Living Sustainably in Nottingham

Words: Emily Thursfield
Illustrations: Raphael Achache
Thursday 17 May 2018
reading time: min, words

Loads of folk are working tirelessly to make our city a greener place. Here are some ways to help reduce your negative impact on the environment, and the local organisations leading the sustainable way…


The average UK household produces more than a tonne of waste every year and, on average, only 45% gets recycled. The rest is bound to a life in landfill, the incinerator or floating aimlessly through the ocean. It’s scary stuff, so some are attempting to live without producing any waste. The zero-waste lifestyle started to gain popularity after the release of Bea Johnson’s 2013 book, Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life. Her basic advice for a zero waste life is to tap into the five Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot.

Refusing what you do not need and reducing what you do can be fairly simple, but many draw a blank when it comes to reusing things we already own. Nottingham Fixers want to lead us towards a fix-not-throw-away mindset with the help of their pop-up repair cafes. A group of volunteers offer up their skills to help fix small electrical items, jewellery, clothing, bikes and whatever else the public may bring in. Sarah Maloy has been organising and co-running the Fixers for the past year, and so far they’ve held three successful events.

After studying ecology and gaining a PhD in water pollution, Sarah worked in sustainable development before becoming a part-time teacher, a position that enables her to dedicate time to both Nottingham Fixers and the Zero Waste Nottingham Facebook group.

Fixers was originally set up in 2014, but with a lack of volunteers and supporters, it became dormant. “I wanted to get it back off the ground again because people need the opportunity to learn these skills. There are lots of skills in our community which we can share, and it also means we aren’t throwing things away that can actually be repaired or reused; we’re keeping things out of landfill,” says Sarah.

Repair cafes are just one way to reduce waste. The Remarkable Recycling Gala, previously part of Sherwood Art Week, showcases artists who use recycled materials to create. Plus, Jackie Ward has recently opened a micro-gallery in Brinsley called The Hard To Find Gallery, with a focus on upcycled art. As a “material-led” artist, she scours car boot sales and accepts donated items from friends. “Prior to working this way, I worked in textiles and if I ran out of something, I’d just go to the shop to buy more. But when things are finite, everything is valued. People like to help and are always giving me things they consider junk: pop sticks, MOT certificates, cutlery. They know they’re saving things from landfill, but they’re also intrigued to see what I might be able to make.”

While most of us try hard to separate paper, tin cans and recyclable plastics from our regular waste, there’s a simple way we can reduce our waste count, and potentially eliminate the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides in the future of farming. The final R, “rot”, otherwise known as composting, means turning kitchen scraps into a nutritionally and minerally rich fertiliser, which is a non-toxic, safe alternative to harmful synthetic fertilisers.

Anna de la Vega founded community interest company The Urban Worm to promote local agriculture and encourage people to harness the power of earthworms in their composting. At her workshops, you learn how to build your own small-scale worm farm that you can use to turn food waste into a high-quality product – known as worm castings or topsoil – which can be used on your plants and crops.

Worms can produce one inch of topsoil in five years; it would take nature over 500 years to do the same. By feeding your worms peelings from vegetables and used teabags, you’re giving back to the earth what you have taken from it. “The world only has sixty years of topsoil left, so this is an emergency situation,” says Anna. “People really need to start thinking about growing in the city, even if it’s on a very small scale. You don’t need a garden to compost with worms, anyone can do it.”


With her fingers in all sorts of sustainable pies, Sarah Maloy (Nottingham Fixers, Zero Waste Nottingham), and Kimberley Tew, owner of the UK’s first plastic-free online shop Plastic-free Pantry, have started a plastic-free pop-up store at THiNK in Cobden Chambers. Customers can stock up on stuff like lentils, dried fruit, coffee, and loose-leaf tea, but must bring their own Tupperware, cloth bags and jars.

“A number of people said it would be great to have a shop in Nottingham where we could shop without packaging,” says Sarah. “I looked through my bin and saw it was all packaging for pasta, rice and porridge. I thought that if I was having trouble buying these things in sustainable packaging or using my own, then other people will feel the same as well.”

Sarah and Kim held the first pop-up in March and had an overwhelmingly positive response, with people travelling from all over the East Midlands to attend. They’re now planning to run the pop-up regularly. While buying food in bulk may cost more in the short-term than grabbing a packet of pasta from a supermarket shelf, in the long term you’ll find that you can save money and drastically reduce your plastic consumption.

Nottingham has limited options when it comes to shopping sustainably, but the Neighbour Food is a great place to start. Customers can choose from over 300 products that’ve been locally produced, including Robin Hood Veg from Mapperley and sweet treats from Small Food Bakery, with the food having travelled an average distance of just fifteen miles.

All orders are made via their website from Friday to Tuesday, and customers then head to Primary Gallery on a Thursday night to collect their food. There are three main benefits to shopping this way: the food is harvested, baked or bottled on the day it’s collected with no extra preservatives or additives; you’re supporting local business, as 90p of every pound spent stays in the local economy; and all ingredients have been sourced and packaged ethically, organically and as locally as possible.  


After reading Zero Waste Home, attempting the lifestyle herself, and setting up Zero Waste Nottingham on Facebook, Sarah discovered the importance of having a place to talk, share tips, support and learn from each other. “We’re not one of those families that has a single jar to put our waste in just yet,” she says. “We are limited by where we live and therefore what we can do. But, generally, we’re down to less than one bin bag over two weeks.”

Sustainability is about adopting change that’s feasible in the long-run; it ain’t all gonna change overnight. “I first started by doing plastic-free July a couple of years ago, and we were deprived in many ways,” says Sarah. “I just said ‘We’re not having anything, we’re not having crisps, we’ll make things instead’ but that’s really exhausting and not sustainable. We’re not martyrs either. You’ve got to put the health and safety of your family first. To me, sustainability is also about sustaining yourself as a person; eating good food and slowing your life down. It’s about doing the best that you can, taking the steps you can and being conscious.”

Finding the balance between being easy and being green is the key. Do you need that plastic bottle? Did you remember your reusable cup for the coffee shop in the morning? Think twice about buying the broccoli with a plastic wrap instead of the one roaming free, and consider cutting out single-use plastic like straws and cutlery completely. These small changes won’t make a drastic change to your life, but will have a proper lasting effect on our environment.

Green-Thumbed Boggers in Notts

Sharing Sherwood
Based at the Methodist church, this lot cook up surplus food donated by supermarkets into a three-course meal for the community. Served on every second Sunday of the month, the meals cost a minimum donation of £2.50 for adults and £1.50 for kids, with all profits made going towards Nottingham food banks.

Green Festival
Each year, the fest fills the Arboretum with stalls from small, green businesses, craftworkers, campaigners and artisan food producers to educate folk on all green matters. The festival is organised and run by community-based volunteers and will take place on Sunday 16 September this year. Gerrit in your diaries.

These sessions down at Primary Gallery encourage conversation about sharing the resources available in our community. Each month’s workshop gives you the opportunity to meet new people, and learn new skills like whipping up salad dressings or making beeswax body balms. Get down, share some knowledge, have a laugh, and get acquainted with the self-sufficient communiteh.

Run by students from UoN and members of Enactus, Foodprint in Sneinton collects food that would be thrown away by supermarkets, local businesses and wholesalers, and sells it on for less. Their social supermarket also works closely with local allotments to collect surplus produce and offers a discount scheme for those who need the food the most.

Greening in Beeston
Residents of Beeston have these guys to thank for the fact they are now saving roughly 75,000kg of carbon dioxide and 115,000 litres of water per year. Running regular events, as well as working on their campaigning, Greening in Beeston is a valuable resource to the people of this city.

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