Last week Mr A gave me one of his looks. He was in the middle of planning for his Open University seminar on Saturday, while I was planning a treat for me and the kids.
He lifted his eyes from his computer, glanced in my direction with that look, the one that comes with semi-disapproval mixed with disbelief.
"Are you mad?" he said.
"I can't believe...
you're taking the boys...
.... single-handedly to London!"
I suppose, the fact I struggle to cope with taking the children anywhere single-handedly added to the element of surprise.
"Why on earth London?" He asked, trying to get to the bottom of it all. After all, the journey isn't the most straightforward, involving two train rides with a very prompt changeover in Cambridge.
I'm not quite sure whether I reassured him.
"I'm off to see the Baglady," I said.
"So, you're going to take the kids to London to see a baglady". By now he was getting a tad concerned.
I can't blame him really. I have been demonstrating bouts of odd behaviour of late. He's still bemused that two weeks ago I navigated through Essex despite the fact my car has hardly experienced life outside of Bury St Edmunds.
Anyway he needn't worry.
I'm perfectly sane.
And it wasn't any old baglady I was off to see, it was THE Baglady, my friend Shirley, from Northern Ireland, who was in London, making her West End debut.
And here she is, the fabulous Baglady herself, parading her gorgeous outfit in Trafalgar Square.
After a couple of months of phone-chat and emails, it was a true delight to meet her properly and after a quick interview for her TV channel GLO TV, I stood back and watched her interact with passers-by. With a background in journalism, she's a true natural and it was a real pleasure witnessing how people came up to her to chat about rubbish, offering their commitment to support measures for ending world waste.
Regrettably we had to part company after a very brief meeting. While Baglady wandered off to Buckingham Palace, the boys and I followed our noses in the direction of a kids' art workshop.
And on a very hot day in the middle of Trafalgar Square ... we sat and made a couple of cardboard buses, which were duly placed on a newspaper map of the capital city itself.
Of course the boys insisted we brought the buses home. So after getting the 91 bus back to Kings Cross, the train to Cambridge and the second train back to Bury St Edmunds, to Mr A's relief, we arrived safely ...
...with our very unusual souvenirs completely intact.
So a grand day was had by all, the last fling of Summer before going Back to School.
Yes the first week of September is a biggie. Not only are the kids going back go school, but it's the start of the Big Tidy Up to Keep Britain Tidy.
And what fantastic timing eh! Couldn't be better. Not only is Baglady talking about Ending World Waste this Monday at Stanfords in Covent Garden, but Mrs Green is embarking on her inaugural Zero Waste Week at MyZeroWaste.com.
So whatever you're doing and wherever you are, please find a few minutes to pick up some litter, recycle it if possible, drop into Stanfords and pop over to support Mrs Green.
With so much to do, there's only one thing left to remember...
I mustn't forget to pick the kids up from school!
SIGH - no wonder Mr A was anxious about London. Who could blame him eh?
Sunday, 31 August 2008
Last week Mr A gave me one of his looks. He was in the middle of planning for his Open University seminar on Saturday, while I was planning a treat for me and the kids.
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Ladies and Gentlemen, please take your seats for a roll-call of brilliant bloggers.
Along with Mrs Green at MyZeroWaste, I am thrilled to have accepted the award from the amazing Emma - aka Muppet or even Fluffius Muppetus - who can normally be found in The Alternative Kitchen Garden over at Coopette.com. She said some kind words in her award speech, saying our blogs were very inspirational.
Thank you Emma, it was a lovely surprise and I am now pleased to pass it on to some other fabulous bloggers, who I think are great, but are so diverse. Of course Mrs G would be right up there in the line-up but she's already polishing her own award.
So bloggers, please stand up and be ready to accept your awards,
@ Just Gai - The lovely Gareth Rae, who offers many words of wisdom as well as joy over the world we live in and how things should be. Don't miss what Just Gai has to say on the latest contender over at BIN 101.
@ Strawberry Jam Anne - A newcomer on the scene, with Anne who writes an uplifting blog about family and friendship, with moments that touch close to your heart.
@ Bean sprouts - Melanie Rimmer offers a fabulous foundation for sustainable living, with fresh ideas at every turn. She provides inspiration to many, including me when I turned to her for advice at the very start of this blog. If you haven't done so already, check out Mel's guest article here.
@ Dandaworld - A true Italian friend who's pushing the boundaries over in Italy with inspirational thoughts on sustainability. Danda's words can now be read in English, which puts my non-existent Italian to shame.
@ Tracey Smith - An inspirational friend and mentor who set up International Downshifting Week and helped me justify giving up what is deemed proper work. She's even got her own book out, a fab read about...guess what...yes Rubbish. Grab a preview of the sample pages over at Bookofrubbishideas.co.uk.
@ Environmental Notes - by Fr Peter Doodes, with inspirational messages about the important things in life and the world. Thought provoking moments.
@ Good Living Tips - written by Russell, who provides a fabulous range of thoughts on sustainable and ethical living.
@ Jo Beaufoix - A thoroughly entertaining mother from Mansfield, who shares an insight into her life in a way that can make me laugh my socks off and cry with sadness, sometimes at the same time. I will be forever thankful to Jo for slimming her bin, and making a difference to Nottinghamshire landfill.
@ Mother at Large - A fabulous blog for older mothers, written by Helen, following the trials and tribulations of arriving at motherhood "fashionably late". Congratulations to Helen on the arrival of her second daughter who too was described as fashionably late.
@ Ruby - the blogger turned friend and the person who inspired me to blog. She's has been there by my side through the whole Rubbish Diet experience. She slimmed her bin, then scarpered off to York, where she's now settling in for a new set of adventures.
@ KatyBoo1 - a more recent acquaintance, a blogger who says it how it is, stamps on the hushed side of motherhood, and after the week she's had, is in need of cheering up.
@ Richard Madeley Appreciation Society - I know, a surprise entry. Written by Richard Madeley, as himself but not himself. He will know he's worthy of awards and above them at the same time. Confused? You will be, so pop along to see why.
and last but most certainly not least
@ Fake Plastic Fish - where Beth has made the most amazing inroads into living with so little plastic, she's worthy of a medal or two. An inspirational woman with such vigour and determination, I can only sit back and admire.
There are many more I could include. Each and every blog I visit and pause for a while, I do it because I enjoy your company and I enjoy your presence here too. I wish I could visit more often and if I haven't for a while, I will be back soon. But days pass with so little time for words to be read or even written.
So after I've come over and visited you all, please feel free to pass on the award to others. Whether you're rule-followers or rule-breakers (which I know some of your are), the rules are outlined below.
1) Put the logo on your blog.
2) Add a link to the person who awarded you.
3) Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4) Add links to those blogs on yours.
5) Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs
Labels: Brilliant Bloggers
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Excuse me please...Can someone help me out?
Yes, you. uh-uh, you.
I know you're only passing by but if you could just stretch out your hand a bit...a little further. That's it.
Just lifting over my other leg now. Phew, that's grand, I'm out.
Thank you so much and please excuse me while I dust myself down.
You see, I've been there all afternoon, having a poke about in the skip at all the things that people are trying to get rid of. You should know by now what a nosey old bird I am. So when I saw this particular skip I couldn't help myself. I couldn't pass by such a great opportunity. Honestly, it's amazing what's in there. You ought to go and see.
As well as the ubiquitous mattress, which no self-respecting skip would be without, there are televisions, posters, office furniture, computer monitors and children's toys, all in great condition and ready for the picking.
But as you can probably guess from the HUGE logo at the top of the post, this is no ordinary skip that you simply have delivered to your house.
This is a skip with a difference. It's a big yellow virtual number, that sits in cyberspace, with no limits on how much you can throw away. You could say it's a bit like Freecycle but with more va-voom. In fact, the va-voom makes it more like eBay.
That's it. It's like a free eBay. Free to register, free to upload and free to go rummaging.
It's also easy to use and secure. If you see an item you like, you can easily reserve it. Members can add feedback and rate each other's reliability with stars. If you're busy and on the move, with no access to the computer, no problem. You can even upload items from your mobile phone.
So what more could you want, a fabulous new way to keep your unwanted stuff out of landfill and be in with the chance of a freebie at the same time.
But guess what, there is more, lots more in fact!
You know I mentioned the va-voom...
...well...launched in April, MySkip.com already has the backing of an amazing set of people, ranging from the Dalai Lama and Prince Charles to the dizzy heights of media such as Max Clifford and Saatchi and Saatchi.
A whole host of celebrities have already donated items to the site, including Sir Cliff Richard, Sheryl Crow and Katie Melua. One of these items is added each week, but you won't know what it is, because as the site says "it's this action - not the item, that will help draw attention to the serious issues surrounding unnecessary waste".
As co-founder May Al-Karooni told me this afternoon, "It's all about making eco living a bit more fun".
The founders also recognise that keeping unwanted items out of landfill is only part of the much broader spectrum of environmental issues that need to be addressed and with this in mind they have set up a not-for-profit organisation called The MySkip Foundation Trust. Professor David Bellamy OBE is tasked with overseeing its work, which aims to find innovative solutions to poverty as well as reducing man's impact on the environment.
So, if you've got five minutes to spare and want to join in, please feel free and go over to myskip.com for a good old rummage. You may even find the item that I dropped in there during my visit this afternoon. It's waiting for a good home, so why not pop over and see what you can do.
Monday, 25 August 2008
The alarm rings loudly.
"There's an unexpected item in packing area!" the automated voice tells all.
The alarm rings again.
The only thing that's sitting in the packing area of the self-service till is my bag-for-life. I suppose it's a Waitrose bag in a Tesco Express store, so for some it could have been deemed mildly unexpected. But come on, this is 2008. We're all in this together!
Red faced, I look for the assistant. I avoid eye-contact with the other customers just in case they think I'm shoplifting. Ah but perhaps that's a sign of guilt? Maybe I should look each and everyone of them in they eye, like a jury ready to announce their verdict.
Phew, the lady arrives. Presses the release button.
I must have a trustworthy face, because she doesn't peer too closely in the bags.
With the first bag packed, I put my second in place, this time a smart little number in bright green.
"There's an unexpected item in packing area!"
Not again! At least by now, my queuing audience has disappeared.
The assistant smiles or perhaps grits her teeth as she presses the button for a second time.
I swipe my clubcard.
"Number of own bags?"
I type in 2.
"Assistance Needed." flusters the computer, accompanied by the now familiar alarm bells.
I want to shout "Don't you believe me?"
Another smile to accompany another press of the release button.
I swipe, I pay and with a sense of relief I leave, with my emergency bank holiday supplies.
My reputation might be in tatters but at least my bags are intact.
And I swear I will never use those machines again!
Labels: Bags for Life
Sunday, 24 August 2008
It's the kind of thing you might say to your cleaner if you caught her deliberately overdoing it with the furniture polish instead of your beloved beeswax!
But when I say "Please take your Pledge", it is not in the context of my cleaning lady. The chance would be a fine thing.
No, the pledge that's on my mind today is the one that you can take at myzerowaste.com, where the fabulous Mr & Mrs Green have got just one week to go before they embark on their very own Zero Waste Week.
To round up support, they've gathered some fine sponsors including ECOutlet, EcoCentric and NaturalStore, plus many many more, offering prizes that should whet your appetite, no matter what time of day.
The only thing you have to do to be in with a chance of winning, is make one teeny weeny commitment to do something to reduce household waste, whether it's signing up a milkman, recycling your tetra paks or just telling a neighbour about a new recycling facility. You can even make up your own pledge. Just make sure you do it and pop back and tell them what you've done and how it went!
So please...before you have your breakfast, lunch, dinner or even supper, pop over and have a nosey.
I've done it! You see, no matter how slim your bin, there's always room for eliminating one more thing...and I'm even in with a chance of winning a cleaner.
What was that Mrs G?
It's not that kind of cleaner! Oh well, I'll be happy enough with the household cleaning kit from Ecover.
Of course, I'm not going to tell you what my pledge is...until later this week. If you want to find out sooner, just click on the big button below and after you've made your own pledge, check out the Competition Feedback.
Friday, 22 August 2008
If you're concerned about world waste and are about in London on Monday 1st September at 7.30pm, then get yourself down to Stanfords in Covent Garden, where you can meet three inspirational people who will be looking at different ways to help the environment.
Author David Smith, who wrote the powerful book If the world were a village, will explain about how much we waste and what's in the waste. Environmental scientist and the founder of Planet Earth website, Lionel Smith will discuss how to reduce litter in the environment and my lovely friend Shirley Lewis (aka Baglady) will inject her fun perspective on living ASAP (as sustainably as possible). David will also be available to sign copies of his book, which will be available to buy on the night.
I would love to have joined in the natter, but it's the beginning of term so will have my feet firmly in Suffolk. However, if you can get into London, you will no doubt find this an interesting event.
You never know, Baglady may even be wearing her trademark dress.
If you can't make it, don't worry, please just spread the word and pop back soon when over the next few weeks I'll be featuring an interview with Baglady herself.
If you can get along, please remember to book tickets in advance. Details are below:
Find out more about the speakers at their respective websites:
David Smith: www.mapping.com
Lionel Smith: www.24hoursonplanetearth.com
Shirley Lewis, the Baglady: www.bagladyproductions.org
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
Slap me round the face with a wet fish if this was just a bit too cheeky...
To me, it's careful planning. To others it might feel a tad premature. But on Monday this little old Festive Opportunist struck lucky...and the best bit is it's only August.
I feel like I've beaten the High Street at its own game just before the Christmas cards hit the shops in September. That's right...in just a couple of weeks time, you'll start to see stores everywhere being feng shui'd and rearranged to entice you to start early with gift packs, cards and wrapping.
But this year I've crept up behind them with a boo!
It'll be no surprise that I'm aiming for a minimal waste Christmas...and if I'm going to succeed I need to get cracking. I'm going to have to be as creative as a cuckoo in a magpie's nest.
I've got four months to minimise as many excessive accessories as I can, whilst showing our friends and family that we still love, cherish and appreciate them perhaps even more than ever. It's going to be a tough one since most of our close family live in Wales, Scotland, Bristol and Switzerland and our friends are dotted around far and wide too.
Oh gee, what have I let myself in for? ... hopefully loads of fun and more cash in the pocket if it all goes to plan.
And it's kicked off with the most fabulous start, with a friend from Bedfordshire popping over for a rare visit with her two kids.
Imagine the scene...rainy day, small house and four boys, aged 4-6.
...friend wants a tour of Bury St Edmunds.
...[sub-text...friend would like to browse the town's beautiful independent shops]...
We pile into town, decide to settle in a cafe that also does pottery painting....
We enjoy coffee...the kids paint pottery...
My friend thinks it's lovely...
I pose the killer question...
"Do you mind if I make this an early Christmas present?"
I pause and worry she'll think I'm crackers. My time-check tells me it's still August.
But what a relief!
She thinks it's a great idea...I'm glad there's no packaging...the kids are just happy to have had a fun time. I've even saved money on wrapping paper and postage.
They won't miss one less present at Christmas. What's more special is that we had a great experience we shared in the cafe, the memories of which that will remain.
It think I've hit on the trick there...spreading Christmas across the year through shared experiences, with time to give creative personal gifts instead of buying all that Crimbo clutter. My friends will now be shaking in their shoes at the thought of what I'll be doing with those jam jars.
With careful planning I hope to enjoy the festive period as simply as we can, with carefully chosen food, carols and trips to the seaside.
I know, I know...I talk about Christmas in August and visit the seaside in December.
I'm about as unseasonal as snow in May.
Monday, 18 August 2008
"Oh dear, oh dear, I shall be too late!" I muttered, finding myself lost in Essex, feeling like the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland
Getting lost in Essex is something I rarely do. Lost in France may be, or even Cardiff Bay, but I've never lost myself in Essex.
First there was the missing road sign, which meant I had to navigate by hope alone. I tried the stars, but it was a cloudy night, so I used my natural instinct along the windy roads in the Essex countryside. When I finally thought I'd reached my bethlehem, it turned out to be wrong house!
The Wrong House!
The email said no 1....but the lights were out and no-one was home.
So... lost in Essex, with no phone signal, I was wondering what to do next.
If it hadn't been for the kind lady at no.2 spotting me from her lounge and asking me who I was looking for I would have missed my slot...a rare opportunity to rub shoulders with the Queen of Downshifting,... yes the one and only Tracey Smith...who just happened to be on holiday with her lovely family just a little further along the quiet idyllic road.
A very special lady, with a very special place in my heart.
I love Tracey. I love her warmth, her bubbliness and I adore the way she can laugh about things like solar powered vibrators without making me blush.
We first made contact three or four years ago with odd emails here and there about how an average woman can downshift. Then at the beginning of the year, things began to hot up with regular conversations, talking about nothing else but rubbish. How we laughed at some of my adventures in Zero Waste and how we celebrated the single plaster.
She also enjoyed talking trash with some of her fabulous friends as well as a whole bunch of celebrities including Brigit Strawbridge, Kim Wilde and Carl Honoré, whose latest book Under Pressure I enjoyed reading whilst in Switzerland. So you can see I felt very honoured to have enjoyed a slice of her time.
As an experienced broadcaster on Apple FM, she helped calm my nerves about the recordings for Woman's Hour. She did it again for my first live interview, but I'm not sure it worked on this occasion....as demonstrated by my nervous shout of "sanitary towels" on Irish Radio when probed for the one thing that should never go to landfill.
Tracey's been a brick and what I love best about her is that she accepts me for who I am, not a downshifter as such but more of a "downhill-shifter", with one foot throughly enjoying the exciting speed of 21st Century living and the other trailing behind at snail's pace, inticing me to slow down. She's encouraged me to swap some of my Phase Eight luxuries for Charity Shop bargains and ditch the office for my living room.
She knows I won't go all the way, with my love for modernity, the mainstream and mobile technology, but we still meet at the crossroads and laugh!
And here she is, the gorgeous lady, beaming at me like a ray of sunshine, about to give me something very, very special.
It had been wrapped up and ready to send in the post, beautifully packaged in compostable brown paper and string...which apparently is an unwelcome guest in automated sorting offices (for reasons of getting tangled in machinery), but which is more than welcome to me.
So... in the words of Rolf Harris, "Can you tell what it is yet?"
If you need any clues at all, it's got something to do with her disappearing off the face of the planet for months on end, bent over at her desk under a single lamp in her pyjamas....
....tapping at her keyboard...
...she got all her thoughts off her chest and emailed the final manuscript to Alastair Sawday...or rather his editor...and revealed to the world
...the beautiful thing she created...
...as shown here.
And it's not the compost bin...although that is a lovely sight in itself.
Yes Ladies & Gentlemen, I feel very privileged to be personally presented with one of the first preview copies of Tracey's fabulous new book...The Book of Rubbish Ideas, which comes with a special message, which I will treasure forever more.
Despite having very little free time on my hands, you can see that I couldn't wait to get cracking on it and settled myself down.
Okay, I confess, you've caught me out enjoying a moment of self-indulgence, reading the huge mention of The Rubbish Diet on page 105. And no better location eh, leaning comfortably against the compost bin, next to the slugs, for the beginning of an enjoyable read...
...allowing some time-out to flick through the rest of the content, a room-by-room guide, revealing a whole wealth of hints and tips about how you can reduce, reuse and recycle and even pull in the cash at the same time. There are even sample letters to encourage the silent but latent activists out there. It is the perfect addition to the Sawday's environmental range.
Of course, Tracey speedily pulled me up off the floor and we soon got back to our previous levels of excitement. Sitting in the front garden of her holiday home, on a sofa awaiting collection by a Freecycler, we cursed bars in Bury St Edmunds that don't recycle glass bottles, praised a company that recycles...er... vibrators...(oh, yes, see page 75)...and admired the bats that circled over our heads.
How surreal, being presented a book by Tracey with a message that reads "Get Writing Missus", at a time when she's finished her manuscript and I am enjoying the beginning of mine...just think eh...in 2009, we'll be doing the same again with The Rubbish Diet.
We've laughed before about being the Trinny and Susannah of bins, it's certainly beginning to feel that way...or is that Hinge and Bracket? (LOL...sorry Trace)
So join me in a toast to the lovely Tracey Smith, congratulating her on a major achievement, The Book of Rubbish Ideas, which can be bought for just half-price if you're quick and pre-register before it's published at the end of September.
As for me...I'm already dipping in...yes it's that type of book. So what are you waiting for? Come on...off you go.
Sunday, 17 August 2008
A personal insight into Pay Per Throw
"Clairette....do you really think this is plastic, what is it doing in here?"
The voice from the kitchen sounded shocked, bemused and irate.
Seconds later my French brother-in-law appeared at the dining table, brandishing a cardboard tube insert that had once belonged to a roll of kitchen paper.
My sister shrugged, threw a glance that led into a triple somersault of eye-rolling worthy of a new Olympic sport, and with a sip of red wine returned a "Non" as the beginning of her defence.
This was followed by a "Sorry, I was in a hurry. Anyway recycling is your department".
"But you can tell it's not plastique. I've even labelled the box", came the retort.
My brother-in-law threw me a look of camaraderie. We smiled. We both knew that recycling made sense in our reciprocal roles as defenders of the bins, but were we really in agreement? I guess only time would tell.
I can now hardly believe that it was two weeks ago that we had just arrived in Switzerland. We were greeted by a tour of relatively new house, in the lakeside village of Concise, which lies in the Canton of Vaud. A modest yet lovely open-plan family home, with lots of space, including a cellar.
After the tour of their home, came the tour of the recycling. I guess there aren't many house-guests who suggest such a thing but my brother-in-law was more than happy to oblige.
With a smooth pull of the under-sink cupboard, a nifty little bin was revealed with compartments for compostable waste and general rubbish. A step in the other direction, he opened the large larder cupboard which harboured a host of delights including boxes for paper, PET bottles, mixed plastics and "autre choses"for glass and aluminium cans. Soiled nappies, from their two very young children, are stored outside and are collected weekly for incineration.
The rest of their rubbish amounts to a small 17 litre bag per week, which is taken for collection to a communal spot about 200 metres from their house. It's a case of O marks the spot!
"C'est parfait" I said, pretty impressed at the efforts by my continental family.
Even more impressive was that they have no such luxury as a doorstep recycling collection and that every ten days or so, when the cupboard is full to capacity, my brother-in-law drops them at their local household waste recycling centre, which in that part of Switzerland is called a Déchetterie or Centre de Tri de la Collure.
That's what I call commitment! Storing every piece of recycling material for two whole weeks in the kitchen before DRIVING a few kilometres to the recycling centre.
But that's Switzerland for you! A green country full of waste-conscious people.
...fast forward a few days, when our days in Concise were up and we were introduced to their holiday home in the beautiful Alpine village of Leysin, where they visit regularly in the Winter and every few weeks in the Summer.
A most beautiful and serene place...
Well mostly serene until a sudden shriek of "Quelle Horreur" stopped even the cows in their tracks.
The sight of my brother-in-law filling a bin bag with not just yoghurt pots, but aluminium cans, and kitchen waste was surely a case of the Body Snatchers. He was not just filling it, he was over-filling it, already using up one of their 17 litre bags in just one day. The only things that were saved from the bag were glass bottles, which were taken to a a local collection point and old paper which is collected once a month from the bottom of their garden.
Dear me, what was going on? They had a cellar for storage and the local déchetterie was just as close. And if you look closely at the recycling opportunities, you'll see that most things are accounted for.
My brother-in-law looked the same, sounded the same and even had the same mannerisms. But he was acting very oddly. He was just bunging everything in the bin...almost as happily as Almost Mr Average on holiday.
Oh no, what if they'd been conferring! That Mr A, he can be a bad influence you know.
Tut, tut... me of little faith! I should have guessed. It had nothing to do with coercion, or change of heart or some freak event involving alien forces.
It all came down to money. Just like many other things.
You see, there's one thing you should know about my sister and her lovely husband. They're a thrifty pair. Always have been and always will. Not tight, not mean, but they enjoy many a financial opportunity that comes their way and that includes the opportunity to save money too.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, let me present a positive case for PAY PER THROW and a tale of two villages.
In Concise, households pay the equivalent of about 50 pence for every 17 litre bag of rubbish that they throw out. Those with young families are supported in that nappies are collected separately in clear bags, without additional charge.
This means that even with a 70 litre load of dirty nappies, my sister and her family pay less than £30 per year to get rid of their rubbish.
Yes £30 quid! Now that's what I call a bargain.
The system is simple. Residents buy stickers denoting the size of their bin bags, 1 Swiss Franc for a 17 litre bag and 2 Swiss Francs for 35 litres. I suppose you could consider it a similar process to buying stamps, except you're paying to have your waste collected instead of posting a letter.
The sticker is placed on the bag, which is then taken to a central point for collection, a communal point on a main road. In theory any "unstickered" bags remain uncollected and what's amazing is that it appears to work.
No wonder my brother-in-law was as keen as a rat up a drainpipe. With a nose for saving money, there was every incentive to get that recycling system in order.
By comparison, at their holiday home in Leysin, their waste bill comes to £250 per year, a standard flat-fee bill, which is not influenced by how much a resident recycles. It was the same in another village that they once lived, although the annual bill was higher there, as much as £400. In both locations, their weekly waste amounts to about 70 litres, excluding nappies.
My brother-in-law was kind enough to give me his perspective.
"Most people don't want to move to the sticker system. When we first moved to Concise it puzzled me and I was not sure how it would work. But now it really frustrates me that I have to pay the amount that I do in Leysin and can’t do anything about it. So why should I sort the rubbish there for recycling. If we could pay per throw in Leysin, we would feel the benefits."
"Behaviour is so motivated by such financial benefits. The only way you can make a change is for people to pay. The majority of people will benefit. Even those who don’t care won’t pay any more than they normally do anyway."
Blimey, what a dark horse eh. And that could be said about the country too, which at first glance appears to be top notch at Le Recyclage, with recycling rates reaching over the 50% mark.
But when you delve below the surface and talk to people like my brother-in-law, it becomes clear that what gives Switzerland its reputation as being one of Europe's (if not the world's) most effective countries when it comes to recycling, is the effort that's made in the East of the country, amongst the German speaking Cantons.
According to my brother-in-law, the French-speaking regions to the west are playing catch-up. Like the UK, Switzerland has a non-uniform system of collecting waste, with the country consisting of 26 Cantons, which in turn comprise any number of Communes. These are the authorities that hold local responsibility for waste management.
The pay-per-throw sticker system that is well established in East is now gradually being rolled out to the West.
The Canton of Vaud, which encompasses both the villages of Concise and Leysin, has been making significant efforts to improved the recycling rates through extra collection points and increasing the frequency of collections.
This is evident from the number of PET collection bins that are dotted around towns at regular intervals, as well as the mini recycling points for glass and cardboard that can be found in places like Leysin, which don't have pay-per-throw systems. With facilities like these within extremely convenient reach, it is hardly surprising that Switzerland's recycling rate for glass is as high as 95%.
The Canton published its plan in 2004, which set the recycling targets for the Vaud region at 60% by 2020. The latest figures from 2005 showed a rate of 41%, which represents a 1% increase on the previous year. It has been acknowledged that fixed targets in terms of recycling taxes have helped as well as the introduction of the pay-per-throw sticker system in a small number of villages.
I would never have thought I would be in support of pay-per-throw, especially given the controversy over tests in the UK. You've only got to read articles such as the one in The Telegraph and The Mail as examples of how unpopular the suggestion is, with people calling for a burn it not sort it solution.
But are things as simple as that? After all, Switzerland incinerates most of its rubbish, creating 3% of the country's energy. Yet the country still invests heavily in recycling facilities, to rescue most resources from the incinerators.
There is still a back up system of landfill but made up of the remains of combusted waste, some building materials and industrial waste.
But could such a system really work in the UK? Again the papers say that pay-per-throw would hurt the middle classes. Yet I would categorise my sister and her husband as Middle Class by UK standards. It works for them. So could it work for others?
The newspapers really make grim reading, painting the impression of the UK population as a wasteful bunch of layabouts with heaving, over-filled bins. Anyone who gets fined for too much recycling gets to make the headlines, as do those who may have not put their bin in the proper location for collection to find the binmen have left it behind.
No wonder pay-per-throw is represented as so unpopular. If this is the picture of what our country throws away, it looks as unsurmountable as some of the Alpine glaciers.
Of course that is the reality in many parts, but is it not also the case that thousands if not millions of people in the UK are efficient recyclers? Actually I don't know, because these people are not headline material for our daily press... Mr X celebrates his 5th bin bag in as many years hardly makes front page news.
Perhaps it may be a case of taking small babysteps with this pay-per-throw lark, giving people the choice in the similar way to water metering. Those that sign up could have they council tax reduced and pay for the small amount that they throw out. Then let's see the results. The proof could definitely be in the lack of last night's pudding, along with the visual evidence and word of mouth.
And if participants are put off by the threat of unruly neighbours topping up their very empty wheelie bins, then ditch the bins. Are bins with detectors that measure and weigh the contents really necessary, especially when other systems have proved to be effective? Could a sticker and bin-bag system really work over here or would there be another opportunity for fraudsters to print off their own to cheat the system? Or would people sign up, pay for a few stickers and bung the rest of their rubbish elsewhere?
Listen to my suspicious mind in action. What am I like?
Perhaps it's now time for us to start having faith in our country and not be dismayed by the headlines that hit the press. Perhaps it's also time to stop treating government and local councils as public enemy number one and all start working together to help the country's targets.
As you know, I'm no expert on such matters of policy, politics or indeed sociology. I'm just a member of the electorate, who could be simply eying up an opportunity to save herself some money at a time when the Credit Crunch may be hitting home.
I don't know. Maybe it's just another case of my naivety. I can only highlight what I have seen with my own eyes, which could be just a biased view from only one week spent in one country.
One thing I do know, is that as a country we are already paying to throw our rubbish away. What my brother-in-law has shown me has certainly struck a chord. Maybe there are millions of people across the country who are looking for the same opportunity to save some money. We just don't know.
Of course neither Switzerland or I may be perfect in our thinking or indeed actions. With regard to contemporary forums on Zero Waste, environmental consequences of incineration is still very much under debate and it has been said that that despite Switzerland's excellent performance in recycling, much is left to be desired when it comes to reducing its use of raw materials.
As for me, well I was on holiday. Little Miss Perfect might have dragged her husband to the Déchetterie, for a good old sort, but not even I was up for that. After doing our best with the local facilities around the village, I just bunged everything else in our rubbish bin. I have a poor excuse, a lot of packaging gave me permission to do this, with cute little rubbish bag symbols.
We didn't do too badly though. Having recycled the paper, the PET, the glass, the milk bottles and bread we ended up just throwing away food waste, kitchen scraps and tetra paks along with plastic packaging. All this came to just one 35 litre bag, which was half of what I would have thrown away a year ago. In Concise that would have cost me just a pound.
But I have a real confession. That scruffy old purse, the one which was really just too grotty to offer to a charity shop or give away... well I did something quite naughty.
I couldn't bear the thought of it sitting in the UK's landfill for all those years, so guess what...
I donated it to the Swiss incinerator system.
By now, someone somewhere will have probably have made some toast thanks to the energy from my purse.
But hey, I'm not quite ready for the incineration debate yet and all the implications of energy through waste. I've used up all my own energy just discussing my brother-in-law's waste. So, I think I'll leave that for another day...
...and leave you with some of my happy memories.
Thursday, 14 August 2008
How truth can be stranger than fiction.
10.50 am... Bury St Edmunds train station...
Ruby and I sat quietly on a bench, as quietly as two chattering friends could. We were waiting patiently for a train to Ipswich, as excited as two little schoolgirls who hadn't seen each other all summer. It was the start of a very exciting day.
Suffering from a terrible headache, I put my hand into my jacket pocket and retrieved the paracetamol tablets that I'd bought at the local garage that morning. I was thankful that they were in a plastic container and not those terrible blister packs made from inseparable foil and plastic, which infuriates many of my acquaintances.
Ruby also decided to take her own dose of medication that she'd collected from the pharmacy only 10 minutes earlier.
The scene was developing into a vision of the future, morphing into two elderly ladies nursing our respective ailments.
11:26am.....Ipswich Train Station.
Ruby and I stepped off the train, giggling over the events of the previous evening. We'd been out to a trendy bar in town to celebrate my book deal and to commiserate over her leaving Bury St Edmunds for good. There had been much laughter, political discussion and gossip. There was even rumour that Amy Whitehouse was moving to Bury. An interesting choice we thought.
We put all this behind us, as we got down to the real business of the day. We were off to the county's radio station BBC Radio Suffolk, as sofa guests on Lesley Dolphin's lunchtime show, where we'd been invited to talk about blogging.
12.25pm... BBC Radio Suffolk.
Sat on Lesley's Sofa in the radio studio, Ruby and I waited nervously to be introduced.
I thought back to my last visit to the studio. It was in March, when I'd been invited to the James Hazell show to recount the successes of the Zero Waste challenge.
This time was more relaxing. The sofa most definitely helped and to be sat on it with a friend was even more helpful.
The opportunity to talk about Bury, Bins and Blogging, all in one go. And our friendship too. Such a delight.
Then came the quick-fire questions, with different answers to reveal our true selves.
Ruby: CDs; Trousers; Brown Wheelie Bin
Me: iPod: Dresses; Compost Bin
How different we were but how close we've become. I will miss Ruby when she leaves on Sunday.
Lesley played Ruby Tuesday, in honour of her leaving.
Ruby talked about her blog, her 100,000 visitors and leaving behind both the primness and grimness of the town that she's lived in for 11 years.
I revealed the news about my book deal.
Then we both talked about blogging.
We couldn't agree more that Lesley had been the most wonderful host and took some photos to add to our respective albums.
The fun, the memories. I think we've even inspired Lesley to blog too.
And of course, I couldn't resist a photo of Lesley with the studio bin....
and it had to be a recycling one at that.
Ruby's story can be found over on her blog, by clicking here.
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
I am not sure how you go about announcing something like this...whether it should be in a hushed, modest manner, or indeed shouted from the rooftops.
You see it's the first time it's ever happened to me.
An unsolicited approach.
Yes, it's the first time I've been approached in such a way.
And I don't mean the flirty looks I get from the driver as I heave my trendy shopping trolley onto the busy bus on market day.
"Shame you're too young for me" he said last time, beaming from cheek to cheek.
I blushed, and then reddened even more when I jumped off. I might have complained but remembered it was the first chat-up line I'd received in a long time. I could always go in disguise next time. Fake moustache, curly wig, trench coat, you know, the kind of thing that resembles the cocktail of characters from the '80s TV comedy 'Allo 'Allo.
But no, it wooz not zees kind iv approrch.
This unsolicited approach was indeed a welcome one, making a sudden appearance in my Inbox, a refreshing change from the ones that promise to increase my manhood, make me a millionaire or sell me a fake qualification.
It was the kind of email that made me jump up-and-down, venture down to London in my high heel shoes and wait excitedly for the next step.
And the next step has at last arrived. It's official.
So I am pleased to divulge that the mystery approach has led to a contract, one which I recently signed and sent back by registered post to none other than Ebury... accepting... a book deal... for The Rubbish Diet.
Yes, a book deal... the offer of an opportunity to write a book about zero waste, which will be added to their amazing Vermilion list, alongside authors such as Martin Lewis, Edward de Bono, Oliver James and Gina Ford.
I feel honoured.
I could never have guessed that when I created The Rubbish Diet blog seven months ago that my learning experience would be applied to a book of the same title, to be published next year.
As you can tell, I am very excited. What a great opportunity. What a dream.
Of course, the hard work really begins now, as I turn my experiences into a guide that will hopefully inspire even the most sluggish of recyclers to dip their toes into the world of slimmer bins.
I know there will be plenty of time for acknowledgments, all of which will be included in the book. However, I really would like to take some time out to thank in particular Ruby in Bury for inspiring me to blog and of course Kate McFarland and Daniel Sage, creators of St Edmundsbury's successful Zero Waste Week challenge, without whom this blog would never have been even a notion.
The Zero Waste Week in March seems so long ago now. Since then it's been a whirl of support from Ruby and Jo Beaufoix accepting their own Rubbish Diet challenges, followed by Mrs Green who took up the challenge in June and is going from strength to strength preparing for her very own Zero Waste Week. Thanks too to John Costigane, whose enthusiastic support I once met with modesty, but have since learned to appreciate very much.
I am utmostly grateful to my friends who have followed my challenge with interest, to all the readers of The Rubbish Diet blog who have supported me at every turn and to all the contributors who have joined in the newly created Carnival of Trash. To list everyone individually would be impossible, but whether you have dipped in, lurked, commented or linked, thank you so much for being there. Your contributions are truly valued and have helped make this blog what it is.
The biggest thank you goes to Almost Mr Average, The Bin Monitor and the Junior Waste Saboteur, my Almost Average Family, who have not just thrown me new challenges but have allowed me time to write. Their support, and sometimes lack of it, have both been immeasurable. I will always be grateful and hope that in years to come they will enjoy rubbish memories and much more.
Last but not least, huge thanks go to Kirstie my editor, for not just getting excited about bins but for her faith in my writing and providing me with this incredible opportunity. I promise I will not let her down.
Gee, listen to me, I've got an editor. The next thing I will be telling you is I've got an agent...and it's true, I have... and I am very grateful to Patrick Walsh at Conville and Walsh for signing me up and representing me.
Phew...I've got a feeling the acknowledgments section is going to take up some space. I'd better make sure there are some pages left for some hints and tips about Zero Waste.
So as I turn from blogger to author, I hope that you will forgive me some absences as I bury myself away with my manuscript and the new learning curve that awaits.
I haven't forgotten about my update about Switzerland, but deadlines await.
I will be back to reveal more very soon. Hmm, I'm not sure if that's a threat or a promise.
Monday, 11 August 2008
Phew, after two days travelling back through Switzerland, France and the UK, we're home! We finally made it home late last night, welcomed by the sugar factory towers that greet so many people back to Bury St Edmunds.
Kids in bed, car unpacked, Internet catchup...with TV on...husband enjoyed cup of tea while I stumbled off to bed. The usual routine.
Home eh. I love holidays but I am always glad to be back!
And so much has been happening.
I've come back to find that The Rubbish Diet has got a mention on the very lovely EcoStreet blog.
Then there's the news that BBC Reporter Chris Jeavans has challenged herself to a Plastic Free Month. Now that's a challenge and a half and it brings the topic of waste into the national media, which is great. I can't wait to catch up with her progress at her BBC blog Month Without Plastic.
But most of all, I am really looking forward to finding out about how the Greens are getting on at MyZeroWaste. After challenging them to a Zero Waste Week a few months ago, it is fast looming and I can't believe that there are only a few more weeks to go. The great news is that they've got a whole host of sponsors together, offering prizes to those who support them in their endeavours. To have a go at winning, all you need to do is sign up to a pledge and let them know how you get on.
So much to do, with so little time. And there's the Olympics and all their recycling efforts. Blimey it's all kicking off.
By the way, I'm sorry to say that's not my house in the picture. It's the really HUGE house opposite, which I now see is available TO LET. Should anyone be interested, it comes with a beautiful set of bins, one for recycling, one for composting and one for landfill.
Oh booger. That reminds me. It's bin day today and this week it's Recycling. Talk about falling back to earth with a bump. With loads to do I'll see you later this week with the news I promised about our travels.
In the meantime, I'd better not miss that bin lorry.
Saturday, 9 August 2008
After spending almost a week up in the mountains, my sister took me on a shopping spree to treat me to a belated birthday present. A 40 minute drive to the bottom of the valley.
Admittedly, I was a bit distracted by this particular sight...what...a recycling centre in a shopping mall?
No wonder the Swiss are good at recycling, if it's a case of drop off your bottles and cans before you hit the sales. Look carefully and you'll see that there's even space for empty coffee capsules.
It's just a shame I had nothing to recycle before heading off to buy a new purse.
The things you learn eh, when you're out on your travels with your eyes open a little wider than normal.
Well I can't wait to get home and share the rest of Swiss recycling gossip. I may end up revealing what's happened to my old purse. If I feel brave that is!
Until then...there's some mileage to get underway...so I will see you soon back in good old Angleterre.
Friday, 8 August 2008
A rare find, and so perfect for recycling our milk bottles! Another tick in the recycling box!
Hmm…. So….Mr A thinks he's having a holiday eh!
No more sorting. No more washing out lots of recyclables! No more worrying about stuff that can’t be recycled beyond our holiday village.
Well, guess what I’ve found, tucked away at the entrance of a local supermarket.
On our last full day in Switzerland, you could say it’s a case of All’s well that ends well!
Well I suppose it was…
…until Mr A went off to buy some more milk,
…venturing out on his own, with nothing but a reusable bag and his best Franglais.
He happily returned with the white stuff, fresh pasteurised milk, which was a challenge in itself given the propensity for UHT over here.
But as for the packaging…. it was most definitely a case of Tetra Pak strikes again. Just when I thought we had the system cracked eh!
There's no recycling bank for this kind of stuff in Leysin, so they are counted as rubbish and are sent off to the incinerator to create energy.
But waste is waste, whether it's creating energy or not, so before we head back to Old Blighty, perhaps I should set Mr A, le bin saboteur just one more Zero Waste challenge.
After all, this is Switzerland and there’s more than one way to milk a cow.
So Monsieur A, grab a stool and a bucket…and in the words of Shania Twain from her very own chalet in Switzerland…I think it’s a case of…LET’S GO GIRLS!
What was that Mr A?
Funny that...he's decided to decline my offer of a tour of the local cow farm tonight, in favour of packing.
Oh well.... I tried!
Anyone for Café au Lait?
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
Our cabin is nestled amongst rolling green hills in the Alpine countryside, surrounded by fir trees and open fields, where a herd of cows is busy grazing. The tinkling of their cowbells, broken only by the sound of mooing, provides the most idyllic soundtrack to our spectacular view.
Across the valley, a range of tree-lined mountains greets our eyes, with their snow-capped peaks poking up through the low-lying clouds. The real icing on this Alpine cake is the glacier that emerges from the distance. Its beauty lies before us like a lady in the prime of her life.
The skies are so blue. The air is light and so fresh and it really feels like we are close to space.
Like a scene from a movie, I can hear the director shout "cut" and change the shot to Almost Mr Average stood happily in the kitchen.
Mr A is smiling.
He's happy because having spent a few days living with piles of potential recycling cluttering the small worktop, he's decided he can just bung 'em in the bin with the rest of the rubbish.
"Happy days", he thinks.
He's waited patiently for me to suss out the system and it is good news that in our holiday village we can recycle glass, paper, batteries and PET bottles.
But sadly there's no place for Tetra paks, plastic containers, fruit bags or kitchen waste.
So after months of battling against my defences, Mr A is taking a real holiday.
He's even refused my extreme request to take the containers back to England and is merrily bunging stuff in the bin, no matter what!
I think Mr A loves the Swiss town of Leysin. I think he wants to stay, not because of the beautiful and dramatic views but for his new-found freedom.
Until I wipe the smile off his face!
"Don't throw away that bread!"
Puzzled, he looks at me in disbelief.
Yes...for some peculiar reason, even though we can't save the rest of the rubbish, we can recycle stale bread!
So director, please cut back to the views of the Alpine peaks, whose beauty could make even a grown man cry!
Better to show Mr A crying over over a sight like that than being beaten in a comedy manner with the remains of a stale baguette!
Monday, 4 August 2008
Having sweated our way through France, we've arrived safely in Switzerland and are having a fantastic time with my sister and her family.
We spent the first part of the holiday at their lakeside home in the village of Concise. It was a great opportunity to relax, enjoy the views of the lake and explore the village.
And everywhere we went we noticed this familiar sight.
It looks just like our recycling bin from home, but with yellow chevrons.
I think this could start a new trend...Forget Pimp my Ride...Pimp my Bin is where it's at.
Anyway, before I get distracted with thoughts of Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen and Andy Handy decorating wheelie bins all over the land, I'd better get back to the business of these blue and yellow bins.
It turns out they are to encourage people to recycle PET bottles, i.e. those that are marked with a number 1. Rumour has it, they are all over the Swiss canton of Vaud and can be found both at leisure hotspots and on the streets!
Recycling on the go...I love it!
The landscape in Vaud is pretty varied. The canton, which is the equivalent of a county, stretches from the lakes in the valleys up to the great heights of the Swiss Alps. It is the 3rd most populated canton in Switzerland and the fourth largest geographically.
Apparently the tranquil and gentle lifestyle over here has, in the past, attracted international celebrities to make their home in Vaud, including Charlie Chaplin, Ernest Hemingway, Igor Stravinski and Audrey Hepburn. These days you're more likely to see Phil Collins, David Bowie, or Michael Schumacher.
I just hope they remember to use the bins whilst on their travels.
David Bowie could sing Zeroes whilst throwing in his bottle! Admittedly, Schumacher will have to slow down to take his aim ...and if he doesn't quite hit the mark at least Phil Collins can rub it in with a cheeky performance of I Missed Again.
Back in Bury St Edmunds, it's more a case of singing Take Me Home, but not for much longer as on-street recycling bins are planned for the town centre. Hooray! It looks like there's a new trend hitting the streets!
So wherever you are on holiday, whether it's the UK or overseas, check out the local bins and see if you too can recycle on the go! You may be pleasantly surprised!
In the meantime we've headed over to the Alps, where we're spending the rest of our time at great altitude.
We really are in picturesque Chocolate Box territory.
But the question on my mind, is how easy will it be to recycle that chocolate box?
I'll ponder that one with yet another bar of Toblerone.
See you soon.
Almost Mrs Average xxx
Saturday, 2 August 2008
So, I packed my reusable bags and the suitcases and hopped into the family car for the start of our great adventure....
...driving from the UK to Switzerland to visit my sister and her family.
I know, I know, driving all that way is not the most sustainable method of getting from A-B but it's better than flying and we're doing it in the knowledge that we're saving diesel as a result of broken air-conditioning, sweltering away in a mobile greenhouse through France with temperatures of 30 degrees.
I would love to reassure everyone that our choices of travel and accommodation were deliberately chosen following Zero Waste principles but the truth of the matter is that I'm terrible at travel arrangements at the best of times, and for such a long journey we needed to get our family of four to Switzerland in the most comfortable way possible.
However the pro-active Zero Waste decisions that I made were to limit the snacks that we bought for in-car travel and to make sure that we ate the perishable contents of the fridge before we left. I suppose bringing several of the kids' toys and books with us also contributed as far as entertainment was concerned.
But it was in true haphazard style that our journey across the channel and through France turned out to be pretty successful as far as Zero Waste is concerned.
As it happens, we travelled from Dover with our usual ferry company, SeaFrance, which in the last few months have upped the ante on the recycling front. I used my best French to chat up the staff to ask them about their Recyclage activities (I even learned a new word there).
Although there are no recycling bins for passengers, the great news is that behind the scenes they recycle plastics, metals, paper and even food waste.
Looking at the SeaFrance website reveals that the company does take its environmental impact seriously and with regard to waste measures, the company seeks to:
- reduce consumption of resources and raw materials
- minimise waste from its activities and recycle wherever possible
- purchase from suppliers who share its concern for the environment
- whenever possible purchase and use recyclable products or products from sustainable sources
- promote good environmental practice within the industry
So having felt happy that I could suitably dispose of our recyclables on the ferry, we then set off for our 4 hour journey to Troyes, the location of our overnight stop to the South-East of Paris.
Our first pit-stop was at one of the many "aire de services" dotted along the auto-route, where we were greeted by a public recycling point, featuring huge containers for verres (glass) and emballages (including cans and plastic packaging).
By now we were gathering a suitable number of empty plastic bottles, despite having several reusable containers. So again we could happily dispose of them properly before travelling on to the hotel in Troyes.
Finally we arrived at our splendid hotel, where we quickly slipped into the land of nod.
Having had a great rest, thought twice about using the toiletries and indulged in an amazing breakfast, I happily made the greatest discovery...revealed by a poster displayed on the wall...
It stated that the hotel, which is part of the Accor chain (and includes Novotel, Ibis, Mercure and Etap) has signed up to the group's Environmental Charter, which amongst many other glorious things features a promise to...
- Recycle paper/cardboard packaging
- Recycle papers, newspapers and magazines
- Limit the use of disposable packaging for the hotel supplies
- Recycle glass packaging
- Recycle plastic packaging
- Recycle metal cans
- Organise sorting of waste in bedrooms
- Limit individual packaging of hygiene products in bedrooms
- Recycle restaurant organic waste
- Recycle garden green waste
- Dispose safely of hotel batteries
- Dispose safely of guests’ batteries
- Recycle electrical and electronic equipment
- Recycle ink cartridges
- Dispose safely of fluorescent bulbs/tubes
Phew. What a relief!
It may have been purely coincidental, but this fine piece of news certainly makes me a happy bunny that our travel accommodation was perfectly aligned with my overall attempts at Zero Waste.
...based on our travel so far and and having experienced what's really possible, when making holiday plans in future I will most definitely make the effort to track down hotels that actively seek to reduce waste, and will be delighted to give them our business.
After all, if it's been so easy to come about by accident, just imagine what you can find if you really look.
Friday, 1 August 2008
If you're looking for more inspiration while I'm off on hols, here's Mrs Green to keep you company, with her very first video shoot launched on YouTube this week. Go Mrs G! I hope this video makes it onto Gloucestershire's Zero Waste Week site.
Labels: Mrs Green's Zero Waste