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5 Bad Habits I Shook by Going Zero Waste

Often when we talk about the changes we’ve made since deciding to refuse single-use plastic, reduce our waste and/or live more sustainably, we focus on the products we buy (or no longer buy). There are plenty of articles online about ‘zero waste swaps’ and indeed, I’ve written a few myself.

I thought it might be interesting to change the focus slightly, and rather than talk about products, talk about habits. Now I’ve still got plenty of bad habits to shake (going zero waste does not make you a perfect human, alas), but luckily for me, embracing low waste living has enabled me to shake a few.

Throwing my food scraps in the trash.

That bin went to landfill, and I just thought that the landfill was a great big compost pile. I found out later it is most definitely not. It’s an engineered (and expensive to construct) depression in the ground that entombs waste without air, and creates a lot of methane instead.

Then there’s the fact that food makes for a stinky bin and attracts flies (particularly in hot climates), and needs hauling to the kerb every few days. Did you know that between 20 – 40% of everything the average householder throws away is food scraps?

Not to mention, I was throwing away my food scraps, and then buying plastic-wrapped bags of compost at the garden centre for my plants!

Setting up a worm farm, and then a compost bin, reduced my rubbish bin to almost nothing, solved the ‘how do I line my bin without plastic?’ problem (if there’s nothing stinky and wet going in the bin, it doesn’t need a liner) and gave me free nutrients for the garden.

There are so many solutions to dealing with food scraps. There are options whether you’ve got a garden, a balcony, or no outside space at all. There are options even if you can’t be bothered setting up and managing a system yourself.

Find more info here: How to compost without a compost bin.

Being ‘in love’ with my recycling bin.

Yep, I used to think that recycling was the best thing ever. (And pretty much that I was the best thing ever for filling it to the brim!) I saw that chasing arrow recycling symbol as my ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card for packaging. ‘Oh it’s okay. It’s recyclable!’

It simply never occurred to me that I could say no to unnecessary packaging, refuse the excess, reduce what I did use and even rethink some of my choices for less wasteful alternatives.

As I’ve said often, recycling is a great place to start. But when I realised it was not the place to stop, and there was so much more I could be doing, that was when I really began to reduce my waste and my footprint.

Recycling – and learning how to recycle properly rather than chucking everything in and hoping for the best – that’s the first step. But it’s better to have an empty landfill bin and an empty recycling bin than an empty landfill bin and a recycling bin that’s overflowing.

Accepting free samples of everything.

I loved anything that was ‘free’. In fact, if somewhere was offering freebies, I’d quite often take one and then circle back round to take a second one. Because, free!

Cringe.

Whether it was sachets of moisturiser with real gold flakes in them (yes this was a real sample I once accepted), scented foot odour reducing insoles (again, a real thing) or any ‘free’ miniature or travel-sized thing whatsoever from any hotel, I was snaffling these thing up.

The old me thought all this stuff was great. It was duly popped in the cupboard and forgotten about. Yes, most of these freebies I didn’t even use. The new me just shakes her head at the old me.

What about all the resources? The pointlessness? The waste? The perpetuation of the cycle of more samples and free stuff?

Let’s just say, I don’t do that any more. I actually get more satisfaction now from refusing stuff than I ever did from taking it. (The only freebies I get excited about these days are my friends’ excess garden produce and cuttings from their plants which I’d like to grow in my garden.)

Taking ‘eco-friendly’ labels at face value.

Even before I went plastic-free and low waste, I’d buy all of the eco-friendly products. It was pretty easy, because so many products are labelled ‘eco-friendly’!

(Or if not ‘eco-friendly’, the equally eco-friendly sounding ‘green’. Bonus points – in my mind – for having an image of a green leaf on the packaging.)

It was only after I began to reduce my waste that I began to question these labels, and stopped taking them at face value.

There are no independently verified certification scheme for labels like ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘green’. (Or ‘biodegradable’ for that matter, but I won’t go into that now. If you want to read more, you’ll find my post ‘is biodegradable plastic: is it really eco-friendly‘ a helpful read.)

Anyone can write labels like ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘green’ on their packaging. And they do!

Rather than let the person who designed the packaging tell me that a product is eco-friendly, I now prefer to do my own research. If a company is truly environmentally responsible, committed to sustainability and equitable in the way they do business, they will be able to back up their claims.

They will be transparent, happy to answer questions, eager to find out answers that they don’t already have, and keen to talk more!

If ever I write to a company claiming to be eco-friendly, and receive responses that are cagey, defensive or hostile, I choose not to support those companies.

That’s not to say I can always find all the answers. But I make an effort and try to be conscious in my choices.

Waiting for ‘somebody else to do something about that.’

Before I decided to reduce my single-use and other plastic, I was the person picking all the overpackaged things off the supermarket shelves and muttering how ridiculous it was, and how somebody should do something about that, whilst piling those same things into my trolley.

I thought it was up to the manufacturers to change their packaging. I thought it was up to the stores not to sell these items. It did not cross my mind that I also had a role to play in this, and a way to influence change – I could just not buy them.

I don’t think it is solely the responsibility of individuals to create change. But we buy things and support (or don’t support) brands and companies, and companies pay attention. We can apply pressure, start conversations, write letters, share the good and try to hold the bad to account.

I don’t have the empirical evidence, but I’m pretty sure that nobody ever successfully influenced change by muttering under their breath. Nor by doing the exact thing they were complaining about.

It feels so much better to be doing something, and trying, however small that ‘something’ might be.

Embracing a life with less waste might not have ironed out all my flaws, but it’s definitely helped me shake some bad habits along the way.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What bad habits (if any) have you kicked through reducing your rubbish and trying to live more sustainably? Any bad habits you’re trying to shake that are still a work-in-progress? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

How (and Where) To Recycle In Perth

Being a better recycler takes a little more effort. There tends to be different drop-off points for different things, and just because something is recyclable, doesn’t mean it is collected at our kerbsides.

If we want to be better recyclers (and of course we do!), we definitely shouldn’t limit ourselves to kerbside recycling. So much more can be recycled! The kerbside bin is a tiny part of the whole story.

I thought I’d use the place where I live, Perth, as an example of where different things can be recycled (and where I drop things off). Whilst you might not live in Perth, hopefully you’ll have similar services and options in your own towns.

The Yellow Lidded Kerbside Recycling Bin

For years in Perth, the different councils and different Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs – the place where the recyclables go to be sorted) have had different rules for what can go into the yellow-lidded recycling bin. This makes recycling very confusing, as people move suburbs or visit friends and family and suddenly whole new sets of rules apply.

For the first time ever, in August 2018 the three MRFs in Perth agreed to be consistent with what they accept into the yellow lidded kerbside bin.

The current recyclables accepted are aluminium and steel cans, empty glass jars and bottles, plastic containers and bottles (plastics 1 and 2 are the most valuable), cardboard and paper (including paperboard cartons).

The following are all considered types of contamination (whilst it is hard to believe, one MRF reported receiving 400 soiled nappies in the recycling stream in a single day):

Specific information about specific materials that many people think are recycable – but are not (at least in Perth):

Aerosols: whilst made of recyclable metals these are no longer accepted in the yellow lidded recycling bins. This is because aerosols should be put in the recycling bins empty, but many aren’t. Aerosols have caused 5 small explosions in the compactor of one of the MRF operators over the last year. There is also the concern that people are putting all types of aerosol into the recycling bin, including butane canisters which are potentially extremely hazardous.

(Aerosols can be taken to one of the 13 Household Hazardous Waste facilities throughout WA for recycling.)

Coffee Cups: although a similar material to milk cartons, coffee cups are not recyclable through kerbside because of their shape (they would not be sorted by the sorting screen), and also because these materials would represent a contaminate in the cardboard stream.

UHT Milk and Juice Containers: if sliver lined, these cartons are not recyclable through the kerbside system. These materials are composite packaging. Paperboard milk cartons which do not have a silver lining are acceptable in the kerbside recycling bin.

Meat trays: these are not recyclable because currently it is too confusing to know what the material is therefore if it is or is not recyclable. There may be an issue with raw meat contaminating the plastic material also.

Tops on or off containers? – Containers and bottles must be empty, and the lid can only be placed inside if it is the same type of plastic. The lids are not recyclable, they end up as contamination if they are in the recycling bin as they are too small to be collected.

Shredded paper: this should not go in the recycling bin. The shredded paper is too small to be captured and it contaminates the glass stream.

Recycling Soft Plastic: Redcycle

Soft plastic cannot go in the yellow lidded recycling bin, but it can still be recycled via the many REDcycle collection points at Woolworths and Coles. Soft plastic needs to be clean and dry, and sticky soft plastic (like stickers and sellotape) isn’t accepted as it gums up the machines. You’ll find more details on the REDcycle website: redcycle.net.au

Here’s a comprehensive list of what soft plastic REDcycle does and does not currently accept:

Recycling Hard-to-Recycle Plastic

Not recyclable in the yellow-lidded recycling bin or REDcycle? That doesn’t mean it is not recyclable!

Terracycle

Terracycle run free and paid recycling programs for various types of difficult-to-recycle packaging and other products. Currently in Australia their free programs are for: contact lenses and packaging, beauty products, mail satchels, various coffee pods, and dental care recycling.

The paid programs (which are usually free for consumers to use and are paid for by businesses or workplaces) are for: beard and hair nets, binders/folders, cigarette waste, media storage, office supplies, plastic gloves, safety equipment and snack wrappers.

The Terracycle website has a map detailing local collection points: http://www.terracyclemap.com/

They are often at schools, many individuals also host collection points, as well as ethical businesses such as local bulk stores. The two most local options to me are Urban Revolution at 284 Albany Highway, Victoria Park, and Perth City Farm at 1 City Farm Place, East Perth.

CLAW Environmental

CLAW Environmental is a plastics processing facility at 5 Forge Street, Welshpool that will accept almost any type of plastic (the only exception is black polystyrene meat trays). In particular, they recycle expanded polystyrene. They are open Monday to Friday and will accept drop-offs from the public.

Recycling Hubs

My absolute favourite recycling hub is the one at Perth City Farm, in East Perth. As well as being a drop-off location for Terracycle, they accept many other hard-to-recycle items, including craft items, corks, CDs and DVDs, lightbulbs, printer cartridges, batteries and eWaste.

Other hubs include some libraries and local council offices (the Town of Victoria Park has a few recycling drop-off bins in their admin building), some Bunnings stores, and Ikea.

Other Useful Places to Recycle

Textiles: I take my non-compostable, completely worn out textiles to the Perth CBD H&M store for recycling. It’s a free service, and I figure taking my old clothing is the least they can do, considering they pump so many textiles (the majority being plastic fibres) into the world.

eWaste: Most local councils offer a free eWaste collection service for computers, televisions and IT equipment a couple of times a year, otherwise Transfer Stations usually accept eWaste. Some businesses such as Officeworks also have collection points. Total Green Recycling is a local Perth-based electronics recycling company with good ethics.

Glass: I’ve talked countless times about how glass put into yellow-lidded recycling bins in Perth is not recycled back into glass. It is crushed into a grey powder and companies are paid to take it away and use it for road base. The reason for this is the nearest glass recycling facility is in Adelaide, in South Australia. If you’d really like your glass recycled back into glass, Tamala Park Landfill actually collect glass and truck it to Adelaide.

Planet Ark run an Australia-wide database for recycling, so if need to find out if something is recyclable, and how to go about actually recycling it, check out their website: recyclingnearyou.com.au

Now I’d love to hear from you! If you live in Perth, do you know any other useful recycling hubs or destinations for other materials? If you’re from outside Perth, what options do you have near you?  How does your kerbside recycling differ from ours? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

How To Be A Better Recycler (in 8 Simple Steps)

I don’t love recycling. I’d much rather things didn’t need to be recycled in the first place, either because I’ve avoided them or because they are being reused exactly as they are. Much better to refill a jam jar than for it to be picked up from my kerbside, driven to a resource recovery centre, separated, crushed, melted down and manufactured back into a new jam jar.

Much as I don’t love recycling, it’s a necessity. We all recycle things.

When we start out on our waste reducing journey, recycling is the perfect place to start, because recycling is much better than landfill.

Down the track, we learn to reduce our recycling. But recycling doesn’t drop to zero.

So if we are inevitably going to recycle things, let’s be the best recyclers that we can be. Recycling correctly is better than recycling incorrectly.

Whether you’re a plastic-free or zero waste newbie, or whether you’ve been on the journey for a while, there’s probably the opportunity for you to be a better recycler. Here’s 8 tips to consider.

1. Get informed on what can be recycled where you live

There’s a big difference between ‘theoretically recyclable’ and ‘actually recycled’. Lots of things can be recycled in theory, but they aren’t – because it’s too expensive to process, there’s not enough volume for it to be viable, or there’s not enough demand for the recycled product.

Companies want us to think that their products are recyclable and so they splash recycling logos all over the packaging. But if it’s not a material that is recyclable in your area, it won’t be recycled, however much both you and the company who produced the packaging want it to be.

You need to find out what’s recyclable in your area. What’s recyclable overseas or even in the next town isn’t necessarily what’s recyclable for you.

If you have kerbside recycling, it is your local council that provides the service (either themselves, or contracted out). Contact them to find out what can and cannot be recycled. They’ll probably have information on their website, but you can also call and ask to speak to the waste officer.

2. Follow the Rules!

Recycling is different everywhere, and the rules that your council or recycling provider tell you to follow are the ones that you need to follow. If you see something that seems like a much better idea on the internet but goes against what your local council says to do, don’t be tempted!

3. Clean your recyclables

Whether your council tells you to or not, it’s always better to rinse out your dirty recyclables. (Use the water at the end of your washing-up, and give them a quick rinse.) There’s a chance that someone somewhere might have to handle them, or breathe in the air where they’re processed and stored.

It might not be necessary for the machinery, but it is better for the people who work in the industry. Dried-on fermented cat food or sour milk never increased the value of recyclables, ever.

4. Check for updates regularly

What’s recyclable now isn’t necessarily the same as what was recyclable 6 months ago, and it might change again 6 months into the future. That’s because recyclables are commodities, and their value increases and falls with supply and demand. Many materials recovery facilities sell recyclables using short-term contracts, maybe as little as 3 months.

Fluctuating markets affect price, and if something isn’t valuable enough to recycle, it won’t be recycled.

Don’t assume that just because you checked the council recycling guidelines once in 1997 that the information you remember from then is still relevant today. It probably won’t be! It is much better practice to check in with your local council every three months or so, to find out what’s changed.

5. Look for alternative solutions (beyond kerbside recycling)

Recycling isn’t limited to kerbside collection systems. Plenty of things can be recycled at drop-off points provided by your council or at collection bins at businesses and more responsible retailers. Textiles, light bulbs, paint, scrap metal, printer cartridges, eWaste (old electronics) and oil can all be recycled.

As well as your council website, these national recycling databases have information for where to take recycables:

recyclingnearyou.com.au (Australia)

earth911.com (USA)

recycleforscotland.com (Scotland)

recycleforwales.org.uk (Wales)

recyclenow.com (England)

6. Don’t wishcycle

Wishcycling is when we put something in the recycling bin and hope it will be recycled, even though we know the recycling bin isn’t the proper place for it. Don’t do it! (Yes, we all want everything to be recyclable and we all feel guilty about landfill. But wishcycling isn’t the answer!)

Recycling properly can take a little more work, to find out where to go and then drop the item off. In the scheme of things, it isn’t a very big ask.

I was once told by the guide of a tour of a materials recovery facility, that the craziest thing he ever saw in a yellow-lidded kerbside recycling bin was a car door. Of course, being made of metal, a car door is completely recyclable. But it isn’t meant to go in the kerbside recycling bin! The materials recovery facility is not set up to deal with that kind of material, and incorrect materials damage machinery. The car door could have been taken to a scrap metal recycler instead.

Take the time to find out the best place for the item you want to recycle. And if you really can’t find a place to take the item to be recycled where you live, accept that it has to go in the landfill bin.

(Your next step is to figure out how to avoid that item again in the future.)

7. Less Recycling is Better

When I say ‘be a better recycler’ I do not mean ‘recycle more’. Less recycling is better. That’s less trucks on the roads, less machinery sorting materials, less energy spent processing our recyclables, less resources consumed.

An empty recycling bin is better than a full recycling bin.

Yes, at the start of our journey we all start out with a full-to-overflowing recycling bin. Plus if you’re anything like I was, you’re mightily proud of said overflowing recycling bin.

It’s a journey, and one that starts with maximum recycling works towards minimum recycling.

First we learn exactly what goes into our recycling bin, then we learn where to recycle all the other things, and then we start to think about how to reduce our recycling.

Recycling is where we start. It is not where we stop!

8. Refuse, reduce, reuse (before recycling)

Recycling is only one up from landfill; it’s a not-quite-last-but-not-far-off resort. If we’re going to create less recycling, we need to be thinking further up the waste stream. We need to be thinking about refusing, reducing and reusing.

Refusing happens when we avoid the packaging and materials that will need to be recycled in the first place. Choosing loose produce over the prepackaged stuff, not taking a plastic bag, asking for no plastic straw.

Reducing happens when we know we need some kind of packaging, but we try to limit what we take. Opting for the bigger packet rather than the multi-pack of individually wrapped packets, or choosing a single bottle of juice over several juice boxes.

Reusing happens when we either take our own reusables to the shops: produce bags for fruit and veg, containers for trips to the deli and other counters, a coffee cup to the local cafe.

By looking at the packaging in our recycling bin we can see exactly where we might do better, and start looking for solutions, one item at a time.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How does recycling work where you live? Do you have kerbside recycling? Where else can you take your recycables? How have you managed to reduce your non-recycables? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!