How does a busy household reduce their waste?

Filed in Blog by on February 2, 2009 16 Comments
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family recyclingSurely it takes a lot of time, motivation and energy to commit to a reduced waste lifestyle? You have to change your shopping habits, take time selecting things carefully, cook everything from scratch and then there is all the washing and sorting of recycling.
it’s such a hassle and it’s the last thing you want to be thinking about after a busy day at work and fractious bedtime routine with the kids.

Or is it…….
I caught up with another Gloucestershire resident at the end of zero waste week. Tracy Millard lives with her husband, two children (8 and 10), their dog and two cats.

MZW: tell us a little bit about your lifestyle.

TM: My husband works full time on night shifts and I work 25 hours per week while the children are at school. We are a busy household; in between work there are school runs, out of school clubs, running the house and dog walking to do! In addition, my husband works shifts, so we don’t get much time together.

MZW: why did you sign up for the challenge?

TM: I wanted to support the campaign and increase awareness of what working families could achieve. I wanted to see if we could reduce our rubbish as a family.

MZW: What sort of level of interest did you get from your family?

TM: A few months ago, my family felt that they did enough and didn’t need to do more. But in the run up to zero waste week the children were asking about the challenge and were showing more interest. My husband sort of understands the reasons why we should reduce rubbish, but doesn’t embrace it entirely. I hoped that my kids would grow up with a better awareness because of reducing our rubbish during the week.

MZW: How did you handle zero waste week in a practical way?

TM: I told the children what items needed to go where. If they were unsure where to put things, or if they could be recycled, they left things on the kitchen work surface and I went through it all for them later on. Before this week, these items would have gone straight in the bin.
If I had time I would show the children what went where and why. If I didn’t, I would just sort it out myself.

I’ve changed packed lunch waste too. I wrap the kids sandwiches in clingfilm which would go into the bin after use. This week I’ve straightened it out, cleaned it and am going to send it off for recycling to GHS.

MZW: When I phoned you last week, prior to zero waste week, your husband was in the process of dumping a newspaper in the bin! How has zero waste week impacted him?

TM: His job involves a lot of printing at home. He has to print receipts and bills for customers. This involves a lot of paper and if he printed out things in error, or didn’t want them, he would put them straight in the bin. Now he is putting it all in the recycling and stopping to think where other items go.
Really though, I have been in charge of this. I think it’s fair to say that if I didn’t so these things, neither my husband of kids would, but I’m hoping to normalise things for us as a family over time.

MZW:
Before zero waste week, a normal week for you was 3/4 wheelie bin of rubbish. How much did you create during the week?

TM: At the end of the week we had just two carrier bags. I’m really pleased with this!

MZW: If I had told you a week ago you would be producing just two carrier bags of rubbish with 4 humans and three pets in your house, would you have believed me?

TM: No! I couldn’t imagine at that stage what I would need to do to reduce our waste!

MZW: What was in your carrier bags?

TM: Packaging from meat that I bought before and during the week, crisp bags and biscuit wrappers. All non recyclable plastics.

MZW: What have you done differently to produce such a dramatic decrease in your waste?

TM: I realised that when you buy fresh joints of meat there is far more packaging than frozen. Fresh meat comes on a plastic tray and is wrapped in plastic. Frozen meat has just shrink wrap. This makes a huge difference to our rubbish because we use about three joints a week.

I’ve composted more too. All of our fruit and vegetable peelings, plus tissues are going into the compost heap now.

When I’ve decluttered the kid’s rooms, I would normally throw everything away. This week I had a couple of duvet covers to throw out that would have been put in the bin. Now they are put to one side for a textiles bank.

MZW: How have these changes impacted your life?

TM:
It’s made me more aware. Before I would have thrown everything in the bin. Now I’m stopping to think. We might have a pile of rubbish outside until we visit the tip but I don’t mind that; I can incorporate it in errands over the next couple of weeks.

MZW: You’re clearly very busy. How did zero waste week fit in with your lifestyle.

TM: It has not caused me a problem at all. What surprised me most was I thought I’d have to change my entire shopping and I don’t have time for this. But simple things like buying frozen rather than fresh meat doesn’t take me any longer when I shop.

This week I bought more loose items of fruit and vegetables. I’ve kept the plastic bags and will be reusing them. This has also reduced my food waste because I’m only buying what I need.

I use carrier bags to line the bin, but I keep them all and when I have too many I take them back to the shop for reuse.

All of these are simple things that anyone can fit into their lifestyle; no matter how busy.

MZW:
Have you experienced any frustrations this week?

TM:
My biggest frustration is when you start talking to people and realise how different the recycling is in other areas. My Mum lives just 5 minutes away and they take plastic bottles and batteries. Why is this? Why are there so many differences? Our council should be doing much more to help people and stop confusion.

If people had more boxes for cardboard and plastic bottles they would do more recycling.

MZW: Now that zero waste week is over, will you continue with waste reduction?

TM: I will continue with all of it. I’d like to be putting out 2 carrier bags a week from now on. Now I’ve had a successful week and know I can do it,Β  I’d want to know why if it increases again!

What a great interview! My thanks go to Tracy and her family for sharing her experiences with me. I think their achievement is wonderful and I certainly feel that Tracy has shared how a busy family can reduce their waste.

I was just imagining what it would be like if every household across the county produced just two carrier bags of waste per week. What an impact that would have on our landfill!

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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 (16)

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  1. maisie says:

    It would be fantastic if every household could only produce 2 carrier bags worth of landfill rubbish, per week.

    For those on wheelie bin collections, this would mean not having to put it out every time.

    I totally agree with TM that all councils should be consistent with what can and can’t be recycled; and they should publiscise this more.

  2. Marta says:

    I’m glad you and many other families did so well during zero waste week. I read your article in Green Parent magazine (Feb/Mar 2009) and am putting many of your ideas into use – moving my reducing and reusing on to the next level. I’ll keep checking your site for ideas and motivation!

  3. Grandma Green says:

    Well done the Millards. An excellnt effort. Go, go, go!

  4. Mr Green says:

    WEll done Tracy and all your family for a great effort and it proves that it can be done! I think you probably represent a large majority of busy working families and it just goes to show that with more publicity and awareness, thousands of others could match this kind of waste recycling and reduction.

  5. Great interview Mrs G – Mr G has hit the nail on the head. It’s the raising awareness that’s most crucial in this and I would back any council that wants to attempt their own ZWW. As we’ve already seen once folk are aware of what’s needed, we step up to the challenge and the results are amazing, not just for the week itself but for life thereafter. Since we did our challenge nearly a year ago my family has saved as many as 60 huge bags of rubbish hitting landfill. I reckon that’s the equivalent of about 15 full wheelie bins. I would never have thought this would have been possible and indeed laughed off the idea when it was first broached. But eh, I’ll never go back and am thoroughly enjoying my rubbish holiday πŸ˜€ xxx

  6. Tracey – I just love your enthusiasm that came out in the interview and I love how you’ve tackled your husband too. That a perfect example of how coordinating the efforts of all the family can create such fantastic results. Well done on such a superb week and enjoy your less rubbish life. Keep spreading the word far and wide…tell your friends, your family and everyone else and see if they can have a go too πŸ˜€

  7. John Costigane says:

    Happy to see a hard-working family trying to reduce their waste. Tracy, as usual it is the person in charge of the rubbish detail who has the best understanding of the situation. Motivating the rest of the family will help spread the burden of change.

    We experienced Zero Waste enthusiasts have gone through this first stage. As you learn from the practice, the other aspects will develop naturally.

  8. Mrs Green says:

    @Marta: Hello Marta; welcome to the site and it’s great you heard of us in the magazine. I’d love to hear more about your own rubbish reduction and the things that work for you πŸ™‚

    @Almost Mrs Average: Mrs A; it is incredible when you stop to think what we could achieve if everyone across the country reduced their waste. 15 wheelie bins saved from your family alone – that’s amazing. Well done you! You are an inspiration to us all.

  9. Sarah says:

    “TM: I realised that when you buy fresh joints of meat there is far more packaging than frozen. Fresh meat comes on a plastic tray and is wrapped in plastic.”

    I hadn’t made that connection – but my butcher puts our meat in plastic bags – no tray, just a bag. So we get fresh, local, free range and humanely reared meat, fresh and without excessive packaging.

    I’m sure he’d put stuff in our own containers if we asked him nicely too but I haven’t done that yet. He doesn’t give out carriers either.

  10. Kris says:

    I’ve switched to buying bigger joints of meat that I can cut up and freeze half or two thirds of. Because they come in sealed plastic (and in one case with tray) it seemed better to go bigger and therefore purchase less often. Quality is an issue, in that these providers are so consistently good that I want to stick with them.

  11. John Costigane says:

    @Kris: Can you not find supermarkets with fresh meat/fish counters? Sainbury sell meat and fish, Morrisons, meat and fish, and Asda, fish.

    Container use is ideal for this fresh food. Admittedly, there can be a problem but the saving in packaging waste is 100% – Zero Waste. It also saves packaging costs for supermarkets.

  12. Poppy says:

    Sainsbury’s said No, Morrison’s said No, Waitrose said Yes, but I may have just struck lucky on that particular day. Morrison’s did suggest I speak withthe manager, but I’d had a long day and I just wanted to get home!

  13. Kris says:

    Hi John, these are specific suppliers at the Farmers Market. One joint (Tudor Pork) is of a type that I’ve seen nowhere else, and the other, which was beef was of a quality that blew our socks off πŸ™‚

    For other meats I’m enjoying exploring various local butchers (Pilkingtons on the Green in Cleeve are lovely people and very accomodating) but sometimes my priority does switch to quality over zero waste.

    I *still* haven’t tried the meat counter in Sainsburys, Waitrose were fine last week about it.

  14. Kris says:

    That comment doesn’t read quite right… I think I mean *known* quality.

  15. Layla says:

    Interesting interview!! πŸ™‚
    Glad you managed to reduce waste so much!!

    would still prefer fresh over frozen myself (though it probably depends when was it frozen and how long has it been ‘fresh’ too – freshest is best..)
    We’re buying cheese in just plastic containers in a mini-supermarket now (Mum did it too!! once on her own!! YAY!! :)) am still afraid to buy meat.. (though they might give some to me too, but I’m an ex-vegetarian, very grossed out!! :)) Also, what about washing the reusable plastic containers? and how ‘safe’is it? (re: possible infection with bacteria or such..)
    I mean, humanity survived well without plastic bags.. Still not quite certain how to go about it..
    (Though I have heard stories about chemicals from plastic film etc being bad, so I try to stay away from that..)
    Is there a site on ‘good’ reusable containers?
    There was an article on Care2 about some of them (lunchboxes for kids specifically) being iffy.. (?)

  16. Katy says:

    Excellent account of zero waste meeting real life!

    @ Kris and others – it’s quite a balancing act trying to compare products on quality, price/value, local-ness (is that a word?!), waste, seasonality, etc. They all have their benefits, but it’s rare to satisfy all of them in one product! I think our best bet is to encourage the makers of the products we really want to buy to reduce unnecessary packaging. As they are often independent, small-scale producers, hopefully they will be open to suggestions or at least perhaps able to tell you why they can’t do more (e.g. laws on re-use or appropriate materials).

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