How to make less trash

There’s a big push to using less plastic these days, but actually the issue should really be about making less waste in general. Which is why this great little summary about “How to make less trash” really appealed to me.

It highlights the many different ways to reduce waste – things like buying better and repairing, simplifying and food composting make the list which I don’t think many people think about or practise unless they are “super greenies”. I doubt the average Joe does these things (well, I certainly don’t know any that do).

We all need to be encouraged to make changes in all aspects of our lives. Not using a plastic straw is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

How to make less trash
Image found on Pinterest, via Earth911.

A trashy experiment

What saving a month of our packaging waste taught me.

A while back I explored the Ecobrick concept, and was inspired by a suggestion on their site to do a waste audit to figure out how much non-recyclable plastic waste we generate.

Now, we’ve been recycling for years – before we even had kerb-side pickups to make life easy – so I have a fair sense of what we throw away weekly, but I was keen to test my assumptions.

So I made some space in the garage to store it all and forbade the housekeeper and boyfriend from throwing any packaging away for a full month.

At the end of the month I emptied it all out on the dining room floor and sorted it out into types. It was more than I anticipated and as expected, the overwhelming majority was plastic.

One month’s worth of our packing waste. :(

So what did we learn? We drink quite a bit. :) And we eat way too many pre-made plastic-packaged foods from Woolworths. We knew this already, but seeing the evidence of it all piled up in front of us is a somewhat sobering experience.

Specifically though, I realised that we use more paper-based goods than I thought we did and that a significant amount of the plastic we consume is not recyclable. That really makes me feel uncomfortable.

What have we changed? I won’t lie – we haven’t significantly changed our lifestyle since doing this experiment to rectify the plastic issue. I just have more guilt now. Our reliance on Woolworths foods is the primary cause of our waste and until we change our routines around our evening plans and how we prepare dinner, this isn’t going to change. I’m currently trying to be better at cooking from scratch, but we have a long way to go. I haven’t gone the Ecobrick route either (tho I do keep thinking about it).

Here’s what worries me about this: if I, a self-confessed greenie, cannot muster the willpower to make biggish changes to my lifestyle in order to live with less impact, how can we expect someone who doesn’t care about it to do so?

We can’t.

But maybe we shouldn’t have to. Maybe the expectation is not that I change my working hours and try to become a home chef in order to solve the problem all by myself, but that the manufacturers, producers and retailers find alternate ways to service my need. Maybe we all need to make some changes – smaller, more palatable changes – that together help alleviate the landfill-destined waste problem. Systemic change is needed. It can’t keep just being the greenie at the end of the chain who is going out of her way to make a difference. It should be easier for everyone.

67 environmental minutes

Want to spend your 67 minutes for Mandela Day doing something that is more environmentally minded? Here are some ideas:

  • Pick up litter. No need to go anywhere special – start right outside your own house.
  • Calculate your carbon footprint and then buy a tree (or two) from either Greenpop or Food & Trees for Africa while you plan how you’re going to reduce your footprint.
  • Install a low-flow shower head if your shower doesn’t yet have one. It’ll save you both water AND money.
  • If you don’t already have a separate bin for your recyclables, now is the time to get one and find a spot in your kitchen for it.
  • Go through your bathroom cupboard and get rid of anything that has microbeads in it, and then promise to not buy any more. 
  • Do an audit in your kitchen to see how many single-use plastic items you use – sandwich bags, clingfilm, straws etc. Figure out how you can swop them out for something better.
  • Plant a herb or vegetable as the start of a journey in growing your own food.
  • Buy yourself a reusable coffee cup and/or water bottle to use instead of takeaway cups or plastic bottles.
  • If you aren’t using energy-saving light bulbs then you definitely need to use this time to change them. This is a must.
  • Go for a walk around your neighbourhood and appreciate the world around you instead of heading to the shops and buying ‘things’. 

What am I going to do I hear you ask?
Well, we did spend 2 hours in the river this past Sunday and brought out 4.5 black bags of trash… and we’ll probably do it again this Sunday, so I will consider that my 67 (plus a bit) minutes.

Do you have any other ideas? Are you doing anything environmentally focused? Let me know.

The solastalgia is strong with me right now

The IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Eco-system Services) released a new report this week that apparently warns that “Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely.” *

Solastalgia (/ˌsɒləˈstældʒə/) is a neologism that describes a form of mental or existential distress caused by environmental change. Wikipedia

I have a confession to make.

I haven’t read it. 

I haven’t even read any articles relating to it.  

Yes, I’ve seen headlines and I’ve seen lots of alarmist tweets. 

I’ve also seen many environmentalists online bemoaning the fact that, on the day the report was released, the UK Royals had a baby and that made more news headlines than this report did even though the report is arguably far more important to people’s lives than a newborn child.

Those same environmentalists would probably put me in the same category as the rest of the disinterested and myopic average population, and on first appearances, I wouldn’t blame them.

Truth is that I’m too overwhelmed by it all. I already know that we’re wrecking the world and everything in it. I feel that I will descend into even greater depths of depression about it all if I really get into the facts that this report highlights. I don’t need the detail to confirm what I know – not right now anyway.

I’m sure I’ll get over this currently highly solastalgic phase and read the report plus news articles in due time. 

Just right now, for my sanity, I need to protect my brain. 

*Quote from: Smart Water Magazine article

Invasive trees and PSHB

There’s a connection between the two that could work in our favour.

This country has a massive problem with invasive trees in our rivers and catchment areas that take over the area, overpowering the natural ecosystem, blocking water flow and guzzling water like an alcoholic during happy hour. We have a dedicated environmental team – “Working for Water” – that deal with it continuously. From what I’ve read, they work in mostly rural areas. Within Joburg, City Parks has a team dedicated to dealing with invasive plants. After meeting with them, I discovered that they are woefully underfunded, and largely rely on WfW to assist when they need to clear a specific area. 

We have another tree problem too: PSHB (Polyphagous Shothole Borer). This little bug is starting to cause a fair amount of havoc with trees around the country – some areas worse than others. While there is evidence of attack on indigenous trees, it seems to prefer exotics, particularly those that many cities and towns have lining their streets. This is causing potential headaches for local municipalities, some of which are proactively dealing with it, others who are dismissing it as a non-problem, probably because they don’t have the ability, capacity or budget to deal with it (my unsubstantiated opinion).

How are the two problems linked, you ask?

As with any invasive species, once it’s here, there’s no getting rid of it entirely. It becomes an exercise in control and management. The scientists at FABI who are monitoring and researching PSHB recommend that infested reproductive host trees are cut down and disposed of correctly to help slow the spread. Interestingly, a few of the exotic reproductive host trees that have been identified so far happen to be listed invasive plant species. Specifically: Honey Locust (Cat. 1b), Black Wattle (Cat. 2), Australian Blackwood (Cat. 2). Castor bean (Cat. 2) and Box Elder (Cat. 3).

Just looking at my* little area of river, 4 of these 5 are present and well established. I’ve recently found a Box Elder riddled with PSHB on the river right outside our complex fence line.

City Parks only barely maintains a handful of our rivers in Joburg, and their Invasives teams is not capable of doing anything. They’re highly unlikely to get into the river to clear out infested trees. But WfW is going strong. I see an opportunity that would kill two birds with one stone here… Imagine if municipality would team up with government? Imagine if WfW would dedicate a task-force team to tackling these specific 5 trees in urban areas that have been identified by City Parks or other organisations as PSHB hotspots?

It’s a win-win: spread of PSHB reduced, local rivers cleared of some invasive trees.

I am clearly biased, but I think this is a brilliant idea. If you know people who know people who might also think this is a good idea and could make it happen, do please let me know.

*”my” river = I live on the bank of the Sandspruit in northern Johannesburg. I have affectionately claimed the bit of it that I have access to from my house as mine. Obviously it’s not really mine, but I love it and attempt to look after it as if it were.

That time I discovered another invasive plant

If it behaves like an invasive plant, it probably is one. (And I should look it up.)

There’s this flowering plant that pops up on the river bank in summer in front of my neighbour’s house which I haven’t really gotten around to identifying. I suspected it might be somewhat invasive but because I haven’t seen it all over and I’ve been too busy planting things I haven’t taken the time to find out what it is.

I noticed a few more of the plants when we went on our walk the other day, and I took a few pics and posted them online to get help with an ID.

Turns out they are called “four o-clock” (or Mirabilis jalapa) and are a NEMBA category 1b invasive.

I could kick myself for not looking them up sooner – I could have cut the ones near my neighbour back before they went to seed and started spreading. Oh well. More work for next summer I guess.

I already know it’s gonna be a mission to control them – they grow from tubers and the few I have tried to uproot already were a mission to get out the ground. Where I did a hack/bad job they grew back – and quickly.

I reckon my neighbour will be bleak if (when!) I start removing them too, as they probably think the plant is pretty.

I wonder what would be a good indigenous replacement? Any ideas?

Sandspruit strolling

A short stroll along the river brings me a sliver of hope.

We took a stroll along the Sandspruit on Sunday, heading upstream from 8th Avenue, Rivonia/Woodmead, along the areas that are looked after by the residents. Most parts are beautifully cared for, and established trees show evidence that people have been looking after the space for years.

Seeing that people take care of these spaces brings my soul hope. It reminds me that it’s not too crazy of me to think that we can – eventually – rehabilitate our urban river systems. It even gave me enough hope to not be too sad about the ever-present litter in the river – particularly in areas of the river bank that aren’t maintained. It’s a thankless and ongoing job to remove litter from the river, but it has such a positive impact. The people looking after this stretch of the river deserve a massive shout out.