Finite Resources

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There are many, many ways of looking at the environmental issues facing our planet today.  Different people choose to focus on different things but our goal is the same – to do the best that we can to preserve the health of the planet for future generations.  Right?

Some people try to source as much as possible second-hand, others eschew plastic at every turn, barely a handful of waste is the goal sought by another group and then there are those who are always looking for a way to recycle or re-use items that are no longer required.

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Plastic seems to have been recently declared ‘public enemy no. 1’ due to the masses of micro (and not so micro) plastics in our oceans and the detrimental effect it is having on marine life.  I agree with this sentiment and do the best I can to minimise my use of single use plastic products.  However, I have not rushed to get rid of all my plastic containers and other items as I believe it is my responsibility to use my existing products wisely and extend their life as much as possible.

Some people disagree because of the perceived potential risks of using plastic – particularly where food and drink are concerned.  I do not have a problem with this as I do not use plastic for storing liquids, oils, acidic foods nor do I use plastic where there is heat involved – such as the microwave.

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There will always be some plastic products but it is our responsibility to restrict the use of plastics to those applications where it is necessary.  Not only for the marine life but due to the fact that plastic is made from oil which is a finite resource – there is not an endless supply.  Most people can clearly recognise single plastics – water bottles, drinking straws, disposable cutlery, takeaway food containers and so on but it is the composite plastics that are less obvious.  These include takeaway coffee cups, reuseable ‘green’ shopping bags, ‘foil’ chip packets and packaging where plastic may be sandwiched between 2 layers of paper or cardboard.

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The purpose of this blog post is to encourage people really try to make a difference where plastic products are concerned.

Here are a few goals.

  1.  Minimise your use of single use plastic items – look for re-useable, non-plastic alternatives.
  2. Dispose of any plastic waste carefully to ensure it stays out of waterways and oceans.
  3. Remember that plastic is manufactured from oil and oil is a finite resource.
  4. Use recycling as a last resort – it is not a licence to keep using as much plastic (and everything else) as we want and assuaging our guilt by simply tossing it in the recycle bin.  At best, plastic is downcycled not recycled.  It only has one secondary life then it becomes landfill.
  5. Be a conscious and responsible consumer.

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It is not yet July but there is no time like the present to begin to phase out the single-use plastics from your life and consider what else you can change.

 

 

Glass is Good

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I have tried, as much as possible, to reduce our use of single-use plastic.  I know that there is always more that I can do so it is a work in progress, or as some would like to say, a journey.

As with any journey, it is also easier if you are connected with like-minded travellers so I am a member of a couple of different Facebook groups whose members have similar goals.  Some people are keen to remove all plastic, however, I am not about to throw away all of the plastic containers I have (to landfill) so that I can replace them with glass.  On the other hand, I am happy to look for glass when I need some more.

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After much research, I recently purchased 2 dozen Ball preserving jars.  You can read all about them in this post.  I have used some when I made jam recently but am also looking at other ways of using them.

I am aware that some people regularly freeze food in glass but that is not something that I have really done much so I decided that some research was in order as I know several people have had problems with glass jars breaking in the freezer.  This is not a saving of resources or money so I want to avoid that happening.  It turns out that for a glass jar to be suitable for freezer use it must have straight sides – that is no shoulder where it slopes in to the neck of the jar.  The preserving jars which I chose meet this criteria and are also deemed as suitable for freezer use on the panel on the box.

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Naturally, you also need to use commonsense and not put hot jars into the freezer and leave suitable headspace for the food to expand when frozen.  I also choose to chill them first in the refrigerator before transferring to the freezer as well as keeping the lids loose until they were completely frozen.  This strategy seems to have been successful.

Here are some jars of frozen mango puree and refried beans which I was about to transfer to the small freezer downstairs.  I tend to keep this freezer for storage and items which I use on a day-to-day basis in the freezer section of the refrigerator in the kitchen.

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The other purpose for which glass can be used is when taking your own containers to be filled at the shop.  This afternoon I took one of the smaller jars to the deli counter at the supermarket and bought olives.  There was no problem with the staff weighing the container prior to filling to to assess the tare weight and the price sticker was attached to the bottom of the jar.

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Plastic containers certainly have their place and I will continue to use them rather than discard simply for the sake of discarding them, however, it is an interesting exercise to test the boundaries as to how and where glass jars can be used.

 

Upcycling

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Over the past few months I have become involved in a couple of zero-waste groups on Facebook.It is not a concept which is particularly new to me as I have been using resusable shopping bags for well over 20 years.  I do not use plastic film or alfoil and generally take my own containers to buy most of my unpackaged groceries.  Single use plastic is my main focus but zero-waste means different things to different people and there is always something new and exciting to learn.

Many in the group have bought or created their own ‘eating out’ kit.  This has not been a priority for me as I take a packed lunch to work and have access to a kitchen.  I do keep my own set of cutlery in the drawer of my desk.

However, I rethought how I could incorporate this idea when an Air BnB guest asked for a serviette (napkin) when she was making her breakfast in the kitchen.  It occurred to me that I could do something similar to provide all of the utensils and napkin ready to use in one simple bundle.

I set to work with an existing placemat and some heavy cotton fabric which was once a bedspread but has been re-purposed for several uses.

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I added a divided pocket to hold the cutlery, a fabric loop for the linen napkin and a tie to the back to secure the kit when it is rolled up.

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Ready for dinner.

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The linen napkin is one of several I made a few years ago from some spare fabric but had not used.

Here it is rolled up and ready for use.  I will make a second one of these and add them to the facilities provided for our Air BnB guests.  This way they will have everything at their fingertips and can easily use it at the dining table, outdoor table or breakfast bar.

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If I was making one for taking out and about, I would probably consider making a small, cylindrical drawstring bag for it.

 

 

Another Parcel

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About 10 days ago I placed an online order with OzFarmers for some glass jars.  They arrived by courier a few days later.

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Time to open it up.  I was impressed that the box had clearly been reused and was excited to find that the packing was not bubbled plastic or styrofoam beads, but good old newspaper.

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The newspaper was shredded quite uniquely but it is a little difficult to see in this photo.

These are 2 Weck glass jars with glass lids.  I am quite glad that they were wrapped in bubble wrap to ensure that they arrived safely.  We ordered these as GMan needed one for making a sourdough starter.  He has been making bread in the breadmaker for many years using bread mix and yeast but has decided to branch out and try sourdough.

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Since we were only able to buy these online, it made sense to purchase an additional one so that we would have a spare.  I have used reused glass jars for preserving jam, chutney and sauce but recently made the decision to invest in proper canning jars with a two-piece lid.

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I bought 12 of each of two sizes – Half pint and Pint jars – for those of us who deal in metric the actual capacity is 250ml and 500ml respectively.

Here is a closer look at the newspaper packaging.  There are about 6 layers of newspaper which have clearly been put through some sort of mechanical shredder to make a series of incomplete cuts and then it is spread to make a grille pattern.  The newspaper is now in the compost bin and the cardboard box is flattened and will be used as a weed suppressant when we next spread some mulch in the garden.

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Sadly, the entire trays were shrink-wrapped in plastic but rather than just ripping it off, I split the corners at one end until I was able to slide the whole wrapper off in one piece.

This is what it looked like.

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I sealed the untouched end with an elastic band and this will now be a future rubbish bag for my kitchen bin.

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No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to completely eliminate single-use plastic but it is possible to be conscious of your consumption and to think outside the box when it comes to disposing of it.

I am comfortable with accepting what is a relatively low level of plastic packaging to enable me to acquire products which should last a lifetime.  By using the jars we bought to prepare more of our own food we will reduce reliance on other food packaging.

Back to the Scales

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Some years ago I weighed our rubbish each week for a period of time.  The quantity was small but I cannot even remember the approximate weights.

I have decided to make a start on this again and redouble our efforts to reduce our small amount of waste that goes to landfill even further.

This is the contents of our kitchen bin for approximately 2 weeks.

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Not all of it is identifiable but there are 2 cheese wrappers, packaging from a parcel we received, an old sponge (left by housesitters 6 months ago), a mouldy ziplock bag which was beyond being salvaged, a small mayonnaise bottle and a butter wrapper (Aldi have changed to foil wrappers – not happy so I will be voting with my feet and buying butter elsewhere in future).  The rest is mostly plastic packaging of one sort and another – mostly one off items from Christmas gifts/catering.  The silver star looks like something from a child’s toy which has been left here – so not strictly our waste but it does have to be discarded.

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Here it is – all packaged up.  I put most of the small bits compacted into the ziplock bag.  I always try to contain any small, lightweight rubbish as the last thing I want is for it to drift out of the collection truck or the landfill site and end up in a watercourse.

The next step was to put it all in the parcel post bag and weigh it.

152g or 5 and 3/8 ounces for my non-metric friends.

Once I had done this I put the rubbish in the bin, except for the post bag which I have saved for next week’s rubbish.

From now on I will weigh and post about the rubbish each Friday so that we have a weekly total for comparison.  It will vary from week to week as some things are only discarded rarely but my hope is that we will continue to generate very little waste.

Plastic is definitely the major culprit when it comes to items going to landfill.  The challenge is to look for feasible alternatives and investigate any recycling options for those items which I do not currently recycle.

Do you generate much waste?  Are you looking for ways to reduce your use of single-use plastic items?  I would love to hear your stories so that we can encourage each other.

Not My Trash

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There seem to be various reasons for people choosing to substantially reduce the amount of waste that their household produces but it is essentially about not turning our planet into a mega rubbish dump.  One of the most visible issues is the plastic in our oceans so removing single-use plastic items from your life is a good first step.

The goal of zero waste is admirable but what about the litter that seems to be everywhere?

This morning I went for a walk.  We live in a semi-rural area on a narrow secondary road.  This is what I collected.

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Pepsi bottle
Iced coffee bottle plus 2 pieces of the plastic label
Flattened soft drink can
Turkish delight wrapper
Half of a single serve yoghurt container
Plastic bag
Broken reflector from a vehicle

Apart from the reflector, all of the other items were knowingly discarded.  Almost everything relates to food and drink and the aluminium drink can is the only piece that is not single use plastic.

I know this is only a very small sample but I think these items clearly tell the story of where change needs to occur.

Things you can do that will make a difference (apart from not littering):

Pack your own food and drink for when you are out and about.
If you buy take-away take your own containers or choose compostable packaging.
Lobby governments to introduce container deposit legislation for all beverage containers.
Lobby for a ban on plastic bags.

Zero Waste

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As a follow-up to my post from yesterday, I want to talk more about ‘zero waste’.  What is it?  Is it unrealistic?  Do you prefer an alternative term?  Does it really matter?

I have been tossing around these and other questions recently, so I thought I would share my thoughts with you.  I would love to hear how you feel about this, too.

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Zero waste is a phrase which first entered my consciousness about 5 years ago when I stumbled upon a blog by Bea Johnson.  More about that later, but apparently the term ‘zero waste’ was first coined in the mid 1990s.  This is what Wikipedia has to say:

Zero Waste is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. No trash is sent to landfills or incinerators. The process recommended is one similar to the way that resources are reused in nature. The definition adopted by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA)[1] is:

Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.

Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.

Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health

Zero Waste refers to waste management and planning approaches which emphasize waste prevention as opposed to end-of-pipe waste management.[2] It is a whole systems approach that aims for a massive change in the way materials flow through society, resulting in no waste.[2] Zero waste encompasses more than eliminating waste through recycling and reuse, it focuses on restructuring production and distribution systems to reduce waste.[3] Zero waste is more of a goal or ideal rather than a hard target.[4] Zero Waste provides guiding principles for continually working towards eliminating wastes.[2]

Advocates expect that government regulation is needed[3] [2] to influence industrial choices over product and packaging design, manufacturing processes, and material selection.[5]

Advocates say eliminating waste eliminates pollution, and can also reduce costs due to reduced need for raw materials.

I mentioned Bea Johnson’s blog earlier.  You can take a look here.  Many people find her style and enthusiasm inspiring.  I do not.  She presents herself with an almost evangelical zeal which I find irritating and I believe that could turn away many who want to dip their toe in the water because they simply do not feel that they can measure up to her exacting standards.

The following quote is an excerpt from her bio on the blog:

This blog and my bestselling book, Zero Waste Home (available in 12 languages), have launched a global movement, inspiring thousands of people throughout the world to live simply and take a stance against needless waste.

Good on Bea for having the idea to grab a catchy slogan “zero-waste” and market the concept but I take exception to the notion that she somehow invented the idea of seriously refusing and reducing waste.  Her timing was perfect – by 2008 there was a critical mass, particularly in parts of the USA and Europe, of people who were prepared to hear her message.  There are people in Australia, and globally, who have been living and promoting this ideal every day for close to 40 years yet there is barely an acknowledgement of their contribution in paving the way to allow this 2008 epiphany to occur.

Meanwhile, through this blog I am trying to connect with other concerned individuals to gently encourage you to begin to make the changes which will reduce the waste produced by your household.

As with everything, people have taken zero waste and put their own spin on it.  For some, it is about eliminating all plastics.  For others it is rejecting single-use plastic items such as supermarket bags and straws.  Still others are keen to replace disposables with reusable alternatives – handkerchiefs instead of tissues, cloths instead of paper towel, lids instead of plastic wrap and so on.

Whatever you call it, there are a couple of things I would like to remind you about.

It is not a race to zero.
Start slowly or the changes will not be sustainable.
Remember the hierarchy – recycling should be the last resort – not the first option.
Perfection is virtually impossible due to the way our society and economy are structured.
Do what you can but don’t be disillusioned.
Choose your battles.

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And finally, any reduction that you and your family make with respect to what is sent to landfill is a good thing.

Personally, I am not terribly comfortable with the term ‘zero waste’ in the context that many people choose to use it.  I prefer something as simple as rubbish reduction.  However, our goal is the same.

It is easy to become complacent because you have cleverly managed to take you own glass jar to have it refilled with some type of foodstuff, therefore it is zero waste.  Unless you go to the farm and pick the vegetables or milk the cow directly into your glass bottle I do not consider it zero waste.  The dry goods in bulk bins travel to the shop in packaging (generally plastic-lined) and the milk is transported in some type of vessel.  Whilst this may sound extreme, I am simply trying to point out that a true zero-waste meal is a bit of a myth unless you are foraging for all of your food.

I believe that single-use plastics are a very good place to start reducing your rubbish.

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Take fabric/reusable bags or boxes to carry your groceries home.
Make or buy lightweight bags for buying fruit and vegetables.  Remove plastic film from your life.  If you have not got it you will find an alternative.
Wash and reuse (as many times as possible) any plastic bags you already have in your possession.
Consider your shopping list.  Look for items with less packaging or able to be bought in bulk.
Take you own containers when buying products that are not pre-packaged – meat, dry goods, deli items.
Look for loose fruit and vegetable produce rather than pre-packed.
Try growing even one or two vegetables or fruit depending on your location and living arrangements.

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What do you already do to reduce the amount of rubbish which your household produces?

What changes would you consider implementing in 2017 to reduce your waste even further?