A Word on Waste…

Earlier this year I stumbled across the zero waste living movement which has a growing global following and some totally amazing individuals, groups, companies and even whole cities walking this path.  Seattle USA is perhaps leading the pack when it comes to whole city solutions.  I found this topic a bit like heading down a rabbit hole, one article, blog or website lead to another and it was all inspiring but also a little overwhelming and intimidating.  How did one go about moving from a normal existence to one of zero waste.  I’m not sure I have what it takes to go all the way down this path, but I’m determined to make a start.  I’ve decided on a couple of small steps to begin with and then we’ll see what comes next….

1.  The first step and one of the easiest is plastic bags.  They are such insidious things, given out and taken without thought, sapping the earth of resources for such an unnecessary item and one that takes decades (or longer) to break down.  And please don’t be fooled by bags that claim they are biodegradable or compostable, this only works if they are disposed of in absolute ideal conditions… which landfill definitely is not.  And those that don’t end up in landfill, find their way into our water ways, clogging them up and causing danger to sea creatures like turtles.  So we are now a plastic bag free house almost entirely…. and that almost annoys me still.  Mr Good forgets occasionally and some wind up in the house from others bringing them.  I always carry a small cloth bag in my handbag (Thanks Mel) and have others in the boot.  I keep the shopping bags (including some brown paper bags for mushrooms, snow peas, spinach leaves etc which you can’t put straight into the trolley) in the kitchen and pull them out when I get the shopping list ready the night before so I don’t forget them.  So far it’s been working and if I ever do leave them at home, I turn around, go back and pick them up.  That’s annoying enough for me not to do it too often!

2. No Junk Mail!  I meant to get a sign for our letterbox in Melbourne for the whole time we were there and never did.  I bought one for this house after about five or six days and receiving great piles of catalogs and other junk mail items in that time.  I’ve even gone so far as to send back unsolicited junk mail that gets delivered as pseudo real mail with a comment about how wasteful it is.

3. I write to companies that seem to use lots of unnecessary packaging – lots of craft kits, toys etc for kids come with staggering amounts of wasteful, usually plastic packaging – and switch to an alternative product.

4. I’ve started composting…. sort of.  But at least none of my vegetable kitchen scraps are going to landfill now.

5.  I’ve started the swap from plastic to glass.  I now freeze things like stock and soup in glass jars instead of plastic ziplock bags.  I’ve also started buying products in glass jars instead of plastic wherever I can (ie honey).  I intend to start writing to companies that only offer plastic to switch to glass.  Did you know even if you recycle plastic it can only be recycled once, glass can be recycled over and over again.  And glass has a longer life span if you intend to reuse it at home (unless of course you drop it).

6. Stop or restrict the use of cling film and paper towel.  I still have both for a few things I haven’t managed to find an alternative for (though I can’t think of the last time I used the cling film so maybe I can eliminate that one).  I like paper towel to pat dry meat, like whole chickens etc before I roast them.

This is all a good start, but I’m frustrated about a couple of things that I don’t really know how to solve.

1.  Bread, we eat a lot of it and at the moment I’m not baking much (if any) of it.  That means that it’s a couple of loaves a week from the bakery or Aussie Farmer’s each in a bread bag and with a bread tag.  Neither of these things are recyclable.  Also we don’t use the crusts much so some of these go to landfill too.  I do make bread crumbs and freeze them, but we don’t use that many of them.  Solutions?

2. Meat scraps.  Anything without bones (or with raw bones if I’m not making stock) go to the dog.  Chicken and beef bones get used to make stock.  But even then they bones need to be disposed of.  What do you do with these besides chucking them in the bin?

3. Buying in bulk.  This seems to be one of the most important elements for going zero waste.  Taking your own containers and bags and purchasing dried goods, liquids, cleaning products etc from bulk stores would cut out a huge amount of waste.  But such stores do not exist in Ballarat.  This really is something I should have taken greater advantage of in Melbourne.

One of the other key elements is to buy second hand and in turn give away unused items to op-shops or the like so others can take advantage of them.  I’ve done some major decluttering lately and have a pile of things in the spare room waiting to be given away or sold on.  I’ve even severed my ties with my books and are keeping only the ones I think I’ll read again or have significance to me.  I am looking forward to discovering the second hand delights of Ballarat (I desperately need some new clothes and some glassware as we’ve had quite a spate of breakages lately).

So readers, what tips have you got for waste reduction, especially ones that just slot easily into life without thought or too much effort (after all these are the easiest ones to start with)?  And what are your just-can’t-find-a-workable-solution-to waste issues?  Or do you not think about this stuff nearly as much as I seem to…. I know Mr Good certainly doesn’t!


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15 Responses to A Word on Waste…

  1. Jo says:

    I am on the plastic free journey too, among many other journeys! And it is tricky. I have been buying bakery bread (Baker’s Delight or local bakery), asking them to put the whole loaves into my calico bag and freezing it in the calico bags, just folded over at the top. It works brilliantly, even though it feels all wrong to be looking at a freezer full of calico!
    I also take Pyrex containers to the butcher to avoid plastic wrap there. Now looking for ways to buy plastic free cheese..
    I have a bokashi compost system that I am about to set up that apparently takes care of bones (pickles them!). In the old days they got buried in the garden. I’m sure they add lots of mineral goodies to the soil.

    • Barbara Good says:

      Gotta love a journey, I’m on a few myself. That’s a good idea regarding the bread, but can I ask how you keep it fresh once you’ve sliced it? My bread bag (calico) is great for an unsliced loaf but once I cut into it, it dries out really quickly. Also how did you approach about using pyrex, was he/she okay with that? The cheese thing really is a challenge.
      I’d love to hear how you go with the bokashi, perhaps that would be worth invensting in. I’m sure my dog would love if I buried the bones in the garden, somehow I don’t think they stay in the ground very long!

      • Jo says:

        I have four large children – we go through a loaf a day, so keeping it fresh, not such an issue! However, I imagine you could just chop it in half before you freeze, and use half loaves. I have found bread from Bakers’ Delight stays fresher longer too.
        My butcher was more than happy to use my Pyrex dishes – I just told him I was trying to reduce the amount of plastic I use, and could he please pop the meat straight into the dishes. I felt a right wally the first time, but he was fine with it.

  2. Liz says:

    Very admirable – you are far more conscientious than I am. I won’t reveal all my wasteful plastic usage but I will offer a couple suggestions for you dilemmas. I reckon its OK to throw the occasional crust into the compost, it should break down fine. As for the buying in bulk have you tried looking to see if there is a whole food co-op or group locally? The seem to mushrooming everywhere at the moment.

    • Barbara Good says:

      To be honest Liz, I’ve only tackled the easy, ‘option’ plastic. Trying to deal with food packaging is a whole other story and one that is much more difficult I would imagine. I’m taking you’re advice RE the occasional bread crusts going in the compost. That will make me feel a bit better (I have LOTS of bread crusts, including the uneaten crusts the girls won’t eat on a sandwich). I have looked and looked for a whole foods or bulk foods seller in the area, there doesn’t appear to be anything like that around here. I will keep hunting and in the meantime just do what I can.

  3. Great post (and I’ve also been enjoying following your adventures in your new house). There seem to be a few easy steps to take in reducing plastic, and then there are others that just keep creeping up that seem quite difficult to get around. I read an interesting post a while ago (Linda from Greenhaven perhaps?) that talked about trying to find tea without plastic wrapping. I thought that should be easy, but in fact when I started looking it is actually really difficult to source.

    Does your bread come in a plastic bag because it is sliced? After years of buying sliced bread I had a revelation recently and went out and bought a really good serrated bread knife. Now I can get my bread in paper bags or just straight into a fabric shopping shopping bag, and do a decent job of slicing it when I get home.

    • Barbara Good says:

      Oh that really is an easy solution, unsliced bread. Mr Good hates slicing bread, but perhaps that is the way to go. There are some products impossible to find without plastic aren’t there.

  4. Glenn Finlay says:

    Chooks. You need chooks for those bread crusts and lots of other left overs and peelings etc. it’s amazing what they will eat and turn into lovely soilish/mulchy stuff for the garden. Chooks.
    When the kids are older you will make more bread, after reading your blog for some time now I just think you will but its hard when the kids are little.
    Waste is difficult to control hey. I really think the most powerful tool we have is slowing down and being conscious when we purchase. I like Jo’s idea of taking Pyrex to the butcher!
    Love the blog as always

    • Barbara Good says:

      Glenn, you’re so right, chooks! They are on the cards, but not just yet. Bread making is something that comes and goes depending on how much time I can devote to it. Maybe you’re right, when the kids are better. Someone else suggested a bread maker which I’ve always resisted because I enjoy the process of kneading etc and I didn’t have room for another gadget, but perhaps I should revisit that idea too.

  5. A says:

    When I was younger I dreamed of having an old timey general store where people could bring their containers and buy their pantry goods by weight. But I suspect the hygiene and food&handling issues may be the biggest hindrance to that set up. Could they be dispensed from things I’ve coffee chutes? I don’t know, but it still makes my toes curl to think of a wooden shop with bolts of linen and calico on the walls, mason jars and bottling supplies in the shelves, locally supplied handiwork in the window and all the flours and grains you could think of…. Le sigh.

    • Barbara Good says:

      A, you open it and I shall come…. regularly…. even if it’s in Melbourne! Okay if it’s in Melbourne perhaps it won’t be quite so regularly, but I’ll buy up big when I do! Have you been to the health food shop on High St Thronbury (near Westgarth cinema). They sell loads of nuts, grains, beans, chocolates, coffee and on and on in bulk stored in coffee chute things. It’s worth the trip across town in my opinion.

      You’re description made me think of the scene in the first Anne of Green Gables movies where Matthew goes into the general store to buy a dress for Anne but is too embarrassed to ask for it, so buys brown sugar and a rake before building up the courage to ask for what he really wants. I LOVE Anne of Green Gables… can you tell?

      • A says:

        Maybe one day, when teaching has done me in…

        I know the scene you mean! I don’t know why i haven’t continued to love AOGG – I did love the first book as a child. I think the fire-cracker scene upset me too much, such a fragile flower I was. Maybe Bub will get me back into it with a read-along.
        Anyway, would you believe, I was also thinking of movie scenes – the store in The Color Purple where Celie sees Olivia with her new parents, and then again later when she helps Sofia with her shopping list. *pining!*

  6. Such a great post Barbara! After going on a waste tour recently all these things are top of mind for me. I’m getting particularly frustrated with non-recyclable plastic bags used to package pasta, etc. I guess I’ll be buying Barilla from now on.

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