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

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.

Insects and native plants

Recently there has been some alarming news about the decline of insects across the world, and it’s something that should concern you if it doesn’t already. (If you haven’t yet heard much about it, just google “insect decline“, or if you’re feeling dramatic: “insect apocalypse” and “insect armageddon“.)

Biodiversity has always been important to me – in fact I’ve even posted here before about increases in insect and ‘wild’-life that has improved since I’ve been building a garden around our home. So naturally, this issue concerns me, and it’s been top of mind (along with everything else that seems to be going wrong with increasing frequency in our environment these days).

I found a really great thread on twitter this evening by a gentleman called Paraic O’Donnell where he talks about what we could do to help sustain instect life. (Read the full thread here). Many things there I wholeheartedly agree with, but one thing in particular stood out for me: his reasoning for the use of native plants.

“So, why do native species matter? Well, for one thing, they are adapted to this environment. They *want* to grow here, and will thrive with minimal intervention. They tend not to be invasive or disruptive to ecological balance.

More importantly, other organisms (like insects) have *adapted to them*, and have come to depend on them for food or shelter.”

I’m always on about only using indigenous (and these days even endemic indigenous) plants in our garden, but if I’m honest I’ve never stopped to articulate the reasons for choosing this route like how Paraic does. I’ve also never considered the importance of them to wildlife (insects included). Yes, I choose plants because they are more suitable to the local environment – hardier, drought-resistant – that local birds like and that attract butterflies, but strangely it never occured to me that these birds and butterflies (and other insects) might actually NEED these plants.

How nice to have a new lens to view my decisions with.

And to be reminded that my gardening efforts and choices continue to have value.

Subterfuge in the kitchen

There is deception going on in my kitchen in the name of greening. I feel a little uncomfortable about it, so in order to nullify my guilt, I am coming ‘clean’.

Here it is: I repackage green cleaning products into the “known” but non-green equivalents. Gasp! 

Here’s why: My housekeeper is a lovely old lady, very set in her ways, and I’m guessing not too well educated. In her world, there are a limited number of brands that you can/should/must use to do the tasks needed when cleaning a home. Omo or Surf for cleaning clothes. Handy Andy, Domestos, Windowlene, Mr Muscle, Toilet Duck and Sunlight dish wash liquid for cleaning the home. Nothing else is acceptable.

I’ve explained that there are many better alternatives – ones that we all know are better for both her health and the environment – but I’m not certain she a) understands or b) believes me.

Either way, I keep getting requests for all these specific things, even though there are full bottles of green substitutes sitting in the cupboard. I cannot bring myself to buy the chemical brands, so I’ve resorted to buying the green versions, decanting them into the “known, loved and expected” branded bottle and (so far) she’s happy.

And then I’m happy. (Even though I’m technically lying).

You could argue this is a bit of a #firstworldproblem, but seriously, does anyone do this sort of thing in the interests of keeping a green home?

A meat-free rant

cows

I’m not sure when or how some people forgot that chicken or fish are meat, but it appears that many are of this bizarre opinion. I’ve been faced with this a couple of times in the past, but it was brought sharply to my attention again this weekend in an article I read in the Sunday papers.

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