Our veg boxes have as little packaging in as possible. However we often know that when a producer, shop or supermarket doesn’t pass waste to the customer in packaging it normally ends up increasing it’s waste behind the scenes. Over the last few months we have been working hard to minimise both our normal waste and our food waste at Hampshire Veg Box. We are striving for a zero waste veg box for our customers and as mimimal waste behind the scenes too. In this post we explore exactly how we are doing that.
Zero Food Waste
Whilst as much of our food as possible is local and this massively reduces the waste of produce sitting around and “going off”. We do deliver across three days and have to stick to other peoples harvest routines… Inevitably this does lead to some food waste, but we now don’t let this go to landfill and in fact it now contributes full circle to some of the food you receive in the veg bags… How?! … Compost!
In our packing facility we have implemented white food grade buckets that all the food waste such as un-fresh carrot tops, damaged tomatoes, bruised lettuce etc… into the white bins, we then add in cardboard shredded paper and other “carbon” sources to the buckets at a 50:50 ratio.
These buckets are then taken to the piece of Hampshire Veg Box growing space just outside Winchester and are put through a compost tumbler with some rotted down woodchip. After a couple of weeks they are then put into a compost heap and within months, and a few turns with a shovel… this makes amazing nutritious organic compost.
This compost, after quality control, gets put back on to the beds that grow the Hampshire Veg Box Salad Bags.
Our Food Waste Buckets being filled with waste food and shredded paper.
Stage 2 these compost tumblers break down the food waste quickly and keep pests away.
Full Circle… the compost goes back onto these beds to grow the salad bags in our boxes.
Zero Waste in The Office
Organising and running a veg box scheme has an awful lot of admin, whilst we try to do most of this electronically sometimes we just cant avoid paper systems, getting the clipboard out or grabbing a bright coloured set of highlighters.
For the last few years we have made sure never to use a piece of paper just once. All our paper once finished with was torn into squares and put into the “notes paper” tray, where if we needed to scribble down anything we’d use a piece of that scrap paper.
Now, with the new composting system above, we then take that second-hand paper and shred it in a normal office shredder and it is added to our compost / food waste buckets.
This paper is a really important part of the composting process as healthy and well managed compost systems require an equal mix of carbon and nitrogren based ingredients. Food waste, plant vegetation, new grass clippings all being high in nitrogen… And shredded paper, torn up card, woodchip all are high in carbon. This mix makes a healthy nutritious compost without any nasties.
Minimal Waste in Packing
This is an area we are still working hard on… but what we are proud of is that nothing is used just once. Here are some examples:
Lots of our veg is delivered with a sheet of plastic across the top, this maintains moisture and temperate during transport or delivery and helps to keep the veg fresh. We are getting through a lot of boxes and crates a week and so we could be throwing out 10-20 of these pieces of plastic each day. However we make sure to keep them back and put them to good use. They are used to wrap any produce we need to put in our fridges overnight, they are re-used for bagging anything that is harvested from our own growing space, and we keep a steady supply of them in our delivery van to protect your veg bags if it’s raining and you aren’t at home when we deliver. We make sure that this plastic is not used just once and often is used again and again.
Mushroom crates and wooden crates are something that many companies throw away on a daily basis. We are keeping and stacking the ones we receive in deliveries and they go to good homes. We have some local people collect crates for home use, to organise their garages, and some grower friends of ours take lots of them back too.
Cardboard… this is something we manage to get through a lot of… we probably pass through around 50 cardboard boxes a week. We re-use some but would never have the capacity to re-use them all. We therefore platpack them and take them to a cardboard recycling centre, these are then made back into cardboard boxes again in a recycling process… and no doubt circulate round to being fruit and veg boxes again.
Zero Waste Veg Boxes
We aren’t perfect, we know that nobody is.. but we are constantly working to improve our need to be not only sustainable but regenerative. We are working hard towards being zero waste, and our composting system is helping us with that move big time.
The truth of the story is, that no system is perfect, and no system is truly zero waste.. we need plastic sometimes in food growing, production and even packaging. The key is using it only when necessary and making sure it is never single use.
Within our veg boxes we use paper bags whenever we can, our smaller fresh pieces that need to be in “plastic bags” are in compostable bags, and the bigger items that would wilt without a bag, we ask customers to pop those back in their next box for collection and we can re-use them when harvesting on the growing space.
In our largest veg bag we have 12 items.. last week just 1 of them had any plastic on. Thats a saving of 11 pieces of packaging that would have been bought in the supermarket.
Over a year that can equate to 50g of plastic per bag per week… Whilst we haven’t done the sums closely that could be up to a quarter of a tonne every year that doesn’t end up in landfill.
We hope this has been a useful insight into the work we are doing to mimise our waste and our aims towards zero waste veg boxes. Whilst we know we can all improve we hope that we are at least being as transparent as the plastic bags we are trying to minimise the use of.
If you have are local to Winchester and have any use for cardboard boxes, wooden crates, mushroom crates or any of the above we have talked about then do get in touch if you wanted to collect some and make good use of them. Similarly if you have any suggestions for how we can do even better, we invite you to get in touch too… We are always open to suggestions.
Thanks for reading our post on Zero Waste Veg Boxes.
Best Wishes from the Hampshire Veg Box Team.