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Zero Waste Week: a challenge to send nothing to landfill

Rachelle Strauss

Wednesday 27 August 2014

“Pass to all emergency services. This is a major incident. I repeat; this is a major incident. We require all standby aircraft available, and all available land-based emergency crews as we are in danger of losing Boscastle and all the people in it.”

That was the message to RAF Kinloss Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) from Capt Pete McLelland (Royal Marines) flying above Boscastle, on 16 August 2004. On that day one of Britain’s worst rainstorms was unleashed on the hills above Boscastle, and I was standing in the village holding my three-year-old daughter in my arms. It’s a strange thing when you wonder whether you’ll ever see your husband alive again. Weird thoughts go through your head. My thoughts seemed quite logical – I believed, rightly or wrongly, that everything I’d read about climate change was happening. Not in 50 years’ time, but now. And in that moment, I decided to be part of the solution – for my daughter’s sake.

Boscastle floods

Emergency workers search a house in Boscastle, two days after the flood caused devastation, sweeping away cars and buildings. Photograph: John D McHugh/AP

According to The Story of Stuff, only 1% of the items we buy are still in use six months after they are bought. All the latest gadgets we can’t live without, the tools that promise to make our lives easier, the so-called must-have thing that guarantees us to be more popular/sexy/healthy – the majority of them end up in landfill in under a year.

We generate around 177m tons of waste every year in England alone. This poor use of resources costs businesses and households money and causes environmental damage.

And while it can be a depressing picture if we dwell there too long; I’m all about being part of the solution. A few years after the Boscastle floods, I decided to reduce the amount of waste I send to landfill. I’d seen people’s livelihoods washed out to sea and it made me realise that I wanted to make better use of the resources I had. I started a blog about reducing my waste to keep myself accountable. But every day, people from across the world tuned in to see what I’d found in the back of my fridge or hiding in the attic. And most importantly – what I was going to do about it.

A few months after I started blogging, a fellow waste geek, Karen Cannard from the Rubbish Diet, challenged me to have my own zero waste week. I asked my readers to join in to keep me company and 100 people signed up. At the end of the week I was inundated with emails telling me what fun people had, and now that it was over they intended to keep new habits in place – and so the annual Zero Waste Week campaign was born.

Rachelle Strauss' zero waste week

This year’s Zero Waste Week asks you what ‘one more thing’ can you do to reduce your household waste. Photograph: Claire Holgate

The growth of the campaign over the past seven years has been beyond amazing. What started off as a few individual householders has now grown into several thousand, with small and large businesses signing up, local authorities and large corporations all pledging to make a difference.

Zero Waste Week (1-7 September 2014) is predominantly a social media campaign. People sign up to the mailing list with their email address and pledge. Every year has a theme and this year’s is “One More Thing” in answer to the question: “What one more thing could you do to reduce landfill waste?” If you’re new to this, perhaps you’ll say no to disposable carrier bags and start using a reusable one. If you’ve been reducing waste for a while maybe it’s time to swap a disposable product for a reusable one. And if you’re a bit of a rubbish geek already, you could have your very own zero waste week with the aim of sending nothing at all to landfill. It’s an intense week. I like to think of it as a boot camp for bins – where size zero is acceptable.

I spent a year showing that you could send almost nothing to landfill – we filled just one old fashioned dustbin in 2009 – and now I just do my best, working in more of an advisory role and encouraging others to grab the zero waste baton. After all, it has much more impact if every household and business reduces their waste by a tenth than one household who go to the nth degree. Zero Waste Week applies to me the same way as to others – it gives me the opportunity to stop and think about my choices over the past year and make a commitment to get good habits back in place.

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