Brian's Blog

…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World

Zero Waste Week

7th – 13th September

This is a new one for me – I’ve just discovered it. Like Earth Hour, I will treat it as an exercise in mindfulness and hopefully change some habits for the long term, rather than just making an effort for the week, or avoiding buying one waste-inducing product during this week only to buy it the next.

carrier_bags_vs_filmUn-recyclable plastic film vs. recyclable plastics

Recently I’ve become increasingly aware of what I throw away, in particular the un-recyclable plastic film that plagues the food I buy – I have been trying to avoid it, but it’s proving to be nay-on impossible.

I don’t mind recyclable plastics so much, at there is quite a lot of that, which is good to see – if food is in a type of plastic bag that can be recycled with carrier bags (that’s type 4, LDPE), then great. However, a lot turns out to be plastic film (which is type 5, PP), so I’ve been scrutinising the packaging at the supermarket. Often packaging is clearly labelled, but some plastics are misleading.

Change eating habits

I’m gradually changing some eating habits to enable me to reduce how much plastic film I accumulate. I’ve stopped buying things like Snickers and Mars bars (which I would occasionally binge on for an extra dose of calories/energy), and I’ve even decided to stop buying biscuits too since the packets are plastic film – I’ve been baking my own! Go me. However, I’m finding it hard to avoid the supermarket’s cheese, sausages or bacon, for example. “Support your local butcher” you say, who may well put my order in my own container, but if the cost is going to be so much higher, then why? I live a frugal life. Some things I can’t avoid, like rice and pasta which the supermarkets insist on supplying in a non-recyclable plastic bag (unlike the porridge oats which is in a plastic bag that can be recycled… I don’t understand why this, but I have asked).

I gave up things like crisps/potato chips a long time ago – originally because they seemed like a pointless snack when I compared the nutritional values to that of a slice of toast.

Keep your plastic in sight

All the plastic film I discard I put into a plastic sack which stays in my kitchen, so I can see just how much I gather – most people will sling such rubbish it in the bin and be done with it – out of sight, and all that, but that’s just turning a blind eye to the issue.

Ethical alternatives

When avoiding plastic film I feel it’s only right that I’m mindful of the alternative food I might choose. The biscuits are a case in point because there is baking involved – it’s all well and good avoiding the packaging, but if shop-bought biscuits require less energy on average to bake them, compared to how much energy my cooker consumes, then there will be cost and ethical implications to consider – I usually busy cheap biscuits so it’s not like I will be saving myself any money by baking biscuits myself.

biscuits

A way to improve my energy efficiency when baking biscuits is to use my cooker for other things at the same time, or immediately before or after, so I also bake scones too. I’m new to baking so I have a learning curve to contend with… I’ve already burned one batch of scones 😀

scones

Reuse or recycle?

I’m all for reusing packaging, but sometimes the lengths people go to, or what they choose to reuse, seems illogical. Sure, use a jam jar or baked bean can as a pen holder if you want, but really these things can be recycled and put back into circulation, so why prevent that from happening? The are many people who enjoy being creative with waste materials, and I’m all for creativity, but one has to be mindful about what and why you’re using a particular thing – everything will end up being thrown out at some point but if you’ve mashed a variety of materials together and layered them with glue and paint, then that will just end up in land fill, rather than perhaps having the individual materials recycled.

Buying online

It’s not just food packaging we have to consider either. I’ve also become mindful of what packaging is used when I purchase things online and have them delivered to me. This can be anything from simple and small bike accessories, to boxes containing the parts to assemble a desktop computer.

coffeeI buy from some e-tailers, but I also use ebay too, but either way, as the customer I feel I have little control over what packaging is used (unlike supermarket shopping) – some sellers will state that they reuse packaging, and reuse packaging myself, but I don’t think it ever sways my buying decision because you can’t search ebay for only sellers who are reusing packaging. I recently tried to specifically source coffee beans that were in a paper bag instead of a plastic foil-line non-recyclable one (as the supermarkets supply ready-ground beans in), but my bag of beans arrived shrink-wrapped in plastic film AND the paper bag turned out to be a composite (plastic-lined) – a double fail. Sometimes items can be found cheaper if you have them sent to you direct from China, but is this ethical? I recently bought some pedal straps for my bike, these are pretty cheap, and even cheaper (somehow) if I chose to buy them direct from China (and wait an extra week or two), instead of doing this though, I bought two pairs from a supplier in the UK – not only did I lower the carbon footprint by buying closer to home, I halved the carbon footprint again, and reduced the packaging required by half by purchasing two pairs – my logic for doing this was that sooner or later I would need another pair because these things don’t last indefinitely. Sadly I have no bike shop nearby to supply me with what I need.

packaging

Jiffy bags are sadly generally composites – they are paper on the outside and then bubble wrap (which is a non-recyclable plastic film) on stuck to the inside. Reusing them as many times as possible is the only way to do good. Jiffy do supply a greener version (Jiffy Green) that is all paper with a layer of paper fibres (or something to that effect) to provide protection instead of bubble-wrap, but these weigh considerably more, which means a larger carbon footprint for transporting them, and a higher postage cost. The large bubbles that are used to fill excess space in boxes is generally Type 2 I believe, but not all is labelled so one can’t be certain.

recycling_binsGet stuck in

I live alone so I have it pretty easy – I don’t have other members of the household to convince, but hopefully by sharing my efforts here I can coax a few others. If you just throw all your rubbish in one bin, then just be aware that that most likely ends up in a hole in the ground – would you want that in your back yard? If you already recycle paper, glass and metal cans, great, but now think about your plastic waste too. I’m lucky in that my local waste collection service collect plastic types 1 and 2 which seems to be a large portion of regular plastic waste – I’m now just trying to reduce and tackle the other types.

To the right are all the waste/recycling bins we’re provided with.

The green bin is for garden waste, the blue one for glass, plastic (1 and 2) and metal cans (plus some other stuff), the red one for paper and fabrics, the brown ones are for food waste but I was also given a compost bin (below) so these I never use now, and the black bin is for all other general waste, but I produce so little that it would take me months to fill it, if not a whole year.

compost_bin

Find out more about Zero Waste Week here: www.zerowasteweek.co.uk

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5 comments on “Zero Waste Week

  1. thehutts
    7 September, 2015

    The trouble is that many plastics aren’t really very recyclable. Many can be turned into a lower grade product at best and (as you point out) many simply aren’t recyclable at all. Even the British Plastics Federation indicate less that 50% of bottles (the easiest) were recycled on the latest data they show and other plastic products are lower than this. The problem is that a significant proportion of waste plastics ends up loose in the environment and eventually in our seas. Plastics have their uses but we could significantly reduce the volumes being used if only there was a political (and consumer) will to do so.

    • Brian
      13 September, 2015

      I agree. There is certainly a mix of what can be recycled and the recycling (and buying) habits of consumers. Thanks for your input 🙂

  2. Pingback: Zero Waste Week – review | BMH Online

  3. Rachelle Strauss
    18 September, 2015

    I’m thrilled your found Zero Waste Week and even more delighted you wrote such a great post about it. Funnily enough I’ve just started a mindfulness course (she says, thinking about the gazillion and one other things that need doing), so I love your approach to this. And you’re right – Zero Waste is for life, not just a week. The scones look tasty 😀

    • Brian
      18 September, 2015

      A mindfulness course; great! I’ve only read books on it, but it’s a practice/approach to life that I find fits in just about everywhere, from recycling to baking scones 😀

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