…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
As I mentioned in my earlier post, it was Zero Waste Week this past week. This was the first time I’d heard of it, and even though there was ‘supposed to be’ an emphasis on ‘reuse’, because the event was new to me I really just had a general mindfulness about the waste I generate in my home, well, a little more so than usual.
Rather than document each day in individual posts I decided I would throw it all together in one, so here it is. Topics include:
– Milk, mushrooms and mail/post
– Plastic-free pasta
– Waste collection and recycling
– Greener coffee
– Carrier Bags
My week began as normal but with Monday usually being a shopping day there was a risk I could get things off to a bad start here. Each shopping trip now has become largely about “which plastic film packaging can I avoid?” rather than about what meals I need to make during the week (which is what my mind used to be filled with when I was new to living on my own.) Actually, I only bought two items in the end, milk and mushrooms.
The milk – it comes in a plastic bottle made of high-density polyethylene, or HDPE, or, as indicated by the triangle symbol, is type 2. This can be recycled in my council-supplied blue-coloured recycling box. The lid of the bottle is also type 2 but I have read that some councils wont accept bottle caps (why?), luckily my council aren’t that fussy (we don’t even have to stand the bottles in the box or anything like that – everything just gets slung in the box, cans, glass jars, drinks cartons… no order or neatness, the only part I’m unsure of is the cap that is peeled off on first use, but I have started stuffing this into the empty bottle. Who knows if traditional glass milk bottles are/were cheaper/more energy efficient to recycle?
The Mushrooms – this was a bad buy. When a packet (plastic film) of these ready-sliced ones are reduced I don’t seem to be able to avoid them. I would buy whole loose ones (using the paper bags supplied), but my local Co-Op store have not had any loose ones in for a while. Alternatively they are supplied whole in a plastic tray (type 2) which is wrapped over with film, but which is worse – the film packet or the film wrapped over the plastic tray?
Something else I did while I was out was pay my monthly Council Tax bill. I mention this here because I’m mindful of the fact that the bulk of my bill goes to paying for my waste collection, since I don’t make much use of the other services provided by the council – I intend to write about this more in a future post.
When I returned home I had some post waiting for me. One was a sales catalogue from a DIY store I use – I must have ended up on their mailing list when I last bought from them. The catalogue was of no interest to me and was made worse by the fact it was wrapped in film – I removed the catalogue from the film and put it in my red recycling box, and then logged into the store’s website and unchecked the mailing preferences boxes… no more junk from them. To be fair the store sends these basic catalogues out to notify their customers that the new complete catalogue is now available in store – rather than sending out the bulky catalogue as they used to do – it saves everyone money doing it this way. Perhaps phone directories could be supplied in this way also? I’m subscribed to a computer magazine which is sent in a similar fashion, wrapped in a plastic film, but given the saving I make compared to travelling 50 miles a month to collect it and paying more for it (and sometimes finding it’s sold out or not in yet), it’s worth it I think – in this day-and-age I could subscribe to a digital version, but I would have to purchase an e-reader for this, and I loathe that prospect.
My shopping trip was very brief largely because I keep a plentiful stock at home of what I need. I usually cycle to one supermarket a couple of times a week and then when I use my car once every month or so I combine that journey with a big supermarket shop, stocking up on bulk stuff, like canned food, and bags of porridge, rice… and pasta.
The bags of pasta have been a particular annoyance of mine though since the 1kg bag I usually buy is a plastic film, rather than a type that can be recycled with carrier bags like the porridge oats (more on this in a moment) and one time I bought a larger bag but it was also a “non-recyclable” type, and somewhat more substantial. But I discovered a solution over on the Going Plastic Free blog… make my own pasta. I learned how simple it is and followed the steps on food.com. Sure, there is some time involved but I made four portions which I could keep in my fridge during the week (the recipe said to wrap the dough and portions in plastic wrap/cling film but I just re-used a discarded plastic (film) bag. Then rolling out and slicing a portion by hand could be done in the time it took for the pan of water to come to the boil. It tasted good too.
Another are where I’ve cut out plastic packaging by making my own, is biscuits, although I’m still working to perfect my recipe.
Monday night was then the night to put out my rubbish for waste collection the following day. We can put out our blue, red and brown food waste bin every week and then either the green garden waste bin or the black general waste bin depending on the week (we get sent a helpful calendar each year to instruct us). This week was general waste week, but my black bin is empty since it takes me so long to generate enough waste to warrant putting it out (I think it might actually take me a year to fill it – of course I should put it out more often than that!) Also, since the council provided me with a compost bin I generate no waste for the food waste bin. If all households operated like mine I think it would be advised that the Council rethink which bins they provide and what sizes they need to be – but I’m one guy living on his own, so perhaps things don’t scale so well to families.
Tuesday was a busy work day for me with me cycling from one side of Anglesey to the other, and back again, meeting with clients along the way. I made sandwiches to take with me (slung in a used bread bag), some forward planning I usually do, rather than buy something on route that might be packaged in plastic as others might settle for – oh and the water bottle on my bike is a discarded cola bottle filled with tap water – buying bottled water is a big no-no.
It was a great day with great views along the way.
I have nothing to report for Wednesday or Thursday, but on Friday I needed to use my car (actually it turned out I didn’t) and I combined my journey with a trip to the recycling centre and a big shop at the supermarket.
I disposed of some solid bags of cement which were left in my shed by the previous owner, a rusty counter-top oven, engine oil and anti-freeze – all things that have to be dealt with by one means or another, to be made safe, or melted down, or whatever – as a consumer we really don’t see this stuff happening to appreciate what work and energy goes into it, even though it’s our money paying for it.
I remembered to take my bags of carrier bag type plastic bags to discard in the bin Morrisons kindly provide. I noticed that other people had put plastic film type plastic in the bin also, so I think I need to contact Morrisons about this and ask if this is correct. My shopping was largely uneventful, I don’t want to list here everything here and each buying decision, issue, justification or excuse, mostly it was enough canned stuff and bags of porridge to last me until I next use my car. However, one thing did catch my eye which I was browsing the section with reduced priced bread – some bread rolls were in a plastic film that was labelled as being recyclable. Puzzling. I bought it only for this reason – I guess I’ll have to query Morrisons about this!
Something I also bought on my way home was a bag of coffee beans. Regular readers may recall my Coffee post and the issue I had encountered when trying to source coffee beans packaged in paper. Well, the cafe people who are probably to blame for my little life of coffee agreed to supply me with a bag of their coffee – I don’t know if the paper bag is plastic lined like the one I bought off ebay, but I avoided further packaging and postage costs.
When I got home I had more mail waiting for me – a reply to a letter I had recently written to Co-op asking various questions, as mentioned in my previous post about plastic.
I had been confused by different recycling labels on bags which seemed to be the same type. I also asked why some things were in a recyclable bag, while others were in a plastic film bag that couldn’t be recycled (although perhaps I now need to raise this same issue with Morrisons), and I complained that some food is in a substantial plastic tray that cannot (it seems) be recycled).
I was pleased I had received a well explained response, but a few moments after I had finished reading it I wasn’t so happy.
The plastic types were explained to me well, as was an interesting point about how “technically” all the plastics can be recycled, it’s more that they aren’t, and it was agreed that more needs to be done. However, a lot of the solution was pinned on the councils, and a need for them to provide the services to deal with the rubbish. I am not happy about this – I think the supermarkets and their suppliers should be using responsible packaging – types that are recycled already. Sure, if a particular council doesn’t accept any plastic then this is an issue, but right now plastic film is a type I can’t deal with and I think my council is doing a pretty good job recycling a wide variety of stuff already.
Just as my nearest Morrisons store takes plastic bags, I think all stores should accept back their plastic film packaging and provide their own means to recycle such materials responsibly – it should be their burden, not the councils. If that means hight food costs then so be it – at least we can see the cost and have the choice to buy that packaged item or the loose one (which should be a lower price), rather than the Council foot the bill and risk a rise in Council Tax to keep covering costs.
Incidentally, also asked the Co-Op why their peppers were more expensive when sold loose compared to their three in a plastic film pack deal. I got no response about this point.
Coincidentally there was talk on the radio during the week about an enforced charge for carrier bags taking place in England. Where I live in Wales this is apparently in place already, although I have not noticed it because I don’t accept carrier bags at the supermarket – my bike panniers serve me well during my usual trips and when I use my car I just load the stuff straight into my boot from the trolley, and then decant into boxes at the other end (I use an empty recycling box for this). Some callers to the radio show were criticising the charge of 5p per carrier bag, and claiming they’re now stock-piling the things, which is just silly, surely, why not just get on board?
During my college years, over ten years ago now (yikes), I worked part time at a particular supermarket that already charged for carrier bags (no others did at the time that I’m aware of) – 1p for thin ones, and 4p (if I recall correctly) for thicker ones. I always felt awkward as a checkout assistant, having to tell customers there was a charge for a carrier bag if they asked for one – customers unfamiliar with the policy were either taken-aback, thought it was petty (because the store must make plenty of money already), tried to use no bag or less bags, or just accepted the charge. Returning regular customers would often re-use bags, opting to buy the 4p bag for this purpose, or bringing a more substantial bag. Perhaps that store paved the way, but really no other stores seemed to follow suit around that time – it’s only this change in policy that’s bringing about a change, for green reasons.
A downside I do accept for the lack of free carrier bags being handed out is a lack of bags for other use, ones that we might reuse, such as for bin liners. My local clothes recycling bank has a sign on it requesting that clothes are bagged… but how will we have bags for such things if disposable carrier bags are phased out? I refuse to waste a bag for the purpose of disposing of clothes that have no life left in them.
I feel like I live a pretty simple life, and with this comes the ability for me to make time for things that make my world even greener. Lives get complicated, people busy themselves with full time jobs to fund the lifestyles they choose to live and buy thing they think they need, or they have children to manage or other responsibilities. To get to a point of Zero Waste, or realistically, Minimal Waste, I believe we have to live minimalistic lives. Gradually over the years I began to see more and more the many things I didn’t need to buy, but I still make justifications for the things I do buy. Even with my simple life I keep discovering ways to improve – sometimes I opt for a cheaper option instead of a greener one when it comes to buying things like food. Sometimes I feel like plastic packaging is unavoidable, and this frustrates me – how can I “vote with my money” if there is no option? I am also concerned that as a tax payer I foot a fixed bill for waste disposal and recycling, even though I must produce less than other people, and I see no way to reduce that bill – perhaps this is a missing incentive in the whole system.