Cucumbers don’t need condoms

23Jan09

and other waste-related grumblings.

One of the targets our family has set itself is to reduce our landfill waste by 50% this year.

That’s pretty tricky, because we did a major waste reduction last year (cutting 50%, from 2 refuse sacks a week down to 1) and I think we’ve therefore taken all the quick wins.

Everything we can recycle, we do – we’re lucky that we’ve got an excellent local site just down the road that takes paper, cardboard, alu, cans, plastic bags and P1/P2 bottles, and we looked very hard at how we could reduce what we generate – the ‘reduce’ part of the 3 R’s of environmentalism.

So, for example:

  • We were already using cloth nappies rather than disposable ones, which would have been a really easy change to make, if we hadn’t already gone that road with Honey some 8 years ago.
  • We switched from having carton milk to having milk deliveries. That has saved us so many plastic bottles, it’s just not true, and of course there’s an added benefit, because we are a) contributing to our local economy by using a local business (admittedly a franchise of Dairy Crest, but they do still have their own beef farm, actually backing onto our garden) and b) the glass bottles are taken back and reused.
  • We stopped going to the supermarket, and switched instead to a combination of a local organic veg box scheme, a local farm shop for meat and dairy, and the co-op for dried goods. That saved us so much in packaging because we are buying so little pre-processed food. This year, we’re hoping to get much more in the way of home-grown vegetables so that the veg box is more a supplement than a staple, but the waste from that is minimal – the boxes go back for re-use, and obviously what’s left of the veg after they’ve been prepared is compostible. When we first considered the move, we were concerned that it would work out substantially more expensive to buy local/organic than it was to buy supermarket, but it’s actually worked out the other way – we’ve saved money and eaten far, far more healthily than we would otherwise.
  • We refuse plastic bags wherever we go, always taking our own with us.
  • We got separate bins everywhere, and taught the kids what is and is not recyclable, so even bathroom rubbish gets sorted at source.
  • We switched cleaning to eco-friendly/natural products – sodium bicarbonate and borax come in cardboard boxes rather than plastic bottles, vinegar comes in glass bottles as do the aromatherapy oils I use for fragrancing and disinfecting, and of course we have far less products to generate waste in the first place. Ecover washing powder comes in 10kg paperbags, and we thought it better to get the big 5l fabric conditioner and have 1 big bottle that lasts for ages rather than lots of smaller ones. We still debate if we need the fabric conditioner at all.

Which brings us to this year. We were rather blithe about the target, given how relatively easy it was to reduce the waste last year. We’re starting to realise that it’s going to be much harder to achieve the same reduction this year, and have had to take a good long look at what we are throwing out. Broadly, it falls into 3 categories:

  1. Food waste that cannot be composted
  2. Plastic waste that cannot be recycled (i.e. not P1/P2)
  3. umm, “clinical” waste (i.e. from the bathroom.)

1- Food waste that cannot be composted. Some of that can be addressed – for example, when I’m throwing food in the bin that the children have had on their plates but not eaten. Once it’s contaminated by saliva, it turns into germ soup. If I give them less to start with, and they can come back for more, then that reduces some of the waste. Bellaboo and I already do a nice line in lunchtime leftovers (bolognese sauce seems to taste better given a day to mature 😉 ) and I freeze a fair amount where there’s enough for small meals when we’re not all together for whatever reason. That could increase, and where I’m regularly getting leftovers, I can cut the amount I prep and cook and solve the problem at source. But there will always be things like the chicken carcass that went in this evening – boiled down for stock and stripped of all meat, and just a pile of bones and other revoltings, it’s still a bulky item. I don’t see how we’ll avoid that, and there are other things along the same lines that will always end up in the bin. I guess it’s just a question of addressing what we can and monitoring the rest.

2- Plastic waste that’s not P1/P2. This is mainly HDPE. We have relatively little of it, and what there is comes from (surprisingly) the veg box, as they’ll use the poly trays for tomatoes etc AND they deliver cucumbers encased in plastic condoms. I have no idea why that’s necessary. They could easily use compostible cardboard trays for the fruit/veg, and there’s no earthly reason why a cucumber needs its little condom. They’ve got pretty tough exteriors, and most people I know cut it off anyway before they eat them – they can be washed, in any case, and peppers, courgettes and other fruits & veg with similar skins are not treated in the same way. I have written to them to ask why, and whether they can change. Will be interesting to see if/when we get a response. The other big source of plastic is the farm. They vacuum pack all the meat and cheese, and I asked them about it today and was surprised when she told me that the plastic was recyclable in with other plastic bags. I will have to check this out, but if that’s the case, then I’ll be washing it out and dropping it in next time. The other big culprit on the plastic front hits us at birthdays and christmas, when my repeated requests for not-plastic encased/formed presents get ignored and we suddenly have a mountain of plastic packaging which is entirely non-recyclable and has to go to landfill. Drives me bananas. Maybe this year, I’ll get the message across . .  . .

3- The rubbish that gets chucked out of the bathroom I don’t think we can do much about. There’s not a huge amount of it (mooncup eliminated most of it), and the only other option I see for it would be to incinerate it when we have bonfires of garden rubbish – obviously excluding t’o-m’s cans of shaving foam/deodorant (I haven’t quite weaned him off aerosol power yet) – but I’m not sure about the environmental implications of doing that, and how much of it counts as hazardous waste. I need to look into it.

We’ll have to see how it goes. Hopefully, it will go well, and just by being a little more mindful of what and how we are both consuming AND disposing, we can hit the target.

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