I’ve had a pretty busy week, so have only just had a chance to sit down and watch Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest show, Hugh’s War on Waste (although I have to confess that part of the reason for the delay is that I was expecting to find it on Channel 4 with the old River Cottage episodes). After tackling battery hens and overfishing, it’s no surprise that H F-W has turned his attention to the endemic issue of waste in our consumerist society. It’s a huge topic to cover, and the first episode felt a little jumpy as a result, but is also an issue that is very close to my heart, so I’m really pleased to see it getting the attention it deserves.
While there are lots of other reasons I’m so keen that Tom grow up spending time outdoors, one of the major ones is that our wasteful society is putting the environment at risk. We have to raise our kids to value nature, so that they will have a reason to fight for it.
Outdoor play is just one way I’m hoping to raise Tom to think about his impact on the world around him. We try to model ethical choices in our day-to-day lives – recycling; buying second hand, fair trade or recycled products; buying less generally; being mindful of gas/electrical use and, most of all, trying to reduce our household waste.
Luckily, our local council, Waltham Forest, is really hot on recycling. In fact, they deserve a huge shout out for this – I’ve never lived somewhere that recycles so many different materials (and I’ve lived in quite a few places, including Bristol, which is known to be a ‘green’ minded city). We actually don’t have a big ‘black’ bin in the flat; our main bin is a recycling bin and it is where about 95% of our household waste goes. We also have a brown bin for food and garden waste, and handy biodegradable liners for our kitchen caddy arrive free through the letter box every few months. The small remaining amount that can’t go in either of these bins goes in one of the small bins in the bathroom or our bedroom. I only have to empty these once every three months, if that. Tom is in cloth nappies, which helps massively with this.
Food waste, with an occasionally fussy toddler in the house, can be a bit more of an issue. I have been known to finish up scraps that haven’t been pre-chewed, but we do still end up putting some bits in the brown bin. I have a strong stomach but even I can’t face reusing food that has been in Tom’s mouth. Instead, we have to reduce food waste by making sure we aren’t chucking out food that has gone bad before we have a chance to eat it.
Since I went back to work when Tom was 6 months old, I’ve tried to be very organised with our grocery shop, both to save us money and to make sure we aren’t wasting food. We get our veg via a veg box scheme (ours is from Riverford), which delivers fresh, organic, seasonal fruit and veg to our door once a week. For the rest, I sit down every couple of weeks and do a two-week meal plan. We get this delivered, as I would otherwise have to drive to the shop, which would be less fuel efficient than having it delivered in a van with a bunch of other people’s deliveries. It’s also a lot easier than dragging a toddler around the store for a big shop. Doing the shop every two weeks, rather than every week, also cuts down on the fuel used in getting it to us. Since the bag tax came in, I’m pleased to say the amount of plastic bags arriving each fortnight has also decreased dramatically (we reuse any that do come, or return them to the store).
When the shop arrives, I put away dry goods and sort the fresh food into two piles – freezer and fridge – depending on when we plan on using it and how long it is likely to last in the fridge. I plan meals so that several dinners will be made in bulk, and the excess makes up my lunches at work, Tom’s dinner the next day (usually before seasoning is added), or goes into the freezer for later use. We generally get through most of the veg box each week (we only get a small one). Any veg that looks like it might not get used goes into a stew or soup, or to bulk up a mince dish, and fruit is stewed down and added to yoghurt for desserts.
Although there is a lot we do to manage our food waste, we could definitely be doing more. After watching Hugh’s War on Waste, I plan to use fruit that is past its best in smoothies as well as stewing it. We will also have a ‘eat up day’ at least once or twice in every fortnight, where I don’t plan a meal but use up store cupboard ingredients and fresh food that is on the turn (we already have ‘freezer’ days which are to eat up meals from the freezer). I’ve already stopped peeling most veg – carrots, potatoes, sweet potato and the like are now just getting a good scrub before going in the pan. I could probably be making more stock with odds and ends of veg, chicken bones and other leftovers.
What about you, have you been inspired to cut down on your household waste? Share your tips.