Waste Not

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I will never fit a year’s worth of rubbish in a small jar but I manage reasonably well at this ‘zero waste’ gig, mainly because we don’t actually buy a lot of stuff.  However, some things are unavoidable.  After much discussion and debate we recently purchased a new suitcase for our upcoming overseas trip.  You can see it here.

We bought the case online and of course there was the inevitable packaging.  All things considered, it was not unreasonable to ensure that the case arrived in perfect condition.  A large cardboard box which will be flattened and added to the pile which we use as weed mat under mulched areas of the garden and a large, lightweight plastic bag which I have carefully folded and put away.  This is sure to be used at some time in the future.

Finally, there was this piece of thin foam sheeting.

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This is not recyclable in any shape or form so it can only be destined for the rubbish bin.  Although it will still end up in landfill, I decided that it could have one more use before ending up there.

I cut it into two pieces and stitched them up to create these bags.

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They will be used as rubbish bags for the relatively small amount of household rubbish which we produce before tossing the bag and its contents into the large rubbish collection bin.  Based on past experience I expect that each of these will hold about 4 – 6 week’s worth of rubbish.

It is not an ideal solution but one in which I feel that I have made the best of the situation with which I was presented.

But back to the online shopping and packaging.  I regularly hear people complaining about the packaging they receive when shopping online and their attempts to change they way things are shipped.  We do not shop extensively online but it does have advantages.  We live in a semi-rural area and saved an enormous amount of time and fuel driving long distances to locate an appropriate suitcase.  Secondly, the packaging I received is probably the same packaging which any retail outlet would receive when ordering from the supplier.  I am sure that the shop would not have made any effort to re-purpose the various pieces of packaging materials as I have and best I could hope for is that the cardboard may have been recycled.  Therefore, even though I have added to my personal landfill tally I feel that I have done the best that I could.  What do you think?

Taking it to the Streets

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Blog posts have been pretty thin on the ground over the past couple of months.  There has been plenty going on here which would generally be perfect material for posts, however, I have written about most of it before, and in some instances, several times.

I know that there is no reason not to revisit a topic but I have been grappling with a broader issue and want to discuss that here today.  I am looking for other people’s views and would really appreciate your input.

It is good to be doing what you can within your own home and personal decisions with regard to reducing your carbon footprint but should we be doing more?  To really make a difference it is vital that we work to influence change on a bigger scale.  This can be overwhelming and make you wonder whether it is even worth trying but we need to remember that change does not happen overnight nor is it likely to be easy.

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In the past few weeks we have been busy.  We attended a local screening of ‘Before the Flood’ and associated audience discussion. This is a 2016 documentary on climate change features Leonardo DiCaprio.  Like anything on this topic it left me torn between optimism that we can all make a difference and despair that any action will really be a matter of ‘too little, too late’.  However, my final decision is a renewed enthusiasm to really make a difference as soon as possible.

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On a more local note, I went to an information evening about recycling in the Sunshine Coast Council area which was presented by Barung Landcare with a speaker, Sandie Johnston from Envirocom, an environmental consultancy who provide education and training for Sunshine Coast Council.  Waste minimisation and recycling have been at the forefront of my actions for over 25 years and this was an eye-opening presentation.  Some things have changed with regard to recycling so it is great to have up-to-date information that I know is accurate for our local council area.  I am looking forward to sharing this information in the hope that it can be disseminated more broadly which should lead to a greater compliance with recycling ‘rules’.

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I also attended one of the five consultation evenings regarding the ongoing management of the Maroochy River estuary as preservation of our natural environment is critical and the issue of coastal management is paramount if we are to protect low-lying areas such as Cotton Tree from inundation.  Whilst the issue of replacing the geotextile bag groynes with rocks may only have come to the notice of some people recently, there has been a small but dedicated band of people working to preserve the natural river mouth for at least 40 years.  This is a perfect example of long-term activism.  If you live in the Sunshine Coast Council area or visit the Maroochy River estuary (Cotton Tree) please consider completing the council survey here.

Just like charity, activism begins at home, or at least in your local area so here are a few ideas that have caught my interest.

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I have begun looking into the idea of Boomerang Bags with a view to getting this idea up and running in Maleny.

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A couple of months ago I joined Spare Harvest, an online platform dedicated to sharing garden produce and resources.

I have been active in a couple of different Zero Waste/War on Waste Facebook groups and am pleased to have discovered a local Sunshine Coast group.  These really seem to have gained momentum since the ‘War on Waste’ television program here in Australia.  I am hoping to be able to connect with more local people to see what difference we can make as a group.

I will continue to write about the small things I do each and every day to live more sustainably  but I am looking forward to trying to extend this to more people in the community and I hope to share more of that with you, too.

 

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.

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?

Taking Responsibility

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Firstly, I would like to apologise to those of you who have commented over the past couple of months for not replying to your comments.  I do read your words and value your input, however, too often I set them aside with grand plans to reply ‘later’ and ‘later’ does not happen.  I have gone back and tried to fill in the blanks and have promised myself that I will do better in 2017.  Thank you for sticking with me.

I had already written the title for this post when I realised that I had used an identical title in February last year.  You can read it here.  Perhaps it is a new year that makes us reassess what we are doing in a variety of ways.  Reducing our carbon footprint, minimising our reliance on single-use items, supporting ethical businesses, taking stock of our possessions are just some of the ways we can make a difference to our own lives as well as the lives of others and of course, the health of the planet.

I read something recently where someone commented that if everyone had to deal with their own rubbish rather than just wheeling a bin to the kerb then they would think differently about what they acquire – both in goods and packaging.  Of all the articles and discussions I have read, this makes more sense than most.

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It is easy to get jaded when the discussion is about where the nearest supermarket is that accepts soft plastics for recycling.  Do you think that shoving a bundle of soft plastic bags and packaging into a supposed recycling collection point absolves you from making any additional effort to reduce your waste?  Do you really believe that soft plastics are actually recycled?  Have you any idea how much energy is required to recycle materials into new products?  Is it true that plastic can only be recycled once?  And the absolute no-brainer….. Did you know that plastic is made from oil which is a finite resource?  That means it will run out one day!

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This is just one example of where it would be far better to make or buy a few sturdy fabric bags to transport shopping and other goods.

Give up shopping as a pastime, buy only what you actually need……that is need, not want and remember that recycling should be a last resort, not an easy option to salve your conscience.

Call me cynical, but I do whatever I can to minimise the amount of recycling I produce because I am not convinced that my efforts end up reaping results.  I have heard that if there is any contamination found in an entire truckload of recyclables then the whole load is dumped.  Whether or not that is true, I would much rather save any cardboard and newspapers that we acquire and use it as a mulchable weed mat in the garden.  Smaller pieces of paper are shredded and used as bedding for the chickens and then finally make their way to the compost.

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Tomorrow I will discuss the concept of zero-waste and what it means to me.

 

Return to Sender

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I am on a never-ending quest to minimise the waste created by our purchases.  However, I regard the ‘zero-waste’ trumpeted by some as a somewhat false achievement.  Even if your purchase is transported home in your own bag, jar or basket it is almost certain that there was packaging, most likely plastic involved in getting the product to you.

Think about any product and trace it back to the source.  A good example is our free range eggs from our chickens.  At first glance they may seem to be ‘zero waste’ but, no, the grain for the chickens comes in a 20kg plastic bag.

So, one of the best things we can do is to try to buy things where the packaging can be re-used.  Remember, that re-use is far better than recycling.  I was reminded of a couple of examples where I can literally close the loop.

My ideal would be to grow food from seed but I am sufficiently honest with myself to realise that this is not often possible whilst holding down a full-time job.  So, I end up with plastic seedling trays but I was delighted to recently discover that these can be returned to the seller at the market for re-use.

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On another note, I buy my laundry and dishwashing liquid from a local manufacturer at a market stall.  The product is sold through retail outlets in 1 litre bottles, however, if pre-ordered from the market stall it is presented in re-used 2 and 3 litre juice bottles and I am even able to return those bottles when emptied.

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It is worth thinking critically about the source and packaging of your purchases to ensure that you have the opportunity to make informed choices.