Week 20 – Good Old Plastic

We have just had two busy rubbish-free-weeks. Since the rules on what plastic we can recycle have tightened up, we have gone back to making bread and last night we had burritos – with beans we soaked and with tortillas I made from scratch (dry beans, flour etc bought from Bin Inn). If you followed our earlier blogs you’ll know that the tortillas have been a long time coming as I had been previously failing in the rolling out process. Last night’s burritos, while a tasty meal, were still ‘unique’ looking.

I went to the butcher with a container for the first time too. He is a great butcher and uses only brown paper and grease proof paper whenever possible, but for wetter stuff like mince he usually uses a plastic bag (which we had been washing, drying and recycling). So this time I asked him to put it in the container. He didn’t seem to find it odd, which was a relief because it felt odd! When I got home and went to freeze the mince I suddenly wasn’t sure how to do it. I usually divide it up into smaller amounts and put it in seperate plastic bags. Plastic keeps it fresh and doesn’t wick out the moisture when it defrosts. As it was I just used plastic in the end as we still have so much of it in the house. I thought – what on earth did people do before plastic? – and then I thought what a non-premise that is. So much has changed, its just not comparable. Before plastic there was a general store at the end of my street and I would have bought meat fresh everyday. The older people in our street also tell me that a mobile fish monger (just like Mr Whippy) used to come around every night too. Who would need plastic then? Apparently you just used to go out there with a dinner plate and he would put it straight on.

This week’s rubbish includes three small plastic bags from takeaway souvalaki. I guess we weren’t vigilant enough, we saw him initially wrap it in foil and we saw him put it in a brown paper bag and hand it to us… but we missed that in between those two layers he’d put a little plastic bag to stop moisture seeping. Incidentally the plastic bag was really needed, so I don’t know what that says. Maybe we should have eaten it there or taken our own plastic bag? Next time we can use the bags from this time.

We also acquired about a teaspoon full of clipped wire ends when an electrician from Meridian came to fit us with one of those new automatic meter reading devices. When I saw the scale of what he was doing it did cross my mind that we would be left with arm loads of waste but miraculously everything went back together. Next week I think I will continue on the theme of the difficultly of living without plastic because right now I am a bit stuck on how to live without it.

January Trial

We are now in our trial month. We put our rubbish bin outside in the shed. The first time I found it irriating was when I went to put a piece of dental floss in it (still don’t have an alternative to dental floss). Spent ages pouring through recipe books trying to find things we can eat. There will be lots of beans and lentils consumed before we can come up with more ideas. Matthew was disappointed to find out he couldn’t buy most diary products, tofu and falafel. We could eat meat by taking our own bag to the butcher, or recycling the plastic bag it comes in from the delli, but we don’t often buy meat as we find we eat enough of it when we are out. We’ll have a go at making our own naan bread and tortillas, got as far as downloading some recipes.

We also have been busy outside, we are now ready to build a dog poo self composting toilet, aka pit, also handy for fingernails, chiken bones etc. The great thing about it is that it has a lid and is rodent proof (we jut bought a recycled plastic bin and cut the bottom out of it). We’ll get some sawdust to sprinkle in so it doesn’t get smelly. What else? we bought a bucket – stainless steel for $25! That took will power when we knew we could get a Wharehouse plastic wonder for 99 cents. Maybe we will have that bucket for the rest of our lives!

I got hungry when I was out today and bought a pie, plastic wrap in the bin…

By the way, christmas went well. We gave our nieces and nephews a hand made baking kit and, where possible committed to baking with them and then taking them on a picnic. Seemed to go down well. Oh and we both like our new deoderant from Weleda. Packaged in glass with a spray top. So far so good.

Researching Alternatives

In the lead up to the Rubbish Free Year challenge we are of course trying to create as little rubbish as possible, but there is a persistent myriad of mostly plasticy things filling our bin. The following catergorises the offending items into food, toiletries, stationery and misc. Looking at both the problem and the solution.

Food

Food relentlessly reappears as a rubbish problem every week. Food packaging is our household’s biggest contributor to the landfill, (the food itself is easily dealt with). We have so far come up with several ways of obtaining food without its non-recyclable packaging.

Product comparison: By simply comparing products a solutions may be found. For example I thought buying herbs and spices would require sourcing bulk produce, but upon closer inspection I realized that Gregg’s cardboard box range is completely plastic free. Another problem I assumed was moisturizer, but once I actually checked a few I found one large recyclable plastic #2 bottle that I think should see out the year (or more). Consider loose fruit and veg (with your own bags), tins rather than frozen, glass jars rather than plastic.

Bulk food stores: To make the most of these places you need to be well organised (which we aren’t yet!). Places like Bin Inn provide plastic bags (which defeats the purpose) but its pretty easy to reuse bags or make your own more durable ones. I am also taking my own containers, and refilling with its original contents, e.g refilling an olive oil bottle with olive oil. I am still looking around op shops for big glass jars suitable for housing rice etc. Our local Bin Inn was a place I had meant to go for years, even now we still haven’t actually shopped there, as it seems like such a big deal. But it will be a life saver next year; aside from items like dried fruit, seeds, nuts, flours, rice, pasta they also have honey, jam, soy sauce, bleach, spray n wipe, jif, liquid hand soap… If ‘ethical’, ‘local’, and ‘organic’ are music to your ears then you could try out your local eco grocery store too, we can get a wide range at our local, Piko Wholefoods (corner Kilmore and Barbadoes) http://www.pikowholefoods.co.nz/

Butcher, Baker, Green Grocer: Smaller stores seem to be easier on the packaging. I imagine they would be happy let you take their produce away in your own container, or in something recyclable.

Farmer’s Markets and Organic vege box: A great way to avoid packaging is to get it straight from the source. We are hoping to get cheese this way – because anything else will be a no go. Its cheaper, fresher, local… its all good. If you can get on to a Vege Box Delivery scheme in your neighbourhood then thats the easiest thing of all.

Baking: If all else fails!!! We both like preparing and eating home made food, we just struggle to get organized and to find the time. Things that will fall into this category will be: biscuits, cake, muesli bars, hummus, pesto. We are thinking of having an evening once a week allocated to the task. See how we go, so far I have at least gone out and bought baking tins and measuring equipment…

Abstinence: Yup, there will be certain yummy things that we may just have to do with out 😦

Toiletries

• Toothpaste and deodorant: We found almost 100% recyclable packaging with a natural health companies products, Weleda (bought at the wholefood store).

• Toothbrush: Don’t know yet.

• Toilet paper: So far have just found one company using paper to package, Safe (available at the wholefood store)

• Soap: easy enough to buy in paper, having to by single bars though. Trade Aid soap is packaged in recycled paper and a little waxed paper bag. Cheap too.

• Shampoo and Conditioner: Check for recyclable plastic, or use bulk dispensers. Some quite good brands are available.

• Dental Floss: Don’t know yet.

• Headache pills: Don’t know yet. But honey is good. So is sleep and having a stress free life!

• Shaving: Electric Shaver or blade shave (wow)

• Period products: Mooncup (reuseable cup, comfortable and convenient) washable pads. (I haven’t researched either of these properly yet but I am sure you can buy it all online.

• Make up: check for recyclable packaging. Use less? Google what Cleopatra used? Ask your grandma?

Stationery

• The humble pencil is simple genius

• Pens with refillable cartridges, not disposable ones

• No vivids (permanent markers), try pen, pencil or paint.

• No felt tip pens, try colouring pencils, crayons etc (artist quality products have excellent colours and will last for years)

• Blutack, metal drawing pins and paper clips

• Wooden rulers, steel staplers, card ring-binders etc

• No twink (correction fluid). What did people do before twink?

• No sticky tapes, except for masking tape

• Real brown string, not plastic string

Misc.

In addition to most of the short life span items mentioned above, there are other slow rotating items, that will, over the course of a year give up, empty out, wear out, and break down. Batteries are a great example, instead of continually throwing them we bought a recharger (only $30 on Trade Me). But this is a huge category of products that we are only very recently starting to think about. Many things that used to last for decades, even a life time are now so cheap, and poorly made that we almost think of them as disposable, think about paintbrushes, buckets, seed trays, shoes, water bottles and other longer lasting things like electric jugs, toasters, toys, electronics and clothes. Next time we replace something if we can afford it we will buy quality, non plastic products that might just last us a life time. And if its non plastic its probably recyclable when it does break down. If we can’t afford it we could try buying second hand, to save something from the land fill, and we can sell it if /when we get the money to buy something better.

Planning the challenge

Welcome to our first blog.

When we first decided to commit to a year of living without creating any rubbish I assumed the going would get tough when we started, but the last couple of months have been so full of a myriad of little preparations that I find myself hoping that living rubbish free will be less work than getting ready for it. The barrier is much bigger than we imagined. Preparations have consumed time and forced creative thought as we leap (or lurch?!) from our existing system of doing things to a new way, but hopefully in a years time, we can be working comfortably from a new ‘operating system’.

The following 2 blogs overview of the preparations we have made so far, this one is about ways to ‘re-home’ with rubbish, the second one is about alternatives to products that can’t be recycled.

Re-homing Rubbish

After doing a few “zero waste” google searches, I have learned that there are some people and communities out there who have found ways to re-home 100% of their rubbish. (e.g. this youtube clip of a zero waste apartment building http://nz.youtube.com/watch?v=tOsoXpasexU) This means plastic packaging, gladwrap, styrofoam, toothpaste tubes etc can all be used and recycled. In New Zealand the best I have heard of is Xtreme Waste in the Raglan area who divert 75% of rubbish from the landfill. Obviously the more research we do in this area the easier our year will be. All links, thoughts and comments would be really appreciated, as we are very new to all of this and I know there is a lot of information out there. The following is has widespead relevance, but is particularly relevant to Christchurch readers

  • Paper and cardboard: reuse, recycle, compost
  • Organic matter: compost, bury (eg dog poo, hair, fingernail clippings), feed to dog (dairy produce, meat etc that would attract mice if left in the compost) and chickens, return excess bones to butcher (they have a bone collection service where the bones are used to create other products), burn (we have a logburner which is great for excess green matter when it dries), mulch… I am sure this list will grow.
  • Plastic: reuse (a lot of what we throw is useful, e.g good containers, but we get overwhelmed with the sheer volume, so the trick will be to buy these things more often than we need their containers), recycle (we can do 1’s and 2’s in Christchurch) What else could we do with it A lot of work has gone into finding places that we can shop, and comparing prices etc. Finding toilet paper that comes in paper packaging for example. Checking out the alternatives to toothpaste in a plastic tube etc.
  • Glass: reuse, recycle. Broken glass: I am not sure yet but I am sure there will be somewhere that will take it
  • Metals: reuse, recycle. I am not sure what our curbside recycling will take just yet, but I intend to take the rest to a scrap metal dealer.
  • Textiles: mend things, clothing bins, rag bins (I have heard of these but haven’t sourced one in Christchurch yet),
  • Composite materials (eg computer, jug, old couch): Things that still work can be given to places like the City Mission and New Harvest Trust (two excellent Christchurch charities). Otherwise: Take apart and deal with as above, sell on Trade Me (there are plenty of people out there who want these sorts of things, I guess they are good at fixing things), find places that take specific things, eg Molten Media (a Christchurch community trust) take computers and related gear.

Note: For Christchurch readers check out this link: <http://www.cyberplace.org.nz/environment/recycle.html&gt; It has great information on how and where to recycle particular things. (It is a bit old though, anyone got a better link?) Among other things, it mentions Creative Junk, which is a genius Early Childhood Resource Centre. To shop there you must first join up (about $10) and then its fill a bag for some insubstantial sum, about$3. They sell (bright, shiny, fluffy) industrial off cuts that would otherwise be rubbish and welcome new supplies of reuseable materials from anyone. Wonderful place for creative minds. They are now at 254 Port Hills Road, Hillsborough, phone 376 6292 for opening times and more info.