Charlotte Ryan tells me, brimming with enthusiasm, about her dream. This dream isn’t riches or fame, but to have an enormous warehouse, to fill with clothes, cushions, cookers, curtains, crockery, cots, and everything in between. But for Charlotte, this period is all about tempering her project’s unstoppable growth to stay sustainable, while continuing to dream of 2, 5 and 10 years down the line.
Charlotte founded WasteNot Leicestershire in 2016, inspired by the BBC series, Hugh’s War on Waste. This started as a network on Facebook to help share ideas and resources surrounding reducing, reusing and recycling. Although an important part of WasteNot is raising awareness of how unnecessary it is to buy new things all the time, people also use this group to exchange the unwanted items instead of sending them to landfill.
Along with Anna Broszkiewicz and Elizabeth Thompson, Charlotte moderates WasteNot’s online platform of over 7,000 members. Charlotte has seen many of these members making real lifestyle changes to prevent waste. New groups have even been formed in WasteNot’s image, including an international presence, through Zero Waste Leipzig. WasteNot also isn’t limited to the virtual world, with recent in-person meet-up events becoming incredibly popular. For example, last year, they held a very successful ‘swishing’ event to come together and raise funds for WasteNot’s splinter project, The Leicestershire Community Cupboard (TLCC).
Redistributing Items with The Leicestershire Community Cupboard
For TLCC, Charlotte regularly loads up her car with preloved and new essentials donated by the
community and takes them to people who need them. She hopes this will help drive the circular economy of sharing or exchanging what you already have. Many recipients of these items are in incredibly difficult circumstances, such as losing everything in a flood, or fleeing domestic violence. Charlotte also sends some surplus clothing off to Greece and Syria, having teamed up with LE Solidarity and One Nation’s Container Aid project.
Living less wastefully is something that a lot of us have come to embrace in recent years, but for Charlotte avoiding waste is something that she grew up with and is keen to share her knowledge with others. As we talk, we touch upon the idea that Zero Waste movements are often thought of as driven exclusively by middle class millenials on Instagram, yet neither reducing waste, nor community sharing is a new idea. Charlotte’s work is wholly at the grassroots of her community, and her authenticity has led her to become well-known in the area.
Putting the Brakes on to Stay Sustainable
Of course, success like this doesn’t come without its challenges, especially at the momentum that Charlotte’s projects have behind them. Between being a freelance childminder, parent, and community activist, Charlotte certainly has her plate full. After a timely talk on burnout at the Eden Project Community Camp last November, Charlotte realised that she needed to be putting aside time where she wasn’t coordinating where she can find a washing machine for this person, or who she can give away that slow cooker to.
This year, Charlotte is also trying to contain her projects from growing too fast before she puts a serious infrastructure in place. Charlotte’s aim is to become a Community Interest Company and get the appropriate procedures in place to safeguard her volunteers. This isn’t an easy process, but she is getting a lot of valuable support from CASE Co-operative – a Leicester-based organisation supporting start-ups and community-based projects.
Charlotte also gets support from Diana Vogtel who is a Community Network Developer for Eden Project Communities, who she met through The Eden Project Community Camp. As well this, Charlotte has built up a strong network in Leicestershire, across different fields: foodbanks, the police, social workers and Home-Start. Reaching out for this support has continued her growth and passion for this venture.
Once Charlotte has overcome this landmark hurdle, it’s easy to see her incredible energy carrying her forward to that long-coveted warehouse – and beyond!