Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The never-ending journey

OK so Waste Free Week is for many of us a distant memory as our thoughts inevitably turn to Christmas. With only about two weeks to go, most of Norfolk can invariably be found pounding the streets of Norwich and our local market towns looking for the perfect gift for a loved one. But Christmas is a very wasteful time, and that means us recycling officers will be working extra hard to help people cut down their Christmas waste! It is estimated that around 3 million tonnes of waste will be created over the festive period, and piles of black bin bags on the roadside are not an uncommon site come January.
Without trying to spoil everyone's fun, we at Breckland are encouraging our residents to give some thought to the issue of food waste this Christmas. We will be running five Christmas roadshows during the week of the 15th-19th of December where residents can start reducing their food waste immediately by picking up some waste-free recipes and a complementary spaghetti measurer. Check out for details - raodshows are also happening elsewhere throughout Norfolk.

I'll let you know how I get on with my spaghetti measurer in due course. As for my own experiences of waste reduction since the zero-waste challenge, I must say that the improvements have been slow, but steady. We now have a big box outside the back door into which goes everything that cannot go in our recycling bin but which can be accepted by one of Norfolk's many recycling centres. Our recycling rate for things like batteries has, I imagine, increased by over 100%. Honestly. Cooking habits have also improved - I'm getting much more savvy with portion sizes and the freezing of leftovers for later use. I've also renewed my appreciation for bubble and squeak, a recipe for which (the first I've ever written) is below. I have also been intrigued by Alex's pre-grated cheese confession, although I have a question - can frozen grated cheese be used directly from the freezer for things like cheese on toast? If so, this seems like a very natty way of cutting down cheese wastage (a huge bug-bear of mine). So anyway, it's time to go Delia on y'all...

Bubble and Squeak

You will need:
  • One load of leftover mashed potato
  • One load of leftover cooked veg such as cabbage, spouts, carrots etc.
  • Cooking oil


  • Heat up a large frying pan with a dash of cooking oil
  • Meanwhile, mix together the mash and the veg to form a mash-and-veg mixture
  • Put the mixture into the frying pan and spread out to cover the base. Leave to cook (agitating regularly) until each side is lovely and brown (about 3-4 minutes per side).
  • Serve immmediately

This recipe can be served as part of a fry-up, or forms a perfect accompaniment to all manner of rustic stews.

Sorry about the rough measurements. And the lack of accompanying wine reccomendations. However, if this recipe has tickled your fancy then there are many books out there with great ideas for cutting down food waste. My personal favourite is 'Eat Well, Waste Less' which I received after waste free week. If you missed out on a copy then come along to one of our roadshows where you can enter a draw to win one of a HUNDRED copies!

And so the journey to zero waste continues...

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Feedback time!

If you took part in Waste Free Week 2008 then don't forget to send in your results and feedback! This can be done online here:
...or by post using the form you will have received in your starter pack. The first 500 will receive a FREE copy of 'Eat Well, Waste Less '! I've already fed back, so there's only 499 left!

And, as you're currently browsing the web, we would really like some feedback on the Norfolk Waste Partnership website, If you have any thoughts, perhaps you could leave them as a comment on my blog? I can then forward ideas on to the powers-that-be.

In other news, I have officially volunteered my services to an organic growers cooperative based in Norwich! I'd better not reveal the name of the scheme as my involvement isn't yet official, but I'm very excited about getting my hands dirty and possibly also helping out with some research tasks. Also, if there's anyone based in the Dereham area who is interested in the Transition Towns movement which has just been officially unleashed in Norwich, and would like to be involved in a similar initiative in Dereham, then let me know and I can give you the details of who to contact. If you're not aware of Transitions Towns, basically it is a grassroots movement of community-minded people who want to ensure their communities are resilient enough to respond positively to the twin threats of climate change and peak oil. This often takes the form of strengthening local food networks and developing decentralised energy networks, for instance. After originating in Kinsale, Ireland and Totnes, UK the initiative has spread to over 200 villages, towns and cities worldwide, and has even been featured in The Archers, no less. For more info have a look at

That's all from me for now, but watch this space because the Waste Free bloggers may be returning to your screens very soon with more with more wit and wisdom from inside the world of waste management!

Monday, 3 November 2008

The Verdict

So here we are! Waste Free Week is over, and I can honestly say that I'll never look at waste the same way. As I was flitting between different houses all week it's quite hard for me to provide an accurate figure for how much waste I produced. However, I reckon I was responsible for around 1kg of rubbish. That sounds a lot, but that does include the infamous pasta-kebab disaster.
On Friday evening I needed some comfort food after getting up at 4am to conduct the Breckland Council waste audit, so a lot of waste-saving strategies like taking plastic boxes to the shops went out the window. I settled on a steak and ale pie, which noentheless came in reassuringly reusable cardboard and foil. I also went for a few loose veg and a lovely bit of mustard mash. Very little waste there, and I wasn't even trying! I think that's the key thing that I will take out of this week - being able to produce very minimal waste without it being a major effort. They say practice makes perfect, and sure enough waste reducing behaviour can quite quickly become habit. To be green, you really don't need to hug a tree every morning and forage for your dinner in the local woodland. Just making few careful decisions in the shops can be a huge step towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
We are all consumers, and it is environmentally aware consumption behaviour that can have dramatic impacts on waste and carbon footprints, as well as narrowing the gap between producer and consumer.
This week has been a great experience and I hope everyone else has enjoyed the challenge as much as I have. My next step is going to be to investigate local organic food networks as alternatives to jet-setting supermarket veg, and hopefully my bin will continue to be nice and slender.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Guilty pleasure or last resort?

Homemade pasta REALLY isn't easy. Well it probably would be if you had a recipe for the right amount, but when you're cooking for five with a recipe for two you have to be careful with the salt, as I found out to my tastebuds' displeasure last night. The chorizo butter sauce was inherently salty itself, so all in all it was a bit of a disaster. An inedible disaster.
So off to the kebab shop we trotted for a late night last resort. And very nice it was too (well, quite nice, all things considered). But at the end of the whole culinary car crash I was left with a load of unrecyclable rubbish which is really going to skew my figures! Perhaps I could reuse some of the polysterene boxes? (if I can get rid of the smell) They might make good parcel packing if cut up small, or they might even find a use in the greenshouse. Either way there are lessons to be learned - watch your salt, always have a waste-free backup, or just buy pasta in a cardboard box.
So, off home to make a waste-free risotto. Best place an order at the chippie now, just to save waiting...

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Making time

The reality of the stranglehold supermarkets have on us has really dawned on me over the last couple of days. After some encouraging trips to local shops over the weekend, the start of the working week has demonstrated to me just how difficult it is for most people to shop local. Even an early finish on Tuesday didn't help; endless efforts to sort out a computer problem with Dell's customer service brigade meant we missed all the butchers and greengrocers. We had to resort to the supermarket. Even so, we took along our plastic boxes, and after some quizical looks from the deli staff had our meat poked and prodded into place. I even indulged in some vegetable-from-plastic liberation at the checkout (well, not at the checkout, the attendant looked like she'd had a long day and had just endured someone complaining about the colour of their new uniform or something equally inane, so I politely popped the fennel packet on a neighbouring, empty checkout).
We managed to leave the place with very little plastic, and I'm currently halfway through producing some homemade ravioli, so no waste there! (apart from the fact there isn't really enough pasta and it keeps getting stuck to EVERYTHING and I just found out my girlfriend's dad doesn't like tomatoes).
Hopefully on Friday I'll be able to hit the shops again. But it's amazing how the convenience of the supermarket always seems to break down the most determined shopper. Being green isn't easy! (and neither's homemade pasta)

Monday, 27 October 2008

Yes sir, three bags full!

So here's the thing. I've just finished university and live with my parents. We have recently moved house and haven't really finished unpacking, let alone 'settling in'. We have also downsized from quite a healthy sized kitchen to something more akin to the galley on a canal boat.

These are just some of my excuses for the shameful figure of 3 bin bags of trash which my household has produced in the last week or so. The composter is on order and I'm working on a scheme to separate out ANYTHING that can be recycled 'at source', so to speak. But in this day and age there really is no excuse for producing that amount of landfill-bound garbage. However, 16 hours into waste free week and I'm proud to say that I've not been responsible for a single morsel of rubbish. As I write, my girlfriend is out buying a deliciously waste-free lamb something-or-another for dinner, and the only rubbish I anticipate producing today is the lid from my yoghurt which I didn't get round to eating at lunch time. Note: please do not put yoghurt pots in your recycling bin! Unfortunately that type of plastic cannot yet be recycled in Norfolk, despite those annoyingly misleading 'recyclable' labels. I will be putting my yoghurt pot aside for our children's Christmas workshop where it will take pride of place in a shiny Christmas garland (feel free to donate any of your used yoghurt pots to Breckland Council Environmental Services. Seriously, please do). Yoghurt pots also make fantastic cress growers or seed planters - so there's no reason to chuck 'em!

To add a little to Friday's rant about supermarkets, I went in to one on Saturday to do some research on the feasibility of going waste free. I'd been asked to pick up some chorizo sausage so I headed for the deli, where I was disappointed to find they only had them encased in plastic. With a heavy heart, I picked a sausage. I was then shocked when the attendant tried to wrap it in yet more plastic, as you would do with meat cut straight off the bone, only so the price label could be stuck on it! Madness...

Friday, 24 October 2008

3 days to go...

That's right, come Monday morning I'll be filling up my lunchbox with all manner of package-less goodies, hopefully all purchased from local traders and helping me on my way to five-a-day (another little target I've set myself for the week).... Five portions of fruit or veg every day, that could be 35 pieces in one week. That sound's like an awful lot for one person, especially when you consider all the packaging we have to wade through each time we visit the shops. You can buy 6 apples in a bag, 4 in a plastic tray, half a shrink-wrapped cucumber, a plastic punnet of strawberries...the list of seemingly pointless packaging is endless. After munching my way through 35 pieces of fruit and veg in one week, I could be left with a bin full of unrecyclable plastics.

Yesterday I attended the Norfolk Waste Partnership conference at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. One of the keynote speakers was the head of corporate social responsibility and environmental sustainability for a major UK supermarket (but not that one). His company is considered to be a market leader in terms of cutting energy use, CO2 emissions and waste. For example, they aim to send absolutely no waste to landfill by 2010. That's all very well and good, but what about all the waste sent home with the consumer? Countless loopholes in government legislation, along with the business case for extending shelf lives, mean that our baby carrots and sweet potatoes are still to be found incarcerated in layers of unrecyclable plastic. It is therefore up to the consumer to let the supermarkets know how we feel about all that rubbish. Here's some simple things we can all do:
  • If it's over-packaged, don't buy it! Suppliers will soon get the message from their sales figures.
  • Take a leaf out of Alex Bone's book and just rip all the packaging off at the checkout! If it's still in the store, it's the store's responsibility. This appraoch has even been suggested by Ben Bradshaw MP, former Environment Minister.
  • Lodge a complaint with the store, or phone Consumer Direct on 08454 040 506 who will pass your complaint on to a trading standards officer.
  • My advice - VOTE WITH YOUR FEET! Wherever possible, try and buy your food (especially things like bread and fresh produce) from local retailers. It may be a little more expensive but you're almost guaranteed better quality, and you can rest assured that you're supporting local businesses and food networks. Why not start by just going to independent shops or a local market occasionally, and you'll soon notice the difference between a fresh local beef cut and a shrink wrapped steak from the other side of the world, for example. Don't forget to take along a few plastic boxes and a reusable shopping bag to bring your purchases home in.

Tomorrow morning, after a well-earned lie-in, I'll be off to the shops with a list of meals for the week in one hand, novelty jute bag in the other. I'll see you in the butcher's queue...