No generation gap for two of Bury’s Waste Not heroes
This month our Waste Not Bury St Edmunds campaign puts the spotlight on two of the town’s most enthusiastic recyclers.
And the complete commitment they share shows there are no age barriers to living an minimum-waste lifestyle.
Margaret Charlesworth has been recycling tirelessly for years. The grandmother-of-five and ex-Borough councillor was dedicated to the cause long before the rest of us cottoned on.
These days, even if we’re a bit slapdash about actually doing it, most people realise it’s vital to conserve our resources.
We know it’s desirable, even fashionable, to save and re-use rather than throw away.
But Margaret has been recycling since the early 1970s, and puts her thrify attitude down to her upbringing during the Second World War.
The former Mayor of St Edmundsbury has been known to collect up leftover veg after official functions to puree and freeze for soup.
And she even saves the little pieces of foil backing from packets of tablets.
If people think she’s odd, she doesn’t mind in the least ... so long as she can get her message across.
“I feel passionate about it. I remember my mother’s thriftiness from the war. She never wasted anything.
“I never consciously made an effort to recycle. It just comes naturally to me.
“It began when I realised if I bought a loaf of bread in the bakers it was put in a paper bag that was pristine.
“So I took the bags back to the shop so they could put my next loaf in the same one.
“At first they laughed, but soon they were asking other people to do the same.
“In those days I was only really worried about saving trees, general waste didn’t come into it nearly so much.
“Now, I know some people think I’m weird, but I won’t waste anything.”
Margaret lives in Bury with her husband Roger, a retired IT consultant and aeronautical engineer.
Virtually none of the food that goes into the Charlesworth household ends up in the bin.
“I cook precise portions, and grow some of our own veg. Anything left over in the summer gets frozen to make soup in winter, but I realise you can only do that if you have a chest freezer.
“If we have a chicken I boil up the bones to make stock, and freeze that too if I don’t need it straight away.”
Margaret was on St Edmundsbury Borough Council for eight years, and was Mayor in 2007-8.
“I have been known to ask at communal meals if I can take the veg that’s left over.
“I also collect up foil wrappers from chocolates, and the cardboard from Christmas crackers, to take home and put in my recycling bin.”
Her daughter Heather and son Oliver have both inherited her love of recycling.
“Heather set up a shop in Bury selling recycled children’s clothes. She definitely has the bug.
“And Oliver got through his first year living in halls at university with a very small food bill. .. if he saw another student throwing out anything past its best-before date he’d say, I’ll have it.”
Wasting water goes against the grain – even though recent wet weather has put this to the back of many people’s minds.
“I always wait till I have a batch of recycling things to wash up, for instance, rather than do them one at a time.
“Something else I do is save every bit of string ready for the next plant that needs tying up in the garden.”
She also notices things most of us wouldn’t. People idly pressing the buttons to change the lights on pedestrian crossings, stopping traffic unnecessarily so it pumps out more pollutants and wastes petrol, is a particular irritant.
Taking her own bags for shopping was second nature to Margaret long before the 5p charge was introduced for plastic carriers.
She also takes the small plastic bags back to the supermarket, to put veg in.
But the other day, much to her horror, she was caught out. “I bought a suitcase, and it was raining outside so I had to get a big plastic bag to keep it dry in case I needed to change it.”
Cutting out waste is a great way to save money, too. “I do go to extremes,” says Margaret, “but it’s not just for my own budget. I do it for the good of the environment.
“We must not waste our natural resources, we have not just got to try, we’ve got to succeed.”
Studying chemistry at university left Julia Anduiza sure of one thing ... she didn’t want to spend her life in a pharmaceutical laboratory.
Julia’s student days not only gave her a master’s degree, they introduced her to the idea of sustainability.
Now, that’s where she sees her future career.
In her last year at Sheffield University she got involved with FoodCycle, a charity that uses surplus food from local shops to cook meals for people at risk of hunger or social isolation.
“That ignited it all for me, because I saw there was so much waste in the food industry and supermarkets.
“And I saw how a simple thing like bringing people together for a hot meal could make them happier.
“It made me decide to try and cook a bit more sustainably, which is difficult for a student because it’s normally all convenience food.
“I started going to the local market, and refusing packaging. And I began recycling and reusing jars.
“At the same time the university banned one-time use water bottles so we had to take our own and refill them.
“I was eating less meat, but not fully vegetarian. Then I became lactose-intolerant and that made me look towards veganism.
Julia, 23, lives in Bury with her mum Josephine and step-dad David. She has a younger brother Justin and sister Jessica.
Last summer she spent three weeks at an eco-lodge in South Africa.
“In the time I was there I learned such a lot about sustainability. They used rainwater for toilets, baths and showers.
“There was a big garden where they grew vegetables and herbs, and I learned about composting.
She also found out a tremendous amount about veganism. “I’m 80 per cent vegan now. But I don’t think one should rule out eating meat – just have less of it.
“It’s not sustainable to keep so many animals on farms. Farmers are growing animal feed on land that could be used to grow human food.”
Julia believes that although it’s quite unusual for someone her age to be so committed to waste reduction, there is a growing trend.
“I think there’s a groundswell of opinion among my generation. The message is getting through via social media.
“There’s so much material on how you can go about it – it’s a cheap way of living too.
“A lot of my friends from home have come to the same way of life,” says the former St Benedict’s Upper School pupil.
“And it happened without each other’s influence because once we all went to different universities we didn’t meet up that much.”
She is now working with the Best Before Project, which aims to cut food waste by highlighting the difference between “best before” and “use by”, and is helping to establish a group in Bury.
She also writes a blog about food sustainability and travel. Meanwhile she is applying for jobs and hoping to move to London.
“Before, I was thinking about working in the pharmaceutical industry, but now I think because it’s very driven by money it’s not what I want.
“I definitely want to work with sustainability. I’m looking at jobs in the food industry and universities.
“It’s more than a career path – it’s a way of life.”