Emily Auckland recently took some time off to travel through Europe. Here she shares some interesting discoveries that could help us further reduce our waste
Having first talked about it as students, my husband and I finally got our acts together and decided to Interrail around Europe for our holiday this year.
Over the course of three weeks, we visited eight countries and travelled over 1800 miles. Part way through, I realised three years at Bioregional had irreversibly changed me. I’d become attracted to waste – so attracted that at one point on our trip I spent half an hour watching it being collected.
Here’s why I found a culture of waste – or not wasting – in the countries we visited so fascinating.
Plants are for making, not for wasting
In Hungary, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, literally every house we passed with an outside space had a productive garden – including grape vines, fruit trees and the traditional veg patch.
Meanwhile, in the UK, figures suggest we throw away £13bn of food every year. It’s arguable that our desire for convenience and the rise of the supermarket shop means we’ve lost our connection with where our food comes from and how to make it last.
Fermenting fruit and veg to make it last longer, or when just past its best, is one way to ensure you don’t create unnecessary food waste. And whether you’re making Sauerkraut or Schnapps, medical evidence increasingly supports the view that fermented foods are necessary to ensure you have a diverse microbiome (the bacterial flora of the gut). This is increasingly understood to be vital for our health and wellbeing.
Plastic is everywhere
If you enter Serbia by train from Hungary the first thing you see is an enormous landfill site. It’s a stark reminder that many countries in Europe do not have the infrastructure to support recycling. Sadly, much of that waste is plastic, which means it’ll leak toxins into the land for years to come.
With Serbia’s efforts to join the European Union comes a move to improve waste infrastructure and environmental management in general. But we need to rapidly enhance recycling and reuse globally too.
Part of the biggest challenge with waste is behaviour change. In Serbia, I was excited to discover Tegla’s salad bar. It’s a small chain that sells salads and desserts in glass jars, which it encourages people to take home and reuse rather than throw away plastic containers. There are over 38,000 fast food or takeaway businesses in the UK. How many of those sell their food in fully reusable, or recyclable packaging?
Bins are fascinating
I couldn’t help myself – in Ljubljana, I stopped in the street to watch rubbish being collected for half an hour.
There are obvious reasons why the city won European Green Capital but most notable is its innovative approach to recycling and refuse collection. The city has installed underground collection units that encourage people to separate waste into categories in a bid to minimise waste-to-landfill rates.
Not only does this mean that all the streets have recycling bins but they also look clean because the waste collects underground with a deposit shoot at street level. In 2014, the city recovered 63% of waste materials using this unique and new approach.
We’ve seen the impact of nudge methods on behaviour change in the UK already; Hubbub’s Ballot Bin is an excellent example. We need to do more of this to encourage people to recycle. It would be even better if we could get rid of ugly private bins in the process!
My final mention needs to go to my Bioregional colleague Chloe, who kicked started our holiday in style at her wedding. Chloe recruited friends and family to bring packs of biodegradable cups and cutlery to her wedding.
The lesson here: We need to show more commitment to the cause.
To find out more about fermented food I’d recommend this book by Sandor Katz.
UKSSD Network Director