Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

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The Independent Online

Congratulations to the Women's Institute for its recent packaging protest. I was working in my eyrie that day but my neighbour Summer updated me when she came to raid my farm box. She said the tills in Waitrose were knee-high in discarded packaging as ladies in headscarves complained to terrified store managers.

I popped in, though, and as usual saw grapefruits, avocados and mangoes in yards of "protective" wrapping, plus hundreds of impregnable plastic boxes each containing 15 Italian cherries. AndI never actually saw anyone reuse a "bag for life".

Still, at least it's now acceptable to dump waste at the tills. I've been doing it apologetically for years. My rubbish epiphany came 10 years ago at a protest at Rainham rubbish dump. A protest outside Edmonton rubbish incineratorwas equally depressing. It's unfair that more toxic incinerators are being planned, most recently in Bexley, which, ironically has the highest recycling rate in London.

Since then I've been rigorous in reducing my rubbish mountain. But it still creeps up on you.

I buy lots of household products - specially the indestructible and expandable string bags from www.naturalcollection.com. They package everything in shredded old paper. Stuff a string bag in your bag and you'll never need a plastic one again.

Worm bins reduce kitchen waste. In summer worms work fast - especially if you give them coffee grounds and tea leaves as the caffeine seems to stimulate them. As I have a small patio I keep my bin on my neighbour's terrace. They haven't complained so I got another bin so the terrace is getting a bit crowded - still, more lovely compost for moi.

Installing a water filter will reduce your plastic bottle mountain. We chuck 15 million such bottles a year in the UK and the market is growing despite evidence that carcinogenic plastic leaches into water - especially if bottles are left in the sun.

I also reuse the plastic bags encasing newspaper supplements as sandwich bags or to cover food in the fridge. I give normal plastic bags to a vegetable stall at the farmers market for them to reuse.

It's an ongoing battle. When Connie stays she remains oblivious to my complex recycling rules (she loves packaging and has a thing for shrink-wrapped coconuts). It's a full-time job clearing up after her.

"Who are we - the Rockefellers?" I cry as I pull another plastic bag from the bin, but my protests fall on deaf ears. I fear the only thing that would restrain her would be being charged for bags, as customers are in Ireland. This has reduced bag consumption by 90 per cent. Fortunately IKEA is the first British retailer to charge customers 5p a bag.

My eco-coach says he only throws away one bag of rubbish a year. Impressive! I suppose it depends on how big it is - it might be a very big bag indeed.

Home water purifying systems - www.pureh2o.co.uk; worm bins - www.wigglywigglers.com

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