Day 1: Zero Waste Week 2016

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Welcome to my first blog post for Zero Waste Week 2016 on the topic of food waste.

Food waste – what does that phrase mean to you?

Food waste: the jigsaw piece that can help us tackle the world’s environmental problems?

Food waste: the responsibility of supermarkets, much publicised for being guilty of contributing to the waste of mountains worth of ‘imperfect’ fruit and veg?

Food waste: a real issue for households in the UK which, if tackled, will cut down food bills and allow individuals to own their part in looking after our world?

Let me tell you a little about me and what food waste means in the context of my life…

I am WestyWrites, a female blogger who is always trying. Trying to get greener, trying to do better and quite often trying to get blog posts written! This is my fourth year of writing my way through Zero Waste Week and it’s a great way to focus the mind and connect with others who are interested in the same issues. If you’re new to the blog – welcome!

What does food waste mean to me? Well, put it this way, if food waste was a person I’m not sure we’d be great friends… She kind of intimates me with what she stands for, makes me feel guilty about the things I should do, and is well dressed – she probably spends the money she saves on wasted food shopping for clothes and beauty products.

My own food waste reminds me that I live a busy life. I run a pretty tight ship at home – the things that matter most to me are prioritised. I live with my other half and our two children, and it’s fair that most of what I do is centred around them (when I’m not out with friends, at sewing classes or looking at Pinterest!). Meals are often thrown together in haste as one child or the other has an extra curricular class on. Where lovingly prepared meals are taken out of the freezer, we still often boil too much pasta or spill frozen peas all over the floor. Despite cleaning out the fridge two weeks ago, I found a punnet of old strawberries unpacked in a cloth bag yesterday which had turned to mush and leaked all over the floor. Oh dear…

This week however is a chance for change! It’s an opportunity to look at what we do well and what we can do better. It’s time to reflect on what we’ve done right in the past, praise ourselves for what’s working and make small changes to make big differences – even if we’re talking long term.

I am writing this post after having just attended a classroom session with my eldest child who has a very motivated teacher. The teacher was running through this year’s learning, and I was left impressed by her goals. From some of the wrong answers she was getting from the children in maths, I saw that she has her work cut out but she has confidence and, most importantly, a past record that suggests she’s up to the challenge.

This week is time for a ‘can do’ attitude from me. I need small goals which will add up to significant results, and lay the foundations for permanent change. Today I am going to set myself two tasks. The first will be to clear my fridge again, this time rescuing any food that’s almost past it’s best and the second will be to cook the family dinner from scratch and to freeze the leftovers.

Can I do it? Why, yes of course I can!  Good luck to everyone reading who’s tackling their food waste this week.

To catch up on my previous Zero Waste Week posts click here.

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Plastic-free Me: Keep on stepping

I’ll admit I’ve been overwhelmed at the enormity of Plastic Free July as a challenge since I switched my focus back to it after my supermarket-free posts. However, I think writing the last post helped me move forward, and a few days ago I grabbed my notebook and listed some areas I need to work on.

Within 10 minutes I’d filled a page of A5!

That feels okay though. It is good to have some tasks to work on. Because I’m a sucker for inspirational quotes, I rushed over to Pinterest to look up sayings about achieving goals to help me stay motivated. I quite liked this one:

To get through the hardest journey we need only take one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping. Chinese proverb

While I’m quite sure that a self-imposed challenge to reduce my single-use plastics doesn’t, strictly speaking, qualify as a ‘hardest journey’ (!), I liked the idea of taking one step at a time and that those steps must keep coming.

So far my ‘steps’ – or rather my tasks – look something like this:
Food – this is worrying me but I’ll keep this bullet point simple! I need a collection of plastic-free recipes, and I aim to fill my freezer in June with plastic-free food so that some of the work is out of the way before the challenge has started.

Drinks on the go – I need a suitable container for carrying water in case I can’t buy plastic-free refreshments when I’m out. I could also use a flask for hot drinks (although perhaps that’s not strictly necessary. It may just be because I’m lusting after this one by Orla Kiely!)

Snacks on the go – I need to carry cutlery for cafes that only supply the plastic stuff, and I need to think about nourishing snacks I can keep in my bag (I am not someone who can cope without eating for long periods!)

Carrier bags – although I have a wonderful collection of huge supermarket shopping bags, I really need more small bags that fold up to fit in my pocket like this one from Onya Bags.

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I use these all of the time and I simply can’t run out in July.

Birthday presents – I have at least two people who will need (plastic-free) birthday cards and presents in July. I’d like to buy and wrap them in June so that the job’s out of the way.

Shampoo and conditioner – I need to buy plastic-free versions of these, ready for July. I expect they’ll have to be in bar form (like soap). I don’t think I’m even going to test them. I’m convinced they’ll not work at all on my hair-type so I’m not going to put myself through that pain earlier than I have to…

Silicon baking cases – most of my edible treats will probably be home baked and, since I’m yet to find paper cake cases that come without disposable plastic packaging, now is the time to invest in reusables.

Toilet roll – I already buy Ecoleaf toilet rolls that come in compostable packaging (yay!) but I buy them online in bulk and all of these compostable packets come wrapped in…plastic! Where you can buy plastic-free toilet paper? I’m not ready to give it up…

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Cooking oil – I need to get back along to a deli I found in Edinburgh that sells oil in refillable glass bottles and secure myself some.

Bread maker ingredients – I finally found some supermarket-free skimmed milk powder but it comes in plastic. It’s a key ingredient, as is salt which is also plasticy and problematic. I need to look into them, although I think I’ve got everything else to make a zero waste loaf covered.

As if that wasn’t enough to be getting on with, those of you with good memories will remember that I wrote this post in January that included a ‘to do’ list. I’ve made some progress but the following is still outstanding:

Medications – I still have to write to the suppliers of the medications that I take to find out if there are plastic-free alternatives. As I’ve said before, I don’t have any serious conditions, but I’m not prepared to have my health compromised for this challenge. If there are no alternatives then at least I’ll have registered an interest with the drugs companies.

Make-up – I have lots of leads to follow for plastic-free make-up thanks to this post. Perhaps this task will be more of a pleasure than a chore!

Junk mail – I need to write to all of the companies that send me unsolicited catalogues in plastic – or seal my letterbox!  I recently found this very useful post over at My Zero Waste.

No doubt there are more tasks yet to be added but this will keep me (very) busy at the moment. Now where shall I start…?

Plastic-free Me: Back ‘in training’

So, where was I? Oh yes, Plastic Free July. Hmmm….

It’s getting awfully close now, is it not? I will admit that I’m a wee bit scared! This is a massive challenge. I always knew that, of course I did, but July was a long way off when I burst onto the blog with all of my optimism and enthusiasm, and I was full of hope that miracle products were going to find me and save me.

Save you from what, I hear you ask? What a drama queen – how bad can a month of giving up single-use plastics really be?

Think about it though, from the moment most of us get up we are consuming things swathed in single-use plastics. Toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shower gel, milk and cereal. How many of us can actually make it out of the door in the morning without using disposable plastics? How do you feel now about making it through the whole of July?!

Luckily though, I have been ‘in training’ for this challenge for several months and therefore some progress has been made. I am confident about that I will be able to consume significantly less plastic than I would in an average month, but I am doubtful I’ll manage to be totally plastic-free.

That’s alright though.

Erm…how’s it alright? It’s not called Significantly-Less Plastic July.

Well, yes…we all know what it’s called but if I really thought I’d fail this challenge because I couldn’t avoid the odd thing here and there, I’d have thrown the towel in months ago. Plus it’s in the actual rules of Plastic Free July that you should keep any single-use plastics you do use in a ‘dilemma bag’ so that it can be shared at the end (presumably, that is, your experience can be shared, not the plastic rubbish!)

The concept behind Plastic Free July is to make people aware of the plastics they are consuming, to think about whether they are necessary, where they end up, and what the impact on the planet is. By trying really really hard to eliminate my single-use plastics in July, I will reach this state of awareness. I have already cut out a lot of plastics through my preparation to date, I will reduce them further throughout the challenge and (unless July is a total nightmare!) I fully expect that many of the changes I’ve made in my plastic consumption will remain.

So, it’s all good. As I was told when I was little, I’ll do my best and that’s what’s important.

To catch up on my training for Plastic Free July, you can read here to find all of the posts in my Plastic-free Me blogging series.

I’ll be back here soon to blog my progress.

Supermarket-free Me: Reducing personal food waste

It is gradually creeping into the public awareness that supermarkets contribute to the food waste of their customers – the food that you and I dispose of at home, uneaten. I’m not even talking about the food that is wasted by supermarkets themselves – that is a subject for another post.

We are all responsible for our own personal consumption and surely it is laughable to suggest that supermarkets are forcing us to buy things that we don’t want or need? One of the reasons many of us find the supermarket so attractive (and so hard to give up) is that we care about how much money we spend and aim to part with as little of it as possible. I, for one, have generally perceived the supermarket as one of the most inexpensive shopping options around in modern Britain.

I however, am a waster too. I recently directed you to this post where I did a cupboard audit in my kitchen and found lots of things I’d bought and not used. Despite that post having been written in September (giving me plenty of time to improve), despite the fact that I blogged daily about food waste for Zero Waste Week and despite the reality that I am consciously trying to improve, I do still throw some food out uneaten.

I’m not directly blaming supermarkets. I do accept that the ultimate responsibility for my food waste lies with me, but I know I have to be vigilant in the supermarket to ensure that I don’t become vulnerable to buying things that they would like me to buy but that I don’t need.

My biggest weaknesses are probably:

Impulse buys: these are the items that that I see as a treat but that weren’t on my list. Plus I say no to several things that my children request and then often give in to something small. We usually come home with a handful of luxury items like kids crisps, a new kind of biscuit or novelty processed food-stuff that is trying to pass itself off as cheese. These lead to waste because, while the new things get eaten, the food we have already wilts sadly in our kitchen.

Multi-buys: I like to think I am quite hard when it comes to shunning multi-buys. I try to concentrate on what it is I need and tell myself I’d have wasted the extra money if I bought the second (or more!) item being pushed on me. However, it can take a will of steel to resist them because it’s tempting to feel you’re missing out on something free if you pass over a multi-buy. Sadly I don’t always have that will of steel when I’m in a rush or am giving my attention to the children.

Vouchers: I’ll admit I’m uneasy about loyalty cards as I know that while you might make monetary savings by using them, the price you pay is your own privacy. Loyalty cards give supermarkets a lot of information about what you buy and therefore hint strongly about your gender, age group, income level. Despite all of this (I’m beginning to hate myself a little as I write!) I do sometimes feel I should use the vouchers that they send me, based on the information the loyalty card has collected. I am sometimes tempted to buy things that I don’t really need because they are marketed as a bargain – and the expiry date on the vouchers just add more pressure!

Car parking: Because the supermarkets I use are served by huge car parks, I never stop twice to ask myself if I really need something because it’s heavy to carry. Shopping locally, I’ve already put a few things back because, faced with carting them home in a backpack, I realise I can do without them.

Happily I am released from these stresses for the whole of Lent and having just written the above, I can tell you that I am feeling relieved to have a break!

Since Lent started on Wednesday, I am very much finding my feet again with the local shops and as a result the stocks of my usual food staples are running low! I’ve been forced to get creative with the things I already have in the cupboard…

One of the first things we ran out of was raisins which we have in porridge. I remembered that I had a pack of dried cranberries somewhere (possibly I recalled this because the very same packet was listed in the September cupboard audit…). We used these instead of the raisins and the children enjoyed the novelty of something new. Then these ran out and I found some fruit and seed ‘sprinkles’ that I had bought several months ago and never opened. They loved these even more!  I have a little basket full similar impulse buys so I think we’ll get through the rest of the week without raisins and maybe we’ll keep trying new things as they’ve brightened up the first meal of the day.

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Another staple always in the fridge is plain yogurt which often serves as pudding . (Are you wondering how I get away with this? Me too – my kids love it!) I looked for an alternative and found a bag of popcorn left over from Christmas time. We popped it in the pan and then shared a big bowl – it was definitely more interesting than the yogurt which we’d have had if I’d still been using the supermarket…

I finished a box of porridge oats this morning and noticed a recipe for flapjacks on the back that I can make easily and quickly from stuff I’ve already got in the cupboards.

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Plus there’s a type of cabbage in my veg box that I’ve had before and never worked out how to use but, we’ve been searching for recipes and we will make it into a dish that we can freeze! When last-minute supermarket shopping is no longer an option, suddenly food seems more valuable.

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Four days into Lent, and I am already thinking of food differently. I feel that by ditching the supermarket I am paying much more attention to what I’m buying and how I’m using it.

If you are interested in reducing your food waste (or any waste), then do check out http://www.zerowasteweek.co.uk/ and especially look the blog which has just been declared the Guardian Live Better Blog of the week!

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Meaner Greener Me: Green Gifts

Today I’m going to tackle the topic of giving gifts. My Meaner Greener Me blog series is only 10 posts in and already I’ve touched on this subject at least twice – here and here.

In my life I can honestly say that the giving and receiving of gifts has got completely out of hand. For some months of the year I spend literally hours choosing, buying and wrapping gifts – Christmas is obviously one such time, as is April/May where I seem to have a huge cluster of family and friends’ birthdays. Unfortunately I have to admit that in most cases choosing and buying gifts is a ‘tick box exercise’, in that I work out how much I should be spending and pretty much buy the first appropriate thing in my price range that I come across. This is simply an issue of time – I do not have enough spare to carefully research the gift that might genuinely enhance the recipient’s life. I like to think most people are happy with their gift but, as in most of the topics I have covered so far in Meaner Greener Me, I admit, I could do better.

So with my blogging aims in mind of ethical consumption and responsible waste disposal, I thought I’d go back to basics for some of the gifts I’ve recently given. What I really wanted to do was choose something appropriate, personal and source it ethically. I wanted gifts that actually showed we cared and that wouldn’t end up in the charity shop or bin.

The three most recent gifts I’ve given have been on behalf of my children so I wanted to involve them – teaching them about showing appreciation for someone as well as the pleasure they can get from giving. They have already worked out that there is a pleasure in receiving!

The first gift was for the teacher of a music class they have attended since they were babies – she was leaving and my children adore her. I think on such an occasion I’d probably buy a card and a small box of sweets worth £5 – £10.

I got the children to make cards from our craft box. I then decided to make a ‘star jar’ which was an amalgamation of a few ideas I’d seen around Christmas time in magazines.

We had a spare glass Kilner-type jar (a reasonably eco-friendly material), then I raided the craft box and found some sparkly stars which were Christmas tree decorations. I got some wrapping ribbon and some star stickers from Hobbycraft. My eldest child made some marshmallow cakes.

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Here is the finished result.

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It’s really not professional but we enjoyed making it and hopefully she isn’t reading this and wishing we’d gone for the shop-bought sweets…

When Father’s Day came around, we had to find a gift for the grandfather who has everything. Normally I would spend around £15 on such a present but I have been finding it increasingly difficult with each birthday and Christmas to find something that is special and that he couldn’t just have bought for himself.

This is a grandpa who has embraced his Grandparent role – he notices every little thing the children do and his pride and love for them is obvious to all. For something special, I felt I had to get the kids involved so I got them into the kitchen for some baking which they love. We made banana bread from this very manageable recipe and I wrapped it in foil which they helped to decorate with hearts made from scrap paper.

Et voila!

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Not £15 worth of present as usual but we had a happy grandpa and proud kids at the end of the exercise (plus we managed to use some organic ingredients and most of the waste that resulted from the process was recyclable).

Finally we had to make an end of term present for the nursery staff. I feel very strongly about staff presents on two counts:
• I like to show the people who have helped look after my child our appreciation

• I absolutely believe the end of term presents should be about saying thanks and not competing with other parents on the amount spent.

On a roll (and perhaps running low on inspiration) we got into the kitchen again and made some fairy cakes for the staff coffee break. I wrote a thank you note for the bottom of the box we gift wrapped (badly – I am not crafty in any way!) and my wee one decorated it with stickers.

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I gave them a print out of a small donation that we had made to a children’s charity as well as some pens that my kids had chosen for the staff room. Again minimal unrecyclable waste was created, although admittedly there was single use plastic in the pens – it was June though (not Plastic Free July)!

I’m not sure how easily ‘thoughtful’ gifting comes to me – I like a quick and easy solution and although I am doing more in the kitchen, I’m definitely not a natural baker.  I am without defence, rubbish at craft… With my career on hold however, as a stay at home parent whose main priority is to look after small children, making things and thinking up present ideas is a great activity for them. My kids love to be involved in the planning, the creating and the giving of gifts so I think we’ll try and put more thought into our presents where time allows.

I do reserve the right to cheat every now and again though and grab the first thing that comes to hand in Toys R Us as long as it’s not triple wrapped in crap that’s destined for landfill…

Meaner Greener Me: What a load of old rubbish…

In today’s post I’m looking at how responsible I am about disposing of waste.

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Although I would always claim to have had an interest in green issues, embarrassingly, I have never actually made time to take stock and look at how I get rid of the things I am finished with.  Any good practices I have can probably be credited to council schemes (e.g. recycling programmes) and what is socially acceptable – for example, I think most people would probably frown upon clothes being binned instead of donated to a charity shop?

Here are the main ways I can think of that we get rid of things from our household:

General Recycling:  my local authority has a programme whereby we are issued with boxes for paper, cardboard, some plastic packaging, tins and glass.  These are collected fortnightly on the kerbside, as is a bag for our garden waste.  We fill these up, sometimes to the point of overflowing.  It is fair to say that we don’t check the card detailing what items we can put in the boxes enough so there may be items that we throw out instead of recycling.

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Local Authority Recycling Centre (‘the dump’): Sometimes we have clear-outs in the house that unearth awkward items such as broken pieces of furniture, old batteries or electrical items that no longer work.  We usually leave these lying around, gathering dust and causing trip hazards for months before we finally crack and drive them to the dump to put them in the appropriate section.  Whether they become landfill or are actually recycled, I have no idea!

Friends and relatives: Having young children who grow out of clothes and toys fast, we have a lot of things that are in good condition that can still be of use.  I am reasonably efficient at sorting this out and passing it on to people we know.  I tend to divide it up so that no one is lumbered with too many things to sort out.  I ask recipients just to keep passing the items on that they no longer want.

Selling: for some things that we are finished with that still have value we have advertised them on the internet.

Freecycle:  We have had some big items including a garden shed and baby equipment that are in reasonable condition that we want to pass on but that haven’t been valuable enough to sell. Via freecycle people contact us and we arranged for them to come to our house to pick up the goods.

Charity Shop:  We use charity shops a lot to get rid of smaller items that others can still use such as books, toys, household ‘debris’ such as old vases, photo frames, cushions etc.

Rag Bag:  We use the Rag Bag Scheme to get rid of old clothes that are in too poor a condition to pass on.

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Shoe Biz: Shoes the children have grown out of get donated to Shoe Biz at our nearest Clarks shoe shop.  As well as being socially responsible, it goes a little way towards taking the sting out of the exceptionally high prices of kids shoes in the first place…

Creative waste: One of my children loves drawing and produces several pieces of artwork sometimes on a daily basis.  Favourites are kept (or photographed) but the majority of these are sneaked off at night and turned into scrap paper for shopping lists etc.  We also give a lot of ‘creative materials’ (toilet rolls, bits of wrapping paper, egg boxes) to nursery.

Wastebin: Our rubbish is collected at the kerbside every week – on average we probably put out about 2 or 3 black bags each week.

I know there are areas we can do a lot better in.  I would like to reduce the number of bin bags we put out each week.  The most glaring area that I think we can improve on is by setting up a way of composting at home.  I hope to do a post dedicated to that soon.  In the meantime if you have any other ideas on how I can reduce my waste, please let me know.

Meaner Greener Me: What it’s all about

Welcome to my blog, thank you for coming to find out about my next project. This new idea has evolved easily – a good sign I hope! – and has already made me think a lot about the way I live my life. I am eager to start investigating, writing and, most of all, improving some of my practices and kicking old habits. I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to provide feedback (by blog or Twitter), I love the interaction!

In this project, I aim to tackle the issues of consumption and waste.  I am interested in the way that many of us in the UK ‘over consume’, how we purchase and later dispose of the things we’ve acquired.

My motivation for this topic has come mainly from two sources;

1 A passionate yearning for the eradication of poverty and inequality.  I cannot bear to watch the gulf grow in the UK between rich and poor – recent policy changes have led to tax breaks for the most wealthy while there is an increase in the use of foodbanks by the most vulnerable. (If you want to read some of my thoughts on this subject please see my posts Against the Welfare Reform and 10 Things I Hate About You: The Bedroom Tax in Scotland.)

Global inequality was highlighted last month when a clothing factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing hundreds of employees who made goods to be sold in countries including, from what I can gather, the UK. Such victims were working in terrible conditions for others, like me, to be able to buy things at low cost.

Surely therefore those of us who can afford to live comfortably and sometimes stretch to luxuries need to take responsibility for how we consume and which businesses we hand over our money to?

2. An increasing feeling that I need to work on reducing the waste resulting from the things I purchase.  It is a privilege to be able to live comfortably and it is important to acknowledge this and ensure that my own consuming causes the least damage possible.

In this blog I want to look at the way that I personally consume:

  • Do I actually need what I am buying?
  • Can I source what I need ethically?
  • How do I get rid of things I have ‘consumed’ so that others may be able to use them?
  • If they are of no use to others, how can I limit my contribution to landfill and pollution?

I will expand on these points as my blog goes on and hope to give you lots of colourful examples from my life of how I currently spend my cash and throw away my rubbish.  Stay with me as I tidy cupboards to find out what I actually have, start composting and perhaps the biggest challenge – plan a child’s party without causing excessive waste!

If you want to whet your appetite for this topic, please take a look at my Supermarket-free Me posts – I aim to follow a similar style.  Furthermore, that project gave me a real taste for ethical shopping and challenged me on many of the everyday shopping decisions that I make, almost on auto-pilot.

I aim to initially blog on this subject for three months, posting on average a couple of times a week at least (I may have spells where I post less or more frequently).  My next post will tell you a bit more about me and how ‘green’ or otherwise I am.  It’s fair to say there’s room for improvement…