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environment recycle reduce reuse

5 reasons why recycling isn’t the answer…

I bought a take out coffee at the weekend. I was manning a nappy info stall at a local nearly new sale, and had had the foresight to take my reusable coffee cup with me. I popped across the road to the well-known coffee outlet and ordered my coffee and handed over my cup. Unfortunately, my cup didn’t fit underneath their machine, so I watched in astonishment as the barista picked up a disposable cup to dispense my coffee and pour it into my reusable cup. I expressed my displeasure – why could she not have used one of their pot cups and put it in the washer? “Oh!” she said, “it’s OK, we recycle the paper cups!”

This attitude seems all pervasive. It seems that we don’t have to worry about what waste we produce because “oh well, it will be recycled.” People are even looking at ways to recycle disposable nappies as a way to remove the impetus to use cloth.

No. Recycling is at best third on the waste reduction pyramid. It comes after REDUCE and REUSE (but others would argue REPAIR and REPURPOSE need to go in there too). Here’s why:

  1. Recycling still uses huge amounts of energy and water. Admittedly, depending on what you are recycling, between 45% and 75% less energy then creating the product new, but still huge amounts of energy;
  2. Recycling doesn’t produce like for like quality. Whilst aluminium can be melted down and just made into more pop cans, most raw materials are acutally down cycled rather than recycled. Recycled glass tends to be slightly coloured and recycled plastic is at best discoloured and at worst is downcycled into something else such as infill for roads or “eco bricks”
  3. Recycling is cost inefficient and largely subsidised by local government (source Popular Mechanics );
  4. We do not have the capacity to deal with the amount of recycling we generate in this country and much is shipped overseas to countries such as Turkey, Malaysia and Poland which is a climate change problem (source The Guardian )
  5. Much of the waste we think we are recycling, may actually ending up in landfill either here or overseas. Recyclable waste that is dirty (or “contaminated”) cannot be recycled, so is diverted to land fill.

Now, obviously, I’m not telling you not to recycle. But don’t think of it as your first port of call when choosing whether something is good for the environment. Think first REDUCE (do I need it, do I already have something else that will do the job, can I borrow it?) then think REUSE (take a refillable bottle or coffee cup, reuse a carrier, use a cloth nappy, cloth san-pro) then, and only then, think can I recycle it.

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environment recycle reduce reuse

Why we need Zero Waste Week!

Zero Waste Week logoLast week there was a discussion on a local business forum about the best coffee maker to get for the office. Opinion was divided between various big brands of pod-based coffee machines. I took a deep breath and bravely suggested that none of these were ideal, as they all generated a huge amount single-use plastic waste. Well, you’d have thought I’d criticised someone’s choice of baby name, the reaction I got! It all boiled down to “why should we be challenged on the waste we create?!”

It was ironic that this conversation came just before Zero Waste Week. The point of Zero Waste Week is to encourage everyone to think about the amount of waste they create and think of ways in which they can reduce it, with an ultimate goal of not creating any waste at all. It is a challenge, and challenges are hard!

Sculpture made of WEEE waste
Sculpture made of WEEE waste at the Eden Project

The average UK household produces 1 tonne of waste a year, and alarmingly this amount is increased by 3% every year. We throw away twenty times more plastic than we did 50 years ago. The main reason for the increase is that convenience is prized far higher than sustainability. And yet, it estimated that Britain will run out of landfill in approximately 8 years.

So, this is the reason we DO need to be challenged about the waste we create. I don’t claim to be perfect, I am a long way from being Zero Waste, but I do think about the purchasing choices I make. The waste reduction scale starts with REFUSE, then REDUCE, then REUSE, then RECYCLE and finally landfill, and yet a lot of people think they are doing their best by recycling that which is collected kerb side.

I agree that some of our problems with waste are the cause of companies, who have things such as built in obsolesence, contracts that encourage further purchase etc and these need to be tackled by government and by campaigning, but that doesn’t completely absolve the individual of the need to take responsibility for the products they introduce into the supply chain. I’ve blogged before on easy ways to reduce your waste or even just your single use plastic, but it starts with thinking.

Thinking: “Do I REALLY need this?” “Do I have something else that can do the job?” “Can I source this second hand or borrow it from someone?” “How will I dispose of this when I have finished with it?” “What waste products does this product generate and how will I deal with them?” “How long do I expect to use this product for?” If we all did this, then the amount of waste we produce would reduce, and the land we have be kept for housing, for green spaces, for farming and forestry, not filled with 31 tonnes a year of consumer waste!

So, this Zero Waste Week, what steps are you planning on taking to reduce your waste?

 

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environment recycle reduce reuse

Waste Free Lent – Week 4

Copy of Copy of Waste Free Lent

Another week has gone by, and the lessons I have learnt again are that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I really do have to get more organised and remember to take food and drink with me when I go out! I have, however, got into the habit of taking a reusable cup with me everywhere I go and find most places are more than happy to use it. In fact, one place I got coffee from offered me a discount on my coffee for providing my own cup – win!

I’m not going to give you a day by day breakdown this week – last week was so manic I can barely remember what I did when, but I will share some wins and some dilemmas!

Wins: I had both a 40th birthday and Mother’s Day to negotiate this week, but didn’t do too badly on the waste production. For the 40th I bought a couple of knitting pattern books (the birthday girl is obsessed with knitting!) and put in a bottle of my home-made redcurrant gin. For my Mum, I bought a selection of posh tonic waters in glass bottles, and again put in a bottle of my home-made red currant gin. So very little waste. I then reused gift bags I had received for my own birthday a few weeks ago.

The bright spring days have highlighted that I have neglected cleaning my windows over winter! The reason for tIMG_20160304_150848his became clear when I tried to find some glass cleaner and discovered I didn’t have any. Now, in a perfect waste free world, I would use white vinegar and water to clean my windows, but I didn’t even have a spare spray bottle to use to do it. I did, however, have some old stock of Eco2Life spray bottles and refills from when I was a Wikaniko rep. Some were glass cleaners, so I opened one and used it. I was impressed and it smelt better than white vinegar too. I have added the rest to my website at a knock down price, in case you want to try them yourself!

Fails: I am really struggling with buying bananas and coffee. My local supermarket only does Fairtrade bananas in plastic bags. I could drive for half an hour to visit a Sainsbury’s, as ALL their bananas are Fairtrade, the loose ones, the value ones etc.. The only low plastic coffee I can find is also not Fairtrade (although I buy most of our coffee in bulk, the lids of the tins it comes in are still plastic). I am passionate about Fairtrade, I believe those that grow my food and drink should earn a fair wage and have access to education and healthcare. Any tips?

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environment recycle reduce reuse

Waste Free Lent Week 3

Copy of Waste Free Lent (1)Well, we are almost half way through, and I still feel an awfully long way from being waste free! Lots of people and blogs have given me tips, although a fellow waste warrior and mum and I both agreed there was a dearth of blogs written by parents of children, where all adults work outside the home. Lots of the tips seem to involve having the time to do your weekly shop in half a dozen different shops, whilst making pasta from scratch!

There have been some small breakthroughs this week though!

Monday : One of the reasons I am so bad at taking lunch with me when I’m out at work is the perceived amount of time it will take to make it. Monday, though, I was going to a meeting that required me to bring a dish to share. So Sunday evening I made a mixed salad. I knew one of the delegates was vegan, so wanted to take something she could eat. I shredded a red cabbage, finely chopped some celery and made carrot matchsticks with a julienne maker I’d bought thinking it was a potato peeler! I chucked in a handful of raisins and a handful of mixed nuts. Then I made some jam-jar vinaigrette, which I kept in the jam jar until lunchtime. The whole thing took less than 10 minutes and I’d made a tasty, filling and nutritious lunch that had the added advantage of using up some of the veg in the veg bag!

 

Tuesday : I’d made so much of the salad for Monday, that I had plenty left over for lunch today. It made me realise that I could make a big batch of salad at the start of the week and just add different protein and dressings as the week went on for variety. I also did some baking for a sling meet. I discovered I could get “baking fat” in foil blocks rather than plastic tubs, for less money than the marg I had been buying and with the added benefit of it being dairy-free so our milk allergic and vegan parents could have it to!

Wednesday : I realised that I am going to have to drink more tap water. Most of what I choose to drink comes in plastic bottles, and the glass bottled alternatives are a lot more expensive. In addition, we don’t have a milk man, so I have no choice but to get milk in plastic bottles. I can’t give up the milk in my coffee, but I have given up drinking it as a drink, and if I’m thirsty I have a glass of water rather than squash or juice. This will be better for my teeth as well as better for the environment. I do find water a bit bland though, so think I need to experiment with putting fruit in my water bottle.

Thursday : I failed. I was too chicken to use my reusable coffee cup when I got a drink at the park to keep warm! In large chain coffee shops I can ask no problem, as I know my cup is the right size for their medium coffees and as they sell reusable cups for this purpose, I know they don’t mind. This cafe though is a small family owned one and only do coffees in really small cups, I was worried they’d think I was trying to get more coffee than I’d paid for so didn’t ask! 

Friday : Another drinking cup fail. We went to the cinema, and ordering a drink is just a habit. I need to get out of the habit, but also get a reusable soda cup for when I do just fancy a cold drink out and about!

Saturday/Sunday : It was the middle child’s birthday party and I was trying to learn lessons from the plastic filled party her brother had had. We still had some party bags left from her brother’s party, but got foil covered lollies for the sweets, a slice of birthday cake in napkins left from another party. Then we made headbands from a craft kit as part of the party and they went in! I also didn’t buy plastic “party” tableware. Instead, I got my proper tea service out, with matching tea plates, cups and saucers. The kids thought they were having a real treat and the table looked fab, with no waste!

Waste free birthday tea

Categories
environment recycle reduce reuse

Waste Free Lent – Week 2

Copy of Waste Free LentIf I have learnt one thing over the last week of trying to live waste free is that I need to get more organised. Being caught on the hop makes for a very difficult time trying to find low waste solutions!

I am also compiling a list of things to buy when my self-imposed spending embargo is lifted. I still believe the best way to reduce my waste is to limit what I buy in general, and to that end I will wait until Lent is over to purchase anything. However, on my shopping list are: a metal razor (for years I’ve wondered how to get away from plastic razors, now I know!), wooden or bamboo toothbrushes, net bags for fruit and veg and a reusable soda cup!

Monday: I was feeling good about the fact that I was in the craft shop and ONLY bought what I needed for Messy Church (I am a craft supplies and stationary addict!). But, I was out longer than intended and had brought no food or drink with me. Luckily, I am a northern lass and managed a Greggs pasty and a tin of diet coke. All recyclable packaging. Hurrah!

Tuesday: I began to realise that habits are hard to break. I took the children out for the day and took a packed lunch, with crisps and cartons of juice. It did at least allow me to have a frank conversation with the children about waste and recycling. We sorted our waste into recyclable and not. The venue had paper and can recycling, and we opted to take our juice boxes home as our kerbside collection recycles tetrapack.

Wednesday: Chocolate bar wrappers and a plastic tray waste as we ate up one of our remaining selection boxes on the drive down to nana’s house. However, I am not feeling guilty about waste created by goods already purchased as waste in the house is still waste and we may as well use the products in the way they were intended!

I also made stock with the remains of the chicken. I have frozen it in icecube trays to replace the plastic intensive “stock pots” I use for slow cooking. Now I just need to work out how to make my own “flavour pots”.homemade stock pots

Thursday: Actually was a waste free day! We had a lovely day out and lunch at a friend’s house. She had made pasta sauce from leftovers and desert was home-made ice cream! A total treat and made me consider a bigger freezer and an icecream maker 😉

Friday: You can’t buy birthday cakes without plastic. I could have made one, but I wasn’t home, so was reliant on the supermarket.

Saturday: Once again fell foul of a badly planned packed lunch. Cakes in plastic packaging. Must do better.

Sunday: Was amazed in the supermarket – needed baking fat. I usually buy Stork and reuse the box, but found I could buy supermarket’s own in butter wrapping. However, I’m not sure “foil” as it is described is better as it is not recyclable. Can anyone tell me what it actually it is?

It’s getting better. Let’s see how much less waste I can produce next week!

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environment recycle reduce reuse

Waste Free Lent – Week 1

waste free lent blog week 1Just before the start of Lent, I read an interesting article inciting people to give up plastic instead of chocolate. As someone who both worries about the amount of waste I create, and preferring Lenten fasts to make me think, I gave it some serious consideration.

Then I looked around my house and went into blind panic. I read a few blogs on giving up plastic waste and panicked even more. It just seems so hard. I have so  many questions – like how do you wash your hair, let alone dye it, clean your teeth, buy meat, or pasta…

I still wanted to reduce my waste and really think about the waste I was producing though. So here is what I am going to do, post a new thing I did to reduce my waste each day of Lent (40 days if you don’t include Sundays).

So here we go:

Day 1: I hereby undertake to buy nothing new before the end of Lent. I decided this, then went for a meeting with a potential new volunteer in an out of town shopping centre. It was amazing how hard it was to walk past the special offers, and displays. Our whole society is based around encouraging us to buy more, consume more, create more waste.

Day 2: One of my bad waste habits is drinks when out and about. Whether it is coffee in a take out cup, or fizzy pop in a single use plastic bottle, drinking on the hoof is a potential waste minefield. I had already swapped to taking a reusable coffee cup out with me, but today took a sports bottle of squash too. Unfortunately, I also took my toddler, who drank quite a lot of the juice and by mid-afternoon we were both thirsty again. Most of the coffee shops in our town do coffee in washable mugs, but if you want a cold drink you have the choice of disposable cups or single use bottles. I opted for a hot drink to avoid the waste, but unfortunately had to buy a drink in a single use bottle for my son. Must do better next time!

Day 3 – was quite easy to not buy anything, I just didn’t go to the shops! However, I once again struck by how difficult it is to eat meat without producing plastic waste – the bacon at lunch time came wrapped in plastic and the meatballs for dinner were on a plastic tray. I clearly need to have a chat with my local butcher about me bringing my own bags to reuse. Vegetables are easier as I get most of my veg delivered from North East Organic Growers. Although it comes in plastic carrier bags, I send these back to be refilled, so no waste there!

Day 4 – this was a massive fail on the waste production front. My son was having a belated birthday party and I failed to plan for party bags in time. This meant buying plastic bags, and plastic wrapped sweets to put in the plastic bags. In an attempt to reduce the amount single use waste in the bag, the gift I included was a small metal Hot Wheels car. A discount shop had packs of 5 for £5, so not too expensive and more useful that your average party blower or plastic snake! The kids even played with them together at the party, so clearly a win. Unfortunately the pack was also wrapped in single use plastic. Must plan better for my daughter’s birthday in a couple of weeks.  Also did my weekly fruit shop – everything comes in plastic! Resolved to find a way to bring my own bags next week – even if they are reused plastic bags and maybe shop in the my local market rather than the supermarket. Finally I bought a chicken for Sunday dinner. On the whole I buy chicken to have a low food waste week – check out my four meal chicken here (although now my toddler is eating whole portions, it’s more like a 3 meal chicken!). The cashier tried to put the chicken, which was on a plastic tray and shrink wrapped in more plastic into a plastic bag (because the law says she can without charging!). I stopped her, and gave her a reusable plastic bag to put it in, separate to my other shopping!

That brings us to Sunday, and as traditionally Sunday is a day off the Lenten fast (if you count the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday you get 46 – so you take the 6 Sundays off). I shall pause for the week. I haven’t significantly reduced my waste this week, but I have 36 more days to go!

Tips on the following would be appreciated:

  1. How to buy meat without plastic?
  2. Eco party bag ideas?
  3. Drinking cold drinks out and about.

 

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Nappies recycle reduce reuse

Are cloth nappies really greener?

 

Grow Up Green (24 of 43)

 

I am frequently asked “are cloth nappies really better for the environment when you take into consideration all the energy you waste washing them?”

The short answer is “Yes, they are.”

A 2008 report by the Environment Agency found that if sensible approaches were taken to washing nappies, using reusable over disposable would reduce your carbon footprint by between 16 and 40%. You can read that report here

To obtain the 40% figure you need to wash at no higher than 60 degrees C, wash a full load (not necessarily of nappies, other items can be washed too) and pass nappies down to subsequent children or sell them on.

This figure only takes into consideration the manufacture and transportation of the nappies, it does not address the landfill issue. It is estimated that 400,000 tonnes of disposable nappies head to landfill each year (source: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-committees/science-technology/st1nappyalliance.pdf). This obviously causes carbon emmission issues as the nappies breakdown, uses up valuable land to fill with rubbish, causes transportation issues of carrying that amount of nappies to landfill and finally the problem of human excreta ending up in landfill where it might pollute aquifers (I address this final issue here). Most cloth nappy users will use their nappies for multiple children and/or pass or sell them on to others when they no longer need them, meaning one set of 24 cloth nappies may have diapered 3 or more children before ending up in landfill (or textile recycling!)

Finally, it does not take into consideration all the chemicals and raw materials used in the manufacture of disposable nappies. For example, one cup of crude oil goes into each disposable nappy, and at a time when we are rapidly approaching (or some might say have passed) the point of Peak Oil, where we are running out of this resource that has many other more useful purposes than to be peed and pooed on, it is a serious consideration.

So in summary, yes cloth nappies really are greener than most disposables – they have a smaller carbon footprint, less waste ending up in landfill and uses fewer of the earth precious resources. So go on, give them a try!

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Guest blog recycle reduce reuse

the case for ‘pre-loved’

A friend of mine has written a very interesting blog on the case for ‘pre-loved’. Give it a read and tell me what you think. She is writing from a Christian perspective, but even if you don’t like the religious language, I think her points have merit.

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recycle

The art of refilling…

I used to hate it when a bottle of hand soap or multipurpose cleaner ran out. Although the bottles are easy to recycle, the tops, the bits that pump the soap are not. I used to feel guilty everytime I put one in the bin, as I hate waste! I particularly hate plastic waste as it doesn’t biodegrade.

Then one day I had an epiphany. Refill the bottles! It wasn’t rocket science, quite obvious when you think about it, but there you have it.

My first foray was not overly successful. I ordered a refill bottle of my favourite multipurpose cleaner from my wholesaler. Only, I hadn’t read the description properly. Thinking I was ordering 5 litres of Ecover multi-surface cleaner, imagine my surprise when 15 litres turned up! Now imagine trying to tip a bottle big enough to hold 15 litres to pour one litre into my existing bottle. AND I had to order a special tap to do it.

I made a mess, and I have enough multipurpose cleaner to last a couple of years I think!

Imagine my relief then when I found these little bottles of cleaning product, add to an existing bottle and top up with water and you’re good to go. Eco2life are a greener choice in cleaning products for your home and available in multipurpose cleaner, floor cleaner, glass cleaner and bath and shower, you need never throw a cleaner bottle away again.bathroomrefilldisp_1(1)

My favourite find though is this Lavender and Geranium Handwash. Vegan, BUAV approved and paraben free, it is green and gorgeous smelling. You can buy a pump action bottle of it, but I just bought the refill. It came in a little pouch, with a sticker for you to put on the bottle you are using so you know what’s in it. It’s also available in Aloe and Tea Tree.lavenderhwbotdisp_1

 

So what about you? Do you refill, or just throw out?