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Recycling guru Karen Cannard shares top tips with Suffolk News team ahead of national Zero Waste Week




For some of us it’s clingfilm. Others struggle to kick their throwaway coffee cup habit. Or maybe we’re just a bit haphazard with our recycling.

We could all do more to waste less, and now is a good time to think about it because next week is national Zero Waste Week.

Everyone is invited to pledge to do something to cut the amount of things like food, recylables or single use plastics that find their way into our black bins.

Anti-waste expert Karen Cannard's own pledge is to buy more refills of things like pasta. Picture by Mark Westley.
Anti-waste expert Karen Cannard's own pledge is to buy more refills of things like pasta. Picture by Mark Westley.

So it’s also confession time for Suffolk News staff who have been thinking about their own pledges. Luckily we have the best possible advice on hand from our anti-waste columnist Karen Cannard.

Karen is a go-to expert for organisations including TV companies and has just been invited by the Cabinet Office to join the panel for an online event for civil servants during Zero Waste Week.

Editor Barry Peters admits to some very bad habits when it comes to coffee.

Editor Barry Peters confesses to a one-use coffee cup habit.
Editor Barry Peters confesses to a one-use coffee cup habit.

“Several years ago, Karen came into the office and did a quick check on our recycling habits and I confessed about poor recycling habits with the one-use coffee cups from the likes of Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero.

“Those habits are still with me. Luckily in lockdown I was unable to use the coffee shops so had to use coffee mugs and produced no waste.

“Since coffee shops have reopened, I regularly buy a drive-through or an in-shop coffee, drink at work and then it goes into landfill.

“I’ll pledge to either dust off my keep cup once more or at least recycle the elements of the packaging I can. Better still, I’ll drink in and use a washable coffee shop cup.”

Reporter Kirsty Barrott with the new office recycling bin
Reporter Kirsty Barrott with the new office recycling bin

Reporter Kirsty Barrott is helping everyone in the office do better by getting a separate bin for recycling.

“This bin will be for recyclable waste and our current bin can be used for non-recyclable materials. I’ll be encouraging members of staff to use the bins correctly.

“I will also be looking into how recyclable materials are collected by the council to see if there is anything else that we can do to reduce the amount of waste we create as an office.”

Meanwhile, reporter Camille Berriman says: “Glass recycling is hit and miss in my household.

“My husband and I rarely drink other than at Christmas and weddings, so our glass usage tends to be restricted to the occasional jam or pasta sauce jar.

I went totally cold turkey on kitchen roll and switched to cleaning cloths - Karen Cannard

“When we are done with these we diligently wash them and leave them on the worktop, ready to take to the bottle bank. However, several weeks later, with the jars gathering dust, I tend to sneak them into the black bin (feeling ever so naughty as I do so).

“This Zero Waste Week I pledge to ensure my empty jars actually make it to the bottle bank rather than gathering dust (and I’ll definitely ensure they don’t roll around in my car’s boot for weeks, as has also been known to happen).”

Meanwhile, with me, the chief culprit is clingfilm. Oh, and kitchen towel. Probably also buying too many shoes but let’s gloss over that one.

Karen points out a good alternative to clingfilm – beeswax coated cotton wraps that work just as well and can be washed and reused many times.

Her family also used to get through endless kitchen rolls. She had a drastic solution. With me it will possibly be more baby steps.

Beeswax cotton wraps are a good substitute for clingfilm. Picture by Mark Westley.
Beeswax cotton wraps are a good substitute for clingfilm. Picture by Mark Westley.

“I went totally cold turkey on kitchen roll and switched to cleaning cloths,” she said. “It was a few years before we bought another one and that was for a camping trip. It was an absolute eye opener on costs.”

Karen began her Rubbish Diet blog in 2008 when she took up St Edmundsbury Council’s anti-waste challenge to local residents. Although she doesn’t write it any more, it is still online.

“The first thing I realised when I started thinking about rubbish was when you are in a household of more than one person, do you really know what goes into your bin? No. Other people are also throwing things away,” she says.

“For me it was a process of elimination, looking at the top five things that were filling our bins. There were wipes, paper towel, clingfilm, and also food waste.

“That was a real big one for us ... food I had cooked too much of, food that had gone past its use by date.

“My priority was to find solutions to have less food waste – to buy less of the food that was being wasted, and to cook smaller quantities.

No matter what your lifestyle is like, you can still make a difference - Karen Cannard

“I reduced the amount of pasta or rice I cooked, and let the children help themselves rather than dishing up everything onto their plates.

“When something is left in a serving bowl you can put it in the fridge for another day,” said Karen who is married to Adrian, and whose sons Joseph and Thomas are now in their late teens.

“I’m not saying we have no waste at all now, but it’s much better controlled. And we have a wormery which is great.”

National Zero Waste Week – now in its 14th year – was started by Rachelle Strauss, who began thinking of ways to combat climate change after witnessing the flash flood that overwhelmed the Cornish village of Boscastle in 2004.

“For the 2021 campaign, we’re crowdsourcing the content so that we all inspire each other to take action with the theme ‘Zero Waste Voices’,” says Rachelle. “It’s always good to know you are not alone. And other people’s stories can inspire and motivate you.”

Karen believes the week of action has the power to inspire a long-term change. “It’s an opportunity no matter what time of year it is, to look at the amount of waste you create either yourself or as a family.

“Everybody’s bin will be different. I would never preach to anyone as to what they should do.

Rachelle Strauss (50575511)
Rachelle Strauss (50575511)

“We’re all different in how we live our lives. There are things like time pressure, such as the situation of a working parent opposed to a stay at home parent.

“What I encourage people to do is no matter what your lifestyle is like, you can still make a difference – like cleaning out yogurt pots and putting them in the recycling rather than the rubbish, and recycling packaging.

“They could pledge that for the next 12 months they will avoid buying new clothes. It’s a way of starting a habit.

“I really admire a fellow blogger called Jen Gale who set up a blog about her make-do-and-mend year and committed to buying nothing new for her family for 12 months.”

Jen has a website – asustainablelife.co.uk – and is also an author of books including The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide.

“A lot of this is getting to know yourself, and getting to know what your habits are and what your trigger points are,” Karen added. “If it’s boredom, what can you do to alleviate boredom?”

The pandemic was a huge shock to waste management companies. Now we’re coming towards the other side, it’s time to think about what more we can do. - Karen Cannard

Before Covid, the battle against single use plastics and throwaway items was in full swing but the pandemic turned that on its head.

As the crisis deepened so did the mountains of discarded disposable masks and personal protective equipment.

“The pandemic was a huge shock to waste management companies,” says Karen. “Now we’re coming towards the other side, it’s time to think about what more we can do,

“During the pandemic my behaviour changed because I’m classed as clinically vulnerable so we all kept our distance.

“I don’t usually shop online but that really was the only way. It meant more packaging and putting it in my bin,

“Charity shops were closed and that’s normally my go to source for clothing. However there were things I wanted and needed so ended up buying them from scratch.”

Lockdowns also meant people did more home cooking and threw out far less food, but the figure has now rocketed back to pre-pandemic levels.”

Zero waste month poster (50575513)
Zero waste month poster (50575513)

Reports last month revealed a nation slipping back into its old habits where the average family with children wastes £700 a year on food that never gets eaten.

In Europe the annual amount of food thrown away per person is almost 100kg. In stark and shameful contrast the figure for sub-Saharan Africa is 5kg.

But Karen believes there is a general trend in the right direction. “So many more people now are interested in reducing waste than they were back in 2008. This lifestyle no longer feels odd or unusual.

“It’s higher up the agenda and in many ways it’s easier because of the number of zero waste shops now open where they have refill stations. It’s beginning to feel like the norm.

Karen’s own pledge this year is to do more shopping in that way, getting refills of things like pasta and muesli.

There is a directory of zero waste refill shops at suffolkrecycling.org.uk. including Clear to Sea, in St John’s Street, Bury St Edmunds.

Catherine Winn, who opened the shop in 2019, has been inspired by Sir David Attenborough’s campaign to protect the oceans from the dumping of plastic waste.

“I wanted to show people that food could be purchased without all the unnecessary packaging, and everyday items that we use could be sustainable as opposed to single use and/or throwaway,” she says.

She chose Bury because it was a place where independent shops thrive alongside the big names.

“I felt people were supporting the smaller shops so I had a good chance of starting a new shopping trend.

“I have a very loyal customer base who are aware of the use of plastic and climate change. I’m hoping Clear to Sea will encourage others to get on board and reduce waste.

“Everything I stock I love and more importantly believe in. I deal with ethical companies and small businesses making eco products at home.”

Zero Waste Week runs from September 6 to 10. Sign up at zerowasteweek.co.uk

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