Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Brilliance in Blogging Awards: Please vote for this waste-busting blogger.

I've just discovered the wonderful news that The Rubbish Diet has been shortlisted for the Brilliance in Blogging awards, which will be hosted by the BritMums Live event in June.

I'd firstly like to thank all the kind folk who nominated my blog. The news was a fabulous surprise, especially as over the last two months I've had my head firmly buried in other people's virtual bins.

Apparently there were over 12,000 nominations registered across many blogs, so I feel especially honoured to have made it to the top 20 blogs listed in the category of CHANGE.

The public vote has already commenced, and if The Rubbish Diet makes it to the final list, I will personally feel chuffed to bits, but more importantly, it will be a great opportunity to raise the profile of this blog and for bin-slimming habits to reach a wider audience and help embed the change that is needed to help reduce this country's waste footprint.

I felt too shy to ask for nominations, but today I am actually going to ask for your vote, as I would love the opportunity to raise awareness of waste reduction even wider within a blogging community that has already shown an appetite for such change.

Those who have followed the various campaigns that I have either instigated or promoted over the last four years, have done so with great enthusiasm.  From the early days of the recycling carnival, to Recycle Week, Zero Waste Week, Baglady's Living ASAP, the 1000 bin challenge and finally the Rubbish Diet Challenge 2012, there has been one heck of a lot of support from the parent blogging network.

I now want to capture that energy and make sure the waste-busting message amongst bloggers gathers even further momentum.  Reaching the finals of the awards would most definitely help me empower other bloggers to do more and my brain is already thinking about some exciting campaigns that could capture the imagination of such a creative community, which has an amazing ability to inspire its far reaching audiences.

So if you have a moment to spare, just a few minutes is all it takes, do pop along to the Voting Page and VOTE.

You'll find The Rubbish Diet listed in the third category down, nestled amongst all the other brilliant blogs that have been nominated for the CHANGE! award.  Quite rightly, it's going to be tough competition, so your vote really will count. And of course, do vote for others that have inspired you too.

I'm off there myself in a mo' to check out the other categories. Good luck to all the bloggers who have made the shortlists.  And to anyone who takes the time to vote for my blog, I'd like to say a HUGE THANK YOU!  Your support is very much appreciated.

To view all the categories and place your vote, please visit: Voting closes on 30 April 2012.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Monday Meeting: The final weigh-in for the Rubbish Diet Challenge 2012

Welcome to the last Monday Meeting for the Rubbish Diet Challenge 2012.

Last November I put a request on Twitter and Facebook to see if anyone fancied slimming their bins in 2012.  Amazingly eight people volunteered straight-away and at the end of January, when routines had settled back to normal after the festivities of Christmas, the Rubbish Diet Challenge began, featuring weekly Monday weigh-ins and mini-challenges throughout the course of eight weeks.

Eight households slimming their bins in just eight weeks, all living in different parts of the country, including one in the US, all with different routines, contrasting priorities, variations in local recycling collections and wide-ranging household sizes.

But this was not an experiment or a test of perseverance, with me standing over them all with my beady eye.  It was more a realistic timescale, that would give each household the freedom and flexibility to set their own waste reduction goals, and find out the information they needed to reduce their waste in the best way that suited their lifestyle.

For all participants, it involved finding out exactly what they could recycle at the kerbside and further afield in their locality and use the facilities to which they had access. For some it involved buying less or switching to reusable products and for others it also involved having a bash at home composting.

And everyone had a different starting point, including Ness, with her family of five, who had two full wheelie bins each fortnight (often accompanied by side bags), and Jax with her family of 6 (her baby was born in Wk 7), whose rubbish bin was always just a third to half-way full.

However, as others agreed, it didn't matter how little rubbish they thought they were throwing away, times change and services often improve, so each wanted to find out more. And it's great to see that in every household, at least a 50% reduction has been achieved, with some households achieving this in the first four weeks and others achieving much much more since.

While most participants were happily settled with their new slimmer bins, three households decided to take the finale Zero Waste challenge for Week 8 of the Rubbish Diet, with Suffolk's Kate & Terry-anna, and New York's Amy, pushing the limits to see how low they could go.

And my word, did they do brilliantly! Terry-anna's bag of landfill rubbish, pictured above, was only half the height of a sauce bottle and Kate's household only produced just two mug-sized bags. Amy over the States is also pleased with her attempt at the challenge, producing so little rubbish that there's not even enough to fill half a small carrier bag, and weighing no more than 1.4 kilogrammes.

But this challenge is not just about attempting a Zero Waste Week.  It's actually the build up to that, which is more important.  To quote Tim, who knew that he wouldn't be in a position to attempt a ZW week, "It's the habits I've acquired during the eight-week programme that'll make the difference".   And you can see the impact of this in his last blogpost about his experience.  Tim had started the challenge with a very full bin.

For many who have participated, even though the guided challenge has finished, their own discoveries towards waste reduction hasn't stopped.  Just as Donna, who slimmed her household's waste by 50%, said to me only last week, "It isn't over in 8 weeks - it's just begun!"

I think Ness, who orginally started with two full wheelie bins, would agree with that.  As I was leaving her house on Friday, after she'd been interviewed for BBC Radio Suffolk, she asked whether it needed to stop there and made it clear that she wants her Rubbish Diet to continue.  Well there is plenty of scope for that as well as having more laughs in the process.

I suppose introducing her to the Recycling Centre for the first time, bringing in a Master Composter to help her compost and poking around her mouldy fruit, have all been interesting ways to strengthen our friendship,  And it is unfortunate that she had a poorly dog, who sabotaged any attempts she had to slim that bin right down last week.  But moving forward, she is now volunteering to get rid of the second bin, which she no longer has a use for.  When she first embarked on the challenge, she was adamant she would keep it as a comfort blanket.  So I am quite sure this won't be the last you'll hear of Ness's Rubbish Diet.

But for now, it's time for me to hang up my virtual bin-diving gloves for the Rubbish Diet Challenge 2012 and take the opportunity to thank everyone who has taken part, including all the households that have let me follow their waste-busting adventures, as well as those who have been inspired to join in along the way.  Everyone has just been blimmin' brilliant and I'm also grateful to the Mark Murphy Show at BBC Radio Suffolk, which has followed the challenge from the very beginning.

The list below shows the starting points as well as the final week results (please note that this was not a competition and participants were able to chose their own description of monitoring, which suited them best.  Also some collections are fortnightly, so for those, the list also includes their latest fortnightly results as well as a separate final week's results). I'm still waiting for some of the final results to come in and these will be updated as soon as they are ready. In the meantime, do try and listen to the great interviews that were broadcast on BBC Radio Suffolk last week, with Kate & Ness.

Kate's interview: FF>> 1h42: available until Wednesday 
Ness's interview: FF>>2h38s: available until Friday

And again, huge congratulations and thanks to all involved, with results that range from 50% reduction to what I'd reckon is as much as 95%, I think now might be time to roll out the fanfare.

1.  Terry-anna.
Household: 2 adults, in Ipswich Borough, Suffolk. 
WK1 Weigh-in: 1.5 large bags, filling one third of a wheelie bin (fortnightly): Final fortnight: 1.5 very small bags that are dumpier than an HP sauce bottle.  Final Week:  a small bag that is only half the height of  the sauce bottle.

2.  Ness.  @NessyThompson
Household: 2 adults & 5 children, a rural village in Mid Suffolk
WK1 Weigh-in:  2 full wheelie bins (fortnightly). Final Fortnight: 1 full bin   Final Week: Just 1 bag of normal household waste, plus a rug and plastic from the family dog's unexpected illness.

3.  Donna.  @Donna_De
Household: 2 adults, in Tower Hamlets in London.
WK1 Weigh-in: 1 30L rubbish sack. (weekly).  Final Week: 1/2 30 rubbish sack, plus one-off polystyrene packing.

4. Amy. @AmyMarpman
Household: 2 adults in New York City.
WK1 Weigh-in: 2 bin bags - estimated 9kg / 20lbs. (Weekly) Final week: 1.4kg/3lbs

5: Kate. @BusinessPlumber
Household: 2 adults, in a rural village in Mid Suffolk :
WK1 Weigh-in: 1 unusually full wheelie bin - incl Christmas waste. (fortnightly) Final Fortnight: 1 small swing-bin bag:  Final Week: 2 very small bags, approximately the height of a coffee mug.

6: Jax. @LiveOtherwise
Household: 2 adults, 3 children & a baby, in Suffolk Coast.
WK1 Weigh-in: 7 small bin bags - filling one third or half of a wheelie bin (fortnightly). Final Fortnight: Approx 5 small  bags worth of rubbish, filling only half the bottom layer of the wheelie bin.  Final Week: 2 small bin bags and some bits of polystyrene.

Household: 2 adults, 2 children, Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire
WK 1 Weigh-in:  3 large bin bags, almost filling a whole wheelie bin. (weekly).  Final Week: half a bag.

8.Tim @Dotterel
Household: 2 adults, 3 children, Lincolnshire.
WK 1 Weigh-in: 1 full wheelie bin (fortnightly) Final Fortnight: 3 small bags, filling just the first layer of the bin with room to spare. Final Week:. 5 small bags.

Don't forget, just because the Rubbish Diet challenge 2012 is all over, it doesn't mean that you can't have a go in your own time. It can start whenever you like, just visit the online guide to catch up with everything you need to do and follow the weekly ideas.  And if you want to join in the conversation on Twitter just use the hashtag #therubbishdiet, or tweet @karencannard.  And do keep an eye on the blog over the next weeks, as I will be including an updated list of links and resources that will help you further in your waste-busting ventures.

Friday, 16 March 2012

It's reached Hong Kong: Tracking my mobile phone with O2Recycle.

Back in January, I did something I'd never done before.  I recycled my old battered mobile phone, working with O2Recycle to track it through their system.

Now, my phone was in a pretty poor condition when it left the UK.  The screen was scratched, the casing was broken and it needed a rubber band to stop the battery falling out.  And there was also the issue of it randomly rebooting itself.   Yet, after assessment, I still received £24 for it, which illustrates how valuable these devices are.

But I wasn't just interested in the cash, I was also interested in how the mobile phone recycling process worked, as well as keen to find out where it would end up.

It's taken a while due to the Chinese New Year and staff holidays, but finally the latest update came through this week.

My phone, a Nokia N97, was initially sent to O2's appointed recycling company, Redeem, which is based in Scotland.  There, it was assessed and categorised as a grade C, highlighting that it would need refurbishment to bring it up to the standard required to be sold onto a new owner.

Nokia phones are currently popular in the Far East so it was packaged up and despatched to the Hong Kong office.  Pictured above is the shipment that contained my phone, arriving in Hong Kong just a couple of weeks after I had handed it in. Deliveries are made every Monday, and upon arrival the phones are unpacked, checked and sorted into model type and condition.

They are then entered onto the company's inventory and are scanned, using the unique barcodes attached to the back of the phones.

When all phones have been scanned and added to the computer system, they are then laid out in plastic crates ready for auction.

Auctions are held every Wednesday and traders arrive from Hong Kong and mainland China to look for popular models that can be easily sold straight away or refurbished. Once they've browsed the stock and tested the phones, the traders fill out their bid sheets with the price they are willing to pay.  The process is very similar to a silent auction, where whey leave the sheets with the receptionist as they depart.

The bids are entered onto the computer and those who have placed the winning bid receive a SMS and return to collect their phones the following day.  The process is so streamlined that phones requiring no repair or refurbishment can be placed on the market within just a few weeks of being sent to Redeem.
I have now received confirmation that my old Nokia has been bought by a trader in Hong Kong, who specialises in refurbishing old phones before selling them at a small phone shop.  It will receive new housing and possibly other parts replaced before being boxed up with new accessories, such as a charger and earphones. It will then be sold onto a member of the public, which could either be a local resident or a tourist.

It still fascinates me that my useless old phone, which would have most likely ended up sitting in a drawer for years, is actually being put to good use over on the other side of the world.

I hope whoever buys it will get in touch.  However I am doubtful, as the Hong Kong office doesn't get that involved with the individual traders.  And although I included my contact details in an accompanying card, there's no guarantee that my message will be understood or not mislaid.

So maybe this is the end of the road as far as my curiosity is concerned.

If I ever get a random text message or email from its new owner I will let you know.

In the meantime, I am very much heartened by the tale that I read at the Little Green Blog, where Mrs Green was able to track her phone all the way to its new owner.  Do pop over and have a read, it really is heart-warming.


If you're interested in recycling your old phone for cash, there are many ways in which you can do it, but it you wish to use O2's service, you can recycle by post and fill your details online, or pop into a store near you.  You don't even need to be a customer.  More information is available at  O2 don't make any profit from this service.  All proceeds from their sales go to their charity Think Big, which supports community projects that help young people.   Other gadgets such as iPods, cameras and even routers can also be recycled, although these are not processed on a cash-back basis.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Slimming your waste at work: a Suffolk case-study

Regular visitors to this blog will be familiar with my passion for slimming down our rubbish at home, but I am also a sticky-beak when it comes to finding out what goes on behind closed doors in organisations across the country.

Inspired by my recent Smart Mums visit to British Gas, where I managed only a passing glimpse of their internal recycling activities, I was keen to find a smaller company closer to home that would allow me to have a poke about their own waste management facilities.  I really don't think I could have found a finer example of corporate recycling.

Music Sales is an international company which specialises in music copyright, printed music, book publishing and digital distribution. It also has 20 music shops that fall under the MusicRoom brand as well as 125 affiliated stores around the UK.

Rob Child, who manages the company's waste stream took me on a tour of their distribution centre, which is based in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

The first thing that struck me was the relevance of Rob's role within the business. Until fairly recently he was responsible for managing the procurement of packaging materials that are required for distribution.  It was only 18 months ago that a newly appointed Head of Distribution had the vision to expand his responsibilities to incorporate waste management.  

Waste is something that Music Sales cannot take lightly. The company distributes to the public as well as trade customers in over 100 countries and its online business provides access to over 250,000 products.  From a waste management perspective, this means a heck of a lot of packaging coming through its warehouse door.

The company's trade waste service is provided by St Edmundsbury Borough Council.  Until 18 months ago, much of the packaging waste was landfilled and Rob explained that when he took over the waste management role, the landfill skip was collected two or three times per week.

These days, their landfill skip is now only collected just once a fortnight and as a result, their waste management bill has dropped by two thirds.

That is a startling saving, which has been achieved simply by diverting recyclables out of landfill through easy in-house segregation.

The warehouse now separates cardboard, paper and plastic film, which are common materials that travel through its distribution facilities.  These are sorted by staff into the crates that are provided before being baled ready for collection.

When you consider that last year alone, 90 tonnes of paper were handled by the distribution centre as well as 10 tonnes of plastic packing, responsible procurement and recycling processes can make a huge contribution to the company's waste footprint.  Rob recognises this and since taking over the waste management role, his own procurement processes have led to a focus on packaging that contains recycled materials as well as products that can be more easily recycled.

But the company's waste reduction activities don't stop there. As well as core business recycling, Music Sales takes legal responsibility for its electronic waste.  Rob also encourages staff to use desktop recycling boxes and recycle their coffee machine cups and refillable Thermos flasks were provided to staff in the warehouse, which has helped to cut down even further on waste.  Dotted around the site are trade-waste equivalents of the wheelie bins that St Edmundsbury residents can find at home, which means that staff can also recycle aluminium cans and mixed plastics.

In just 18 months, the culture at Music Sales has totally changed and Rob is pleased with the fast turnaround.  A waste audit conducted by an independent company a year ago revealed that they were already achieving so much, they couldn't find any other way of improving their process.

Personally I think the transformation of the company's waste stream is a real success story and it would be great if it could inspire other businesses to follow suit.  Not only has the business seen a great financial saving from diverting recyclables from landfill, but Rob and his colleagues are also delighted with the contribution that the company is making regarding sustainability.

BritMums, Smarter Living & British Gas

Dana, from British Gas Smart Homes, demonstrating the Smart Meter handsets.

During the last couple of months I have been working with British Gas and BritMums as a Smart Mums ambassador, discussing ways to save energy in the home.  A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to visit the British Gas Headquarters in Staines, for a behind-the-scenes peek at some of the products that are already appearing in homes across the UK.

Moving forward from its traditional business as an energy provider, which historically has been dependent on creating energy from fossil fuels, British Gas is now also focusing on innovations that enable its customers to benefit from renewable energy and have better control of energy usage as well as modernising other aspects of their homes.

The initial focus of the visit was to take a look at the testing lab, where the company calibrates and tests the performance of the Smart Meters that are being installed into customers' homes.  Although they are not legally required until 2019, British Gas has already commenced upgrading properties and has installed over 400,000 units since 2010, offering customers more control over their energy consumption.

The mobile handsets, the latest version of which is pictured above, enable households to monitor their actual expenditure at any given time as well as forecasting the impact of their energy usage on future bills.  This means that customers can visualise the real savings from efforts to reduce their usage, e.g. turning down the heating, improving insulation, or even closing the curtains at dusk. For eco-geeks, the handset also translates the savings into CO2 measurements, so if you're on a carbon diet, the system will help you monitor your goals.

Of course much of this is already achieveable with energy monitors that you can buy off the shelf, but the advantage of a system that is wired into the energy supplier is that it provides such accurate information, that once it's installed and you've had your training session, you can finally wave goodbye to the inconvenience of estimated bills as well as visits from the meter reader.

The rest of the day was filled with introductions to technologies such as those that will allow customers to control their heating remotely, simply by logging onto the Internet or a mobile app.  Making good use of broadband and Wi-Fi technology, British Gas has also diversified into the home security market, with alarms that alert the customer directly if their home is experiencing a break-in or if there is threat of fire, a gas leak, a water leak or carbon monoxide risk. Customers can also configure the Safe & Secure monitoring system remotely and if there are any issues, they will be notified via a mobile update.

If there was a catchphrase that could sum up my day at the company's HQ, it would be "I didn't know British Gas did that!"  And on that very subject, I guess the one thing that appealed to me the most, was the company's investment in developing the Electric Vehicle (EV) market.

One of the key issues that is met by the current EV market, is the perceived limit on mileage. And yes, it can be daunting to think you can only achieve just over 100 miles between recharging.  However, while battery power is being improved and vehicle based technology becomes more efficient, British Gas is striving to develop facilities that will make charging more efficient and easier for EV customers.  This also includes the introduction of a new off-peak saver tariff, which reduces the price of electricity between 8pm-4pm, so it makes it cheaper to charge your vehicle overnight.

British Gas also sells and installs domestic EV chargers for off-road charging, but more interestingly, they are increasingly working with businesses to develop the roll-out of chargers in the workplace as well as public installations in towns and cities.  When combined with Solar PV technology, which can also be installed at a domestic level, it becomes a very exciting proposition indeed.

We were shown a video of Robert Llewellyn demonstrating his car and I confess I watched it with a real touch of envy.

And I must admit, having being driven back to the station in a Nissan LEAF, which was charged by the company's Solar PV unit in the HQ car park, I now want to convert.  However, until the prices of cars fall (despite £5K grants being available), I know I won't be able to.  A pity really, because with a car that's only done 14,000 miles in six years, I know an Electric Vehicle would do me just fine, especially with the thought of banishing the petrol station queue forever.

Of course, being a 'rubbish blogger', I couldn't visit any corporate headquarters without taking note of their waste reduction policies, and it was encouraging to see recycling bins dotted throughout the offices, for paper, plastics and cans, as well as batteries.  And all credit to British Gas, the company's recycling bins are accompanied by some of the best labelling and recycling instructions I've seen in a long time!


 I’m a British Gas Smart Mums Ambassador, working with BritMums and British Gas to highlight energy issues in the home.  This is a sponsored post.

British Gas will be at this year's Ideal Home Show, which takes place 16th March to 1st April.  Look out for their stand, where they will be demonstrating many of their new products in their Smarter Home display.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

A much needed Food Waste Bill

Kerry McCarthy MP, pictured 3rd from right, with parliamentary supporters, including Caroline Lucas MP and Zac Goldsmith MP.
Yesterday I had the honour of being invited to Westminster, to meet Kerry McCarthy MP and to hear more about the Food Waste Bill, which she is presenting to the House of Commons today.

In a nutshell, the Bill would significantly reduce the obscene amount of food wasted by supermarkets and manufacturers by increasing the donation of good food to charities for managed redistribution to those who are living in food poverty in the UK.

Voluntary food distribution does exist in the UK, but this bill would see a much wider implementation,  and Kerry McCarthy brings to government first-hand experience of how successfully a well managed operation can help the local community.  She is patron of FoodCycle, a charity which has a small number of hubs and cafes across the UK, which uses donated food to cater for those in need.  Kelvin Cheung, CEO of FoodCycle, shared with us his passion about the impact that a wider scheme could have on communities.

Tristram Stuart, campaigner and author of the shockingly revealing book Waste, was also in attendance to show his support and demonstrated clearly how what he referred to as an environmental liability could be so easily turned into something of value, prioritising food redistribution to people in the first instance or where appropriate, repurposing the food as animal feedstock.  He asserted that sending food for waste treatment should always be the last option.

Of course under current legislation, much of what was discussed yesterday would fill many manufacturers or retailers with dread, especially over the issue of liability.  It was evident that the solution is to implement models and a legal framework that overcome such problems.  Jim Larson, Program Director, of US based Food Donation Connection, demonstrated how his organisation has co-ordinated food redistribution since 1992, offering a service that helps the industry to identify which food can be donated, ensure it is safely packaged and labelled and properly chilled or frozen to meet the requirements of redistribution. Donor partners, which include well known names such as KFC and Pizza Hut, consequently receive tax reductions for the surplus food that is donated.

When you hear the success of schemes such as this, which offer obvious solutions to the industry's wasteful practices, it is hard to comprehend why we've accepted this amount of waste for so long.  And it is both obvious and urgent that a solution must be found for the UK.

The Food Waste Bill, which is being presented to Parliament today, will:

1. Place a legal obligation on large supermarkets and large manufacturers to donate a proportion of their surplus food for redistribution to charities, which redistribute it to individuals in food poverty. Food which is unfit for human consumption should be made available for livestock feed in preference to disposal.

2. Encourage and incentivise all other businesses and public bodies which generate food waste - from small food retailers to restaurants - to donate a great proportion of their surplus for redistribution. This would enshrine in law the waste hierarchy that will have to be implemented by all business and public bodies by 12-12-13 under the latest EU Waste Framework Directive.

3. Remove any (real or perceived) barriers to food donation. A UK version of 1996 US legislation, The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, is needed, which protects good faith donors and recipient agencies/foodbanks from civil and criminal liability, except in cases of gross negligence and/or intentional  misconduct.  It would apply to all potential food donors - including individuals, private companies, food retailers and manufacturers, caterers and restaurateurs

Hearing shocking statistics that 50% of edible and healthy food gets wasted across the EU, I have great hopes that today's reading will spur our own government into action and I urge you to encourage your local MP to support the bill and help change legislation.

This final week of The Rubbish Diet Challenge encourages you to look outside the home and become aware of the wider waste footprint.

And you certainly can't beat a touch of citizen-led enthusiasm to raise awareness of something so important as the food waste issue, whether it's asking your council to take the lead in analysing its own waste, contacting your local supermarket to highlight your concerns or inspiring your local school to embark on a food waste project.

And you know, this stuff is really not rocket science. It truly isn't.  While the decision-makers of our country embark on life-changing legislation, those who want to, really can inspire change at a local level too, illustrated by the latest food-waste research project that is being undertaken by the Eco Club at our local primary school, where members are weighing waste daily and looking at ways in which they can reduce their impact on the food waste mountain.

As well as hoping for good things at a national level, I am also clearly excited about seeing their findings and discussing the opportunities that arise.

Encouraging action being taken by our local primary school, as illustrated in its latest newsletter.

Kerry McCarthy is the MP for the Bristol East constituency.  The Food Waste Bill has already received cross-party support and will be presented after Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons on 14 March 2012.  For more information visit

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Madam, would you like a dash of rubbish with that? No thanks!

Thankfully, when eating out, I don't get asked that question.  It would put me right off my food.

However, if you take responsibility for your waste footprint, you really have to have your wits about you, to know that the drink you're consuming isn't going to result in the bottle ending up in landfill, along with any excess plate waste going to the dump.

Over the last few years, I've become increasingly aware of the sustainability practices of my favourite eateries and yes I confess that I am much happier to frequent those that take this subject seriously, much more than those that don't, even if their motivation for reducing waste is simply financially motivated.  At the end of the day, I want to ensure that wherever I spend my money, I am not leaving a waste trail behind me.

And one of my favourite haunts is the visitor restaurant at Ickworth House, a National Trust property close to Bury St Edmunds, where we often go for family walks. Being a member of the NT, I am aware that the national organisation has championed a range of sustainability projects over recent years, from energy conservation to allotmenteering.  Therefore it was of no surprise when I met with the building's premises manager last week, that catering waste was also high on the property's agenda.

Ickworth House takes recycling very seriously and already uses the local council's trade recycling services, which enables them to recycle mixed plastics and aluminium as well as paper.  Glass bottle recycling was introduced a couple of years ago along with separated cardboard.  In the last six-seven months the kitchen has also started to compost whatever food waste it can, saving an estimated £500 per year from trade waste costs.  The compost is used in the grounds, to feed the Italianate Garden and the next project on the horizon is a rocket composting system, which will also enable the property to manage any cooked food waste.

Admittedly, Ickworth House is privileged to have such facilities, but any catering business can take steps to reduce waste, whether it's buying into the local authority or private contractor recycling services, to divert cans, glass or plastic bottles or other packaging from its landfill waste bill.  Many services also now include the collection of food waste.  Depending on trade waste costs, these services should incur a saving and help increase profits. And if you're paying for a skip\bin collection service, a mini-compactor can help to reduce the number of collections.

Tackling catering waste is a major issue and one which brings many opportunities. The Sustainable Restaurant Association offers advice to the catering industry on how to reduce waste as well as improve other areas of sustainability, conducting audits and providing consultancy.  If businesses want to find independent solutions, they might want to consider reducing packaging at source, speaking to suppliers, or switching from single servings to refillable jars etc. 

For restaurants in London, signing up to the Too Good To Waste campaign and supporting customers who may want to take leftovers home with them is another way of reducing the food waste impact, as is, in some cases, reducing portion sizes. It would be great to have more of these campaigns rolled out regionally to raise awareness more locally.

Pubs and bars in the Soho area of London are also leading the way in reducing the number of plastic straws that go to waste.  Straw Wars is an independent campaign that encourages the community to think twice about single use disposable plastic and supporting establishments now only offer customers a straw if they really want one.  Again, this is a simple idea that could be adopted by towns and other cities across the UK.

Another idea that I've seen being introduced more locally in my own town, include cafes such as Saints in Bury St Edmunds giving away its coffee grounds for customers to take home for composting.  The Coffee House, in Moreton Hall, also encourages "take-away" customers to use the Keep Cup, which they sell onsite and give a 10% discount on every top up.

So during this finale week of The Rubbish Diet challenge, do keep your eyes peeled for examples of good practice while you are out and about.  Reducing waste might just begin in the home, but our waste footprint follows us wherever we are.

If you've spotted any great ideas being implemented, then do please share them in the comments box below.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Monday Meeting: The Rubbish Diet Challenge Wk 8, The finale

OK, down with the trumpet fanfare. It's too soon for that, but what a fine start to Week 8 of The Rubbish Diet challenge, with reports already coming in from some of our fabulous bin slimmers about how little rubbish has been created last week. Terry-Anna's rubbish bag is so small, it's dumpier than a HP sauce bottle and you can fit it into the palm of your hand.  As for Tim's rubbish, there's much excitement that for the first time throughout the challenge, it's possible to see the bottom of his bin.

This is indeed the last week of the challenge, the finale week that comes with an extra mission, which should they choose to accept it, will give our volunteers the opportunity to attempt a Zero Waste Week.  That's going one whole week, trying to create no rubbish at all.  Of course they can recycle, reuse and compost what they can.  It's what ends up in their rubbish bin that counts.

Zero waste is naturally the ideal, but for this week, it is just a goal.  This week is really about just going that extra mile to see how low you can go, reinforcing all that has been learned during the previous weeks and heightening awareness of your impact on waste outside the home.   For those who attempt the challenge, some will find it easier than others, due to better recycling facilities, size of household, or better control over daily routines.

So are you up for a zero waste challenge? If so, then read on.

The first thing to remember before attempting a Zero Waste challenge is not to be afraid of failure if you don't reach it.  The second is that it is only a week, a week where you might choose to change your habits to experience the impact, but it doesn't mean that you are setting your expectations for a lifetime. And finally, even if a week seems too long, don't be put off.  Try a Zero Waste Day if it feels less scary.  Most of all, do try and make the week fun, looking for more ways where you can save money along the way.

More information about attempting a Zero Waste Week can be found in the online guide that accompanies the Rubbish Diet blog and this final week.  Also, the following mini-challenges will set you off on the right foot.

1. Agree who is taking part in the Zero Waste challenge? Is it just you, or your whole household? If it's the household, write out a list of reminders about what can be recycled & composted as well as a list of things that can't.

2. Even if you can compost\recycle your foodwaste, try to keep it low.  Follow advice at to find out more about storage, portion sizes and leftovers. If you often have fruit going to waste at the end of the week, try to buy less this week, store it in the fridge or use it up before it goes mouldy.  If certain foods regularly go to waste, this could be the week that you decide to buy them less frequently.

3. Avoid rubbish whilst out and about. Even if you've got rubbish under control at home, as soon as you step outdoors, society almost throws it at you, from plastic straws in bars, to single servings of condiments.  Possibly one of the biggest culprits are those disposable cups.  Even some of those hot cotton handwipes, given out at the end of an Indian meal, could count as rubbish, as many restaurants buy them as cheap disposables.  And don't assume that the bottle left over from your favourite tipple will get recycled by your favourite cafe, bar or restaurant. Although it's getting better it still depends very much on the establishment's attitude to recycling and the way in which it manages its waste stream.  However, a few tricks up your sleeve will boost your rubbish-busting defences, such as a portable reusable cup, pre-empting rubbish by refusing it, asking the right questions and keeping your eyes peeled for on-street recycling bins that help you recycle on the go.

4. Ask for a doggy bag.  We've all been there, having a great meal at a restaurant but too full to finish what's on the plate.  If you''ve enjoyed it, don't look a gifthorse in the mouth! Ask for a doggy bag and take it home for finishing later.  Trust me, this is a trend that is no longer frowned upon by the catering industry.  I'd bet they'd even take it as a compliment.  In fact, many restaurants are now positively encouraging you to repeat your enjoyment at home, in order to reduce the problem of food waste.  If you don't believe me, take a look at the Too Good to Waste campaign, which has been launched by the Sustainable Restaurant Association.  There are even tips to avoid food waste in the first place, by ordering smaller portions or juggling the menu options to match your appetite.

5. Don't give rubbish to others.  Until now, The Rubbish Diet challenge has focused on how to reduce rubbish at home.  However, this week's Zero Waste Week is also a good opportunity to think about how much rubbish we give to others, especially when buying presents.  Remember, when choosing gifts, much of the plastic used in packaging still can't be recycled by many of the councils across the UK, so try to avoid it where possible.  At least the great news with the forthcoming Easter celebrations is that many chocolate eggs now come without plastic packaging.  Of course another tricky area when it comes to gifting is giving unwanted presents, so it is always wise to check, even if you'd prefer the idea of a surprise.  And remember, if you give plastic gift cards to help the recipient choose what they'd like, these are not widely recycled either, despite their great abundance.

So, I hope that helps you kick-start the final week of The Rubbish Diet challenge.  In just seven days it will soon be over.  Throughout the next week, I will be updating the blog with stories about people and organisations who are doing some great things to reduce their contribution to our country's waste mountain. So do drop back for the latest update and if you've spotted something too, please do share.

In the meantime, let's catch up with some of our volunteers who have been reducing their rubbish on the home-front.  Results will be updated as they come in and I can't wait to see how they get on this week.

1.  Terry-Anna.
Household: 2 adults, in Ipswich Borough, Suffolk. 
WK1 Weigh-in: 1.5 large bags, filling one third of a wheelie bin (fortnightly):  WK 8:  a small bag that can fit into the palm of your hand.

2.  Ness.  @NessyThompson
Household: 2 adults & 5 children, a rural village in Mid Suffolk
WK1 Weigh-in:  2 full wheelie bins (fortnightly).  WK 8: 1 bin, just over half-full.

3.  Donna.  @Donna_De
Household: 2 adults, in Tower Hamlets in London.
WK1 Weigh-in: 1 30L rubbish sack. (weekly).  WK 8: 1/2 30 rubbish sack

4. Amy. @AmyMarpman
Household: 2 adults in New York City.
WK1 Weigh-in: 2 bin bags - estimated 9kg / 20lbs. (Weekly) WK 8: 5.5kg /12 lbs

5: Kate. @BusinessPlumber
Household: 2 adults, in a rural village in Mid Suffolk :
WK1 Weigh-in: 1 unusually full wheelie bin - incl Christmas waste. (fortnightly): WK 8:1 small bag

6: Jax. @LiveOtherwise
Household: 2 adults, 3 children & a baby, in Suffolk Coast.
WK1 Weigh-in: 7 small bin bags - filling one third or half of a wheelie bin (fortnightly). WK8

Household: 2 adults, 2 children, Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire
WK 1 Weigh-in:  3 large bin bags, almost filling a whole wheelie bin. (weekly).  WK 8

8.Tim @Dotterel
Household: 2 adults, 3 children, Lincolnshire.
WK 1 Weigh-in: 1 full wheelie bin (fortnightly). WK8:. 3 small bags, so little you can see the bottom of the bin.

Don't forget, just because the Rubbish Diet challenge is already in WK 8, the finale week, it doesn't mean that you can't join in.  Just visit the online guide to catch up with everything you need to do.  There's also lots happening on Twitter too, so to join in the conversation just use the hashtag #therubbishdiet, or tweet @karencannard.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Rubbish Diet, Wk 7: Saturday catchup. Composting, radio & packaging protest

"Gee, I never guessed it would be as big as that!" were the words utttered by Rubbish Dieter Ness, as she collected her compost bin this week and tried to squeeze it into the boot of her car.

I did my best to reassure her that when placed in situ, it really would look considerably smaller.

Ness has never composted before, but since the start of her Rubbish Diet, she's been keen to give it a go and on hearing this news, Suffolk County Council were delighted to support the project by providing one of the 'dalek' style bins, similar to the ones I've been using for years. Earlier this week, we went to collect it from my local council in Bury St Edmunds and pictured with Ness, is Mike Culver, our borough's recycling officer.

Although I was able to give Ness advice on what she can compost at home and point her in the direction of more information on the Internet, I knew that could never beat introducing her to one of our local experts.  So I arranged for Paul Turner, one of our county's master composters, to visit and share his knowledge directly.  Paul is a full time fire officer, but also a keen gardener and allotment owner, and volunteers his time to the Garden Organic's master composting scheme.

Paul was able to advise on where best to site the compost bin and suggested a sunny spot, where it could rest directly on soil so that it would attract sufficient worms to help break down its contents.  Also, it's fairly close to the kitchen, which means that it will be easily accessible. By the time I arrived, Ness had already started filling the bin with the 'green' kitchen waste that would otherwise have gone into the landfill bin, and Paul was explaining the need to mix in other 'brown' compostables from around the home, such as paper and card.  Other top tips included adding nettles or comfrey, which act as accelerators. thus speeding up the composting process. He also suggested picking up spent coffee grounds from some of the coffee houses around town.

With the Zero Waste challenge next week, which marks Week 8, the final week of The Rubbish Diet, having a composter in place will help tremendously and I reckon Ness will see some great results.

And it's not just Ness who's been thinking about composting this week.  Elsewhere, our New York bin slimmer Amy is getting ready to start using her new backyard composter and Jo, aka Rubbish Geek, who is also voluntarily embarking on the challenge, is in the process of filling her new bins, whilst trying to prevent them blowing over in the wind because there's not much in them yet.

In other news this week, whilst I've been out and about visiting local businesses to see how they reduce waste (more on that next week), Jax, one of the Rubbish Dieters from the Suffolk Coastal area, was interviewed on BBC Radio Suffolk and was a real inspiration in the way she spoke about her passion for reducing her family's waste footprint.  You can catch the interview on The Mark Murphy Show, which was broadcast on Thursday, only four days after the delivery of her new baby boy.  Find it here on Listen Again, where you'll need to fast forward to 2hrs 4mins. There is also more information on her blog at Live Otherwise.

Now, if that's not enough to get on with, then check this out.  Blogger and Tweeter 8CW is calling upon shoppers to be brave and leave any excess packaging at the shops today, declaring 10 March 2012 Tweeps against Packaging Day.  So if you're feeling a bit rebellious and want to join in, today's the day to strip off any excess unwanted material at the till. Packaging only of course.  After all, you wouldn't want to get yourself arrested.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Climate Week: 12-18 March and my Twitter interview #CWCuisine

 Climate Week on Twitter

Next week is Climate Week, Britain's biggest climate change campaign, which is raising awareness of the small changes we can make in working towards a more sustainable future.  I'm proud that Week 8, the finale week of The Rubbish Diet challenge will be running alongside it.

Reducing waste is a key step to living more sustainably, bringing benefits from energy saved through recycling as well as preventing embedded resources being wasted across the whole of the production and supply chain.  That especially applies to food and this will be something close to the hearts of those who are attempting the Zero Waste challenge for next week's Rubbish Diet finale.

It's great that one of the initiatives organised by this year's Climate Week campaign is Eat Low Carbon, encouraging consumers to reduce food waste, by shopping more carefully and using up leftovers, as well as other more sustainable options such as eating less meat & dairy and choosing local and season food.

I was invited by Climate Week to participate in a Twitter interview, ahead of their campaign, about my thoughts on food waste.  Here's a copy of the interview from this morning.  #CWCuisine is the hashtag used to help track discussions about Climate Week Cuisine.

Climate_Week: How did the Rubbish Diet project begin?

In 2008 I took the Zero Waste challenge.I was shocked how much food waste & other resources I’d junked

Climate_Week: I see... So what made u get interested in campaigning abt ? Why is it important to reduce our food waste?

Firstly, reducing food waste lowers the impact of methane, a GHG released from food left rotting in landfill.

Reducing food waste also reduces the embedded water & energy from farming, production, packaging & transport.

For example, according to , 2,400 litres of water are needed to produce just one burger.

Climate_Week: Wow "2400 ltrs of water for 1 burger!" Those are some powerful stats! What easy tips do u have for reducing waste?

Keep a food waste diary.Don’t buy things that regularly get thrown away & freeze unused food before use-by date

Avoid plate waste by reducing portions. Let ppl help themselves & follow ’s doggy bag campaign

Climate_Week: Those are some powerful & EASY tips. What do u think the government can do to encourage ppl to cut back on waste?

Local government is doing a great job with the campaign but more could be done via schools.  

The is leading a Food Waste Heroes campaign & this should be adopted by every UK school.  

Climate_Week: So motivate & mobilise the public much as possible then. Does reducing your food waste have any economic benefits?

Absolutely, the story about my accidental ornamental melons shows how I saved £300 alone.  

And on average, households could save around £50 a month by reducing food waste  

Climate_Week: So we can all save a pretty penny then! What’s ur favourite recipe from the website & why?

Oooh it has to be the Turkish Roasted Veg from ’s Phil Vickery. Great for spicing up British veg  

Climate_Week: has given our EatLowCarbon action some great recipes for using up leftovers.Do u know of any other such rec sites?

My favourite sites are ’s monthly challenge, and

I hope you enjoyed the interview and the challenge of me trying to squeeze my usual verbosity into 140 character answers.  It was fun.
More information about Climate Week can be found at There are some great recipes in the Eat Low Carbon section, including a competition to register your own.  Live updates about the week can also be found by following @Climate_Week.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Monday Meeting: The Rubbish Diet Challenge Wk 7

Well, here we are, the penultimate week of The Rubbish Diet Challenge.

Over the last six weeks, our bin-slimming volunteers have got to grips with local recycling, looked for ways of avoiding waste whilst out shopping and have focused on habits and areas around the home where certain rubbish can now be banished for good. And this is the last week before they are ready do tackle their zero waste challenge.

This week's focus is on decluttering and getting prepared for those risky moments when in the midst of a clear-out, impatience can easily take over and stuff ends up in the rubbish bin.  But with a little forethought, a dose of patience and extra knowledge, that bin full of stuff for landfill can be easily avoided.

So, if you're able to invest just a few hours sorting out your stuff this week, and fancy a spot of decluttering - even if it is just one drawer - roll up your sleeves and read on.

Of course the motto when it comes to decluttering is "Be Prepared".  Even if it's a small clearout, you need to have an action plan of what you're going to do with your stuff.  If you don't, your patience will soon crack.  Try these mini-challenges below and for more background information, check out the online guide for Week 7, The Big Declutter.

1. Think about things that are currently decluttering your home and mentally organise them into different categories, e.g. things that you are going to give to a charity shop;  Items that can be given away via sites such as Freecycle; Items that you wish to sell; Consumables that should be recycled; Things you regularly use, but need to put back in place; Goodies that you can’t bear to part with and stuff that needs repairing.  Now start putting an action plan in place. First allocate a time in your diary for taking to the charity shop, recycling centre, or organising selling or repairs. Make it imminent.  Then, find some empty boxes or bags and start collating your unwanted clutter.

2. Don't tackle it all in one go, start with a mini-treasure hunt.  Allocate just a couple of hours and immerse yourself in a clutter hotspot, guiding your actions by the categories that you've allocated.

3. Think about repair or reuse first. If something is broken or in tatty condition, think about how it can be repaired or reused before even pondering replacing it. Even if you don't want the responsibility yourself, pass it on via groups such as Freecycle instead of recycling it.  Hopefully the Self-Repair Manifesto at will provide extra inspiration. I love their manifesto poster, which applies to all sorts of material goods and the site offers great advice for dealing with electronics in particular.

4. Decluttering lots of paper? Of course, old magazines can be distributed to other people before they end up in the recycling bin, e.g. friends, schools, community & craft groups.  If you find yourself needing to recycle a lot of paper, please spare a thought for you and your bin crew and spread it out across a number of collections, as a recycling bin that's full of paper is very heavy.

5.Think about ways of reducing future clutter. There are all sorts of ways of reducing that clutter, from avoiding impulse purchases, to focusing on how to keep unwanted things out of your home.  Thanks to faster broadband and digital technology, downloads and streaming facilities are replacing physical collections that are traditionally associated with multi-media, so books, music and movies are typical things that can be streamlined in the future.  Also, do you find you and your friends or family are constantly swapping gifts that you don't want?  There are many ways of addressing gifting that can help reduce the amount of future clutter, e.g. asking for membership, cinema tickets, or experiences instead.  Reducing the amount of stuff that comes into our homes will not just help you in your mission to declutter, but it will help minimise the world's material resources and the waste associated with production.  If you've got a spare 20 minutes, take a peek at the popular video The Story of Stuff, by Annie Leonard.

So how have the Rubbish Diet 8 been getting on recently?  The great news is they've been keeping that rubbish weight down, but the big announcement this week is that Jax from Suffolk has got a different type of weigh-in on her mind today, with the arrival of her new baby boy only this morning.  That's far more exciting than thinking about rubbish and I'd like to take the opportunity to wish her and her family huge congratulations on their new arrival. 

As for everyone else, their regular weigh-ins are starting to come in and their WK 7 results will be updated as they are received, while they get prepared for next week's Zero Waste challenge.  If you'd like to join in the challenge, take a look at the online guide to find out what you'll be letting yourself in for.

1.  Terry-Anna.
Household: 2 adults, in Ipswich Borough, Suffolk. 
WK1 Weigh-in: 1.5 large bags, filling one third of a wheelie bin (fortnightly):  WK 7: less than half a small bag.

2.  Ness.  @NessyThompson
Household: 2 adults & 5 children, a rural village in Mid Suffolk
WK1 Weigh-in:  2 full wheelie bins (fortnightly).  WK 7: 1 wheelie bin

3.  Donna.  @Donna_De
Household: 2 adults, in Tower Hamlets in London.
WK1 Weigh-in: 1 30L rubbish sack. (weekly).  WK 7:  1 30L rubbish sack

4. Amy. @AmyMarpman
Household: 2 adults in New York City.
WK1 Weigh-in: 2 bin bags - estimated 9kg / 20lbs. (Weekly) WK 7: 2.3kg/5lbs

5: Kate. @BusinessPlumber
Household: 2 adults, in a rural village in Mid Suffolk :
WK1 Weigh-in: 1 unusually full wheelie bin - incl Christmas waste. (fortnightly): WK 7: 1 & 3/4 small kitchen bags.

6: Jax. @LiveOtherwise
Household: 2 adults, 3 children & a baby, in Suffolk Coast.
WK1 Weigh-in: 7 small bin bags - filling one third or half of a wheelie bin (fortnightly). WK7: Still only a third full after 3 three weeks.

Household: 2 adults, 2 children, Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire
WK 1 Weigh-in:  3 large bin bags, almost filling a whole wheelie bin. (weekly).  WK 7

8.Tim @Dotterel
Household: 2 adults, 3 children, Lincolnshire.
WK 1 Weigh-in: 1 full wheelie bin (fortnightly). WK7:. 7 small bags. Wheelie bin estimated 1/3 full.

Don't forget, just because the Rubbish Diet challenge is already in WK 7, it doesn't mean that you can't join in.  Just visit the online guide to catch up with everything you need to do.  There's also lots happening on Twitter too, so to join in the conversation just use the hashtag #therubbishdiet, or tweet @karencannard.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The Rubbish Diet. - Saturday catchup - pondering communications

I've spent much of this week thinking about recycling communications. In theory it should be a simple process, but in reality it can be filled with great complexities as well as unintentional ambiguity.

Take our latest council leaflet for instance.  I was delighted to discover a copy in my youngest son's book bag, which had been distributed through his primary school.  Not only was this a great way of reaching local families, but it's the first time I've seen a visual representation of what can go in our kerbside recycling bin.

Personally, I think this is a much better method of communication, because there is less onus on the resident to interpret and second-guess what would otherwise be a sheet full of lengthy descriptions and instructions.

However, even when photos are used as illustrations, there is risk of ambiguity, often brought about by what's missing.  For example, in our borough, like much of the UK, we can recycle detergent bottles and shampoo bottles, but the photo used in the leaflet only shows drinks bottles and a clear washing up liquid bottle. I can now imagine the conversations over the bins, with residents pondering if they can recycling their bottles of Domestos or Head & Shoulders, because they don't match the bottles in the picture.

Plastics is probably the hardest area of recycling about which to communicate to households. Only last week, someone else I know reported back on a very confusing email conversation she'd had with her council over the types of plastics she could recycle. She wanted to know which polymer numbers, she could add, but like most local authorities, the council spoke of the categories of containers they could accept.

And I empathise with both sides. For example, many councils are still restricted in their recycling by the type of packaging.  They may be able to collect plastic drinks bottles (made from polymer type 1 - PET)  but it doesn't mean they can also collect fruit punnets or meat trays made from the same material (due to limitations on sorting technologies that are programmed to only capture materials in a bottle shape).  Consequently for such a council to tell a resident that they can accept Type 1 plastics would be wrong.

And if a council can't take yoghurt pots, there'll be no room for argument, no matter whether such a restriction is due to the polymer used or the shape of the packaging, 

However many residents do hanker after more information and I think there is scope for councils to use polymer numbers in communications to reduce householder ambiguity where it helps, even if this is restricted to their website, where there is greater opportunity to outline more detailed information about their local recycling policy.  After all, the packaging industry marks its goods with a polymer number, and if that information can be used in the right way, it would help many residents better understand the recycling opportunities as well as the restrictions that are in place.

At the moment, the only other information that a householder has to rely on is the On-Pack Recycling Label, which despite being a great call-to-action, doesn't respond to the amibiguity issue at all.  Shoppers still have to rely on local authority communications to know what can actually be recycled in their bins and further afield at their Household Waste Recycling Centre.

It really does illiustrate that even at a local level, residents have different information requirements and the whole nature of recycling communications needs to be tackled in the same way as any other marketing campaign, through market segmentation and targeted messages to reach different levels of interest, commitment and understanding.

And on that note, wouldn't it be great if each local council could release its own online guide, to advise residents on how best to aim for Zero Waste or get as close as possible with the facilities available.  But that takes communication to a whole different level, moving from information to motivation.

And developing motivation techniques is a whole different area indeed.

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