Top tips for reducing rubbish

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.


Photo of the rubbish jar
SORTED! Eight weeks worth… All pics by Annette Taylor.

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

It’s surprisingly easy to produce less rubbish.Photo of soft plastic recycling

  • 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.
    Photo of Keep Cup
    Proof she truly does keep it 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.
Why bother?

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.

Photo of rubbish in the NZ ocean
PUT A CAP ON IT: Waikorea beach in July.

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.


Photo of dead seabird


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.

Photo of Fairy prion
Iris cares for a rescued fairy prion from 2011.


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!


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.


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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

18 thoughts on “Top tips for reducing rubbish

  • August 13, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    Congratulations Annette. Your glass jar of rubbish is a truly awesome feat. I am inspired. I have been working hard to cut down our rubbish but have put out two half-full rubbish bags since July 1. My most successful strategy has been to refuse plastic and a big part of that has been to avoid supermarket packaged food as much as possible and buy from Bin Inn where I take my own re-usable bags. I also use reusable Onya net bags at the vege store. One of the benefits I’ve found is more choice of brands and many of the products I buy now are tastier and better quality than the supermarket stock whose brands have dwindled to one or two and mostly the supermarket’s own house brand. Also delightful is that the friendly Hamilton East Bin Inn staff get around the store and offer help and do not restrict themselves to the irritating rote “how is your day so far” and “have a nice day”. Also to avoid plastic, I buy bread direct from bakers and get better quality bread as a result. They pop unsliced loaves straight into my bag and I slice at home. I’d love to hear of other people’s experiences and tips for cutting down waste.

    • August 15, 2016 at 9:42 am

      Many thanks Tamahere Forum – seeing how you were the one who inspired me, please take a bow. Have not heard of Onya net bags but will look into them. I have an old green string bag from my mother, might take this out when shopping! Sharing tips is a grand idea – anyone?

  • August 16, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Way to go Annette! I’ve been focusing on reducing rubbish too and can’t believe how little rubbish we have now now! I’m going to see how long until we need a rubbish sack picked up. I love your idea of a glass jar, might just have to try that! I love the soft plastic bins at the supermarket! I still don’t like how much plastic I’m taking there so am going to focus reducing the buying of items in plastic.

    I’ve actually written a few blogs about going plastic free here if you’re interested –

    • August 16, 2016 at 1:49 pm

      Some good tips in your blogs, Stephanie, thanks. I also like the look of the ecowarehouse, especially their bamboo tooth brushes. I think a big component of the great Pacific Ocean garbage patch is plastic tooth brushes and I have been looking for an alternative.
      Annette, the net Onya bags are great for fruit and veges (and jumbo oats!) as they weigh so little so you are not paying for a hefty bag (when you buy more than you can handle loose). They come 4 to a tiny pouch, which I clip on to my shopping bag so they are always handy. They are here:
      I learnt a lot from reading Bea Johnson’s book Zero Waste Home and Amy Korst’s The Zero Waste Lifestyle – live well by throwing away less. Both available in the Hamilton library.

      • August 16, 2016 at 3:52 pm

        Thank Pip – sounds like a good idea to grad those books, love libaries. Will check out the Onya bags!

      • August 17, 2016 at 11:13 am

        The bamboo toothbrushes are pretty good, not sure how long they last yet but at least they don’t create plastic rubbish when finished with. I love the dish brushes! The onya bags look good, I’ve been thinking of making some but never seem to have the time!

    • August 16, 2016 at 3:51 pm

      Yay Stephanie! Doesn’t it make a difference when you give it some thought, I’m quite stunned. It will be interesting to see how long we can go without putting a bag out, keep me posted! (We’re still a long way off, but there is all that polystyrene from the microwave oven replacement.) Look forward to reading your blog when back from town!

      • August 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

        I’ve been really surprised how quickly our rubbish reduced by putting some thought into it. It’s just such a shame everything is so over packaged these days! If only we could do something about that! I think many companies are trying but there are some that just don’t seem to care.

    • August 16, 2016 at 5:26 pm

      Hey Pip and Stephanie – feeling inspired now! A great idea to pool ideas and tips. Some excellent thoughts in your blogs Stephanie, we do much the same in terms of using old baking tins, glass jars and buying in bulk. And I LOVE Binn Inn, Pip. Let’s meet there some time for lamingtons down the road at Grey Gardens!

      • August 17, 2016 at 10:56 am

        It’s quite fun and a great sense of achievement aye! It feels good to know that we are all reducing a huge about of waste (which is really just a drop in the bucket)! I just wish that everyone did it! We could do some real good to our world if everyone did their bit to reduce plastic, etc. Hopefully this new system of WDC will make people rethink and be more careful!

        • August 17, 2016 at 11:25 am

          Good on WDC! I’m totally with them on this one. Have you seen the sickening clip on FB of a beach clean-up in Mumbai? Closer to home, David and I keep finding unusual small plastic tubes on our beach we patrol and we’ve just discovered what they are – Glow sticks used in commercial deep sea fishing, for tuna and the like. An utterly terrible and polluting practice. Keep calm, keep calm… think small and local and…

          • August 17, 2016 at 11:29 am

            That’s shocking! Some people just don’t care. I know what you mean about keeping calm! Makes me mad too! What beach do you patrol? I’ve meaning to take a boys to a beach to clean up if you ever want some helpers.

          • August 18, 2016 at 8:41 am

            Lovely idea! Waikorea, our beach, doesn’t have easy access and is more than an hour away. We park on private land and there is then a steep walk of several hundred metres through sand dunes, so not good to lug rubbish bags up. We could collect some rubbish to take home but if that’s the main focus, there are probably more accessible beaches where more could be achieved. However, you and the boys are MOST welcome to join us any time – we go every month and count the birds, dead and alive that we see along the beach. This gives us an understanding of what’s happening to populations. The dotterels and oystercatchers should be starting to breed next month and it will be really interesting to see where they’ve formed their territories and whether they’ve started laying yet. Give me a yell if interested!

          • August 19, 2016 at 7:44 pm

            Wow that sounds like an wild beach! Good for you, that is awesome that you are doing. I’ll talk to the kids and see if they are interested in going sometime.

  • August 16, 2016 at 11:48 pm

    We’ve reduced our rubbish too Annette, but definitely not as much as you. Some good ideas here to improve. Drawstring bags?

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