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Zero Waste Week marks 10-year milestone

Rachel Strauss (3779842)
Rachel Strauss (3779842)

Many people who have followed this column, or my blog at The Rubbish Diet, will recognise Rachelle Strauss as one of my long-standing ‘rubbish’ friends. Our paths crossed online in 2008 as a result of us both blogging about waste, long before the topic had become mainstream. Within months of us getting to know each other’s rubbish, Rachelle and her family attempted their very first Zero Waste Week challenge and launched a national campaign to get others involved. With the 11th Zero Waste Week starting very soon on 3 September, I’ve caught up with Rachelle to find out what inspired her, how this incredible grassroots campaign has developed over the last decade and, more importantly, how you can get involved this year.

People are motivated to take more responsibly for reducing their waste for different reasons. What was the key motivating issue for your family?

My motivation came from experiencing, first hand, the devastating floods at Boscastle in 2004. I was on holiday with my family when, after torrential rainfall, two rivers burst their banks at the same time as the tide came in. This resulted in 10 feet of flood water pouring through the village washing away livelihoods, possessions and the bridge out of the village. 100 people had to be airlifted to safety, and, as I was standing with my daughter in my arms, wondering whether I'd ever see my husband alive again my thought was "everything I've been reading about climate change is happening - not in 100 years time, but right now!" Whether that's true or not doesn't matter, what matters is that seeds were sown for me to be part of the solution.

Tell us more about your very first Zero Waste Week campaign.

The first campaign has very humble beginnings. Three months after my family and I started to reduce our waste, your good self challenged me to have a Zero Waste Week at home. I was up for the challenge, but nervous and needed moral support, so asked my blog readers if they'd like to join me. 100 people said yes. After the week was over participants said they'd enjoyed themselves, had fun (NOT a word I expected to hear in the same sentence as 'waste'!) and wanted to do it again. In that moment, the annual Zero Waste Week campaign was born!

Ten years have passed since that first campaign week. How has it changed over the last decade and what have been your personal highlights?

The campaign has certainly evolved! What started as a simple comment thread on one blog post, now has a dedicated website and social media channels of its own. There's also been a shift from blogging and newsletters to social media. People want soundbites, images and quick hits, whereas ten years ago participants would engage with much more text. It's a sign of the times I guess! Because of its longevity, Zero Waste Week has now been recognised as a campaign with sticking power and impact - and last year there were tweets from notable organisations such as GreenPeace, Penguin books and the Energy Saving Trust. Even Deborah Meaden gave us a mention! Vivienne Westwood photographed herself promoting the week, media coverage has included everything from local newspapers to the Guardian and Readers Digest and I've even appeared with Jeremy Irons in the film 'Trashed' where I took him shopping for a naked cucumber.

My personal highlights have been: watching the #ZeroWasteWeek hashtag reach 56 million impressions; Being put forward for an Early Day Motion in parliament; seeing the hashtag trend for two days - alongside Kate Middleton's announcement of her third pregnancy no less!; being voted number 1 mover and shaker in the Recycling and waste sector by Resource magazine; the fantastic emails I get from people telling me about the changes they have made.

What have been the key challenges to minimising your own household waste over this time?

Time is the number one thing that determines our success rate. If I have time I can keep on top of things - checking daily in the fridge to see what needs using up, making good choices when I shop, having the headspace to know what is coming up and what we need to plan for all keep things ticking over. If one of us gets ill, my workload increases or something unexpected happens (you couldn't make this up - last month a rat chewed through a cable that housed a water heater and set it on fire - we ended up with charred plastic to throw away!), the best laid plans tend to fall apart. That's when I end up with slimy bags of salad in the back of the fridge and getting to the checkout without my own reusable bag.

What advice would you give to readers who would like to get involved in Zero Waste Week this September?

I'd say jump right in and give it a go! The term 'zero waste' can feel intimidating, overwhelming and impossible, but Zero Waste is just an aspiration- all you have to do is take ONE STEP towards reducing your landfill waste during the week.

You’ll get plenty of encouragement and suggestions in the daily newsletters and I promise it will be easier (and more fun!) than you think.Here's what previous participants have said:

“I loved the interaction with others. The sense of community with common purpose is powerful.”

“If you stop to think too much about the environment it’s overwhelming, but Zero Waste Week makes you feel you can do something.”

“This week was a real eye opener. I have discovered amazing products I had no idea about before.”

There are a couple of green buttons on zerowasteweek.co.uk that will get you onto the mailing list. You'll also receive a free PDF outlining the ways my zero waste week lifestyle saves me £1500 per year. If that's not motivation to get signed up, I don't know what is!

How can readers keep motivated once the main campaign week has ended?

I think of the week itself as a bootcamp for bins. It's like an intense workout where all the focus is on reducing landfill waste. Once the week is over, you'll find that one or two things you've tried have saved you money, have been easier than you anticipated, or, you feel so good about the changes that you WANT to keep them up. Throughout the rest of the year you'll find me talking rubbish on social media. The Facebook group is reportedly one of the friendliest on Facebook (a claim to fame if ever I heard one!) and there are thousands of people (some in Suffolk, so you're in good company!) that are engaged and sharing their questions and advice. You can also find me on Twitter (@myzerowaste) where I'm on hand to answer questions and I share relevant and helpful articles. I don't inundate people's inboxes with newsletters once Zero Waste Week is over, so you might get two or three throughout the year until the next campaign starts.

It’s been an exciting decade. What can we expect next?

From the feedback I receive about the campaign, it's clear many people want to reduce their waste but don't know how or don't have the time to research.So you'll find me helping individuals, businesses and organisations implement a successful zero waste strategy of their own.

Through resources and consulting, I share priceless information they won’t find anywhere else, simple-to-follow guidelines that get amazing results and they’ll get full support, not only to start a Zero Waste strategy but to achieve all their goals. I've also got this crazy idea of offering a short course for householders to reduce their waste once and for all.

As for Zero Waste Week itself, well, let's get that trending all week long, the lead story in all the mainstream media publications and a selfie from the Queen showing her support, shall we?

Zero Waste Week 2018 takes place 3-8 September. For more information about how you can take part at home or at work, visit www.zerowasteweek.co.uk.On Twitter or Facebook? Share your #zerowasteweek successes with the Bury Free Press.

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