Complete Rubbish!

Australians are completely rubbish. But not quite as rubbish as the Americans. Australia follows the USA as the second highest producer of rubbish per capita in the world. On average we produce 1500kg of rubbish per year. Each. Our household waste is nearly half organic waste, and a quarter paper and cardboard. Apparently we buy 27kg of textiles per year and send 23kg of that to landfill.

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.


Anonymous said…
I put too much in landfill. And too much plastic. I am amazed, but then again not because you are so determined, how little you put out. Still we don't fill our little weekly wheelie bin anymore.

Do you use moisturiser? Or deodorant? Shampoo? Or anything like that that comes in plastic?
simplelife said…
You are so inspiring. I have so far to go.
Anonymous said…
Curious if you use handkerchiefs or tissues at your place?

I like reading what can be recycled by different municipalities. We do have compost/yard waste pick-up. I make sure all the noxious weeds go off my property. Therefore I don't take any of the resulting compost from the city because it is filled with weed seeds!

Our recycling depot does take soft plastic, but only plastic bags - not cling wrap, etc. I spoke to an employee once who sorted all my inquiries with "Just ask yourself - is it a bag?" This is a running joke at our house.
Tracy said…
Well that is not very much rubbish at all. Impressive!!

We lived on the same property as some friends for a little while. We were always flabbergasted at the fullness of their bins. We always had room to spare and they took up our extra space (a full bin, plus more - WOW!) What we noticed was that they used a LOT of pre-prepared food. Like, heaps. Meanwhile, Dh had moved to self-employment and we had no money. I did not buy anything that was not absolutely necessary and cooked most things from scratch. The upside of that is you don't create anywhere near as much rubbish as the average person.
Jo said…
Lucinda, shampoo I buy in recycled, recyclable bottles - Organic Care, it's in all the supermarkets. I did mention to my bulk bin shop people that it would be great if they could add bulk shampoo to their shelves.
Moisturiser is local, comes in little glass jars that I save because they are so useful. Posy also makes a body lotion on the stove and we store it in jam jars.
Deodorant - I still use plastic roll-on supermarket deodorant when I go to the gym, and otherwise don't wear it at all. To be honest, I don't even break a sweat at the gym as I only lift not-very-heavy weights, so I don't know why I bother. Habit. I should transition away from that..

The girls have very many plastic bottles of face goop that they buy themselves that we have to toss eventually. I am using up all my old makeup, all encased in plastic, and then I don't know what I'll do. Is there even makeup that doesn't come in plastic?

I make my own sunscreen, and I sometimes use Posy's nail polish. That's about it for bathroom stuff. Oh, I bought a bamboo hairbrush, and we all have bamboo toothbrushes. I have a plastic razor, but when I use up all the blades for it I will get a stainless steel one.

Kate, this morning I went to the local supermarket and bought chicken in a plastic bag because I was on the way home from the airport with the girls and didn't have a container. I don't even know if they accept BYO containers at the supermarket. Point is, we all start somewhere at doing what we think is a worthwhile endeavour, and just go from there, one step at a time, and often we fail, but that doesn't really matter because we are heading in a forward direction. Also, we can only change ourselves. If those around us don't want to join us, there isn't anything we can do. And that's ok too. We can only do what we can do, and add something new to that occasionally and see what happens. I have been switching up stuff for years, and now whatever I do is normal and seems actually very simple. Except for buying meat from the supermarket on a whim. AND, almost all the vegies at this small supermarket were wrapped in plastic! We could only buy mushrooms and a cucumber and apples and pears!

Dar, I use tissues and flush them down the loo. I hate washing snotty hankies..

Theoretically municipal compost should be hot enough to kill weed seeds. I buy compost form a local nursery which makes their own compost from green waste and whey from a dairy. Their piles are huge, and turned by bulldozers, so they get plenty hot. I have never had weed problems. Yet..

I love your bag story! When I told Posy about all the soft plastic we could now recycle, she immediately demanded chocolate biscuits and chips again.. It's the reduce part before the recycling part she isn't on board with..

Tracy, my girls just got home from a week away and my wee bin is already a third full.. and yes, cooking from scratch means so much less waste. What I have noticed with only buying plastic free food is how healthy we are eating. My girls are not convinced this is a good thing.. but lots of eggs and vegies and fruit. The downside is all the cooking.. I still think it would be great to be able to buy 'fast food' from home cooks..

It's interesting, isn't it, that financial constraints caused you to produce so little rubbish. Amy Dacyczyn noted in The Tightwad Gazette that they produced very little waste, and that wasn't for environmental reasons, but by saving pennies. Interestingly, the reverse also seems to apply. Even though I am spending more on individual items to stay plastic-free (meat, milk in 1l cartons, loose vegies instead of cheaper veg in bags) I am spending less overall because I'm not buying any processed food.

Linda said…
Very impressed with your virtually zero rubbish! In my county in the UK we have a Green rubbish bin for garden rubbish and waste food, peelings etc. We can also recycle shredded paper as long as we put It in a separate bag, not in the red paper recycling tub. Plastic bags like bread wrappers can be recycled in bins in supermarkets. Batteries (not car ones!) can also be put into recycling bins in the supermarkets. Our local Rubbish Tip also has an amazing number of different recycling stations: hardcore rubbish, small appliances, oil, car batteries, paper, cardboard, juice-type cartons,old books, textiles, garden clippings, etc and a Shop selling on people's cast off toys, bicycles, furniture, sanitary ware,garden furniture and so on which seems to do good business. So, even if your household bin is full before the fortnightly collection, you can visit the tip and off load all your rubbish for free. No excuse to not do your bit on the recycling front.
Jo said…
Linda, we seem to be catching up to your recycling systems here in Tas. We can recycle most of those things here now in our new tip system. I can also drop off mobile phones and batteries at the Town Hall, which is handy, being right next to the library. I am there often! Really, it's extraordinary what can be recycled now - it's just a matter of doing it.. I like your fortnightly collection too. The municipality where my parents live have that system, and I think it sends the right message, that hey, this big bin? Doesn't need to be filled up every week. The next step, of course, is making over-consumption unfashionable!
Pam in Virginia said…
Hi, Jo!

You are such a marvelous example and I love all the little details. With four adults in the house, each with a somewhat different diet, we still buy way too much stuff like bagged chips and tortillas and various canned items; those things are recycled, however. Step-by-step, as you said.

I have used baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) as a deodorant for 30 years; one rubs a large pinch under each arm, while leaning over the sink, and then one grabs a tissue and scrubs the sink with the soda spilled in there - 2 for 1! It must be that the soda neutralizes the pH of perspiration (my grand mother would not have let me say "sweat" . . .). I have done this wearing all fabrics, including silk, and the fabric was not affected. And it's so cheap!

Jo said…
Pam, I have been reading about bi-carb as deoderant! Apparently it kills bacteria that cause odour. Or something. That may have been something else. Aargh! Read too much, took no notes! I do like your 2 for 1 housekeeping tip! Oh, and ladies 'glow' of course, as my own granny used to say:)

Yes, I agree it is difficult to remain plastic free with different diets - all the gluten-free bread, for instance is packed in plastic. Probably so it won't fall apart..
SO proud of you! Of course this is JUST my level of geeky.

I noticed your comments on deodorant - I have two low or zero waste ones - one or both are leaving oily underarm stains. I mean, plastic bottled deo was making different stains, so shrugs. But it's one improvement i've made and am not sold on. Oh and I smell! So damn! The bulk store this week, I got needed cocoa, and a TINY jar of arrowroot as I see that's a possible deo ingredient. Let's see if I experiment that far.

Recently, I nerded out, and melted down wax - in two batches, cause... didn't want beewax with nasty non bees wax. Every day the to do list stares at me with 'make candles' esp after I went on an errand for wicks. One day!

Funny zero waste thing today - I posted old, used up runners on Gumtree for free. Figure someone may have a use like canoeing or something?! And someone offers $50. And then asks when I bought them. Of course my blog/nerd self checked that spreadsheet - June 2014. I reminded them, I'd take whatever they thought reasonable (like.. nothing!) Let's see if they turn up tomorrow!
Jo said…
Sarah, tell me all about your deodorant experiments! I am all ears! And yeah, if you like that kind of things, candlemaking looks kind of interesting. Posy is fascinated. I am kind of, hey that looks too much like cooking..

Hey, I hope you sold those runners! Just goes to show, there's a market for most things!! Or maybe you are an excellent salesperson!
Monique said…

This is lovely. The recipe might be good for Posy. 😊

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