Rubbish crime fighter out to save the green planet

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ARM deep in once-fresh fruit and vegetables, leftover meat and casually discarded packaging, Eilidh Brunton is fighting a crime called rubbish.

The “bin detective” carefully examines the clues in everyday waste to find out how people can both reduce and better dispose of their trash – saving money for households while improving the environment.

Eilidh Brunton finds plenty of unnecessary packaging. 'Picture: Neil Hanna

Eilidh Brunton finds plenty of unnecessary packaging. 'Picture: Neil Hanna

Her aim is to get families and businesses as close to zero waste as possible by encouraging recycling, flagging up food waste and steering people away from products that are bad for the environment.

And with the average household still throwing away the equivalent of six meals a week, her handy tips could save much needed pennies for families during the festive season.

The recycling consultant, who works for eco-packaging company Vegware, says people can easily put money back into their pockets by recycling more, reusing packaging and preventing waste in the first place.

“At Christmas people produce much more waste than at other times of the year but it’s what we do with it that matters,” she says.

“The important message to get across is that by reducing waste, families can not only help the environment but also save money.

“It’s this third step, prevention, that can really directly impact on savings. Think of all the food bought and then wasted at Christmas. By carefully planning and buying in only what you need you can reduce your Christmas food shopping bill whilst also preventing wastage.”

Of the 4.2 million tonnes of good food that goes to landfill in the UK each year, more than half does not even make it on to a plate.

Much will rot in landfill, creating harmful greenhouse gases and wasting all the energy, water and time that went into farming the food and transporting it from farm to fork.

Bread, potatoes and milk are three of the most squandered items of produce, yet the life-span of all can be prolonged if frozen.

Edinburgh University graduate ­Eilidh, 26, from Roseburn, adds: “So much fresh food goes to waste when it can be avoided so easily with a little bit of creativity.

“Not everyone knows that cheese can be frozen if it’s grated, it’s the same with a lot of vegetables.

“There are lots of recipes for using up leftovers so there’s really no need to throw a lot of it away.”

Many households in the Capital will already be well used to recycling their food scraps along with glass, cardboard, paper, and some plastics. But despite the good work of local councils, many food and drink products are still packaged in containers that cannot be reprocessed.

The only way this can be bypassed by shoppers is not to buy them in the first place, with the added hope of heaping pressure on manufacturers not to use them.

“With anything that cannot be recycled, it is about stopping them from happening to begin with. Once you have got them, you can only put them in that bin so it’s about looking for a way of reducing it.

“Plastic bags and plastic films actually cost money. You could save money by not buying it in the packaging.

“People go into a shop, it has a £1 label on it so they think it’s the cheapest way to buy it. If you actually look on the tags on the shelf at the price of loose apples and the price per kilogram, the unpackaged ones are nearly always cheaper.”

Vegware’s eco-friendly approach to rubbish has been adopted by several businesses across Edinburgh which took part in waste audits. They followed action plans on how they could improve their green footprints.

The results have been cost savings for the companies, including cafe and microbrewery The Hanging Bat, which reduced its waste sent to landfill by 90 per cent.

Research by the Edinburgh-based plant packing company is backed by the Scottish Government’s Greener campaign which aims to build a cleaner, greener Scotland.

New Scottish regulations come in from January 1 meaning all businesses will be required to recycle.

A spokesman said: “It’s best not to waste food, but sometimes there are bits we can’t eat that you can avoid wastage by composting or by food waste recycling. You can’t eat a banana skin, an avocado stone or tea bags.

“We can reduce up to two-thirds of our food waste if we plan better. Some of the food that we put in our household bins never makes it out of the packet.”

kate.pickles@edinburghnews.com