The ultimate no-waste dinner for Burns Night

One of the funniest things about the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the proud Greek father’s attempts to prove that everything originally came from Greece. In my experience, Scots share a similar trait – the conviction that everybody originally came from Scotland.

It was years ago, while accompanying a group of French students on a trip to Glasgow, that I discovered, to my surprise, that I was actually Scottish. I was ordering a round of drinks in a pub when regulars at the bar heard my Yorkshire accent (think: Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley, or, if you need an older reference, Vera Duckworth in Coronation Street) and asked where I was from. The news that I was from Yorkshire was greeted warmly, as God’s Own Country was obviously considered a Little Scotland. Then they asked my surname (pre-Halford). This was greeted even more warmly as it was proof that I was really Scottish; I even had my clan’s tartan cheerfully pointed out on a big chart hanging on the wall. Then when I mentioned my mother’s Irish maiden name, it turned out that her family weren’t really Irish, they were Scottish too! Another tartan was duly pointed out.

This bond formed the basis of a great night and our party were treated to free drinks all round (Scots mean? I’m sorry, you just haven’t met the right Scots – and please don’t disrespect my people while you’re at it.)

I vaguely remember that the French teachers I was with were also told they were really Scottish too, but quite what a Dubois tartan looks like, I don’t recall.  It must have been the free drinks. But thinking about it, a Scottish/French link would explain why they share those rolling Rs.  

Family pilgrimage

The fact that my husband’s maternal family is Scottish needs no investigation. His grandfather’s family walked (literally walked) from Dundee to Birmingham in the 1930s in search of work. It’s hard to imagine how tough their lives must have been. You certainly wouldn’t have the nerve to complain you were having a bad day if your father had walked 350 miles to find work in a steelworks. Looking into his family tree, my husband found his relatives weren’t actually from Dundee but a wee place (that’s my heritage coming out) called Inverkeilor. There is even a Facebook group for the Cuthills of Inverkeilor as they were spread far and wide. A family pilgrimage is being planned – by car this time, not foot.

I say all this to head off any accusation of cultural appropriation when I share a haggis recipe for Burns Night.

It was on that glorious trip to Glasgow that I first tasted haggis. Had I been offered haggis at any previous time, I would have declined by faking dramatic vomiting sounds, due to the very thought of it. Something to do with sheep’s stomach….eurgh, pass the sick bucket etc. But on this happy occasion I had to be polite, refrain from gipping and tuck in because I was staying with a wonderful host family who had cooked it for us. Oh my word, it was fantastic. To think if I hadn’t been on that trip, I would never have tasted it and missed out on this delicious part of my Scottish heritage.

Having so far praised all that is Scottish, there is one thing I can’t let them get away with – Burns Night or no Burns Night – their problem with pronunciation.

While a student living on my year abroad in France, I made two great friends who were also studying French – Alison, from Glasgow, and Anna, from Donegal. We became the best of friend, sisters under the skin, and our ears gradually adapted to the newness of each other’s accents, even borrowing great words from each other that our own country’s ‘language’ lacked.

One evening over a meal of spag bol, Alison asked me to pass the paper. I turned to the desk behind me, picked up a pad of notepaper and passed it to her. She stared at me nonplussed and asked again for me to pass the PAPER. I responded by thrusting the notepaper more urgently towards her.

 ‘I said PAPER,’ she said, raising her voice as if I were deaf.

‘AND HERE IT IS!’ I shouted back.

Honestly, what’s wrong with her, we both thought.

This went on for a few more seconds, while Anna sat firmly on the fence grating a lot of parmesan on her pasta. Finally, Alison got up, walked round the table, picked up the pepper pot, with a meaningful look at me, and took it back to her place.

‘If you wanted the pepper,’ I asked, ‘then why did you ask for the paper?’

‘I didn’t ask for the PAPER, I asked for the PAPER,’ she retorted.

Talk about being divided by a common language. Thus, we came to realise that Scottish people have a problem with differentiating between the pronunciation of certain words. Or rather I realised that; Alison probably came to a different conclusion, and Anna clung stubbornly to that fence of hers.

Eejit test

I honestly don’t know how Scots differentiate between pepper and paper when talking to each other. Maybe they use hand signals, or perhaps they think the context would make it obvious to anyone but a total eejit. I just hope I am never in a critical situation where the confusion caused by a Scottish pronunciation of pepper and paper could mean the difference between life and death.

The Scots are on to something, however, with that little word ‘och’.  There is just no equivalent available to the English and there should be. It’s the perfect sound for all manner of situations and its absence must cause the English some kind of psychological problem – stiff-upper-lip perhaps. I have tried my best to introduce it south of the border, but it doesn’t seem to be catching on, not in Leeds anyway.  

I’m trying hard here to link a haggis recipe to the point of this blog, which is usually on the topic of waste recycling – but all I can think is this: Make haggis and you won’t have any waste to dispose of.

 Looking up haggis recipes to try out, I was happy to learn that sheep’s stomach has generally been replaced by casing, and the work involved with the offal ingredients means it’s easier to buy ready-made, which is what we’ll be doing tonight. It will be served, of course, with neeps (mashed swede) and tatties (mashed potatoes) and we’ll be raising a toast to the hardy Cuthills of Inverkeilor and all my distant unknown clans.

My recipe search also came up with a veggie version that’s just as tasty, with whisky sauce to serve.  

Happy Burns Night to all Scots – including all those who don’t yet know they are!

Julie Halford

Vegetarian Haggis – Serves 6

  • 2 large portobello mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium sized brown onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 50g salted butter
  • 100g pinhead oatmeal
  • 55g split peas
  • 55g pearl barley
  • 1/2 tsp mace
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 600ml vegetable stock
  • 1 1/2 tsp marmite
  • 1 1/2 tsp black treacle
  • Oven 180 degrees C

Instructions

  1. Boil split peas and pearl barley in two separate saucepans – split peas for 25 mins and barley for 20 mins.
  2. Fry onions in 25g of butter, add the chopped mushrooms and when soft, stir  in the grated carrot.
  3. Make your stock, stir in the marmite and black treacle until they both dissolve.
  4. Add the oats to the frying pan and then 400ml of the stock.
  5. Add the salt, nutmeg, pepper and mace and stir while gently heating.
  6. Drain your split peas and pearl barley, add both to the frying pan, Allow the stock to reduce down, stirring gently.
  7. Add 25g butter and the remaining 200ml of stock.
  8. Cook the mix over a medium heat until the stock has reduced completely, stirring often to avoid it catching on the bottom of the frying pan.
  9. When the mix is cooked through and the stock has reduced, taste to make sure flavour is balanced, adding more spices, marmite or treacle as required. The flavour should be warming and peppery with an earthy undertone and a little sweetness.
  10. Spoon the mix into a well-greased loaf tin and place into the preheated oven for 20-30mins, or until the top of the mix is crispy and darkened.
  11. Once the haggis is cooked take it out of the oven, place a length of tin foil over the top of the haggis and then an upturned baking tray. Gently turn upside down so you end up with your haggis, out of the tin. on the foil on the baking tray.
  12. Place this back in the oven for 2-5 mins to crisp the outside of the haggis.

(scottishscran)

 

 Whisky sauce

  • 2 finely chopped shallots
  • 300 ml double cream
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 tablespoon whisky
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 
  •  Fry shallots in butter for 3 to 4 minutes until soft.
  • Pour in the whisky and allow it to cook for a minute and reduce.
  • Add the cream and mustard and bring to a simmer. The sauce should be slightly thickened. Season to taste.

(greatbritishrecipes)

Warm up this winter – get your jacket on

It takes all sorts to make a world, as the saying goes.

At Great Green Systems we know that it takes all sorts to make compost.

We never cease to be amazed at the different results that people get from their Green Johanna. For some people fast compost is the priority, while others want finer, well-matured compost and are prepared to wait longer. Some users are less interested in compost and more concerned with being able to recycle as much of their food and garden waste as possible, diverting it from landfill.

Some customers say they rarely aerate their bin’s contents but still get results they are happy with.  Some use cooler temperatures and get a bin full of worms working away on their compost, while others tells us they never remove the insulating jacket and have no problems.

 Whatever your composting style, one thing we’re all on the same page about right now is maintaining temperatures warm enough to keep the composting process going in the bleak midwinter.

Here at Great Green Systems HQ in Yorkshire, snow is covering the ground but the Johanna in my garden is clearly feeling toasty in her jacket. After a night of sub-zero temperatures, the ground temperature this morning was zero but the first compost temperature we took today was 40 degrees Celsius.

From zero….

 

…to hero

At the coldest time of the year, with temperatures plummeting by the day, the insulation provided by the insulating jacket is invaluable to facilitate regular temperatures high enough to keep the Johanna’s contents breaking down at pace. (In warmer weather, the jacket should be removed if compost temperatures exceed 70 degrees C as this will be too hot for beneficial micro-organisms to survive.)

Additional ways to boost the winter composting process are by:

  • adding beneficial bacteria in the form of bokashi bran
  • adding a bucketful of mature compost or the fermented pre-compost from a bokashi bin, which also help to give your bin’s contents a shot in the arm
  • ensuring that waste materials are chopped into small pieces as these will break down faster than larger items. When adding stored garden waste, make sure pieces are no bigger than 5cms as the more surface area there is for microbes to work on, the faster waste will break down, generating more heat.

Differences in climate and soil biology according to location are factors that can affect composting outcomes, as well as differences in contents due to the household’s diets. People who cook from scratch using a lot of fruit and vegetables will produce more food waste (rich in nitrogen) than people who regularly use ready meals. So two neighbours with the same bin might have different results depending on the number of people in the household and their diet, plus the type and amount of waste their garden produces.  

We have heard of Johanna users who only add garden waste and are happy with the compost produced  –  their garden waste must comprise a good balance of nitrogen-rich Greens (fresh grass clippings and green leaves) and carbon-rich woody Browns. We are surprised that some customers say they don’t aerate the contents as regularly as we recommend – we can only imagine they must be good at providing air pockets in their carbon-rich contents, thanks to inputs such as wood chips and corrugated egg cartons etc.

Full Monty composting (not what you think…)

Some compost fans, like the team here at Great Green Systems, become fascinated by the process and go Full Monty, with a thermometer, pH and moisture measure and water wand among their kit.  We also cherish our stored bags full of raked, shredded autumn leaves and wood chips ready and waiting to go into action as part of an easily accessed carbon army to get through a long winter.

It’s a fascinating subject, but it can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be.

One member of our GGS team is out early every morning to check the temperature of his Johanna and this forms a larger proportion of his daily conversation than might be considered strictly normal but, as we said, it takes all sorts…   He also has a woodchipper to shred the twigs and branches in his garden waste.  In autumn our colleague sets off with his rake to gather the rich bounty of fallen leaves from quiet streets in his neighbourhood (not busy roads where the leaves could be contaminated by lead pollution). In doing this, he says he is also providing a free health and safety service by reducing the risk of slippery leaves on pavements.

We advise people to follow the golden composting rules regarding materials/oxygen/moisture as we want them to be as successful as possible. Some people tell us they break the rules but still get away with it. We all know the type – those Rebels Without a Rulebook whose first job when opening any piece of new equipment is to throw away the instruction manual and proceed by trial and error.  

Perhaps they’re onto something. We know that what puts some people off trying composting is the fear that they might get it wrong. So perhaps we should say there is only really one golden rule: it’s better to start – and proceed by observing and adapting –  than never to start at all.

 To borrow a well-known slogan – just do it.

New Year’s resolutions for less waste in 2023

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions you could do a lot worse than thinking about what you’ll do better waste-wise next Christmas. 

When I say ‘you’, of course, I mean me, but feel free to join me if the cap fits.

I’m resolving that last year’s festive fails will be this year’s gains if I’m to reduce my family’s contribution to the huge waste mountain created annually at this time of year.

This will be achieved through my being more organised. Those of a certain age might remember the advert that coined the phrase Vorsprung Durch Technik (Progress Through Technology). I like to think of my New Year’s resolutions as Vorsprung Durch List-making. I’m calling it my Christmas Listmas.

 You may make resolutions now but, believe me, you will forget them if you don’t write them down. Christmas turns us all into goldfish brains. A kind of Christmas insanity descends like a thick fog and chokes us all in its suffocating vapours until we can no longer think straight.

  • Write a Memo to Self – I’m writing down all the areas for improvement while they’re fresh in my mind. I’ll be leaving this list on top of the Christmas decorations for the new me to find in December. It was only when I started feeling sick after over-eating a melted camembert with sticky fig sauce that I remembered I had resolved last year never to eat it again. But you see I didn’t write it down and I’ve slept since then. Likewise, if you’re the sort of person who bought next year’s presents in the Boxing Day sales (hello, mum-in-law!), add a note of the presents and their hiding places to the list. You won’t remember where you put Auntie Ethel’s present and you won’t remember who you bought the novelty gorilla slippers for, apart from the fact it wasn’t Auntie Ethel.
  • Make a request – None of us want to become the kind of person that people cross the street to avoid for fear of getting an eco-lecture, but surely we can ask those closest to us to buy eco-friendly Christmas cards for us and to wrap our present in recyclable paper, even if it’s as simple as avoiding glitter, foil, ribbon etc?
  • Do some research in advance – Check out toy rental companies, such as Whirli, and companies that rent Christmas trees. If you leave it too late you’ll probably forget your good intentions.
  • Avoid Oops, I Did it Again syndrome – Don’t overcook. I read a great article that said no one needs more than two side dishes, three if you must. This was news to me, raised on my mother’s traditional dozen side dishes. But it’s true; there’s only so much anyone can eat. So next year I’ll be going for three. I may let the family vote for what they consider sacrosanct. Are Yorkshire puddings with Christmas dinner a Yorkshire/Northern thing? I only ask because I noted that Mary Berry didn’t include any in her Ultimate Christmas programme and she is the authority as far as I’m concerned. Making Christmas dinner, my husband got so sick of me saying ‘Mary Berry says…’ that he threatened to rip off his Santa pinny and resign as my sous-chef. 
  • Research other recipes – I think my sons would agree there was a little too much post-Christmas bubble and squeak, so I’ll be coming up with different ways with leftovers. I found a great sprout recipe – Cheesy Sprout Bake – on Beckett’s Farm Shop Insta  Award Winning Farm Shop & Rest (@beckettsfarm) • Instagram photos and videos involving bacon, spices and cheese sauce. I’ll also be trying this Abel and Cole recipe for Boxing Day burritos that I found, alas, too late – Boxing Day Burritos Recipe | Abel & Cole (abelandcole.co.uk) –  as well as one for ragged sprout leaves – shred and toss leaves in batter with spices before frying in oil to make crunchy bhajis.
  • Give away some decorations – You know you have too many and some people have none. Last summer my cousin suffered what we in our family call the Great Christmas Decorations Tragedy, involving her husband clearing ‘rubbish’ out of the garage while she was at work…I don’t think I need to go into the grisly details, but in giving her a box of our decorations it cleared space for us and gave her some festive cheer.
  • Make the break – If you’d like to suggest that perhaps you could stop buying a present for your 35-year-old nephew who’s an investment banker, now is the time. Don’t wait until the run-up to Christmas because you’ll lose your nerve. Remember that Christmas insanity fog? It sets in after Halloween.
  • Get into composting now (if you haven’t already) – then you’ll be ‘speaking compost’ like a native by December. Never again will you suffer Bin Day Anxiety as you wonder how much longer you’ll be tripping over (or smelling) your bags of waste. Instead, you’ll be comfortably composting your food waste, wrapping paper and cardboard boxes. Plus, if your council is one of the 50 per cent in England which have yet to switch to separate food waste collections, you’ll be an old hand at separating your leftovers into a kitchen caddy, so the change will be painless.
  • Through the festive fog, always remember what matters – Our induction hob stopped working two days before Christmas. Despite fearing I was going to have a meltdown, in actual fact I came to my senses. While waiting for the electrician, I realised that this really wasn’t a disaster; if we had to eat tuna sarnies for Christmas dinner, would it really matter in the scheme of things? This year’s mishap is next year’s anecdote. Too soon? Ok, whenever.

PS. The electrician saved the day but the lesson I learned still stands.

 I may write an inspirational book called ‘The Woman, the Turkey, the Hob and the Meltdown’ in time for next Christmas.

Julie Halford

Our 12 tips of Christmas

Still on the topic of sustainability at Christmas, here are a few more tips to add festive joy without waste to landfill.

  • Borrow Christmas

If you have ever wished it was possible to ‘borrow Christmas’ by renting as much as possible, check out this article in the Observer Christmas for hire: shoppers turn to renting for trees, toys and outfits | UK cost of living crisis | The Guardian with ideas on renting toys, bikes, clothes, tables and sofas to cope with an influx of guests, as well as table decorations.

  • Buy sustainably

 One of my favourite things at this time of year is Christmas cards. Controversial, I know, to those who would ban them if they could. But I believe it’s possible to buy carefully, sustainably and recyclably, (avoiding glitter, foil, ribbon etc) and buying cards that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified so you know the paper used has been sustainably and ethically produced. Greetings card companies know that consumers increasingly want products that are as sustainable as possible and are raising their game as a result.

Recycle cards

  • Remember to remove any items that can’t be recycled – glitter, foil, ribbons, batteries in musical cards. Many supermarkets and household recycling sites have card drop-off points.
  • Make gift tagsYou don’t have to be creative to make gift tags from old cards – both Christmas cards and ordinary birthday cards – so you never have to buy them. Or cut out images for children to make their own cards next year.

Recycle wrapping paper

  • If your wrapping paper stays in a ball when you scrunch it up it can be recycled (providing it’s not covered in glitter). If it unfurls itself, it can’t. Remove plastic tape. If you retrieve paper as people discard it you can smooth it out and reuse it. 
  • Save your stamps

Don’t forget you can save stamps for charities.  Most charities accept all stamps, including new or used, first or second-class and foreign.

Stamps are sold by weight so the more the better for raising much-needed funds.

 Cut the stamp off the envelope making sure to leave roughly 1cm of envelope bordering the stamp.

  • Compost at Christmas

Where suitable, our cards get recycled or torn up to provide valuable carbon content in our Green Johanna and Compost Tumbler compost bins, helping to keep the composting process going throughout the winter months.

At Christmas, composting really comes into its own. We know that when it comes to food, reducing waste is best but if you have unavoidable waste, it’s great to put it through the composting cycle to return as soil food in the spring. For great advice on reducing food waste see the Kitche food waste app at kitche.co and Love Food Hate Waste.

Composting your food waste and biodegradable cards and wrapping paper also means not having the annual problem of storing growing piles of black bin bags while anxiously awaiting the first refuse collection in January.

Anything you could wish to know about composting can be found on Rod Weston’s carryoncomposting.com website. The following tips from the website are especially useful for Christmas:

  • Composting Christmas trees – shred them first to increase the surface area exposed to the composting microbes to speed decomposition. If a shredder is not available, branches can be cut into thumb-size pieces but these will be slow to compost and it is easier to donate the tree to the local authority to be shredded into chippings which are then used locally in parks. Local authorities often arrange drop-off points in January.
  • Pine needles can be composted or turned to leaf mould but they will be slow to decompose and any significant quantities are best treated separately from deciduous leaves.

Here are a few more tips from my go-to green bible – Jen Gale’s The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide.

  • Rent a real tree for Christmas. More and more places are offering this service – you return the tree for them to look after the rest of the year.
  • Use reusable crackers – (keepthiscracker.com). They slot together for you to fill yourself and can be used year after year.
  • Check Freecycle or charity shops to pick up items donated by people who are having a clear-out. Julie Halford

The Composter’s Halloween Plea

Remember, remember on the 1st of November,

Halloween brought fun and mirth,

But don’t let that pumpkin

rot in any old bin

When it could nourish the earth.

***

Don’t bin that pumpkin –

It’s better to get a Johanna!

***

Want to know something really scary?

This November an estimated 15 million Halloween pumpkins will end up in landfill in the UK.

The vast majority will not even have been used for food first. 

Don’t let your pumpkin lantern be one of those that contribute to greenhouse gases – compost it and feed the earth instead.

A Halloween treat for the planet

A job for the grown-ups:

To compost your used pumpkin, cut the skin into pieces (the cutters in Halloween lantern carving sets can be useful for this job).

A job for the children:

Add the pieces of pumpkin waste to a composter and stir in well together with woody garden waste, autumn leaves or scrunched paper and torn cardboard.

 Job done – that’s one happy ending for Halloween! 

Going back to nourish the earth

Zero Waste Pumpkin Soup – tried and tested

Stacks of pumpkins

Pumpkin is absolutely Soup of the Month for October – no prizes for guessing why.

This recipe by our good friend Chef Dan at Kitche, the food waste fighting app, has been tried and tested by us and found to be totally delicious.

It uses the whole pumpkin – yes, even that mega-tough skin, which adds taste and texture.

 The seeds can also be roasted and added as a finishing touch. Unfortunately, I never got to try this part of the recipe because in our house anything that is not nailed down gets thrown in the Green Johanna by my husband. That’s what happened to my pumpkin seeds when my back was turned. Never mind, it gives me an excuse to make another batch of this delicious autumn warming soup.

Serves – 4

Time – 1 hr 30 mins

Ingredients

1 medium large pumpkin

3 large onions

3-4 garlic cloves,

Olive oil

1 litre vegetable stock

1 can coconut milk (optional)

Sprig of rosemary

2 bay leaves

Salt and pepper

Method

1. Wash, cut in half and gut your pumpkin, making sure to separate the flesh and seeds. (You may want to slap a sign on the seeds saying DO NOT COMPOST).

2. Crush garlic and finely chop the onions and add them to the pan, add oil and simmer until slightly golden.

3. Chop remaining pumpkin into large cubes and add them to a large pan with the pulp.

4. Finely chop your rosemary and add to the pan with your bay leaves, which you can leave whole.

5. Add your veg stock, making sure the ingredients are covered.

6. Add coconut milk if using.

7. Put on lid and let the pan come to the boil. Once bubbling, turn the heat down so the soup is simmering. Sort out the seeds while waiting.

8. The soup will take at least an hour to cook. Make sure the pumpkin skin is soft (this can take a little longer depending on the type of pumpkin).

9. Once it is ready, remember to take out the bay leaves and add salt and pepper to taste. Use a hand blender to make the soup smooth and creamy. Add water if required until it is your desired consistency. Can be stored in the fridge or freezer.

What to do with your pumpkin seeds?

The seeds make a great garnish. Lay them out on a baking tray and lightly salt them. They only take 5 – 10 minutes and burn easily. If you don’t want the seeds on soup, save them till spring and plant them in your garden.

***

 I also like this idea for pumpkin seeds from the organic online store Abel and Cole:

Give seeds a rinse, then toss in a little olive oil, salt and paprika and fry them for 5 minutes until golden brown – a great snack to serve at Halloween parties.

Julie

Food waste recycling – residents are doing it for themselves

Mention the term ‘food waste collection’ to millions of people in England and chances are you’ll be met with a blank stare.

That’s because their local councils have not yet started operating separate food waste collections; currently only around 50% of English local authorities do so. But change is coming. Before long, those residents will be joining the rest of the country in separating out food waste from residual waste. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have already made the change.

It’s a revolution in waste disposal but also in the daily routines of millions of people – and the planet will reap the benefits. 

According to WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) national kerbside food waste collections will mean a reduction in greenhouse gases of 1.25 million tonnes per year.  In compliance with the Environment Act, by 2030 no food waste will be sent to landfill in the UK.

Make a difference

Those local authorities that have already made the change have succeeded in getting a vital  message across to their residents – food waste recycling really does make a difference. Once you know that food waste in landfill releases methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, it’s hard to just chuck your apple core in any old bin.

Turning food waste into compost is the single fastest and easiest thing people can do to combat climate change.  So it makes sense that many people want to bring about this incredible transformation themselves, by taking charge of their own food and garden waste and turning it into compost for their garden, allotment or community project.

At Great Green Systems we understand the many varied rewards that come from composting, both for the individual and for their local council. For almost 20 years we’ve been working in partnership with local authorities around the UK, running schemes offering discounted food waste composters to those residents who want to recycle their food waste at source, right in their own gardens.

 Such schemes typically divert an estimated 250kg per family per year from landfill or treatment centres.

In 2020 Cumbria County Council estimated that over five years their scheme offering residents subsidised food waste composters (Green Johannas and Green Cones) had succeeded in diverting more than 5,000 tonnes of food waste from landfill, an average of 87 tonnes per month.

Produce compost

Green Johannas tend to be chosen by people who want to recycle garden waste as well as food waste, and to also produce their own compost. Green Cones accept only food waste and do not produce compost but a soil conditioner that nourishes the soil in which they are embedded.  Because Green Cones require no stirring or turning, they are often chosen by people who want the simplest possible way of recycling food waste.

Judith Bradshaw, waste prevention officer for Cumbria County Council, says:

‘Food waste digesters are a great way to reduce household waste in the county and offer an easy way for the householder to treat their food waste at home. The scheme has been very well received around the county.

‘I purchased a Green Cone to use alongside my existing composter which already works really well. I now have the means to treat all of my food waste, both cooked and uncooked at home, as the two bins complement each other perfectly.’

Research by WRAP shows that the benefits derived from composting go beyond improved food waste disposal.  When householders take responsibility for their own food and garden waste, a positive attitude to recycling in general usually follows, meaning that other recycling rates also improve.  As people become aware of how much food they throw away, they also tend to reduce the amount of waste they produce.

Boosting soil health

In addition, an increased awareness of the role that compost plays in sucking carbon out of the atmosphere (cooling the climate) and sinking it back into the earth (boosting soil health), can also mean that people feel they are doing their bit in the fight against the climate crisis.

At Great Green Systems we know that every local authority region faces very different challenges with regard to waste disposal. Our partnerships have included local authorities from the length and breadth of the country, from the Scilly Isles to the Orkneys. The geographical areas covered by our partner local authorities are diverse, from large land areas with spread-out populations to urban areas with multi-occupancy residences.

It’s not only homeowners with gardens who benefit from food waste composting. We have seen amazing results with small-scale community composting schemes in housing association complexes.

When 33 Green Johannas were installed across eight flats sites across East and West Sussex and Surrey (run by Housing 21 and Amicus Housing), the communal gardens were not the only things that blossomed. Residents and staff reported that personal well-being and community spirit also flourished. The projects helped to keep people mentally alert and physically active, through taking waste out to the Johannas, crunching up cardboard containers etc. It gave neighbours an added reason to chat to each other, acting as a conversational ice-breaker, not to mention encouraging them to grow their own flowers and food using the free, organic compost they had created.

Environmental superpowers

Composting appeals to people for different reasons. For some it’s because they’re enthusiastic gardeners and see making their own free, organic compost as a no-brainer. Others are converted to composting when they learn about its incredible environmental superpowers.

For instance, compost:

  • boosts soil quality
  • prevents soil erosion
  • improves soil drainage
  • absorbs water (slowly releasing it to grass and plants)
  • improves plant productivity and quality
  • captures carbon from the air and pulls it back into the ground.

That last point is particularly impressive – compost actually captures carbon from the air and pulls it back into the ground, right where we want it, mitigating climate change.

According to the charity Garden Organic, the health of the earth’s soils is fundamental to life as we know it, yet half the planet’s topsoil has been lost in the last 150 years. The charity urges people to take simple steps to redress this in their own gardens by regularly topping up beds with compost and ensuring soils are not left bare.

 So, in making compost, in your own small way you are actually helping to save the earth.  You don’t have to be a budding Alan Titchmarsh to want to do that!

It goes without saying that council officers tend to be composting enthusiasts themselves. 

Debbie Lee, recycling liaison officer for Redbridge Council, sent us an update of her Green Johanna: ‘The bin is currently swimming in worms and although it is used daily for the three of us and also some of my garden waste it is only 1/5 full as the natural process is magically eating all my food and waste.

‘I am still completely in love with the product. I used some of the compost from my Johanna to make up a planter with two small ivy cuttings. After two weeks, in addition to my intended ivy I now have tomato plants and possibly a pumpkin/ courgette plant thriving in my compost which must have come from the Johanna. Just goes to show what quality is coming out the other end!

Waste minimisation

‘The Green Johanna is one of the most wonderful pieces of waste minimisation there is around!’

Other council officers are equally impressed.

Andrew Jenkins, waste prevention team leader at Buckinghamshire Council, says:

‘The Green Johanna and Green Cone are a brilliant way for residents to put their food waste to good use in the garden and it saves food waste being collected and transported by the council.’

Charles Nouhan, recycling and commercial manager for Sevenoaks District Council, says:

‘Green Cone and Green Johanna food digesters remove all food waste produced by a typical UK household. It is a great solution for residents who have a bit of spare space in their gardens, and a huge help to the local council’s efforts to reduce household waste.’

Amy Williams, lead waste technical officer at Wiltshire Council, says: 

‘These composters are a great way of reducing the amount of food waste that is put into residents’ general waste bins, which ultimately reduces the volume of waste that the council has to dispose of.’

Great Green Systems work with all types of local authorities – county councils, district/borough councils and unitary/metropolitan councils. We design our campaigns around each council’s needs, taking into account issues such as geography, demographics, current and planned recycling and garden waste collections. Campaigns may vary based on whether a council has a budget for subsidy or not, and whether they prefer to offer residents one specific product or a choice of several.  We also design integrated marketing programmes combining digital/social media and traditional print media to promote the offers to residents.

The Great Green Systems motto is – Feed the Earth with Your Food Waste. With the help of our local authority partners, we’re proud to be helping thousands of people to do just that.

Your best friend in fighting food waste

I cook to live, my husband lives to cook.

We share the cooking. On my days everybody knows what they’ll be getting as I have four signature dishes (by signature dish, I mean ‘thing I can cook without a recipe’). I’m no foodie, I like to get cooking out of the way as quickly as possible so I can get on with living.

My cooking habits are good in terms of waste prevention because I buy the same things every week and everything gets used up.

Stressy

But my husband is a different animal. On his cooking days we never know what we’ll be getting because it seems to depend on what the food fairies whisper in his ear. I shop online because I hate supermarkets. If I ask him what he wants me to add to the online shop, he gets all stressy, saying ‘I can’t shop like that, I don’t know what I’ll feel like cooking!’ (No, I’m not married to Gordon Ramsay).

So I leave him to do his own shopping in person in the actual supermarket. He likes to see, touch and smell food; it inspires him. I think there must be some French strain somewhere in the Birmingham/Dundee DNA mash-up of his family.

This dual shopping routine is far from ideal, since it means he might buy things I’ve already bought. It’s why we ended up recently with three full jars of ground ginger. Not the end of the world, of course, since it stores well and we like ginger biscuits, but that’s the only over-consumption I’m admitting to since I’d be too ashamed to tell you the whole truth.

Unavoidable waste

Obviously, we compost unavoidable food waste in our Green Johanna, but composting should ideally be the final stage in the food waste hierarchy after meal planning and food storage. The environmental cost involved in the production and transporting of food is so high that prevention is better than composting.

We know we should plan meals in advance based on knowing what we already have. We know that, and yet sometimes the pace of modern life means we fall short. Stuff happens. We forget our list. We stress shop. Our husband fails to check the ground ginger situation.

So, when I read about the Kitche free mobile app I was immediately interested.

Kitche’s premise is that fighting food waste starts at home by buying what you eat and eating what you buy.  If we did this, we would help prevent the staggering 4.5 million tonnes of food waste created in the UK each year – enough to fill eight Wembley stadiums.

It goes without saying that by doing this you will save yourself a chunk of money without even depriving yourself of anything. The average family in the UK throws food worth £730 in the bin every year. When it comes to tightening the belt on household expenditure, such unnecessary waste is low-hanging fruit.

Helping hand

We could all do with a helping hand, and that’s what this app is. It’s like a friend by your side when you’re out shopping reminding you that you have enough eggs already.

The app enables you to scan food products from major supermarkets receipts with a snap of your camera so you can keep track of food you’ve got at home, even when you’re on the move. It categorises the products, adds reminders and tracks where you create waste, so you’re shopping smartly, not blindly.

It’s also interestingly informative in a way my dreaded Domestic Science lessons at school never were.  (Frankly, I never got over getting a rollicking for stirring a liquid jelly with a knife.)

There’s advice, such as:

Food tips

I confess I didn’t know this:

  • Onions are best kept in a cool, dry, dark place (ideally in a cloth bag), not the fridge.
  • When freezing milk – pour a little out first, such as in your tea/coffee, because milk will expand in its container.
  • Every day we throw a combined 20 million slices of bread away – mostly because they’ve not been used in time. Freeze it instead – you can use it straight from frozen in the toaster.

What’s in season

There’s a monthly A- Z of fruit and veg so you can shop seasonally. Why is this important? Because more energy is needed to transport, refrigerate and store foods from afar. Buying seasonally also saves money because the food is usually in abundance and lasts longer. It also supports the local economy.

How to store things.

The Can I Freeze It? section is especially useful.  In future I’ll be freezing chopped herbs in an ice cube tray covered with water. They can then be cooked from frozen in casseroles, stews and sauces.

Recipes

Recipes can besuggested based on what you already have in. I love the recipe for bruschetta that can be adapted to use up just about every leftover you can think of. I need ideas like this because, as I said, I’m no foodie. I’m not that person who can create a delicious meal from whatever’s wilting at the back of the fridge.  Fortunately, I’ve got a new friend who can.  

Importantly, the app also gets children involved with the use of activity packs.

A few years ago, while talking to a Swedish businessman, I told him how impressed I was at the way waste prevention and recycling were at the heart of Swedish life. How had they managed this as a modern, western, consumer society? His answer was simple – education.

Children must be part of every step forward we make. They are creative and  logical thinkers. Meal planning, food storage, cooking and portion control will make perfect sense to them. Going forward they will do this stuff as a matter of course.

As I said, Kitche is the best kind of friend and teacher.

I bet they wouldn’t even mind if you stirred jelly with a knife.

Julie Halford

10 effortless tips to reduce kitchen waste

Tomorrow (July 2nd) marks the start of Net Zero Week and you could be forgiven for wondering, but not daring to ask, what exactly net zero means.

In a nutshell, it’s the world’s answer to stopping the climate crisis. Waste prevention plays a major role, with the goal being to send nothing to landfill, incinerators or the ocean.

What better way to set about achieving this aim in ordinary, everyday life than by sharing ideas and tips on how to prevent waste?  

There are so many excellent books, blogs and websites on this topic it can be difficult to know where to start.  Fortunately, I’m addicted to tips; I never met a tip I didn’t like, except maybe the one about overcoming arachnophobia by getting matey with spiders.

A more eco-friendly home

My new favourite ‘tip-tionary’ is Green Living Made Easy by former Great British Bake Off winner turned best-selling author Nancy Birtwhistle. This book, and its predecessor Clean and Green: 101 Hints and Tips for a More Eco-Friendly Home, are packed with super simple ideas that make you wonder why you never thought of them yourself.

Nancy was inspired to find a new, greener way of living following a family discussion about climate change when she looked around the table at the innocent, gleeful faces of her young grandchildren and wondered what lay in store for them.

In the first chapter Nancy makes a good point about the difficulty of visualising the reality behind the many statistics that are thrown at us on green issues:

‘I read that a staggering 6.6m tonnes of food is thrown away in the UK every year. I find figures and statistics like this difficult to absorb, preferring to deal with my own food waste at a micro level and instead concentrating simply on my own fridge.’

I think most of us can identify with this sentiment. If the climate crisis is caused by the actions of individuals multiplied by millions, it makes sense that the answer, in part, also comes in the form of individual actions.

Nancy describes the way she used to dispose of waste as ‘robotic’. I can’t think of a better word to describe the unconscious way we create waste – until the moment we wake up to the consequences of our actions and realise we can do better, often with very little effort.

When you consider that these micro changes save you money too, it’s a no-brainer.

Here are 10 of Nancy’s simplest kitchen waste saving tips.

  • 1. Thyme to save herbs

To double the life of shop-bought fresh herbs: dampen a double-thickness sheet of kitchen paper with cold water. Lay on it either parsley, coriander, dill, thyme, rosemary or mint after removing from the packet. Roll loosely so that all the sprigs are surrounded by a cold, damp blanket, then pop in an airtight box and keep in the fridge.

  • 2. Freeze cheese please

To avoid cheese becoming hard and dry: buy a large slab of cheese – cut the block into 100g pieces. Put one block back in the original pack to use this week, then put the remaining pieces in a container in the freezer. Then for the next few weeks you have cheese that can be grated or used once thawed in the fridge for an hour or so.

  • 3. Take stock of veggies

The best way to accumulate sufficient veggie bits for a stock is to keep a large plastic box or bag in the freezer and pop into it the ends of celery, parsley stalks, trimmings from onions, carrots, parsnips, pea pods, leeks and any other tasty veg. Once you have a large box or bagful, place in a large pan and simmer for half an hour or in a slow cooker for several hours. Strain, keep in the fridge for five days or freeze to be used later as a base for casseroles, soups, pie fillings and stews.

  • 4. Piece of cake

Use a roll of reusable baking parchment instead of new greaseproof paper every time you bake. Use the bases of your favourite cake tins as a template, then cut the reusable parchment to size. Wash between uses.

  • 5. Bag-tastic

 The plastic liners in cereal boxes can be used to separate almost anything and make a good alternative to cling film. If you unpeel the seams of the bag this can then be used for pastry rolling. They also make good bread bags and freezer bags, sandwich wraps and for using in lunch boxes and picnics.

  • 6. Don’t shell out on eggs

Many baking recipes call for only egg yolk or egg whites, leaving leftovers of both. Egg whites freeze beautifully (for up to a year) and thaw in a bowl at room temperature in an hour or so.

Egg yolks can be frozen but need a light sprinkle of salt or sugar to prevent them going rubbery. Nancy rarely freezes yolks, instead making a quick lemon curd using the yolks, sugar, butter, lemon juice and zest. Stir on a low heat for several minutes until the mix slowly thickens. Store in a clean jar in the fridge.

  • 7. Scrap happy

Packs of bacon can lead to waste if a couple of rashers are left in the packet to dry up and go off before you know it. Instead, keep a small box of cooked scraps in the freezer. Cook the random rashes until crispy. Break them up into small pieces and pop them in a box to save in the freezer. Use these scraps as a pizza topping, stirred into pasta or sprinkled over salads.

  • 8. Spice of life

Nancy buys ginger or lemongrass only once or twice a year, keeping them in a plastic box in the freezer. She breaks ginger root into chunks and grates both the skin and flesh from frozen, then puts the unused root back into the box for next time.

She also freezes chillies and uses them from frozen. With lemongrass – trim the root ends and leaves, then freeze and slice from frozen to use.

  • 9. The besto pesto

Did you know that nettles have more vitamins and nutrients than many other green veggies? The sting is destroyed by blanching. Wear rubber gloves to handle them. Bring a pan of water to the boil, then add the leaves. Have a bowl of cold water at the ready. Blanch the leaves in boiling water for 30 seconds then use tongs to remove them and plunge into cold water to halt the cooking process. Drain the leaves, dry on a clean cotton towel and squeeze as much water out as you can. Whizz in a blender with parmesan, garlic, nuts, lemon juice, salt, pepper, olive oil. Freeze in an ice cube tray.

It’s a good idea to also freeze leftover shop-bought pesto in an ice cube tray, since it needs to be used within five days of opening.

  • 10. Chit chat

Save egg boxes for potato chitting (encouraging them to sprout). The cardboard moulds keep potatoes upright, the soft material doesn’t damage the shoots and the open design offers plenty of light.

Nancy says: ‘I understand where I have gone wrong over the past 50 years, but so few of us knew the impact we were having on our precious planet, its resources, wildlife, weather systems etc. There is no time to waste, so whatever your life is right now – one change, any change, will make a difference.’

So true. There’s no point crying over spilt milk or hard cheese.  We can’t change what we did in the past but we can change what we do from today.

So let’s save the earth – one fridge at a time.

Julie Halford

Spare Parts