Wednesday 2 February 2011

Not binning it

My decluttering over recent weeks has turned my attention not only to how much 'stuff' we store permanently in our home, but also to the transient stuff - packaging, junk mail, food waste, personal care items, that sort of thing. Obvious sound ecological reasons aside, there are some pressing personal reasons for wanting to cut down our waste tally. Firstly, I live in a small house with a small yard; and I can think of better things to do with that space than fill it with rubbish and recycling receptacles. So why we insist on producing two or three black refuse sacks and 2 boxes worth of recycling every week is any one's guess - although I would place good money on laziness and inertia as being the main culprits.

A large proportion of the waste we produce is kitchen waste in the form of vegetable scraps, egg shells, egg boxes and teabags, around 1/2 a refuse sack per week. The other half of that sack comprises bedding, wood shavings and guinea pig poo (which just happens to be an excellent compost activator or even direct manure) from our two guinea pigs. Our new compost bin is now installed on our allotment and is already eating prodigious quantities of kitchen and hutch waste.

So, now for the rest of our bin. Our biggest guilty secret is our sons disposable nappies - we gave up on terry cloths after he turned a year old. I had plans to get him completely potty trained early, but he wasn't buying it; and now 14 months on he uses an average of 2 pairs of pull up pants a day. That amounts to about half a refuse sack per week. Which means that the rest of our bin consists of plastic food packaging; and I suspect quite a few recyclables that neither of us can be bothered to fit into/balance on top of the overflowing recycling box. Part of the reason the box overflows is Nick's absolute refusal to crush tins and bottles down to size, despite weekly promises to begin doing so. The contents of our overflowing recycling box consists of plastic milk cartons, tomato and cat food tins, paper and card.

The ultimate solution of course is to redesign our lives to consume less, full stop. In the UK, there has been quite a lot of complaining about 'waste rationing', with local councils moving to fortnightly collections or even contemplating the introduction of charging schemes. I can see that this would be a concern for many, but most of that concern once again comes from the inconvenience of having to stop and examine your habits - and possibly find them to be improvable - which very few people relish. I feel a twinge of guilt when I put our rubbish out and look at our elderly neighbours half-full recycling box, with a small carrier bag of rubbish perched on top; and I know that I could do better.

By the beginning of March I want to have scaled our waste tally down to an average of 1 refuse sack and 1 (contained!) recycling box per week. This is a workable goal, but requires some life redesign and new habits. We have to start carrying reusable shopping bags without a second thought, a habit we have gradually fallen out of. We need to stop buying over packaged snacks and sweet things on a whim and instaed need to start a regular baking schedule. We need to take lunch to work every day, because the waste we dispose of away from home counts as ours too. We need to investigate reusable pull up pants, which is what we should have done all those months ago. We need to put up another 'no junk mail sign' on our door, something we should have done the moment the first one began to fade.

We need to stop buying so much stuff.


  1. There are only 3 of us at home most the time now + 2 guinea pigs. Most of the year I manage 1/2 a black sack and 2 recylcling boxes. BUT I seem to spend so much time taking rubish / things to differnt places. most my glass jars get reused so they go in the shed. Most of wine and beer bottles get reused ( I make the wine) and these go in one bin, the ones i don't want go in another bin until I take them down the collection thing. All scraps get composted and most of the hutch gets composted, but this time of year it does not compost very quickly so no room at the moment so having to black bag it! paper and tins in the green boxes. Takes me ages to sort and walk up and down the garden with stuff, sometimes wish I could just chuck the whole lot in the bin - I won't though. Just need to organise my system a bit more.

  2. We get a collection every fortnight recycling one week/waste the next and I've never found it a problem...although it took a. lot. of kitchen patrols...and a lot of repeat explaining to the kids about how very important it was to me that they recycled everything. Now I'm working on the amount of recycling we actually have and trying to reduce the packaging.
    We're lucky because all our recycled items are collected by the council.

    Good luck Aurora, it's such a big job to reduce waste and I've done it in baby steps :)

  3. Lizzy - We buy very little food in jars and any wine and beer bottles are reused over and over for homebrew and winemaking. In fact I actively take in other peoples glass bottles! I would like to cut our rubbish further, but the big thing is nappies; and I know I won't solve that by the beginning of March. The hutch bedding is our only source of 'brown' waste for the compost at the moment. I hope the guinea poo speeds it up, I have read wood shavings can take a long time to break down.

    Laura - we too get fortnightly recycling and weekly rubbish collections. The recycling only covers tins, plastic bottles (minus lids) and paper/card. I think plastic free is my ultimate goal. The amount that washes up on the beaches around here is sickening. Have you ever seen this website?

  4. (It's louisa from The Really Good Life wearing my other hat here!)

    Your March goal sounds like a great idea - hard work but achievable. We recently covered some questions that might be relevant to your challenge: How can I get into the habit of taking packed lunches? and How can I get into the habit of carrying reusable shopping bags?.

    We generate no more than 1 refuse sack of landfill waste a week - usually slightly less than that. It would be a LOT more if we didn't have a compost heap (because kitchen waste & our chickens) but we still have room to reduce further - like you, it's nearly all food packaging and can be reduce with more whim-sweets restraint & more cooking at home.

    My father-not-in-law has the idea that wheelie bins need to be filled each week else you're not getting your money's worth from the council. He doesn't seem to understand that we like not producing much rubbish!

    (Btw, some councils ask that people don't crush down bottles as their recycling plants use the shape to pick bottles out of mixed waste - perhaps Nick is imagining he lives somewhere else!)

  5. Louisa, thanks, your site is brilliant. I will probably be making us of it quite a lot as I declutter.

    It's collection day tomorrow - two black bags and one and a half recycling boxes. A lot of the black bag waste is broken decluttered stuff, old rags and things. Just stopping to think about it before I throw something has worked wonders, though still a long way to go.