I have had the great pleasure of getting to know Karen over the last year (when I first came across the Rubbish Diet) and had the the chance to meet Karen when I attended the Observer Ethical awards last year. Karen Cannard is creator and co-founder of The Rubbish Diet Challenge, the UK’s slimming club for bins. She’s appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, The One Show, Channel 4’s Dispatches and ITV’s Tonight, where she helped a family slim their bin by 95%. Karen is also a judge for the national Zero Waste Awards and more locally in Suffolk, she’s BBC Radio Suffolk’s Bin Doctor and ‘rubbish’ columnist for the Bury Free Press. Since taking her own Rubbish Diet challenge, her super ninja waste-busting skill has been discovering the easy art of making soup.
Which is why I am so excited to have been given the opportunity to interview Karen to find out all about the Rubbish diet and how important is is we all put our rubbish bins on a diet.
Hi Karen please could you introduce yourself to everybody?
- I’m Karen Cannard. I’m a Welsh woman living in Suffolk and in 2008 I took a challenge that totally changed my life.
When was the Rubbish Diet set up and why did you start the Rubbish Diet?
- The Rubbish Diet was originally created in January 2008. I signed up to my local council’s Zero Waste Week challenge and they asked me to be their community champion for the campaign. Although I thought there was no way I could get to Zero Waste, I was curious and wanted to put our family to the test. With one full wheelie bin’s worth of landfill rubbish to tackle each fortnight it was pretty obvious that I had a lot to learn. I created The Rubbish Diet blog to record the successes of our challenge as well the hurdles in trying to slim our waste in time for Zero Waste Week. Focusing on the problem at home and with advice from readers, our rubbish quickly reduced. The challenge was actually very motivating and by the time Zero Waste Week arrived (seven weeks later), we had discovered solutions for recycling most things locally, as well as reusable replacements for some of the single-use products that had regularly filled our bin and most importantly we had significantly reduced our food waste and found a way of composting what remained. By the end of Zero Waste Week, all we had in our landfill bin was a plaster. Since then, it’s been steady at around a couple of carrier bags worth of rubbish per month – mainly crisp packets and the odd waste gremlin that we didn’t catch in time.
What had been planned as just an eight week project captured my imagination. I had learned so much and was curious to find out more. I also started mentoring friends and other bloggers to take the Rubbish Diet and attempt their own Zero Waste Week.
In 2012 I partnered with the Zero Waste social enterprise Cwm Harry to explore how to take The Rubbish Diet peer-to-peer sharing approach wider. This led to a new website,www.therubbishdiet.org.uk, an online Rubbish Diet Challenge and a team with the expertise to roll out The Rubbish Diet in communities. Our team has since been commissioned by West London Waste Authority to help residents take the diet to slim their bins.
Why is it so important for us to reduce the rubbish we send to landfill?
- Oh where do I start! For us as individuals, waste costs us money. By cutting out food waste families can save £60 a month. I also saved lots of money by switching to reusables – if you buy a bottled drink every day you’ll soon save £300 by taking your own drink in a reusable bottle. But for me, and for lots of other people who’ve slimmed their bins, the cost savings are just the start of a really creative process of making the most of what we have.
Every time we recycle and reuse our packaging or belongings, we are saving resources and protecting our environment. If we recycle it, plastic can be used again and again. If we throw it away, it damages our precious environment. The scale of the impact of waste is huge – if we could all cut out food waste, it would be the equivalent of taking one in five cars off the road.
How easy is it for people to get involved in the Rubbish Diet?
- It’s very simple and it’s free. Just sign up at www.therubbishdiet.org.uk. Then you’ll get emails over three weeks with tips to help get organised, learn more about local recycling and make the most of their food. You can get answers to any questions you have from the whole Rubbish Diet community. People who’ve done the Diet typically slim their bins by a third and really enjoy the challenge.
In the communities where we have teams on the ground we’re able to connect people socially and support people in getting swishes, restart parties and love food hate waste cafes off the ground. But right across the UK, we can support people who want to get the zero waste message out where they live.
Please could you share with us your top 5 tips on how we can all reduce our rubbish.
- If you have a lot of rubbish, don’t be afraid to be ambitious. Set yourself a short-term goal, whether it’s to cut your waste in half or even attempt a Zero Waste challenge. Just like any other diet plan, a goal for slimming your bin can help your determination. And remember, celebrate every success.
- For many, good organisation is the best starting point. Make it easy to organise your recycling, even if it means hanging a couple of storage bags on the back of your kitchen door. Before you go shopping, remember your reusable bags – keep them by your front door, in your car or in your bike bag. At the shops, count the single-use and disposable items that end up in your basket. Look for reusable or refillable alternatives that help reduce your waste and save you money in the long run.
- Local recycling facilities are always changing. Take five minutes to give your recycling knowledge a heath check with the post-code finder at www.recyclenow.com.
- If food waste is your big bin-filler, explore ways to slim it down. This could mean avoiding plate-waste by serving smaller portions and allowing family members to top up according to their appetite. It might be keeping an eye out for stuff that normally gets wasted and pledging to buy less of it. Help keep food fresher for longer by setting the fridge to 5 degrees and your freezer to -18. And remember that Best Before dates are really just a guidance regarding quality. It’s the Use-By date that matters and you can actually freeze food right up until this date to make it last longer.
- Ever thought of asking your friends for tips? In your own social circle you’ll find people who may be really knowledgeable about local facilities or ways to reduce food waste. You never know what you’ll uncover when you start sharing ideas, like this tip here on how to keep your salad fresher for longer. Whether it’s on your own Facebook page or out with friends, ask for their advice and start your own rubbish conversation. You might even find that people would be up for organising a rota to take stuff to the Recycling Centre, like a group of neighbours in Shropshire.
Thank you very much Karen for these insightful tips that I know will help us all reduce our landfill waste.
Have you taken part in the Rubbish Diet Challenge or are you interested in taking part in the rubbish diet challenge to zero your waste?