‘We’d love you to be our community champion for our Zero Waste campaign,” encouraged the voice over the phone in January 2008. I really didn’t know what I’d be letting myself in for when I found myself saying yes.
With a wheelie-bin full of landfill waste and knowing very little about recycling, I set up a personal blog, called it The Rubbish Diet and got cracking on tackling my rubbish for St Edmundsbury council’s Zero Waste Week. I told my husband it was only an eight-week project.
Eight years later, I’m glad to say the blog’s still going strong. In that time it’s had a major facelift. And year-on-year The Rubbish Diet welcomes increasing numbers of people from right around the UK, joining to discover how they can make their recycling easier and find ways to tackle their families’ food waste.
I’ve also witnessed a massive amount of change. Some good, some bad and some that I can only describe as downright ugly.
Let’s take plastics recycling. When I first investigated how to shrink my bin and explore the world of waste, I was shocked to discover that here in Suffolk we were the lucky ones, one of the 40 percent of the UK that could recycle our margarine tubs and yoghurt pots. Eight years later, that is now pushing 70 percent. We’ve also seen improvements here too, with cartons and aerosols being collected.
I have also witnessed design innovation, including a plastic milk bottle supplier that’s redesigned its bottle to use up to 30 percent recycled plastic without affecting its quality.
Then came the slump in oil prices. Suddenly it’s cheaper for packaging companies to buy pellets made from virgin oil instead of recycled plastic. The cornerstone businesses that help drive the circular economy suffer the financial consequences, leading to job losses and threats of closure.
Prices for all materials fluctuate and when the going gets tough and especially when subsidies are pulled, we see the impacts. An example close to home are the changes to the council’s brown bin service – where the only way they can make it affordable under the council budget will be to charge those who use it.
The same is happening in other areas across the UK and where the problem isn’t garden waste, it might be a cardboard collection. It all depends on the varying nature of waste management contracts, the geography of processors and the economics surrounding that material’s value.
And these contracts don’t stop at recycling. This last week we’ve heard the terrible news that local charity Gatehouse will lose its Reuse facilities at Rougham Hill Household Waste Recycling Centre due to a countywide contract for sending the stuff to an alternative charity shop, which will be based at a recycling centre outside Ipswich.
Managing waste streams is an expensive business and in a world where the economic efficiencies for one party create real difficulties and frustrations for others, as individuals we need to find new ways of protecting our resources and better supporting our communities.
We’ve already seen growing interest in Restart Parties, held at the Apex, helping people to fix laptops & other gadgets to help them last longer.
Suffolk’s volunteer Master Composters are also going strong, empowering more people to work out what to do with a garden compost bin.
And further afield, I love what a street of Rubbish Dieters has done over in Shropshire, sharing trips to the tip to help make recycling easier. Their story will be featured soon on ITV Tonight’s Waste Wars showing how over the last two years they’ve saved 500 wheelie bins of stuff going to waste.
Every time I get angry at changes that are out of our control, which threaten our local efforts or our national endeavours to reduce waste, I am buoyed by the commitment of all those people who keep slimming their bins, whether at home, at work or in our communities. These are our resources and if there’s anything that the last eight years has taught me, it’s that we can achieve much more when we fill in the gaps together.