Beefed up

  • Chris Jeavans
  • 15 Aug 08, 02:00 PM GMT

The butcher was a little bemused when I asked him to wrap the chicken breasts in greaseproof paper but said "yes of course" and went to get some sheets from a hook on the wall.

I had brought my own just in case, as I wasn't sure butchers even used paper any more.

meat203.jpgHe confirmed that plastic sheets and bags had been in use for at least 20 years but said that he would still sometimes wrap a joint in paper.

I got some minced beef which he parcelled up in the same way, with a warning that I should transfer it to a container when I got home so it didn't dry out.

So I made sure I used the mince that evening and put the chicken straight in the freezer as letting meat (especially beef) go off is not only expensive, it is environmentally wasteful because of the amount of resources required in raising the animal.

Meat packs bought from a supermarket shelf last longer than those from a butcher's counter because they are contained in "modified atmosphere packaging" in which some or all of the oxygen from air is replaced with carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

This inhibits rotting and bacterial growth and means the meat has a longer shelf life.

Some producers also use vacuum packaging for meat which slows the rate at which it goes off by removing all the air.

Buying my meat from butcher was more expensive than grabbing some packs from the supermarket but the quality was very high.

The editor of the Meat Trades Journal, Ed Bedington, said that while the number of high street independent butchers had fallen dramatically in the past 30 years, the decline appeared to have levelled off and customers appreciated a good butcher.

"The key reason that butchers have kept in business is if they are good. If they have great service, top quality and a good choice of products then they have survived."

Mr Bedington added that the number of farm shops where farmers sold direct to the customer was growing fast, raising the choice for rural shoppers.

But back to my plastic tally. This week I have accumulated:

  • 1 litre bottle of milk as the doorstep delivery didn't turn up (the dairy have apologised and say I should receive my order tomorrow).
  • 1 lid from a jar of chilli sauce - I had already started cooking when I realised that the jar had a plastic "overlid" which contained the spice mix powder.
  • 1 small piece of plastic wrapping from the head of the wooden toothbrush.
  • 4 crown caps from bottles of beer. I was interested to read comment #42 from Oceaneer in Australia on this post who said that the plastic from this type of cap gets eaten by marine life who mistake it for young jellyfish.
  • Several sheets of sticky clothes-cleaning paper on a tear-off roll. This was needed because I put a couple of nappies in with a dark wash - big mistake, everything came out covered in a fine layer of white fluff.
  • 11 disposable nappies made with bio-plastic. Mainly used at nursery although they have now offered to use the cloth nappies. Plus, to my complete surprise, I managed to get the wool nappy to work. My son looks like he's wearing a Victorian bathing costume but he has had 100% dry nights in it so far.


  • Comment number 1.

    H i Chris,

    Good to see you use the local butcher. Their produce is superior to supermarkets. I use plastic freezer containers and no packaging at all. The only warning I received from them was the contact between cured bacon and beef which blackened the latter's surface.

    Babies complicate the issue with nappy and food waste problems. Luckily they grow up stage by stage.

    Your waste list is typical of all plastic reduction efforts. It should decrease with experience.

  • Comment number 2.

    as far as milk is concerned, can't you use a cardboard container, I know they have plastic lids but are they lined with plastic too?
    Also, I commend you on your effort!! I once tried to give up styrofoam and that was hard enough - I completely failed.
    Keep up with your efforts!!!

  • Comment number 3.

    Well done Chris - you've had an amazing week, and as John writes, this week's waste is typical for someone starting on a plastic-free challenge.

    You've done really well and I hope you feel proud of your achievements.

    Do you put your parcels of meat into anything? I used reusable plastic containers and I would be worried about the packs leaking; but it seems to be working for you. How great the your butcher keeps greaseproof paper!

    Glad you got the wool nappy to work :)

  • Comment number 4.

    just read your previous entry - that answers the question about cardboard containers, this is very interesting and i'm learning a lot.

  • Comment number 5.

    Best of luck, Chris!

    You're halfway through your month, which is more than many of us would be able to do.

    I would be interested in periodic follow up posts from you, possibly at 3, 6, and 12 months from the end of your experiment, to see what you have retained long-term and what you have decided would not be tenable for you.

    Best of luck!

  • Comment number 6.

    Hmm, I use only local butchers (in Cardiff market for preference) and aside from being far better quality (I would NEVER touch supermarket pork) I also find them a lot cheaper. The price of chicken breasts in a supermarket is shocking. From the market you can get free range for the same price or less than Tesco's standard quality. But then you also have to be canny about the cuts you get, breast is much cheaper and if you take off the skin, not too much fattier. Greengrocers too are half the price of supermarkets. Though maybe it's different in other parts of the country.

  • Comment number 7.

    Should become a Vegan.. Don't have to buy the meat at all, and don't have to feel guilty for killing an animal, don't have to worry about how much food said animal has eaten just so it can sit on your plate, and you'll be healthier too!

  • Comment number 8.

    The energy cost of greaseproof paper is even higher than normal paper though, as it is processed to a greater extent in order to make it greaseproof. Therefore, wrapping meat in this material is no better than wrapping it in plastic - like the meat-contaminated plastic it is also not recyclable without extensive processing, it took more energy to make in the first place and if landfilled will give rise to carbon emissions that the plastic tray doesn't. The one thing in its favour is that it is largely organic in nature, but this is outweighed by the other impacts.

    Far better to not eat meat in the first place. Or take a tupperware container to the butchers with you. You can wash this out and reuse it. If you don't mind the fact that it is plastic...

  • Comment number 9.

    Oh for heaven's sake can we have this topic dragged back into the real world? There is nothing intrinsically more re-cyclable about aluminium, tin-plated ferrous metals, cardboard or paper than "plastic" (a spectacularly amorphous definition, covering a huge range of materials).

    If you don't look at the processes and logistics involved in getting a product from raw material state to the point where you pick it up, then any evaluation of its environmental impact is utterly meaningless. This whole project - as currently defined - is as pointless as vowing to walk around wearing one shoe only, to cut world shoe production by 50%.....

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi, Chris,

    I heard you in a BBC podcast (I live in California, and this being an election year, local news are indigestible, so I listen to the BBC and Deutsche Welle until it's all over) and meant to follow you along. I just caught up with your first two weeks after reading your comment in Roz Savage's blog. Your experiment is a real eye opener, and I will be putting a lot more thought into my shopping. Thank you for shaking us up!

  • Comment number 11.

    Showing the weekly count of plastic is worthwhile as it allows progress to be monitored. Speaking from 20 weeeks experience, the weight/volume of material will decrease.

    The weight I and like-minds measure is not plastic, but plastic and other waste. My typical weight is 5g. This consists of milk labels, envelope plastic, plastic scrap. The detail varies from week to week with commodity bags, plastic labels, toothpaste tubes etc.

    The many negative comments from plastic packaging types only show their lack of concern for the environment.

    We not only disagree with their position we follow a path independent of their wasteful, unthinking activities.

  • Comment number 12.

    bazza_12, what are you supposed to do if you suffer from taurase deficiency?

  • Comment number 13.

    Hello All, and particularly Johnhcrf:

    I've been following this blog with much interest: i think it is fantastic that it has raised so much dialogue. It is not just about cutting out plastics, but making us think about (and change) the way we use all resources.

    I am very interested in the zero-waste enthusiasts' efforts. Johnhcrf: do you keep a blog of how you manage to minimise waste? In particular, I would like to learn more practical approaches for those who:
    (a) work full-time
    (b) do not earn much money, (my attempts to be green stretch my wallet, but luckily the 'reduce' aspects means that i probably don't buy and waste as much), and also
    (c) work at the lower-rungs in a 'non-eco' workplace... how can we see our efforts at home filter into our work? For example, in the past my suggestions for phasing out styrofoam water cups have been laughed off by peers and deemed economically unfeasible by management.

    An environmental perspective should not only be a matter for 'hippies at society's fringe' or 'guilty middle-class consumers'. I think this blog has promoted environmental responsibility beyond this divide, for which I thank Chris.

    Looking forward to continued dialogue, and movements of change...

  • Comment number 14.

    p.s. to add to my list above (#13), seeking zero-waste advice for those who:

    (d) live in urban (rented) dwellings: no garden, no animals, no culture/system of recycling in apartment blocks, not even a suitable space for a worm-farm!

  • Comment number 15.


    Welcome to the Zero Waste Challenge.

    Blogs to follow are TheRubbishDiet (Mrs
    Average) and MyZeroWaste (Mrs Green and Family).

    Here's a quick list:

    Recycle to the max;

    Compost all fruit/veg scraps;

    Try to remove all food from the binwaste - Bokashi, Green Cone, compost bin, pets;

    Avoid plastic packaging to the max - very difficult;

    If you cannot do all this it will be extremely hard to do. Councils need to supply food waste collections, proper recycling for all.

    Join-in with the blogs posts, ask questions,
    add your views;

    I personally would like everybody to join-in starting today but there are numerous obstacles to this ideal.

  • Comment number 16.

    #15 - a laudable aim, but your quick summary does not necessarily present the best environmental options.

    Take the phrase 'recycle to the max'.

    What does this mean in practice? Some waste streams are better used for energy recovery, as recycling gives a worse environmental outcome - low quality paper and card and most wood waste is best used for optimised energy recovery, for example - even composting is a worse option here. Not just my opinion, but the findings of a DEFRA research project.

    'Compost all fruit/veg scraps'. Actually, this is best collected and used for anaerobic digestion feedstock - the extra costs of collection still are still outweighed by the extra carbon saving over and above composting, even for home composting (after all, your home composter isn't terribly efficient at turning organic material into soil conditioner, and unless you turn it regularly it will become at least part anaerobic - hence emitting methane with its much greater carbon footprint than the negligible amount of CO2 which is the end result of AD after you have discounted the avoided burdens.) Centralised AD also allows you to put all kitchen wastes out for collection, and meat wastes are not an issue - as long as they aren't CAT1 animal byproducts, you're ok here.

    'Avoid plastic packaging' - as you have been told by several posters including myself, the energy costs inherent in recycling plastic are very modest. Plastic is not the issue here - the collection and recycling of plastic are. If there is a route for the grade of plastic in question, and you choose to use that route and achieve closed loop recycling as a result, then avoiding it simply because it is plastic is not a good idea - you may end up using a less recyclable higher impact substitute instead (like paper or card.)

    As regards the council need to provide food waste collection, I'll be very surprised indeed if we don't have 100% coverage in this area in 5 years time in the UK. The thing to do is not to demand food waste collection - it's coming anyway. What you need to concentrate on are the end uses for this material - if it isn't going to AD, and if they are co-collecting green waste and/or paper/card with it because it's easier for them to do this, they aren't offering the best environmental option.

  • Comment number 17.

    We have a white cat, and I like black clothes. Dust and pet hair is always an issue, and I hate wasting tape or using the sticky dust removers.

    A slightly damp dish cloth (suitable for drying wine glasses) or wash rag will remove most of it pretty fast. Fortunately, those are usually lying around when I'm ready to go out.

  • Comment number 18.

    I live in the US, and the butchers here wrap meats in white paper. What's wrong with paper? I'll have to examine it carefully, but as far as I know, it's regular paper.

  • Comment number 19.

    I'm glad that you are doing this. Not because plastic is bad, in fact its great stuff. I'm glad to see someone test the idea of abandoning plastic, show how much we really use it and how great it is. I'm disappointed that you are not mentioning that plastics can and should be reused and recycled. The fact they don't degrade means they are great for making long lasting products. People just use plastics badly. We waste plastics and think that because they are lightweight and cheap they can be thrown out. There are plenty of solutions. Don't buy what you don't need. Minimising the amount of packaging for all the things, but not just the plastic packaging. If it can be sold naked or with one thin layer protection then great. If not, then be realistic and go for the option with the best life-cycle impact. We try to do everything. We don't take plastic bags when we shop. We recycle and reuse everything we can. We don't buy what we won't use. We buy at the butchers to avoid the big plastic boxes that supermarkets give you, with small bits of meat in them that take up loads of space in the freezer. The butcher gives us a small plastic bag about the size of the meat and we can fit more into the freezer space we have. Before we found a good butcher we recycled all meat containers we got from the supermarket. Its not easy, not in our flat but we try. I just can't wait for the councils around the country to recycle all that can be recycled, compost all that cannot be recycled but can be composted, and burn the rest for energy so nothing goes to landfill.

  • Comment number 20.


    Do you work in the plastics industry?

    My view, after achieving 5g waste per week, is that the best use of plastic packaging is in a sustainable system ie minimal waste and minimal production of plastic.

    You mention alternatives, my preference is Zero Packaging! This leads to Zero Landfill impact.

    I see people struggling to avoid overfill bins. My situation is to use 1 binbag over a 4-5 year period. Can you see a difference there?

  • Comment number 21.

    #16 -AdeJones

    "Not just my opinion, but the findings of a DEFRA research project."

    Whilst it is helpful that you cite these reports for everyone, what would be much more helpful for all is if you could provide a link or reference for them so that we could all read them for themselves.

    Also, please be aware that for every such report you find coming down on one side of an argument it is likely that there are other reports coming down on the other side also - this is called research and leads to informed debate and to learning.

    Whilst you may be able to find and write on here what your sources believe to be current best practice, each one of those sources will tell you that best practice is constantly under review and that these organisations will be more than happy to change their stance and advice as new reserch and learnings are undertaken.

    We know what we know at the moment, and within all other constraints we do what we advise what we advise and currently do what we do, but surely no-one can say that they have the definitive answer - remember we used to think the earth was flat....

  • Comment number 22.


    I take issue with your slur on home composting. Home composting is being encouraged by WRAP as it remove material from landfill where it would form methane.
    This applies to veg/fruit peel etc. Get your facts right!

    AD Anaerobic Digestion is the process collected food waste will go through. Again full food waste collection removes this large component of home bin waste from landfill.
    This should be done as soon as practicable and not in 5 years as you suggest.

    Waste reduction is much preferred to incineration ( Your pet subject).

  • Comment number 23.

    #22 - Home composting does not have the carbon benefits that AD does. This will be why WRAP are backing AD in a big way. Don't believe me? Give them a ring and ask them about PAS110. Which they have been instrumental in implementing. And while you're at it, have a look at the WRAP competition for AD infrastructure development under the DEFRA ETF. £10 million up for grabs there to develop AD in England (there's also been a separate competition in Wales to the tune of £2 million.) I don't see DEFRA putting £10 million into home composting though, do you?

    [If you don't know what PAS110 is, I suggest you go off and research it before we continue this debate.]

    Why do I refer to 5 years? That's when the LATS/LAS targets really start to bite in the UK for MSW - these are the drivers forcing LA's down this particular route. To meet the 2012/13 targets, food waste collection will be obligatory then, rather than best-practice as it is at the moment. You won't meet the targets without centralised collection, even if you lead on a home-composting based strategy - not everyone will use it, and you will need a kerbside collection as a back-up. If you think that all the local authorities will start collecting food waste tomorrow and not incrementally over the next 3-4 years, then you clearly haven't thought through the logistics. On average it takes a couple of years just to get the collection side sorted, and you really need to do this slightly before the treatment side (you can divert segregated organics to existing IVC capacity in the interim while you develop AD, for example.)

    Incineration and other forms of EfW are residual treatment technologies. You wouldn't use them for dealing with food waste, as you'd be hoping for maximum capture before this point and diversion to AD. However, in practice, capture rates of organics rarely exceed 80%, and so some organics will find their way into the residual stream. Hence the choice is quite stark - do we burn or bury this residual? Zero waste aspirations aside, we are always going to be faced with a residual of around 20% of the original weight. I've not seen us exceed 80% recycling in practice in this country, nor elsewhere in the EU - and I would respectfully suggest that where this has been achieved, it has been achieved through the use of a highly compliant population - I don't see us emulating the Japanese model and using 35 different collection receptacles any time soon, mores the pity.

    You are correct in the fact that you perceived reduction to be preferred to recovery, but in reality your options for reduction are finite. There will always be a residual, and you are always faced with the choice I outline above - do you burn or do you bury?

  • Comment number 24.


    Friends of The Earth say waste reduction is better than incineration. Zero Waste enthusiasts fully concur with this.

    Home composting, which WRAP has backed is a worthwhile activity especially where no food waste collection occurs. Surely that makes sense? I make useful compost from this process. Why carry it away 20 miles for AD?

    I back AD fully where no home composting is possible. Of course, it is the best option for the vast majority of foodwaste. I use a Bokashi, for meat/fish/fat/bone/cooked waste, again for compost and plant fertiliser.

    Incineration, along with landfill should be last choice not first choice.

  • Comment number 25.

    #21 - 'Whilst it is helpful that you cite these reports for everyone, what would be much more helpful for all is if you could provide a link or reference for them so that we could all read them for themselves.'

    I've tried posting the link before, but it wouldn't take it. I'll have another go.

    might work...

    BTW - this isn't the only report, but is a good overview. You're right about research - but I've done the first-principles calculations on this, and the findings of this report square up pretty well with the data that I have sourced elsewhere. You'll find that government will soon start amending the waste hierarchy to fit this emerging work - the agenda nowadays is about the carbon footprint of waste management options, not simply about how much you can recycle. Some of our current practices aren't anywhere near as optimised as they could be. For plastic, the best option is to recycle it . For paper and card, the jury is out over whether or not recycling or optimised energy recovery are better - for good quality paper and card, I suspect that recycling is better, and for poor quality, recovery is better.

    [BTW - I do not disagree that the capturing of 'clean-stream' plastic for recycling is the hard part here - but if we can sort this out, we have a reasonably sustainable material here. Look at the energy balances - have a Google for energy cost of manufacture of plastic vs energy cost of recycling - three orders of magnitude difference.]

  • Comment number 26.

    #24 - 'Friends of The Earth say waste reduction is better than incineration. Zero Waste enthusiasts fully concur with this.'

    No-one involved with the waste industry would disagree with this. However, you will never get to true Zero Waste, as there will always be a residual requiring some form of treatment. The nature of that treatment is the subject of the debate at hand. What you perceive as Zero Waste isn't - it's merely Zero Waste to landfill as a result of your direct activities. You have no idea of or control over waste arising as a result of your purchasing choices - if you choose a paper bag over a plastic one, for example - do you know how much waste was produced in the production of that item? I would put it to you that you don't - there is no shame in this, as most people don't - these costs are generally well hidden.

    In relation to your point about home composting, the energy generated as a result of AD outweighs the burdens of collection, which is why it outperforms home composting. Do the maths - your average collection route will take in a couple of thousand households, each producing 4-5kg of food waste a week. Assuming 70% capture, that's about 5.6-7 tonnes from that collection route. 1 tonne of food waste will give you biogas with an energy equivalent of around 50-60 litres of DERV. Unless you are using more than about 300 litres of DERV to collect that material on that round, you're in credit. [The real lifecycle assessment is way more complicated than this, and looks at utilisation of AD residues to avoid burdens of synthetic fertiliser use in agriculture, the burdens of building the treatment infrastructure etc - all inputs and outputs would be assessed.]

  • Comment number 27.

    #13 aspidermonkey:

    (a) work full-time

    I will start by saying that I do not go out of the home to work full time (unless you count home educating a child, being a housewife and mother and running a house full time ;) so you can discount my thoughts on this if you wish.

    I find that recycling more and changing my shopping habits does not take much more of my time. It did when I first started, but how long does it take to rinse a can and put it into a container rather than throw it in a bin - 30 seconds?
    How long does it take to crush a plastic bottle and put the lid back on - 5 seconds, perhaps
    And how long does it take to put a newspaper in the papers collection rather than the bin - well, as long as it takes me to walk there.

    The important thing i found was to set up a home recycling area that worked for us. Make it as easy as you can for yourself - a container for compost scraps where you prepare your veggies, a paper recycling tray next to your computer or in the lounge where you read your daily papers, tins and glass storage in the corner of the kitchen or buy the back door. Do whatever it takes to make your system efficient for YOU.

    With food shopping, it's good to plan your meals by looking at what you already have in. If you have meat that has just a day left on it, then buy some fresh veggies to go with it, but no more meat. If you have sad looking veg, then make some soup and buy some fresh bread - but no more onions and carrots.
    If you have wilting fruit then make a smoothie or fruit pie and buy less next week.
    plan this weeks meals around last weeks leftovers.

    Making a list and sticking to it saves you time wandering aimlessly around the store, saves you money because you are focused on what you need and saves waste because you know what you need.

    Taking reusable bags to the shop takes no longer than taking a free carrier bag or a plastic produce bag, it just requires prior thought.
    Onya bags and the onya weigh can be a solution to this ;)

    (b) do not earn much money, (my attempts to be green stretch my wallet, but luckily the 'reduce' aspects means that i probably don't buy and waste as much)

    Our efforts have not cost us hugely in terms of money. All of our recycling receptacles are old boxes we had in the house. I've bought three shopping bags, but you can make your own if you're handy with a needle and thread.
    Making yogurt, bread, cakes and 'convenience meals' can save you money. Signing up for a box scheme is cheaper than buying from a supermarket (as RIverford organics announced in the news this week), buying meat from a local butcher ensures better quality meat that does not go off..........
    Viewing leftovers as ingredients saves a third of your food bill, if WRAP's figures are anything to go by.

    Visits to the recycling centre are incorporated with other errands so that they do not 'cost' in fuel.

    (c) work at the lower-rungs in a 'non-eco' workplace... how can we see our efforts at home filter into our work? For example, in the past my suggestions for phasing out styrofoam water cups have been laughed off by peers and deemed economically unfeasible by management.

    Just do it anyway! Once upon a time we were laughed at for recycling tins and cans - it was a 'fringe hippy' thing to do. Now a lot of us do it. Likewise the shopping bags idea - once upon a time shopping trolleys came in brown PVC or tartan and were for Grandma's only; now they are refered to as 'Trolley Dolly's' and come in a wide range of funky prints.

    Lead by example and just explain your choices if asked. You don't have to change the world, just your own life if you choose to.

    (d) live in urban (rented) dwellings: no garden, no animals, no culture/system of recycling in apartment blocks, not even a suitable space for a worm-farm!

    You can still grow things without a garden - sprouted seeds and herbs in the kitchen windowsill, tomaotes in a hanging basket and salad leaves in a window box for example.

    You could try a bokashi system, but will need a friend or relative with a compost bin to donate your fermented goods. An avid gardener would bite your hand off for such treasures.

  • Comment number 28.


    You deal with the scientific statistics which is important. Does this help the drive towards Zero Waste? I think not. Telling people what they can do in practical realistic terms is more relevant than splitting hairs about every minute detail.

    Home composting is a real and growing phenomenon and should be fully supported. Comparing it to AD which is minimal at present has no value. It just clouds the issue. They both are useful practices.

    You compare paper to plastic. Paper can be recycled or composted. Most plastic is landfill waste just now. I choose paper.

    You are not dealing with the scientific community but with the public. Therefore, you must explain your stance in layman's terms, as I have done.

  • Comment number 29.

    Hello all,

    Thanks for some practical tips about reducing waste. I think I manage to follow most of these suggestions, and will be scrutinising my consumer and waste habits more now that I've decided to keep and stock-take all my household waste for a month.

    Chris - I was wondering if during your month of no plastic you were planning on having any friends over for dinner? Last night a few friends joined us for a barbeque and with the meat, drinks, bread etc they kindly brought over to share, the amount of plastic in our bin tripled in one hit.

    It's a tricky balance: to be waste-wise but not anti-social...! The answer I assume is try to get your friends on board. Not that easy as it challenges people's supposed 'right' to lifestyle choices and convenience! A friendly barbeque invite with conditions about what was allowed to be brought...? ergh... awkward social situation!

    and #26, the originalmrsgreen: certainly, being an educator, housewife, mum IS fulltime work! I commend your green efforts, and hope they inspire others as they have me.

  • Comment number 30.

    #28 - on the contrary - you need to understand the reasons underlying the direction of travel in order to make sure that you are doing the right thing. Telling people what they can do in realistic terms needs to equate with making sure they adopt the best environmental option. Otherwise we'll get the same results the Irish got when they put a tax on plastic bags - the use of plastic bags went down 90%, but the use of binliners went up by over 300%. End result? More use of plastic. You have to do these things in the right way.

    Have a google for the Association of Plastics Manufacturers Europe if you want info on the positive benefits of using plastic [and no, I have nothing whatsoever to do with this body or the plastics industry - I'm just offering it up as information for you.]

    Paper can be recycled or composted. The whole life impacts of doing either are usually greater than the whole life impacts of using an equivalent plastic product for the same duty - it takes more energy to recycle paper, and not much less to produce it. [If you'd ever been round a paper mill, you'd see what I mean. One of the closest ones to where I live closed a couple of years ago citing rising energy costs. It's a hugely energy intensive process.]

    It also has a finite number of uses, as fibre length degrades each time it is recycled.

  • Comment number 31.


    As the Friends of The Earth indicate waste reduction is preferable to incineration. This is a statement which backs my attitude towards Zero Waste.

    Plastic packaging waste is a big part of this waste. Therefore, I choose to avoid its use, using Zero Packaging, and inform others when I can.

    I will have no dealing with the Plastics Industry until they take full responsibility for the results of their processes.

    What do you do to reduce your waste?

  • Comment number 32.

    #31 - Where have I said anything other than reduction is preferable to incineration? This is axiomatic. I know it, you know it and FoE know it. No-one is in disagreement here. [EfW is used when dealing with the non-recyclable residual. It is hoped that we can reduce this residual to as small a size as possible, and hence minimise the use of EfW.]

    However, it is the manner by which this reduction is achieved which is pertinent. If you think that, for example, using paper and card products in place of plastic and then composting them after their use that you are somehow achieving 'Zero waste' and 'zero impact', then I put it to you that you are mistaken.

    Your zero waste aspirations appear to be simply to reduce what you send to landfill to zero. While this is laudable, it misses the bigger picture - it's not just about what you produce, it's about what you avoid producing. Using product A because you can compost it when you have finished with it instead of product B which is plastic (and which is recycled) might just mean that the 'greener' product that you are so proudly using isn't actually any greener at all.

    The way around this? Lifecycle assessment. Much of which throws up counterintuitive results.

    Your statement 'I will have no dealing with the Plastics Industry until they take full responsibility for the results of their processes' shows that you are demonising one particular industry above all others - when in fact it is neither the best nor the worst of the industries out there.

    What am I doing to reduce my waste? I've been worrying about these issues for over 20 years and have been looking at what I purchase and how it is recovered very carefully as a result. This is why, for example, I am part of a local group leading on the provision of more allotments where I live, as the carbon emission from food primarily comes from its production, cooking and disposal of waste rather than its packaging. Produce it locally in a sustainable way and cook it in the most energy efficient manner and your savings are much bigger than if you simply concentrate on the packaging and avoid worrying where it comes from or how you cook it. It's all part of the bigger picture, and as you get into this more you'll start to see this too.

  • Comment number 33.


    You are Adrian Jones , financial director of NES waste management services. I see that composting is part of your organisation.
    That is a good thing.

    I earn no money from this. My interest is home waste reduction. To achieve this I avoid plastic packaging waste. This was the last component of my bin waste. It has now gone. Instead of this plastic waste I choose ZeroWastePackaging, ie I take food purchases unpackaged. Your comments in favour of plastic has no bearing on my activities at all. If I do not use packaging what need have I of plastic packaging waste?

    I agree food waste is a big issue, as well. I compost my food waste using compost bin, Bokashi. Council collections of food waste are essential for bin waste reduction. Your waste company is positioned to use this waste.

  • Comment number 34.

    To johnhcrf: why is it that you are so keen in disliking plastic? As has been mentioned to you, plastic is not evil, and when properly recycled and reused it will not end up in landfill. The same applies to aluminum, glass, paper. Is it not better to have a system for the entire community, global sustainability, where everyone has access to the benefits of reducing?

    So we have established the problem is with our current ability to recycle the item. I think the experiment offers insight on our modern lives, but our dependencies, not necessarily to label plastic with a scarlet P.

    As for "theoriginalmrsgreen": You do have a full time job, but I would like to know how you would manage if you had to be out of your house by 7 am to be at work at 8 am, pack your lunch for the entire day, manage to attend meetings in your workplace and with clients in their offices, leave at 6 pm, go to the gym, pick up the kids from in-between activities, shop and keep your apartament clean and keeping it all within a budget. Please do not understand me wrong. I think the problem lies in our lifestyles and plastics 'have made it possible'. However, I think the trick is not to labell it/ban it/not use it, but to be consicous about waste production as a society.

  • Comment number 35.

    Oh I can't resist .... #7 bazza_12: There is no evidence that being a vegetarian or vegan has any correlation with being healthier. Of course I am aware of numerous research that suggests this, however they are drawn from 'sample' groups who were not healthy carnivores in the first place, people who consumed far too few veggies, natural foods, and ate cheap fetty meats. If you take a healthy carnivore and compare him/her to a healthy vegan there will not be a correlation.

    That aside, how does being a vegan reduce plastic waste?

  • Comment number 36.


    Plastic packaging waste was the last large component of my bin waste, Food waste and recyclables had previously disappeared from the bin, forever. The plastic was similarly sent into oblivion, forever. That is the reason for my dislike of plastic.

    Sustainable plastic is a different story. When it is fully established, in place of the landfill bound plastic packaging waste, I will back it 100%, not before.

  • Comment number 37.

    #36: but what about the by-products of everything that you buy (paper for example), which ends up in landfill? It is okay as long as it is not plastic? How about the veggies that have been wasted in order to provide you with no plastic-packaging? And what do you do during winter? How do you wrap your presents? (tape and lace). Paper in general is not environmentally friendly. How do you buy aspirin?

    One indiscreete question: How would companies sell condoms?

  • Comment number 38.


    I choose not to use plastic packaging, as it is part of a non-sustainable chain of waste.

    I do my bit as a Zero Waste enthusiast. Helping to reduce the landfill impact of plastic waste.

    Food waste is an important issue as well but should not be used by apologists of plastic waste to hide the problem of plastic packaging waste.

    It is impossible to completely avoid this waste. Reduction to minimal amounts is acceptable.

    The plastic packaging lobby is strong but Zero Waste is a worldwide phenomenon.
    Which will prevail? I choose the latter.

  • Comment number 39.

    #34 hydroscooby.

    We all have our difference challenges to deal with. I could make a guess at 'how I would manage' if I had to live your lifestyle, but that would only be a guess, so it would be worthless information.

    All I can do is answer the original poster with how *I* manage things in my day to day life. It seems that some of my ideas wre inspirational for them, which is great.

    Job done!

    I throw ideas out into the public arena with the knowledge that some will be useful to people, and others not. And that's ok. I'm not here to justify my choices or make others change their mind, to criticise or judge. I'm just here to offer information if I think it might help someone.

    I cannot personally see a challenge with having to pack lunch for the day; I certainly used to have a lifestyle like the one you indicate in your post. I managed a zero waste lunch most days, and managed to clean my home with minimal waste.

    zero waste? No, but minimal, yes.

    I agree with you that a consciousness of our waste production is the first step. Plastics may well have 'made it possible' for us to achieve a manic lifestyle; but I wonder what the long term implications of this will be...............

  • Comment number 40.

    It sounds like no plastic is acceptable to you, except for that Bokashi bin you use. You have a lot of good points, but unfortunately you are unwilling to accept that society cannot as a whole boycott plastic. It is not being 'plastic apologist'. If you go to a hospital, would you refuse treatment because it will most likely contain plastic? (you are not allowed to recycle it) To target the spread of diseases, it is advertised to use protection, which does come sterilized in plastic wrapper. When you go to the doctor, treat your teeth, get a new computer, use a credit card, take medicine, it is all Plastic waste produced by our society at large. By acknowledging this, we can push for better recycling facilities, and recycling schemes in our areas, using our tax money and benefiting everyone.

  • Comment number 41.

    #33 - I think you have the wrong person here. I've never even heard of this organisation to who you refer. I do not work for a waste management company either. I'm an environmental scientist working for an organisation completely unconnected to this company that you have just googled for. (My views are my own and not my employers in any event.) Anyway, if I did manage a company which provided composting solutions, do you think I'd be on here arguing for AD instead? Think this one through!

  • Comment number 42.


    AD is one NES's priorities.

    I apologise for the mistaken identity but the profile suited your outlook and I do not mean to offend in saying that.

    You are a man of experience. I ask you to allow others to follow their own trends. They may not exactly conform to your ideas but they have value nevertheless.

  • Comment number 43.

    This blog is really interesting, especially the ongoing Adejones-johnhcrf debate. Correct me if I'm wrong but you're basically saying:

    1 - Reduce Accumulation
    Maybe it's better to think of accumulation rather than waste? i.e. take the container to the butcher's instead of accepting the plastic/paper wrapping? Or take a reusable shopping bag to the supermarket.

    2 - Dispose of what's left as sensibly as possible
    And this is where the plastic/compost agrument seems at loggerheads. It certainly isn't an issue where I live, where they have just inaugerated a kerbside collection scheme. Yes, it's 2008 and they have just started collecting a limited range of recyclable material (not plastic, nor food, nor green waste - we have to travel to get rid of those). So for us it's compost or landfill.

  • Comment number 44.

    # 39: theoriginalmrsgreen

    I wasn't trying to judge, I do in fact employ all of your suggestions on a daily basis. I pack my lunches, I keep my house clean and manage to recycle thanks to the recycle facilities in my area. I get to choose between brown (compost), blue (clean paper), yellow (plastic, milk cartons..) and black (absolute waste). Even when I throw something in the black bin, I use a 100% degradable bag. My building gets charged per/bin. Once a week each colour is collected. We have one of each, for all 6 apartments. As far as water bottles, I can recycle them at the store, and i get money back for this. The other advantage is that I have to compete with 4 families in the building, so it is a collective efford from everybody to separate and re-use so we don't run the risk of having a full bin 5 days before the next pick up. (they fine for outside bags). :)

  • Comment number 45.


    Good points. I like the bit where you say compost or landfill. AJ bangs on about AD (anaerobic digestion) but it is only available in a few areas. Composting is here and expanding. The last thing we need is negative comments to put people off.

    What's your opinion Steve?

  • Comment number 46.


    My opinion would be to definitely compost where AD is not available. Where it is available it's more complicted. I studied science and know that sometimes things that seem counterintuitive can in fact be true, so I can accept that AD might be (energy-wise) more efficient than composting (I'd like to peruse the figures though). What that's saying is you get more energy from the waste than you use to collect it. Not that it's necessarily better for the environment.

    Does a good aeriated compost create more or less greenhouse gases than collecting compostable material, transporting it and burning the methane? That seems to be the question (I don't know the answer).

    (Include into this the fact that you get some soil from compost which you don't have to go and purchase).

    I like the way this blog has raised all of these issues. I've certainly learnt a lot, especially about apples in supermarkets (they look invitingly clean of plastic but who knows how they got there?)

  • Comment number 47.


    The main bone of contention is plastic. I removed plastic packaging waste from bin waste after recyclables and food waste.
    I now take produce without packaging to avoid further plastic waste. AJ takes exception to this arguing that plastic is better than paper, if the plastic is recycled.
    However the current chain of waste produces masses of plastic packaging waste. I cannot see any defence for this waste. AJ thinks otherwise.

    What's your view on that?

  • Comment number 48.

    #45 - AD will be widespread within the next 5 years. It is already in wider use in Europe than IVC - I have a list of over 200 different AD plants in Western Europe, for example. Given the carbon benefit and tax breaks for AD vs IVC, I can't see that IVC of mixed food wastes has that long-term a future - there is interest in developing composting, but a lot more interest in AD. I do, however, advocate the use of windrow composting for green wastes, as it's the best option after home composting for this waste stream.

  • Comment number 49.


    Windrow composting is news to me.
    It seems a good process.

    AD will be a great thing here when all councils have access to it. Food waste can then be removed from landfill permanently.

  • Comment number 50.

    # 47

  • Comment number 51.

    # 47

    I had a look at the report AdeJones cited (Carbon Balances and Energy Impacts of the Management of UK Wastes - Defra December 2006). It was interesting but long (300 pages).

    It did not compare home composting against anaerobic combustion.

    It compared energy recovery against collected composting.

    Energy recovery included:
    - Anaerobic digestion of kitchen waste/manure/green waste/etc
    - Combustion of crops/dried sewage sludge/etc.

    Composting included collection of all green waste (including agricultural)

    It found that with all these factors:
    - Composting is better than what we do now
    - Energy recovery is better than composting

    It also found that home composting results in lower greenhouse gas emissions (approximately 50%) than collected compost, but was very vague about details.

    It also found that the figures relating to composting are very transport sensitive.

    It did not try to quantify in Carbon terms the additional benefits of composting (soil structure/fertiliser/etc.)

    In other words: home composting vs anaerobic digestion? Nobody knows.

    A quick Google search shows that Southampton University might be going to answer the question. Look at

  • Comment number 52.


    Thanks for the details. Surely both home composting and anaerobic digestion are useful processes.

    I wont stop home composting for anything because it allows me to raise my beds for growing Veg/Fruit. Growing your own is a good way to reduce purchases, however small the saving.

    Clear messages are important for public information. Arguments over minutiae do not help clarity.

  • Comment number 53.

    #51 - that report is just part of the evidence though. It helps to set a hierarchy of treatment options, but isn't the only evidence out there.

    For example, you state 'It did not try to quantify in Carbon terms the additional benefits of composting (soil structure/fertiliser/etc.)'

    It doesn't need to, because you get these with AD as well - the main outputs of AD aren't biogas - they are liquid digestate and solid digestates. The solid digestate is a compost-like output, and the liquid digestate is a nutrient. All this with a positive energy balance rather than the negative energy balance you get from in-vessel composting - after all, this uses some pretty hefty fans in a conventional IVC to push air through a resistant mass of food waste in order to render it aerobic.

    In comparing like with like, the carbon balances are about 250kg of CO2 per tonne saved for every tonne of food waste through AD [this is a carbon negative technology], IVC breaks even, and landfill gives you about a tonne of CO2 per tonne of food waste landfilled. So the discrepancy between best case [AD] and worst case [landfill] is about 1.25 tonnes per tonne treated.

    Home composting fits somewhere in between IVC and AD, in that you use no energy, but your carbon benefits are modest too as you don't offset any fossil fuels. As long as your collection effort is outweighed by your biogas production in AD, it will come out ahead in most cases. Where home composting is favoured is for green wastes - these should be treated at source. In practice, we'll be using AD and home composting in future, as we'll need to do both.

  • Comment number 54.

    #51 - I knew that Southampton were doing this work - it's all part of the growing evidence base - other leaders in this field in the UK are Glamorgan (who run the Assembly Govt sponsored Centre of Excellence in AD), Cranfield (have worked with WRAP on developing an AD protocol for use of the digestates) and Leeds (long history in composting and AD as part of their Tropical and Public Health Labs work.)

    The work at Glamorgan is particularly interesting, as they published back in 2007 the most definitive study of AD yet produced anywhere in the world - it's 700 pages of case studies on the technology - and they have a large research staff working on novel aspects of AD (for example, you can tweak the technology to produce bio-hydrogen, which opens up all sorts of future possibilities for clean energy). In practice, all of these institutions work closely together - the UK has some of the world leaders in these universities.

  • Comment number 55.


    That seems a fairer assessment. My cooked/uncooked food waste currently goes into a Bokashi bin, but AD may be a better use for this mainly animal waste, though the Bokashi does provide liquid nutrient as well as compost.

  • Comment number 56.

    Here in New Zealand most butchers seem to still use paper to wrap meat. There may sometimes be a thin plastic-coated piece used around the meat itself, but compostable brown paper other than that. Same goes for most products bought from delis. Can't see why those in the UK couldn't do the same really!

  • Comment number 57.


    Why use paper or anything else. If you use containers for meat/fish etc there is Zero packaging and Zero Waste.

  • Comment number 58.


    I'd be interested to hear your views on the environmental benefits of autoclaving mixed, black bag waste. This is a new technology being developed in some parts of the country.

  • Comment number 59.

    #58 - Autoclaving has its place - it's a good technology for enhancing recycling of the residual stream, as it sterilises black bag waste and produces a cleaned recyclable stream (glass / metal / some plastic), and a refuse-derived fuel.

    Looking at the lifecycle assessment and cost arguments only, it is arguable that the extra processing involved here makes the technology less viable than straight mass-burn EfW or certain advanced thermal treatment technologies which can take black bag waste without treatment - however, it does enhance recovery, thus reducing the true residual - and it delivers the residual as a Refuse Derived Fuel suitable for use in advanced thermal treatment plant (such as gasifiers / pyrolysis units), thus providing an inherently more flexible solution.

    However, you have to bear in mind that you still face the same arguments in relation to the fibre as you do to the black bag waste - namely 'what do we do with this residual'? I mentioned refuse derived fuel above, as this is the basic choice that you have to make in relation to this fibre - do you burn it or bury it? [There are companies who claim to be able to turn it into a product, but I remain to be convinced here - would you buy fibreboard made from black bag waste? Lot of marketing to do here! There are also those who advocate using it as a soil additive - again I need to be convinced, as the operation of the autoclave does not prevent possible contamination of the fibre with whatever else is in the black bag waste. Hence the 'burn or bury?' choice to make in relation to the fibre.]

  • Comment number 60.


    Incineration is a controversial subject. the public are against it. Politicians dare not speak about. Waste industry types are pushing it as it is a cheap alternative to recycling.

    Friends of The Earth and Green Peace are worried about its misuse, among other things.

    We should discuss this issue fully, without blinding the public with scientific jargon.

    You mention fibre. What is the content of this material? Is it just a black binbag and contents?

  • Comment number 61.

    #25, #53, #54

    Thanks for the info.

    By the way I also had difficulty writing a post with a web link. The reason was that the post contained an ampersand character (&), which is a special character in HTML. Many web links have ampersands in them also.

    Might be useful for those infuriated by the BBC message board not accepting otherwise innocent-looking posts.

  • Comment number 62.



    It is important to discuss incineration fully for public information. Avoiding answers can only give a bad impression. Speak without jargon to help the debate.

  • Comment number 63.

    #16 - AdeJones

    I'm just re-reading this thread (for interest's sake more than anything).

    One question: can't they just pump the methane from AD back into the gas supply rather than use it for electricity?

  • Comment number 64.

    #63 - you can, but...

    In order to get the biogas into the supply, you have to clean it up first, and get it to the right calorific value. This means removing the CO2, any trace contaminants (ie. sulphur) and then possibly enriching it to get its CV up by a small amount. The gas grid regulators have exacting standards on the quality of gas.

    The problem with this is that the CO2 removal equipment is not really commercially available at the scale of production from your average AD plant. So you either buy something oversized for the job, or look to build a very large AD plant to produce enough gas. Which then means sourcing a lot of material to feed it. Which might work in a very large urban area, but for a scalable dispersed technology like this isn't really viable elsewhere.

    The other problem is that the Renewables Obligation Credits favour the use of electricity generation options, and the revenue from electricity generation (at c. £50/MW plus about £90/MW worth of ROC's - this equates to the theoretical return from about 3 tonnes of food waste) is much greater than the revenue from the biogas in the system (gas has about 1/3 the value of electricity.)

    A promising third option is the use of biogas as a transport fuel. There is something known as the Road Transport Fuel Obligation here which will assist development of this area. Try for further info on this option (this company do a lot of work in this area - there are other companies out there doing likewise.)


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