Friday, 27 February 2009

Red Nosed Excitement for Comic Relief

Well it can't be said I've led a boring life over the last twelve months. I've sobbed over landfill, stumbled into a mixed plastics recycling conference and have even managed not to tuck my dress in my knickers at a huge county waste seminar. But nothing, absolutely nothing beats my latest challenge. And the best bit is, this time I'm doing it for charity, for Comic Relief, which raises money to help fight poverty in the UK and abroad.

My little YoohooTube video explains all, so if you're reading via a feed or email subscription, it's time to come directly to the blog where you'll find me embarrassing myself as graciously as possible. In fact it's more embarrassing than I expected...YouTube has pushed the audio sync back by a whole second, it looks like I'm speaking in a foreign tongue and have been dubbed. Oh well, that's the benefit of new technology.

So are you as excited as me? Just think what my little boys will say at the news. I think they'lll be as envious as a toad in a hole watching a princess kiss a frog!

But the best bit is that this year's Red Nose Day falls slap bang in the middle of my anniversary week, yep, the anniversary of when I did the Zero Waste challenge last year. If you've been hanging around a while, you'll remember this was when all we threw out to landfill was just one plaster and that ever since we've settled quite nicely with just one carrier bag of trash per month.

Now this is something worth celebrating. And with this in mind I've decided to give up the whole week to try and raise some decent cash for this worthwhile cause. It's about time I did some proper charity work and get myself away from this laptop for a change.

So, as well as my sponsored wotsit, I've got even more treats lined up for all you rubbish folk, and it all begins on Monday 9th March.

Now given that it's my anniversary week, I could of course go for another Zero Waste challenge, but my family's already accomplished that in a "Bin there done that" kind of way.

So it's time to pump up the adrenalin and go for something much more challenging.

Yes ladies and gentlemen...ready to cue drumroll...

...rather than attempting to throw so little away....

...I'm going to try and throw away as much as I possibly can!

That's right, I am hosting my very own MAXIMUM WASTE WEEK, which starts in just 10 days time!

And just like Zero Waste Week, I need to get prepared. Of course the first thing I've got to do is flex my shopping muscles and head off to the supermarket to fill my fridge and cupboards with so much crap it will make the jaws of landfill ache for eternity. The problem is, my memory's faded so much that I will need your help so please feel free to send me your recommendations for your worst packaging offenders and I will try and bring them into my Maximum Waste Lair!

And after I've exerted myself with that mission, I'm going to try and overcome my automatic recycling response and see if I can really go back to my old levels of laziness and bypass the recycling bin. So if you have a particular lazy secret to share, revealing some old bad habits close to home, I'd love those too. The funnier the better. Email me if you're too embarrassed to divulge in the comments.

But the hardest challenge of all will be adopting a graceful pose instead of my usual defensive position as Mr A welcomes the freedom of an open playing field, with no rules and regulations over what he's allowed to throw away. Oh please help me!

So you see if you think this will be easy, I beg for your mercy. I'm already feeling stressed out at the thought and it will be me who'll be in need of the comic relief once it's all over.

To help me promote the important message about zero waste and support such a worthwhile cause, please help me fundraise as much as possible for Comic Relief, even if it's only a few pence it will help the growing number of people who are being hit by poverty. I don't mind you sharing me with your friends if that's what it takes. If you've got a pal who's interested in reducing rubbish, please email them the video, or Stumble, Digg, Twitter or Facebook this post. Then all that's left to do is pop along to my fundraising page, which can be found at:

And if you fancy doing something silly yourself, why not sign up and join in the fun and see how much money we can all raise together. Just pop along to my group page for more info. There are a few ideas to get you started and there's plenty of time for you to register and get cracking.

Oh....And don't forget to recycle your red noses when you're done. Just pop them back to your local branch of Sainsbury's who will be happy to take care of them for you. And as for the BIG red nose, well you can re-use that as a mousemat! looks like I've got some exercise to do to get myself fit for that big event which involves bins, a fluorescent jacket and heavy boots. So while you're pondering the fun....I'm off to find my bike!

Thanks for watching, listening and reading. I'll see you soon.


Thursday, 26 February 2009

I'm finally bagless

I am simply beside myself, because at last I can finally say goodbye to these little monkeys.

This vacuum cleaner bag may look like an innocent little thing but the reality is it represents the worst of my incompetencies and whenever I've used them, I feel like I'm battling with the enemy.

Vacuuming has always brought out the worst in me and vacuum cleaner management has certainly not been my strength.

There have been the "stretching it out" moments, where I would hope upon hope that the bag would take a few more square inches of dust, even poking its contents in a little deeper to create a little more room.

Then there was remembering to buy the bags, which always cost a fortune. And once I'd bought a pack of three, could I ever find one again when I needed another replacement? Oh No! So I'd go and buy some more, wasting even more cash.

And as for the struggle to fit them into the vacuum cleaner. Well, I was never any good at that either.

My efforts could definitely be classed as "Could do better". The only thing I was good at was remembering to put the bags in my compost bin (tearing them up first of course), but in all other areas of maintenance all I can say is no wonder my vacuum cleaner always had problems sucking up the crap from the carpet.

So when Dyson dropped me an email and asked if I'd like to join some other bloggers in testing out a bagless cleaner, I was simply champing at the bit to say "oh yes, oh yes, oh yes!" and headed off to London for an introduction to Dyson and its cyclone technology.

And what a great day it was. As well as an introduction to the bagless cleaners, we also witnessed how indestructible the latest models are, including dropping the cylinder from high and even hitting them with a hammer. You might laugh, but as a parent of a four-year-old who could possibly be tempted to do either of these, it actually mattered a lot.

And we also had the opportunity to meet the designer, who demonstrated the washable filter that she's patented.

Yes...that's right a WASHABLE filter.

So that means no buying bags or filters.

And after all my hard work, watching the demonstrations, eating crisps, asking questions and drinking coffee, I have been blessed with my very own DC-23, suitably called "The Animal".

There is so little maintenance, even a useless old bird like me can hack it!

And as Dyson are keen to get regular feedback on the product, I've already struck up dialogue about the packaging, which is mostly recyclable cardboard but still has a minor unrecyclable element.

So with no bags to worry about I've already vacuumed more in three weeks than I managed in the last three months with my old one. My task now is to test out the appliance and see if I really need all the attachments that came with it

And it is so satisfying just looking at the rubbish that gets sucked up and is already acting as a new form of entertainment for the kids. Okay okay, I admit it, it's not only the kids. I've been sucked in too. And it is indeed very satisfying just "pouring" my vacuum rubbish into the compost bin. Gee whizz. I think I'm finally becoming domesticated!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Defence against the Dark Art of Pancake Making

As domestic goddesses (and gods) across the land created magic and wonder with pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, the Almost Average household fell into a state of disorder, disappointment and disarray.

The culinary bliss of the previous weekend with shouts of milky puddings and other British fayre might have given the impression that I'm a dab hand in the kitchen but the truth of the matter is my experience in that very small space is more like a practical lesson in the Defence against the Dark Arts...

...especially when it comes to pancakes.

If I can just bung in ingredients and cook it according to taste - great! If I have to measure, sieve, mix and cook at just the right temperature, then I'm in need of a magic wand and a few charms.

You see Pancake Making - due to its need for precision - is normally Mr A's domain. But he'd been tied up at a meeting in London - figuratively speaking of course - and wouldn't be back in time to meet the the demands of tradition.

So with rolled up sleeves, I opened my old beginners recipe book - circa 1986 - and followed the recipe with my limited patience, even taking into account Mr A's adjustment to add more milk to make the batter less dense. Well he is the expert you know, so I followed the instructions and whisked and with the aid of my blender created the smoothest batter I could have asked for.

And with the pan suitably greased and hot, I poured in the mixture and watched as it bubbled and frothed. That's right - FROTHED. It was as if a dark demon had injected an Engorgio spell onto my creation and my call of Reducio had little effect.

I'm afraid, this was no pancake.

I tried again, the boys looking on in disappointment as I poured the results of another flopped attempt into the rejects bowl.

I judged the batter was too thin so I added some extra flour to thicken it up. That'd do it.

And in a way it did.

But it could have gone better if I had poured a little less mixture into the pan, with a good dose of patience to go with it.

That might have resulted in proper pancakes....instead of what resembled something more akin to "Creatures from the deep" with their wrinkly bodies and slimey appearance.

Thank goodness I had the sense to melt some chocolate as a topping. At least it meant my failed attempts were eaten.

And thank the Lord for wild bird seed, because the real rejects were quickly disguised as bird food and put out into the garden.

So despite my misadventures, nothing, absolutely nothing went to waste...

...except for the spare flour that had been scattered on the stair carpet by my four-year-old, as he smuggled the bag from the kitchen up into his bedroom.

Defence against the Dark Arts, eh.

Perhaps I should become a master of the Imperious spell.


Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Gradual changes and ethical decisions

(scary mashed potato monster with avocado)

Since Saturday I've been fully occupied making white food with a faint hint of of banana yellow, rice pudding brown and avocado green.

It might sound like I've been conjuring up baby food, but I've actually been busy using up 12 pints of milk and concocting banana milkshakes (which the kids hate), bread & butter pudding, toad-in-the-hole, rice pudding, mashed potato and hot chocolates (which the kids love). Even Mr A has been busy with his frother making a couple of cappuccinos.

So by today, we were left with just one and a half pints before our next milk delivery arrived on the doorstep. Now that's a remarkable result because just over a year ago I would have allowed any spare milk to go off and would have just poured it down the drain.

Glug, glug, glug, glug.

With no further thought.

Just gone!

And with no consideration of the wasted money as I'd pour it away, or indeed the energy needed to milk the cow, bottle the contents and transport it to my home, not to mention the organic food needed to feed the cow in the first place.

But these days I am beginning to get bothered about all that and more. I now wonder how it's possible to do all that for just 73p. That's right, 73p for a pint of organic milk delivered to my door. And I also wonder how supermarkets can sell it cheaper.

It's strange how you start off simply worrying about the amount of rubbish that goes in your bin and then find yourself being concerned with all manner of waste as well a whole range of aspects surrounding your purchasing decisions.

But it gradually happens and almost creeps up on you like a monster crawling out from behind the sofa and before you know it you find yourself wondering whether it's better to get the bus to your local market or drive a few miles to the nearest farmer's market and whether it's more ethical to purchase jam made at your local farm or buy a fairtrade product shipped from Africa.

It only gets easy when you have the choice between like-for-like products, e.g. choosing fairtrade bananas at the supermarket or fairtrade coffee in the cafe.

I admit that I am still a bit of a toddler when it comes to such decisions. I feel I do my best when I remember but if I'm in a hurry my best intentions go out of the window. However shopping with Tracey Smith last week really brought home the issue and everywhere we went from tearooms, jewellers to chocolatiers she questioned their ethical and fairtrade policies. It was interesting how few shops had such a policy and we were both amazed and shocked at the lack of retail assistants who even knew what we were talking about.

Anyway if like me, you find yourself floundering when it comes to ethical decisions, I can recommend a fantastic book called A Good Life: A Guide to Ethical Living, by Leo Hickman, which was published last year. It's a great book which covers issues such as whether it is better to buy an organic apple from New Zealand, a fairtrade apple from South Africa or a locally grown apple that's non-organic and really gets you pondering the effects of your purchasing decisions.

And there's no better time to put the ideas into practice because yesterday was the official start of Fairtrade Fortnight, organised by the Fairtrade Foundation. The foundation works hard to promote fairtrade products through retail outlets, ensuring that workers in developing countries get a good price for their products and enjoy fair working conditions.

And finding such products is easy. There are over 3,000 licensed products in the UK and it's not just about bananas and coffee. A browse around the supermarket shelves will also find honey, nuts, juices, rice and even wine. To see the whole range and to find out where you can buy such items, just pop over to the Fairtrade website and browse the list of retail products.

I've had a good look myself and am now looking forward to my trip to the supermarket and cooking up something a lot more colourful than white. After all, my weekend has resembled something akin to a 1980s Dulux palette so I really think some Fairtrade chocolate is in order. Well that's my excuse anyway and I might just pick up a nice bottle of wine while I'm at it.

It'll make a nice change from scary monster mash don't you think?


Saturday, 21 February 2009

Project Milk Lake

What's a girl to do eh? I only sloped off for a couple of days but on my return it looked like the local dairy has taken up residence .

I hadn't really acknowledged our boastful supplies of the white stuff until I opened the fridge this morning to store today's delivery and found there was no room at the inn so to speak. There were nine pints in there already plus today's three extra bottles.

Scratching my head in confusion, I am bemused at our surplus stock.

Our family normally gets through 2 pints of milk every day and with this week being half-term, quite naturally I'd expect at least one of our milk-drinking monsters to covet more.

BUT the opposite seems to have occured. Suddenly their appetite for Weetabix has disappeared, as has Mr A's and as for their thirst for milky drinks that's gone the same way as the Weetabix.

So with dutiful care to cancel the next milk delivery, I am now duty-bound to tackle Project Milk Lake. Trouble is today's Bread & Butter Pudding and pint of custard has hardly touched the surface.

I guess it's time to roll up my sleeves and get cracking with some real gusto.

I think a Fish Pie should sort it, poaching the cod in milk to create the white sauce and then using some more milk to make a soft mashed potato for the topping. And how about a rice pudding for dessert. That should get rid of another couple of pints.

Then there's the bananas that are on the verge of going off, so that'll be a couple of pints then for some scrummy milkshakes. And I think I'll have to get out the yoghurt machine to use up two more. With some muffins and milky coffee on the horizon we should get to the bottom of supplies soon. Phew!

And if we are still awash with milk on Tuesday, at least I can make some pancakes!

However, with my levels of planning, what's the betting I'll be rushing to the shops for a top up!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Landfill Prize has been announced!

It's official. The Motorised ice-cream cone has been voted Britain’s most pointless, wasteful product by the Landfill Prize panel.

I had hoped my nomination, the Sat Nag, would have landed the top prize but I can't agree more that a motorised ice-cream cone is one thing the world doesn't need and is a very deserving winner.

This plastic gadget has been voted the winner of the Landfill prize, the award for Britain’s most pointless, wasteful and over-complex consumer item, after thousands of people visited the site, many offering nominations.

The motorised cone, marketed by the Perpetual Kid company, joins the list of such consumer wonders as a loudspeaker-equipped fishing chair, the Nintendo Wii Fit and a plastic electronic chameleon that doesn’t actually change colour.

John Naish, the prize’s founder and author of Enough: Breaking Free from The world Of Excess, says, “There might be a credit crisis, but it hasn’t stopped manufacturers churning out ever more unnecessarily convoluted consumer inventions – gadgets and gizmos that cost us precious money and planetary resources, but which rapidly end up dumped in landfill, or stashed at the back of cupboards or in costly rented storage facilities. "

The Landfill Prize was launched last year to lampoon what John calls this bizarre consumer habit. Nominations were judged by a prestigious panel of four including himself, Carl Honoré, the author of In Praise of Slow, Anna Shepard, the author of How Green Are My Wellies, and Ben Davis, the founder of BuyLessCrap.

Comparing this year's results to 2008, John remarks “There has been a marked change in the nominations from last year, when people emailed us to rail at “deluxe” items such as sonically driven toothbrushes, computer controlled air-fresheners and razors with an infinitude of blades. This year, luxury isn’t even on the radar. It’s been crunched out. Instead, novelty items provoked the worst of Britain’s ire. Perhaps there’s a new Puritanism dawning in these straitened times. Or maybe these items simply represent the ultimate waste of space."

“There’s a serious side to this lampoonery. The prize aims to highlight the fact that, thanks to modern high-tech, we should now have all the gear we need to enjoy comfortable, contented lives. Our culture is easily capable of producing myriad consumer items that are durable, reliable and useful enough to give years of great, economical service. Instead we’re still being offered evanescent junk. This year’s voting shows a sea change in sensibilities: novelties are now considered an item we no longer want to afford.”

So with bated breath...let's take a look at the winner and the runners up that made it into the Landfill Prize Top 10. I'm sure you'll agree there are quite a few deserving entrants and you might even recognise one or two!

The Landfill Prize top ten

1 Motorised Ice-Cream Cone.

Ostensibly for those too lazy to twist their wrists when eating an ice-cream. You pop your cone in it, stick your tongue out and it does all the hard work for you. Oh, hang on, it’s spattered gunk all over your chest. And the battery’s run out.

2 The Plane Sheet

Flying not sufficiently bad for the environment? Now travellers can boost their footprint with the Plane Sheet, an airliner seat cover available in a variety of finishes such as leopardskin, to "transform a tired, overused airline seat into a cozy, happy place... while keeping at bay germs from previous passengers” (hygiene paranoia not included). says that you can even have yours monogrammed. Classy.

3 Motorised fork

More spin from the world of novelty gadgets. The children of class P6/1 at Dingwall Primary School in Scotland, who nominated this battery-driven object, report that it is actually much slower at twirling noodles than using your own hand the old-fashioned way. The spinning cutlery is sold via Amazon, but the children aren’t impressed: “We think it is useless and wasteful,” they said.

4 Loudspeaker-equipped fishing chair

Just what every angler needs? No peace and quiet, but a folding fishing chair equipped with four loudspeakers, marketed via eBay. As Ben Davis, one of our judges commented, “Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Give a man a folding fishing chair with built in speakers and he can annoy others for life.”

5 USB-powered Chameleon

Novelty galore here. Well, almost. The plastic USB-powered chameleon, sold by, plugs into your computer and sits atop your screen, drolly rolling its beady eyes. But hang on, it doesn’t actually change colour. Not ever. Are we missing a core value here?

6 Nintendo Wii Fit

Dave Watts, of Shropshire, nominated the popular exercise gadget, saying, “I don't need to pay an extortionate amount of money to get fit. I can do it for free by stepping outside the front door and going for a walk. I can talk to my children and wife, listen to music or the wild life or just think about how good life is without all the gizmos.

7 The Guitar Hero franchise

“Is learning three chords really too difficult?” asked Jeremy Williams, who nominated the bestselling video toy. “Rather than learn to play an actual instrument, you can now make a virtual cacophony on virtual instruments by pressing primary coloured buttons on a plastic guitar. There's probably two or three whole minutes of fun to be had before the buyer’s remorse kicks in.”

8 Digital Electronic Jumping Rope

Bored with your ropey old skipping rope? How about Reebok’s electronic version with batteries in the handles that counts the number of times you jump up and down and "calculates" the calories you’ve burned? Sadly you can’t accurately gauge your calorie-burn without making complex guesstimates based on your weight, age, metabolic rate, skipping speed, etc. But then that’s not the point of convoluted exercise gear. It’s to keep you motivated for, oh, several days.

9 The Toyota Prius

How can the Toyota Pious (oops Prius), be an eco-friendly car when it is actually built with two engines, asks its nominator, Andy Marks. He wonders if it is actually a status symbol for drivers who want to look “greener than you”. A moot point, perhaps, but Toyota's own study of 24,000 people who bought Priuses in America in 2007 found that many purchased it as a [itals] third [end-itals] family car.

10 The Sat Nag

This £6.99 electronic novelty mocks the Sat Nav device, blasting its owner with 24 annoying comments. It is sold through, and typical phrases include: “You have reached your destination - you may now throttle your passenger.” Its nominator Karen Cannard (yes that's me), feels that this is taking a thin joke too far.

Yay....So the Sat Nag made it..hooray! I could say I'm dead chuffed, but isn't it a terrible state of affairs that so much needless tat is produced in the first place.

For more information about the Landfill Prize and to see the winners in all their useless good-for-nothing glory, please pop along to and check out the links.


Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Recycling Blame

It can't have escaped people's attention that recycling has hit the news again, this time with a Food Packaging Study from the Local Government Association, as part of its "War on Waste" campaign.

For anyone with an interest in waste minimisation this should be a real welcome report as it pays particular attention to the weight of food packaging that can be found in a typical shopping basket across eight supermarkets.

The survey revealed the following results:

  • Waitrose had the heaviest packaging (802.5 grams)
  • Lidl had the lowest level of packaging that could be easily recycled (58 per cent)
  • Tesco had the lightest (645.5 grams)
  • Sainsbury’s had the highest level of packaging that could be easily recycled (67 per cent).

While council leaders acknowledge that people are recycling more rubbish, they are also concerned that efforts are being held back by supermarkets. The LGA argues that supermarkets should pay a contribution towards recycling services so that more packaging can be recycled at an affordable price which will help keep council tax down.

Of course it will be no surprise that the British Retail Consortium has reacted to the report by calling on councils to improve recycling measures and reach a consensus on which materials can be recycled.

Well, I've got just one thing to say on the matter...

...but before I belt it out, I suggest you put your fingers in your ears as I take a deep breath and yell to the world.......


Don't get me wrong, the study has thrown up some interesting research and - quite rightly - the evidence should be reported. It is indeed a very useful report, with well-researched detail.

But while government representatives and retail bodies engage in an open air boxing match, I am worried that many consumers will be left looking on with either disregard or bemusement, feeling the lack of power to do something about it.

And then there's the recession to deal with. Don't forget we can always blame that too.

Oh well. That's it. We might as well bury our heads in the sand till it's over eh, when the economy is back on its legs, the supermarkets have ditched their unrecyclable packaging and the country has a perfect recycling system.

Or alternatively, we could continue to vote with our feet and our wallets, applying the small changes that make a huge difference, always looking out for alternatives...because they do exist and we still have the power of choice.

Well that's what I had to say on the matter today on the JVS show at BBC Three Counties Radio, while discussing recycling and the recession. If you're interested do tune into Listen Again where you'll find me defending the issue at roughly 2 hours 47 minutes into the programme.

I only hope I've convinced the lovely JVS to carry on washing out his yoghurt pots! You've got to keep an eye on him you know. Perhaps I should have suggested he has a go at making his own!

Well you have to keep cheerful don't you!


Sunday, 15 February 2009

STARVE YOUR BIN! Recycle for London

Oh my word. Thanks to a tip-off from Suitably Despairing, look what I've just discovered on the web. Now if I wasn't so happily married to Mr A, I think I might be tapping Recycle for London for this man's number. I like his style and dare I say we've got the same taste in bins.

Starve Your Bin is Recycle for London’s new campaign to urge Londoners to put less into the black bin bag and more into their recycling. London recycles only 20% of its rubbish, but around 60% of what is thrown into its household bins could be recycled.

Commenting on the campaign Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and Chair of the London Waste and Recycling Board said: 'In London we throw away so much rubbish that could actually be recycled - it is an important resource which is simply being chucked away. I am very excited that the new Recycle for London campaign is using innovative technologies to boost recycling and my message is to starve your bins and recycle, recycle, recycle.'

For the first time, the Recycle for London campaign will feature in TV adverts, as well as radio, press and online adverts and bus and Tube posters. The campaign is funded by the London Waste and Recycling Board, which has a budget of £84 million to deliver funding to boost recycling and ensure London's waste is managed sustainably, with minimal damage to the environment.

So if you know someone in London, do the capital and Boris a huge favour and send them this video. And if you need more info about what can be recycled and where, pop over to Recycle for London's website at

And on the subject of Boris, I'd love to have a poke about his bins, or even have a rummage through Ken Livingstone's if he's still around...hmm I wonder if they'd let me. What a nosey old bird I am!


Thursday, 12 February 2009

MEGA MEGA News: Almost Mrs Average is officially speechless

As regular readers will know, there are very few things that render me speechless and make my legs turn to jelly.

Absinthe did once, but that was a long time ago before you got to know me. Later there was labour both the first and second time round - the act of childbirth I should add, not the political party!

But nothing has made me more speechless in recent times than standing on the top of landfill, smelling the stench of household waste as it was bulldozed and buried into our landscape. The pitiful sight of reusable resources poking up through the soil. It wasn't just a sad picture of civilised society, it was worse. It was a depressing reflection of my own ignorance prior to my Zero Waste challenge that began last January.

How could an intelligent woman not have registered the implications of methane and leachate on the environment? Why hadn't I considered that our ordinary rubbish is actually a valuable resource that should be harvested to save energy, costs and virgin resources? And when I was recycling what I could, why hadn't I realised the urgency of reducing the surplus stuff that I never really needed in the first place?

It took St Edmundsbury's Zero Waste challenge and the creation of this blog to wake myself up to waste minimisation on the homefront, reaching out to a whole new community of folk who were able to teach or who were ready to learn with me. Learning about simple changes, especially the small ones that could make a huge difference.

That was a year ago.

Well folks, one year later I am speechless again.

In fact, I am bowled over and so beside myself that I don't know which way to turn.

But this time it's not the sight of landfill that's turning my legs to jelly.

It's something far more glamorous.

And I hope my news will make your legs go wobbly too.

You deserve it because it's down to everyone's actions, encouragement and inspirational words that I find myself being able to share this with you today and I want to thank you.

You see, what I'm trying to tell you is that The Rubbish Diet blog has been shortlisted for the MediaGuardian Innovation Awards 2009, in the very exciting Independent Media category, covering citizen media and blogs. I know, I am still pinching myself, wondering if it's all true.

But I am pleased to say it is true and is indeed a privilege. In fact it's all revealed on the MediaGuardian's website, which includes a stunning range of other shortlisted entries for the awards that have been nicknamed the MEGAs. There is so much talent I know I'll be weak at the knees when the winners are announced on March 24th at the awards ceremony in London.

Oh I wish I could take you with me, not just to witness the the wonderful competition - which is very very good - but to help with the recycling. Someone needs to ask what they do with their bottles don't they? I wonder if Mr A will be sober enough to find out.

But don't worry. I promise to be good and represent you well, making sure I recycle my empties.

The Rubbish Diet at the MEGAs eh!

Who would have thought?

Of course I am delighted, excited and truly honoured to have been shortlisted.

But if you could watch me as I write, you'd witness my glazed-over stare, my eyes wide-open with nothing to say but...


It's a good job too. Just imagine the length of this post if I wasn't speechless!


Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Carnival of Trash

Welcome to the February 11, 2009 edition of Carnival of Trash.

It's that time of the month where everyone gets the opportunity to share their thoughts on the world's garbage. You'll find the bloggers here are from all walks of life, with a different take on all aspects of society's rubbish. This month has a particular American flavour and includes a more contoversial submission that debates the environmental impact on nappies, or diapers as they say on the other side of the Atlantic.

Thanks again to everyone who contributed to this month's carnival. Just keep the trash-talk going and hope to see you again next month. For everyone else, just sit back, enjoy the read and please remember to leave some feedback for all those who kindly sent in their submissions.


Ray K presents How Starting A Backyard Compost Can Save You Money posted at, saying, "My blog focuses on money saving and time saving ideas and tips for everyday living. We also do a few product reviews and movie reviews. As my site is relatively new, any advice or insight you can provide me would be appreciated.


Myscha Theriault presents The Plastic Bag Dilemma: Seven Strategies for Coping | Wise Bread posted at Wise Bread, saying, "Tip list for using up those plastic bags."

Cindy presents Free Recycled Valentine?s Bag Pattern posted at My Recycled, saying, "In honor of Valentine's day, here is a fun and easy craft project that uses recycled plastic bags. The bags are cut into strips to create plarn (plastic bag yarn) and then are crocheted. This little Valentine's heart bag is perfect for holding Valentine cards or candy. The pattern is free at my blog."

Praveen presents Alternative to Throwing Your Cell Phone in A Landfill posted at Tao of Simplicity.

Reducing Waste

Heather Levin presents How To Have A Green Valentine?s Day posted at The Greenest Dollar.

Andy presents Borders Hates Trees, Smug Yuppie Geeks posted at Doomsday Labs.


Aahz presents The Scoop On Poop: Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers posted at Aahz Reviews Morgan Hill, saying, "Is it time to rethink our stand against disposable diapers?"


Condo Blues presents Organize Your Life with Six Pack Containers! posted at Condo Blues, saying, "I had a hot mess of condiments sliding all over the shelf on the refrigerator door. The solution was a recycling bin away!"

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of trash using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.


Monday, 9 February 2009

The credit-crunching eco-friendly tip has been chosen

When the folks over at asked readers for a credit-crunching eco-friendly tip, I wasn't sure whether I should get excited or nervous. After all who would respond.... and with what? Would Great Aunt Sally's suggestion of handwashing her Marks & Spencer bloomers (circa 1950) with a bar of Fairy really make the mark? And what about Uncle Derek's habit of weeing in the compost to save flushing the loo? How embarrassing would that be?

Thankfully folks, you came to the rescue in the nick of time, with some wonderful tips from which to choose. It was a hard decision, which had me pacing around my wheelie bin for a long time. So have a gander and discover which tip was finally selected for

Mrs Green over at has been having a blast using her leftovers as ingredients for the next meal. She's saved loads of money and fuel by using things up that she already has in the house and not buying new. Even better, she's been keeping food from landfill, where it would otherwise rot and create methane, a dastardly greenhouse gas that is 23 times as powerful as carbon-dioxide.

John Costigane at HomeZeroWaste has demonstrated how he uses bars instead of bottles for shampoo, foam bath and deodorants, therefore reducing dependency on plastic and aluminium.

Ruby at York Daily photo suggests growing your own veg to save money, saying it doesn't necessarily mean you have to buy lots of paraphernalia to do so. Plastic packaging lids and boxes will do as seed trays, and biodegradable pots can be made from folded newspaper or toilet rolls (She was most impressed with Mrs Green's video demonstration - over at

Fi over at Fuelled by Tea promotes knitting your own shopping bags saying "There are loads of patterns out there, you can make the 'yarn' by cutting up old plastic bags, or old teeshirts if you prefer a cloth option." She tells us knitting is dead easy and she will hear no excuses!

Strawberry Jam Anne
shows us how we can look after our silver whether it's cutlery or jewellery, explaining "If you have any silver that has become tarnished use this quick tip. In a bowl put a handful of plain washing soda crystals, a small piece of tin foil, scrunched up and add boiling water. The mixture will fizz a little. You can then dip your tarnished silver items into the mix and they come out lovely and shiny."

Then there's Gill, That British Woman (No - I'm not being rude, that is her blog name) who lives all the way over in Canada and shows us how to make our own laundry products, which not just saves money but is kinder on the environment too and means you can save on packaging by constantly reusing your containers. Check her blog for tips on how to make laundry detergent and fabric softener. AllAboutYou should be impressed with the other news that when she moved to Canada nearly 20 years ago, she took all her old copies of Prima with her and still flicks through them to this very day.

As you can see, with such great suggestions it was a really difficult decision, but the tip that I finally submitted to AllAboutYou is the one that was sent in by Maisie who writes a blog called 2009 Our Year of Greener Living.

I chose it for its simplicity. It not only saves money on shopping, it's also a great way of using up vegetables and is something that we all can do, as it doesn't need a particular skill or indeed any extra time and you don't even have to turn vegetarian. Maisie's tip is to reduce the amount of meat used when making a mince-based recipe and is so simple even I could do it.

"For every lb of mince add 2 handfuls of oats and loads of chopped/grated veggies thereby making lb mince stretch to 2lb easily, saving fuel as well as cooking once, eating twice maybe 3 times."

And as for the environment, just think...that would be fewer cows breaking wind and filling the air with methane. And if you are wondering about the impact that a few cows could have, check out this story from the Telegraph, which reveals the lengths that scientists will go to in researching the problem.

Huge thanks to everyone who sent in their credit-crunching eco-friendly tips. They've certainly kept me on my toes. Please take time to visit everyone's blogs for lots more hints and chatter and keep popping by the AllAboutYou website for some great content and soon you'll be able to see Maisie's suggestion in all its glory. I'll include a link once I've had confirmation that it's been published.

*** 13 February 2009 ****

News just in...Maisie's tip and more are now featured at AllAboutYou. To see the details, pop over to their published article Eco friendly tips to save money.


Friday, 6 February 2009

LETS barter it! An account of a cashless economy.

It may not be your typical setting for a bartering get-together but on Tuesday evening, a trendy town centre bar in Bury St Edmunds played host to what must be one of the oldest surviving LETS groups in the UK.

With cool music filling the softly lit room, the activities began under the watchful eye of the Mona Lisa, raising her enigmatic smile almost in approval of the goings-on.

A lively banter kept the atmosphere alive, with a group of folk who were as eclectic as the venue itself, ten people in total, including an IT professional, a lettings manager, a teaching assistant, a broadcasting producer, and a talented crafts tutor. Different backgrounds and a variety of motives drawn together through a shared belief in an alternative economy which is as old as the hills themselves - the idea of bartering skills and products.

When I blogged about the event as it was happening on Tuesday, I hadn't quite expected the level of interest and the questions that followed. I suppose after being a LETS member for around seven years, I now take it for granted, so I am pleased to have the opportunity to offer an insider's view of this little known activity and hopefully inspire others to join one of the 300 or so groups that are currently active around the UK.

Unsurprisingly the first hurdle is that LETS is not the most sexy sounding phenomenon to hit the streets, especially when you expand the term to its full description Local Exchange Trading System. For many, an early morning car boot sale in the rain offers far more appeal and for others a swish party provides much more glamour.

However, if you forget the name and focus on its function, a LETS group can provide far more benefits than any of the above. For one, you won't need the cash required by a car boot sale and as far as opportunities go, you'll find much more variety at a successful LETS event than at a swish party, where the only things you get to swap are clothes and accessories.

A LETS group allows almost anything to be swapped and members regularly experience the flow of fresh produce, plants, preserves , cakes and second-hand goods, right through to favours such as help with the garden, computer training, hair cuts and even holiday accommodation.

The practical operation is very simple. As a member, you earn points or credits every time you give something away and then you spend your credits when someone does you a favour. This means that you don't have to do a direct swap with one particular person, which is the clever bit, offering members the flexibility that is needed for the system to work and the freedom to enjoy whatever opportunities come their way, with the only obligation to make a contribution on some other occasion in the near future.

At first glance, it might seem that the chance to save money is what attracts people to the LETS economy.

However, there are many other reasons that motivate people to join. For some it offers a chance to find new friendships and to learn new skills, whether they want to be better at gardening, become more adventurous with their cooking or study a new language. For others it is the search for sustainability within the community, for example offering knowledge and skills in repairing items, thus preventing junk heading towards landfill. So the benefits and opportunities are almost endless and are only limited by the talents of the members themselves.

A personal experience.

I joined my first LETS group seven years ago, when I found myself home alone with my new baby, then in Hemel Hempstead, a long way away from my social circle in London where I spent much of my career in the music copyright sector. As an information professional I felt I had nothing practical to offer but very soon I found myself training older members in how to use email to keep in touch with their families and offering marketing advice to small businesses. In return my family benefited from a regular supply of fresh eggs and garden produce as well as jams, pickles and delicious cakes.

The scheme was so beneficial that when we moved to Bury St Edmunds, I became involved in relaunching the Bury LETS scheme, a formerly active group, which had fallen into early retirement. The community was soon reinvigorated and my reward was a set of fabulous new friends, who were able to help develop my gardening knowledge and assist with childcare. For people like me who are far removed from their families, a support system such as this can be crucial.

Of course a system like this does need a lot of organisation, especially in managing members' accounts, but it's not a huge task for members with book-keeping skills and can even offer practical experience for people who are looking for work in this area. Other essential functions include events management, newsletter development and marketing activities, all of which enable members to earn credits or points whenever they help out.

And as good old Bruce Forsyth used to say....

"What do points make?"

Prizes of course!

So, after earning my credits through various writing projects, running occasional workshops, repairing jewellery and offering up a whole range of pre-loved items, I am now able to enjoy a seasonal supply of fresh produce, home-made cards, books, DVDs and clothes, all in excellent condition and without the surplus packaging. Given that Bury LETS is such a small group, this is a truly remarkable outcome and a fabulous foundation for sustainable living.

Relevance to 21st Century Society

LETS schemes are not particularly new. With a history that stretches back to the 1980s, research has shown that these grassroots systems have been most successful at times of economic difficulty. Through the creation of extended communities and enabling the sharing of knowledge, where the only cost is time, LETS schemes offer people a valuable lifeline at such times of need.

Whether it's an opportunity to support frugal living, the desire to feel valued or a chance to learn new skills, LETS schemes have a positive role to play in a current society that is being bruised by job losses and and knocked by a depressed economy.

But yet we have to be realistic, Earning credits through a LETS scheme will never pay the bills, the mortgage or the council tax. Well not yet. But you never know what's on the horizon. Just take a look at this article on Times Online for a glimpse of what can be achieved: Money is dead - long live bartering.

Now that's left me wondering what I could barter to get the Mona Lisa. If it's the fake one in the photo above, a pair of old boots should do it! And if it's the original, perhaps I'd have to offer my soul! Now I know I have ambition, but not even I could stretch to that.

For more information visit:

Bury LETS:
SoBar: The place where we meet - 1st Tuesday each month

This post was written in reply to the queries from interested readers and as a contribution to the Buddy's group, launched by blogger Margaret at, to promote the sharing of knowledge in tackling the effects of local job losses. To see Margaret's contribution and how other bloggers are contributing positive stories, visit


Thursday, 5 February 2009

There IS such a thing as a free lunch!

And here it is, in the form of a free Organic Fruit & Veg Box from Abel & Cole, who have kindly sent me a sample of their supplies to test out.

Having been too busy to get to the market this week or indeed my local farm shop recently, it was fabulous timing to have this arrive on my doorstep this week. And with some freshly-made chicken stock in the fridge, I've now got all the ingredients to make a tasty vegetable soup, including leeks, carrots and potatoes.

Now I'm not known to normally welcome veg boxes. I have tried them before, but the problem I've had in the past is particularly at this time of year, they're usually full of all the vegetables Mr A doesn't like. So I end up giving the damn things away, which means they can be as useful as a chocolate teapot! However, I don't think I'll have such a problem with Abel & Cole's offer because you can simply choose what you want to leave in and what you'd prefer to leave out. So if a Swede's not your cup of tea, you don't have to drink it....if you get what I mean!

And as for reduced packaging, getting the produce delivered loose in the box is great! That's another tick in The Rubbish Diet list of requirements. The only thing that doesn't quite make the mark is the little punnet of cherry tomatoes which you can see poking up in the photo. However, in my neck of the woods I can recycle the plastic punnet and the wrapper too, so in the great scheme of things it doesn't matter.

So, as well as making the soup, I'm going to have a delve around the Abel & Cole recipe section for some cheap and cheerful ideas on how to make this free box of goodies last. But I musn't forget the Love Food Hate Waste site too, which is full of great ideas on using up all the leftovers.

Now I quite like the idea of a free lunch, especially during the credit crunch. So if you fancy a veg box yourself and sign up to Abel & Cole in February, just mention The Rubbish Diet and you'll get a Free Abel & Cole cookbook and I'll get some credit to my account too. Just call 08452 626262 or for more information, visit their website at

Now where was I....ah yes celebrating the fact that there IS such a thing as a free lunch. The only problem have to make it yourself. But if I play my cards right and get myself organised, I can see I'm going to have quite a lot of fun with this Veg Box...that's if I can tear myself away from the blog!

Right then...better stop blogging and start that cooking. See you soon x


Tuesday, 3 February 2009

LETS have fun!

Well here's a turn up for the books. I'm actually out enjoying myself in a bar in Bury St Edmunds. But it's not just any old bar, it's So Bar in Langton Place, which is the new host for our LETS group.

For anyone who doesn't know what a LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) group is, all I can say it's the best thing since sliced bread and is perfect for today's economy. Not only can you have a good laugh to cheer yourself up, you can also get stuff without paying any cash, like these DVDs I've got for the kids. It's a simple system akin to bartering.

So if you're in Bury St Edmunds at this very minute, do come along to visit our group. We'll be at So Bar until about 9.30pm. And if you can't make it tonight, come along on the first Tuesday of every month (7.30pm - 9.30pm) with the exception of August. See for details.

And if you don't live nearby but want to find your local group, visit

P.S. Did anyone notice I am blogging live?...I'm now going back to join in the chat!

P.P.S. If you are interested in finding out more about LETS, do take a look at the post recently written for the Sustained blog.


Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin