What’s in the bin this month?

Filed in Blog by on February 18, 2011 17 Comments
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Return to manufacturer for January

Return to manufacturer for January

As you might be aware, our goal is to send as little to landfill as possible.

During 2009, we accumulated just one dustbin of landfill waste – everything else was reused, recycled or composted and of course, we made careful purchasing decisions to avoid buying non recyclable packaging and products wherever possible.

During 2010, we accumulated one carrier bag of waste. The difference was both in our shopping habits and the fact that we returned some packaging to manufacturers or left packaging at the supermarket checkout.

Our goal this year is to see if we can reduce our waste even further. It seems an impossible task, but for the first month of the year we’ve done pretty well. There is nothing for landfill (yay!) and here are five items I have for return. These will be sent, along with a letter explaining why I am returning the packaging and what I would like the company to do about it.

Primula cheese and ham spread

Packaging reads:
Cap – PP; can be recycled where local facilities exist.
Tube: multi-layer material – can not currently be recycled.


Co-operative ground almonds

Packaging reads:
Film, plastic – not currently recycled.


Mr Johnson’s Everyday Advance rabbit food

Nothing on packaging at all about the material used or how to dispose of

Lidls Northwood caramel shortcake mini bites

Nothing on the packaging about recycling and the inner moulding is unmarked plastic.

Parker fountain pen

Confusing information including the Tidy Man (ie chuck it in the bin), the green dot (signifies that the producer of the packaging has made a contribution towards recycling that packaging) and the recycle symbol (containing no actual packaging code or information).


Responsible purchases

Looking through these items I could, of course, have chosen not to buy them in the first place. But as I’ve said before, our zero waste lifestyle is not a test in austerity or a deprivation choice.

There are times when crap packaging is all that is available to you (even though you’re buying a reusable product in order to try and cut down on the disposable items you use <sigh>). There are times when you’re running late or feeling stressed and all you want to do is get through the checkout as quickly as possible. And there are times, as the caramel shortbread packaging shows, when you just crave a little comfort food without having to make it yourself.

What about you? What’s going into your landfill bin this week? Have you ever considered lobbying the manufacturer instead of throwing something away? Here is a copy of one of the letters I sent – go ahead and use it yourself as a sample and let me know how you get on!


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 (17)

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  1. Hazel says:

    I have done this occasionally, chiefly with my friends at T***o’s, who deny that their product labelling and recycling facilities are useless. The fact that very few products are marked and that they won’t take, for example, their own polythene porridge oat bags in their carrier bag recycling….

    It took me weeks of emailing them and I still didn’t get anywhere. They sell New York bagels which come in polythene bags. I asked if I could recycle them in store and just got standard blurb about not being responsible for other companies packaging and I’d better contact the bagel company.

    Sainsbugs, on the other hand, say put in anything you think might be recyclable and they’ll sort it so you won’t contaminate the batch, which is at least more helpful, even if their own oats come in film bags!!

    It’s the film bags that irritate me the most. I do a lot of baking for various things and I haven’t yet found dried fruit (sultanas/raisins etc), nuts or brown sugar that doesn’t come in film. They’re not even reusable. I’m trying to find a bulk source at the moment and I think I may have succeeded, but it’s a co-op so I’m trying to round up a few others so we can get an order done.

    For family baking there are a few compromises/adjustments I can make, such as using a sweetener that comes in glass rather than plastic, but when baking for other people I can’t expect them to accept that. And anyway, why can’t they put them in poly bags rather than film ones? Just because I’m willing to adjust my lifestyle doesn’t mean the rest of the population will, so they’ll carry on landfilling anyway.

    Time for another round of letters I think, though my letter head isn’t nearly as impressive as yours!

  2. Julie Day says:

    I get a lot of products with the ‘not currently recycleable’ words on it and hate to say but I just put them in the bin. Anything with the mobius loop on I take to our Sainsbury’s and recycle there in the mixed plastic banks. I don’t know how long they are going for, we shall see.

  3. Sue says:

    I get really irritated by people who feel that, by leaving packaging at the supermarket checkout, they are absolving themselves of the responsibility for it ending up in landfill. Whether you take it home and have to put it in your bin, or you leave it and the supermarket disposes of it on your behalf, you have made the choice to purchase it, and that includes its packaging. I understand that some people do this as a statement to the supermarket that they should purchase stock more responsibly, and I applaude this. Just don’t try to fool yourself that, just because it didn’t come into your home, you haven’t contributed to landfill simply by buying it.

  4. LJayne says:

    Mrs G I think you are great, you know that! So perhaps you will allow me to play devil’s advocate a little. Is returning it to the manufacturer not just passing the buck slightly, especially if they are just going to throw it in the bin and not even bother to reply to your letter.

    Given what you say about it “our zero waste lifestyle is not a test in austerity or a deprivation choice” – something I totally agree with – what do you then do. Do you write again or double your efforts to find alternatives for those products where the manufacturers really don’t seem to give a flying fig?

    Am delighted to say that you inspire me as ever and I’m hoping to send off my first batch of “back to the manufacturer” in the next few days, having finally got to a stage where that is something I can tackle.

    @Hazel – I find Sainsburys much more helpful that Tescos too. We have a large one of the former and so I keep all my plastic 4 to take back there. I’ve got a feeling our local council actually collect it because I can also take my plastic 4 straight to the recycling centre if I’m going there with my Tetrapaks.

    I’m trying to remember if I bought brown sugar in a paper bag last time I went to The Co-op. I know some of their own brand (fair-trade!!!) sugar is in paper but can’t picture the brown, sorry. Have the same problem with you over dried fruit. I remember Suma, I think it was, announcing that their fruit was now in plastic 1 or 2 and that you should just recycle it but I know here (Berkshire) I can only recycle plastics 1&2 in bottle form so that wouldn’t help me any.

  5. CarSue says:

    The only things going into our bin this week are 4 cigarette butts and the plastic film that came around the pack (it is a terrible habit, I know, but one from which I am gradually weening myself). We’re working on the same trash bag that we’ve had since last October. It is a bag that our dog food comes in, which isn’t recyclable around here. After turning several of these into tote bags, we started offering them to the local litter brigade to use during cleanups.

    We’ve written several letters to the makers of our fish food, telling them how disappointed we are in their using a non-recyclable (locally) type of plastic (it was #5) to make little jars for the fish flakes. So how delighted were we to receive a letter a few weeks ago, telling us that the company had switched to #2, which is recycled nearly everywhere in the states! I’m sure it wasn’t just our “squeaky wheels” that made the difference, but we’re still happy to know that we may have contributed to this decision, and that it’s one less thing in our bin each month.

    Good article Mrs. G.

  6. Antonio Pachowko says:

    (In my most serious voice) You may remember that I gave some advice which you have not followed http://mzw.wpengine.com/2010/06/response-from-walkers/ and you are using the customer service which I advised against. I said always write to the CEO and you will get better results. You have been naughty and should sit on the naughty step for the rest of the day.

    (back to normal voice) Hazel do not bother with Customer service they are a total waste of time as they have no power to do anything and often delay things. You should write to the outgoing CEO of Tesco Sir Terry Leahy and you will get a good response as he knows how to keep customers happy. Remember you don’t have to accept what they say but keep going back until you get a favourable response. CEOs do not complaints being directed at them.

    I am wondering Mrs G if it would be good if you and some other regular readers write a letter to the Main supermarket CEOs to get a reply on What the supermarkets are doing on packaging and waste minisation in general. you can then publish their replies to let people judge. You may be surprised at the replies. Anyway it is a thought.

  7. Antonio Pachowko says:

    By the way CEOs e-mail addresses can be found here:http://www.connectotel.com/marcus/ceoemail.html

  8. Jane says:

    Too much packaging with no recycling instructions is still a problem. Bravo for your letter Mrs Green. Why should everyone else – current Council Tax payers, future ones and the environment – have to pay for the supermarkets’ selfish devotion to packaging. Teach the teams to stack and look after the stock well and NOT stack tins of beans on top of eggs! Bare fruit and vegetables are the best.

  9. Jennifer says:

    I’m ashamed to say that the amount I throw away has a direct correlation with how much time I’ve had to cook and make my own food in a given month. This has so far not been a good month. However, I think I may be at least a little inspired to try your idea of writing the companies to express my disappointment while I try to find ways to cut back and make more of my own food that doesn’t require packaging.

  10. Sandie says:

    @ Sue – Ouch!

  11. Alyson says:

    I agree with Hazel. Sainsbury are better than Tesco, so much so that I find I’m shopping there more than Tesco just for the packaging. But what’s with the changing of basic cereal packaging into plastic bags that cannot be recycled?. And my bugbear is also dried fruit in nonrecyclable packaging. I do a fair amount of cooking too.
    In my bin this week: 1 food container,curry, that can’t be recycled here. It’s not bottle shaped.
    4 crisp packets,3 biscuit wrappers(my daughter still on the junk food phase), 1 little testing strip container with 7 testing strips ( husband a diabetic), 1 plastic thing that tablets pop out of( hubby’s got arthritis too), 4 little sweet wrappers(youngest daughter went to a party)1 container that had tomatoes(local shop doesn’t sell them loose and town is more than a 5 min walk), 2 cereal bar wrappers,1 kitkat chunky wrapper, 1 naan bread wrapper,1 noodle wrapper, 2 tags for citrus fruit,1 unidentified wrapper. Writing this down certainly makes you think about what you buy. I cant avoid the medical stuff and hubby’s the one who eats the crisps and cereal bars,but I should make more of an effort to make my own meaty curry and I shall have another go at making naan bread, the last lot came out like pitta bread ,though,and I haven’t attempted it since.

  12. Mrs Green says:

    @Hazel: Hi Hazel, it sounds like you’ve had some really poor responses from Tesco; it’s amazing how the companies can be so different in their level of care and responsibility. However the information from Sainsburys rather astonished me – just inviting you to chuck anything in and they would sort it !! Suma are a good food co-op; I use them and their minimum order is £250 I think, so with half a dozen families you can soon achieve that. Their products come in large polythene bags mainly AND they will take packaging back with them to recycle.

    @Julie Day: That’s exactly what we did during 2009, Julie. Anything ‘not currently recyclable’ was binned.

    @Sue: Hello Sue, thank you for your comment. I hear what you are saying and a year ago I thought the same, however my view has changed. There are two reasons I will leave packaging at the checkout (or take it to customer services). Firstly it gives a message that I’m not completely satisfied with the packaging and secondly, supermarkets often have recycling facilities available to them which householders do not have access to. I always check where the packaging will end up and how it will be disposed of. In one shop the person was extremely helpful and proudly showed me that he could indeed recycle huge lengths of plastic, which I would not have been able to. I would argue that buying a product includes the packaging – I can still make a statement that I want the goods but not the packaging AND I will check how they plan to dispose of it. No kidding myself involved with this one 😀

    @LJayne: Hi Lesley, great question – and hopefully I’ve answered it above in my response to Sue. In all cases I look for alternatives, but if there isn’t one then I will buy the product and either return the packaging or get rid of it at the store. Does that make sense? I understand it’s a really emotive topic and it took us a long time to reach this point with it because initially, like you, we felt we might just be passing the buck. The way I look at it, if just one manufacturer changes their packaging as a result of our awareness campaign then it’s been a success 🙂
    Great that you are going to return things too – do let me know what responses you have.

    @CarSue: What a great result Sue, and maybe it WAS you who determined that change of packaging. Well done you and well done on accumulating such a small amount of rubbish too.

    @Antonio Pachowko: Oh dear; I consider myself told Antonio. I admit I had quite forgotten your advice. Will do better next time 🙂 Thanks for the link to finding CEOs.

    @Jane: Thank you Jane. Oh my days of a bag packer at Sainsburys are bought to my memory with your descriptions of tins on top of eggs! 😀

    @Jennifer: Great move, Jennifer. I think you’re right – if we have time and energy to cook from scratch it DOES have a direct impact on the amount of waste we accumulate. Great to see you on board with a bit of letter writing!

    @Alyson: Hi Alyson, I think taking a bin audit is invaluable for being able to be more objective about where we can improve. Some things can’t be changed, such as medication, but at least you have seen the possibility to making your own curries and naan bread; which is to be applauded (it will taste better too 😉 )

  13. Hazel says:

    @Mrs Green: I may have paraphrased Sainsburys slightly; it was more if you couldn’t decide rather than just chuck in anything. :0)

    OK@Antonio Pachowko: Thanks for the link and I consider myself reprimanded too! Tesco’s customer service was a waste of space. And after all their dodging the issue they sent me an evaluation form! Well…

    I’ve found an alternative for the short term to my soft brown sugar packaging issue. Katie at Making This Home makes her own by mixing white sugar (paper bag) with molasses (funky tin- I love those Tate and Lyle’s tins, but especially the black treacle one!- or glass jar) http://www.makingthishome.com/2010/08/10/homemade-brown-sugar-in-germany/

    I’ve found a good co-op not too far from us and a couple of friends who are keen to join it, I just need to chivvy them up!

  14. Ben says:

    My rubbish to landfill is mostly the same few very difficult to avoid items now. Mainly plastic film packaging that isn’t LDPE (I can recycle that type at the supermarket) and various bottle caps, plus small odd items such as this past week a worn out record player stylus, cigarette ends and some hard plastic packaging from a packet of batteries (rechargeable ones though, so shouldn’t be often I get this). The weight and volume is not too bad now, but I’d like to shrink it down further. I’m also working on reducing my recyclable waste. Swapping plastic milk bottles for milk bags has significantly reduced the contents of the recycle bin. I’m currently swapping plastic bottles of cleaning liquid for blocks of household soap, so hope to cut back on those bottles too. Liquid shampoo has been replaced with solid shampoo a while ago, but those bottles were never a significant amount of my average recycle bin contents.

    I’m concerned about plastic bottles because I discovered many of them, the HDPE ones like milk bottles specifically, aren’t so much recycled as reprocessed in to other products. Better than landfill, but I’ve been using huge amounts of them and have to wonder if it’s a good thing to be generating so much plastic waste that has limited recycling potential.

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @Hazel: what a cool idea about soft brown sugar. I didn’t realise that was all it was. I opened a tin of black treacle yesterday; I’ve never used it in my life before but LMG fancied some ‘sticky gingerbread’ so I had a go. Apparently it needs to sit in the tin for a few days. Will def try the soft brown sugar idea – thank you!

    @Ben: Wow Ben; you’re doing brilliantly! I wish we lived close as I’d love to come and do a feature on you. It’s a challenge with recycling, because we don’t really know what happens to it all. Like you say, we need to put the ‘reduce’ factor into play wherever possible. Well done though, your household is inspiring for sure!

  16. Ben says:

    @Mrs Green: Hi Mrs Green, I’d really like to share what we’ve been doing to reduce and recycle as we have many ideas and experiences so far and there’s still plenty we could learn from other people’s responses too, but we’re probably much too far away as we live in Norwich. However, if you’d like me to I’d be very happy to show what we’ve been doing in text and pictures that could make an article? I could perhaps cover some of the specific challenges we have, from those difficult unexpected items that just appear, to not having a car which greatly limits shopping and recycling options (in fact I’ve never even been to our city’s recycling centre as it’s too far away), as well as how the way I do the shopping has changed over the past year or two?

  17. Mrs Green says:

    @Ben: That would make a great guest article Ben – thank you! Please email me – mrsgreen AT myzerowaste DOT com 🙂

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