Would you separate your food waste?

A number of local councils have apparently been trialling separate food waste collections and these are being heralded as a success.  

According to the BBC’s website the 19 councils had around a 70% uptake of the scheme which diverted over 4000 tonnes of food waste from landfill (although they don’t say where to).

I recently filled in a questionnaire on the local council’s website which included a question about food waste collection.  I have mixed feelings about this, I already have a wormery which takes care of my food waste, so do not want another bin for this.  The council used to take some food waste (vegetable peelings and teabags in the main) in the compost bins, but they stopped this shortly after bringing in the bins for the compostable waste.  More than anything though, we have dramatically reduced our food waste by only buying what we are likely to eat (and have therefore reduced our weekly bills by about one third over the last 5 years) so don’t have much waste.  

Maybe, by seeing how much food they are wasting, then some people will reduce the amount they throw away.  According to WRAP 6.7 million tonnes, or, more topically at the moment, £10 billion of food are thrown away in the UK each year.  However, if people’s wallets are not reducing this food wastage, I am not sure that being confronted by the waste will have the desired effect.  What do you think?

Food Shopping Conundrum.

Our latest shopping trip to the venerable Waitrose brought more conundrums today.  We always try to buy as ethically as we can.  We look for locally produced, free range, organic products (some or all) with as little packaging as possible.

Dilemma number one – Waitrose had run out of 4 pint bottles of organic milk, do I buy 4 pints of ordinary milk (ethically not too bad, they are working in partnership with the Wildlife Trusts) or do I spend a lot more and buy 2 x 2 pints of organic milk with more packaging, but less harm to the environment.  I went for the organic milk, but this is mainly because it tastes better than the non-organic variety.

Dilemma number two – sausages.  We rarely buy any meat, but every now and again buy a packet of sausages, happy in the knowledge that we are buying free range outdoor reared pig.  However, listening to a recent Wiggly Wigglers podcast which reported from the Preston on Wye piggy day, all is not as simple as one would presume.  When I think of free range I assume the pigs will be wandering about a field, wallowing in mud (their way to keep cool as they have no sweat glands and to stop getting sunburnt).  But, no, they may still be penned, and apparently definitions vary, outdoor born pigs may still be classified as free range even if they are fattened indoors, the same goes for outdoor reared.  The RSPCA Freedom Food label guarantees even less; just access to light, freedom to turn round and access to clean drinking water.  Nothing about the outside, nothing about wallowing, they can be raised on an easy to clean concrete floor indoors or out.  For more information about this please see emmaspigs.co.uk.

Other Wildlife News

I saw a couple of interesting articles on the internet this morning that are almost related to each other.

As part of a scheme to repopulate Scotland with some of its native fauna (following on from the reintroduction of beavers) a number of White Tailed Sea Eagle chicks have been released in the last few years in the east of Scotland.  These are chicks that have been brought over from Norway and kept in aviaries in the Fife area prior to being released.  The next batch of chicks is going to be tagged in order to check their progress and look at their movements. More information about this bird can be found in the article on the RSPB website.

At the other end of the scale British Waterways has released a list of the twelve non-native species most likely to harm our native river dwelling wildlife.  Not surprisingly the list includes the much publicised mink and Signal Crayfish, but also Red-Eared Terrapin (apparently released following the ninja turtles craze), a number of plants such as Japanese Knotweed and Zebra Mussels, the latter already causing problems in the rivers and lakes of, amongst others, Spain and Canada.  The problem common with most of these invaders is that they tend to grow bigger, faster and are more aggressive than our peaceful native species.


According to a small article in the Times yesterday (13th August 2008) the dolphin friendly labelling on tins of tuna has been a huge success.  However, there is a concern that the fishing methods that are used are still harmful to other marine creatures such as turtles.  Additionally, tuna are also under threat as the methods employed catch large numbers of immature tuna, this bycatch annually killing approximately 100 000 tonnes of fish unnecessarily (this equates to about 10 per cent of everything caught).  Campaigners are now calling for improved labelling which will also take into account the effect that the fishing methods has on all marine life.

Interesting Articles

Just a quick note to point out a couple of interesting articles that I saw in the Times newspaper today (12th August).

First of all the good news is that the ban on whaling has resulted from humpback whales being removed from the at risk list and are now catergorised as being on the lowest level on the endangered scale.  In the last 15 years numbers have increased from 17,600 to 40,000.  However, there are other residents of our oceans who are still endangered, including various species of whale and porpoise.

On a different note, my beloved has become vindicated.  Some time ago he predicted that it would not be long before we were mining landfill.  Apparently many waste consultants are now saying that the increasing cost of plastics is bringing this closer to being a reality.  It is already happening in the US, and it is thought that the landfills in the UK many of which have been in use for up to thirty years could yield up to 200 million tonnes of plastics.  However, this may be delayed until 2020 as the methane emitted from the decomposition of decaying waste is syphoned off as an alternative energy source.

Environmentally Friendly Packaging.

The Economist recently had an interesting article on their website about eco-friendly packaging of wine.  The added weight of a glass wine bottle compared with a plastic bottle (a glass wine bottle is about eight times heavier) has prompted some wine producers to consider the use of plastic or tetra-pak bottles.  This reduces the cost of transportation of both the empty and full containers; the heavier the load the greater the fuel usage.

The debate as to whether this will become widely acceptable and whether or not it is an environmentally better form of packaging centres around a number of issues in addition to the cost of fuel for transportation:

  • the association of boxed wine with lower quality
  • the use of oil to produce plastic bottles
  • the ‘aging’ of wine in tetra-pak or plastic and the increased permeability to oxygen when compared with glass
  • the recyclability of tetra-pak (there are a number of collection centres for recycling tetra-pak, but they are not normally collected with the household recycling; check out this website for your nearest recycling centre)
  • the energy consumed in the manufacture of glass bottles
I think that the deciding factor will be the difference in the association we make in our minds about the quality of the product that we pour from a sturdy glass bottle and that from plastic packaging; after all now that it is in a plastic bottle cola doesn’t appear to taste the same as it did when I was a child and had it as an occasional treat served in a glass bottle.   Would you buy wine in a plastic bottle?  For me, the jury is out.

More Rubbish News

There were more headline making facts coming from WRAP’s look at the rubbish we (that is a collective we as a nation, I am not accusing anyone, or admitting to any guilt myself) are throwing away.  A summary presented on the BBC news website includes the claim that we are throwing away 1.3 million unopened pots of yoghurt and yoghurt drink a day, which adds up to 484 million pots a year. Whilst I do admit that I have, on occasion, thrown away the occasional pot that has past its sell by date, this statistic means that each household throws away 22 pots a year, 2 a month. Not that many really, but who is throwing mine away? (I have now started buying the bigger pots and use the pot and its plastic lid as containers for soup and stock for the freezer and as miniature propagators for seeds.) This equates to nearly 10% of all yoghurt bought in the UK being thrown away without being opened.
WRAP commissioned a company to search through the rubbish of over 2000 households over a 5 week period and sort it into food and non-food and then record details of what was thrown away. This is part of the same work that discovered that we throw away 4 million apples a year (see my earlier post Interesting Articles). For those who think this is a problem with today’s throwaway generation, there was apparently no age differential between those who threw a lot of food away and those who were less wasteful. So, yes, you’ve guessed it, when you are in the supermarket, think about when you are going to eat those items that are making their way into your basket.

No culling?

As you may be aware, the government has finally made a decision with regard to the culling of badgers to prevent the spread of TB in cattle.  As far as I am concerned this is a good move mainly as there seems to be no scientific evidence to back up the belief that culling badgers will reduce the spread of TB in cattle.  Although it must be difficult for farmers faced with a heard infected with TB the numbers destroyed each year at about 12000 are tiny in comparison with the number of cows in the country which stands at several million.  However, the government should compensate farmers to a fair level and, just as importantly, in a timely manner.

What is more worrying is that some farmers are threatening to ignore this and start killing badgers on their land.  What would happen if we all found a law or ruling that we don’t like and decided to ignore it?  There have been a lot of reports in the media recently about poor payment to farmers from the major supermarkets which has helped to raise sympathy for farmers, but I am sure that the culling of badgers by farmers in spite of this ruling will negate all the recent improvements in the public image of our farmers. 

Have all the Ladybird’s been eaten?

Is is just me or is there a distinct lack of ladybirds about at the moment? I have looked around the garden, there are definitely aphids in the hazel and on the golden hop, which is the place I usually find lots of ladybirds or their larvae, but this year there are none. As many of you may know ladybirds are members of the beetle family, and are a true friend of the gardener, the adults and larvae both eat copious amounts of aphids as well as other pests such as mealy bugs.

I saw some earlier in the year, I dutifully recorded my sighting on the Nature’s Calendar website. I even took a picture of one of the little beetles a couple of months ago, but numbers seem to have dwindled since then. I did a quick google search, but cannot find any mention of a problem, only articles about the potential threat of the harlequin ladybird, but I haven’t seen any of those either. Ladybird on Garlic Mustard Flower

For anyone interested in these helpful little beetles there is a website with lots more information which also runs a yearly survey of ladybird populations. There are apparently 46 different species believed to be resident in the UK, of which 26 are the focus of the survey. As I mentioned earlier, there is a great deal of concern about the presence of the harlequin ladybird in this country which is known to predate our own ladybirds. There is also a website which is running a survey to track the movement of this invader through the country.

I am becoming more and more concerned about the lack of insect life around here. We went for a walk to the Country Park yesterday, but, although there were quite a few bright blue damselflies, there were virtually no butterflies or bees, very few insects of any type were visible.

I know that there is concern that we no longer have a viable population of native bees, but is there a problem with all of our insects?

Food Prices

I just caught the end of a program on Channel 4 about the cost of food, which included a poll to which apparently 55% of respondents thought that the government should intervene to reduce food prices. Do I come from another planet? As far as I can tell food prices have been incredibly low for far too long, which is why we, as a nation, are so fat and unhealthy, it shouldn’t be possible to sell some of the food for the prices in the supermarket.

They were also showing a family how they could make lots of different meals from food they would have thrown away. Therein lies one of the problems. Whilst we are busy bemoaning the rising cost of food, we are also busy filling our bins with perfectly good food that we have just changed our minds about and can’t be bothered to eat now.

I must be one of the few people who hasn’t seen a big rise in their food bills, I have just gone through the bills from the last few months, and, if anything it has gone down. I think there are a number of possible reasons for this. Firstly, we only buy what we need and rarely throw anything away, things that are getting close to their use by date, or in some cases, have gone past it, are used up thus dictating the choice of dinner. Secondly, we try to buy local or at least British or EU produced food wherever possible – thus the increased cost of transportation has less of an effect. Thirdly, we don’t eat a lot of meat, this is one of the most energy intensive forms of food, and by reducing our intake, not only are we helping the planet, but we are protecting ourselves against rising energy costs. We also do not buy ready made meals, and try to find food with the least amount of packaging – reducing the impact of rising oil prices. Finally, wherever possible, we eat organic and fair trade food. This means no reliance on increasingly expensive fertilisers and a slightly higher margin so increased costs are either absorbed, or do not represent such a high percentage of the final price.

So, the answer to the rising prices, as with all things, is to eat less and waste less, but I don’t think that this will happen until people start having less to spend on other things. Let’s face it, none of us are going to starve, unlike a lot people in other parts of the world.