When Gary Mantle, Chief Executive of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, told the inaugural Planet Shaftesbury meeting that one of his team had reduced her monthly waste to fit a jam jar, there were audible gasps inside the Town Hall.
ThisIsAlfred spoke with Gemma Annan, the woman who devised the ‘Waste Free February’ initiative. Gemma says taking part isn’t restricted to this month and all Shaftesbury area residents, whether they live in Wiltshire or Dorset, can join in.
People have accepted Gemma’s challenge from far and wide. “We’ve got people taking part all over the world. I want to raise awareness everywhere,” said Gemma.
Gemma came up with the idea when she was tackling her waste, following Christmas 2017. “It just really dawned on me how much was going in the bin. And then I challenged my colleagues to live waste free as much as possible for a month during February. From there, we came up with a nationwide campaign that’s gone international,” said Gemma. “Last year we had over a hundred people taking part and we’ve estimated that we saved about two tons of rubbish from going into the bin. This year we’ve tripled our numbers already.”
I asked Gemma how she managed to reduce her monthly waste so it fits into such a tiny container. “For the previous two years, I have squeezed all of the waste that I’ve created over a month into a jam jar. Last year, I did have a small block of polystyrene, which I couldn’t get in the jar. This year I’ve challenged myself even more and my jar is about half the size of a jam jar, but it is filling up, so yeah I’ll see how I go with that one!”
Gemma laughs that she is eating well and she’ll not just be munching on home grown salad, so she creates little waste. “I’m finding it a bit easier this year because there are several shops now that are offering loose foods,” she said. “You can always go to the supermarket and get fresh meats and cheeses from the deli counter and just take in your own tub. A lot of it comes down to cooking from scratch. I’m not a great cook so it does challenge me a bit extra. You can get fresh fruit, fresh bread and ingredients in recyclable packaging.”
Gemma admits that you have to plan ahead more. “It’s not overly convenient to be waste free so it does just take a little extra preparation and effort.” She’s aware of Lucy Barfoot’s zero waste shop in Swan’s Yard and at the weekend, ThisIsAlfred heard how Paul at Abbotts Greengrocers had once sold a customer a single sprout. So it is possible to buy just what you need.
“It has taken a lot of extra preparation each day. For my snacks during the day, instead of just taking a cereal bar I’ve had to take time to make my own, to avoid the packaging,” said Gemma. “It is achievable and that’s what I want to point out. So ‘Waste Free Feb’ is all about highlighting the challenges but also the achievements.”
Gemma says its good to get competitive and take part with friends. “We want to encourage people to set their own challenges, so not everybody is reducing their waste to a jam jar. We’ve got lots of people who are pledging to reduce their waste by half so maybe they have two big bin bags worth of rubbish each month. This month they’re pledging to try and just produce one bag’s worth.”
Gemma says she doesn’t want it to become a chore. “If you make it too tough on yourself, it’s easy to go back to normal when the month long challenge is up. We all know people who have undone their diet achievements or gone overboard at the end of ‘Dry January ‘ because the month-long regime has been onerous and has taken the fun out of life,” she said.
“That’s why we want to encourage people to you do something that’s realistic for them, their lifestyle and their family but make extra effort to do it,” said Gemma. “They will hopefully continue with some of the changes that they’ve learned over the month throughout the year.”
You can search for ‘Waste Free February’ on the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust website. “We’re encouraging people to sign up because that way, we can offer them most of our support via email and blogs. We can give them extra advice. But we can also then measure the impact that the campaign is having,” said Gemma.
She’s also created a Facebook group which she says is a useful resource and members are sharing experiences and offering each other support. And Gemma says that it doesn’t matter if you are only joining in at this stage – doing it for a short period is still beneficial.
“It can be very daunting to reduce your waste for a whole month, so we’re encouraging people to take part even if it’s just for a day. If you sign up online and tell us that you are going to take part for one day, it is no problem at all. You can take part for a day, two days a weekend, a week or the rest of the month,” Gemma said. “The idea is that you challenge yourself, become more conscious of what you would usually throw away and also find a different way to dispose of that item.”
Gemma says some participants have discovered new ways to deal with empty crisp packets. “You can recycle crisp packets through a scheme called Terracycle, so somebody not being involved with us may not know that. There’s so much more that you can actually recycle than you may think.”
You can find out more at the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust website.