Waste Not, Warm Not…

We had an awful lot of pledges about reducing waste on our pledge tree. Most focussed on plastics, but waste reduction strategies can be applied beneficially to waste of any kind.

Fundamentally, although we talk about throwing things ‘away’ there is no such place as ‘away’. All our rubbish ends up somewhere. When we landfill rubbish, materials of all different kinds are mixed together and valuable resources are lost at the same time as materials leaching into the environment in ways that degrade ecosystems and damage our climate.

When materials decompose in landfill the conditions tend to encourage methane emissions; although shorter lived than carbon dioxide, this is a particularly potent greenhouse gas. The Committee on Climate Change have advised that for the UK to achieve a net zero target on greenhouse gasses by mid century we must end the practice of land-filling food waste completely and work to reduce all the other waste streams headed to landfill too.

So, what to do?

Rethink: By changing the way we think about waste, and thinking about the waste our purchases and activities may produce upfront, we can take evasive action and avoid making so much waste in the first place. When purchasing try and think about how the product is packaged, how long it will last and how to dispose of it at the end of its useful life for you. Can you borrow rather than buy an item? How repairable/re-purposable is the item? Don’t be afraid to contact customer services and ask about these issues; if customers are factoring them into their purposing decisions then it makes sense for companies to factor them into their business model too; just beware the ‘greenwash’ as companies try to cash in on ‘ethical consumers’.

Refuse and Reduce: The best waste is the waste we never produce in the first place, so refusing an reducing are the top of the environmentally sound waste management hierarchy.

Refusing means saying no to freebies and junk you don’t really need or even want. I’m just starting an experiment with the mailing preference service for reducing junk mail. Next time you are offered a free ‘goody bag’ or sample pack try and think if you will actually use the contents and if it will save you sourcing similar items from elsewhere – if not, say no.

Reducing is about planning your purchases to avoid items you don’t need. Be wary of up-selling type offers, 3 for 2, BOGOF and discounts based on a minimum spend – are you being persuaded to purchase items you can’t or wont use? Trying to buy less, but at a more durable quality where you can afford to, can help reduce your overall consumption.

Reuse and Repurpose: Simple actions include carrying a re-usable water bottle and using refill points out and about to avoid plastic bottles, carrying a reusable cup if you like a take-out hot drink (you can even get collapsible ones), or just buying a silicone lid for a regular mug and carrying that and having a shopping bag with you to reuse any time you might need to pick up a few bits from the shop (it doesn’t have to be a fancy one, reusing a plastic carrier and recycling it once it is truly worn out may be the most planet friendly choice of all). As a matter of policy if I forget my cup I skip out on my coffee; recognising it’s actually a small treat not a necessity for which the planet should suffer avoidably is part of my personal ‘rethink’

The Honey Tree in Heaton is an excellent local resource for re-users. They can refill washing up liquid, laundry detergent and hand soap containers and sell a variety of loose dried goods that they will happily serve into your own tubs. They also stock milk in reusable glass bottles; just remember to return your empties!

Repurposing is about taking an item that can’t be used again for it’s original purpose and finding a new use for it. ‘Upcycling’ has become a relatively fashionable incarnation of this. In my house we have a number of tumblers that actually started life as 200g nutella jars! There are loads of more creative ideas out there. Repurposing is generally less energy intensive than recycling, but less good for closing the loop than reusing since the demand for the original and repurposed items rarely balance (we certainly don’t need to replace tumblers as fast as my husband can eat nutella…).

Recycle: A lot of our pledges were about recycling. Recycling is certainly better than landfill or incineration, but it’s not at the top of the waste reduction hierarchy, so do consider the other alternatives first. If recycling is the best option available then the following may help:

  1. Doorstep recycling is probably the lowest effort route: Newcastle City Council’s doorstep recycling scheme has produced an A to Z of what can go in their bins, available here. If you are unsure about recycling in Newcastle, or live in a different local authority area, it is really worth getting in touch with the team responsible for this at your council – they love a keen recycler and in my experience have always been happy to help. Councils do differ and it is important to follow local instructions as incorrect items increase processing costs and may result in recyclable materials being landfilled when loads are contaminated. Don’t “wish-cycle”, that is, add items that you hope or feel ought to be recyclable to the bin when they don’t appear on the official lists of suitable items.
  2. The large supermarkets in Heaton all host plastic bag recycling. This can accommodate more than just carrier bags – look out for the “recycle in larger stores” logo on soft plastics and drop off when you pop in. Avoid using the drop off points for other waste so that the recycling efforts of others aren’t undermined by contamination.
  3. Terracycle provides recycling for several waste streams for which doorstep recycling is unavailable. Some of these are chargeable, others are industry sponsored. You can search on their site by waste type and location for public drop off locations near you, become a private member of a scheme or, if you have a suitable premises, you might want to offer your address as a drop off point. Examples locally include a dental hygiene waste recycling scheme, for which the Dental Hospital is a drop off location; a crisp packet drop off at the Cumberland arms; and food pouch (of the type often seen for baby foods) recycling with a collection point at the Blue Reef Aquarium in Whitley Bay.
  4. H&M are offering collection points for textile recycling. Textiles that are fit for re-use can be donated to charity shops (lots on Shields Road), but if in your determination to reduce you really have worn it to destruction this is a good option. They often offer money off vouchers as a ‘thank you’ for particpating in the scheme, but be wary of being induced to buy what you otherwise wouldn’t (remember the aim is to reduce consumption) and try and choose any new purchases you do make preferentially from their more sustainable ‘conscious’ range if possible.

Rot: Since everything else starts with ‘R’ we choose ‘Rot’ as a short hand for composting by various means. If you’re rolling your eyes, just remember politicians choose to refer to reading writing and arithmetic as the ‘three Rs’….

One super easy solution if you are producing garden waste is to join the Brown bin garden waste scheme in Newcastle. It costs just £40 a year and provides convenient doorstep collection of your compostable garden waste. If that sounds expensive or you only have a small garden then perhaps you could team up with a neighbour and share a bin?

Alternatively you could compost at home. This has the advantage of being suitable for both food and garden waste, and depending on exactly how you choose to do it need not cost anything at all. I intend to write more about my own food waste handling solution in a future post, but if you are keen to get composting and don’t want an open heap take a look at https://getcomposting.com/ and search with your postcode for subsidised compost bins, wormeries and bokashi equipment (and water butts, but that’s a different post again).

Apologies for the length of this post; waste is a big topic, even without addressing plastic specifically! If you want to make a contribution to a future ‘tips tree’ post with ideas of your own please do get in touch 🙂

Pledging For the Planet at Heaton Festival

Two weeks ago now (sorry, I did say I would post within a week, but life rather got on top of me) I joined St Francis Church Eco Group on their One World Community Stall at Heaton Festival.

Heaton Festival is a wonderful community festival, held biennially in Heaton Park. It’s free, family friendly and a whole lot of fun. It’s only shortcoming seems to be the difficulty in getting enough cold water on to site when blessed with thousands of visitors on a beautiful day. If you live in Heaton really do look out for the next one (expected 2021), and do take a reusable bottle of tap water from home with you!

We chatted to lots of people about climate change and global heating and invited attendees to take two actions:

  1. To contribute to a file of letters to our local MP, to be hand delivered at The Time is Now Lobby on June 26th – we received over 130 letters. I’ll write more about the lobby and presenting these to local MP Nick Brown in a later post.
  2. To make a personal pledge for the planet for our pledge tree, describing some concrete action they would commit to taking to better care for and protect our common home.

There were one or two I struggled to read (sorry), but I’ve digitised the remaining pledges in this post.

We received over 60 pledges across 5 broad themes

Those Pledges in Full…..

I have transcribed every leaf from our tree below. If you feel inspired by any of the pledges, or you made a pledge but are still struggling to implement it, then keep popping back to this post and looking for hyperlinks to tips and tricks for making the kinds of practical changes our festival goers have committed too.

  • Stop using plastic
  • Try not to buy as many bottles Reduce plastic
  • Stop using plastic
  • Act now on plastics
  • Stop using plastic bags – reuse those I already have and then no more
  • No more plastic
  • Not use disposable make-up wipes any more
  • Stop using plastic bottles
  • Use less plastic
  • I’m not going to use single use plastic
  • Reuse water bottles
  • Use less plastic
  • I will make sure the plastic I use if properly recycled
  • Stop using plastic where I can
  • Reuse plastic bottles
  • Less single use plastic
  • Use less plastic for food wrapping
  • I pledge to rid my bathroom of plastic bottles
  • Get rid of plastic in the bathroom
  • No more single use plastics
  • Use loose tea
  • Use my scooter
  • Replace my car with an electric car
  • I will cycle more
  • Buy a bike
  • Take the train
  • Use scooter
  • …and walk more
  • Walk more
  • …and start walking to school
  • Walk more, drive less
  • Walk more, drive less
  • Use a bike
  • Try to learn to ride a bike to my new job
  • Help my mum with bike riding
  • Respect your environment, clean up after yourself
  • Plant more plants and look after them
  • Don’t drop litter
  • I will save the environment by not littering
  • Recycle more
  • Recycle all recyclable rubbish
  • Recycle, reuse, reduce – see my blog post here
  • Don’t waste paper
  • Eat less meat
  • I do not eat meat
  • Go vegan
  • Eat less meat
  • Save the air
  • Calculate my carbon footprint
  • Reduce clothes purchases
  • Vinegar and baking soda for cleaning
  • Compost more
  • Shop at a market
  • No new clothes
  • Save water by not flushing loo
  • Reduce clothes purchases
  • Encourage environmentally friendly practices at work
  • I promise to stop climate change
  • I will save as many trees as I can
  • Stop buying items with palm oil

April Challenges

So, in April my Champion Challenges were all about preparing for the mass lobby of Parliament with the Climate Coalition.

The easy challenges were pretty easy and thanks to LNER’s free WiFi for all, and the wonders of my Fairphone smartphone (a concession to motherhood when my daughter was born, which has, up to now, been primarily used to to arrange cake and caffeination sessions over WhatApp with fellow mums at 3am) I was able to tick those off on the way home from the meeting.

I started on the harder challenge on the way home too, with a round of e-mails, texts and WhatsApp shout outs whilst still energised from the kick off. I followed up with a notice in the parish bulletin and collaring parishioners over coffee, especially anyone with a reusable coffee cup. Sometimes I did that last one whilst breastfeeding…. Actually the harder challenge was pretty hard for the following reasons:

  • I live in Newcastle upon Tyne – that’s about three hours from London on a direct train or around 5 hours on a coach. Flying is allegedly quicker (though I am unconvinced given time required for security and for journeying between airports and city centres), but would be patent madness for a climate lobby. Asking people to attend a lobby in London means asking anyone local to undertake a long day with a lot of travel. Having done day trips to London for work and other reasons I can attest it is pretty knackering. Many of the people I asked said it was beyond them.
  • The 26th of June is a Wednesday. Wednesday is a good day for catching MPs in Parliament as there is a lot going on, including PMQs, which seems to be quite the spectator sport even though it appears to me to achieve almost exactly nothing productive. Wednesday is also a day when a lot is going on in other workplaces and schools; it’s a day your kids have to be somewhere on time, possibly with PE kit and a packed lunch, and your employer expects you at your desk/till/workstation or whatever unless you have used a portion of your limited annual leave to escape said obligation. The law says the kids can’t escape theirs at all. So to disappear from family and professional life for a day mid week turns out for many people to be a fairly enormous ask and one that is at least partially out of their hands.
  • People are actually a bit shy about this stuff. They just are.

So, my target of five additional attendees from my efforts has yet to be met (if you want to help me out sign up and comment below). I have one extra attendee, three definitely writing to their MP or booking a local surgery appointment and a couple who were already going before I collared them.

To help with the distance, timing and shyness issues we’re going to invite local people to share a message for our MP, Nick Brown, via a scrapbook at the Heaton Festival on June 22nd and those of us able to go will pass it along.

Climate Champion Challenges

So, one aspect of my year as a champion will be monthly challenges set by CAFOD. The table below shows the challenges we received at the kick-off meeting in April:

No photo description available.

I’m going to address all the challenges over the year, both the easy column and the hard one, and I’ll blog here about my successes and failures in my attempts. A handful of the challenges relate to one off actions that can be ticked off, but plenty of others suggest a month of focus on something that really needs to become a permanent lifestyle change.

If you’d like to join me in any or all of the challenges then please send me a comment to let me know what you’re up to and how you’re getting on. If you have already implemented one of the lifestyle change challenges and want to offer any advice, hints or tips then please do!

The Journey Begins

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

My year as a “Youth Climate Change Champion” started at the end of April with a trip to London for a kick-off meeting at CAFOD HQ.

Firstly, I’d like to thank them for considering a married mum more than a decade out of university as ‘youth’ – flattery gets you everywhere and all that!

In my application I’d said I wanted to participate for personal and quite selfish reasons really – I’ve felt a lot of despair since the IPCC Special Report in the autumn and I hoped that this could in some way be addressed by taking action and doing so in company. In light of that, probably the best thing about the kick-off meeting for me was to find myself in a room of other people who shared and recognised a need to act.

So, what am I going to be doing?

First up, we have monthly challenges to attempt – there’s a more straightforward and a more challenging challenge each month this year. I’m going to have a go at all of them, but I’ll probably be cheating slightly with a bit of rearrangement (more on that in a later post).

Secondly, I’ve set myself a personal challenge to just have more climate change conversations. I asked my fellow climate champions to set me a target and they’ve gone for 156 conversations over 12 months, or an average of three a week.

Thirdly, I’m going to blog about it all, right here. Why? Partly for personal accountability – if I have to blog regularly I have to do something worth blogging about. Partly to create a resource for anyone else lying awake at 3am feeling sick in their stomach about the future we are creating for ourselves and our offspring: hopefully some of what I’m doing can be a template for what you might do yourself, whether that is lobbying your MP, talking to your friends and neighbours about the issue or changing your lifestyle to reduce your impact.

If you’d like to join me on my journey you are most welcome.