Please note that many of these articles were originally written for the old GB Wildlife site in between 2008 – 2010 and organisations may have changed since then.
Eco-Living – Reduce and Recycle
Over the next month and a bit our aim is to drastically cut the amount of waste we send to landfill. Over 170 million tonnes of waste from homes and businesses in England and Wales alone ends up in landfill sites. As the rubbish breaks down it releases toxins, including methane that contributes to climate change. As well as the visual pollution and unpleasant smells landfill can cause pest problems and increase traffic in surrounding areas.
In Britain the average household throws away more than 1 tonne of rubbish every year which adds up to over 31 million tonnes of household waste. Included in this waste it is estimated that each family throws away on average £250 to £400 of potentially edible food.
Of all the waste that goes to landfill it is thought that 80% of it could have been recycled. Britain has the worst recycle rate in Europe with only 27% of the total being recycled. Other countries in Europe have a much better record with Switzerland, Netherlands and Germany’s rate being around the 60% mark.
There are two ways in which to cut the amount of waste going to landfill. Reducing and recycling. It is important to consider how to reduce waste as much as possible first. Although a greener approach than landfills, recycling still requires energy and can contribute to climate change.
How Much Waste Does My Family Produce
On an average week we leave two large bin liners of rubbish to go to landfill. In order to see how we produce this much waste I have been keeping track of what gets put in our bin. Although not a pleasant job it was necessary in order to help us see where the problems lie.
The photograph shows how much waste is generated after our weekly shop. As you can see most of it is plastic which will take hundreds of years to breakdown in landfill.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Jack goes to nursery but this week we have changed 16 nappies at home, all of which have been put in the bin along with the baby wipes. Then there is the ‘other’ shopping. The naughty foods bought once Jack has gone to bed, including 2 x 2 litre bottles of soft drink, 6 soft drink cans, 2 pizza boxes, Chinese take-away containers including 2 plastic bags. There was also a substantial amount of vegetable peelings, scrap food and used kitchen roll.
How To Reduce Our Waste
1) Reducing packaging waste from supermarkets
Nearly all the food bought from supermarkets comes in some form of packaging. Even the fruit and vegetables either come pre-wrapped or in order to make it easier to weigh and transport we put them in those handy plastic bags. As shown by the photograph this waste is a huge contributor to the amount we send to landfills and so needs to be reduced as much as possible.
Having searched the internet, it is possible to get re-usable bags to take to the supermarket that do not affect the weight of the goods. I’m sure that there are different types out there but I have purchased the Onya ‘Weigh’ bags. Five come in a tiny pouch that can be clipped onto a larger handbag or belt loop. They are strong (can hold over 2 kilos) and don’t cause fruit and veg to sweat. Another great alternative to the supermarket bags is to use one of the many companies that deliver food to your door. This is particularly useful if you like to buy organic fruit and veg as the supermarket organic ranges tend to come pre-packed. Generally you can either buy a standard box or select your own and it is delivered in a cardboard box that you can give back the following week. Buying fruit and veg this way tends to ensure you eat more foods that are grown in this country and that are seasonal which many argue makes then taste better. At some stage, when I have more time for cooking, we will go back to having organic fruit and veg delivered but whilst we are so busy it is easy to go and choose the ones we want, this way ensuring that they are ripe.
When I was younger (and I’m not old!!!) we always had milk delivered each morning in glass bottle which we then rinsed and left back outside to be collected the next day. Nowadays we purchase milk from the supermarket in plastic containers and we go through three of the 2 litre bottles of milk per week. The number of traditional milkmen seems to have dwindled but if you are lucky enough to still be able to have your milk delivered in glass bottles this is a great way of reducing your waste as the bottles are sterilised and used again. You are also supporting local businesses. I am investigating the milk delivery in our area and it would seem that milkmen do still exist but either deliver the milk in plastic containers, or do not deliver the milk until mid-morning. I’m fussy and want my milk delivered before breakfast time and not when I have already left the house so it can sit in the sun all day!
Another great way of reducing waste is to use more local shops. Local butchers, bakers and green grocers tend to use much less packaging. This won’t be an option for everyone as these type of shops only open during working hours and with the rise of supermarkets not everyone has these type of shops locally anymore. Farm shops tend to open longer hours and again most use less packaging. We are lucky enough to have most amenities locally.
2) Reducing Nappies
Although we did try using ‘real’ nappies at one stage (when jack was around 6 months old) we found that the ones we bought were too wide for him and as he was already toddling around the furniture at this stage they were hindering his walking. We could not afford to splash out on more ‘real’ nappies so returned to using disposables. The only way around this now is to potty train him……this topic has inspired me to try so hopefully within a month or so we will have stopped using nappies. Incidentally I think that you can now get samples of various kinds and you may even have a ‘nappy lady’ in your area with various samples http://www.realnappycampaign.com/ can provide more information.
In case you are trying to decide whether or not to use disposables here are some facts. It is estimated that up to being potty trained each baby uses 3796 disposable nappies which then go to landfill. Although there are some real nappies that can be used from birth to potty training age most people buy two sizes. There are many different types on the market now a days in a variety of colours and materials. They are not cheap and added onto the price of the nappies is the extra money spent on washing them. With the first child it works out about the same price as disposables but don’t forget that they can be used again if you have any more children or can be passed on to family and friends.
Although some choose to use ‘real’ nappies from birth other people choose to wait until the baby is about 6 weeks old (or once you get past the chicken korma poo stage!!)
3) Other Waste
By swapping some products for more Eco-friendly longer lasting alternatives I think we can cut a bit more of our waste. Instead of using as much kitchen roll I will now try and use cloths. When choosing a cloth, whether it is for doing the dishes or cleaning surfaces, it is best to buy ones that can be put in the washing machine and then reused rather than ones that need to be thrown away.
Donate any old clothes to charity or if they are really worn out think about using them as rags for cleaning.
Food waste is a big problem in the UK. Perhaps the best way to overcome this is to carefully plan your meals and stick to a shopping list. However in the real world things often crop up unexpectedly, perhaps a diner invitation or the fact you are simply too tired to cook. Supermarkets also offer discounts for bulk buying and two for one offers which can mean you end up with a few bags of carrots or potatoes that you simply can not use in time.
One way of helping cut down on wasting food (and money) is to find simple recipes that use all your vegetables and fruit that are looking sorry for themselves. The key is to find quick and easy recipes that don’t mean you end up in the kitchen for hours, especially if you have already cooked one meal or have eaten out. After all no-one wants to go out for a meal to come home to spend hours making tired vegetables into something exciting.
- Many fruits can be put into pies, crumbles, baked or stewed.
- Tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, onions and many more types of vegetables can be made into a simple pasta sauces and frozen.
- Many vegetables can be put into a casserole dish with a stock and turned into a stew either which can be frozen and then eaten as part of a main course at a later date.
- Vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and swedes can be boiled, mashed and frozen.
- Mashed potatoes can also be frozen but it can change the consistency and so the defrosted mash is best used on top of shepherds, cottage or fish pies or used when making fishcakes.
Don’t worry if you don’t have all the ingredients as many can be added once the dish has been defrosted. For example fresh chilli or garlic can be added to pasta sauces whilst they are being reheated.
Any uncooked fruit or vegetable waste can be added to a compost pile if you have one.
Once we have reduced the amount of waste we produce as much as possible we will try and recycle a large proportion of the rest. This poses a bit of a problem for everyone, like us, with a tiny kitchen and no cellar. Because of the amount we are planning on reducing waste I decided that we no longer needed the large kitchen bin. With that out of the way I had room to put a small set of recycling boxes/ drawers/ bin. To replace the old bin I have attached a small one to the back of the cupboard door under the kitchen sink.
We have a kerbside recycle box that collects every fortnight but not everything can be recycled here so be careful. If the waste is contaminated it could result in none of the collection that day being recycled. You may find it easier to take it yourself to the household waste facilities and sort it into the correct skips as they take a greater range of materials.
Your local council should have details about what materials can be recycled in your area and where your recycle points are.
- Swap your waste bin for a smaller one, this will help you be more aware of how much waste you produce.
- Set goals, for example, to half the amount of waste you produce in the first week.
- When you go to the supermarket look for products with minimum packaging.
- Make or buy a divided recycle bin so that you can separate your waste easily.
- Swap disposable products for reusable ones (kitchen roll for clothes, tissues for handkerchiefs) this will save you money and reduce waste.
- Use local shops/ farm shops if possible as they tend to use less packaging.
- Try to use up foods rather than throwing them away, many dishes are quick and easy to make and can then be frozen.
- A compost pile is a good way of recycling peelings, just don’t add any cooked food or animal produce.
© Lorna Crystal – G.B. Wildlife