How can we build back better, together?
Ten weeks after first entering lockdown, our thoughts at Zero Waste Leeds shifted towards what we do next.
In March 2020 we quickly paused most of our work, to focus all of our efforts on supporting people in Leeds with #stayathome waste reduction - working alongside the waste and recycling team at Leeds City Council.
We’ve concentrated on the following themes:
- Dealing with your garden waste whilst brown bin collections were suspended - particularly through promoting home composting.
- Looking at how to keep food waste to a minimum - eg by shopping to a list, checking your cupboards and planning your meals
- Keeping hold of things that you’ve sorted out during a Spring Clean, so that charities can sell them on when their shops re-open
- Recycling as much as you can - at a time when we’re all producing a lot more waste at home - as we’re at home more.
We reflected on our first three weeks here - and now we’re looking ahead to what we should do next. Here are three things we’re thinking about right now.
How do we continue to build the movement?
We want to continue to reach out to new people - so we can really have an impact in our city. Clearly many of us have spent more time online than usual - and we’ve worked hard to share as much as we can on social media - in a range of different ways.
How can we maintain that momentum - continuing to welcome new followers - whilst also staying relevant to people who have been with us for a while?
How can we make our new habits stick?
It’s been an awful year - and we’re by no means out of it yet. But it’s important to recognise some of the good things that have come out of a difficult situation.
There has been so much positive local community action - with people looking out for each other on their streets and in their neighbourhoods in ways most of us have not seen in our lifetimes.
And when it comes to what we waste - there are positive stories too. Once we settled into lockdown, research suggests that many of us began to waste far less food - in part because we got into different habits, as we had more time. Shopping to a list, checking our cupboards, using up what we’ve got, planning our meals.
Similarly faced with the challenge of no garden waste collections, many of us embraced home composting as a way to deal with things like grass clippings - alongside fruit and veg peelings.
And many of our followers have reported neighbours sharing things on newly-formed WhatsApp groups - whether that’s in-demand fence paint or a set of ladders.
How do we make sure we don’t just go back to “normal”? If we’ve started composting, will we stick with it? If we’ve got more organised when it comes to food - how do we keep doing the things that make the difference?
We’re keen to explore how we can work with our community of followers to help each other to stick to the good habits we’ve formed - whilst also encouraging more people to join in.
How do we #BuildBackBetter?
Many of us agree that we don’t want to go back to “normal”. Whilst we crave something different to what we’re currently living through - we also don’t want to go back to exactly what we had before.
We’re thinking about this issue in a couple of different ways.
How do we work with the network of small businesses, social enterprises, charities and community groups in Leeds that help us all to waste less? Many of them have had to close - or really cut back on what they do. Some, let’s be honest, will be at risk of not surviving beyond the next few months.
How can we support them? How can we share our platform, to make sure as many of us know when each of them gets back to business? Having worked alongside charity shops to encourage people to hold onto their donations, how can we help when they start to reopen?
And then, how do we work with our followers to see how we can all play our part in Building Back Better? By continuing to shop with local shops (which are probably also pretty good at keeping waste to a minimum) - and by continuing to support other initiatives - such as Repair Cafes - once they’re able to reopen?
It’s clear to us that there are tough times ahead. It won’t necessarily be that easy for us either - we’re a small social enterprise and it’s not always easy to keep going at the best of times.
But we know that moving towards being a zero waste city, being mindful of our use of natural resources, and finding ways to connect with each other and live more sustainably will be more important than ever over the coming months and years. We’re ready to play our part.