My Week in Waste – An experiment

As part of the practical experience for my Personal MBA, I am documenting my experience monitoring what waste I generated in a week, to identify my personal waste target areas in seeking Quality Abundance.

Principle 1 – Don’t jump to solution mode. – It’s a regular warning in the change and transformation industry. To not heed this warning, there is a risk of spending a lot of time and energy solving only part of the problem. Not the key part. The source, the root cause.

Principle 2 – 80:20 – Pareto. – What are the 20% of things causing 80% of the problems. Which also means, solving 80% of the problems can be solved with 20% of the effort.

Putting it another way, it’s about understanding the problem. Breaking it down into its components. Looking for easy and/or specific wins. To understand the problem, I spent a week collecting all the waste that would have found its way to a bin, whether it could be recycled or not.

My blanket is too short

When it comes to saving the world, it feels like my blanket is too short. My shoulders are cold, so I pull it up, only for my feet to be exposed. Similarly reducing food waste may increase my use of plastics. Switching to biodegradable products can cause an increase in demand and price of certain crops, perhaps causing a shift in production from a key staple food, such as when the demand for soya increased, it resulted in a decrease in the production of maize.

Any action should be considered holistically. There are unintended consequences.

I also want to make sure my efforts are targeted in the right direction. It is a popular movement to give up straws. I completely agree, saying no to straws is great. For this to be my focus is ridiculous. I gave up using them when I was 12.

I have read about people throwing or giving away plastic coat hangers in order to reduce their plastic use. I cannot see how this makes any less of them, not getting more is the win. My mother is still using the tupperware my gran used decades ago.

The experiment

I decided to collect everything that I would have thrown in the bin. I know I need to reduce waste, but I wanted to understand how I could 80:20 it.

I’m already trying to be conscious of waste, by doing things like saying no to plastic bags when I can carry the goods and carrying a reusable bag with me. If I’m honest though, I don’t really go out of my way. I can and will be better. Better, not perfect. The point of this experiment is to see where I need to focus my attention to avoid my personal “straw” fallacy.

I also need to be realistic. With myself and with others, there is a cost and time trade off. Sure, everyone should go organic and even if everyone could afford it (they can’t it), there would be famine. There unfortunately needs to be a transitional movement. The first step in change is awareness.

It was time for another life experiment.

The Result

After one week of collecting, this is the waste heading to the bin:

  • 1.3 kg of cupboard packaging from Amazon and Mindful Chef

  • 600g of compostable food (I’m not sure if paper coffee filters can be included?)

  • 3 non deposit glass bottles

  • 1 tin (As an aside, it turns out, I do not like Jackfruit at all)

  • 5 one use coffee cups

  • A span of non-recyclable plastics of negligible weight. From Tescos, Mindful Chef. Used to preserve meats, vegetables and other snacks.

  • One use plastic with 2 misleading signs
    • I think the first means the manufacturer has made a financial contribution to recovery and recycling

    • Second is a plastic reunification code??? – Low Density Polyethylene – Meaning it potentially could be recycled? But not generally through curbside recycling.

There is a clear need to learn and read the labels carefully. They are confusingly similar, when not next to each other.

My (First) Action steps

It is pretty clear, that a reusable cup is the easy win. Even though I work from home most days, for the days I don’t. Packaging is an issue and I generated more food waste than I expected.

Based directly on the experiment:

  • Reusable Cup – Apparently about 18 is the sweet spot where it becomes less impactful, so 3-4 weeks and I’ll be net positive.
  • Bokashi Bin – I struggled for a while to find a solution under £100, until Jonathan mentioned these. I see no point in transporting it to a contaminated landfill. This is balanced against the fact I live in a 1 bedroom flat, so it needed to be small and balcony friendly. 

  • Email* to Amazon – If they changed their behaviour, it would impact millions. It would also drive change for others such as Mindful Chef to be able to leverage off.
  • Visit a local market and butcher for with my own containers.

A suprise result of this experiment was joining a group on Facebook going plastic-less for lent and I have been inspired and informed, I have come across innovative companies like Ecoegg and their specifically their Laundry Egg product(also on it’s way).

It has inspired me to create a more comprehensive list of recommendations and resources. With thanks to Diane who collated the initial list – the Quality Abundance Resource Directory.

To Conclude

This was a very interesting experiment, I was able to identify a few actionable and impactful steps with minimal effort. With a little more awareness, together, we can make a real difference.

* My email – If you would like to use it:

To Amazon,

I have done an experiment on how much waste I generate. 

Unfortunately, because I am fan of your products and service, you have been identified as a key source.

I have considered finding alternatives, but I feel a better result would you to change how you operate. If I find an alternative, I would lose out on your products and service. If you find an alternative it would be beneficial to all your customers. A far greater multiplier effect.

To address this problem, we need to be thinking:

Reduce, reuse, recycle – In that order.

My suggested action plan for you to target:

  1. Reduce – Get the smart people to target reducing the volume of your packaging by 30% (or more). Then, when done, do it again.
  2. Reuse – Develop a reusable and stack-able option for delivery packaging. Then using a similar model to gas canisters or milk bottles, have an exchange/return option. When one is dropped off, the others can be picked up. It could even be made relatively secure, at least as secure as a locked suitcase, perhaps even secured to to the property being delivered to.
  3. Recycle – The last resort should be recyclable or biodegradable. Unfortunately at times the net impact of this is not always better, so this should be considered carefully.

With aspiration for a better world,


For other companies, I believe we must continue to make a noise. If enough consumers make noise, the intermediaries will make noise, if enough intermediaries make noise, suppliers will make noise, if enough suppliers make noise, packaging R&D will quickly be called on to solve this problem. There are alternatives currently available, but we need to be careful of unintended consequences. 

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