As I’ve mentioned before, over the last few months I’ve been looking into various ideas broadly around the theme of “local responses to climate change”.
The theme that we’ve made most progress on is around waste and recycling – and we hosted a meeting last week attended by 30 people interested in exploring the idea of “Zero Waste Leeds“. I’ve just about finished writing up the notes, and I’ll share more on here soon.
One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that with things like this, change begins at home. To create real change, action pretty quickly needs to expand beyond the home – at a neighbourhood level, a city level, the country, universe and beyond…. but you can learn a lot by first of all trying to change things that you have direct control over.
I’m also a big fan of counting things, keeping track of things. That’s where the journey towards going car-free began – making a conscious effort to record each journey over six months – and then reflecting on what we could change.
So, given that I want 2018 to be the year when we really get stuck in to helping Leeds create less waste, I thought we’d start at home. On January 1st we agreed (family buy-in is important!) to weigh everything that we were getting rid of – black bin waste, recycling, compostable waste, glass, and donated goods.
And the results are in….
This first table shows everything we’ve “got rid of” – including donations of stuff that’s been sat in the loft for a while. It shows a total 111kg. (click on the table to enlarge it)
This second table is without the donated goods (as this might give a better comparison for throughout the year).
First of all, a few bits of explanation
- We’re a family of three.
- Here’s the list of what you can put in a green bin in Leeds. Key points are that you can recycle limited plastic (numbers 1, 2 and 4) and you can’t put glass in your green bin.
- We have a compost bin in the garden (Leeds residents can buy discounted bins here)
- There’s no kerbside glass collection – we took that to the local bottle bank – details on the Leeds Bins App.
- We had a post-Christmas clearout – most of it went to the local St Vincent de Paul shop – whilst a few bits went to kit out Leeds Community Homes’ new Hub.
- “Other recycling”, in this case, was a Christmas tree collected by St Gemma’s Hospice.
And some overall thoughts
It was a really useful exercise – and got us thinking about the amount of waste that we create as a family. When you weigh it all up, it’s striking how much rubbish you create – 2kg a day – or closer to equivalent of 4kg a day if you include all the stuff we’ve amassed over the years that we’re starting to get rid of.
And although what you might call our “household reuse & recycling rate” is perhaps not that bad – 64% excluding donated goods, 79% including them), it really focused our minds on how much “residual waste” we were creating. That, as you’d expect, was made up of all sorts of things. But the amount of non-recyclable plastic packaging was striking.
As was the amount of food waste. My guess is that relatively speaking weren’t not that bad on food waste – we’re certainly much more on the ball than we were a few years ago. But there was still too much. Leftovers that got forgotten in the fridge. A third of a tub of cream. A couple of rashers of bacon from no-one could quite remember when. That kind of thing. It all went in the bin – and presumably will mostly be burnt at the RERF, just down the road from our office.
On a positive note, it confirmed to us the importance of home composting. By weight, 8% (excluding donations) of the waste we produced made the journey to the compost bin at the bottom of the garden. And having emptied some beautifully rich compost from the bin a few months ago, I need no convincing of the value of carrying on doing that.
And then there’s glass. Talk about recycling with anyone in Leeds and it’s the first thing they’ll mention – why don’t we have kerbside glass collection? The recent Council report into recycling confirmed how much Leeds glass doesn’t get recycled. Our month (no Dryanuary in this house) confirmed the obvious – in weight terms at least, glass is significant. By weight glass accounted for 11% of what we got rid of (excluding donated goods). And I promise, we don’t drink that much…..
5/ 9000 tonnes of glass collected at bottle banks last year. Estimated 13000 tonnes wasn’t recycled by Leeds householders.
— Rob Greenland (@TheSocBiz) November 8, 2017
So there you go. We haven’t quite decided whether we’re going to continue weighing everything (if anyone wants to join us in the experiment let me know – that might help us to maintain the motivation!) but it has been a very useful exercise.
We’ll keep thinking about it, but our main immediate reflections have been:
- We need to keep doing what we can to buy things with less packaging (and of course, consider alternatives to buying some stuff in the first place).
- We need to work harder on reducing the amount of food we waste at home. We didn’t track how much of our residual waste was food waste – but I know it was too much.
- We’d be interested in knowing how we compare, and in getting other people’s ideas and experiences. If you’ve done this as a household – or fancy doing it this month – say hello on Twitter and follow #ZeroWasteLeeds.