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?

Gobsmacked

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Sometimes titles for my posts are really easy to choose and other times it is a little harder.  The title for today was immediately obvious.

According to the dictionary it means utterly astounded.  Yes, that really sums it up.

I and many, many others care about waste, saving the planet, using resources wisely and so on.  Some people are more passionate and devoted to their cause than others and all of us do our bit in different ways.  However, almost everyone makes some effort.

So, I was shocked yesterday when a young work colleague appeared with a large handful of good quality, plastic-coated paper clips and announced that someone was throwing them out.  I have a small box of these at work which I carefully use and re-use as files become obsolete and and put in the confidential waste bin for shredding and the large handful was more than my entire collection.

Worse was yet to come.  She returned with another handful and announced that there were ‘heaps more’.  My curiosity got the better of me and I went with her to check out the source.  I found that someone had thrown a bulk quantity of these paper clips into a green wheelie bin in another area of the office.

I quickly considered my options and located a reuseable shopping bag from another work colleague and we set about retrieving as many as we could.

These paper clips were loose and not contained so they would quickly and easily slip to the bottom of the bin which was already about 2/3 full.  We carefully scooped up handfuls and although we could not get them all, I feel that we probably saved about 90% of the discarded paper clips.

Here is the result of our efforts.  I apologise for the poor quality of the photos.

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Half a bag full of paper clips which I estimate weighs between 5 and 8kg.  It was so heavy when I lifted it that I carried it in my arms rather than by the handles because I was concerned that they would break.

Here is a close-up.

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I am still angry when I think about the appalling waste that this represents – both in environmental and economic terms.  The other question that bothers me, is why did someone come to have this many paper clips in the first place?

What did I do?

Firstly, I have no idea how these are going to be used, so at the moment, the bag is in the bottom of the small storage cupboard beside my desk.  It is just as well that I maintain minimal ‘stuff’ at work as well as at home so there was some spare space.

Secondly, I sent an email and photographs to the team who are responsible for sustainability on a corporate level.  I do not know who discarded these paper clips, nor do I want to, but the team who work hard to improve the sustainable credentials of the business need to know where there are problems and develop strategies to change this sort of behaviour.  I believe that this is an extreme but not isolated incident.

The next challenge is to work out how best to distribute these paper clips to people who will use and reuse them wisely.  What do you think?

Not the Regular Rubbish

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It is about 10 days since I last emptied the small rubbish bin in the kitchen.  This week it is lined with an empty corn chip packet and most of the usual culprits are still there – a rice cracker packet, cheese wrapper, toothpaste tube, an empty mayonnaise bottle and so on.

Every week there seems to be some ‘one off’ items and this time is no different.

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On the weekend I cleaned out the drawers in the vanity in the bathroom.  Of course, this is not the first time I have cleaned and decluttered the drawers in the vanity unit.  This post is from about 12 months ago.  If you look carefully you will see the nail polish in one of the photos.

Anyway, the 3 bottles of nail polish have gone in the bin.  They came to me via Freecycle over 10 years ago and I have used them intermittently for my toenails – I have never painted my fingernails as it was not compatible with my work.  I last did my toenails just before Christmas and at that point decided that I would not do them again.  The cotton cloth was used with the nail polish remover so it is going, too.

The other item in the photo is a globe from the headlight of GMan’s ute.  It had stopped working so needed to be replaced.  GMan was able to remove the old one, buy a new globe and install it.  It is good to be able to tackle these type of jobs ourselves.

I Bought a Bucket

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This may seem like mindless consumption as I did already have a bucket to collect the kitchen scraps for the compost but I recently bought a new compost bucket.

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I first considered buying this over 12 months ago when I saw the one my daughter had at her place.  The thing that appealed to me about it was the drop-in lid with a silicone seal.  The following photo shows the lid  and also  the bucket insert.  It is also rather more stylish when sitting on the kitchen bench and has the added bonus of being labelled which is a help to guests who are unfamiliar with our kitchen.

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These are the 2 buckets I have used previously.  Each one is a bit larger than the new one so I will definitely need to empty it each day but that is not a great imposition.  The lid is the main problem as it takes 2 hands to seal it tightly as opposed to the drop-in lid on the new one.

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I ordered the bucket online and it arrived packaged in a cardboard box.  This had clearly been re-used which is pleasing but the downside was that it had 2 layers of plastic tape.  I managed to remove all of the tape so that I can use the cardboard as weed mat in the garden.  There was quite a pile of tape.

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In fact, the tape contributed quite a significant portion of our waste for the week.  You can see it all here.

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The rubbish for this week weighed in at 264g which is considerably more than the previous couple of weeks.  This is due in to the plastic sticky tape from the cardboard box.  There is also a selection of items, including, plastic bags from rice paper wrappers, tortillas, cheese and carrots, an expired credit card, foil packet from medications, festival wristband, bottle tops, screen cleaning cloth and plastic packaging from a computer program.

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.

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.