"Thirteen" I muttered. "What did you say?" asked my mate, who had accompanied me by bicycle to Peckham farmers' market on Sunday for my weekly shop. I replied that I had just added up in my head the number of bags I'd saved by going to the farmers' market instead of the supermarket.
It's a game I often play after shopping. As well as avoiding plastic bags, I refill my egg cartons, return my empty jars to the honey stall and fruit stall, and even return my empty plant-pots to the plant stall. I have not had a council non-recycled-waste collection from my house for more than 12 years now, ever since I refused delivery of a wheelie bin from said council. Eliminating waste in the first place, and living a low-waste lifestyle, can be very satisfying.
However, this week I heard that I am no longer alone in being wheelie-bin free. A friend told me about the Staiths South Bank housing estate, which is also wheelie-bin free. The commission to design this estate was given to Wayne Hemingway by Wimpey Homes after the designer criticised the "Wimpeyfication" of housing estates.
While much of the media attention focused on different aspects of the estate's design, it often overlooked the fact that this was the first UK housing estate to ban homes from having their own bins. Seemingly, the Hemingways – Wayne and his wife Gerardine – share my view that wheelie bins are a design blight on our towns and villages, and when they got the opportunity to design an entire estate, they resolved to get rid of them.
After what they describe as "very helpful discussions" with the local Gateshead Council, which is responsible for collecting the rubbish from the new estate, they got agreement to replace individual wheelie-bins with one communal recycling and waste point for about every 20 houses.
Surprisingly, this has not resulted in a revolution by local residents, but rather, as one put it: "You think that not having your own bin is going to be an issue, but it's not. It is better, as they don't smell."
Wayne Hemingway says this has not only contributed to building a more vibrant community as people meet at the recycling point, but also, because people like to be seen to be doing the right thing, it has actually increased recycling levels.
One of the most extraordinary revelations, however, was that, by choosing to have binless homes, the roads did not have to be designed to take huge rubbish-trucks. This allowed a transformation of the streetscape into a child-friendly and beautifully landscaped "home zone".
Who would have thought it? Being green and eliminating bins has resulted in a friendlier neighbourhood that allows children to have more fun in the open air beside their homes.
Staiths South Bank is not just counting the plastic bags they have saved, but also the number of wheelie-bin collections they've avoided. Zero-waste Britain, here we come.
Donnachadh McCarthy runs an eco-auditing firm, and is the author of 'Easy Eco-auditing'. www.3acorns.co.uk
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