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...

Monday, 20 October 2008

I am Martin Mahony, Environmental Awareness Support Officer at Breckland Council. My job is basically to help teach people about recycling - why we need to do it, and how it's done. I've only been in this job for about three weeks having left university this year, so I'm very much on a learning curve myself! I've signed up to Waste Free Week (Oct 27th - Nov 2nd) so I can sharpen my own waste reduction skills and make sure I know how to practice what I preach.

With only a week to go it's time to get stuck in to all the support materials I've received from Norfolk County Council, and try to come up with a plan of where best to shop for some un-packaged food. I've got my eye on a few local butchers, greengrocers etc and I'm amassing a wealth of boxes and reusable bags to carry all my shopping home in. And speaking of butchers, I've decided that in order to be a little more 'green', I'm going to have a few 'meat free' days as well. I've been a recovering vegetarian for about five years, but I've recently started thinking about all the processing and 'food miles' that go into meat production (not to mention the methane emissions) . Waste free week seems like the perfect time to test just how easy it is to be what shall now be known as an ecotarian. So, watch this space for all the highs and lows of my Journey to Waste Free!