There are so many things I’m doing now that once felt daunting and are now just part of everyday ordinary. Malcolm and I have dramatically reduced the amount of household waste we send to landfill, as well as the waste we send for recycling (or at least, we hope it goes for recycling: the reality may be very different).
Our household landfill waste is collected by the council once a fortnight, and between collections is stored in a huge bin provided to all households (other than flat-dwellers). It is far larger than we need or want, but the design meets the needs of the (outsourced) waste collection company – it fits their lorries’ emptying system. I can see the desirability of standardisation, but I regret the lack of imagination (or perhaps resources) to think about alternative measures eg the system we’ve seen in use in Dutch towns where waste is collected from local street-level collection bins with underground holding chambers.
There really shouldn’t be anything much in our landfill bin. Our council collects a wide range of recyclables/reusables: all clean paper, cardboard, glass bottles, cans, food waste, cloth waste, small electrical waste, and some (but not all) recyclable plastic. At additional cost per household, they collect garden waste – I use this for material I can’t compost at home (though as I write this, I’m wondering whether I should instead borrow a shredder from Bath Share and Repair – they have a ‘library of things’ – occasionally, and make use of the shreddings on the allotment or in the garden).
One good thing about our local system is that it is immediately obvious just how much or how little landfill waste we personally are responsible for. In our case, that’s around a standard sized supermarket plastic bag a fortnight. Not much, you might think – and it certainly isn’t much compared to many of our neighbours. But I think we can do better than that.
I’ve been educating myself about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and thinking about how we could use them creatively in the work we do at Bath City Farm. But now I realise that I could also be using them as a framework for some of the things I do in my personal life. Waste management is a good example. I’ve been looking at SDG 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
I think the SDGs were developed primarily to be used at government and organisational levels, but I see no reason why they can’t also be useful guides for us all at a household and individual level. We absolutely should be thinking about the global impact of everything we consume, everything we decide to acquire, and consider what the broader impact is – in terms of the raw materials and their production, their impact in use, and what happens to them at the end of their life with us. For example, when we accept a plastic bag we should be thinking not just about whether or not it is recyclable or compostable, but the embodied energy (ie the energy required to produce the materials and the product in the first place as well as the energy that will be required to reuse it in some way).
An important step for me was realising that not everything in a household has to be negotiated and agreed: I can take personal responsibility for the waste I produce without expecting that Malcolm has to agree with me or do the same. Sometimes we end up in the same place; sometimes we take a different view. And that’s fine.
I’ve noticed that a good deal of what goes into our fortnightly bag is still food packaging (despite our efforts to reduce the amount of food we buy packaged, and despite us putting everything allowed into the recycling box). For years I’ve been inspired by the writing and example of ZerowasteChef, and now she’s published a book. I decided to buy a physical copy, because I find myself frequently looking up her recipes online. Reading the book is inspiring me to make more changes at home. And best of all, I found I was able to order it from our local bookshop.
I’ve set up an additional collection box so we can set aside any clean (ie not smelly) plastic waste that can’t currently be recycled locally. I’m planning to do it for 3 months, and then I can see how much or how little that is, and think about ways to reduce it.
Walking down our road on bin day can be a depressing affair. I’d love to be able to support others to reduce the amount of waste they produce. I’m wondering whether/how this could happen. I have an embryo of an idea to offer my service to help anyone who would like some support to ‘slim their waste’ (maybe in return for a small donation to Bath City Farm). Any ideas or suggestions most welcome! especially if you’ve done it or would like to do it yourself.
One small step at a time.