How To Reduce Waste at Home

  • By: Ashley
  • Time to read: 9 min.

It’s day one of Zero Waste Week and I decided to set myself the challenge of writing about the facts and figures behind waste in the UK.   At first, I thought this would be easy, find a few facts and write them down.  But how to make them interesting and without sounding like I am lecturing?  Have I set myself a challenge that I just can’t meet? 

Waste Generated in the UK

In 2012 in the UK 200,020 thousand tonnes of waste was generated. Some of this waste can and is recycled, some are used for energy recovery, some is incinerated, but a staggering 48,512 thousand tonnes ended up in or on landfill and a further 38,383 thousand tonnes ended up in land treatment and released into water bodies

I don’t know about you but I find that amount of waste really difficult to visualize – I mean, I’ve never seen a tonne of waste before, nor have had the good fortune to visit a landfill site.  During my prep for this article, I did read a figure that helped me get my head around the stats –the waste we generate in 8 months would fill Windermere, the largest natural lake in England (Windermere covers an area of 14.73 square kilometers)

I don’t know about you, but in those terms it makes me think that if we can generate that much waste in 8 months, eventually, we are going to run out of places to put the waste!!  I guess we already know this, and that I am just stating the obvious?  We all know that we produce too much waste, that we should recycle more, upcycle more or reuse more.  So we if know this, then why are there such campaigns as Zero Waste Week?  I guess maybe not everyone actually cares about the waste they generate – they put the rubbish in their bin, it gets taken away and therefore out of sight, out of mind?  But as one wise lady once said to me during a Twitter conversation there is no away – just spend a few minutes looking at these terrifying images of landfills across the world –where is their ‘away’?

Is terrifying too strong a word?  I don’t think so, because if we don’t do something about the amount of waste, we, the UK (along with the rest of the world) generates, then it won’t be long before more and more of our beautiful countryside will go from this :

To this:

Easy Switches to Make to Reduce Waste

Now I consider myself a keen environmentalist, so I do care about the waste I generate.  I’ve earned some brownie points because we have already made the switch to cloth nappies (we still use eco-disposables for nighttime), I use Cloth Sans Pro, we use (mostly) earth-friendly cleaning products, and recycle as much as we can.  But is there more I could be doing?

After a not-so-long hard look, and if I am honest, the answer has to be a simple yes.  There is so much more that we can do.  Firstly, we don’t compost our food scraps anymore, we use to before the children came along when I grew lots of fruit and vegetables and was 80% self-sufficient for 50% of the year.  Since having the kids I’ve not been able to ‘do’ the vegetable garden (it’s on my list of things to do next year) and so, we’ve got used to throwing the scraps in the bin.  But why?  Composting is one of the easiest things to do.  I don’t think there is any excuse, we have just become lazy.

We still don’t use ‘bags for life when shopping.   I have good intentions and have over the years bought several but 99% of the time forget to take them with me, or forget to give them to hubby when he does the food shopping (which recently has been most of the time).  So we have a draw full of supermarket bags – we do re-use them though, as liners for our bins, for bagging up dirty (disposable nappies) and every once in a while I’ll take a load to be recycled.  But really, there’s no excuse not to take the reusable ones with us.

We also seem to go through a copious amount of kitchen roll and loo roll – hardly surprising with two little people in the family, 3 cats, and a dog.   I have though recently made the effort to reuse all the old muslins that are sitting in the bottom draw of my son’s chest of drawers.  These are great for mopping up ‘clean’ spills (milk, juice, gravy) and wiping dirty little hands but I’m finding it hard to get the rest of the family to follow suit.  It’s just so easy to grab the kitchen roll, rather than hunt in the cupboard for a clean cloth.  I am also making myself some washable loo roll – in a bid to reduce the amount we buy (can’t convince hubby to follow suit, but maybe if Elora, who is now potty trained sees me using it, she’ll want to have her own?)  The problem is I haven’t yet found the time to finish sewing it and so, am still using ‘ordinary’ loo roll.  But is that a valid excuse?  No, not really.  I just need to make the time.

Food Packaging Waste

I really do lament at the amount of food packaging we throw away, but neither my hubby nor I have time to scan food packaging in the supermarket to see what it contains, whether it is recyclable or not.  Most of the time we just want to get in and out before one or other of the kids has a tantrum, falls asleep (or in Elora’s case) needs a wee but refuses to use the supermarket loos.   We do make some effort though – we only buy canned dog and cat food, as these are easier to recycle than the foil pouches.  We also make our own bread so rarely buy from the supermarket, thus cutting down some of the food packagings we would otherwise throw in the bin.  Of course, we still have to buy flour and yeast, so are we really reducing waste?  (Although the waste reduction is not the reason we make our own bread, it’s just easier and more convenient to pop a loaf in than have to pop to the shops every few days to buy more).

I came across this post on Facebook a few months back, and it really made me think about  waste reduction and this ‘modern’ phenomenon (unfortunately I do not know who the true author is, if anyone does, please do let me know, so I can give them the credit they deserve)

“Checking out at the supermarket recently, the young cashier suggested I should bring my own carrier bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. I apologised and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.” The cashier responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.” She was right about one thing — our generation didn’t have the green thing in “Our” day. So what did we have back then…? After some reflection and soul-searching on “Our” day here are what I remembered we did have…. Back then, we returned milk bottles, fizzy pop bottles, and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilised and refilled, so it could use the same bottles repeatedly.

So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day. We walked upstairs because we didn’t have an escalator or lift in every store and office building. We walked to the supermarket and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two minutes up the road. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right. We didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of England. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used screwed-up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right. We didn’t have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mums into a 24- hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerised gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint. But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?”

Yes, life was much simpler in those days, and it’s true we all live in a very different, fast-paced world, but at the end of the day, it’s my (and my hubby’s) responsibility to reduce the amount of waste we generate as a family.  

Family Changes

In some areas, we are doing a fantastic job, but in others, we are completely failing.  That needs to change, so as it’s the first day of Zero Waste Week I am going to pledge to:

  1. Get the compost up and running again – I have an old nappy pail to store all the food scraps so have no excuse to keep putting them in the bin
  2. Find the time to finish my washable loo roll and start using it (if you don’t know how to make your own or don’t have the time then you can buy it from our shop or other retailers)
  3. Stop using so much kitchen roll –  get the rest of the old muslins out and use them
  4. Try and remember to take the reusable shopping bags with us when we go shopping as there really is no excuse not to be using them
  5. If I don’t have time to check the packaging on products then I will go for products that I know I can easily recycle – tins instead of foil pouches, glass bottles instead of plastic ones, and / or buy in bulk – that way the packaging to product ratio is decreased and less packaging is sent to landfill (an example would be a large family bag of crisps that can be decanted into smaller portions, rather than a packet of 6 individual bags).
  6. Never ever forget that the amount of waste my family generates is within our control and that being complacent is really not an option. 
Cloth Diapers x
Cloth Diapers