Do you get green guilt? I cycle everywhere, I use sodium bicarbonate and lemons for cleaning, I water plants with washing-up water and I recycle every last yoghurt pot, tuna can and envelope. I even make my own compost. But despite all this, if I so much as chuck one banana skin in the non-recycling rubbish bin then I lose sleep for days. I went into a cold sweat last week when I discovered that a certain plastic packaging which I had been putting in the plastic/glass/tin bin for years is actually non-recyclable. Have I been unwittingly contaminating tonnes and tonnes of otherwise perfectly recyclable material? Eek.
While I’ve been having nightmares about not tearing the plastic window out of pasta boxes before throwing them in the paper bin, it seems that Tuscany is generally ahead of the game in terms of recycling. In January and February this year there was a 4 per cent increase in recyclable rubbish in the city. In Florence, over 40 percent of all waste is now recycled. The inhabitants of Sesto Fiorentino can give themselves a big green pat on the back: they are the top recyclers around Florence, with 51.2 percent of all their rubbish sent to be mushed, crushed and transformed into something else.
However, while the amount of trash produced in Tuscany decreased by 2300 tonnes in the first two months of this year, we’re still generating too much rubbish, recyclable or otherwise. It has occurred to me while I’ve been smugly squeezing another bursting bag into the blue recycling bin in my street, that ideally, I should have less to recycle in the first place. The question is, how can we cut down? Supermarkets are convenient, but with all produce sold in plastic bags and polystyrene trays, we fill our recycling bins as soon as we’ve unpacked the shopping. It takes more time to shop at the market, but stall holders usually fill one bag with a mixture of produce, rather than lots of individual containers. Re-usable shopping bags are an obvious way to cut down on those eco-nasties, plastic bags. Thankfully, from 2010, supermarkets will be able to sell only biodegradable plastic shopping bags. For some serious environmental guilt then just think that the umpteenth new plastic bag you’re carelessly using today will still be suffocating marine animals when your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren are walking on the face of the earth. If that doesn’t get you using cloth bags, then I don’t know what will.
Some local supermarket chains have already taken the green initiative and most sell their own re-usable shopping bags. The Coop has taken a step further and sells washing detergent on tap’ at its Sesto Fiorentino and Ponte a Greve stores, while Esselunga has bins for recycling polypropylene packaging in most stores.
Making your own compost is another obvious way to cut down on waste, if you have your own garden. It’s a little known fact that if you buy a compost bin from Quadrifoglio for 10 euro (VAT included), then you can get a 25 percent reduction in your rubbish collection bill. Not bad. Making your own compost is something of an art form: it’s important to layer different types of garden and kitchen waste and to make sure that the compost is kept damp and aerated. It’s a bit like making a huge, rich cake that takes a few months to bake. It’s immensely satisfying to open the bottom of your compost and find dark soil inside. You can include any peelings, egg shells, coffee grinds and tea bags, but don’t put in any meat or cheese as this will encourage mice and rats and make your whole garden stink. If you don’t have a garden, then use the organic waste bins in the street. Before throwing out old vegetables though, remember that they can be made into soups (perhaps beefed out with a handful of spelt or pancetta) and that old cheese rinds will melt away into minestrones and risottos to make them richer and tastier. Yesterday’s pasta can be made into a delicious omelette, and bananas that look ripe enough to walk out the door by themselves can be turned into yummy banana bread (a favourite in The Florentine offices). As all proper Italian nonnas love to say, ‘in cucina, non si butta via niente’.
If you’re wondering what to do with that leftover olive and vegetable oil that you bought, opened and then left in the shed/cellar/back of the cupboard three years ago, then make sure you don’t just pour it down the sink. It might seem harmless and natural, but when oil goes down the drain, it causes huge problems at water purifying plants.
I recently got a terrifying email from a friend that said that one litre of oil pollutes one million litres of otherwise clean drinking water-the same amount that an ordinary person consumes over 14 years. If you are easily susceptible to green-guilt then this kind of email can push you over the edge. Scaremongering aside, there is a solution. Any leftover vegetable oil should be cooled and then taken to either Circoli Arci social clubs or MCL centres, after which it can be transformed into products such as vegetable flour or soap. Check out www.quadrifoglio.org for a list of centres around town.
At the risk of sounding preachy, we have to make an effort as individuals if we want to keep Tuscany green and lovely. Separating your rubbish makes you much more aware of how much you throw away, and that’s the first step to identifying what you need to cut down on. It is a pain to have four different bins kicking around in your kitchen (my other half still hasn’t quite figured out which one is which, despite numerous lectures) and nobody feels like lugging used cooking oil across town for disposal after making fritto misto, but it’ll be worth it in the end. Just listen to your green guilt a bit more.
The Florentine is going green. Look for more eco-friendly articles in future issues and learn about environmentally friendly initiatives in and around town!