When we buy a product it is so easy to neglect to envision the whole life cycle of that thing. Where something has come from is relevant to us – we should be aware of what the product is made from and how that effects us and our environment. We should try and buy products that have been ethically produced, whether we’re thinking about the impact on the planet or the impact on communities. People are starting to show more awareness of ethical issues when purchasing new products. The mass boycott of products containing palm oil is one great example of this. How often do we neglect to consider where our product will end up when it’s life is over?
This summer I’ve been reading Amy Korst’s The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live well by throwing away less. I have found it incredibly inspiring. (And, by the way, I am also recommending it as an easy, engaging and particularly instructional read.) As a household we have a long way to go before we can consider ourselves rubbish-free, but every day we are learning to make better choices for ourselves and our environment. The idea of living with no waste at all can be really daunting.
There are degrees of living this type of lifestyle – you might be an individual or household who wants to halve their waste or find a better way to dispose of what they already use. Perhaps you’d like to downgrade from your current size curbside garbage bin to a smaller (and cheaper) version. We pay for the size bin we use in our rates in Australia. Could you be saving your household money by throwing away less? You may be someone who believes you can get to the stage where you only create a shoebox full of waste a year, like Amy and her husband. We don’t think we can get down that far, but we would like to reduce our waste by at least 50% this year. When we get there I’d like to see if we can go further, but for the time being we’re sitting at that goal. By now you’ll have learned that I I’m particularly motivated by goals.
The reality of throwing an item away is that it ends up in landfill. There is no magical land where our rubbish goes, breaks down and ceases to be. It sits in huge mounds, creating a dangerous atmosphere in which it is nearly impossible for anything to biodegrade, even your “biodegradable” rubbish bags.
If you think you are ready to make the change to a less trashy life, here are ten quick things you can change now.
- Think about every single thing you put in the rubbish. Think outside the box. How could you re-use this instead of throwing it away?
- Don’t buy packaged goods. You can buy packaged everything, but in the same vein, you can get most things unpackaged. Avoid anything with double layers, too much plastic and styrofoam trays. Shop at stores or markets where you can return the packaging. Shop in bulk when you can. Recently I *accidentally* purchased a four pack of mangos at Aldi. They were housed in a little plastic box with four mango shaped molds. They even had nutritional values listed on the front. For mangos?! They were inexpensive and they looked great. I completely forgot about the rubbish they were creating – buying four mangos should always be a zero waste purchase. Think hard about everything you put in your basket.
- Search Google for alternative uses. The world is full of innovative and resourceful people. The web is full of their ideas. For example, when I searched alternative uses for styrofoam trays I found that they could be used for planting seeds, making toys, creating collages, framing photos and crafting in a gazillion ways. One savvy trasher even created a Pinterest board dedicated to reusing the sly old styrofoam tray.
- Which brings me to our best trashing resource – Pinterest. If you have a child, or are associated with a school, kindergarten or childcare centre (or if you know someone with a child…have I covered most options here??) then you have somewhere to pass on your crafting resources. Pinterest is a whole world of new ideas for ordinary things. This summer when I caved and accidentally bought the cheaper (and more fun) frozen yoghurt pop sticks, instead of the less trashy tub, I washed and kept all the pop sticks. I know these little wooden blighters will come in handy one day. Similarly, I collect bread bag ties. At the moment they are helpig my worn out thongs (if you are not Australian read: flip flops) last out the summer. Maybe one day I’ll make a gown out of them.
- Sell it. I have a friend who sold a broken answering machine, which was declared as such, at her garage sale. Just because you think it is trash, it isn’t to everyone. Did you know that in the US you can sell toilet tubes in bulk lots on eBay? There are about a billion crafts that you can do using them. In Australia we are not allowed to use them in schools anymore due to dubious hygiene concerns. What a shame! Check out where your trash can make you some money and be re-used or repurposed.
- Have fewer bins. This suggestion is straight from Amy’s book. If you take the bins out of the bedroom and bathroom you’ll have to think harder about where that rubbish goes. While you are transporting that rubbish to the kitchen bin you’ll have time to think about what it is, how it could be reused or, failing that, recycled. What is is made up of? How did it end up in your house? How can you avoid it in the future?
- Don’t buy one use items. They are everywhere! My Mum bought a packet of 6 sippy cups when my nephew was born (almost 6 years ago). She only realised much later that the brand name was “take and toss”. They were designed to be thrown out. These sturdy, colourful sippy cups are still in use. It’s unfathomable that people buy things like this to throw away. Many one use items, including tissues, nappies, wipes, breast pads, sanitary items, razors, paper plates, plastic bags, plastic cups, take away coffee cups and plastic cutlery can easily be replaced with reusable items without too much stretching of the imagination.
- Stop lining your bin with bags. Check your council regulations. Some will allow you to put your rubbish directly into the garbage bin without a bin liner or bag. Others require you to contain it so it doesn’t fly away when the bins are emptied into the truck. Our council requires this, but there is no reason for us to have a fresh bag every time we empty the bin. Buy larger garbage bags to cover your bin, if this is necessary, and fill that throughout the week. One. Bag. Otherwise, use paper bags. If you’re composting (this is easy, too!) then you won’t have much mushy waste and paper bags should suffice.
- Recycle plastic that can’t go into your curbside bin at Coles. Did you know that Coles collects biscuit packets, plastic wrap, pasta packets and the like to recycle into playground equipment. I know! How awesome! You can read more about that here.
- Find a better way. Crunch this: If you replace your toothbrush as recommended (every 3 months) and you live, say, 70 years, how many toothbrushes will you throw into landfill in your lifetime? 280. Two hundred and eighty toothbrushes! That’s 280 for you, 280 for your spouse, 280 for your children, 280 for your parents, 280 for your neighbour. That’s a huge amount of dental hygiene waste lying around in landfill. A little bit of research brought us to Environmental Toothbrush – an Australian (yay!) company who create compostable toothbrushes. They’re made from sustainable bamboo and are entirely compostable. Also awesome – they cost about the same as a normal toothbrush and come in cardboard packaging. We’re in love. When at all possible, if you cannot avoid the product, find a better way.
These ideas are designed to be easy to implement, but they are just the beginning.
What do you do to reduce your trash? What’s your number one tip for those getting started?