Oh dear. I’m not being very consistent with these conscious living posts. That’s July and August completely missed!
Ah well. I’m back on the case now, and this month I want to talk about waste.
We’ve got a reasonable system here, although not without flaws. We have a blue wheelie bin for glass, tins and plastic, a blue box for paper and card, and a black wheelie bin for everything else. They’re collected fortnightly – black one week, blue the next.
Our black bin is very rarely full. What goes in it? Sweepings from the kitchen floor. Plastic bags that had fruit and veg in. Things that are completely broken beyond repair – the occasional toaster (with all the screws and the plug saved), or a plastic box with a hole in. As I’m sat here, I’m struggling to think of anything else, yet we manage to fill the kitchen bin at least once a week. I suspect a few unwashed yogurt pots and kipper tins sneak in there too.
We also have a compost bin, so fruit and veg peelings, egg shells, tea bags all go in there, along with scrunched up bits of the free newspaper.
We used to get free green bin bags for garden waste which were collected by the council, but they’ve stopped that now. Instead you have to pay £12.50 for a roll of ten clear bags, which they take away for ‘free’. I’ve not yet been able to bring myself to pay that, so small garden waste goes in the compost bin, and bigger stuff (created in one day of violent gardening) is cut up and taken to the tip (or ‘household recycling site’) in the car.
On the whole it works pretty well. We have a basket by the back door for glass, tins, paper, plastic – anything that goes in one of the blue bins. This frequently overflows, and makes me cross.
What about the more unusual stuff? Clothes, books and other ‘stuff’ of reasonable quality goes to the charity shop (usually where it came from in the first place). One local charity shop now takes rags, so even worn out clothing and ripped old towels can go there. There’s a box for batteries at the local shop, and one for carrier bags too.
How far away can you throw it?
Apparently we only send 13% of our waste to landfill in our city – because we have an incinerator (or rather ‘energy recovery facility‘). This is the cause of much controversy and people are always writing to the local paper about it. It provides heat to a fair few large city centre buildings, and feeds electricity to the National Grid.
It has a few problems – leaving aside any pollution that may or may not be created, you could argue that there’s less of an incentive for the council to encourage recycling. Any increase in the recycling rates means that extra waste has to be brought in from surrounding areas to feed the incinerator.
I don’t know enough of the facts to make a reasoned judgement about whether the incinerator is a ‘good’ thing or not, and I suspect it’s not so simple as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ anyway. But I do think it can only be a good thing to produce less waste in the first place, and to try and reuse or recycle what you do produce, before either burying or burning it.
Be careful what you let in the door
A good part of thinking about waste should be thinking about what you bring in to your house in the first place, not just what you throw out. I don’t always get this right. I made a cloth carrier bag, which is brilliant – when I remember to take it out with me. I know I should buy loose fruit and veg, but often just grab a pre-packed bag of apples. I don’t tend to buy things all the time, but I do acquire stuff that other people are throwing away (most of which is actually useless, and then I have to throw it away myself).
There’s also the ‘needless waste’ that I manage to create. I’m forever doodling on bits of paper (which then have to be thrown away), chewing pens, letting the floor get so filthy that I have to throw away the cloth I’ve used to clean it (did I really just admit that?), creating sewing projects so bad that the incinerator is the only place for them.
Evaluating – what’s good, and what’s not?
So – back to thinking about what I’m happy with, and what I’m not. The doorstep recycling collection is good, as is the compost. We don’t throw away anything useful, so even if something is broken, screws and buttons are salvaged (although I confess Peter is far more diligent about this than me).
What isn’t so good? I don’t always recycle my toilet roll tubes. The stupid reason for this (which I will rectify tomorrow) is that I don’t have a separate box in the bathroom to put them in so they go in the bin with the hair from the hairbrush (which should be in the compost) and the empty toothpaste tubes. Teabags and fruit peelings sometimes get thrown in the bin when the compost pot is overflowing. Sometimes it feels too difficult to wash out a tin (why?) so that gets thrown in the bin.
Looking forwards – what next?
Writing this has made me realise that some not-quite-satisfactory things that happen round here are due to inadequate storage. I only have one bin in the bathroom, so loo roll tubes, which could happily go in the compost or the recycling, end up in the incinerator. Fruit peel and teabags get thrown in the bin because the compost pot is full. I don’t have a separate bin for recycling in the attic, so any waste paper from up there just gets collected in a bag as I go around the house.
These things aren’t major, but the point of the whole conscious living escapade wasn’t to focus on major things, but to uncover minor things that happen every day that I wasn’t really thinking about too hard. It’s not too much of a shift to sort out those little things, and they’ll easily become habits.
As a starting point, we’ve (rather worryingly) been asked to collect loo roll tubes for some frivolous work-related day out activity (the mind boggles). I’ll put a box upstairs for that, and then it can stay there.
What waste-related thing are you not-quite-happy with? What could you do to change it?