Back in February, my wife and I signed up to Green Up Luton, a three month challenge that has seen us cutting our energy use, using more sustainable means of transport, and now cutting down our waste. We’ve had a series of tasks, but this week is the most ambitious yet, to try and aim for zero waste.
That’s a pretty tall order. Between recycling and composting and re-using things when we can, we don’t throw away much in our household – maybe a carrier bag full or so a week. To knock that down to nothing at all is a big challenge. Part of that is using our imaginations and seeing what else can be re-used around the house, but I’ve already got a stockpile of old plastic trays and jar lids and bits and pieces. Trying to re-use everything is just going to land me with more clutter. So I’m being pushed towards an alternative solution, which is to try and stop the rubbish coming into the house in the first place.
Here’s where it gets interesting, because I’m immediately noticing things I hadn’t paid any attention to before. For example, fresh things come with less packaging. The more processes my food has been subjected to, the more layers of plastic have been added to the final product. I went to the bakery this morning and bought a loaf of bread. If I have it sliced, it goes in a plastic bag. If it’s unsliced, it comes in a paper bag. The addition of a ten second slicing process means it needs more sophisticated packaging.
When you think about it, that holds true across most of the food we buy. The more washing, slicing, mixing and cooking we’re prepared to do, the less waste we will create, and the trash gyres are the price we pay for the few seconds of convenience we buy for ourselves.
I’m also paying attention to the materials more, looking out for packaging that’s non-biodegradable. I considered buying a bar of chocolate as I was queuing past them in the Post Office, but they were all wrapped in foil/plastic composites. Not so long ago, chocolate came in foil with a paper wrapper, both of which would break down without any trouble. Perhaps plastic is cheaper, or extends the shelf-life, but paper and foil worked just fine for decades.
It’s a bit of a game, the zero challenge week in the Williams household, but these are the kinds of questions our whole consumer culture needs to address, little by little. Can we bring back deposits on glass bottles? Was fish and chips in yesterday’s newspaper really so unhygenic? How long until we all follow Ireland’s example and put a tax on plastic bags?
- The book of rubbish ideas, which I’ve checked out of the library again for a few tips this week.