Can this Empty Tin of Tuna Save the World?

Can this Empty Tin of Tuna Save the World?

The people at my workplace aren’t the best at recycling. Plastic-free living and zero waste just aren’t on their radar. We’ve slowly introduced paper recycling, and I’m working on moving everyone away from those ridiculous pod coffees to a shared pot of French press coffee under the guise of being more sociable and team-oriented and  community-minded within the office (don’t laugh, because it’s actually working!).

But there’s still a fair way to go.

Last week I fished (excuse the pun) an empty tin of tuna out of the bin, gave it a rinse and left it on the side in order to take it home and save it from landfill. Someone went to throw it away and I jumped out of my chair, flailing my arms and saying “no no no no no, I’m going to take that home and recycle it.

Cue raised eyebrows. I’m used to people thinking my ideas and slightly strange, so that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The people in my office are slowly getting used to my strange ways, but last week we had a guy working with us who usually works at a different site, and he probably has no idea that I’m a “bit of a greenie”, as they like to say.

“I could tell you something something about recycling, but I won’t”, he said.

“Go on, tell me!”

“No no no. I don’t want to upset you.”

“Go on. You won’t upset me”.

Cue me persuading him to reveal his secrets. Eventually he relented. “Well, you know, I have a friend who knows a lot about these things. Of course, I recycle what I can, I do my bit, but he’s told me that recycling isn’t as good as people think.”

No kidding! Of course, I know a fair bit about waste myself, and having been to a number of waste recovery facility sites on tours and visits, I’m well aware that recycling isn’t the green solution that people think it is.

We compare notes, and bounce facts off of one another.

“In WA, only about a third of all waste generated is recycled at all.”

“A lot of the resources that are sent to recycling facilities aren’t actually recycled at all – their sent to landfill.”

“Anything that’s sent for recycling in a plastic bag is automatically sent to landfill – it’s too risky and time-consuming to unpack.”

“Any bottles, jars or containers that still contain liquid are not recycled but sent to landfill.”

“When people throw pillows, duvets, terracotta plant pots, light bulbs and even shredded paper into recycling streams it contaminates the waste and the whole shipment may get sent to landfill.”

“Glass is not recycled in our state – it’s either trucked to the next state or landfilled.”

“Most plastic and paper products collected at recycling facilities are shipped offshore to Asia for processing.”

I know that all of these facts are true. I’ve read enough reports, been to enough talks and seen enough with my own eyes not to doubt any of them for a second. It makes taking that small empty tin home seem like such a tiny drop in the ocean; such a small thing to do against the insurmountable problem of waste.

Yet I took that tin home anyway and recycled it.

Recycling bin

I’m not trying to kid myself. I know that waste disposal is a huge problem, and my recycling a single can of tuna isn’t going to save the world or make everything better. But what’s the alternative? Give up? I care about the planet, the environment and the people who live on it, and I’m going to take some responsibility for it. I believe that it’s the right thing to do. I might not be able to do everything, but I can do something, and focusing on what I can do is the best place to start.

There’s something else. I have hope. I honestly believe that most people simply don’t realise that we’re living in a system in crisis. They are so busy with their lives, doing the things that they’ve always done, that they just don’t know that there’s a problem. After all, there was a time when I thought recycling was enough. I thought I was being a responsible citizen, buying things in single-use disposable packages and then disposing of them appropriately in the correct recycling bin.

I believe that if I keep doing what I’m doing, and others join in and do their bit, then eventually the tide will turn. I’m not just talking about recycling. We’re never going to recycle our way to sustainable living. But it starts with our personal actions. It starts with the choices we make, and it grows from there. To the conversations we have, to the alternatives that we share, to the ideas that we spread.

I’m not saying it will be fast, or simple, or easy, but together we can make it happen.

30 Responses to Can this Empty Tin of Tuna Save the World?

  1. Great post lindsay. I agree, it’s important to minimise use/consumption and the word slowly spreads. My friend sent me a link to biodegradable coffee pods. I think on a few fronts these make sense. Less energy to make than aluminium, who knows if aluminium heated is good for you (previously related to Alzheimer’s) and if you compost them hopefully they break down. Keep up your good work

    • Thanks Claire! I definitely feel that the message is getting out…although sometimes more slowly than I’d like! Biodegradable coffee pods might work if the user is going to compost them properly – and my office peeps definitely aren’t at that stage yet! I’ve also heard of refillable coffee pods although I’ve never seen or used them. Personally, I think we’re all taking our coffee far too seriously ; p

      Thank you! : )

  2. Dear Lindsay,
    this is the right thing to do!
    Thank You so much for Your encouraging blog. You are a great inspiration!

  3. I always thought, hey I’m recycling, I’m doing ok. I had no clue what really happens to stuff. I think most people don’t. Not that we should stop recycling of course.
    I think your one can of tuna might not save the world, but the commitment and passion of one person can definitely rub off onto many!

    • Hi ZanyGreen – I can totally relate – I was exactly the same! I agree, I think most people just don’t realise that there is no “away”. Now I try to recycle as little as possible – meaning I look for alternatives that can be reused or recycled. Recycling is a great first step, it’s better to recycle than to landfill but it’s not the only step. There’s plenty more that can be done! ; )

  4. Love this! Recycling is far from perfect but it is a step in the right direction. My workplace has pretty good recycling facilities, and I provide a tub where people can leave their teabags and other compostable waste, which I take home to compost at home, and I also collect everyone’s used batteries and light globes and take them in for recycling.

    • Thanks! Yes, it’s not the solution, but it’s a good place to start! Love your efforts at your workplace! I haven’t started collecting compost at work, but I have been fishing batteries and light bulbs from the bin to take home and dispose of responsibly ; )

  5. Thank you for this inspiring post. You are right, together we can make a difference. Recently someone sent me the link to a documentary about so-called Cultural Creatives. These are people that do things different than mainstream and are positive about their power to change their worlds for the better. This is the link to the documentary: I have not finished watching it yet, but found the concept interesting. It was new to me.

    • Haha, seems to be all safe so far. We had a rental inspection on the 9th and my husband worked from home that day so was able to supervise the inspection (he also tidied the space up and hid all the empty plant pots)! The agent didn’t seem to mind – as long as we don’t get any more complaints I think we are safe for a while!

      PS my lemons on the tree look like they are starting to turn yellow! : )

  6. amen…a lot of people use that type of reasoning to avoid taking action…like you said, it’s not the end-all solution but it’s better than nothing, and hopefully folks consider the first “R” – reduce – before they get to the point of recycling. We are in Portland and get recycling & yard waste/compost pickup weekly and choose to get garbage pickup monthly, and the first two bins are maybe brought out to the curb once every 6 weeks and the garbage bin only gets filled at 4 weeks if we have something weird in it (like the drywall we’re slowly tearing out in the basement this month). We try to never buy any plastic packaging and if there is a glass alternative I’ll pay more since it does get recycled well (and easily) in Oregon. The hardest part for consumers I believe is going without when there’s not an eco-friendly alternative. I’ve realized that going without a plastic bottled juice or other beverage has the added bonus of no empty calories :)

    • I read a study that said you actually need a fairly low amount of people to do something to meet the tipping point. The context was campaigning, and they were saying that you only need about 30% of people to sign up / petition / get involved to actually make change – you don’t need 100%. I think that will happen with the zero waste movement – the more people see it in action, the more they will try to accommodate it, the easier it will be, the more people on the fringe will get involved, the more it will become mainstream and the people who don’t really care will just go along with it too. That’s my hope!

      When we quit plastic I couldn’t believe how much junk i was buying – like you say, empty calories that is just money down the drain!

  7. Thanx Lindsay & repliers & encouragers re: recycling efforts!! Creating & being part of the groundswell that votes for & talks about recyling is important—
    Its easy to be cynical & apathetic in AU I have found, but a bit depressing to hear the nay-sayers be all downer….unless you live in a like-minded community/environ…North Coast NSW is one that I know, Bundagen, Homelands around Belingen, etc…

    Now that I am in L.A. & the land of consuming!!!-it’s challenge alright..I was recently talking to the building Manager about recycling & she says despite it all going into one massive trash bin downstairs, it gets sorted…I feel dubious!! ?!??!

    Recently, i travelled up north to Olympia, Washington….but the places that really stood out were Portland, Ashland, Eugene for their efforts at all of these great initiatives…THATS’ where I want to go live!!

    And is the balcont gardening going TreadingMyOwnPath-Lindsay…? Its on my mind too—I wish that you could move to a place with a yard so we could all watch your garden grow!!

    Cheers all x Su-lee

    • Thanks Su-lee! You’re right, it’s easy to be cynical – that’s why I try to surround myself with positive people who believe in change and are working hard to make it happen!

      I think it can be tempting to want to move to a community that already has these values – but I think it’s just as important to try to spread the values in the place where we already live, however hard! Otherwise we’d all live in little enclaves!

      you should follow up on your Building Manager – find out the company that collects it and ask them! People make lots of assumptions about where waste goes and how it’s sorted. It’s like verge collections here – people think the good stuff gets saved but no, the whole lot goes to landfill : (

      Balcony garden all good so far – see my reply to the comment above! And my lemons are starting to ripen : )

  8. I have hope too. I’m living in Vanuatu and am really trying hard to reduce my waste. There is virtually no recycling here anyway and no bulk stores. It’s not easy and I have given up some stuff that I like, but the feeling of relief is so good. It’s the relief that you get when you bring your values and actions a bit closer together. Your blog has given me lots of ideas, please keep writing!


    • Hi Natasha, thank you so much for your comment! I love what you described – yes, there is a relief when you align your actions and your values…I hadn’t ever thought of it before like that!

      Comments like yours give me the inspiration to keep writing! ; )

  9. I used to collect the coffee grounds from the office to bring home for my compost, but it was always a chore to keep people from emptying my can of collected grounds, thinking they were helping to clean up. Now, some of the chain coffee shops put out used grounds for people to take home (good idea!) – the only problem is the bags are quite large, so they’re heavy, and yes, they are plastic bags.

    • Love your commitment Sandy! Picking up after other people can be a chore, yes! I’ve seen coffee grounds at local cafes here too – but they use big empty glass jars or those big plastic tubs (that originally contain feta or yoghurt) which are at least reusable!

  10. Reaally interesting post. I’ve been sort of doing the opposite where I work. We work in an arts centre cafe and I keep trying to tell colleagues they can’t recycle the plastic disposable cups or plastic wrapping. Plastic recycling facilities are very limited and I want people to see they shouldn’t be using these in the first place and use the many reusable options we have (ceramic mugs, glasses). Sometimes I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall!

    • I can really relate! I used to think you should recycle everything, now I think you should recycle the minimum – you should reuse it or find an alternative so you don’t generate the waste in the first place! However, for people who haven’t grasped the recycling concept fully, I think it’s very important to jump up and down about the merits of it!

      Don’t bang your head against a brick wall – keep going! : )

  11. Yes! I have just spent the best part of a day reading so many of your last posts and have taken something away from all of them, but none resonated with me as much as this one! My husband and I always try to do what we can, it doesn’t seem like much but it’s more than a lot of our friends (who, by the way, have kids so you’d think they’d have more empathy and thought about what they’re leaving behind for their own flesh and blood to inherit … anyway *sigh*).
    I’ve recently started sneaking into our work kitchens to take home all the 2L milk bottles (yes plastic) that we go through in a day to take home to use as ollas in our veggie gardens. I can’t imagine what people would say if they saw me doing it – they already think I’m weird for taking home bags of coffee grinds to put into the compost. Mind you, they don’t seem to knock back the free veggies grown with the assistance of said composted coffee grinds!
    Wow, I could really go on and on … you’ve re-ignited a fire and I’m keen to tackle my first Plastic Free July in just a few weeks time! I think it’ll be an eye-opener!

    • Hi Jess, thanks so much for your lovely comment! I love your guerrilla recycling efforts. Rest assured that I don’t think you’re weird, I think your efforts are fantastic! It’s hard when the people around you don’t understand you – but don’t give up! You can inspire change in the way you behave – even if people don’t seem to “get” what you’re doing now, you are still planting seeds…

      Good luck with your first Plastic Free July : )

  12. Hello again! The more I read on your blog, the more I want to keep reading! I can sympathize with your struggle to get your coworkers to be more green – my randomly assigned roommates have absolutely no concept of doing things for the sake of the environment. But on the bright side, if I put out a recycling bin in the kitchen (and remember to empty it in a timely fashion), they usually use it. I also bought a reusable coffee filter recently and I haven’t seen any more disposable filters in our house since! I like that the efforts I go to rub off on the people I live with. :)

    • Hello again! That’s great – I love meeting people who have the same passions as I do! My coworkers are just in a different world to me. But that’s okay – I think it can be a reality check too, otherwise I’d be convinced that everyone thinks the same as me and my friends and all you guys! It makes me more determined!

      When I give talks I always talk about the power of influencing others just by doing what you do – no lectures required. It sounds so passive, but it’s true. Making things easy for people helps, as well as leading by example. Sounds like you’ve had some great wins!

  13. I’m sure if everyone will follow this, we can change the world for the better and keep the environment cleaner.

Leave a Reply to Plastic-Free Tuesday - Annemieke Cancel reply