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Margaret Charlesworth - waste not feature ANL-160930-164114001
Margaret Charlesworth - waste not feature ANL-160930-164114001

These days most of us realise it’s vital to conserve our resources by wasting less and recycling more ... even if we can be a bit slapdash about doing it.

It’s important, even fashionable, to save and re-use rather than throw away.

But Margaret Charlesworth was dedicated to the cause long before the rest of us cottoned on.

The ex-Mayor of St Edmundsbury has been recycling tirelessly for more than 40 years.

Grandmother-of-five Margaret started in the early 1970s, and puts her thrify attitude down to her upbringing during the Second World War.

The former councillor 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 St Edmunds 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,” she says.

“I also collect up foil wrappers from chocolates, and the cardboard from Christmas crackers, to take home and put in my recycling bin.”

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.”

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.”

Meanwhile, recycling is also a growing trend among a much younger generation.

Julia Anduiza is just 23, but like Margaret she is totally committed to a waste-free lifestyle.

Studying chemistry at university left Julia sure of one thing ... she didn’t want to spend her life in a pharmaceutical laboratory.

Her student days not only gave her a masters 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 shops to cook meals for people at risk of hunger or social isolation.

“I saw there was so much waste in the food industry and supermarkets.

“It made me 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 which made me look towards veganism.

Last year Julia, from Bury, spent three weeks at an eco-lodge in South Africa.

“I learned such a lot about sustainability. I’m 80 percent vegan now, but I don’t think one should rule out eating meat – just have less of it.

“Farmers are growing animal feed on land that could be used to grow human food.”

Julia believes that although it’s still 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 – and it’s a cheap way of living too.

She’s a volunteer with the Best Before Project, highlighting the difference between “best before” and “use by” dates, and also writes a blog about food sustainability and travel.

“Before, I was thinking about working in the pharmaceutical industry, but because it’s very driven by money it’s not what I want.

“I’m applying for jobs in the food industry and universities. Sustainability is more than a career path – it’s a way of life.”