Posts

Zero Waste Week 2014: Reducing Landfill on Holidays

When I first agreed to participate in Zero Waste Week, I had totally forgotten that I would be on holiday. Being completely waste-free isn’t easy at the best of times, but what about whilst on holidays, with all that uncertainty and all those unknowns?! At home with your routines and habits, and you’re comfortable with where to buy the things you need, it’s far easier to plan and make preparations.

When I did realise, I decided it would be good to give it a go regardless. Your morals and philosophies shouldn’t change just because you’re not at home! I love a challenge, and anyway, I wasn’t planning on throwing my zero-waste philosophy out the window just because I was on unfamiliar ground…so why not just keep on doing what I always (try to) do?

My Pledge: To Send Nothing to Landfill during Zero Waste Week

The theme for Zero Waste Week 2014 is “one more thing”, so I wanted to pledge something that would be a challenge – not something I do already – and sending nothing to landfill is my long-term goal. Holidays or not, that’s what I want to be doing!

For the first few days I was in London visiting my sister, who was responsible for the shopping. She actually lives right next to a bulk bin store and a superb little greengrocer that sells most of its produce loose – even the majority of herbs, and things that are often plastic-wrapped like baby carrots. I often hear that bulk bin stores don’t exist in the UK, so I like seeing things that prove this wrong! I was also very pleased to learn that she buys her olive oil in bulk using a refillable bottle : )

Unpackaged refill bulk store sign

Yay! Loose, unpackaged and bulk foods for sale in London right around the corner from where my sister lives (Newington Green).

Loose produce at the greengrocers

This superb little greengrocer had so much stuff completely packaging-free, including herbs, chantaney carrots, chillies and all sorts of other exciting and exotic things!

Using reusable cloth bags at the bulk bin store

Bulk bin store and my sister’s first experience of using reusable produce bags. “But prunes are sticky!” then “Oh, you can just wash the bags after.” Yep, it’s that simple!

We also ate out quite a bit (I’m on holidays!). That said, I’m always vigilant to refuse any unneccessary packaging, particularly plastic cups and straws, and bags of any kind. I’ve been carrying my metal lunchbox around with me in case I have any leftovers that need to be taken home. Alas, I’m far too greedy for that and my plate is always spotless!

Ottolenghi London salad selection

This is the salad selection at Ottolenghi in Islington, London. The salads are offered as take away or for dining in. They are amazing. I went twice in three days (eating in of course!). Mmmm.

IMG_20140902_195739

This was an awesome little pizza place where they use sourdough for the bases. I loved the upcycled tins being used as cutlery/napkin holders, and also the refillable oil and water bottles.

After a couple of nights I’m back staying with my parents in Kent. They have a garden full of home-grown produce and both home- and council-collected composting, so landfill waste is not a problem from food. I trained my mum to take her own containers to the butchers during Plastic Free July 2013. She doesn’t have any bulk bins stores locally, but she does her bit. (She’s even joining in the zero waste action by keeping a list of all the things she’s sending to landfill!)

Being able to grow your own and then compost the food scraps is an awesome way to cut down on packaging and landfill waste.

Being able to grow your own and then compost the food scraps is an awesome way to cut down on packaging and landfill waste.

Zero waste vegetables for dinner - no packaging in sight : )

Zero waste vegetables for dinner – no packaging in sight : )

I also composted a tissue after blowing my nose, so as not to put it in the bin. Not particularly interesting but worth a mention because my mum was absolutely horrified/disturbed at the idea! I even had to fight to be allowed to put it in the composting bucket! She was quite grossed out by the thought of having to wash it out after when my tissue had been in there. Never mind that it has rotting vegetables, coffee grinds, moldy tomatoes and other stinky stuff in there – it was my tissue that she found the most disgusting!

Zero Waste Week: What About the Waste?

I was feeling very pleased about how little waste I’ve generated until my sister pointed out that I used some dental floss and a cotton bud at her house, and both went in the bin. I don’t floss because I’m lazy and I can’t find plastic-free floss, but my sister has had a root canal and is keen not to have another one. Staying with her and observing her superior dental routine, I felt guilty about my lack of flossing, so joined in…I didn’t even think about the waste! As for the cotton bud, I just assumed she used ones with biodegradable stems, but the one she has are made with plastic. Oops. She also doesn’t have any composting facilities either, so even a biodegradable one would have ended up in landfill.

My sister also cooked me dinner on the first night, and the vegetable peelings ended up in the bin, but I didn’t buy the ingredients or make the food (and everything was bought before I arrived), so I don’t think it counts.

At my parents’ house, there is a snack cupboard full of plastic-packaged things that I try to avoid, but I confess to eating a few handfuls of peanuts from the open (plastic) bag in the cupboard. And a biscuit from a packet. (And most of a bar of chocolate, but that comes in foil and paper which can be recycled!) Tomorrow I will be better behaved!

Zero Waste Week has been quite fun so far, and I’ve enjoyed seeing how my family have picked up some of my ideas and my influence is rubbing off. In a place like London it can be quite overwhelming when you see how much rubbish is produced (everywhere, by everyone, all the time), so it’s reassuring to think that it is still possible to take action. After all, small actions taken by lots of people lots of times adds up to making a big difference, and that is what leads to real change.

How about you? Are you taking part in Zero Waste Week? If so, how has your experience been so far? What about vacations: do you try to keep your standards the same when on holiday, or do they take a holiday too? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment!

Zero Waste Week is Coming Up…

You know me…any excuse to bang on about waste and I’m onto it! Which is why I’m super excited to be an ambassador for Zero Waste Week 2014. Zero Waste Week is…yes, you guessed it…a week of living with less waste, and it runs from 1st – 7th September.

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2013

As part of the challenge, you need to make a waste pledge, and the theme this year is “one more thing”. I’m already reasonably close to zero waste and I had a go at a completely zero waste week back in June with reasonable success (completely zero waste meaning no landfill and no recycling – only compostable waste), so I wasn’t sure what my pledge should be at first.

What extra thing could I manage?

Then I realised, I’m actually away from home that week, and it’s always much harder to keep standards up when on holiday. So I decided I’m going to commit to not sending anything to landfill during Zero Waste Week, although recyclables are acceptable.

No matter how zero waste I try to be, there’s always something that sneaks into the rubbish bin, so I think this will be a good challenge!

Lindsay Treading My Own Path Zero Waste Week Pledge 1

Do you like my Zero Waste Week pledge? I wrote it on the back of the cardboard packaging from an empty box of pasta! (Which then went into the worm farm.)

The challenge began in the UK, but you can take part no matter where you live. The problem of waste is global, after all, so let’s make this an international challenge! There’s still plenty of time to make a pledge. Check out the Zero Waste Week website for some more inspiration, and then join us and sign up for the challenge yourself : ) There’s no excuses: you still have almost two weeks to prepare!

Once you’ve decided what your “one more thing” will be, please leave a comment below telling me what you’ve pledged. I’d love to hear from you!

How To Fly Plastic-Free (as Much as Possible)

On Tuesday night I flew from Perth, Australia to London, England to see friends and family and spend some time back in the motherland. It’s a 21 hour flight (divided into two parts – 7 hours from Perth to Hong Kong, and 12 hours from Hong Kong to London). Flying is bad for the environment, we all agree – but I was determined not to add to the huge carbon cost by generating a huge amount of waste too. The question is – is it even possible to fly waste-free?

Despite my best efforts, I still probably produced more waste in those 21 hours than I’ve generated in the entire rest of the year. But there’s definitely things you can do to keep your waste down.

Preparation – What To Think About

With flying, trying to minimise your waste can be managed in two parts. Firstly, there’s all the things that you can do before you get to the airport. Like with all zero-waste and plastic-free habits, success comes with planning. Thinking about things to bring that will reduce reliance on single-use plastic, or avoid any other unnecessary packaging. Anything that you can bring of your own will produce the need to use a plastic-wrapped version on the plane. Think cutlery, cups, water bottles, headphones, blankets, a pillow, thick socks, a toothbrush…if there is something you know you’ll need or want, it’s best to bring it with you.

Secondly, there’s the choices you make once your strapped into your seat. If you’ve had to accept something made of plastic, is it possible to re-use it to get as much life out of it as possible? Can you even make choices that use less plastic, or create less waste?

plastic headphones and blankets

Plastic-wrapped headphones and plastic-wrapped blankets awaiting our arrival on our seats – fortunately we were able to return these as we had brought our own!

What to Wear – Keeping Comfortable (and Warm)

It doesn’t matter how hot it’s going to be at your destination, or how hot it is at your departure point, it is going to be freezing on that plane once the air conditioning is cranked up to maximum. You may be really excited you’re headed to the beach, but that’s no excuse to wear skimpy shorts and flip-flops on the plane. You. Will. Freeze. Once you’re cold, you’ll be reaching for those single-use airline socks, and the plastic-wrapped blanket; your best intentions to keep the unnecessary waste at bay will be long gone.

Pack a thick pair of socks, leggings or long trousers, and a warm jumper. A scarf is useful and can double up as a pillow or second blanket. If you have space, take your own blanket and pillow too.

Headphones

Airline headphones usually have that weird double pin adapter, so you can’t plug your own headphones into the jack. Except, you can. It’s possible to buy these adaptors for just a couple of dollars. When ordering mine, I was concerned that they might arrive wrapped in plastic, so was delighted when they arrived with minimal packaging. I was less delighted when I got on the plane and found I didn’t need it for these flights – the airline had standard headphone jacks!

Airline headphone adaptors zero waste

These 2-pin headphone jacks mean I no longer have to use airline headphones which are packaged in plastic, and have foam earpieces which are thrown away after just a single use.

If you don’t want to buy an adaptor, or leave it behind, don’t hand the headphones you are given back at the end of the flight. Keep them for any other legs, and the return journey, and hand them in when you’re back home. Before I got a headphone adapter I’d do this – it reduced the number of headsets I used from 4 to 1. As each headset is packaged in plastic, that saves three plastic bags, as well as 6 replacement fuzzy ear bits (they are replaced after each use).

Food

Did you know you can take your own food onto the plane? Most flights will let you bring your own food; you just might not get it off the plane and through customs at the other end. What effort you want to go to is up to you, but if you can bring your own snacks it will mean not needing to eat those tiny packets of peanuts, or other plastic-wrapped snacks that will probably make you feel stodgy and unhealthy anyway.

Yes, your flight was probably expensive. But trying to recoup some of the cost by eating 27 packets of peanuts won’t really cut it. Honestly.

As for meals, if you have the choice to not order the meal (if you are on a charter flight), don’t. Anything you bring from home will taste better and be far more nutritious. But commercial flights often don’t give you the option, and you can’t phone up and cancel your meal. If you refuse your meal on the plane, it will go in the bin. I generally do eat the plane meals, particularly anything “fresh” (you know what I mean!), but I hand back the long-life stuff in the hope it will get passed to someone else.

Drinks – Bring Your Own Water Bottle (and a KeepCup!)

You can’t take bottled water through customs, but you can take reusable water bottles through, provided they are empty. What’s more, once you are through customs, many airports offer filtered water for refilling your bottles, so you can get on the plane with a full bottle of water. At the three airports I travelled through (In Perth, Hong Kong and London Heathrow), all had free water bottle refilling stations.

water bottle refill at airport

Water bottle refills are available after security at most airports meaning if you bring your own bottle, there’s no need for single-use plastic cups on the flight!

Once your on the plane, you can hand your empty bottle to a steward and ask them to refill it for you.

If you really want to avoid waste on the plane, just stick to drinking water rather than individual serves of spirits, soft drinks, juice and other alcohol. Bring a KeepCup for tea or coffee.

Toiletries

Current rules for international flights state that if you want to take your toiletries onto the plane, they have to be presented in a clear, resealable plastic bag. The most obvious way to avoid this is to check your toiletries in by placing them in hold luggage. If this isn’t an option for you, and you’re travelling with others, sharing will reduce the number of bags needed. If you do need to take a bag, keep it so you can reuse it when you next fly – just store it with your passport so you don’t forget!

Duty-Free

Duty-free generally means excessive packaging, but if you’re thinking you’ll pick up a couple of (glass) bottles of duty-free alcohol, many airports now insist that this is packaged in sealed plastic bags for security purposes. On top of that, the glass bottles are often packaged with foam nets, which is also made from plastic. If you’ve gone somewhere and want to bring some of the local tipple home, buy it before you fly at a local store and pack it in your hold luggage – you may even find it is cheaper than the inflated airport prices. Just remember to check the customs restrictions for your destination!

Do you have any tips for travelling plastic- and waste-free? Is there anything else you’d add to this list? Or do you find it’s easier to suspend your waste ideals for the holidays? Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear what you think!

The Future of Waste

What would you expect from a talk about the future of waste hosted by a city that’s proud of its sustainability credentials, promotes zero waste, is working on a program to divert all organic waste from landfill, and is trying to push through a local ban on plastic bags? You’d expect a discussion on reducing waste at source, closed loops systems, community education programmes, better recycling facilities and the role of entrepreneurs in repurposing waste, surely?

You certainly wouldn’t expect to hear the case for building new incinerators as the solution to the waste problem, would you?!

Here’s the flyer:

Waste Forum Freo Event Poster

Looking at the poster, I certainly didn’t. I was expecting an interesting discussion. What I didn’t know beforehand was that both Phoenix Energy and New Energy have applications in Perth for constructing incinerators, in Kwinana and Rockingham respectively. Not only that, but the Major of Fremantle has just come back from a trip to Japan to visit these plants, and was clearly impressed by the technology.

So what was billed as a talk about the future of waste for Perth and Fremantle became a talk about the role and benefits of incinerators, and descended into a slanging match between the pro-incinerator PR guys and the anti-incinerator community members. One of the original speakers had cancelled at short notice, and was replaced with Lee Bell from the National Toxics Network, who made the discussion far more balanced than it otherwise might have been as he was able to talk credibly about the issues incinerators have caused (and continue to cause) globally.

Before I watched Trashed, I had some idea that incinerators were bad. After that, my views were very firm and clear.

Even so, it wasn’t meant to be a discussion about incinerators…it was meant to be a discussion about the future of waste, and how to make it more sustainable! I wasn’t there to be convinced of the need for incinerators, I was there to hear ideas and solutions, new ways of doing things, how to make this idea of zero waste a reality. How to educate the public and look at changing behaviours. Positive solutions that don’t encourage wasting resources by turning them into (toxic) dust, but return them into useful production.

The Kwinana waste-to-energy plant (the more politically preferable name for an incinerator) is going to cost $380 million to build. Imagine if all that money, that $380 million, was invested in real green energy technology such as solar and wind, sustainable cradle-to-cradle product design enterprises, community waste education programmes and imaginative waste entrepreneurs who repurpose waste?!

Instead, the plan for the future is to take all that material, and turn it into (toxic) ash.

That makes me sad.

Is this really the future of waste?

A Movie Review: Trashed

On Tuesday night I went to a movie night hosted by Transition Town Guildford for the documentary Trashed. Released in 2012 and featuring Jeremy Irons, Trashed explores the extent of the global waste problem, and the consequences – including pollution in beautiful and uninhabited environments, the health risks to animals, humans and children, and the contamination of the oceans.

When I say ‘explores’, this movie does not just skim the surface. It gets right in there. It’s a powerful film, and it gets the point across that we need to change the way we do things. If you’re not convinced before the film, you won’t be left with any doubt afterwards that waste is a serious problem – and it affects all of us.

Featuring farmers from France and Iceland, hospital works in Vietnam, and waste disposal sites in the UK, Lebanon and Indonesia, it is clear that this is a global issue.

Here’s the trailer:

I loved the message, the depth of the science and the exploration of the facts. It was hard-hitting and some people, particularly those who aren’t already aware of the issues surrounding waste may find it pretty confronting. They tried to end on a positive note, bringing the movie back from the feeling of impending doom, with just enough positivity for the audience to leave without feeling like it was all too hard and all too much. But only just.

My only real criticism was the lack of exploration of the issues surrounding recycling. Clearly there wasn’t space to cover everything, but I felt that plastic recycling in particular could have been further addressed. At the end of the film they show huge bales of plastic waiting to go to China (from San Fransisco) for recycling, but no mention is made of the issues of transporting huge amounts of plastic across the ocean, nor the hazardous processes involved with recycling the plastic in countries with less stringent safety regulations.

Particularly after they talked in length of the dangers of burning waste, I felt this was a glaring omission.

The other interesting point is that this segment of the film was recorded in 2009. Back then, China was a huge buyer of plastic waste, but the plastic shipments were often contaminated with non-recyclable plastic and other debris, and in February 2013 China has cracked down on this with Operation Green Fence, meaning all plastics must be washed and uncontaminated. All shipments are inspected on arrival, and if they are contaminated they are sent back, with the sender incurring the cost. In the first 3 months, 7600 tons of waste were rejected.

I’d definitely recommend watching it, but if you’re new to the issues of waste, you might find it gentler starting with the Clean Bin Project or my all-time favourite, Bag it!.

If you’re interested in hosting a screening of your own, you can find the details on the Trashed website.

Have you seen this movie? What did you think? Did you find it motivating, or did you think they stepped over the line into Doomsday-ville? If you haven’t seen it, what were your thoughts after watching the trailer? Leave me a comment; I’d love to hear what you think!

Compostable plastics and bioplastics – and why they aren’t the “green” solution

Bioplastics and compostable plastics are sold to us as a green, sustainable solution. The solution to what, exactly? A solution to the tons of rubbish we send to landfill every year? A reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels? A safe alternative to the hazardous chemicals we add to conventional plastics? Actually, not quite. There’s a lot more controversy to these new plastics than you might think. Did you know that some bioplastics aren’t actually biodegradable, or even recyclable? Did you know that some compostable plastics are actually made from fossil fuels? Did you know that these plastics still require additives to infer specific properties (and to encourage degradation), and these additives may still be toxic?

Confused?

So was I. Fortunately, after a heck of a lot of reading and research, I’m feeling a lot clearer about it all, and hopefully after reading this, you will be too.

First up… Bioplastics

Bioplastics are plastics made from plants. That is all it means. Bioplastics may or may not be biodegradable, may or may not be compostable, and they may or may not be toxic as a result of other chemicals used in their manufacture.

Photo credit: Kingstonist.com via Flickr.

Photo credit: Kingstonist.com via Flickr. Making a difference…what does this statement mean? Is it biodegradable? Compostable? Recyclable? Messages like this are confusing!

The Terms: Biodegradable vs Degradable

Biodegradable means capable of being broken down by bacteria or other living organisms and returning to compounds found in nature. Degradable means capable of being broken down into smaller pieces. This is not the same as biodegradable. Photodegradable means capable of being broken down into smaller pieces by sunlight. Plastic generally breaks down into microplastics that do not break down further. Most plastics are therefore degradable, but not biodegradable.

Plastic #4 (LDPE or low density polyethylene) is made from fossil fuels; it is not biodegradable ,it is not compostable and it is not commonly recycled. Yes, it will degrade over time into thousands of micro pieces of plastic. How is that environmentally-friendly?

Plastic #4 (LDPE or low density polyethylene) is made from fossil fuels; it is not biodegradable, it is not compostable and it is not commonly recycled. Yes, it will degrade over time into thousands of micro pieces of plastic. How is that environmentally-friendly? Beware of greenwashing!

More Terms: Compostable vs Biodegradable

Compostable means capable of breaking down in a compost pile. Compostable plastic [as defined by the plastics industry] is “that which is capable of undergoing biological decomposition in a compost site such that the material is not visually distinguishable and breaks down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass at a rate consistent with known compostable materials”.  ‘Carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass’ technically includes every substance in the known universe and this definition allows compostable plastic to leave toxic residues whilst still being classified as compostable.

A plastic may be biodegradable but not compostable, meaning it will break down more slowly than would be expected in a compost pile, and may not disintegrate.

Commercial Composting vs Home Composting

Compostable bioplastics may require industrial composting facilities to break down. This means an active composting phase of a minimum of 21 days, with temperatures remaining above 60ºC for at least 7 days, and regular turning. Industrial composting works much faster and better than home composting systems, which generally do not reach the same high temperatures and are not regulated.

It is not always clear with compostable packaging whether an item can be composted at home or whether it needs an industrial composting system, and whether such systems exist. BioPak cups state “compostable and biodegradable” on their packaging, but a quick look at their website finds the disclaimer “BioCup are compostable in a commercial compost facility; however this option is not widely available in Australia”. This means most BioCups used in Australia will end up in landfill, where they won’t break down.

Corn compostable cup after 2 years of composting

Compostable Corn Cups After 2 Years in a Compost Bin

Photo credit: Zane Selvans via Flickr. These Caltech cups are made from corn-based plastic. Caltech don’t compost these themselves (so most will be sent to landfill). To see how compostable they were, Zane put six of the cups in his very active compost pile at home (which reached 70°C a couple of times) and left them for two years. After two years, this is what they looked like.

Biodegradable Plastic

There are two categories of biodegradable plastic, and only one is made from plant materials (bioplastic). The other one is made from petrochemicals (this means fossil fuels).

Oxo-biodegradable plastic is a petroleum-based plastic made from fossil fuels (usually oil and natural gas) with metal salt additives that enables the plastic to degrade when subject to certain environment conditions. This is a two-stage process: following fragmentation, the plastic biodegrades by the action of microorganisms.

Some critics argue that oxo-biodegradable plastics are not actually biodegradable at all, because it is not clear how microorganisms actually break down the microplastics. If polymer residues remain alongside biomass, this would be disintegration rather than biodegradation.

Hydro-biodegradable plastics are plastics made from plant sources such as starch. Hydro-biodegradable plastics tend to degrade and biodegrade somewhat more quickly than oxo-biodegradable ones but the end result is the same – both are converted to carbon dioxide, water and biomass. Hydro-biodegradable plastics can be industrially composted.

PLA (polylactic acid) is the most commonly used bioplastic (polylactic acid) and costs 20% more than regular plastic. PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) is a more temperature resistant bioplastic, and the only bioplastic that will decompose in soil and waterways, but it is more than double the price of regular plastic and less common. PLA will not biodegrade in waterways or the ocean.

 What about Recycling?

Oxo-biodegradable plastics cannot be recycled.

The bioplastic PLA can, in theory, be recycled. However, it is grouped under the plastic resin code #7, or “other” along with all other plastics that do not fit into the 6 major plastic types. (Click here to read about the different plastic categories in more detail). This means it needs to be separated from the regular recycling stream which requires technology such as infrared to be sorted correctly. In fact, PLA plastics often contaminate other plastic recycling steams.

Photo credit: Fiona Moore via Flickr. A PLA 'Ingeo' bioplastic lid. Plastic type #7 (or 'other') is not recyclable.

Photo credit: Fiona Moore via Flickr. A PLA ‘Ingeo’ bioplastic lid. Plastic type #7 (or ‘other’) is not recyclable.

Additives

As with other plastics, bioplastics still require additives to infer specific properties, and these additives may not be biodegradable, or tested for safety. Natureworks, the largest manufacturer of PLA in the world, state on their website “Although PLA has an excellent balance of physical and rheological properties, many additives have been combined with it to further extend the range of properties achievable and thus optimize the material for specific end use applications.” For bottles made with their PLA ‘Ingeo’ plastic, Natureworks suggest these “basic” additives are used:

  • Toner and colourant: without additives ‘Ingeo’ is slightly yellow, and adding a toner can make the plastic colourless and more appealing to customers. Alternatively they may be used to make the plastic a different colour.
  • A reheat additive can be used to make the heating process more efficient whilst molding the bottles.
  • A UV Blocker will be required if the product is sensitive to UV light, or in order to prolong shelf life.
  • Oxygen absorbers can be added to protect products sensitive to oxygen.
  • A slip or process aid can be added to help prevent bottles scuffing and scratching during manufacture, packing and transport.

Anything else?

Manufacturing bioplastics is a complicated and energy-intensive process, and still depends on fossil fuels. In addition to the manufacturing processes themselves, energy is required to power farm machinery needed to sow and harvest crops used as the raw materials, and also for transportation. Fossil fuels are also used to make fertilisers and pesticides to used to increase crop yields.

Another question often raised is whether it is appropriate to use vast areas of land suitable for agriculture to grow crops to make plastic rather than for food production.

What about genetically modified food? NatureWorks, the largest PLA producer in the world, is an American company that uses corn to manufacture bioplastic. 30% of all corn grown in the USA is genetically modified, meaning GM corn is used in the manufacture of NatureWorks bioplastic. Whilst the final products are chemically altered and free from GM products, these bioplastics are still supporting the GM industry.

The Verdict?

Whether we’re talking conventional plastics or bioplastics, there’s nothing green or sustainable about using these materials for a matter of minutes and then throwing it away. Whilst bioplastics may have the potential to be composted and decrease the landfill burden, their manufacture and transportation is still hugely dependent on fossil fuels, and they still contain undeclared additives that may leach into our food, or our soils. The reality is that most of these bioplastics don’t end up in composting facilities, but head to straight to landfill, or worse, end up as litter.

If you truly want to be sustainable, don’t use plastic, and don’t use bioplastics either, especially for single-use disposable items. Simply bring your own.

Zero Waste Week: the Finale

Phew. That was an interesting week, but I’m glad it’s over!

What do you think?!

Before I go into what’s in all the bins in a little more detail, I thought I’d start with the positives and share some of the good stuff we managed to do.

Firstly, I want to tell you about our Zero Waste beer discovery. We went to a friend’s birthday a couple of months back and met a guy who was really into his beer, and had his own draught beer in refillable bottles. I don’t drink beer but my boyfriend does, and I love zero waste, so I got chatting to him about it.

It turns out that there’s a beer shop in Perth that sells draught beer in returnable containers. They have up to 8 beers on tap (the selection changes), and they have 1litre or 2litre glass refillable containers. You pay a deposit for the container, buy the beer per litre, and once it’s finished you can return the bottle and buy a refill.

The machine uses carbon dioxide so the sealed bottles last a couple of months. Once open, they need drinking within 24 hours. My boyfriend assures me that won’t be a problem!

Beer Fridge Side
Beer Guy
waste free beer poured

We’ve bought two 1 litre containers. The shop is quite close to where my boyfriend’s parents live, so we’re confident we should be able to get there reasonably often. Unfortunately in the excitement my boyfriend managed to finish off the beer before Zero Waste Week actually began, but it was the challenge that forced us to go and check the place out, so it still deserves a mention!

My boyfriend headed to our local farmers market at the weekend for eggs (we shop here as the seller takes back the empty boxes for re-using) and this mystery Christmassy-looking sack:Bulk macadamias returnable sack

Intrigued? Can you guess what’s inside?
Bulk macadamias

No, not Maltesers. Macadamia nuts!

We bought a macadamia nut cracker a while back (they need a heavier duty nut cracker than other nuts) so that we could crack our own nuts. These shelled macadamia nuts are $5.50/kg and locally grown. There’s nothing better than buying local. I chatted to the guy and he said he can take the sack back for reusing.

nutcracker

My toothbrush-soaking experiment was a success. After soaking for 12 hours, i was able to pull all off the bristles out. Interestingly, I discovered each bristle clump is held in place by a tiny piece of metal. As I lack a compost bin, the bamboo handle is heading for the worm farm. I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to eat it, but if I leave it long enough it might decompose. Seems silly to buy bamboo toothbrushes and send them to landfill.

Bamboo toothbrush parts

That was the good news; here’s the bit about the waste we generated. Trying to commit to zero waste is hard work – even if I have the best of intentions, the world around me hasn’t quite got the message. Particularly the postman. Not that it’s his fault, of course, but on Friday a whole heap of letters arrived in the mail. More envelope windows and unnecessary paper. Plus one item was wrapped in plastic!

ZeroWasteWeek post

I finished off our honey, which left me with an empty jar. I buy things in jars very rarely, and probably generate less than one jar a month. But this jar was emptied this week, so I thought I’d mention it, even though it’s not technically waste as I save the jars for reusing.

Zeo Waste Week empty Jar

The Zero Waste Week Bin Audit

In one week, here’s what we generated:

The worm farm caddy: this took all the kitchen scraps excluding onion and citrus peel, eggshells and any bulky.food waste. I also put scrap paper like envelopes, toilet roll tubes, cotton buds, hair and floor sweepings. In one week this container was completely filled. I’m not sure the worm farm could cope with that much organic matter every week, however.

The bokashi bin: this took the citrus peel, onion skins, eggshells and bulky food waste that didn’t fit in the worm farm caddy. There’s still plenty of room left so I think I’ll be able to keep using this for several weeks before it’s at capacity.

The recycling bin: in addition to the wine bottle from Wednesday, we gained another wine bottle at the weekend. There is also a handful of receipts, some glossy paper from the post extravaganza that I didn’t want to put in the worm farm, and a milk bottle top.

The rubbish bin: we reduced this to a handful of plastic toothbrush bristles and the plastic milk bottle label. I’m not sure whether this would be recyclable, so it went in the bin.

I thought it might be interesting to break down what plastic we consumed this week:

The plastic tally:

1 x milk bottle top (metal lid but plastic lined)
1 x milk bottle label
Toothbrush bristles
One plastic wrapper covering an item we received in the post (it was promotional material, but was addressed to us).

The milk bottle lid goes for recycling, as does the plastic bag (our local supermarket has a bin for plastic bags and food packaging, so what little we get we save up and take there).

In fact, this is our third collection of plastic since the start of January this year:

plastic waste

Zero Waste Week: What I Learned

This challenge wasn’t easy, and it took a lot of extra effort to reduce our waste to this level. It isn’t something we could currently keep up longer than a week or so either. We deliberately didn’t buy things that we knew would generate extra waste – fine for a week but not practical long-term.

So what were the big lessons?

  • We use too much paper. We get too many receipts, we receive too much in the mail, and it just seems to miraculously appear. Paper also makes the flat look messy, so if we can reduce our paper use, we can have a tidier flat. Definitely something to work on!
  • I’m not going back to sending food scraps to landfill. I’m going to investigate whether I can use the local school compost bin, or figure out a system for making the bokashi bin a permanent fixture. I just can’t send all that potential compost to landfill!
  • There’s nothing like a challenge to force you to do all those things you’ve been meaning to do but never quite get round to!

Now I want to hear from you! How do you think I did? Did you try a Zero Waste Week too, or are you tempted to give it a go? Do you have any other tips or ideas to keep waste down? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Zero Waste Week…the Halfway Point

I’m halfway through my Zero Waste Week challenge, and things have been going pretty waste-free, although I must confess – some waste has managed to sneak in!

Things went well on Tuesday. I received my second thermal paper BPA-lined eftpos receipt (to tell if a receipt is printed on thermal paper, you can rub a coin or your fingernail on the paper – if it darkens then it is thermal paper). Much smaller than the Post Office one, but still waste.

receipt 2

No more waste came until Tuesday night, when one of our bamboo toothbrushes died. The thing with bamboo toothbrushes is that they decide when they’re fit for the bin, by releasing all of their bristles into your mouth. Yuck. Loose bristles are not pleasant. Once the bristles start falling out there’s no way I’m going to continue using it. Seriously, it’s that bad. Usually the toothbrush would end up in the bin – ironic as it’s meant to be environmentally friendly. Thing is, I can’t compost it because of the plastic bristles. What I could do is chop the head off and try to compost the handle. Alternatively, I’m trying to soak the brush to see if I can loosen the rest of the bristles, so I can separate them and save on waste.

The old toothbrush on the left, and a new one

The old toothbrush on the left, and a new one

Soaking to see if I can loosen the bristles and compost the wooden part.

Soaking to see if I can loosen the bristles and compost the wooden part.

Wednesday came, and we received our toilet roll order – all 48 rolls of it! The box will get reused, and the paper and rolls get added to the wormfarm.Toilet RollI should probably add that my zero waste week does not extend to toilet paper. I’m still using regular toilet paper in all its single-use disposable glory! Even if it isn’t being sent to landfill, technically it’s waste as it’s going into the toilet, but reusable cloths are not happening in this house any time soon. Even if I was up for it (and I’m not), there is no way I’d convince my boyfriend!

I wonder if I had a compost bin whether I could/would compost my toilet paper?

We also received our first mail of the week – a letter with a label for changing the address on my boyfriend’s drivers license. In the past I’d recycle it, but now I’m going to feed it to the worms. What I’m wondering is what should happen to the cellophane window on the envelope?

post

There seems to be some debate about whether the windows break down in a worm farm. According to this discussion, some do, and some don’t. In the interest of Zero Waste Week I’m going to give it a go.

We invited our neighbour over for dinner on Wednesday, and of course I cooked. I made everything from scratch: dahl, aloo gobi, coconut rice (I’m stlll trying to perfect a DIY coconut milk recipe) and parathas. As I’ve said many times, I buy everything in bulk, but for some reason we had a bag of wholemeal flour, and I finished it off.

parathas
empty flour bag

(I must have had it for a while, because I notice it was technically out-of-date: ah well!) So what did I do with it? Shredded it up into strips, to make wormfarm bedding! These guys have to have somewhere to rest in between all this extra eating I’m making them do!

worm bedding

Whilst cooking, I had to send my boyfriend out for last minute ingredients. As well as the things I requested (he took some old bags to use) he also bought some milk, and some completely illegal and unrequested chocolate licorice managed to sneak its way in. Not waste, but definitely a waste of money! That white bag cost almost $4!

Wed Shopping

We try to buy our milk from Sunnydale, a local dairy that accept the glass bottles back for refilling. Sadly, they can’t take the lids back. Our local store used to stock this but has recently stopped. They sell a different brand of milk in glass which doesn’t operate a bottle-return policy. If it’s an emergency, we buy this one. Well, my boyfriend does. I make my own nut milk which is always plastic and waste-free!

Luckily, Sunnydale use the same glass bottles as the other dairy, so we sneakily take them back to Sunnydale for reusing. Unfortunately this other brand uses a nasty plastic sticker which we have to peel off in order to take the bottle back (Sunnydale request you keep their labels on). So once the milk is finished, we will be left with a plastic sticker and a metal lid.

I did think about asking our neighbour not to bring anything (because I was worried about the waste!) but in the end I decided not to…and he came to the door with a bottle of red wine! We rarely drink wine at home these days (Glen drinks the occasional beer and I have a really exciting waste-free beer story to share in my next post!) but it is nice to share a bottle with friends. Much better than bringing a box of individually wrapped additive-filled confectionery!

Friend for Dinner

I could have demanded he take the bottle home with him to help make my Zero Waste Challenge look more successful (I bet he would have thought that was weird – as neighbours we share the same bin system!) but I decided that would be cheating. So the wine bottle and lid is our first big waste item.

As the week rolls to an end we have another challenge coming up – we have a friend coming to stay on Friday for a few weeks. (We’ve got a spare room now so we might as well make the most of it!) Not that the friend will be challenging – the challenge will be sticking to the Zero Waste Week rule with an extra (jetlagged) person in the house!

But you know me, I like a challenge, and I’m feeling confident! Looking forward to the end of the week!

Zero Waste Week…The First Day

I have declared this week Zero Waste Week, and I am attempting to generate no waste at home. This means NO landfill rubbish and NO recycling (in case you’re wondering why no recycling, I wrote this post explaining why recycling isn’t the green solution we’re led to believe).

So at the weekend I dusted off the bokashi bin that was donated to me by a friend rather more months ago than I’d like to admit, on the condition that I blogged about it. Better late than never! Most of my food scraps go to my worm farm, but lemon peel, onion skins, eggshells and other bulky fruit and veg waste usually go in the bin (the worm farm is pretty small) – and I lament not being able to compost.

Installed Bokashi Bin

Bokashi bin installed in the kitchen. The donated bokashi mix comes in plastic – if this is something I want to keep up with, I’m going to have to learn how to make my own!

Not any more! Or at least, not this week. I’m going to give the bokashi bin a go (I will write a blog about it once I’ve used it for a while and can offer some wisdom!) and see how that works out for me.

So here is my bin system emptied and ready to go on Monday morning:

The Clean Bin Project

The black metal bin is for recycling. The paper-lined bin is for food waste – I lined it out of habit. We use the community newspaper to line once it’s been read. If it doesn’t need changing, then it doesn’t count as waste! The small caddy is scraps for the worm farm, and lined with Who Gives A Crap? toilet paper wrappers (read about that here). The bokashi bin is the shiny new addition to the line-up.

And we’re off!

I thought it might be useful to give you some context as we start the week, so here is a picture of my fridge:

Monday Fridge

Our vegetable box was delivered last Thursday (we currently get one large box a fortnight) so there’s still some fruit and left. The saucepan contains soup, the tin contains a cake and the glass Pyrex containers hold leftovers. The milk bottles actually contain cashew milk which I made on Monday morning (the recipe is here).

Note: yes, some of my veggies are in plastic containers! Slowly but surely I’m replacing them with glass and stainless steel, but sometimes I still have to use the plastic ones. I never use them for leftovers, only raw veg that will be washed, peeled and cooked.

I can’t really take a picture of our pantry as we no longer have one since the move! At some point we will get something, but for now half of my jars are living in a storage crate, which doesn’t make for good photos.

The pantry did need some restocking though, so yesterday morning I headed to Fremantle. Before shopping I met a friend for coffee (dine-in of course!); fortunately the shop only print receipts on request so I was still waste free.

I headed to a different shop to pick up some things – using my own bags. They didn’t print receipts unless requested either. I reused paper bags that I brought from home: I’m reusing until they disintegrate/get stained/turn gross, and then they will go to the worm farm.

groceryshopping day 1

Once home, these get stored in glass jars…except the brazil nuts and coconut, which got turned into cake.

Cake Prep
Cake

I used greaseproof paper to line the tin (I don’t always, but for this cake it’s necessary). I tend to clean my paper and reuse it if I can (as much because I’m too lazy to cut new circle shapes every time); usually I only get a couple of uses and this was the second go. If I can’t salvage the paper, it will go to the worms.

Cake paper

The Dilemma

I needed to go to the Post Office to send two parcels, and for this I received a receipt. My dilemma is this: it’s a thermal till receipt (you can tell because it’s slightly shiny and sort-of slippery) and thermal till receipts are coated with BPA. I’ve talked about why BPA is bad before, and it’s often recommended that we don’t recycle thermal till paper as it ends up as toilet paper, food packaging or even napkins, and these become contaminated with BPA.

Some people argue that because it is such a small amount it doesn’t contaminate the waste stream significantly. I have to confess, I currently recycle my receipts. But put them in the worm farm? Hmhm…I’m not sure I want to do that. So whether it goes to landfill or to recycling, it’s still in the waste pile.

I think I need to get into the habit of refusing receipts, and leaving them in the shop!Thermal Receipt BPA

What I’ve learned so far…

  • It feels good getting the bokashi bin going. I hate throwing all that food waste in the bin, especially as it’s mostly organic and I’ve heard that organic waste makes better compost!
  • My default action is definitely to go for the bin! When I sweep the floor, or wipe food from the counters I head for the bin rather than the worm farm,and this is making me think twice.
  • I need to start training myself to refuse till receipts. Practice makes perfect! We definitely have far too much paper in our house.
  • I have a feeling that the worm farm is going to struggle with the extra waste (particularly cardboard) and I’m going to have a think about whether I can steathily install a compost bin in the lawn area at the front of our building.

So far so good! I’m midway through Tuesday and nothing has gone disasterously wrong yet…but will it continue to go swimmingly as the week progresses?

I’ll keep you posted!

A Challenge: My (Upcoming) Zero Waste Week

I’m always talking about waste. I hate waste – it’s such a…well, a waste. Plastic-free and zero waste; these are two of the ideals that I aspire to at home. The plastic-free thing I’ve pretty much got sussed these days, excluding the occasional no-option-but-to-get-it-with-some-kind-of-plastic-included or the arghh-there’s-sneaky-plastic-underneath-the-cardboard purchases. But zero waste? How am I doing with that?

When I first started living without plastic two years ago, the first challenge was to find alternatives packaged in glass, paper, tin and cardboard. It was easy enough, but the amount of recycling I was producing went through the roof! This was because I hadn’t actually cut down on my packaging as such, I’d just changed the materials my goods were packaged in – and these were a lot bulkier and heavier than the plastic had been. I may have cut out the plastic – but I didn’t feel much more sustainable.

Then there’s my love of simple living and my interest in minimalism. I like living in a small space, but I have a tendency towards hoarding. I hate waste, remember?! This means I hate to get rid of things. Storing things that might be useful needs space though, and creates more housework, clutter and time spent complaining about the mess. My conclusion: if I can’t get rid of things easily, I realised I needed to prevent them entering the house in the first place! And yes, that includes packaging.

When I found out that only 20% of the glass that is put into recycling bins in Perth is actually recycled (as roadbase – the rest goes to landfill) – well that was the final straw. It made me realise I needed to rethink packaging altogether, and my zero waste dream began.

Zero Waste Dreaming

I’ve made some great progress since those days. I made a worm farm to deal with most of my food scraps; I shop at the bulk bin stores (bringing my own bags, jars and bottles) and I use returnable containers as much as possible (this post is all about my progress towards a zero waste kitchen). We finally got a junk mail sticker for our letterbox to stop receiving all of those unnecessary catalogues.

Despite our progress, however, our recycling bin seems perpetually full. We also still need a bin for the kitchen, because the worms just don’t eat all the food scraps we produce. Partly because we produce too many, but also because they don’t like onions, citrus peel and eggshells. Fusspots.

I thought an audit of our waste might be useful, to see what we’re actually chucking away and to see if there’s anything we can do about it. Sometimes it’s good to question our habits, and see if we can make changes. If I can reduce our waste permanently as a result, then that would be great.

So next week I’ve declared zero waste week.

Open Trash by DGriebeling via Flickr

The goal is to attempt to produce zero waste for the week. Waste is anything that leaves the flat. This means rubbish (landfill) and recycling. Recycling is still waste, and we should all be trying to recycle as little as possible! Food waste given to the worms in the worm farm does not count as waste. In the interests of hygiene I can’t just refuse to empty my bin should it need emptying, so every day, starting from Monday, I’m going to record what (if anything) gets discarded. By Sunday I’ll have compiled a Wall of Shame with a list of all the things that I couldn’t deal with myself and had to dispose of…and that will give me some new goals to work towards!

It’s always nice to have company, and I’d love it if you joined me! I’ll be updating my progress on Facebook and Twitter, and if you want to give it a go I’d love you to share your stories too! Of course you can comment here as well, and if you just want to sit back and watch I’ll write another blog post once it’s over. But that would be boring!

What do you say? Want to give it a go? C’mon, it’ll be fun! Who’s with me?!