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Thursday, 30 October 2014

Shopping Naked

It has been maybe ten years now that the Pitt family have only needed to put their 'general waste' bin out for collection once or twice in a year and even then it hasn't had much in it.  This was the photo of our entire residual waste for 2013.

Residual Waste for 2013
Now, it helps, of course, living in West Oxfordshire, where there really isn't very much at all that can't be recycled in your kerbside collection boxes - and they even take flyaway plastics as long as they are bagged up so they don't fly away during the collection process.  I've also actively taken steps to think about my residual waste each year and have tried to avoid buying things that can't be reused, recycled, composted or burnt on my stove - or things that have packaging that can't be recycled, reused etc.  And I've done that for a while now, so zero waste has become a habit.

But, this morning I put out four black boxes each of which was fairly full of recyclables. I'm pretty sure I put out four boxes, if not five, the week before and similar the week before that.  That's a lot of packaging for one family.  I have taken in the recycling from the cricket club annual dinner and we also had a rather large 18th birthday party, but it really has none-the-less got my attention. So I decided that over the next few weeks I'm going to really try hard to reduce the amount of packaging I amass.

We have for a long time bought much of our fruit and vegetables loose and last year I converted a patch of garden to grow salad herbs in order to provide unpackaged salad leaves.  My local butcher will accept my various reusable plastic boxes for when I buy meat.  I've been experimenting with making homemade snacks, particularly to reduce food waste as well as to reduce packaging.  But there are still so many things that come in a plastic bag.

I came across this write-up of Whole Foods Markets supermarket chain on the blog and it dawned on me that on one of my now very occasional journeys that I still make by car I drive right past the one in Cheltenham.  So today, I went prepared with a reusable shopping bag and my tiny bag of 'Onya Weigh Bags' - which are reusable, washable very lightweight mesh bags and checked out the Cheltenham branch of Whole Foods Market.

The selection of fruit and veg looked very inviting, but I had come to investigate those cupboard store ingredients like dried fruit, cereals, rice and pasta that are rarely found sold loose.

I came away with the following haul:

1. UK sourced jumbo oats at £1.09/kg.  The last box of oats I bought - because it was the only one I could see that was UK sourced with entirely recyclable packaging - is currently £2.70/kg in Sainsbury's.

2. Organic arborio rice £2.99/kg.  The last box I bought was priced at £2.20/kg from Sainsbury's.

3. Brown basmati rice at £2.39/kg.  Sainsbury's brown basmati rice is £1.80/kg

4. Organic raisins £5.99/kg. Sainsbury's organic raisins are £5.00/kg but the raisins I usually buy there are £3.00/kg.

5. Dry roasted peanuts £5.39/kg.  The cheapest dry roasted peanuts in Sainsbury's are £4.40/kg but I wouldn't buy them as the packaging isn't recyclable even in West Oxfordshire.  The ones I'd likely buy were £6.70/kg.

Price wise, it seems you win some you loose some.  If I'd bought around a kilo of each item then given the 30p discount Whole Foods Market gave me for using my own bags then I paid £1.15 more than I'd have paid buying what I'd normally buy at Sainsbury's or 85p less if I'd have chosen organic raisins.  I did a taste test on the raisins I had left at home and the ones I'd just bought and the latter were definitely tastier.  I doubt that's just down to freshness as raisins don't last long in our house.

So price-wise I felt it was ok and quality wise and packaging wise I'd give it top marks.  I love the fact that I would soon know exactly how much I can buy to fill my storage containers for each item and I loved the fact that I was left with no packaging to recycle.  I also cheekily took the opportunity to check out my Onya bags on the scales compared to the paper bags the shop provides and my Onya bags weighed a tiny bit less.  I will be shopping there again next time I pass.

I was only disappointed that there was no bulk buy plastic free pasta.  So it looks like I will have to try and make my own :)

Friday, 24 October 2014

Recycling Polystyrene

Yesterday I was asked this question on Twitter…

Technically the answer is 'Yes' - Polystyrene can be recycled and I learnt when I visited the Resource and Waste Management Show in Birmingham last year that it is recycled in the UK.

The map on this link shows you where in Britain you can find polystyrene recycling points.

But likely the more practicable answer here is NO.  Why?  The problem lies in collecting waste streams for stuff that is not an everyday waste item.  In addition, polystyrene is very light and bulky- it is actually 98% air!  That's the reason it is a good item for packaging, but a bad item for recycling.

In West Oxfordshire we are asked to put polystyrene into our grey rubbish bins - the ones for residual waste.  Would I do that?  NO WAY!

Polystyrene is one of those things I actively avoid whenever I can so I don't get a lot of it.  For instance I won't buy something in a supermarket that is packed in a polystyrene food tray.  I don't understand why a food processing company would choose a material that is so rarely recycled to package something they want us to buy on a regular basis and so I won't give them my business. Plain as that!

However, I have found that people will bring things to my house that are packed in polystyrene and occasionally I have had parcels arrive protected by polystyrene or filled with polystyrene pellets.  So what do I do with them?

I turn it into a resource and reuse it.

A timely project for polystyrene right now is for potting up my geraniums to bring them indoors for the winter, which I do every year towards the end of October.  Of course, I save the polystyrene from previous years but each year my geranium collection grows by about half a dozen plants as I take cuttings and separate bits of plant that have naturally rooted during the year.  So I always need a bit more polystyrene or broken crock for the bottom of the plant pots. For this purpose, I keep a bucket in my garage into which any bits of polystyrene or broken cups and plates get stored until I need them.

This is last year's stock about to get used this weekend.

A couple of other projects that have used up my stock of polystyrene lately:

This planter that Mr Pitt made for me out of some recycled wooden planks needed quite a lot of drainage in the bottom.  Polystyrene was ideal for that as it does the job of rocks and pebbles - but without the weight.  It keeps the soil in but allows the water to find ways through and creates a dry zone between the soil and the wooden base of the planter so that the wood doesn't rot.

You may notice that it also used up my collection of bits of oasis from various flower arrangements acquired at weddings, several cricket dinners and a few other events.  I always knew I'd find a use for it eventually!

Secondly, my local community shop that raises lots of money for our village clubs and societies sells quite a few fragile things, so I recently took a bag full of tissue paper and some polystyrene packaging pellets to them, which they said they were always in need of.

If you don't have storage space for your polystyrene in a garage for example then you could maybe put it on Freegle.  I often find things will go same day or within a couple of days.  People use polystyrene sheets as insulation in greenhouses.  It would make a reasonable substitute for oasis for dried flower arrangements too.