From Near-O to Zero: How I Got Rid of My Bin

From Near-O to Zero: How I Got Rid of My Bin

We are moving out of our flat this week, and our rubbish bin won’t be coming with us. We won’t be replacing it either. The reason? We simply don’t create enough rubbish to fill it.

I realised a few months ago that I was spending more time taking things out of the rubbish bin than putting things in it. The odd tissue. Sweepings from the kitchen floor. Onion peelings and spent corn-on-the-cobs (we had an incident with the bokashi bin where we ran out of bran, and it grew moldy and very smelly, and my husband was afraid to take the lid off. With reason – it stank).

All of these things could go in the worm farm, but it was almost a reflex to empty the dustpan or drop things into the bin. (Hence then having to take them back out.) There was also the odd non-recycable thing of course, but not enough to justify keeping a bin in our fairly small kitchen.

As a test, we moved the bin outside onto the balcony to see if we missed it.

We didn’t.

This is a long way to come since 2012, when I first heard of Plastic Free July and began my plastic-free living adventure. Back then I thought I was being a responsible consumer by purchasing eco-friendly washing-up liquid in a recyclable plastic bottle (and then recycling it), and taking my own bags to the shops. I thought that filling my recycling bin up to the brim every week was a good thing.

Little did I realise that this was just the beginning of what I could be doing.

I’d never heard of zero waste back then, or even being plastic-free, yet something about the idea of giving up plastic for a month stirred my consciousness….and my conscience! Deep down, I knew that plastic was a problem. I knew there was too much of it in our environment; I knew a lot of it was completely unnecessary; I knew it was a waste of resources.

Yet somehow I’d never made the connection that I was part of the problem. I was directly contributing to these issues by the way I shopped and the packaging I bought; I was also supporting this system and saying “this is okay”.

I was part of the problem, and I could be part of the solution. I could do things a different way. I could ditch the disposables, reuse what I had and refuse new plastic altogether. I decided then, in June 2012, that I wasn’t just giving up plastic for a month. I was giving up plastic forever.

With no real idea of what to do, but with complete conviction in my heart that this was the right path to be following, and all the enthusiasm and determination that comes with embracing a new challenge, I set out changing my habits.

First up, I started switching my packaging to paper, card and glass. Most fruits and vegetables were easy to find loose, and those that only came in plastic, I simply didn’t buy. I found pasta in cardboard, chocolate in foil and paper, and toiletries in glass bottles.

Not having a car, I carried my shopping home. I noticed how heavy my shopping had become now I wasn’t buying plastic. I also noticed how bulky the glass jars were, and the cardboard boxes. I became aware of packaging – how much of it I was using – for the first time. When everything was in plastic, I hadn’t noticed. It was so light and stealthy!

Around the same time, about two months in to my plastic-free living adventure, I discovered glass isn’t even recyclable in the state we lived in. It has to be trucked to the next state, some 1500km away. Not all glass collected from recycling bins is trucked there either; some is sent to landfill as it is more cost-effective. Some glass was crushed and used as road base – not quite the virtuous cycle we’re sold!

This discovery totally shattered my presumption that glass was a responsible alternative to plastic. It felt just as wasteful as using plastic. I decided that no packaging at all was the best option, and began to work towards that.

Bulk Produce in Glass Jars

I reconnected with Farmers Markets, and tracked down the local bulk stores to buy my groceries without packaging. I found soap and liquid cleaning products in bulk. I took my own containers to local delis and to my delight, found that they were accepted everywhere I went.

One ingredient or product at a time, I worked on finding a packaging free solution.

It wasn’t a quick process; it took me 18 months to eliminate most of the packaging from my home. I didn’t tackle everything at once – as things ran out I’d look to replace them.

Some things were stubbornly difficult to find, and so I learned to make my own, find an alternative…or simply go without. We looked beyond food and toiletries to other areas of the house, borrowing rather than buying, or shopping second-hand if we really needed something.

It’s surprising, but the less you have, the less you realise you need.

The hardest thing for me was figuring out what to do with all the food waste. Eating lots of vegetables and making lots of things from scratch left us with lots of compostable waste…but no compost bin. Living in an upstairs flat, there wasn’t anywhere to set up a compost bin, and we don’t have any local collection points. Without a car it wasn’t practical to drop it off anywhere.

We have two worm farms but they can’t eat everything that we produce. Eventually, after a couple of false starts, we finally embraced using a bokashi bin for all the food scraps that can’t go in the worm farm – onion peels, lemon skins, spent corn cobs and avocado skins, for example – and this reduced our throwaway food waste to zero.

As the contents of our bin dwindled more and more, I became more and more determined to eliminate the final bits and pieces – however small! We have a junk mail sticker on our mail box but the odd thing sneaks through – I became militant in returning to sender. No free plastic pens required here! We check the fruit and veg we buy doesn’t have plastic stickers on it before we get it home.

If we’re offered any packaging, we decline; if we’re given it, we hand it straight back. We refuse receipts. All little things, but little things add up.

Looking into Empty Bin again Lindsay Miles Looking Into Empty Bin Zero Waste Treading My Own Path

I’m not the first person to give up my rubbish bin (I’m pretty sure that was Bea Johnson, who started her zero waste journey way back in 2008). The great thing is, I know I won’t be the last, either.

Choosing a lifestyle that’s healthier, with food that’s fresh, natural and seasonal, that embraces community and supports local, that teaches new skills and encourages creativity, and that doesn’t harm the planet… what’s not to love? No wonder the zero waste movement is growing every day.

For me, getting rid of my bin means I’ve reached the tipping point. We are creating so little rubbish that it no longer makes sense to keep a container in the house specifically for storing it. Despite giving the bin up, I am sure I will still create waste in the future. I’m not perfect. I have things in my house that I purchased long before I began to think about what would happen to them at the end of their lives; things that aren’t recyclable, or compostable. Clothes that aren’t biodegradable. I choose to keep them until they are used up, life expired, but eventually I will need to dispose of them.

I intend to choose differently next time around. After all, we can’t worry abut or dwell on the choices we made in the past; but we can concentrate on making better choices in the future.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you embarked on a zero waste journey of your own? Are you planning on getting rid of your bin, or do you have another goal in mind? What have been your biggest challenges and greatest successes? Are you yet to try the plastic-free or zero waste path, and is the new year tempting you to give it a go? If not, what is holding you back?! What compromises have you had to make along the way? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

36 Responses to From Near-O to Zero: How I Got Rid of My Bin

  1. Making small steps with produce bags and shopping bags, beeswax wraps. I gave up zip lock bags and freezer bags too. We have a long way to go but mountains are climbed one step at a time I really appreciate your story, it inspires me to keep trying.

    • Sounds like you’re making great progress Anna! Beeswax wraps are such a revelation, aren’t they? I love that – mountains are climbed one step at a time : )

      Thanks for your lovely comment, hope you had a lovely break and best wishes for the New Year!

  2. I am, very slowly, working on this. Since I have wednesday as my day off and there is a farmer’s market in town, I have bought so much more fruit and veggies without packaging! Not to mention nuts, dried fruits, meat and delicacies. Some things are hard to find without packaging, such as pasta, but perhaps that will change when the zero-packaging store opens up.
    One of the reasons it is quite difficult and I will probably not reach zero waste soon, is that I have to compromise with my husband. He is quite attached to the taste of his favourite products, and since we’re a team… I still buy strawberries in plastic containers in summer (but am planning to grow my own next year) and buy dairy products in plastic or tetra packs, for example. But he does work with me, taking bags with him and giving me the space to shop as zero waste as I am able to at the moment.

    Thanks for sharing this great moment in your zero waste journey. I am sure you will continue to inspire me and many others! :)

    • Slow and steady wins the race. Judith! (Not that it’s a race, but you know what I mean…) Farmers’ Markets are great – I love that you have one midweek, that’s awesome. Zero packaging stores definitely make it easier – I love that so many are opening their doors now.

      I can understand compromising with your husband! Glen says to me sometimes when I’m lamenting the fact he’s thrown a tissue or onion peel in the bin, that he never signed up for zero waste! (We began the plastic-free journey together, but I think he finds the zero waste a little more extreme.) Overall though he is incredibly supportive! He’s given up potato chips although he loves them. Your husband sounds like he’s on board, give him time and he’ll get more used to it.

      Good luck!

  3. Congratulations! We are working towards this too. By the way, its surprising what worms will eat, my worms love corn cobs and avo peels, also small amounts of onion and citrus are fine. I chuck in small meat scraps too. They are thriving, I’ve had to start a third bin! They will also eat waste paper :)

    • Thanks Liz! I do put them in the worm farm, but we only have two re-purposed polystyrene box [shudder] worm farms and the corn cobs particularly take up too much space – especially when all the leaves are added too. It’s more the volume that’s the problem. We eat too many vegetables!

  4. I gave away all of my glad wrap, sandwich bags, freezer bags, etc on the weekend. It was a good feeling. Haven’t used any of them for ages. I am now down to a tiny container for soft plastic recycling that takes a long time to fill. Would love to give up my bin. I have a small compost bucket on my balcony for most of my food scraps (can’t do worm farming). Probably need to figure out what to do with meat scraps.

    • Woohoo, go Mel! That’s fantastic! It’s such a good feeling to give that kind of stuff away knowing you no longer need it, I completely agree.

      Have you tried Bokashi bins? They are suitable for flats and odourless when the lid is on, but they are a pain if you don’t have a garden as you need to dig the waste somewhere. Might be worth a try though? They are good for cooked food, bones etc.

  5. Oh, Lindsay! I love this post!! “The less you have, the less you realize you need.” SO TRUE! I’m with you- that recycling is not a solution. This is a *huge* factor in my plans for the new year. To recycle LESS, or rather to HAVE less recycling (that’s a good thing!). We have one small bin still, but in 2016 I am designating a jar for each family member’s trash. Also, we are going to forego the trash service on our property (my parents pay for it). I am going to take our recyclables to the center myself, which will motivate/ remind me to avoid ALL packaging and waste, wether it’s recyclable or not. How do you “return to sender”? And nice use of Near-O! :)

    • Thanks Andrea! Loving your enthusiasm ; ) I was going to tell you that I’d stolen your “Near-O” expression, but you found me out before I even had a chance to come clean!

      Ooh, the jar thing sounds both awesome and scary. You wouldn’t want to be the person with the fullest jar, would you?! The pressure! The shame! ; )

      We can’t forgo the rubbish collection here. The flats we’ve just moved from used to have a guy that came once a week to wheel the bins out At the new place we would have to do it ourselves, so looking forward to not having to do that at least!

      To return something to sender you simply cross out the name on the unopened envelope and write “Not at this address – Return to sender” on the envelope. Usually there is some kind of return mailing address on there. Hopefully it means you are removed from the mailing list for subsequent postings.

      Hope you are having a lovely festive break!

  6. I’m a huge fan of the bulk aisles – I bring my own glass jars to get everything from grains/pasta/flour/spices and other dry goods to honey to olive oil to detergent in them! And it always boggles my mind to see people putting all their produce in plastic bags when you’re just going to wash them anyhow! I bring a reusable one for things like mushrooms of course really, an apple, people? Oy!

    We have awesome glass recycling here so I’m not giving up my wine quite yet (we don’t drink enough to warrant the growler refills that Whole Foods offers, LOL) as glass turns immediately into glass and is not downcycled. We get trash once a month and it’s only usually about half full and usually just because someone’s had a case of the “buy it from the frozen aisle”. Since butter boxes and other fridge/freezer items like that are not recyclable because they are coated in plastic (a lot of folks unknowingly recycle these not realizing they’ll still get trashed), we’ll always have a bit but like you, our focus is anything that CAN come packaging free will always be our first priority.

    Now if only I could get my almond milk in a refillable jug!

    • Bulk aisles are so great, aren’t they?! And as they get more popular there seem to be far less problems with freshness, which should inspire more people. Plastic bag use for things like A SINGLE BANANA has always driven me crazy! You wouldn’t put a single tin of beans in a plastic produce-style bag – there really is no difference!

      We still buy wine – not often, but we do. The company that collects our recycling has hand pickers so they do recycle glass – although it’s still going to South Australia. I reuse the bottles for olive oil (it’s very hard to clean bottles that have had oil in them, I find) so at least they aren’t single use. We have found a shop that refills beer growlers that is fairly close to where we are moving to so that will become a regular. Not that I drink beer, but my husband does.

      Why don’t you make your own almond milk? It’s super easy, tastes way better and must be cheaper. You soak 1 cup almonds overnight, rinse, blend with 4 cups water (you could use more but that’s the ratio I like) and strain (I use cheesecloth but you can use any fabric really). The pulp is great for baking or crackers and you can freeze.

  7. Oh btw on clothes that “die” that you can’t turn into rags, find out if your local thrift store sells textiles they can’t use or disposes of them – many times they can indeed find new life, as Goodwill does it.

  8. Wow, well done, Lindsay! You are such an inspiration. I love reading your blog posts because it motivates me to continue taking small steps to a zerowaste lifestyle. I am not as close as you are at all, but over the past two years or so I definitely have implemented a lot of small changes.

    My next tiny goal is to buy plasticfree vinegar. I just learned that Asian supermarkets here in the Netherlands sell highly concentrated vinegar in glass bottles which means less waste because you have to dilute the vinegar with water yourself, meaning that a bottle lasts longer.

    Merry zerowaste Christmas!

    • Thanks Annemieke! Glad to be of help to you! ; ) It’s all about the small changes…lots and lots and lots of small changes, so you’re on the right path.

      There are a couple of bulk stores near me that sell bulk white vinegar, and the new bulk store near where I’m moving to also has bulk apple cider vinegar – exciting! I keep meaning to give making my own a go. A challenge for the new year! Most vinegar is 5% I think – we have a place that sells cleaning vinegar which is 10% but I don’t think you’d want to dilute it for food-related purposes!

      Hope you had a lovely Christmas break too x

  9. Congratulations! Such a big step. Not having to take out the trash feels so good…somehow taking out the compost seems like so much less of a chore to me. Plus, I’ve found that everything in my home functions so much more efficiently and easily now. I love not having to run out to the store constantly to replace disposable things!

    • Thanks Litterless! I agree – who wants to waste time lugging stuff to the bin out, and lugging the bin back and forth?! I feel differently about compost because I know it’s making something useful. Especially here where the soil is so rubbish, compost is really important. I cannot wait until I have a space to grow things and will be able to reap the rewards of my 3+ years of worm farming!

  10. I’ve recently become interested in reducing my waste significantly – I was a big greenie in my early teens, and then I guess I kind of drifted and forgot, and now with two very young girl and my own house, I really want to set up good habits for life. I shared this article on my Facebook page, as I think it’s a really great introductory article to how the process went for you. I’ll look around and see if I can find any more “how we did it” articles on your site!

    • I can relate to that! I was also very eco-minded in my teens, and lost my way a little in my twenties – now I’m making up for lost time, it seems! So glad you’ve found your way back too…you’ll find the zero waste journey very rewarding!

      If you click the archive tab at the top I’ve written a list of every blog post I’ve written to make it easier to search for content you might find interesting. I hope it helps!

      And thanks so much for the share! x

  11. Congratulations – what an achievement! I am day three up the mountain. Not that I was previously purposely wasteful or didn’t think about sustainable or ethical consumption. Just Day 3 into being really mindful and aware and committed to changing my behaviour. There is plastic and waste EVERYWHERE so I was feeling very overwhelmed at first.
    I am driven by health, environment, building an equitable world and understanding how those three things are connected.
    I have been so inspired and learnt so much from the generosity of people such as yourself who have shared their journey. Thank you :)

    • Thank you Jo! Day 3… exciting times for you! If you’re having anything like the experience I had, it’s sensory overload! Like you, I wasn’t purposely wasteful, I thought recycling was doing my bit, and then all of a sudden I woke up and just saw waste EVERYWHERE! The good news is, the overwhelm will pass – you just have to start small, focus on one thing, and just keep going. That’s all it takes. After all, you can’t fail unless you stop trying!

      Good luck and if you need any tips or advice be sure to email me! x

  12. love what you are doing ! I do buy a few things in glass, the jars go to the op shop for purchase by jam-makers. I also make my own so do need a few jars.

  13. “If we eat fish, there’s a chance that this plastic is ending up on our plates.”
    I totally agree with your raising of these issues – but this is a weak statement (Although the reality is horrific) Unless we have undeniable evidence, most will think there is no reason to alter their convenient lifestyle.

    (Do scientists live like you?)

    Scientific Capitalism is killing the Planet!

    Michael

    • Hi Michael, thanks for your comment and taking the time to stop by. I would disagree with you about needing undeniable evidence – I don’t think knowing the truth is a reason to make change alone. Take smoking as an example – the evidence that it damages health is irrefutable and many people choose to continue to smoke still knowing this. I would also say that many people do care, and want to make changes to their lifestyle and don’t know where to start, or need encouragement to keep going. This is why I write. I’m not trying to convince people to change who have no interest in changing, I’m showing people my own story in the hope that some will be inspired to make the changes that they know in their hearts they want to make.

  14. Hi Lindsay, Discovered your blog a few weeks ago and I am loving it! In Brisbane any cotton clothes that are recieved at some op shops that aren’t in saleable condition are often made into rags to be sold in ‘rag bags’ at Bunnings (female prisoners cut the buttons off them and cut them up). So perhaps that’s a option to consider asking about? (the rags are then on sold in plastic bags though!). Another option worth looking into is to recycle them through H&Ms recycling program (they recycle the material to make new clothes)

    • Hi Sarah, thank you so much! : ) When my clothes are life-expired I generally cut into rags to use at home, and put in the worm farm for them to chew off the biodegradable bits…and then the remaining bits (elastic etc) go in the bin. I’ve heard that some of the bigger op shops here take clothing specifically for rags so will need to find out which ones!

      Thanks for the ideas! : )

  15. Awesome blog Lindsay. I started this journey slowly this year and although our household is already at a low-waste level, I am hoping to make 2017 the year for getting rid of my bin. Love your articles and ideas – these will be really helpful in making some additional changes. Keep it coming! x

Share your thoughts!