11 May 2012

What's In The Bin?

Were you aware it is National Compost Awareness Week?

It ends tomorrow, so don’t worry you can return to blissful unawareness next week.

For me however this is eerily fortuitous since now there is a patch of bare earth at the back of Garden 65 there is room for a compost bin. I had a shuffle round the internet on the subject of composting which led organically (geddit?) on to looking more closely at the food we throw out.

There is an organisation supported by Defra called ‘Wrap’ which is involved with researching and educating people on reducing waste and ‘minimising resource use’. They are interested in the whole spectrum of recycling from plastic bottles to textiles, and speak to industry as well as the general public. I am impressed with the thoroughness they take the issue.

We are used to politicians, assorted eco-people, and self-righteous friends preaching about saving the planet by reducing our carbon footprint, not putting old clothes in the bin, and well ... composting, but these messages come heavy with an emotive and moral undertone – or so it seems to me. The implication is that ‘good’ people recycle and that is the only reason you need to do these actions. I consider myself a generally ‘good’ person; I care very much for unspoilt nature, and the fact there are ever decreasing resources for an ever increasing population. So I comply with the recycle message and diligently put milk cartons in the blue bin and milk bottles in the brown bin (think that’s the right way round). How much of the motive for my good deeds, then, is really the human need to feel as if I am doing the right thing; that I’m on the winning side? It is primarily, I have to admit, an emotional decision barely based on any firm scientific facts. And I would suggest many people, of varied political persuasions, are doing just the same.

Which brings me back to compost awareness week, and Wrap. Amongst the research they have done is a fascinating (no, really!) 95 page report on ‘Household Food and Drink Waste’ which reveals the type of food we throw away, why we do, and by what route (1.8 million tonnes is chucked down the sink). I’m a good girl so I scrape peelings and leftovers into the neat kitchen top bin that then goes in the green bin that then gets emptied into the big lorry that then ... I don’t know what happens next but I trust the council do something wise with it. But what about the beginning of that cycle – what about the food waste itself? Without a twinge of regret or guilt unwanted food gets thrown away.

Reading this report made me think about the food wasted in Kitchen 65. According to the report over 60% of food and drink waste is avoidable. By this they mean that which is no longer wanted or has been allowed to go past its best, but was once edible. Non avoidable, always inedible, food takes up less than 20% of the total weight thrown. Just for the fun and geekiness of it I took a snap shot of the food in the little bin on the kitchen top to see if these figures were reflected in my world.


End of lettuce
Banana skin
Carrot peelings
Tea bags
End of cucumber
Bread crusts
End of loaf
Tomato stalk
Coffee grounds

This weighed 526g in all. Half a kilo even before the main evening meal had appeared!

The unavoidable items were the banana skin, tea bags, tomato stalk and coffee grounds. These added up to 240g. I’m no mathematician but that’s about 50% unavoidable, or half avoidable – roughly the national average. I suppose you could make bread and butter pudding with the end of the loaf and the crusts, but I’m not sure what creative thing you could do with the pointy bit of a cucumber (one of those healthy green smoothies?).

Obviously this is just a bit of fun and not properly representative, but it was an interesting exercise to look closely at my actions as I live this privileged Western life.

Like the majority of people I don’t know for certain how I could help ‘save the planet’. What are the numbers? Where are the undisputed facts? As a normal invisible suburban person all I want to do is tread lightly on this earth (as the Buddhists advice). That is enough motivation for me.

As for the compost bin ... seems bit of a faff.