Australians use 3.92 billion plastic bags a year. There are only 24 million of us. I cannot fit enough zeros on my calculator to do that maths (to be honest, I don't actually know how many zeros there are in a billion), but really? That is a lot of bags.
I can tell you right now, our household is not contributing nearly that much to landfill per year. Oh, it probably used to, although even at the height of our rubbish production the neighbours would always use our bin as first port of call to stuff extra rubbish bags in. Over time, as I have become less and less excited about buying new things, very much less enthusiastic about plastic, and have become very enthusiastic about composting, our rubbish production has bottomed out. So much so that in our new kitchen, when we moved into our wee cottage last year, I noticed that there was no intuitive place to put a bin. So I decided to have a benchtop bin. See that small canister above? The one next to my teacup that is there for purposes of comparison? That is my bin. The large canister is the compost bin (I had to move all my dirty dishes to take this photo! The bins live right next to the sink). There is also a small bin in the bathroom, and the girls each have a desktop bin about the same size as the kitchen bin. They empty theirs about once a month. I empty the bathroom bin once a week. The kitchen bin gets emptied every two or three days.
We have a 104 litre (27 gallon) wheelie bin and we put it out once a month, for a family of three. We could probably stretch that to five or six weeks, but monthly works well, as our recycling bin only goes out on alternate weeks, so it is easy to put them both out once a month.
Here is a sample of what our kitchen bin contained, pre-Plastic-Free July. First, the carrot bag bin liner:
Next, the contents:
Note the single rubber glove? I save the other one and eventually I get a pair again! The biggest item in the bin is the cryo-vac packaging from farmers' market meat. And that is the reason I used a plastic bag to line the bin. Now that I am buying my meat plastic-free from the butcher's down the road, I haven't needed to use a lining in the bin. There is a rice cracker packet. The lid from a plastic milk bottle. Now I am toasting sourdough instead of using crackers, and buying milk in one litre cartons. Which is expensive and annoying, as they get used up really quickly. The can lids? Well, this is embarrassing. I always worry that the recycling centre employees will cut themselves on the sharp can lids. I am everybody's mother. When I told a friend this, she looked at me strangely. "They wear gloves," she said. "If you're really worried, stick the lid inside the can and squish the top together." So now that's what I do.. After I took this photo I realised I could use the cardboard clothing labels as fire starters. The labels are from a shirt I bought from the op-shop that still had its labels attached.
My girls are away from home this week, and this is almost a week's worth of bin contents for just me, in full Plastic-Free July mode:
I bought a small pot of natural yoghurt as a starter for making home-made yoghurt, as I killed my last batch (added the starter while the milk temperature was still too high and killed the yoghurt bugs. Sorry, little guys). The black plastic circle is the thingie you pull off to get the lid open. There is the sticker from my meat purchase in my own container today, a sticker I pulled off the furniture (thank you Posy) and some bits of candle wax I scraped out of a jar I was using as a candle holder. There were also some till receipts but I added them to the newspaper fire starter yesterday afternoon (I haven't been recycling till receipts because I thought they were below minimum size for recycling, but I just researched that and discovered that it is only shredded paper that is too small for recycling. So recycle your till receipts and put your shredded paper in the compost. The cardboard labels up above could have been recycled as well).
So hey, at this rate it will be two months before I have to put the bin out.
I know that reducing and refusing plastic is the goal of Plastic-Free July, but my friend Katherine sent me some information on the weekend about what I can recycle at our local tip, sorry, Waste Centre and Transfer Station. It is pretty schmick and organised now, and it is free as long as you are recycling and not dumping waste to landfill. It even has a cool tip-shop. Anyway, the point is, I discovered I can recycle soft plastics there. That is, things like bread bags, plastic bags, plastic wrap, chip packets, lolly packets, pet food bags etc etc. Now mostly I don't buy things in plastic BUT frozen peas! Cat food! Hurray, now I will be able to recycle those last pesky items that reproach me with their plasticness. I already have half a bag of plastic bags with holes in and empty frozen pea and corn bags in the pantry, because I knew if I waited long enough I would find a way to get them recycled. And here it is!
One thing I do put in the rubbish bin that I shouldn't, is noxious weeds. I have a messy corner at the bottom of the yard where I throw all my green waste. Next year I want to plant some fruit trees there, but until then it can accumulate green goodness. I hate having potential soil fertility leaving my yard, so I hoard clippings, prunings and weeds because really, they are green gold. But then there are noxious weeds like oxalis and ivy and grass which grows on a rhizome under the ground, all of which shoot and sprout from every tiny little piece given half a chance. All of them go straight in the bin. I have gleeful thoughts of the entire Launceston landfill site being overtaken by ivy, oxalis and twitch grass. But it will probably sit and mummify for a century underground, and then spring back as cheerful as ever in the far distant future when landfills are mined for goodies.
What could I do with noxious weeds instead of putting them in the rubbish? Well, I could put them in a lidded bin and cover them with water for.. a very long time. This would theoretically kill them and then I could compost them. But I'm not sure I trust that method. Would they really be dead?
Soon, a green waste collection is starting in Launceston, to encourage residents to put all their kitchen scraps and garden waste into a bin which will be collected weekly to make municipal compost. This is an excellent plan. I don't think I will order a bin though, because I hoard my kitchen scraps and garden waste to make my own compost. And the more I turn my jungle into garden, the less noxious weeds there will be. What I need is to find someone else with a green bin, and make some judicious deposits. It will be just like the neighbours used to do with my wheelie bin, except it will be composting which makes it all fine, doesn't it?
What do you put in your bin that you wish you didn't? Bare all, and maybe other readers will have some good ideas about ways to keep things out of landfill.
PS I just had a brainwave! I pulled the candle wax out of the bin and put it in a jar. Posy makes candles so I will keep all the stubs and wax drips for her to experiment with. If I keep the aluminium tea light holders, we could even refill them. Posy has lots of candle wicks..
PPS I went to put the candle wax in Posy's candle-making drawer and she already has a bagful of scraps. She is way ahead of me.
This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is a fascinating parable of society, wild and magical and disturbing. A man sets out into the jungle with his friends and family and founds a town in splendid isolation. The novel follows the fortunes of this family and their town over the course of one hundred years.
In this, my favourite quote of the novel, Colonel Aureliano Buendia, son of the town's founder, is reminiscing about the best days of his life, many years before when he had been a simple metalsmith creating golden fish in a tiny studio behind his house:
He had had to start thirty-two wars and had had to violate all of his pacts with death and wallow like a hog in the dungheap of glory in order to discover the privileges of simplicity almost forty years late.
The Colonel himself might be a parable for own society. How many wars do we have to start, how much wallowing in the dungheap of glory before we discover the privileges of simplicity?
I love the term 'privileges of simplicity'. Simplicity is not regarded with great enthusiasm generally. It is mostly seen as a state in which we choose to go without something we might otherwise have rather enjoyed. Like ease, convenience, nice things.
But what are the privileges of simplicity? Well, for me, what I aim for in seeking simplicity is peace of mind. Living simply on less means not worrying so much about money. It means having time to pursue creative projects, stand in the vegie garden and daydream, and drink tea with my friends. It means deciding that 'wallowing in the dungheap of glory' will not be a life aim, which then means that my ambitions can be purely for my own entertainment. Nice.
In respect to the wider world, the privilege of simplicity for me would be not being morally responsible for wars, famines, corruption, or death, ill health or miserable lives for other people so that I can have ease, convenience or nice things.
The privilege of simplicity for nations would mean giving up our hysterical attachment to growth, not sending our citizens off to war on a regular basis for reasons of empire or oil, living within our means and not giving a damn about cutting a figure on the world stage.
Mind you, a nation of folks quietly going about their business and doing whatever interests them for its own sake, and not in thrall to governments, banks or corporations would be a mighty thing.
Anyway, enough of grandiose philosophical visions, let's talk about me. This week I received an email informing me that an article I submitted has been accepted for publication in the Spring edition of Earth Garden, one of my favourite magazines ever! Can you imagine my state of extreme excitedness?? The article is about edible weeds, which I love particularly at the moment, as my garden is a complete wilderness, but has produced an enormous crop of chickweed, which I am making into lovely, lovely pesto. Happy days all round :)
For years I have been buying this toilet paper because it is recycled and wrapped in paper. Brown paper. So wholesome! But just last week I realised that the inside of the paper was shiny. I have extra-sensitive plastic detecting sensors at the moment because it is Plastic-Free July. So over the course of the last week I have been having this conversation with the sales department people at Encore Tissue:
Hi, just wanted to let you know I have used your toilet paper for years because it is recycled and packaged in paper, and sustainability is the thing I look for first in a product.
A quick question - I have noticed that there is a shiny lining to the paper packaging on the Safe toilet paper. Is that a plastic lining? Is the packaging recyclable?
Thank you for taking the time to contact Encore Tissue regarding your below enquiry.
The shiny lining is in fact a plastic layer which helps the paper bind and stick together when being sealed.
Both elements are recyclable.
Sales At Encore
Thanks for getting back to me. Good to know both elements are recyclable. Just to clarify, does this mean I can put the paper Safe toilet tissue packaging in the council recycling bin or recycle it wherever paper recycling is available?
After looking into this further, as there is a plastic layer behind the paper - it is to go into landfill.
Sales at Encore
Thanks for looking into this Sales people.
It is disappointing that the paper wrapping for a recycled toilet paper product needs to be binned, and I would really appreciate it if this is something that your company could look into to make Safe Toilet Tissue a truly sustainable product.
I am really unhappy about this outcome. I am grateful to the Sales Department (I did actually talk to a particular person with a name, but didn't publish it here) for looking into the matter for me, but really, Safe Toilet Paper people.. if you put a product into brown paper packaging it seems to me to be a reasonable assumption that it is paper, and therefore recyclable. Paper with a sneaky plastic backing? What is the point? And why? Why not just put it in brown paper? Sigh. I will now be sharing my friend's Who Gives a Crap toilet paper order. PS I do apologise, but despite trying multiple times I cannot get all the text on this page to remain the same size..
Delicious organic biodynamic milk and cream in glass bottles - but with a giant sticker.. what is all that about?
What I have learned about plastic-free eating: lots of vegies. And eggs. And lots of cooking.
Food you can't buy without plastic wrap: tortillas, flatbread, sushi nori, rice paper rolls, crackers, biscuits, teabags, non-gourmet cheese, dips, butter (even the foil wrapper has a plastic lining), any meat from the farmers market, ice cream, chips, pasta, sliced bread, crumpets.
Food you can buy plastic-free if you have a fabulous bulk bin shop like I do: flour, sugar and all the baking requirements, spelt pasta, dried beans, rice and grains, cereals, loose teas, spices, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, honey, peanut butter, oil, condiments, chocolate covered goji berries.
Food you can buy plastic-free from local shops: bread, cakes, biscuits, slices, meat (if they let you bring your own container), gourmet cheese (if they wrap it in tissue paper), fruit, veg, eggs, flour, milk and cream in cartons or glass. Food in cans or glass bottles.
Food you can buy plastic-free from the supermarket: fruit, veg, eggs, flour. Milk and cream in cartons. Food in cans or glass bottles. Edited to add, from comments: Butter in paper, sugar in paper.
My takeaway from this is: the global food industry couldn't exist without plastic. Local food bought fresh is mostly what you get when eating plastic-free.
Even my fabulous bulk bin shop isn't plastic-free - after all, the lentils don't arrive direct from heaven in crates made from compressed rose petals and delivered by angels. They arrive from India in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box. The reason this is a good thing is that twenty people can go home with a kilo of lentils each and only one plastic bag is used. The same effect can be achieved by buying a twenty kilo bag of lentils from the Asian grocer and sharing it out with nineteen of your best friends. And if you do not have a bulk bin shop near you, this is an excellent alternative.
But only really local food can come unpackaged. Bread straight from the oven. Veg from the farm. There is a shop down the street that sells pasta made on the premises. It just occurred to me I could ask them to pop some in a container for me. So for options if I don't want to cook?
Recently I read about an adorable 'buy home-cooked food for dinner' set-up called Josephine. Home cooks make dinner, and you order it, turn up at their house, pop dinner in your Tupperware and off you go. If you live in the US you can give this a go. I think this would work anywhere among friends, without having to wait for a San Francisco start-up to come to a neighbourhood near you. Plastic-free takeaway.
Meanwhile, I am going to pop up the hill and buy chips from the food vans at the park. Everything is served in cardboard and paper bags, which I will use as fire starters tomorrow, because nothing starts the fire better than fat-soaked cardboard. Thanks, bearded millenial food truck entrepreneurs, for getting it.
Oh, my goodness, I have been so sad today. Some days the whole world comes crashing down, and today was one of those days. Posy has been telling me recently that she misses our old house, and I woke up this morning unbearably sad that on a whim last year I had moved my children out of the house they grew up in. The Girl is home for the holidays and instead of being able to cuddle up in her old room with the cat she has to take it in turns bunking in with her sisters.
And suddenly, for the first time, I missed the ease of our old house. It was completely renovated and everything worked. It had a lovely garden and heating that didn't rely on me splitting wood on a daily basis. It had lots of couches and space for all the children's friends and a courtyard and huge dining table for neighbourhood lunches and dinners. There was even a study for me to write in instead of my current options - the dining room table or sitting up in bed. Also, I had just had the kids' old cubby turned into a chicken house before I left. If I had stayed I would have had chickens for a whole year by now!
I love this house, but it throws up so many challenges - heating with wood, the garden/jungle, it still has no curtains, no door knobs on my bedroom or the bathroom and I am in negotiations over building a verandah and some more retaining walls, which might take actually forever, and somewhere in the jungle is space for chickens, but where? But most of all I grieve for Posy who is grieving for her past - not only her old house, but her old life and an intact family. No matter what solutions I can come up with (and I am all about solutions), nothing is going to fix that grief. That is something we have to sit with and be sad about together.
I am trying to make some career decisions which will possibly be disastrous and end in tears. Risk versus safety. I know I am going to take the risk, but I am all about safety and am frankly terrified.
I went to the farmers market today and so much beautiful fresh food there was wrapped in plastic. I was just despairing and miserable about the planet, about the mess we are leaving for our brave and vulnerable children, and also irritable at myself for endlessly taking on challenges that are difficult and annoying. Today I wanted to just walk into a supermarket and buy all the things, plastic wrapped, produced by mega-corporations and breaking the planet, whatever. I just wanted life to be easy.
I bought two litres of wonderful organic, biodynamic milk in glass bottles from the market, and it is so sweet and yummy that by five o'clock in the afternoon we only have half a litre left. I am panicking because it was so expensive and we won't have any left by tomorrow.. and I'm panicking because I don't see how we can eat ethical and afford to eat..
What else? I made yoghurt and for the first time ever it didn't set. At all. I did nothing different. Nothing! The universe conspires against me.
This afternoon I went to bed and cried. The dog came and used me as a pillow. I stared into a certain future of having no-one in my life except the dog because I am grumpy and irritable and other people are just impenetrable mysteries, or maybe I am just incompetent at people. I second-guess every parenting decision I ever make and wish I could press the rewind button, oh, at least twice a day..
So much woe.. and what is the point here? Well, you know, I am usually such an optimistic person. I bob along on the river of life like a cork. It is so hard for me to be down for long. It is 10:02pm, and already my day is on the up. The Girl made dinner, and dessert. She gave me hugs. We all played a silly board game after dinner and the girls are playing their loud and cheerful music all through our tiny house. I swept the floor and did the dishes, and although there is no milk I am not worried. I'll get a carton when I am out tomorrow. It doesn't matter. So much doesn't matter. The children will always love me, no matter where they are. I will always love them. We will always have something to eat. The dog will always use me as a pillow, and why not?
Today I had a bit of a wobble. I have been sick for three weeks, and here at the tail end I'm just having a down day. It's not surprising. Tomorrow I will be back to my smiley self. What I wanted to say is.. I am so lucky. I have the occasional sad day where everything falls apart. But mostly my days are full of small joys and glorious possibilities. My brain is pretty sunshiney.
There are people in my life who are not so lucky. They fight through dark panic and grey fog and doubt and sadness most days. They battle anxiety and depression and their bodies and minds fail them on a daily basis. I was pretty miserable today. I can't imagine feeling like that every day. I can't imagine keeping on going without the encouragement of sunshine and cheer. And yet, you do, my darlings.
So here's to you my lovely, loving, beautiful, brilliant, brave fellow souls and sojourners, those of you I know and love, and those of you I know are out there struggling through your own dark day today. I appreciate what you bring to the table of life. Thank you for everything you show the rest of us about courage and resilience. I wish I could share some sunshine with you.
I used ONYA brand mesh produce bags at the greengrocer's, paper bags (which I save and reuse), and cloth bags at the bulk bin whole foods shop, and my cloth shopping bag collection at the local, independent supermarket.
I have to say, the possibilities at the supermarket were limited. I bought cans of fruit and coconut milk, a jar of curry paste, and a knob of fresh ginger because I forgot to pick one up at the greengrocer's. That was a month's supermarket shop.
Things I have realised you can't buy if you are plastic-free: anything from the frozen food section. Anything from the personal care aisle. Any crackers. Tortillas. Actually, pretty much anything from the supermarket except fresh fruit and veg.
Tonight, The Girl (she is home for uni holidays!) made tortillas for our vegetarian bean burritos. They were brilliant! She says they are easy. Huh, there you go.
Here are my cool reusable bags. I love them to bits!
My friend Carla bought me the mesh produce bags for my birthday. They are so cool and they come in a drawstring pouch so you can keep them all together in your handbag or glove box or wherever. Do you know what I gave Carla for her birthday? A tub of compost worms from my compost bin for her new compost bin. I think that whole transaction is pretty much a reflection of our relationship as a whole..
The small cloth drawstring bags were sent to me a couple of years ago by the lovely Jess. She made them out of an old sheet from the op shop. They were originally open at the top, meant for produce, but Rosy kindly sewed channels around the top and I threaded cotton piping cord through to make them into drawstring bags for filling with flour, sugar, oats, beans etc from the bulk bins at my favourite Wholesome House. Thanks so much, Jess! I love these so much, but I need more for my monthly shop. I am wondering which child to bribe to whip some more up for me..
I bought milk in cartons. These are marginally more recyclable than plastic milk bottles (I believe that you can only recycle plastic once). At least cartons are made from a renewable resource. On Saturday I will get some organic milk in returnable glass bottles at the farmers' market. It is almost twice as expensive so we may have to drink less..
I only bought a few days' worth of fruit and veg. The fridge feels very calm and uncluttered. What I couldn't get from the greengrocer is loose greens. They only come in plastic bags, so I will wait and get some on Saturday at the market. There is a stall there with the freshest and most wonderful greens selection I have ever tasted. Meanwhile we will eat broccoli.
Here is my plastic fail from today:
This is baker's yeast. I have to make bread somehow, and I am all out. At Wholesome House they open a large bag of vacuum-packed yeast and repack it in little plastic tubs and keep it in their fridge. At least the tub is reusable and then recyclable. What I will have to do is take a glass jar in with a note for them to fill it when they open their next bag of yeast. Or I could become a sourdough baker. Ok, not going to do that right now. Maybe later.
Anyway, at least Alter Eco chocolate is packaged in cardboard and foil. No plastic! Thanks, Alter Eco people:)
Well, it is July. We are rolling down the slope of the year now, and it seems like the perfect time to take on a new project. Along with thousands of other people, the girls and I will be attempting a Plastic-Free July.
Living plastic-free is one of my life goals. Plastic is just so unaesthetically pleasing. How can I possibly live my Anne of Green Gables fantasy life with plastic everywhere I turn? Impossible. Oh, and also it is breaking the planet. Honestly, of all the stupid things we have done as human beings, covering the planet in plastic has to be right up there. Just because we invent it, doesn't mean we have to use it everywhere, does it? I mean, we invented chocolate, but we don't make bags and cheese wrappers out of it, do we? See? My logic is irrefutable.
Anyway, one hundred years ago my great-grandmother managed to live perfectly well without plastic at all. Her name was Ruby and in July 1917 she had been married five years and my Grandma Muriel was about to be born. The plastic industry was then in its infancy.
It wasn't until my Grandmother Muriel became a mother herself in 1947 that plastic really began to worm its way into our lives in a big way. Plastic had been used extensively during WWII, and when the war ended industrialists all over the world had all these enormous plastics factories and all this raw product (ie, oil) and there was SO MUCH MONEY to be made, if only.. we poor suckers could be persuaded to buy plastic everything. And, guess what? We let ourselves be persuaded.
As with most modern inventions, plastic bags and cheese wrappers are not actually necessities of life. They do not make our lives better, they do not make our world prettier, and they create an enormous mess. But, they also make SO MUCH MONEY for purveyors of plastic ticky tack everywhere. Which is why they persist. But, never fear. We can reverse this process by refusing to have a bar of it. If we refuse to buy it and pretend it doesn't exist, eventually it will go away. Already we are seeing lots of paper wrapping and minimal wrapping options turn up in the marketplace. That's because consumers prefer it. So let's prefer it quite decisively and make it happen quicker, so I can live my Anne of Green Gables fantasy life sooner rather than later.
My first and only July purchase so far has been two lamb shanks from the local butcher. My Great-Grandmother Ruby would have got her meat in one of three ways. First, she was a farmer, so she probably ate meat straight off the farm. Second, butchers used to deliver meat straight to the kitchen table, unwrapped, from their van or cart, or else the butcher's boy would deliver it by bicycle, well wrapped in paper and string and balanced precariously in the wicker bike basket. Third, Grandma Ruby may have popped into the butcher's on a trip to town, and picked up her meat, also wrapped in paper. Now we often get meat wrapped in 'butcher's paper' but it is generally plastic backed, and the meat is pre-wrapped in a plastic bag.
Several years ago I tried to go plastic-free with meat but kind of gave up because it seemed too hard. But this time was going to be different. I armed myself with my glass Pyrex dish* and popped down to the butcher. I have faced blank stares and non-cooperation in the past with this request, but I was prepared to give it a go. This is how the conversation went:
Me: I am doing a challenge called Plastic-Free July, and I am wondering if you can weigh my container and put the meat straight into it? Butcher: Certainly we can do that for you. (Puts meat in container. I pay. She offers to keep the weight sticker and recycle it.. can you recycle stickers? I don't know - anyway, I said yes) Me: Thanks so much. The alternative was becoming a vegetarian for a month. Butcher: Well, that would have been a concern.. and by the way, good on you for having a go at reducing waste.
Well, I was gobsmacked. That was surprisingly easy. I believe it helps to choose a small business. I frequent two butchers, and this one is a farm gate shop in town, staffed by the farmers and their relations, who are generally pretty calm and straightforward folks. Also, I think reducing waste is an idea whose time has come.
A very popular TV program here in Australia recently has been a three part series called War on Waste (I have no idea if you can watch this outside Australia, but really, watch it if you can. It is fascinating and horrifying). So many people I know recommended it to me that I finally looked it up on-line and showed it to the girls. It appears to have taken the waste problem into the mainstream. Which is positively excellent.
So, Plastic-Free July, Part 1: Buying Meat. Sorted.
*There is no reason why I could not have taken a metal container or a Tupperware container or even an old ice cream container. It is just that this is what I have.
Tired, but determinedly cheerful mother of four. One grown up son (The Boy), one grown up daughter (The Girl), two girls at home, Rosy (17) and Posy (12). Trying to buy a little less, make a little more, live a little lighter, not mess up the children too much..