My major focus for 2019 was minimising waste to landfill from our household. Before moving on to new goals for 2020, I thought I’d recap our progress on this front and outline the steps we have taken.
Emptying the Rubbish Bin
At the beginning of our family footprint project, I undertook a bin audit. It was somewhat messy but not too unpleasant and well worth the effort. It showed me exactly what was going in to our bin and the obvious places to start diverting our waste from landfill.
I’m pleased to report that we have significantly reduced our waste to landfill this past year. I would estimate that our kitchen bin usually now usually has only a 10 litre bucket’s worth of waste in it each week. Prior to this we would have emptied our 30 litre kitchen bin twice a week. We’re a way off collecting our year’s waste in a jar, but I’m pretty proud of that progress!
The process of reducing our waste has actually not been very difficult. Nor has it required much in the way of time consuming chores. It has been more of a ‘stop and think’ process. Here’s what we’ve done.
I don’t believe that recycling is ‘the answer’. However, as we reduce the waste that enters our house (see the next step) recycling is diverting considerable amounts of waste from our landfill bin. Clearly a good thing.
Curb-side Recycling Bin
Our curb-side recycling service takes “rigid plastic packaging containers, paper and cardboard products, empty glass bottles and jars, empty steel and aluminium cans, (and) cartons.” We recycle all these items, and have done for years, but we have been even more conscientious about recycling recyclables. We also take care now not to engage in ‘wishful’ or ‘aspirational recycling’ which can contaminate the recycling stream and lead to it being sent to landfill instead.
Soft Plastic Recycling
I created a dedicated place for soft plastic collection in our kitchen bin area and a routine for gathering these up and taking them to my local Woolworths supermarket where there is a collection station for RedCycle.
As plastics typically lose quality through the recycling process (unlike glass and aluminium), their life is not currently circular. Eventually the plastic will end up in landfill anyway, sometimes after just one more iteration as a park bench for example. Reusing the resources is definitely a worthwhile step but reducing our consumption in the first place is better, which leads me to…
Reducing waste before it enters the house
Now we’ve talked about recycling, let’s go back up to the top of the Waste Reducing Principles hierarchy. It really goes without saying that we have made the easy swaps that mean we don’t create as much waste. Following on from that, I am gradually changing my buying habits so that we REFUSE what we don’t really need, REDUCE what we do need, and REUSE where we can. We are also shopping more from our local bulk food store, The Source, where we can avoid packaging and use our own produce bags at the farmer’s market, where we also avoid the (ever fewer) stalls selling produce pre-packed in plastic.
By taking these steps, we avoid having to deal with the waste problem before it crosses our threshold. I acknowledge that this doesn’t eliminate waste altogether. For example, The Source of course receive their products in some kind of packaging but overall, it is a step in the right direction.
Before throwing things away now, I am more likely to look at the item and consider what further use it could have. I am using more glass jars for food storage now than I have in the past, for example. I have salvaged fabrics to make bread collection bags. I am refilling my dishwashing liquid bottle with a homemade formula. I am also passing on as many of our unwanted household items for others to reuse through our Buy Nothing Group or local charity shops. This is another step for minimising waste to landfill.
Composting & Worm Farming
A key commitment for our family footprint project in 2019 was to eliminate organic waste in our landfill bin. We have all but achieved this and it is an achievement of which I am very proud.
Reducing food waste is a good starting point but I have also started to ‘reuse’ some kitchen scraps such as by making vegetable scrap stock and a chicken stock concentrate that actually uses some of the chicken bones. For what is left, though, we use a couple of different composting methods.
We already had a worm farm but we have stepped up our use of it and have learnt more about how to care for it properly. Thus the worms are more efficiently doing their job.
We built two large compost bays in which we are composting garden waste but also some kitchen waste. The worms sometimes find it hard to keep up with our food scraps so, for example, I will throw the outer leaves of a cauliflower onto the compost instead.
This year our local government introduced a ‘green bin’ curb-side service which we opted in to. It takes the overflow that our compost bins can’t handle plus seedy weeds that may not be killed off in our not-so-hot compost.
The final piece in the kitchen waste puzzle was purchasing a Bokashi bin. It takes almost anything so this is where the things go that are not favoured by our worms or not recommended for our open compost due to attracting vermin.
The very last thing I need to do is create my pet waste composting system. It has been on my to-do list for longer than I care to say.
This year we had a mattress to dispose of but we are fortunate to have a branch of the mattress recycler, Soft Landing, in Canberra who, for a small fee, will pick up used mattresses from you and take them apart for recycling. This is what we did.
Contemplating our lower impact life has prompted me to want to reduce our possessions too. Personally, I think I would be a happy minimalist but it is not my goal to strip our home to the bare essentials. I think my motivation is just to live a simpler, lighter life. Therefore I have ‘decluttered’ quite a few household goods through the year. I have generally given them away through my Buy Nothing Group or taken them to charity, mindful of not loading them up with junk.
I’ve still had to throw things away but when I do, I promise myself that over time, the need to do so will reduce because of the other changes we are making.
Still Room to Improve
Of course, there is still room for us to improve. I won’t stop considering where and how we can reduce our waste. However, the changes that we have made have not been onerous or time consuming so I expect we will continue to adapt to throwing less away.
Overall, our progress is very pleasing. Minimising waste to landfill and seeing our emptier bin is very tangible proof that our family footprint project is progressing.