I work at the School of Education in Mathematics Education and teach on PGCE and Master's courses and supervise several PGRs. I help to run the School's Climate Action Group. I have a family with 3 children, two of them still at school.
My challenge
I want to document (and hope to reduce) all my landfill waste.

Well, that was 30 days that went quickly! We are prompted to reflect on the personal sphere this week and I am looking forward also to our final reflection meeting this week. I am struck by several things. The first is simply the effectiveness of each of us making commitments and being invited to record our progress against them. I have been recently been thinking about what makes learning energetic and thinking about one aspect being having an idea for the near or immediate future, i.e., if I am in a situation that perhaps appears complex and confusing, if I get an idea of something I could try out, this can bring an energy with it – to test that thing and see what happens. And in a way I feel this is what the challenge has offered me – an immediate set of actions. And, as it comes to an end, I can feel the complexity and confusion around again – I need to get to the next thing I can focus on. I think for me personally, this will be about the School’s waste and recycling and really seeing if we can make a difference to reduce this (to zero). But I am not yet clear on the next steps with that  project.

I am also struck by an awareness that dawned on my part way through the challenge that I suspect, in an organisation like a university, that there is a sense of each of us wanting and indeed needing others to take responsibility for things like getting to net zero. There is a lot happening in Bristol and I am sure we can all have a role in amplifying and supporting and initiating. And those relations within the organisation I suspect then get mirrored on a larger scale, thinking about the country as a whole – I wonder if there are institutions waiting for each other, in order to make change.

And perhaps another lesson from the challenge, for me, is the observation that change is not always particularly hard to make and that it can also be fun!

Here is our family’s black bin from the last fortnight – about the same as last fortnight – and maybe one quarter or less than before the challenge. Things still going in seem to be mainly stuff that cannot be cleaned and which then is a mix of materials.

It has felt strangely easy to become more mindful of waste – I have almost distrusted how easy. Also bizarre is that I have been wanting to focus on this for a number of years and it needed the challenge and the collective focus to make it happen. The biggest change we have made has been to find a place to recycle plastic film and wrappers and keep these separate – they make up more than the volume of our other waste.

I am confident that habits in our household have changed. 

Early in the challenge I wrote about putting dog waste in bins and wrote to the council to ask about what happens to it – and also whether it is possible to flush it down the loo in dissolvable bags (as suggested on a website). Here is the reply … I will look into Suez Energy Recovery … I also found UoB sends all it waste to energy recovery, so feels like an important process to know more about …

Dear Mr Coles

Thank you for contacting us regarding dog waste. Any waste deposited in our litter bins and dog bins is taken for Energy from Waste, primarily at Suez Energy Recovery Centre in Avonmouth. The waste (which includes the black sacks we collect form households) is used to generate electricity.

Thankfully we do not directly landfill any waste.

I sorry but I can’t comment about what types of bags are permissible to be flushed down the toilet. This will have to be answered by Wessex Water or Bristol, depending on your supplier. Looking at general advice I believe that only tissue paper can go down the loo. They campaign against wipes, washable wipes or degradable ones.

Please let me know if you have any further queries

Yours sincerely

Strategy & Contracts – Campaigns, Technical Support and Project Officer

Neighbourhood Environmental Services

Bath & North East Somerset Council

A parcel arrived yesterday with what look like small polystyrene tubes as padding … providing the latest recycling challenge. My partner looked up on the company website and turns out these were made from starch … further searching and we found they dissolve in hot water … problem solved! I appreciated the prompt to challenge ourself beyond our challenge this week – for me that feels like make progress of School waste …

Here is what was in one of the SoE landfill bins yesterday. It was a similar picture in the others – with a common theme of single use coffee cups. In fact people had put those cups in landfill, in plastic recycling and in food waste. The only bin that seems to be understood well is the paper one.

So, this week’s prompts around system change feel important. What do we need to do as a School to recycle better? Apparently as a University our recycling rates have gone from around 80% of all waste, prepandemic, to around 50% currently.

I’d really love to see if we could get a School campaign going about getting to zero landfill.

And then expanding again, to think about climate justice, it seems a lot of UK plastic recycling is still being sent abroad … what can we do to highlight this and try to work towards alternative solutions?

Here is our landfill for the last fortnight (we are a family of 5). The black bin was up to the very top 2 weeks ago (as it usually was). I am staggered by the change.

I have quite often found myself having bought something to eat, say, and then looking at what it’s wrapped in and realising I need to take it home to recycle. I hope soon I might ask myself that packaging question before I buy …

Today’s text message on system change was interesting – there is one clear message from my challenge so far – if we had an easier way of recycling soft plastic it would make it so much easier to cut down on landfill.

I will post later with a photo of our black bin for the last fortnight. I have been amazed at how much, as a family, we have been able to reduce landfill waste. My children are now hesitant to put anything in the black bin and leave me little presents by the side to sort out (usually it can all be recycled). My partner last night was ripping metal off some cardboard, so both could be recycled. My brother in law took back tins from the cinema to recycle at home rather than put in waste. None of this would have happened before starting the challenge!

Things we have not been able to recycle: empty toothpaste tubes (after thinking maybe you could, seems like you can’t) – apparently the pump action ones are better and can go in plastic recycling; sanitary products – these have made up quite a proportion of our waste (3/5 of our house are female) – there are re-useable/washable alternatives which my partner is looking into getting – my daughters not so keen at the moment; those little packets you get in stuff you buy that stops it getting damp or something.

I meant to look through one of the School of Education bins last week but forgot, I want to do this on Wednesday. 

Another thing I wanted to research is what happens to my recycling. A search on that led me to this (Bath) council web page, which seemed quite convincing about what they do with the things they recycle: https://www.bathnes.gov.uk/services/bins-rubbish-and-recycling/recycling-and-rubbish-collections/what-happens-materials-we 

If we can sustain low levels going to landfill, reducing what we put in recycling seems like our next challenge …

So I took my family’s week’s worth of plastic film recycling down to Sainsbury’s. They have a bin for «plastic bags» – I asked at Customer Services and they said any soft plastic would be okay in there. Not sure about crisp packets though? And further research into old toothpaste tubes suggests they can’t be recycled – so that went in landfill today. 

The plastics feels like progress though – easily halving what we would have put in landfill this week – and definitely something we should be able to offer at the School/University I would think?

Yesterday I put dog poop in a bin where I walked the dog, I will not share the photo. I have written to the council asking what they do with dog waste. I have come across this website: https://www.turningtogreen.com/post/what-do-you-do-with-dog-waste which suggests a few alternatives, including possibly flushing down the toilet, to get treated in sewage plants – I have also asked the council if this is possible where I live.

Nothing into landfill so far today. A disturbing thought has struck me – could we actually live completely waste free? And if we could, might the whole University be able to? I am struck by James (at Thursday’s meet up) holding up the full landfill bin he collected, with little that could be recycled. Why can’t we, as a University, start recycling plastic film, etc?

I have just found this site, which is proving very helpful for my challenge: https://www.recyclenow.com/what-to-do-with

Just made my first order with «Milk and More» – thanks again Shandin for the idea and link (oat milk in re-useable bottles).

Found somewhere that will dispose of my old SIM card and recover the metals in it https://awarefiners.co.uk (not done any research on the company however).

And also, that my local Sainsbury’s will not only take plastic film but crisp packets, bubble wrap and a load more … so, will be rummaging my bin again to remove more stuff that doesn’t need to go to landfill …

Rescued a plastic bottle and some paper and flower stalk ends from the waste bin today … some family education needed … what I didn’t think I could put anywhere else was the wrapper of a packet of butter (maybe a reason to by hard tub versions?) and a crisp packet (not mine, I hasten to add, but yet another reason not to buy crisps?)

But this, I am afraid, was left over from last week’s recycling (ie it was not collected) and so is my first item of the month to the landfill … not even really sure what it is …

I recovered this (and some other recyclable things) in my family’s waste from today, which Shandin has pointed me to where it can be recycled.

I put out our family rubbish today, for collection tomorrow, so the timing could not be better for my challenge of documenting all that I put into landfill. Our black wheelie bin was pretty full after a fortnight so I also have a sense of a baseline volume of waste. I am not sure if I will document just my own waste or my family’s as well. I will have to see how it goes. I am planning to photograph everything I throw away. I marked, this evening, throwing away two pieces of plastic film and wondering what else I could have done with them.