Hello and welcome to The Compost Bin. I'm Compostwoman and I live with my family in rural Herefordshire. We have nearly four acres of garden and woodland, all managed organically and to Permaculture principles, which we share with Chickens, Cats and assorted wildlife. We also grow a lot of our own food, run courses in all sorts of things and make a lot of compost!

I am a Master Composter and have spent more than a decade as a volunteer Community Compost adviser with Garden Organic and my local Council.
I'm a self employed Environmental Educator so I run workshops and events where I talk about compost, veg growing, chicken keeping, cooking, preserving and sustainable living. I also run crafts workshops and Forest School/outdoor play sessions in our wood.

We try to live a more self sufficient lifestyle here, as best we can, while still having a comfortable life and lots of fun.

To learn more about us click on the About Compostwoman tab and remember to click on the photos to make them full size!

Saturday 18 October 2008

Why not use cans?

I have been brewing this post for many weeks now!

This is the boot of my car, loaded up for a trip to a recycling site ( it doesn't matter which one, I have several around us) because I am going out in the car for another reason.....it might be to collect Compostgirl from school or to go to town and get some food and go to the library...but anyway the recycling goes in my boot JUST IN CASE I pass a recycling point.

All our waste collected on Tuesdays by the bin lorry goes into landfill, so it is up to US to make sure we recycle ( separately and at our own convenience, expense, washing, storing, sorting and transport) any recyclable waste.

This is what I put out for the collection this week...we do not have a kerbside(what's that?) collection of recyclables...we are " too rural" for Hereford shire Council to provide one: This week we put out a plastic laminated /cardboard box ...a mixed packaging box ( my pet hate!) which means neither the plastic film NOR the cardboard can be recycled...( my bad, I shouldn't have bought the paddling pool for Compostgirl which was in it...) and a (degradable) black plastic bin bag with a small amount of plastic packaging which cannot be recycled in my area...( Our council only recycles plastic milk bottles/pop/water bottles with the recycling symbols "1" or "2" on them....)

This is the corner of our kitchen where we sort out the recycling, compostable dry stuff ( the wet compostable stuff goes in a caddy by the sink, see the cider and wine posts a few pages back!) and the stuff which has to go into landfill. We try to minimise the stuff going into the landfill bin by not buying it in the first place as once in the landfill bin it goes to a big hole in the ground ( Landfill..nice euphemism!) - where it sits decomposing and generating Methane if otherwise compostable ( Methane is 23 times a more potent greenhouse gas than Carbon Dioxide!) OR just sits and does nothing useful except fill a hole in the ground and be part of a disgusting mess for future generations to be appalled at how wasteful the previous few generations were...EVEN THOUGH WE KNEW what a mess we were creating...

As you can probably guess EVERYTHING which can be composted here, gets composted....and if we can recycle it, we do, and we avoid buying it if we can't recycle it ( under normal circumstances... but read on...)

So, what has prompted my somewhat ranty post? Well, as regular readers may remember we have fairly recently acquired 3 new cats, Sid the nearly (now)year old cat, and Tom and Tabitha the (now) 6 month old kittens. We also have Kitty Cat the elderly resident puss. Kitty eats what he catches, supplemented with cat biscuits; the late beloved Monty Puss used to eat small quantities of cat meat and mainly biscuits so this wasn't an issue before, BUT now we have kittens we have suddenly started to get through a HUGE quantity of cat meat!

ANYWAY, with Monty, we always used the little foil cartons, as he had a small appetite and a can would go off or HE would go off IT before it was finished...so anyway, either can OR foil tray went into the metal recycling box and off to the recycling bin whenever Compostman or I were going past one.

But NOW we are buying "kitten" food, and can you get it in cans or foil trays? can you HELL....it all comes in plastic "pouches"...which of course are NOT recyclable!
SO I am faced with buying kitten food in plastic ( on the left) and throwing the empties in the landfill OR getting non kitten food in cans and being able to recycle the empties.

Whose bright idea was it to market plastic pouches? Did whoever think ..."Oh yes, lets sell cat food in non recycleable plastic rather than endlessly recycleable cans...." I am sure they didn't! but the end result is..a recyclable packaging option replaced with a non recyclable , fossil fuel using package...grrr.

Guess which option we chose to buy? Yes, the cans.....and before anyone shouts "Kitten cruelty!" We DO also feed them kitten biscuits ( which we get in a cardboard box...) .....so no accusations of kitten cruelty, please!

I really wish there was some joined up , adult type thinking over all this....why can't "TPTB" just decide that all packaging HAS to be recyclable...no ifs, no buts...and ideally easily compostable in home compost bins as well???

PS I feel ever so slightly guilty at the amount of food being bought for what are basically an indulgent luxury pet, when there are people who die from lack of food...but that's another post I think!)


  1. But don't you think "kitten food" is a marketing ploy in itself? What did we feed kittens before kitten food. I just buy the pet food meat from the butcher and supplement it with raw eggs from my chooks.

    I think "Kitten food" like "toddler milk" is an invention by marketers, and a very clever one.

  2. What a great blog! They say you can tell a society by how they treat their animals. I am not really sure what it means that we spoil certain animals and inhumanely house and slaughter others.

    My husband and I are already trying to figure out how we're going to sort our trash (we'll be doing dump/recyle runs too). I'll let him manage that... all I really want to do is man the burn pile. lol.

  3. You could always reuse the pouches as kitten toys and then as chicken mobiles?

  4. Eve I agree! Thats another reason why we don't buy it, I don't remember getting any kitten food 20 years ago? And as for "Cat milk", why not just NOT give them milk at all? We are the only species who continues to drink milk as adults ( and not from our own species at that!) so why on earth , once an animal has been weaned by its mother, do we think it needs milk?

    Cats and dogs as child substitutes I guess?

  5. We are lucky enough to have kerbside collections for recycling so that is a great help. By the time I have filled the recycling bin and used what I can for composting the actual rubbish I put out each week for 'landfill' is very little so seem to have that under control. I do however agree with you about the cat food sachets and kitten foods. I know in my parents day the pets were fed the food scraps, no such thing as shop brought cat food then. The kittens seemed to cope with it all. I guess they may have just mashed up the food for the kittens a bit more until they were old enough to manage.
    Shop brought animal products are very controversial regarding what actually goes into them and some of the literature I have read about it does not make pleasant reading. My sister in law is a vegan and some of the things she has asked me to read regarding this subject have sickened me... but sadly hands up.. yes I still buy this dam food! Have tried natural alternatives but cats have just turned up noses and walked away. Some people say well if they were hungry enough they would eat it but personally cannot be that hard... so big silly softy that I am I just carry on purchasing what they like to eat and get on with it.. cannot afford these days to throw disliked food away!
    My cats are now between 10 and 11 years old so are set in their ways and thus now reluctant to mess them around. If I ever had a new kitten may consider a more holistic way of feeding and start as I mean to go on so to speak.
    My daughter has a cat who has suffered urinary tract disease not helped by commercially brought cat food so she has to feed him a dry holistic food diet. He seems very contented on it, thankfully!
    Did also try my cats on this food but again they turned up noses and would not have a bar of it... so seems I am stuck with shop brought cat food... try to get tins and foil containers but sometimes I have to resort to the sachets just so they can have food they like!! This sachet thing does not make sense to me... pity they could not use a biodegradable form of sachet... maybe we should start a campaign asking for a biodegradable sachet choice!!
    Jane xxx

  6. Loved this post. we are lucky enough to have kerbside recycling. I am very pleased to report that for a wwhile my nelighbours did not put any of the boxes out. slowly I have seen every house in our street and on the way to work put there boxesout.

    It just shows you that when a council offer it, people will use it. Although, I will say it is like reading manual for flying the starship enterprise, for what you can and cant recycle... Lovely post! Well done!

  7. Interesting post: I was trying to work out how much the weight difference accounts for, since obviously the cat food has to be transported. After weighing some empty tins (ready for recycling!) and some research on the web I came up with the following:

    Sales of prepared catfood in uk in 2007:465,000tonnes
    Sales of wet cat food (I couldn't find a weight figure for this: estimate 50%?) 230,000 tonnes
    Weight of cans (if all food was in cans) (10%) 23,000 tonnes
    Weight of pouches (if all wet food was in pouches) (1%) 2,300 tonnes

    Diesel per km for cans (at .143L per t per km) 3289 litres
    diesel per km for pouches 329 litres

    So assuming an average journey for a can of 100km (I think probably a underestimate) that's an extra 296,000 litres of diesel for using cans

    Let's guess that it is about the same to get the waste to recycling/landfill so another 296000 extra litres of diesel to remove the household waste

    So 592,000 extra litres of diesel by going to tin cans

    But can we save the equivalent of that in the recycling process?

    I've seen figures that say we can save 60% of the fuel necessary to produce a tin can by recycling - but I have also seen figures that say that only 50-60% of cans are actually recycled- so we are looking at cans being about 70% of the energy costs of using new ore. I can't find the figures for the energy costs of the plastic pouches but since they are about a tenth of the weight I can't believe it takes 7 times as much energy to produce the plastics as it does to produce the steel.

    There is the landfill issue, but if the 50% of cans being recycled is true (and much as people like us would love to believe that everyone recycles their cans like we do, I'm sure not everyone does) then that is 11,500 tonnes of cans being landfilled per year, versus 2300 tonnes of plastics (an extra 9000 tonnes of landfill).

    I'm not sure exactly how accurate these figures are (they were found in various places on the net - and I haven't spent ages verifying them) and I'm aware that some of the figures are missing (in particular the energy for creating a can versus the energy for creating a pouch). But I think it does at least raise the issue that what looks like the immediately obvious answer may not always be as obvious when you consider the whole problem.

    Sorry if this sounds a bit like trolling - it really isn't: I love your blog and find it an inspiring and interesting read.


  8. Wow! That got me some responses!

    gsw, I don't think your response was trollish...BUT I do take issue with some of your figures, which have a direct impact on the figures you get too, later in your response.

    With cat food in a can, the can is 11.55% of the total weight.

    An individual pouch weighs 5g with 100g nett of meat, so a pouch BY ITSELF is 5% packaging compared with 11.4% for a can.

    BUT the pouches only come in multiples in a box, and 12 pouches in a box have 1200g of meat in total, and the WHOLE thing weighs 1325 g

    so the packaging (including the box( compostable) is 9.4% of the overall weight, for a pouch,

    So the figures you use in your subsequent shipping, diesel etc calculations need to be amended to allow for THESE percentages...and I think you will agree there would then be little difference between the two.

    BUT the can is recyleable whilst the pouch is NOT.

  9. Hot belly mama hello! Jo, Aromatic, Slice of Life, thank you for your comments....

    I managed to find some cat food in foil trays today as well as cans....I am going to write and complain about this as I was SO incensed that my landfill waste bag got SO MUCH fuller, just because of the wretched pouches!

    And a few shops where I asked about food in cans said " oh peopleprefer the pouches" ? Excuse me? did anyone ever ask YOU whatyou prefered? because no one ever asked ME?

    I have obviously hit a nerve, judging by your replies.....


  10. After one attempt to get all the food out of a pouch I knew I wouldn't be buying those again!

  11. This is really interesting stuff, and yes, whilst the subject will always be controversial, at least we're all talking about it.

    I will admit to being rather cynical at times about the whole recycling issue - not because I think it's a bad idea (our family has recycled for years, even tho we've only just got kerbside collection here), but because of the fact that councils do make instructions unclear and therefore, not all of the stuff we put out to be recycled actually makes it to the recycling plant! E.g. we are told that milk carton tops are not recyclable,and if any are found with the lids still on, the whole bin/box will be "rejected". Now I assume that means it will be put in landfill, as I cannot imagine our council paying a team of 'recycling elves' to remove the lids!!! Personally, I always remove the tops & rinse out the carton, but I bet not everyone does!

    At the end of the day, we are all doing the best we can, and I think the most mportant thing we can do is to educate our chldren to reduce, reuse, recycle!!
    Willow x

  12. Funny, you say you feel bad about the luxury cat food. How about feeding your dog fresh spring salmon and fresh free range chicken jerky? Alas, I know she's not going to die from the god-knows-what is in the pet food.

  13. HDR, if you mean your dog is in its last few months/years, then I understand completely..we did exactly the same with beloved MontyPuss...we bought/cooked ANYTHING if we thought it would tempt him to eat and thus get a tiny bit stronger and stay with us a little bit longer...

    We do what we do........beloved pets are just that..beloved....

  14. here in the US, we do have kitten food offered in recyclable cans. But I prefer dry food (as this is my indoor city-dwelling cats sole nourishment) to reduce/prevent future dental problems.
    Canned food is a "treat" offered to my kits when my boyfriend gets soft. :)


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