Monday, 23 January 2012

The rubbish diet challenge: part of a new way of approaching life in 21st Century

On Friday I spoke to Karen Cannard for the first time.  She was incredibly inspiring for many reasons.  I want to write about her because she has found an alternative way to live that defies current thinking and does not involve being part of Occupy at St Pauls.  Let me explain how.  A year after having a baby she returned to work and swapped a commute to London for one to Buckinghamshire so that she and her hubby could pay their mortgage.  She realised that this was not good quality of life for her or her family.  As a family, she and her husband took the decision to move to Suffolk and live in a house where they could afford on one salary.  This gave Karen the freedom to give up work.  What I love about Karen is her honesty. She said it was tough being a full-time mum to young children.  I can relate to that – it is not the most intellectually stimulating experience.  In fact it’s lots of routine, repetition and drudgery with the odd highlight.

Karen however was a woman with a sense of her purpose.  She had joined a LETS (local exchange trading scheme) scheme whilst living in Herts and so had already started to question the way many of us live our lives.  It all started from the point when she went on maternity leave and realised how few people she knew locally due to her commuting lifestyle.  Prior to Suffolk, life had been commuting, getting home for a bite to eat, falling asleep on the sofa, going to bed and repeating the experience another 4 times in a week.  Is that living? No, it is surviving.

We go forward in time to 2008 when Karen found herself accepting somewhat reluctantly to take the rubbish challenge.  The council were keen to have her on board because she was what they considered Mrs Average – a house wife with two kids – and no interest in green issues.  It was an eight week challenge and she and her family reduced their rubbish so that by the last week they threw away one plaster!  Today they just have a carrier bag of rubbish a month.  More details about that can be found on her website.

This was just the start of a journey/ adventure for Karen.  Last year found her sharing a platform with some of the great and the good talking to CEOs of waste mgmt and recycling firms about what needs to happen next.  She has also spoken on radio 4 and been on tv.  She is still passionate about rubbish and can see how impacts on the world in the future - what will our children and children's children inherit.  I don’t think she imagined any of that back in 2008. 

Today she has started the rubbish diet where she has invited anyone who wants to participate in an eight week challenge where they slim their bins.  The idea is to help people recognise the challenges that they face in cutting down what they throw away.   For example I live in a county, Herts, which does not do mixed plastic recycling which means that there is a load of stuff that I cannot recycle. Also because the council do not collect plastics, we have to recycle those ourselves which is a dirty messy job.  I do it because I am committed to cutting down our waste but I wonder how many people actually do.

I am looking forward to the next eight weeks in terms of seeing what we are throwing away and how much we can cut down further on what we chuck.  I know it is going to be challenging and I am looking forward to some great tips from Karen.  Karen herself is hoping to raise awareness through a campaign on twitter and will mentor eight families during this period.  So for more info check out the video on Karen's site -

I do hope all this will inspire you to join us in the rubbish diet.  I find it so inspiring because much of what Karen does is unpaid and yet she is passionate about her mission and it is vital in terms of challenging the convenience society we live in where the focus is on consumerism.  I take hope from the fact that she is forging the way of a new way of living.  She does not need to ask herself if she is happy.  She gains so much satisfaction from living a meaningful life full of purpose.