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My Waste Reduction Journey aka One Woman's War on Waste

December 03, 2019

Guest post by Charlotte Bullock

I took redundancy from my corporate job in the summer of 2017. Up until that point (apart from my three maternity leaves) I had juggled having the kids and running (literally) between work, school and home.  My husband fortuitously got a promotion at the same time as I left work so I decided to take a break. My kids were 14, 12 and 9 at the time.

Anyone who’s a parent will be aware of the pressure to role model in front of their kids. And increasingly mine were making comments on aspects of our lives that were not quite up to scratch.  My oldest banned anyone visiting Primark, the second came home and said that they had watched a documentary on organic produce and that actually it used too much water and finally they all watched David Attenburgh’s documentary on the quantity of plastic polluting our planet. The plastic finally got to me. And finally I had the time, energy and let’s face it ‘single-issue’ cause that prompted me to start reducing our plastic waste.

I looked at our recycling and at a glance could pretty much tell that the biggest volume of plastic came from the milk bottles.  I went online and subscribed to Milk and More. It was pretty easy and they come to our road on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I hope they become so popular they can restore daily visits like when I was a child.  I also weaned the family off fruit juice at breakfast, I opted for having it as a treat at weekends, ordering two bottles of juice or smoothies on a Saturday. That put paid to the Innocent/Coppella plastic bottles. (and nicely removed a daily intake of sugar too).

I had taken an organic fruit and veg box since the kids were little. It was generally really helpful when I was juggling work and kids for me to know that every week there would be fresh fruit and vegetables delivered to our door. I also liked it because it forced me to vary our diet. Faced with a long list of favourites on the supermarket shop it’s easy to eat the same things day in day out. We had to eat those beetroot, that kale and those chinese gooseberries. But the upside of this convenience was also a lower carbon footprint, seasonal eating and severely reduced packaging. I use Riverford and love their ethos and the weekly letters from Guy Watson or his team. I’ve also tried Oddbox who ‘rescue’ fruit and veg that might otherwise go to landfill. 

Next up were the meat cartons for chicken pieces and sausages. I confess it took a while to get to this. We reduced meat consumption at first, we hardly ever eat red meat and if we do it’s a big spag bol with as many veg squeezed in before it actually gets called a veggie spag bol… It felt too extravagant to only buy organic meat or only buy our meat from the butcher (the difference in price between a whole chicken from the supermarket vs. from the butcher is eye-watering). But as I went on it increasingly seemed the only way forward. Now we try to eat meat only once or twice a week (or I compromise and put a bit of bacon in a pasta bake and a do a half and half spag bol including quorn and mince). The first time I went to the butcher’s with my Tupperware I got there to find that I’d cleverly left it out on the kitchen counter. The second I had grabbed a bottom and the wrong lid. I was a bit worried about the butcher’s reaction about being handed the Tupperware but he didn’t bat an eyelid, until he couldn’t put the lid on. Still, third time lucky…

It’s not that the plastic bag from the butcher’s was a lot but every little helps (as they say) and it’s what the zero wasters do. On the same kind of tip I fell for the Who Gives a Crap ads. You get a delivery of toilet paper in a large cardboard box, ok for recycling or the best new toy a four year old can get. It’s all wrapped in pretty paper and made from sustainable bamboo. And WGAC donate to a charity to help build sanitation in places that need it.

The next big one to tackle was laundry detergent. I already used Ecover but with five quite large people in the house, all doing some form of regular exercise, we do a LOT of washing. The bottles were taking up room in that recycling bin. So I took them to my local refill shop. It cost a bit more but I was prepared for it. In the end though, it was a bit fiddly, I was a bit paranoid about spilling the contents of their large laundry detergents all over the shop floor so I always asked for help and this took a bit of time. And I was having to go back a lot. So I googled it and found the very same detergent (Bio-D) the refill shop sold, in the very same very large bottles (15L) and got it delivered from the Ethical Supermarket. At the same time I decided that we could do the same with shampoo and conditioner and hand-wash and shower gel. So now I have my very own refill shop in the laundry room. It’s not as pretty or as fun and I get to clean up my own mess. And I still use the refill shop, the Source Bulk Foods, it’s great for dry store cupboard ingredients. And they take my large bottles of detergent when they’re finished so there’s still less plastic in the recycling bin.

And as you have guessed by now, that is my method for measuring the success of my quest. How full is that box on a weekly basis? We used to fill a box and a half and now we are at half a box, which is very satisfying.  But I’m still going, it’s the long tail now, just wondering if the kids would like Toothpaste tablets in their stocking…

Having authored this blog post, Charlotte's next challenge is to make 2020 the Year of Not Buying New Clothes.....


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