Sustaining change

Initiating change is hard, but sustaining it has proven harder. When I embarked on my personal leadership challenge to tackle the on-farm recycling facilities where I live, I thought a bit of hard graft to organise a new bin and recycling store would do the trick. I thought that if I made the environment more pleasant, the other farm residents and holidaymakers would feel inspired to segregate and recycle more, maintain the area nicely, and the whole system would take care of itself!

I naturally became disheartened when over time, the newly arranged bin store became a mess again with waste and recycling streams mixed together and generally stuff just chucked everywhere! This was never worst than over the Christmas period (see previous post) with the increased volumes of cardboard and glass in particular – all those online orders and bottles of booze drunk! Since then, the volumes have decreased again to a level the store room and bins can accommodate and we’ve ordered additional cardboard containers from the council to prevent a repeat of the issues.

Reflecting on this journey has me thinking that this challenge was less about my own personal ability to enact change for good (the creation and continued organising of the bin store), and more about learning to adapt and respond to set-backs and a journey of personal patience.

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Most people believe that habits are formed by completing a task for 21 days in a row and some believe it’s 61 days to become truly ingrained. However, I like the model put forth by Tom Bartow, who believes there are 3 stages to habit formation. When reflecting on my experiences here, I can see the similarities.

  1. The Honeymoon – I definitely experienced this. High on my newly organised configuration of bins and signage, I thought my leadership efforts were done!
  2. The Fight-Thru – This was the big lesson for me. The willingness to continue with the vision and adapt to bumps in the road when things don’t go to plan.
  3. Second Nature – this is the vision for the future. The recycling system on our little farm continuing to operate with minimum further influence. We’re not quite there yet, but I can visualise it now and it’s just a case of keeping the faith!

Change can be disheartening when your initial enthusiasm doesn’t seem enough to inspire others to start, or crucially to continue to do the right thing. But, I started a direction of travel that was a small positive improvement for our local environment, and with some tweaks and a whole lot of time passing, I am confident we’re moving in a good direction and positive habits are forming.

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It’s also important to look back at where this all began and realise just how far this journey has come already in order to gather the energy to continue onwards and upwards! This little rat-infested dumping corner has gone for good, and that should be recognised and celebrated.

After all – sustained change (or the forming of positive habits) requires the passing of time – it doesn’t happen overnight.

Thanks for following along with my little personal journey x 

 

Farm recycling update (Post 3)

This is my third post on my Personal Leadership Opportunity (PLO) as part of my Mst in Sustainable Leadership. It was all about small steps having an impact where I live for the better. I chose to look at improving the waste and recycling facilities where I live – on a farm in rural Gloucestershire. The residents on the farm comprise of a mix of long-term renters and holiday lets. 

A stable was converted to bin store in the autumn last year and the various bags and bins (Cotswold District Council (CDC) operates a separate collection scheme for recycling materials which means a lot of various box containers, coloured bags and wheeled-bins) were hung on pegs and arranged in an orderly fashion. This worked successfully for a while (see post 2) as it was a much nicer environment for residents to come and take a little time to separate out their waste, or maybe just because it had novelty factor initially!

However, the Christmas holiday season has seen huge volumes of waste and recycling being generated and people who are more-than-likely time poor. One of the key issues is the cardboard. The bags provided by CDC are the smallest of all the containers and given most of us shop online for xmas presents, you can imagine the quantity of Amazon boxes alone!

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As such, inventive people have repurposed the plastic collection bags which are much bigger and stronger, to become cardboard receptacles, but the material streams have been muddled as a result.

I have come to the conclusion that working with businesses on recycling policies and processes is far easier than members of the public – especially when so many of the people staying on the farm are transient and just enjoying their holiday here!  How can we get them to engage more and take better care? 

Here’s some ideas I am considering trialling in the New Year:

  1. Speak with CDC and try to educate them that the cardboard bags are inadequate. Asking residents to flatten boxes is unreasonable (path of least resistance suggests people won’t do it and the bags are mainly full of air!)
  2. Request more blue cardboard bags from CDC
  3. Acquire a second or larger unit – with general waste and green waste (wheeled-bins) in a separate area or unit to recycling giving more space over to recycling
  4. Speak with the farmer/property-manager and ask to see the literature provided in the holiday lets. Update the recycling information
  5. Ask the farmer/property-manager to consider retention of deposit if recycling isn’t properly dealt with prior to holiday renters vacating the properties.
  6. Add borderline offensive messaging to the bin/recycling stores!

Can you think of any more ways in which I could address these challenges? 

How’s it bin? An update…

First came the calves and kittens, then the lambs and two more litters of kittens, then came the puppy, and most recently came 2 litters (broods? Coops? What is the collective noun for chicks?) and 1 more kitten.

Life on a farm changes fast!

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There have been big changes with “bin-gate” too. I would love to say that I was the proprietary instigator but I’d be bluffing. The greatest protagonist of this rubbish tale (lol) was in fact common vermin. Rats became rife as the weather warmed up, and the cottage dweller nearest to the bin storage area (if you can call it that – see previous post illustration) vacated their cottage and farm life for good. You would think with all the cats around, rats wouldn’t represent an issue right? Well you’d be wrong.  Mum-cat no longer possesses the feral instinct – with all the cottagers ensuring her diet consists solely of milk and Kitty Kat and I guess as is the usual case with evolution, this propensity to laziness has been passed on.

The farmer saw the impact in ££££ signs and things changed as rapidly as the kittens were captured and crated away by a local charity (I know .. farm life is brutal but I have one of my own already!). Anyway now for the point of this blog … just take a look at the changes.

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We decided the bins would be best kept inside one of the unused stables along two of the sides. Hooks were added to the remaining wall space from which to hang the bags for recyclable rigid plastics and for cardboard, and there was plenty of floor space left over for the boxes for everything else recyclable. A sign pointing residents to the new ‘recovery and disposal facility’ was hung.

Do you know what I have learned from this exercise?

  1. Money and repulsion matters. There had to be an incentive to invest in solving the issue, and a disincentive to all stakeholders in maintaining the status-quo. I know it’s cynical but I’m a realist! Only devout sustainability professionals (and I, by no means, profess to be one) wouldn’t adopt the attitude “What’s in it for me” from time to time.
  2. Prettier facilities really do equal better engagement! Since the repurposed stable has been created and neatly laid out, the segregation of recycling materials by the residents and farm guests has been a lot better. Previously, someone placed a helium gas cylinder (those ones designed for balloons) in the black box for tins etc., and I can’t tell you the flexi-definitions of “rigid plastic packaging” I observed.  Now, let’s not get too excited. I still have to regularly collapse cardboard boxes in order to create more room in the collection bags, but I’ll celebrate the wins no matter how small.
  3. People can’t read signage. Every so often waste appears in the old location… but it is happening less regularly.  That’s progress.

 

 

 

 

Farm waste to resource

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I moved home recently.  I rented a modest cottage on a working farm and livery yard based in the North Cotswolds. Mine is not the only home on the 75 acre farm. There are 8 other permanently rented homes and two large barns which are holiday lets.

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Over the past month I have been exploring the land and walks available to me in my new surroundings, as well as meeting the new additions to the farm including the calves and litter of kittens.

I am a country girl at heart, and I was raised as a passionate supporter of British farming.

Farming plays an important role in managing the environment of over 70% of the UK’s land area. Farmers are responsible for managing both important landscape features and providing habitats for wildlife of local, national and international importance.

During my exploration of my new surroundings, I have been struck by the various and multiple piles of debris which has collected in stables, open sided barns and in fields right across the farm. They include articles such as: metal piping and boiler tanks, farm films from silage bales, roof tiles, wooden pallets and cable reels. All discarded – or possibly just awaiting a new, repurposed life.

Farm waste can typically be classified as either natural waste, such as silage and manure and unnatural waste, such as the articles I have observed. In fact, did you know that plastic packaging waste from agriculture represents approximately 1.5% of the overall volume of plastic packaging in the waste stream in England.

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The tenanted cottages on my Cotswold farm home, don’t have individual refuse or recycling bins in their immediate vicinity. Instead, residents and visitors are requested to take their rubbish and recycling to a central area near the main farmhouse, from which is it collected fortnightly. On inspection, the area isn’t well organised and segregation for recycling is poor and littered with broken glass

Despite the presence of a green wheeled bin, there aren’t any door to door collection caddies available to residents on the farm, which could be as a result of a lack of local authority provision, or just a lack of resident awareness or motivation.

The role of waste management across farms and rural communities is not something I had previously spared a thought for, but through my observations living on the farm, I think it would be interesting to seek to understand how farmers and tenants alike could be better encouraged and assisted to improve the management of wastes. Over the coming months, I plan to investigate the challenges unique to my own farming community further, understand the scope and appetite to improve, and lead by example.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

Advocacy and communications in sustainable change

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I worked as a Policy Advisor, advocating change on a range of recycling policies in my early career. I represented UK industry views at national level and within the EU.  My main focus was on hazardous waste and namely “the nasties” associated with electrical equipment such as heavy metals, cathode-ray tubes (remember these? They came from the large backed TVs that you’ll remember if you were a child of the 80’s like me) and some lighting, as well as the chemicals and heavy metals in discarded batteries. I helped to formulate and influence EU Directives such as the WEEE Directive and Batteries and Accumulators Directive.

I’ll confess, there have been times when I have slipped a spent button cell battery into the kitchen bin knowing the consequences, but also knowing that if I put it into my handbag with the purpose of dropping it at one of the retail store collections, it’ll more than likely sit in my handbag for at least a year, slowly degrading and seeping it’s chemicals until it’s permanently attached to the bag’s lining. The one thing that legislation can’t do is place a sense of responsibility on the individual when no one is watching.

It’s a topic that policy struggles with. It’s the elephant in the room.

As recycling consultants we know that you could be working with the greenest business with a fantastic array of brightly coloured and well labelled bins, or a town council who has installed the top of the range ‘street furniture’ (the name applied to funky recycling receptacles for “on the go” recycling) but, you can’t force your audience to actually use them.

So where does the answer lie? Is it in the carrot or the stick? How do we get Joe public to care enough to make the effort? Is it engagement and communications? Is it education? Or does the answer lie in local or national policy, perhaps through incentivising ‘good’ practice or punishing ‘bad’?

Examples of attempts can be found in numerous local council resident schemes. Stafford council offered residents cash for correctly sorting their waste, (https://resource.co/article/stafford-council-offers-residents-cash-incentive-recycle-6519) and in Bracknell, residents can register to collect points which can be redeemed for green purchases such as compost bins, leisure time or library credits (https://www.bracknell-forest.gov.uk/recycling-incentive-scheme/benefits-and-rewards-list )

However, under Section 45 (3) of the Environmental Protection Act of 1990, it is illegal for councils to charge residents for the quantity of waste they create, despite the 1975 Waste Framework Directive upholding prevention as the greatest “environmental good”. Further to this, in 2011, the ex-Secretary for the Environment Caroline Spellman, made it clear that UK Government did not support ‘bin levy’ initiatives:

“We want it to make it as easy as possible for people to do the right thing and dispose of their waste responsibly. Measures such as additional charging … simply make life difficult for hard-pressed families and pose additional threats to the environment from fly tipping and other socially irresponsible behaviour”

What are the most effective methods for consumer behaviour change; stick or carrot? What role should policy play, if any?