Whether you're finishing school or university, hoping to develop your skills or just plain passionate about something, volunteering can be one of the most rewarding and worthwhile things you’ll ever do.

This week is Volunteers Week and we’re celebrating the difference our wonderful volunteers make. We work with volunteers on a number of projects, from the City of Edinburgh Council funded Real Nappy Project, to our Zero Waste Scotland volunteer programme. To help bring the volunteering experience to life we talked to Joe, one of our Zero Waste Scotland volunteers.

Recycling is all very well, but the real problem is the amount we waste in the first place – food, packaging, paper and even clothes, appliances and other household items that could easily be reused.

For Joe Alves from Musselburgh, it wasn’t enough just to make the simple changes at home that add up to a big impact. In August 2011 he decided to become a Zero Waste Scotland volunteer to share his knowledge and encourage others to make changes too. We asked Joe about his experiences as a volunteer, and why he’d encourage others to give it a try.

Where did you hear about volunteering opportunities?

Through a member of Changeworks staff, Kathleen, who was really encouraging.

What’s it like volunteering?

It’s good talking to people at events and being able to advise and help them. I get plenty of training and support from the volunteer programme. We mainly give advice at public events or occasionally take part in projects, getting our hands dirty demonstrating how to compost.

How much time does it take up?

Some months are busy and others quiet, depending on what I volunteer for. Luckily it is very much up to me what I want to take on. I get an email or call from the volunteer co-ordinator giving info about events and have the choice whether to sign up or not – no pressure.

What do you get out of volunteering?

I get a sense of doing something worthwhile - quite different from being paid to do something similar.  I get to meet lots of interesting people each with their own particular interests, problems and attitudes – people that I would never normally have met.  I also learnt quite a bit too from the training and from reading up on the subject.

Why should other people volunteer in their community?

Giving something back is always a good thing to do – the more who get involved the faster the word spreads. It doesn’t just help the community, but the individuals within it too. Personal pride, keeping active, making friends… The community benefits from the time and the valuable expertise that volunteers have to share.

What have you learned about yourself while volunteering?

I like talking to and meeting people. I’ve also realised I’m not very good at drumming up business if people don’t come to the stall at an event, but I’m getting there!

Is voluntary work important for your CV?

Not in the least at my stage in life! But for many people voluntary work helps them get ahead when it comes to gaining experience and skills that come in handy in paid work or education.

How has your volunteering impacted on everyday life?

I’m always ready to give friends and neighbours advice, whether they ask for it or not! You could say it’s made me a more helpful person, and I also find it easier to talk to people I don’t know, which I think is a good thing.

How can other people become volunteers?

For a huge range of volunteering opportunities you can visit the Volunteer Scotland website and search for your interests. Remember you’re not always signing your life away – you only give up the time you can spare. Check out their FAQs and why not take a look at opportunities near you?

- Joe

The work carried out by volunteers is invaluable, so we’d like to say a BIG thank you – not just to our fantastic volunteers like Joe whom we work with, but to all of you who’ve given up your time for a cause you care about!