Archive for the ‘Waste’ category

WODC give away more compost in late June; plus freebies!

June 15th, 2014

West Oxfordshire District Council are hosting another Compost Giveaway on Friday 27 June, at The Leys in Witney (down near the public toilets.)

Times stated are 12pm–3pm, although the previous one at Cogges did arrive a bit earlier than that. We’re not saying camp out, but look sharp! Residents just need to bring their own containers, to get the compost on a first-come, first-served basis.

Also available for free will be food waste bins and caddies, kitchen caddy liners, recycling box nets and recipe books from the Love Food Hate Waste initiative. There’ll be discounted home composting bins too: half price, at just £10 each.

When it’s gone, it’s gone. So, gardeners: stick 27 June in your diaries!

Sunday swap shop is a success

April 7th, 2014
queue of people outside a building

An queue builds before the opening of Sunday’s swap shop

Carpet rolls, ceramic ornaments and a camp bed were all items donated to Sunday’s Sustainable Witney swap shop – and then taken away by new owners. The purpose of our swap shops is very simple: stop potentially useful things going to landfill. Lots of people on Sunday took the opportunity for a clearout, bringing piles of different things to the event at Cogges Farm. We weighed everything to measure just how much was being diverted from landfill, then laid it out on tables divided by category: clothes, books, toys and so on.

We counted 130 people through the door, mostly arriving with bags of unwanted items and then leaving with new finds. (You don’t have to bring anything to a swap shop to take things away, though; you can just turn up and take anything you need.) We weighed nearly half a tonne of donations and only 6kg of that went to landfill. Electrical items that failed our PAT checks were taken to the WEEE bins at Dix Pit so that the components could be  reused safely, while usable items such as clothes, books and bric-a-brac were donated to the Africa Appeal shop on Monday morning.  The only items that went to landfill were two old pieces of carpet and some polystyrene that couldn’t be recycled.

While the swap shop was going on, Edible Gardens ran a gardening workshop using tools that had originally been thrown away. They also ran a seed swap where gardeners could share unwanted seeds. After the gardening tools had been used in the demonstrations they were given away, escaping landfill for a little longer.

Our next swap shop will probably be in the autumn. If you register for our updates, you’ll be one of the first to hear about it.

This blog post was edited on 8th April to correct a misleading sentence that seemed to imply we sent electrical items to landfill.

Stop littering: put a net on it!

April 2nd, 2014

recycling box with net on top of the lidIs your street a mess on bin day? Windy weather can blow the lids off recycling boxes and strew the contents everywhere. If your recycling is blown around the street, it won’t get collected as recycling, so it’s very important to try to secure your recycling box as much as possible.

To help with this problem, West Oxfordshire District Council are offering free nets to stretch over the top of your recycling box, either over the lid or instead of a lid. These will help the contents of the box to stay inside until it’s time to be collected.

Next time you’re in Witney town centre, you can pick up a recycling-box net free from the district council “shop” on Welch Way, or you can order nets by calling 01993 861000.

If you believe that your street is particularly bad after recycling collections, please contact the council and they may be able to offer some extra help.

Free compost this Fri/Sat for local residents

March 9th, 2014

If you live locally and want free compost, you should get down to Cogges Manor Farm this Friday and Saturday. In return for everyone giving WODC green-bin waste for processing, there’s now compost being delivered free!

Edit: breaking news; the compost will be delivered at 12 noon on Friday!

Each of the two days, a lorry will drop off the compost at the disabled car park for Cogges Farm. If you’re local to Witney, you’re welcome to bring your own sacks and get some free compost, for your garden or allotment. Bring your own sack and take it away.

But do look sharp: when it’s gone, it’s gone!

Thanks to WODC and SW’s Sian Stokes for organizing: if there are more compost drops in the future, we’ll definitely keep you posted, so why not register for updates?

Free compost: available from Cogges Farm for two days only

March 9th, 2014

Free compost, made from green-bin collections, will be delivered by WODC to the disabled car park of Cogges Manor Farm, from 12 noon, on Friday 14 and Saturday 15 March.

Local residents (including allotment holders) are invited to help themselves to a sack of free compost: bring your own containers. First come, first served!

Plastics talk at Brookes

February 17th, 2014

Kate from Sustainable Witney will be speaking at Oxford Brookes University about living with less plastic. She will be talking about her own experience of doing Plastic-Free July last year and giving tips on reducing the amount of disposable plastic in your life.

The 20-minute talk is part of Sustainability Week at Brookes, a five-day programme where each day has a different sustainability theme: water, transport, food, waste and energy. Kate’s talk will be on the Wednesday, which is Waste Day. Her talk will be followed by another talk about Coca Cola’s recycling technology, then a screening of the award-winning documentary Trashed. Both talks and the screening are free, but you can make sure of your seat by registering in advance.

The talk will be in the Chakrabarti room, JHB208, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane site.

ReFashion returns to Witney!

November 10th, 2013

ReFashion returns to Witney on Saturday 16th November, from 10am – 4pm, with the town’s Langdale Hall hosting an array of stands all doing their bit to promote the reuse, repair or upcycling of fabric.

With around 8000 tonnes of textiles ending up in landfill across the county each year, West Oxfordshire District Council is working in partnership with all the Oxfordshire councils to tackle the problem of wasted material.

Cllr David Harvey, cabinet member for environment at West Oxfordshire District Council says: “After an incredibly successful event last year which saw over 300 people attend and over 300kg of materials diverted from landfill sites we are delighted to be hosting and supporting Oxfordshire Waste Partnership’s second ReFashion event inviting residents from all over the district to join in the Witney event”

Brigitte Hickman, volunteer from Sustainable Witney has been one of the main organisers of the Witney event. She says: “We were so pleased with how popular the event was last year, and we hope that this year it will be even bigger and better than before! We’ll have all sorts of activities going on throughout the day such as charity shop catwalk shows, crafting sessions and clothes swaps. The event is open to all ages and sexes so I’d encourage everyone to come down, bring their old clothes, and get inspired to do something new with a once loved item of clothing!”

Rebecca Lake from Oxfordshire Waste Partnership says: “Because of ReFashion’s popularity last year we have decided to make it an annual event, as encouraging textile reuse and recycling is really important to us. While Oxfordshire is one of the best areas in the UK for recycling, many textiles are still ending up in landfill. There are so many things you can do with unwanted clothes, from swapping, mending, turning into something else and of course donating to a charity shop. ReFashion aims to highlight these through a free, fun event!”

You can read more about this event at

ReFashion Witney 16Nov-A4

Plastics talk in East Oxford

October 30th, 2013

Would you like to have less plastic packaging in your life? Kate Griffin of Sustainable Witney is giving a talk on lower-plastic living on Monday 18th November.

All are welcome to attend the free talk at the Restore Cafe on Manzil Way, Oxford (off Cowley Road). This talk is organised by Low Carbon East Oxford. Arrive 7:45pm for an 8pm start.

If you can’t make it but want to know more, take a look at the Plastic-Free July Survival Guide for some useful tips.

Swap and Repair, Oxford

October 24th, 2013

Come to the Assembly Room at Oxford Town Hall for the first Oxford Swap and Fix event. Bring along the broken things you don’t have a clue how to fix and would otherwise throw out: busted hairdryers, trousers with broken zips and so on. Experts may be able to repair them and give them a new lease of life.

You can also bring things that aren’t broken but you don’t want them any more: CDs, clothes, bric-a-brac and so on. Leave them at the Swap Shop for someone else to take; one person’s rubbish is another person’s treasure!

The event is 10am-2pm.

Recycling water filter cartridges in Witney

October 23rd, 2013
Three used water filters on table

It’s the reason why your boiler furs up and your taps look dull – yes, Witney is in a hard-water area. That’s why lots of local people choose to use water filters. So what do you do with the used filter cartridges? If you use the common Brita brand you’re in luck – it’s easy to recycle them in Witney.

Where can I get my used water filter cartridges recycled?

Several Witney stores have collection boxes where you can drop off your used cartridges for recycling:

Argos (Market Square)
Cargo (near the Woolgate car park)
Robert Dyas (Market Square, next to Argos!)

It’s free and you probably won’t have to talk to anyone either – just drop them in the box.

Box for placing used filter cartridges

Recycling box in the Witney branch of Cargo.

What happens to the cartridges after I put them in the box?

According to the BRITA website, the plastic body of the cartridge is pre-cleaned and then ground up into a granulate which goes on to become other plastic things. The filtering material (the dark bit inside) is split into two parts: activated carbon, which is returned to the manufacturer and reactivated for other uses, and ion exchangers, which go through a thorough purification process before being reused to make new water filter cartridges.

Is it actually worth recycling them?

Definitely. The recycling process requires considerably less energy than turning crude oil into new plastic materials. Also, anybody who followed us for Plastic-Free July will know that plastic items don’t just disappear into thin air when you’ve finished with them; they end up in landfill, or, worse, in the oceans.

As for the transport logistics, Brita organises things so that the vehicle delivering new cartridges to a store will carry used cartridges from that store on its way back. In other words, recycling the cartridges doesn’t involve any extra journeys.

Why didn’t I know this before?

For some reason, there’s nothing about recycling filter cartridges on the Oxfordshire County Council Recycling A-Z, or on the Recycle Now website. This blog post was written purely so that this information would be on the web in easy-to-find form for Witney residents. If any of your neighbours ask about water filter cartrige recycling in Witney, please point them to this post!

Recycling VHS Tapes

September 18th, 2013

A few weeks ago on our Facebook page I asked the question what can we do with old video tapes? If you don’t want to weave with them it seems the safest thing to do is to donate them to a Salvation Army centre. I wanted to know what happened to them next and here is the answer (many thanks to Sian Stokes from WODC for finding out for us.)


When we receive the VHS cassettes they are removed from their cases, paper to one bin, case to another. The VHS cassettes themselves are stacked in cubes. 2622 VHS’s per cube weight approximately half a tonne. See attached picture, a cube being made up in the foreground other cubes at the back.

The cubes are sent to Singapore where they are dismantled by hand.

  • The outer cases will be made into such things as garden furniture.
  • The Film is heat treated and will become amongst other things floppy coat hangers for children’s clothes.
  • The white plastic cogs are valuable in their own right as there is a healthy market.
  • Similarly the aluminium pins are sort after as a precious metal and so again have a value.

Paul Ozanne
Salvation Army Trading Company Limited

Alternatively the WODC ‘media bank’ on Woodford Way accepts them.

Plastic-Free July: time to move things up

July 28th, 2013

Plastic-Free July is drawing to a close, and I’m getting the same feedback from everybody: it was seriously tough. The aim of the game was to “consume no single-use plastic during July” and I don’t know anybody who actually managed this. The creators of the challenge obviously expect this, which is why they emphasise that it’s just an “attempt”.

Why doesn’t anybody manage it? Is it because we can’t resist going for the plastic-heavy option over the plastic-free one?

No. People don’t fail at Plastic-Free July because of bad choices; they fail because there are so few choices. We’re being set up to fail by a system that makes it almost impossible to live a normal life without buying and discarding at least some single-use plastic.

Several people have reported back that Plastic-Free July did actually help them reduce their plastic consumption, by forcing them to look really hard for alternatives. That’s been my experience too. But mostly, Plastic-Free July makes you realise how little power you have, as a shopper, to avoid the stuff.

So what’s the next step? It’s time to move up the supply chain. We need companies to start actually making plastic-free options for us to buy. Which means it’s time for supermarkets and other retailers to do their bit – because they have a hell of a lot more buying power than we do. But it’s not going to happen unless there’s pressure from us, the shoppers. When you’re dithering between two different plastic jars of peanut butter, you have no choice and no voice; but if a hundred shoppers explicitly ask for glass jars, we might start seeing results.

I’ve created a number of template letters to shops which you are free to adapt for your own use. My only caveats:

  • Please don’t just copy a letter without reading it through and making sure you’re happy to put your name to it. It’s from you, not me.
  • Please don’t use anything that isn’t true, e.g. don’t say you’re a customer in the Witney store if you actually shop in Wallingford.

More template letters will be added over time. (If you have one you’d like to share, get in touch!)

Template letter to Waitrose

Template letter to the Midcounties Co-op

Template letter to Boots

I know some people think that contacting companies is a waste of time – even if they don’t have to write the letters themselves. For those people, I offer the example of American snack company Frito-Lay, who trialled a biodegradeable crisp packet. It was withdrawn from sale – because of complaints from consumers that it was too noisy. It’s time to exert a bit of consumer pressure in the right direction for a change!

If letters aren’t your thing, consider opening a conversation with brands on social media. Or ringing that helpline they keep promoting. All ways of getting the message across are valuable.

If you’ve stayed with Plastic-Free July this far, congratulations. I’ve learned a lot that will be useful in the long term and I hope you have too. The survival guide is still being updated and contributions are very welcome.

And finally…thank you for taking part!

Want your house to be thermally imaged? Bookings are open!

July 23rd, 2013

It feels like the wrong time of year to be thinking about heating your home, doesn’t it? But a well insulated, draught-proof house gives you options for keeping warm and cool; and whatever the temperature outside, it isn’t going to last….

So if you’re worried you might have a draught too many, or you normally just can’t get the house warm whatever you do, then help is at hand. We offer a voluntary service to Witney residents, where we take thermal images of the outside of your house. With these to hand, you can more easily work out what improvements to your home can have the most impact on its insulating properties. We’ll even have a public meeting some time in March 2014, where we’ll give you your images, explain the results, and offer you a one-on-one consultation with an expert.

Because of the nature of the survey, we have to do it in the colder months, but we’re now taking requests for November and February, when we’ll next have possession of the thermal camera offered by WODC.

Over a hundred Witney residents had their homes imaged by us in the season of 2012/2013: if you’re interested, then you should email us on, to get on the list for next winter!

(Also because of the nature of the survey, which is very weather sensitive; and because we’re volunteer-run and have limited time available: we can’t guarantee a time or date. But we’ll let you know when your house has been imaged! We should also be clear: there’s no commercial involvement in the public meeting, and no pressure to buy anything.)

Plastic-Free July: your survival guide

July 14th, 2013

Anybody who’s tried it for a week will know: avoiding single-use plastics is very difficult. This post is intended as a guide to avoiding plastics in various areas of your life. We’ll keep updating it as new suggestions come in, so please comment with your additions – and if you spot any out-of-date or otherwise inaccurate info, please let us know! (Information will tend to have a Witney-specific flavour.)


Witney Co-op, Sainsburys and Waitrose all sell unwrapped loaves and rolls that you can put in a bag yourself. The bags supplied contain plastic but you can reuse them until they fall apart or bring your own paper bags.

Sliced bread: the Waitrose and Sainsburys in Witney will both slice an unsliced loaf for you, for no extra charge.

Gluten-free bread: the only low-plastic option we’ve found is to buy the flour in a paper bag (from Waitrose, the Co-op or Beanbag on Wesley Walk) and make your own – but we haven’t found a plastic-free source of yeast yet.


Dairy Crest delivers to Witney (through its brand Milk & More). Ring 01993 702347 or visit the website to set up deliveries. (Milk is delivered in glass pint bottles which you wash and put out for reuse.)

We’ve looked into Tetrapaks (25% plastic, 75% cardboard) but concluded that these are worse than all-plastic bottles, because it takes more energy to recycle plastic when it’s combined in a mixed-materials container. If you have more info on this than us, please get in touch.


Windrush Dairy have a stall at the Thursday market in central Oxford. They use less plastic packaging than supermarkets.

Other dairy

We’re still looking for: more plastic-free or low-plastic ways to buy milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice-cream, cottage cheese, yoghurt drinks and so on, ideally in the Witney/West Oxfordshire area.

Fruit and vegetables

Getting a weekly veg box is the most convenient way to avoid plastic: everything is delivered to your door in a reusable cardboard box that you leave out for the delivery driver next week. Abel & Cole and Riverford deliver in this area. There are occasional plastic bags in the boxes but you can leave these out for re-use too.

Or buy loose fruit & veg from the supermarket. Reuse the plastic bags provided until they fall apart or use your own paper bags. We’ve tried using our own bags in Waitrose,  Tesco and the Co-op and had no problems from checkout staff apart from the odd grumble. Onya Bags sell reusable “weigh bags that are strong, light and washable. It’s £9 for 5 bags that will last you for ever.

Witney Market (Thursdays and Saturdays) sells fruit and vegetables in paper bags, though it’s hard to stop them putting all your paper bags in a plastic carrier bag at the end! However, soft fruit like strawberries is sold in plastic punnets for obvious reasons.

Store cupboard food

The People’s Supermarket in East Oxford sells refill packs of lentils and rice in paper bags.

SESI in Oxford also supplies refills of items such as rice, cereal, pulses, nuts and dried fruit. They appear at various markets in Oxford: East Oxford Farmers’ Market, South Oxford Community Market and Leys Community Market. (Despite what their website says, they no longer seem to be doing Wolvercote Farmers Market.)

The Chinese supermarket on Church Green sells bamboo shoots in a tin (only available in plastic from the supermarkets).

We’re still looking for: Witney-based solutions for buying store cupboard basics like rice.


We’ve asked around, but haven’t found any butchers where it’s possible to buy meat without getting it wrapped in plastic. Please get in touch if you know of one in Oxfordshire.


It’s hard to find convenient, on-the-go snack options without single-use plastic. If you’re planning ahead things get easier, e.g:

  • make your own houmous using a glass jar of tahini (available from Beanbag), loose garlic from Waitrose, a tin of chickpeas and olive oil.
  • buy olives in glass jars and put them in a little Tupperware container
  • grab a piece of fruit bought in one of the ways described above.

The People’s Supermarket on Cowley Road in Oxford sells sunflower seeds in a compostable plastic pot.

We’re still looking for: low-plastic ways to buy nuts, crisps, rice cakes and oatcakes. Also very keen to hear about any snack food that’s sold in a plastic-free or low-plastic way for on-the-go eating.

Takeaway tea and coffee

Buy a travel mug you can reuse again and again. There are loads available online but they also appear regularly in the Animal Sanctuary charity shop (Corn Street) often still in their boxes! And (whisper it) the Vitaburst stall at Oxford station has been known to offer a little discount if you buy tea from them in one of these mugs.

Household cleaning and laundry

Beanbag (the health food shop on Wesley Walk) does refills of Ecover cleaning products, including washing-up liquid, laundry detergent and fabric softener. (If you’re in Oxford, the Windmill Shop in Headington offers the same service for a wider range of Ecover products.)

Fabric softener: buy Ecover and get your bottle refilled at Beanbag, or try using white vinegar (sold in glass bottles in Waitrose and the Co-op) instead.

Laundry detergent: most shops sell washing powder in cardboard boxes. Or buy Ecover liquid detergent and get your bottle refilled at Beanbag.

Washing-up liquid: buy Ecover, get a refill at Beanbag.

Washing-up brushes: you can buy brushes with replaceable heads, which means you only have to replace the head rather than the whole thing. Both the brushes and replacement heads are available from the Oxfam on Market Square in Witney (info correct Sept 2013).

Personal hygiene and beauty

Lush is currently the only chain store selling these kinds of products to make a serious effort to reduce unnecessary packaging. Many items are sold in black plastic tubs and if you bring five of these back to the store for reuse you get a free face pack! The nearest branch is in Oxford (on Cornmarket Street).

Bubble bath: Lush sell a whole range of fun bath-y things in reusable packaging or no packaging.

Deodorant: Lush sell this in a block wrapped in paper. Messier than a roll-on but it does work.

Exfoliator: buy one from Lush in a black plastic tub and return to the store for reuse

Moisturiser: also sold by Lush in the black plastic reusable tubs.

Periods: for reusable internal menstrual protection you can’t beat the Mooncup. Available from Beanbag Natural Health and the Witney branch of Boots, or buy online. It costs £19.99 and lasts for years with proper care.

If you prefer sanitary towels, the Natracare brand is plastic-free. Sold in Beanbag and some branches of Oxfam, including the one on Market Square in Witney. Or go for the high-maintenance but very green option of reusables, available in a surprisingly varied range of designs.

Shampoo: Lush sells solid shampoo bars, each of which (they claim) lasts as long as three plastic bottles of shampoo. (Kate estimates that one bar lasts her about four months.) Buy two and get a free travel tin. A tip: don’t leave them lying around in the shower to go all gloopy and they’ll last even longer.

Shaving: Lush sells a choice of shaving creams, again in the black plastic tubs which you can return to the shop.

Toothbrushes: the Montebianco range has a clever design allowing you to remove and replace the head (the bit that gets worn out) without replacing the whole thing. Packs of replacement heads are available online or from certain branches of Oxfam (but sadly, not either of the Witney ones).

Toothpaste: Lush again! They’ve come up with Toothy Tabs, small chewable tablets packaged in a small box rather like a matchbox. Nibble one tablet between your front teeth to break it up, then brush as normal. Weird at first, but it works! There are lots of different flavours including a Fairtrade one.

We’re still looking for: low-plastic ways to buy cotton wool pads, cotton wool buds, dental floss, razors and wet-wipes. Also looking for alternatives to Lush for people who find the over-friendly sales staff a bit intimidating!


Lush will wrap gifts in vintage scarves for £3.95 extra, and obviously your delighted recipient gets to keep the scarf too! (The Japanese art of Furoshiki can be used for gift wrapping, grocery shopping or just decoration.)

Presents for kids: If they only play with a plastic toy once, does that count as single-use plastic? The Fairtrade shop in Oxford (on Cornmarket Street, underneath the church) has a range of kids’ stuff that’s plastic-free. Great for babies and toddlers, not so good for older children.

Big thanks to Katharine Mann for her help with the info in this blog post.

Plastic-Free July: how did Week 1 go?

July 7th, 2013

plastic-free-july-logo-straight-lgeI blogged last week that I’m trying an idea called Plastic-Free July, where you try to avoid single-use plastics for a month.

I was initially unsure about the idea, because I already try to reduce the amount of single-use plastic I buy and I wasn’t sure if there was much scope for reducing it further. Comments from family members (who are trying it all the same!) included “Sounds practically impossible” and “How on earth can you buy things like yoghurt?”

So I wasn’t starting with a very optimistic frame of mind, but the first day of Plastic-Free July came with a nice surprise: several people who said they’d like to join in with the idea after seeing our blog post and/or tweets about it. Now that a group of people are doing it together, we can share tips and support each other.

» Read more: Plastic-Free July: how did Week 1 go?