Week 26 – Oral Health

Sometimes it feels a bit like we are locked in some epic struggle in our efforts to transform the bathroom into a rubbish free zone. We have won many battles: cleaning products, soap, shampoo and shaving to name a few, but the battle over oral health is still raging! This week I went to the dentist to have a filling replaced that had fallen out. During the course of the check up the dentist asked if there had been any major changes in my diet or the way I looked after my teeth as there were some tiny holes appearing on the side of my teeth. It was at that point that the assistant outed me as being one half of the couple doing the rubbish free year, and that she had heard that we were making our own toothpaste. In what felt remarkably like confession, I told all, and surprisingly did receive a type of absolution. My dentist was not too concerned with the homemade toothpaste pointing out that baking soda is still used in some brands of toothpaste, albeit a bit concerned with the overly abrasive nature of the salt. Her main issue was the lack of fluoride, which I’ve since discovered is quite a contentious issue. The blessing and curse of the internet becomes rapidly apparent when one tries to get to the bottom of these sorts of debates and after going back and forth I have decided to put my faith in my dentist and fluoride my teeth. I was able to buy from the pharmacy 100 fluoride tablets for $10 which I dissolve in water and swish about my mouth for two minutes each night. I’ll head back before the end of the challenge in six months and get an update on whether that has helped.

Toothpaste is only half the story though as the toothbrush saga is yet to reach a satisfactory conclusion. In other blogs we have mentioned some of the struggles but just to re-cap: When the challenge started we had new toothbrushes which lasted about three months and are now being used in the laundry for cleaning. Although this only equals four toothbrushes each over the year we are keen to be as close to zero as possible so the search started for a ‘landfill destined free’ toothbrush and packaging. Our initial attempt involved getting wooden toothbrushes from Brooks in Switzerland that are able to be put in the compost to break down. Unfortunately these came in solid number six plastic containers, were quite uncomfortable to use and having a straight handle it was difficult to reach the wisdom teeth. Next stop was Preserve toothbrushes from Boston, USA. They are made from recycled yoghurt containers, are really nice to use, clean well, and when finished with can be posted back to the manufacturer to be recycled into picnic tables. However, the obvious issue of carbon miles became even more obvious with the inclusion of a hand written note from the customer relations person at Preserve who suggested we buy local rather than having a single toothbrush shipped from Boston to New Zealand. Alternatively, we could buy in bulk in the same way we have for the dental floss and become distributors, however, this doesn’t really solve the carbon footprint issue. Ideally it would be great if the local market was able to support the local manufacture of such a toothbrush here – if you are involved in the manufacturing industry feel free to steal this idea!

Continuing on from last week’s medical waste theme, this week our lovely 12yr old dog, Jess, needed a visit to the vet due to a skin infection The vet suggested a course of antibiotics. Unfortunately, the tablets come in a foil and plastic composite, so to show our commitment to being rubbish free we had her put down to avoid the waste…no, no, just joking…Jess has lost her status as rubbish free dog but remains very much alive with a cleared up skin infection and the packaging has been added to our collection.

Week 16 – dollars and cents

We often get asked whether it is working out to be financially advantageous living in a way that avoids landfill rubbish. It is a difficult question to answer as we don’t have a baseline from which to compare. We were living in Canada for a year prior to starting the challenge, where we found the cost of living to be significantly lower than NZ, and the year prior to that had a number of different household situations such as living alone, with flatmates and with borders at various times. However, despite this we do feel that we are probably saving money.

Initially I felt that our new lifestyle was going to cause us to hemorrhage money as we started looking for alternatives for packaged products. For example, we found a metal toothpaste tube, which can be taken to the scrap metal dealer, but it costs $7 for about half the quantity of your generic $3 plastic tube. However, as the challenge has gone on we’re finding alternatives to the alternatives, we now make our own toothpaste out of baking soda and salt, which is resulting in fiscal savings. A lot of the alternatives require an initial more expensive outlay which is well re-couped over the lifetime of the product, an obvious example being recyclable batteries. We bought Eneloop recyclable batteries because they are like disposable batteries in that they come ready charged but can also be recharged over 1000 times through their lifespan (www.eneloop.co.nz). Similarly, we bought a bulk 20 litre container of laundry detergent from B_E_E as it came in a recyclable container and it is looking like it will last us at least 18 months. These sort of outlays initially hit hard but when costed out over the lifetime will result in savings. Interestingly our food bill has not changed in total although the receivers of our money have. Although we are not buying items like biscuits and muesli bars we are spending more on butter and other baking items so it seems to be swings and roundabouts. Just this week we were introduced to a website called Simple Saving (www.simplesavings.co.nz) which has thousands of tips on how to save money, many of which also seem to save packaging and landfill waste – another example of how simply reducing packaging ends up having other positive spin off effects.

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.