It’s Zero Waste Week

It’s already day two (just), but it’s not too late! I’m not a great one for signing up to challenges like this (although I know that lots of people find that they provide a good incentive), but I am particularly taken with this year’s theme: One More Thing. So, I’ve been thinking about one more thing we could do…

Chez Snail, we don’t produce much landfill-type waste – a small bag every month, perhaps. Food waste is minimal too, partly because eating fresh from the garden means that what isn’t harvested to be eaten straight away carries on growing, and partly because we don’t over-shop and we are happy to eat left-overs. But we do send quite a bit for recycling – maybe one rubbish sack every two weeks, so I’m sure there is room for improvement here.

We could cut down on the number of superfluous things that we buy and this would reduce the amount of packaging that we throw away and (in theory) reduce the amount of stuff we discard because we have a newer or better version. In practice, however, we aren’t big consumers, so trying to do this probably wouldn’t make a huge difference.

What a waste!

So, the only way forward is to buy things with less packaging… and perhaps to try to persuade manufacturers to use less packaging. I’m always irritated by things that come with superfluous layers of sealed plastic wrap… why does a dvd need to be shrink-wrapped – it’s hardly going to go off, is it? Electrical items seem to be particularly bad for quantity of packaging, something I have bogged about previously in relation to a small set of headphones I bought. Indeed, a recent purchase of a breadmaker for Mr Snail seemed to yield rather more plastic, polystyrene and cardboard than was strictly necessary (did the pan really need to be in a separate plastic bag?). I gather, however, that amongst the worst offenders in terms of packaging are perfumes and high-end cosmetics, especially those in ‘gift packs’. Since these are items that I never buy, I cannot speak from experience, but in such cases, it appears that the manufacturers consider that more packaging makes for a classier product. SIGH.

The Industry Council for Research on Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN – a British organisation) do produce a factsheet that explains the reasons for some of the packaging that we might think is excessive, although they also say:

But if you still think that a product seems to be over-packaged, contact the retailer or manufacturer to complain, or call 08454 04 05 06 or go on-line to Consumer Direct at so that trading standards officials can investigate. Over-packaging is against the law.

Indeed, they produce another factsheet entitled Packaging and Environment Legislation, which provides some context. Do remember, though, that INCPEN is run by manufacturers and retailers, not consumers or environmentalists. Still, it’s a start.

Too much for a set of headphones?

A few years ago there was a campaign to try to persuade supermarkets to encourage their suppliers to use less packaging. The idea was that shoppers would remove excess packaging at the checkout and leave it there for the supermarket to deal with. I’m not sure what impact it had, but I suspect that manufacturers were so far removed from the action that they hardly noticed and the supermarkets probably just cleared up without much comment. It’s probably better to contact manufacturers directly… at least that way you are communicating with someone who has the potential to do something about the issue.

And after all this pondering, what am I, The Snail of Happiness, going to do for Zero Waste Week? Well since I’m finding it difficult to further reduce the waste that goes out of the house, I think I’m going to take a look at the waste that stays in my house: the objects that are packed away unused, or simply sitting around gathering dust. I’m going to convert these things into something useful by sending them to a charity shop, or selling them or simply making use of them myself. I think some rummaging around in cupboards, drawers, the airing cupboard and the loft is in order…


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  1. Today I discovered that I can recycle video tapes at the recycling centre, charity shops in town all have notices saying they no longer accept videos, so this was a terrific surprise.

    • Now that is good news. A couple of years ago we packed up a whole load of vhs tapes and sent them off (at some expense) to a recycling place in Bristol because we couldn’t bear just to throw them out.
      I am inordinately pleased when the council suddenly decides to include something new in their list of things that can be recycled – there was much rejoicing when they added polystyrene to the list last year!

  2. I find it extremely annoying that supermarkets will not let me recycle their waste (cardboard boxes). Instead, they cut them up and send them in bulk for recycling. I’m sure it’s an efficient process for them, but it means that people who need boxes have to BUY them! We have a very good recycling system here. You turn up to the plant with your rubbish and they have people who scavenge through it identifying all the bits that can be reused and recycled and extract them. Only what is left goes into landfill. The extracted bits are fixed and sold at their shop to finance the scavengers. I love going shopping there!

    • I think, too, that people (and organisations) often forget that reuse/repurposing is so much more energy efficient than recycling… your boxes being a prime example.
      I love the idea of your scavengers… we need that approach everywhere.

      • It’s astonishing what they haul out of trailer loads. I shall be going shopping there very soon after we move, looking for hen house construction materials, fencing, etc.

    • Hooray for tip shops!

      Here in Peru everything just seems to get turfed out with little thought, but people then sift through the bins and the dumps extracting anything of value. Poverty is a great recycler, 😦

  3. The little devil that rides my left shoulder says, “Mail that **** to the company CEO!” The angel on the right says, “Some poor clerk would

  4. Mr Night Owl and I have gradually managed to get our bin bags down to one recycle bag a fortnight (due to all that excess packaging our food comes in), and no black bags! It’s taken us a couple of years to gradually reduce everything in the house to only have what we’ll actually use, but it’s amazing how much ‘stuff’ still ends up unused 🙂

    We had a Cystic Fibrosis charity drop off a donation bag the other day, and we figured we wouldn’t have a thing to put in it, but with a lot of stern resolve, we managed to find enough clothing – hung on to ‘just in case’ – to fill it!

    I actually look forward to a time when we won’t be able to find stuff like that any more – how sad am I? Lol

    • Oh, you are so good… I am working on it… currently putting together a box of breakables to go to the charity shop; so far it includes various ornaments and two wine decanters (why, why do I have those?). I am trying to be strict and it’s easier when Mr Snail is not around because he’s worse than me with the ‘that might be useful’ line!!

      • I know what you mean about the decanters – we ended up being the recipients quite a few of them, as gifts from family, over the years, and I was glad to see the back of them all – just like you, to the charity shop! Lol

        I have to admit that I was like Mr Snail of Happiness – and can still be with certain things! Lol

        Mr Night Owl is a real minimalist, so it tends to be me who lets the side down occasionally 🙂

        We try to live with the rule, If it hasn’t been used for a year and a day, then we don’t need it, and that’s helped a lot in deciding what needs to go 🙂

    • Wow, I am seriously impressed! In Australia I managed to get down a shopping bag every week or two of landfill waste but never to cut it out completely. How do you avoid things like the plastic wrapping on bulk buys of toilet paper, or those annoying plastic tubs for deli products that you can only re-use so many of (please don’t make me give up olives or dolmades!)? The plastic tops on my milk cartons and foil wraps off wine bottles were another frustration, not to mention plastic ties on new clothing that can’t be recycled. 😦

      In Lima everything comes with plastic, I can’t compost and I’ve now moved to an area without a recylcing station. My bin depresses me.

      • We are lucky here in Ceredigion (Katy lives just round the corner from me) in that our council is one of the best in the UK for recycling – all plastics, for example, as well as juice containers and polystyrene.
        It would be really good, though, if there was just less plastic associated with the things we buy.

  5. This is one area that is of my interest !! I always have reused and repurposed. From clothing to packaging to pencils and stationery. I have just made a patchwork quilt cover and in the process of making another from old tshirts, skirts, pyjamas. This is my best way to declutter the closets once in two years. I also make bags and cushion/pillow covers. I simply love old clothes 🙂
    And cardboard boxes of all sizes, (sometimes paracetamol ones too ) I cover them with pretty wrapping paper and use them as organisers in the cupboards, desks, and drawers for storing medicines, stationery, paper, mail, keys, craft stuff and even underclothes and socks 🙂 They are so handy and versatile. I throw them when they wear out.
    Throwing one sided printed paper is criminal in our house 🙂 My daughter uses them for all her studies and even for her passion, drawing !
    Sorry for this rant, but I cant hold myself talking of this 😦

    • Rant away… I so agree. Repurposing like you describe is so important and, as you have found, a fun activity too. We also never throw out paper that is only printed on one side… other it’s used for more printing, or bundled together to use as a notebook by the phone. And when it finally comes to disposing of it, it’s shredded and used a chicken bedding before finally being composted and returned to the earth… we like to get the maximum out of our resources!!
      By the way, I hope you will post some pictures of your patchwork and other creations – I’d love to see them.

  6. Thanks so much for sharing and good luck with your pledge! We’re covering decluttering over the weekend, so hopefully you’ll either find some tips or be able to add to the conversation. Lovely to see so much interest in this post from your readers 🙂

  7. Stevie-boy has decided to enter the zero waste challenge. He has decided to give up taking showers, to never wash his clothes again and to pee over the deck…”wait a minute…you do that already!” sigh…Technically you just did something about minimising your waste potential by Mr Snail moving to Reading through the week. Your household is now generating for one for 5 days of the week… YOU DID IT! 🙂


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