Preparations for zero waste week

Filed in Blog by on August 28, 2008 18 Comments
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Uncle bens rice in a cardboard boxSome good news for me regarding zero waste week.

Recently I’ve been having a bit of a tussle with my conscience. I’ve been vegetarian for around 20 years, believing it to be better for me, better for animals and perhaps better for the environment.

However, my focus has been on the packaging of foods recently and I’ve been discovering a rather uncomfortable realisation. That being, it is far easier to buy your ‘meat and two veg’ diet sans packaging than it is to buy vegetarian staple foods such as rice and lentils.

Most weeks we have rice or lentil bags in the landfill. With zero waste week coming up, I figured I could switch to potatoes, but I would rather miss rice (I even use basmati rice to make rice pudding with and will happily eat that for breakfast)  because, frankly, I rather like the stuff.

It’s quick to cook and is so versatile. A pan of cooked rice in the fridge can become the base of a quick and easy lunch by re frying or eating cold.

However, yesterday I stumbled across a couple of solutions.

Firstly Uncle Ben’s rice, although grossly expensive (so it had better taste good), is available in cardboard boxes. One box would hold enough for a days worth of rice for me, mind you, but at least it’s a good option and I can buy it locally.

What you have to watch out for is that you don’t accidentally pick up the ‘boil in the bag’ variety, which also comes in a cardboard box. Inside these you will find little plastic bags of weighed out rice portions.

Slightly further afield, Lidl sell rice in a cardboard box too. Cheaper, not as nice quality, but it might do in a moment of desperation. For some reason, the lidls stuff seems to go a bit glutinous, no matter how careful I am with it. I’m a bit of a rice cooking expert, so I don’t know why this is. Maybe I’m just fussy……

Secondly, the lovely people at Mr Sainsbury inform me that their own brand of basmati, (plus I discovered today they stock a fair trade, organic version which I’m delighted about), is sold in LDPE bags. They will recycle the bags for me at their stores along with their carrier bags!

In addition, they sell their own label red lentils that are in the same material bags and can be recycled.

Phew! I was having nightmare images of ME being a size zero as well as our bin, by the end of zero waste week!

All I need to do is talk nicely to our delivery driver and see if he will be prepared to return the bags for me. They take the carrier bags, so there shouldn’t be a problem with the LDPE packaging.

So I’m feeling more comfortable with things now.

Little Miss Green has been asking questions about the zero waste week and, bless her heart, has resolved herself to a week without crisps. What a girl! She and Mrs A, who has also pledged to give up crisps for the week will be in good company.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (18)

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  1. Hi Mrs G – just quickly popped in before rushing out for the day. Well done on the rice and lentils, that’s fab news. Give Little Miss Green a high-five from me, that’s great that she’s joining me in giving of those tasty crunchy crisps. I’m doing well, since making my pledge I haven’t touched a packet. Well, I have butI picked it up and put it straight back ;-D

  2. Hi Mrs Green,

    I am very happy to see you have found a countrywide alternative for veggies. It seemed a particularly hard to take fact that these items are not sold unpackaged. This affects me too with coconut, salt, dried fruit etc. If Sainsbury apply this across the whole range that would be a big dent on packaging waste.

    Best of luck with your Zero Waste week. As for crisps, I do not eat them. Alternatives could be fruit or Lidl foil card wrapped chocolate.

    What is your view on myskips?

  3. Danda says:

    Hello Mrs. Green!

    I’m new here but I followed this blog since it was created thanks to a signal by Almost Mrs Average! I’m Italian and I’m very worried about environment in my country, so everyday I try to give a little contribution for a more sustainable life. I’m more aware about waste, since I knew people like Mrs. A and you now. Thanks to you I’m reducing my waste, being careful in shopping first.

    I’ve found the same problem about rice. My mate is vegetarian too, so we are great consumer of rice and other vegetarian meals. We try to buy organic rice, that is more expensive, we know, but surely more genuine. We found that most of rice packs are in mixed plastic bags. But we searched for a shop with a tap-distributor and recently we found it! It’s a shop with organic and natural products and you can choose the quantity of rice as you want and put it in recyclable LDPE bags, such in a way you do there! It’s a great relief to us!

    Now we are looking for a similar kind of distribution for the coffee, we are large consumers too. Roastings are even more rare here, and coffee is packed in those thick plastic bags… I hate them! I hope I’ll find another way!

    Now I want to make you know that you’ll have all my support in your further effort! So I’m sure you’re succeed in your challenge!
    See you soon!


  4. Ailbhe Leamy says:

    The True Food Co-op sells me rice and lentils in my own jars.

  5. ruth_dt says:

    You could buy a bigger bag, so you don’t finish it this week. Indian and other ethnic grocers often have massive paper sacks of good basmati, though I couldn’t tell you if it’s plastic-lined.

    I bought a hessian 5kg bag from my corner shop. It’s plastic-lined, but it has handles and is now in use for storing potatoes.

    The rice itself is in a large plastic tub to keep out pests.

  6. Malcolm says:

    Hello – I empathise with you regarding packaging – one of my bug bears is the organic bananas coming wrapped in plastic – as too the organic fruits and veg generally – in supermarkets that is. But the bananas gets me because I do like them and they are nt grown in this chilly climate … and despite the air miles, bananas are still in my diet.

    As for grains and pulses, I have been getting them from a wholefood cooperative (organic) in 2Kg or 5Kg bags, which are useful bags in their own right, when carefully opened, they get reused over and over.

    One of the biggest issues facing zero waste has to be plastic packaging … so everything we can do to shift suppliers towards alternatives (and find uses for the plastic that does creep in) is big contribution. Small packaging is now banned in this household.

    Everyone has to deal with their own unique circumstances and location / suppliers. For me that has meant a return to eating fish and meat (plentiful and local) here in Orkney.

  7. We use Lidl rice in boxes and it’s fine, I reckon you’re just fussy.

  8. Di Hickman says:

    Just popping in to suggest you try an Indian Foods store. Many are available and they sell rice in burlap bags. You can reuse these for lots of things, esp useful in gardening

  9. jen cleanbin says:

    Three cheers for rice pudding for breakfast! (I have that too sometimes).

    Don’t you have rice in bulk anywhere? We have about 4 kinds at our local independent grocers. And lentils too.

  10. Mrs Green says:

    Hey Mrs A – go you with your crisp free pledge – that’s excellent news.

    Hi John, as you’ve discovered yourself; suitable alternative are turning up all the time. So let’s hope one day we will find something for the salt, coconut and spices that you use.

    Regarding the myskips site; I haven’t really had chance to look properly yet, but I like the idea of local Freecycle groups. For me, working locally fits in with the whole ‘environmental’ ethos.
    Plus vskips has been around for some time, so I don’t know if there is anything original and unique about myskips, apart from the ‘celebrity’ slant. Time will tell.
    Anything that helps keep things from the landfill has to be a good thing, but re-inventing the wheel can get tiresome……(and sometimes we end up with square ones that don’t do at all :D)

    Danda, how lovely to have you here all the way from Italy. You sound very conscientious and thoughtful in your lifestyle choices. It’s great that you have found a supplier for rice; it brings a great sense of relief when you find something like that doesn’t it?
    Thank you so much for your support and good luck with finding coffee – do keep us posted on your progress and feel free to share more thoughts on other aspects of zero waste.

    Ailbhe – moving to your town is sounding more and more desirable – you seem to have a lot of things available to you over there!

    Hi Ruth_dt; we do have an asian supermarket, about 12 miles away. At the moment there are pretty major roadworks between us and them, but later in the year we might just go there and see what we can find!

    Hi Malcolm – welcome to our site; I was looking at yours with a lot of interest – you are providing some wonderful courses up there in Orkney.
    I hear you about the bananas, although ones sold in the Co-Op are all now fair trade and I think might even be organic – these are sold loose. We are fortunate in that we have an organic farm shop where we can buy these unpackaged.

    I think reuse is where we are looking at for many things. Now, instead of ripping packages open, I’m opening them carefully with a view to putting them to future use. The idea of reuse should become before recycling anyway, of course, but I’ve been a little behind in that department.

    You know, I tried a little fish at lunchtime – the first time in 9 years. It tasted surprisingly ok and I might try and introduce a little more into my diet. I really never thought I would be taking things this far! But never say never, right?

    Sarah, well just say it like it is, why don’t you 😀 Ok, hands up, when it comes to rice, I sure am fussy LOL!

    hello Di – welcome and thank you for leaving a comment. You’re the second person to recommend an Asian store, so I think I’ll just go and check ours out. I can imagine the gardening use for these bags is wonderful!

    Hi Jen, great to see you again – you’re welcome for breakfast anytime! This morning’s was served with fresh raspberries and apples grown a couple of miles down the road 🙂 I’m still looking at all sources of rice in bulk buys and I’m just happy that I have found something to get me through our zero waste week at this stage.

  11. Hi Mrs Green,

    Finding these alternatives is one of the best things we can do for newcomers. The more complete our alternatives are the stronger the impact of our message.
    Your opinions on myskips are spot on. I have not used this type of reuse system since most things I have are family orientated. Taking a name close to myzerowaste may have been a design attract your posters. Your blog is too popular for that to happen.

  12. I know what you mean about the local side of things and this should never be undervalued. I helped relaunch our local LETS group (Local Exchange Trading System) about five years ago, which really is all about sharing resources and even skills in the heart of the community. However, since the emergence of great services like freecycle, I’ve noticed that people prefer to get rid of stuff that way, without getting involved in a community group. AT least LETS still works well for those who don’t rely on the Internet for getting rid of unwanted items.

    I’m happy to use both and have been a member of Freecycle for the last few years. But it is tricky when new services emerge on the market and with Freecycle, Realcycle, Vskips (or Vdumpster), Freeuseit and Myskips all doing very much the same thing in essence, it is hard to keep up. I suppose the best way to look at it is how each will appeal to different type of people. Everyone responds differently to different messages, so I guess the more the merrier as far as that is concerned.

    What I have discovered with Myskips, which I’ve longed for with freecycle for a long time, is that it is easy to see what’s available just over the border in the next county along, something which has been tricky to do unless you sign up to several groups. On the other hand, I rather like the way Vskips allows you to display eBay auctions too. Oh decisions decisions. It’s as bad as going shopping.

    Good point John, but I don’t think Mrs G needs to worry about anyone targeting her patch. I’ve found out that was registered last June and the system was launched way back in April. LOL – I can see another blog post coming. ;-D

  13. You know, though, a meat diet has it’s own waste problems(like bones and gristle and such). I’ve always thought a vegetarian diet would be easier to go no-waste with.

  14. Malcolm says:

    I beg to differ slightly with Kristen, above.

    An animal killed should be respected by not being wasted. Every part of the beautiful creature deserves to be valued and used well – there should be no such thing as waste – yet our culture creates massive pollution disgarding the bulk of anything for a little precious piece, be it animal, vegetable or mineral.

    The only part of a pig not used is it’s squeek. Bones are nutritious and are great fertiliser – bone meal – and our ancestors had to use bone to make tools, needles, pins, beads, knives, etc.

    As for the bits one has yet to learn to cope with, such as guts and heads, when pets have finished devouring what we find unusable, a “green cone” digester breaks it down into soil and nutrients (not to be confused with composting).

    Possibly the biggest issue with animal products when at home (I am ignoring issues of morality, environment and health, etc which support vegan / vegetarian views) is contamination of materials like plastic with blood and bacteria.

    Anyhow, Kristin, I do not want it to seem I disagree with you or seem to argue – it is a minot point I make from the same side of the fence – and I support your frugality. Within a close family there still must be different perspectives and room for individuality.

    We all make steps in the right direction, in our own ways. All steps are good.

    Best wishes


  15. Mr Green says:

    The wonderful thing about the natural eco-system is that nothing is wasted. It’s only us humans that produce waste as I pointed out in the article What is zero waste. Nature realises that waste is a design fault and evolved a vast and intricate mechanism to assimilate everything back into carbon based building blocks. If only ‘we’ had recognised that process before we started manufacturing synthetic materials.

    I do agree that vegetable matter is easier/ quicker to decompose and that things like animal bones are quite difficult to reduce to a usable form. Cooking, drying, grinding and earth scattering is one way. However, not a 5 minute job. Not sure how fast a green cone digests larger bones?

    We make our own colloidal silver and find this especially good for all types of natural germicide and healing requirements.

  16. Mrs Green says:

    Hi John,
    Mrs A and I were talking earlier about this topic – what I’ve mentioned before on this site is that everyone has their unique slant on the same topic. That’s shown clearly when you run carnivals. Some things and voices suit some, others prefer a different flavour. For us, we’re an ‘ordinary family’ sharing our triumphs and our challenges as we go zero waste. As you know, we can be quite light hearted about it and also quite philosophical. This wouldn’t suit everyone.
    And I guess it’s the same with Freeycle and the skips sites – they will each find something slightly ‘different’ to attract people; some will thrive, other sites will whither. only time can tell.
    I don’t feel there is anything untowards with the skips site; they just happen to have a similar name as us. We wanted just, but that had been taken when we registered which is why we put the ‘my’ infront. Perhaps they had a similar challenge………

    You outline some interesting findings about all these sites, Mrs A – sometimes, like you say, we are just as spoilt for choice with what website to use as which fragrance washing powder to buy! I’m glad you’ve found something that suits you though.

    Hi Kristen; I have to say, even as a vegetarian of 20 years, I find that it’s **us** who waste things; it’s not a meat diet per se. Bones and gristle becomes food for other animals or nutrients for the soil. Vegetarian food in plastic wrap ends up in the landfill, but it’s a huge topic in itself and I’m really tying myself in knots with it all. There are far too many sides to this discussion to list here!

    Malcolm, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – we’ve become so far removed from the ideas of using up every last scrap; we are encouraged to be wasteful and forgotten some of the wonderful arts of creatively and practically using all that we can. Our disposable lifestyles are designed around convenience which does not include spending ‘time’ doing such things any more.

    Like you, I commend Kristen’s frugal lifestyle – she has been blogging about some amazing things; especially about food waste and has set herself a wonderful challenge of not creating any food waste. This week she has been really celebrating her successes and her hard work is paying off.

    Mr G, you have it down very succinctly – we only need look at nature to see how a zero waste lifestyle works.

  17. Queenie says:

    We always have the fairtrade basmati rice from Sainsburys, and although we are not rice connaisseurs like yourself, it does taste rather good.

  18. Mrs Green says:

    Good to hear, Queenie; I might just try it out and see how I get on 😉

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