A trashy experiment

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.