and the container was then packed into his bag.

And do you know what, he really did have a point.  This conversation got me thinking about the amount of food he eats at home.  He has always had a smaller appetite than his brother, but at home he also has the luxury of choosing how much he wants to put on his plate and if there are leftovers, quite often they are covered for later or fed to the chickens.  With many solutions preventing this leftover food becoming bin waste, it's a topic that rarely gets brought to the table these days.

However, when sending him off with a packed lunch, my natural concern was that I didn't want him to go hungry, so I admit to packing him off with plenty!  It's very rare that the children have packed lunch as we rely so much on school dinners, but it certainly got me thinking about the challenge that many parents face when planning such meals and juggling the idea of waste.

Of course, the former "Defender of the Bins", his older brother, stepped into the role of the Jedi warrior very well, returning home with an empty container on each occasion, quite proudly stating that he was the least rubbish of the two.  His competitive streak was truly shining through.
By the end of the week, they had done pretty well.  Admittedly they ended up with the odd crisp packet as a result of my own weak moment, but I was really proud of them and impressed with their growing awareness of why it is important to continually drive down the amount of waste that's created.  They started to talk about environmental matters and the need to preserve resources and reduce energy.  I'm not a preachy mum at all and was pleased that this came from them, not me.

And the idea worked well in many ways...highlighted by the way they rejected a pack of their favourite sweets in the supermarket, telling me that they couldn't recycle the packaging.  I should add though, their next suggestion was to head for the sweet shop where they could come away with some "pick-and-mix" sweets in a paper bag.  The next day, whilst in Bristol, they also swapped their favourite ice-lollies for locally-produced ice-cream in a cone, not that they knew it was manufactured locally.  That was simply a very happy co-incidence. They even took an interest - allbeit a small 'we're used to this by now' - in the promenade recycling bin at the seaside resort of Barry Island.

And as for me.. forewarned is indeed fore-armed.  The boys will need a packed-lunch next week when the school hall is being used as a ballot station for Election Day.  So this time I'll get my 6 year old to choose exactly the amount of food he wants to take in with him and give him some responsibility on the only concern though, is that he'll forget about the lessons learned and with eyes bigger than his belly I'll be busy arguing him down!

Kids eh!  However, after such a successful week, which left them feeling good about themselves, the next experiment is to get them to keep a food diary and record how much of their own school dinners they waste.  I'm not sure when we'll kick that one off but I can't wait to see what they say. I might be in for a shock, so please do wish me luck and keep watching this space!

P.S. You'll be relieved to hear that no chocolate was wasted in the Cannard household over the holidays and all eggs came in just cardboard and foil and the only bonkers bit of rubbish created was the polystyrene cartons at a chippy in Barry Island...shocking!  Whatever happened to good old paper wrapping eh! 

Monday, 25 April 2011

The shed is declared open for International Downshifting Week

Well, whaddya know!  If there was one thing missing in my life it was the attendance of an official opening, but not to fret, that's now done and dusted as tonight my good friend, author and broadcaster Tracey Smith, arrived in town and officially opened my shed!

Many of you might already know Tracey as the author of The Book of Rubbish Ideas, but her other passion is downshifting and this week she's on a tour of the UK to promote International Downshifting Week, which she founded seven years ago to help people discover simple ways to achieve a better work-life balance.

The week runs from 23 - 29 April and throughout her tour, Tracey has been visiting villages, towns and cities right across the country to encourage folk to think about not only what they can do for themselves but also how to help share skills amongst their communities.  Tracey's community blanket project is a good example of this, where groups of friends have been gathering together this week to share their knowledge of knitting and create blankets that will be useful to vulnerable people during the winter months.

So after attending a "knit-in" in a friend's garden in the heart of Suffolk - where I was proud to have contributed a couple of rows (anyone who knows me will easily recognise what an achievement that is) - Tracey returned home with me to officially open The Shed!

And it's not just any old shed you know.  It really is my gateway to a better work-life balance, so it is appropriate that despite it being erected last summer, it's now received its official opening during International Downshifting Week.

It's the place where I organise my seeds, blog, listen to the radio, read, catch up with my friends and on the odd occasion watch TV through the magic of Wi-Fi.  It's also been a physical place of temporary refuge where I once locked myself out of the house and huddled under a few blankets with the kids and some market provisions until my husband arrived home a few hours later.   I even had my first live radio interview from the shed in recent weeks too...a feature about sheds on our local radio station no less.

As Tracey Smith said whilst "opening" the shed this evening,  "Every woman should have one.  Tis a space to be creative and expressive".  I couldn't agree more.

So, should you ever be pondering a new 4x4 for your commute to work, I would strongly suggest a 6x4 instead.  It might not have wheels, but it's sure got legs and can take your inspiration and creativity to new places, leading to new opportunities of which you'd never previously have dreamed...even if those legs belong to the spiders who live there!

And bunting is of course optional!

"The Shed", as featured on BBC Radio Suffolk's
  Mark Murphy's Breakfast Show

For inspiration on how you can get involved with International Downshifting Week, more information can be found at and if you are considering getting yourself a shed for either work or leisure-time, do check out for ideas.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Shhhh, you heard it here first

Well, bang goes my life as a random and loose cannon housewife in Suffolk.

I suppose it was a matter of time really.

Yes, I bring you the news that having wandered off the streets of London into yesterday's AGM for the Zero Waste Alliance UK, I found myself wandering back out again as a newly appointed member of the charity's board of directors.

Yes I know.  I'm still in a position of shock too.  There's one thing being random, but give the woman a strategy and goodness knows what'll happen.

However, I'm proud to be joining a board that has such a strong pedigree in the zero waste sector, whose membership includes individuals for whom I've had great respect and admiration since I first discovered their work and achievements several years ago.  My sincere thanks go to the members who invited me to join as well as to the rest of the board who supported the motion.

For those who aren't aware of the Zero Waste Alliance UK (ZWAUK), the organisation is an educational charity that actively promotes innovative resource management to help UK industries, societies and governments achieve realistic objectives for zero waste.   Established in 2002, it has a history of successes as well as key challenges under its belt and it is really exciting to have the chance to contribute towards new opportunities for the alliance to make its mark in drastically reducing the UK's waste output and how residual resources are managed.

I will of course keep you up-to-date with the work of the alliance during the months that follow, but for the moment I am just coming to terms with how I can contain my levels of randomness in light of such new responsibilities.

How exciting is that!

I look forward to sharing further news with you soon.  However, in the meantime, for more information about the work of the charity, please visit


Friday, 8 April 2011

Do me a favour, leave your plastic wrapping at the supermarket!

Don't fret, this old softie hasn't suddenly turned into an an all-guns-ablazing activist overnight but I have come across some good news that will help householders across the country quietly join the move towards a more active zero waste lifestyle.

Reported in this week's LetsRecycle bulletin is the news that the UK's key supermarkets (Asda; The Co-operative Group; WM Morrison; J Sainsbury’s; Tesco; and Waitrose) are officially accepting thin plastic film packaging through their existing in-store bag recycling facilities.

This won't be a new idea to some as several supermarkets have been doing this already, but it is welcome news that this recycling facility is now officially being rolled out at more than 4500 stores across the UK, providing customers with a place to leave packaging such as cereal bags, toilet roll packaging and multi-can wrappers.

What really struck me about the value of collecting back these materials was that according to LetsRecycle, this type of plastic makes up 43% of all plastic household packaging, weighing in at 645,000 tonnes each year.   Plastic bottles make up only 32%, or 480,000 tonnes, by comparison.  Wowsers!  It just goes to show how much there is knocking around this planet of hours and that's a lot of plastic that would otherwise go to waste if it is simply dumped in the rubbish bin.

Of course, much of this packaging can be reduced at source or reused at home (e.g. bread bags being repurposed as sandwich wrappers, and loo roll bags doubling up as bin bags), but much of it can now go back to the supermarket to be reprocessed.  To find out more information about this scheme and the on-pack recycling label that underpins it, visit Caelia Quinault's article at Supermarkets take back plastic film in-store.   Oh....and tell your friends.  Well there's no point in keeping news like this to ourselves is there.


Saturday, 2 April 2011

Mothers for other mothers: please help all you can this Mothers Day

Natasha Kaplinksy, one of the supporters of the Missing Midwives campaign

I really wish you could have been in the room with me yesterday.

I attended Save the Children's press conference for the launch of its Missing Midwives report, a report that highlights the discrepancies around the world in something so natural as childbirth and the deaths that occur, simply by not having the necessary healthcare or education available.

I know this subject is "off topic" for a blog that normally discusses waste, but poverty is another issue about which I am very passonate and I believe that in many ways the subjects are connected simply through the imbalances that exist between the wealth of developed countries and the poverty of the under-developed world.  Yesterday's event certainly highlighted these contrasts.

Just before the press conference started, I had an unexpected opportunity to interview broadcast journalist Natasha Kaplinksy, who is one of the high profile supporters adding their voice to the campaign.  I asked her to tell me more about the issues and what ordinary people like me can do.

Natasha began by introducing the most appalliing statistic that around the word 1000 women and 2000 babies die every single day, for what she describes as "for just the want of a bit of extra bit help".  She went on to highlight the fact that at birth, there exists the greatest contrast between the developed and under-developed world in that just 1% of women in the uk give birth alone compared to 94% in countries such as Ethiopia.  Perhaps the most startling statistic of all was that in Rwanda 400,000 babies born every year yet there are only 46 midwives across the whole country.  By contrast in the UK there are 26,825 working midwives helping to support 749,000 births per annum. Now that's a statistic that makes me feel lucky.

As a mother of  two children delivered safely by health professionals in the UK, of which one was a very long and complex birth, I can't even imagine what it must be like facing childbirth without any medical support.  However, having attended yesterday's conference, I can now see how something that is such a joyous occasion for many women and their families could easily be described as a death sentence for many more.  And experts such as the Royal College of Midwives' Frances Day-Stirk, are calling for action and education to make more midwives and healthcare professionals available worldwide and to tackle the Millennium Development Goals that are committed to reducing both child and maternal mortality

Frances Day-Stirk, Vice-President of the International Confederation of Midwives
and Director of Learning, Royal College of Midwives.
The message that came through yesterday, which was really loud and clear, was that the solutions that need to be put in place aren't complex and as a global society we can make a difference.

Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive of Save the Children UK said,

“We are calling on rich and poor country governments to put health workers at the heart of their plans. World leaders pledged to do just that last year, but now they need to deliver the funds and political will to support this pledge. Without it, mums and babies will continue to die needlessly every day.”

As I listened to the tales of those who had visited some of the countries that need help, I could understand how such action could make a real impact, whether it's training more midwives to help with births or providing mothers with home-birth kits that include something simple as a sterilised razor blade to cut their own umbilical chord without risk of infection.  Yes, many new mothers really have to do such a thing and a clean blade can make a huge difference to reducing the child and maternal mortality rates.
Justin Forsyth, CEO Save the Children, Natasha Kaplinsky, Dervla Kirwan and Midwife Suzanne 
describe their visits to affected countries that need better healthcare provision.

Returning to my initial interview with Natasha Kaplinksy, as our family puts in place arrangements to celebrate Mothers Day tomorrow, its her words that strike a real chord with how that fits into our global society. And that's "That we remember how lucky we are and that we can make a difference. We can all make a difference, by making small changes to our lives we can save other people's lives.  It's such a small thing they need."

She also added, "The statistics blur the reality because they are so huge, but if we think about helping one person at a time, that really does make a difference. We just need to remember that a mother in any of those countries loves their child as much as we do and every mother wants the best for their child".

And that's what really caught in my throat. I can't speak for anyone else, but when I see those awful images on TV, I just see tragic pictures of suffering that's so immense it seems beyond our control and so far away.  However if it were our friends or family that suffered the same lack of care, we'd be able to kick up much more of a fuss.

But I do feel optimistic that as individuals we can enable change and I'm saying this not to just readers from the UK but to visitors I know who come from across the world too.

Of course, Save the Children offices around the globe will always value any fundraising initiatives and donations that can support urgent causes like this, especially as for every £100 raised it means a midwife can be trained.  However, they would also value any part you can play in raising the issue with your own government representatives too. With the United Nations summit taking place this September, your voice can help world leaders to pledge their political will and the funds to go with it, raising the profile of this issue when it comes to money that might already be ringfenced for development aid.  Emailing your MP, Senator or whatever their official title may be, is a simple action that most of us can do, as well as sharing relevant links on Facebook and Twitter to spread awareness amongst our friends online.

But I've only been able to share a tiny glimpse here.  For more details, you really should take a look at the Save the Children website, where there is much more information about the Mothers for Other Mothers campaign as well as a full copy of the Missing Midwives report.

And to see the inspirational impact that Save the Children has, please do watch this video. In a world so large, investment in 350,000 midwives shouldn't be beyond our international capabilities, should it?


Missing Midwives is part of Save the Children's No Child Born to Die campaign.  Save the Children helps tackle child poverty in the UK and in over 120 other countries. More information about the charity's achievements and how you can support its work can be found at

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