When Britain was Zero Waste

Having studied Home Economics in the distant past and always being fascinated by social history, I love stumbling over relevant articles on the internet. I’m also a big fan of the BBC series ‘Call the Midwife’. Apparently some have accused the BBC of presenting a sanitised version of poverty in the 1950s. However, if you search for photographs from the era you will see that they are portraying history accurately.

You see in days gone by, people did not produce much rubbish. They did not buy packaged goods, they shopped every day and only bought what they needed for the next day or so. They did not have the means to keep food fresh for longer, there were no refrigerators or freezers in general use. They also used everything up until it disintegrated – if you look at figures from the period, you will notice that they practically never threw textiles away. What a contrast to today!

Consequently, the streets were clean too. Those were the days when there was a sense of local and national pride. People cared about where they lived and everybody knew you, so you would not dare to drop litter for fear of the local bobby catching you or your class teacher!

Let’s think about it for a second….

  • Milk was delivered in churns and poured into jugs, or once milk bottles arrived – these were returned to be washed and used again. The only waste being the foil tops which were recycled.
  • Fruit & vegetable scraps were composted, along with eggshells and tea leaves
  • Soot from the fire was dug into the ground as fertiliser
  • Groceries were bought unpackaged for the large part and paper bags could be burnt on the fire
  • Cooked food leftovers were probably forced upon family members (i.e. you must eat everything on your plate or children will starve in Africa!) Or fed to pets.
  • Clothing was worn until it wore out and even then, useful fabric was cut out for re-use
  • Newspapers were reincarnated as toilet paper or fire starters
  • There were no luxury appliances needing to go to landfill and I’m pretty sure people kept their mattress for a lifetime. They recovered and repaired their chairs.
  • Anything else was sold to the rag and bone man who called at the door
  • Other hawkers were common visitors to the door – people to sharpen knives, repair china, patch pots and pans and more.

As our waste has increased, people have moved from using biscuit tins for waste in the 1900s, to medium sized metal bins in the 1950s and on to the larger plastic bins we use today, in the 1960s. In fact, did you know the name ‘dust bin’ was derived from the fact that these bins contained mostly dust or ash from fireplaces?

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Modern Life is Rubbish!

This equally wonderful and appalling article has appeared in today’s Guardian newspaper. I hope it raises awareness of why I am pursuing both a Minimalist and Zero Waste lifestyle. I was appalled to read that 72% of all the plastic we send to be recycled is never recovered. 40% is sent to landfill anyway and 32% leaks out of the collection system. Those shocking statistics have led me to re-evaluate my habits again. A few months ago, I told myself that we couldn’t afford to have a milkman as it costs about 3x as much as buying 4 pints for £1 at the supermarket, in a plastic bottle. But after realising the truth of the situation, the truth is we can’t afford not to!

I don’t want to be responsible for my family, or anyone else on this planet eating food contaminated with toxins from plastic. I admit that putting items into a blue (plastic!) recycling bin makes you feel more virtuous about your waste. I try so hard to buy things packaging free, but currently where I live – options are limited and I still have moments where I run out of something and end up having to buy fruit or vegetables wrapped in plastic. I vow to try harder.

On the up side, I refused a plastic bag from the fruit and veg seller at the market today. He was adamant I should take one, after my initial refusal on the basis that I had my own bags. So I said firmly, I don’t take plastic bags anymore and he accepted that! So my fruit and veg came home in my homemade, cloth drawstring bags. Small victories eh?

 

Andrew Marr’s Megacities & Global Waste

I’ve been meaning to watch Andrew Marr’s Megacities since it was first shown on TV in 2011. Yes, I’m a bit slow of the mark here! My Uncle actually recommended it to me, as he found it so fascinating. It is truly absorbing content – Andrew explains how now the majority of the world’s population live in cities and not in the countryside. This is only set to increase as time goes on and he discusses the global challenges we face as a human race because of this. I was really interested to see that he covers the problem of waste.

He highlighted how in Dhaka, Bangladesh the poorest people pick over the rubbish tips for anything that they can sell on. As in so many other places, the city just cannot cope with the amount of waste being produced.

He also covered the problem of waste in Mexico City which was just horrific! The canals that were designed to take the run off from the rainy season, are literally thick with rubbish – mostly plastic waste, dead animals but sometimes they even find dead bodies :S As Andrew himself puts it;

  “The modern mania for throwing things away reaches its inevitable consequence here, clogged and festering. Almost everything gets thrown in here.”

The boat that he was lowered into the ‘water’ in is instantly becalmed, as the waste has solidified. They actually have to send a diver into to clear the filters – he risks life and limb. On this particular occasion he finds a tree is blocking the system and is able to remove it.

I always find documentaries like this to be really eye-opening and I particularly enjoyed this 3-part series. It’s as relevant today as it was 5 years ago and it doesn’t feel like the world is collectively doing anything significant to help tackle these issues.

Be The Change!

We try not to take stuff to the tip- by following the 3 R’s- Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle we are mostly able to avoid this. Freecycle is your friend people! We recently dismantled a UPVC conservatory that was on the back of our house. It took a while, but after offering it on Freecycle a few times- someone wanted it and was prepared to come and dismantle it, in order to take it away. We assisted them as much as possible and saved ourselves £2,000 in labour and disposal costs. I ended up taking only the cement from between the bricks to the tip who charged me £1.50 per bag (x6 bags), so £9 to dispose of it. Whilst I was there, a kind operative helped me to lift the heavy bags and tip them into the skip. So I got chatting to him about what happens to all the household waste that ended up here.

I was shocked to learn that nothing was re-purposed and even the operatives who worked there are not allowed to remove items that could be re-used. After having lived in an area previously where all re-usable items were pulled out for re-sale at the tip (usually for only £1 or £2) & re-use, I was shocked! The operative admitted his shock at some of the items people throw away- like really decent hi-fi systems and sofas. It also made me think how lazy many human beings are- not even bothering to think if someone else might need this item, or taking it to a charity shop etc.

So great was my level of concern that I decided to contact the Head of the Environmental Services Department at my local council and express my horror at what was being sent to landfill. I will let you click on the link below and discover what is now happening in my area- I am SO excited!

http://www.poole.gov.uk/environment/recycling-rubbish-waste/nuffield-household-waste-recycling-centre/new-to-you/

I will make a new post after I have attended the launch event in a couple of weeks time!

Ideas2Action- a local voluntary organisation that is a Zero Waste dream!

I was reading the local freebie paper that comes through the door every week. This is one piece of ‘junk mail’ I am happy to receive because it keeps me up to date with local events and information. The article claimed that a local group needed biscuit wrappers to help with their fundraising. This immediately caught my attention because biscuit wrappers are one of those things that have to go straight in the bin.

They have set up a fantastic directory called ‘We Need That!’ where local groups such as; churches, play groups, charities, schools etc can list items they need. See link to the latest edition below:

http://www.ideas2action.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/We-Need-That-June-20151.pdf

A quick read of this shows that there are local groups requiring almost any item you could possibly think of! I’m excited because it looks like I should be putting barely anything in either the bin or the recycling bank in the future! They want jumpers to unpick for wool, foil, milk bottle tops, lolly sticks, plastic bags, cardboard boxes, pallets, flower pots, match boxes, printer cartridges, even dry tea bags!!! And SO MUCH MORE!

I am so excited that a group of local people have had the foresight to set this organisation up. I am posting here because it might give other Zero Waste peeps the inspiration to do the same locally. All we need to do now is spread the word far and wide because we have the power to re-use an awful lot of waste here! Annoyingly Facebook wouldn’t even let me post the link because it claimed ‘other people had reported it as abusive content’! So, I am blogging about it and posting my blog link instead.

If you need any further information, the article states that you can contact Monique at Ideas2Action. contact@ideas2action.org or call 07771 705662.