CREATING A ZERO WASTE HOUSEHOLD
How to be part of a revolution of earth conscious households without compromising your lifestyle.
Within the last 100 years or so technology has advanced, industry has increased and introduction of plastic and other man made materials has skyrocketed beyond what anyone thought was possible in an aim to make life a little more comfortable and easy. Unfortunately, what it has done is strip our earth of precious resources to create these products of convenience, thanks to convenience we can do so many more things, which has had the opposite effect of simplifying life, it has made us victims of rushing, of materialism and has resulted in waste... lots of waste. In fact so much waste that countries are buying land in other developing countries to store their waste and bury it. We create so much waste that there is an ocean of plastic (called the great pacific garbage patch made up of 80% plastic) the size of Texas (now estimated at double that size) floating in the ocean between America and Hawaii and millions of marine animals are dying with stomach full of plastic. SO much plastic and waste ending up in landfill every week and the combination of materials compacted under the earth resulting in the poisoning of underground waterways and the release of large amounts of methane contributing to green house gases and climate change. The statistics are scary...... it is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
WHAT WE CAN DO. WE can be the change we wish to see. Right now, in our own homes. How?
We have the power as consumers to change this. We have the power to do something about the amount of waste we create. We think global and act local. Everything we do as a conscious eco-lifestyler does helps to create change. We live in a small rented townhouse with not much land space, yet we as a family only contribute 1 small container of plastic waste per week. How do we do that?
We live by the 5 R's, principles designed to live by to reduce waste.
Refuse: Be conscious of materialism "the need to buy something": Ask yourself do you really need it?
Reduce: Only buy what you need.
Reuse: Can items be repurposed? Can items be op shopped, given to charity, reused somewhere else, handed down, etc
Repair: If an item can be repaired, or you learn some basic skills, you can save time, money and items can hang around for longer.
Recycle: Check for numbers and the recycling triangle on the bottom of everything you buy. If it can be recycled, rinse it, and put into your recycling bin. Many companies offer recycling for specific items (tyres, ink cartridges old phones etc. Make the effort and find these places Rot (a sub of recycle). Anything that can be decomposed should be. Recycle nutrients and replenish the earth wherever possible.
What a zero waste daily lifestyle looks like:
Don't waste food: We buy only what we need, we use what we have, I check use by dates on a regular basis and use up old food and get creative in the kitchen to reduce the amount of waste. Using up left overs and creating meals with random items can be very fun (with the occasional flop). When you have spare items google ingredients and ask for recipes and see what ideas comes up.
Make at home: We make our own sauerkraut kombucha, bake our own bread and make all our food from scratch. We eat like kings, but our food is simple, nourishing and healthy. It takes not time at all, is a great time to chat to family and creates great atmosphere.
Water bottles and keep cups: We take a refillable BPA free water bottle everywhere, we can then refill and it has added health benefits of encouraging us to drink our required daily water requirements. We use environmentally friendly keep cups for tea and chai if we go out. Did you know over 5 billion coffee cups are thrown away each year and they are not recyclable?
Recycle food scraps: 40% of household waste is made up of food scraps. When food scraps break down in land fill, it does slowly releasing methane. We have a worm farm, 2 black stand alone compost bins and we alternate scraps between these 2 systems. When we had chicken and ducks, they loved these as well. When one bin is full, we then use the other. The compost bin sits for a months or so and then is able to be used on the gardens around our house.
Shop local: I am part of a CSA (community supported agriculture) and get a box of local fresh fruit and vegetables once every 2 weeks and then we shop at our local farmers markets every week for fruit, vegetables, eggs, organic and free range meats, fish, poultry, cheeses and more. We buy from local businesses who are happy to give me paper bags or I bring my own (butcher, fish monger) and I shop at bulk suppliers for my dry goods who use paper as bags. When you eat healthy, and make things from scratch, these few places provide all the goods we need to make everything and in the process are supporting a zero waste lifestyle.
Support eco suppliers: We purchase many items in bulk from online suppliers like Who Gives a Crap (toilet paper), feminine hygiene products (TOM) and eco companies like Ecostore and from wholesalers like Honest to goodness. See recommended page for more details on who I recommend and support.
Break up from the supermarket. We avoid supermarkets where ever possible. I write letters and encourage them to use less packaging. Why does an orange need packaging? It's an orange. It has its own packaging.... with the fear of contamination and germs its all gone a little too crazy in the fresh vegetable section of the supermarkets to package everything in plastic. Do something about it. Get political and ask for change.
Take your own shopping bags where ever you go. I refuse to put things in shop bags and tell everyone I have brought my own. People love this response. It inspires them. I encourage you to join the "bring your own bag campaign".
Build a garden. Grow your own food: We have a small garden (in pots) that we grow lots of herbs, spinach, and a few vegetables, some fruit trees and flowers for my native bees. We also grow out own sprouts. It's easy, cheap and no waste. At our previous home, we had huge vegetables gardens. Its great exercise and a wonderful empowering feeling to be growing at least something that contributes to less waste.
Plastic packaging: We recycling plastic packaging if we have any or we have 2 bins, one for soft plastics (Which can be recycled at Coles and Woolworths) and one for those that cannot be recycled. This is what actually ends up in our bin.
Paper: We have a container for all paper, cardboard, paper packaging. It gets ripped up and either goes into compost bin as the carbon component or saved in a box for when we have little fire or when we have a large amount, we bundle it together and put into bin.
Clothes and household items: At the end of every term, my children go through their clothes, toys, books etc. and I go through cupboards to see if there is anything we can donate to the op shop, give to friends, upcycle etc.
Old and broken items: If an item has broken i usually google where to send it so it can be repaired or recycled (printers, fridges, computers, ink etc)
Know your breakdown facts: By educating ourselves on items that do not break down, we make more conscious decisions about purchasing them. For example did you know a banana peel takes 3-4 weeks to decompose, whereas a plastic bag can take from 20-1000 years. A paper bag will take 1 month to break down, a aluminium can nearly 500, a plastic cup or water bottle between 50-450 years! Cotton clothing or woollen sock 1-5 years whereas a plastic nappy over 250-500 years! And don't get me started on balloons, fishing line, kids plastic toys and toothbrushes. The more natural a substance is, the quicker it breaks down, except for glass. Although it does not break down easily it can be recycled over and over again.... Think before buying as it had huge effects on the planet and wildlife.
Be responsible when purchasing takeaway: Reduce the amount of take away you buy for starters. When we do get take away we try and take our own plate and cutlery (have a set in the car). We take home our own rubbish from the takeaway and dispose of it correctly (recycle paper, plastic, put scraps in our composts etc.).
Use paperless emails to receive bills: We ask all our household bills and all forms to be emailed to us. This saves huge amounts of paper and ink.
Avoid the following: We avoid purchasing plastic straws, cutlery and plastic items where ever possible. You would not believe the amount of plastic toothbrushes (broken down but still recognisable) found inside marine animals and washed up on beaches. Our family find alternatives to everything that is made of plastic. believeThis may mean that at picnics we have to bring our own plates and wash them up when we get home. This is really not a problem. Its takes 5 mins and is better for the environment.
Clean up the world one walk at a time: Our family go to the beach, walk the national park or around the block nearly every day. And everyday we just casually look for debris washed up and rubbish. We often carry bags and recycle items and bin then correctly when we finished. This is a small gift of kindness we can do for the animals and the earth.
Storage containers and eco household items: Replacing plastic items: We purchase sustainable cane and timber baskets for storing clothes, for washing baskets, purchase wooden pegs or recycled ones, we reuse glass jars to hold our bulk dry goods, we have gradually changed all plastic containers to glass ones, use recycled bamboo coat hangers instead of wire and plastic hangers. All of these things make a difference in the long run.
We buy quality over quantity: When we need to purchase something (say bed sheets, clothes, utensils, furniture, white goods we research and purchase those that have been ethically made and although they may cost more, we know we will have that item for many many years saving money and resources in the long run.
Green waste: When we had space, we built compost on a regular basis. Where we are now, we compost small leaves, and weeds in our black bins, and all sticks and twigs we save and use in our little fire pit when we have fires. Anything else can go into the green waste recycling bin.
Small children and their needs:
Toys: Our children don't have plastic toys. Plastic toys end up broken and smashed up into little pieces and are found inside marine animals, birds and washed up on beaches on a daily basis. We have purchased local made and ethically sourced toys, pencils, play equipment for them over the years that have been handed down from child to child (unless of course it was their special toy). Our lifestyle is one that encourages our children to use their imagination and as such they do not require much. They build, dig, create, paint, draw and make their own toys that they cherish. Toys bought are of high quality so last longer and are fixable.
Nappies: I very rarely used a disposable nappy (only on long haul flights did I ever use one) and when I did it was an eco one. Nappies are contributing greatly to the land fill dilemma. Since they were introduced, over 2 billion nappies end up in landfill every year and they take over 500 years to break down. 95% of Australians use disposable nappies. Get educated and try either cloth nappies, (the new modern ones are easy to use), use eco biodegradable nappies or try a hybrid, where the outside is reusable and the inside disposable. If you get into the habit, reduce waste considerable.
Baby food packaging: There is a huge industry in baby foods, products and it all comes in very sterile packaging. I made everything from scratch for my children and froze it or if I did buy some baby food in glass containers I would recycle the containers. If your baby eats whole food and home made food, then you are reducing the need for packaging.
Commonly asked questions about leading
a zero waste lifestyle
What do you do with meat? It cannot be put into compost bin can it? The ideal way is to feed it to other animals such as chicken, pigs etc, or to put it in a compost pile. If one is living in the city this can be difficult as it can attract vermin. Some councils allow meat, dairy scraps to be put into the green waste bin (wrap in newspaper first) and then it can decompose with the rest of green waste (In one giant compost pile) rather than landfill. (Check your local council website for more details)
But I use my plastic shopping bag as a rubbish bin liner?
Easy solution. If you are living and adopting a zero waste lifestyle like we have, there is not much to put in the rubbish bin and a small container is enough to put the unrecycable plastics.
How dangerous are the new biodegradable plastics?
Plastics are created using a high amount of industry (coal, water, electricity etc) and are created with many chemicals. Society has pushed for change and now there are many biodegradable products on the market that decompose quicker than original plastics and less toxic options available. Which is wonderful for health and uses less chemicals, less toxins and energy to produce. However these have a dark side. As plastics break down faster the toxic chemicals they can leach into the soil and groundwater. If they decompose in a body of water, the marine life absorbs the toxic chemicals. My advice is to avoid them where ever possible go for other options.