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.