Halving my family’s rubbish really takes the biscuit

After examining her conscience and consulting an expert, Fiona Russell finally tackles the contents of her bin.

A local expert, Steve, had recommended we begin by “reducing”, bringing into our house only things we needed and that we could recycle, preferably at home.

We began, inevitably, with packaging. Scrutinising the contents of the bin, the relationship between our economy and our increased rubbish production was clear. Like many others, I’m a sucker for a supermarket bargain – two for one, three for £10 – particularly towards the end of the month. But the very definition of a supermarket bargain seems to be something in a plastic tray or punnet. The bargains would have to go.

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This was a bit of wrench. But, luckily, we still have local greengrocers and butchers in the Colne Valley. Punnets and trays could be replaced by brown paper bags and the odd (re-usable) plastic bag. And I like shopping locally, not least because I can examine the fruit and vegetables and buy as much or as little as I want – both good ways of reducing waste.

The expert had also recommended shopping locally as a way of lowering the amount of energy “embodied” in what I was buying – the energy used and, therefore, potentially wasted, in growing, rearing, transporting and disposing of food and other products.

By shopping locally, I wouldn’t need to use my car, I would be able to look for things that were seasonal and produced locally, and I could choose to buy some organic fruit and vegetables.

It was quite simple really. But there was still a surprising amount of plastic in the bin. Looking carefully, I realised that rather a lot came from one source – buns and biscuits.

Now I like to cook, but I don’t have a sweet tooth and so I do very little baking. The twins, on the other hand, “need” a bun in their packed lunches and a biscuit when they come home from school. But they also enjoy cooking. It didn’t take long to work out what to do.

We collected together some simple recipes – jam tarts, chocolate buns, shortcake – and with a minimum of help, they were away.

So, without too much trouble we had significantly reduced the amount of packaging coming into our house, the kind of rubbish which goes straight to landfill or an incinerator. Sure enough the kitchen bin was less full. The proof was in the pong: the children complained about a nasty smell. I opened the bin to find it only half-full, five days after the bin bag had been changed.

The expert’s final suggestion was to think in terms of feedback loops – meaning waste could be regarded as an output which could be an input somewhere else.

What about ash, which in terms of bulk, made a significant contribution to our bin? I consulted my friend Ange, who has a large productive garden down the road.

If I stopped using the smokeless coal, she reckoned, I could spread the ash on my vegetable garden. But even if I didn’t, I could spread it on non-edible crops such as flower beds or the lawn.

So where have we got to? We’ve cut down our rubbish by about a half, with remarkably little pain. We gained some good habits (baking) and jettisoned some bad ones (quick trips to the Co-op), and we think we came out financially better off since we bought fewer bargains and did less impulse shopping.