Zero waste sounds like a ridiculous concept doesn’t it when we traipse down the driveway every Sunday with two huge wheelie bins full of rubbish but there are simple ways to easily reduce our impact on the earth. I went to an amazing conference with zero waste guru Bea Johnson this year. She literally managed to have the waste of her family for a whole year in a mason jar! There is so much more than putting the recycle bin out every week.
So here is a quick starter on the 5 R’s of zero waste nirvana!
The simplest way to eliminate waste is to refuse excessive packaging. Seriously.. for years our tomatos, apples and fresh produce was delivered safely to our supermarket without the need for plastic wrapping and trays. Lately it seems like you can’t buy an avocado without it being packed in multiple layers of plastic. Supermarkets will stop doing it if we stop buying it! Taking your own favourite coffee cup when you buy a coffee at work will save around 240 disposable cups a year! The convenience of grabbing a pre-packaged food is a huge contributor to our excess waste! I also prefer to choose my fresh fruit and veges so I can pick the freshest produce.
The impact of plastic on our environment particularly for our ocean faring friends is well documented. Devastating images circulate on the Internet of the beautiful waters of Indonesia now sadly littered with plastic waste. Reducing plastic waste is as easy using a refillable water bottle rather than single use bottles. You could try buying cheeses and meats from the deli/butcher wrapped in compostable paper or take your own container. Bulk food stores are popping up in major shopping centres and becoming very popular as they start to stock everything from pop corn and peanut butter to household bathroom and cleaning products. It really is a great solution and the paper bags are re-usable or compostable!
Now I am not suggesting that you start wearing patchouli perfume and growing your armpit hair but if you wanted to that would be ok with me too hahaha. Before you piff that jar out or bin the dress from last season in the bin, take another look. Not only can you be environmentally friendly but it will save money by reusing if you can! If you have checked it and really can’t re-use it then can it be used by someone else? Jars, especially small ones are always in demand for school fetes and your last season dress might raise some much needed funds for a charity if it is still in good condition and if it is damaged then perhaps it could be repaired or repurposed. There are some great local programs that recycle broken or outdated electronic equipment such as computers, mobile phones and TV’s.
It sounds gross but in reality a healthy compost pile actually isnt a smelly affair at all. It is as easy as sectioning off a small corner of the garden and following some simple guidelines and at the end you have an amazing natural fertiliser for your plants! Our scraps go through a pecking order of dogs to chooks to compost if none of the animals want it. If gardening isnt your thing or you cant face managing the compost you may find neighbours who have chooks who are grateful for your kitchen scraps or your contribution in their compost. Some cities now have collection bins for kitchen scraps from restaurants which is a terrific step forward.
As a nation we have embraced recycling and have become expert at identifying what can be recycled. We process our recycling turning bottles and jars into crushed glass and sorted plastics but Australia does not use or remanufacture most of the material that we process for recycling. For decades at further cost to the environment we have shipped China tonnes of our glass and plastic to be recycled into new product to be sold back to us but those days are now numbered.
China has started to develop their own waste issues. As China becomes more westernised and accustomed to convenience products their own waste is giving them enough resources and they are now refusing to take our waste or paying very little for it. Some local councils have been forced to reconsider or even cancel their recycling programs given the increasing cost and logistics of collecting and storing waste that can not be sold even at a loss. With this in mind it is more important than ever that we really look hard at the first 3 R’s to reduce, reuse and refuse.
It’s a process to develop new habits just as we did when recycling was first introduced. It can be done with minimal impact on our day just as recycling has become. We became expert recyclers and can in time become expert at reducing, reusing and refusing. If you are interested in more ideas about reducing your household’s footprint on the earth I highly recommend checking out Bea Johnson’s book on Zero Waste.