Since retiring our rubbish bin for a glass jar, our household waste has seriously diminished. We rarely put out a rubbish bag. By Annette Taylor, August 2016.
It began with friendly rubbish rivalry. A friend challenged us to see who could produce the least trash.
Challenge accepted! I was interested to see how much a household of two adults and one cat could reduce our rubbish.
Normally we’d put out a rubbish bag about once a fortnight, but since Waikato District Council started charging for bags, on July 1 2016, we haven’t put out a single rubbish bag. That’s a lot of trash not going to landfill. (See tally at end of story for how we did!)
The breakthrough was retiring the rubbish bin in the kitchen and replacing it with a glass jar. Now we saw every little bit and there was an incentive to produce less.
Ways of being canny
- The experiment was significantly helped by the introduction of soft plastic recycling at our local supermarkets. Bread bags, frozen food bags, rice and pasta bags, stray bits of plastic -if you can scrunge ’em into a ball, you can drop ’em in. Just make sure they’re empty and dry, says the Public Place Recycling Scheme.
All this former trash is sent to Melbourne, where it is turned into playground mats, outdoor furniture and more. Eventually they hope to process the plastic in NZ. Here’s a cool video on the process.
- If products are swaddled in unnecessary packaging, and I have a choice, I won’t buy them. Polystyrene is a shocker: it can’t be recycled and takes 500 years to decompose, according to a study by Washington University. The manufacturing process is a health hazard and it’s the main component of marine debris. And yet food and drink are served up in the damn stuff all over the place. It’s great that supermarkets have caught on, and are now providing alternatives. The daughter, an urban professional in Auckland, is an avid KeepCup user and has her own customised cup in her bag at all times.
- We try to grocery shop only once a month, inspired by Tamahere Forum’s Philippa Stevenson. Keeping to a list helps, and it means we mainly get what is needed, saving money and time.
- We make a lot of our food from scratch. Cakes, biscuits, dinners come from the basic ingredients rather than from a packet. We also have a good vege garden most of the year.
Insights gathered over the last month –
- It’s astonishing how much packaging our cat produces because of polystyrene meat trays. Now she gets meat from the butchers or Jimbos. Sorted.
- It’s actually a lot of fun reducing household rubbish, and it’s awfully nice hearing the rubbish truck rumble down the street knowing it doesn’t have to stop for ours.
- It’s really easy – you just have to reboot your thinking.
Because. The sea and all the creatures that swim in it and the land animals and our planet.
I’ve seen it for myself. Earlier this year David and I started voluntary beach patrols for the Waikato branch of BirdsNZ.
Every month we walk up and down 5.4 kilometres of windswept beaches at Waikorea, between Raglan and Port Waikato.
Our mission is to keep an eye on the numbers of dead seabirds to understand what is happening to their populations.
The amount of rubbish along the beach is heart-breaking. Bottle tops, pens, bobbins, buckles, drink bottles, bits of bins and bags and dolls and oh, so much more. And scattered amongst it, dead seabirds.
Above is one of the many dead seabirds we found on the beach last month. Did this Buller’s Albatross die from natural illness, storms, or had it ingested a morsel of colourful plastic, floating on the sea? We are now taking some of the smaller specimens home (because who wants an albatross in their freezer?) to send to Lauren Roman, an Australian PhD student.
Lauren is studying the impact that marine debris has on seabirds. Based at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at Tasmania University, her goal is to determine whether plastic is a contributing factor in the general decline in populations.
“The true impact that plastic ingestion has on seabird fatality is not known,” she told Steve Braunias in the NZ Herald. “It’s a big question. One of the barriers to answering the question properly is we need a lot of dead seabirds to be able to look at that answer.”
We’re doing our bit to provide her with “material” – a fairy prion, fluttering shearwater, common diving petrel and a white-headed petel -to be sent to her for stomach analysis.
Looking at the never ending tide of trash can feel overwhelming, but the buck stops here. I will recycle, re-use and reuse. I’m saying no to buying takeaways in polystyrene containers, I don’t want my cabbage wrapped in plastic and I’ll buy products made to last.
And let’s hope there is hope for little fellas like this.
Final thought –
So let’s see. $1.50 per fortnight, factor in the cost of the rubbish bag, say 50c, which is $2 every two weeks – that’s a saving of $4 a month which can be spent on… TRADE AID CHOCOLATE!
AND THE RUBBISH BAG TALLY:
We put out our last ‘usual’ rubbish bag on August 13 2016 and tried to reduce from that date. The next bag went out on Wednesday 26 July 2017. So –
2017 – 1 bag
Wednesday 26 July 2017
2018 – 3 bags
Thursday 1 February, Thursday 26 April, Wednesday 3 October
2019 – 2 and counting…
Wednesday February 13, Wednesday August 14
And now, in 2020, we still use our glass jar, and we have settled into a holding pattern of putting out a rubbish bag about once every two to three months.