Friday, 17 July 2009

The waste challenge - an update

Inspired by others' examples, I rather rashly decided a couple of months ago to set myself a challenge. The idea was to carry all the waste I produced around with me for a month, rather than throwing it away. At the end of the month, I thought I would be able to draw meaningful conclusions about where the waste I produce comes from, and how I could best reduce it...
I'm sorry to say it didn't quite go to plan. I kept getting confused about the rules (and having no better authority to consult than myself, never really resolved this). I got really busy at work, so much so that cooking and exercising and doing anything in the evening aside from slumping on the sofa got abandoned. I got to that state where anything that seemed 'difficult' was jettisoned, including the challenge...

Still, it did give me food for thought, about 'challenges' as well as about waste, so I thought I'd gather my thoughts and consider what next here.

Is it possible?
There were two things I kept thinking as I went on - firstly, it seemed increasingly that it must be possible to get to a nil, or nearly nil, waste output. I didn't think it all through in complete detail but the more I thought about each piece of waste the more it seemed entirely possible to live a life where no waste was produceed, and even in a world where waste wasn't seen as something completely unavoidable. The second thought was how hard it would be getting there. The culture of getting rid of, of disposability, of throwing away, of ignoring the fact that throwing 'away' means throwing 'somewhere else' is completely prevalent and pervasive in the world I live in.

Think about it
The challenge, failed or not, forced me to think about this business of just 'throwing away'. Close your eyes and try and picture it - the whole situation - imagine your country in your mind's eye, and see the millions of people and households and businesses churning out waste here there and everywhere. And then look at the people and trucks and ships taking it away, burying it, burning it, throwing it in the sea... Picture that and tell me it's not crazy. There is not infinite room. Not to mention contamination and pollution. (Did anyone see that film Gomorrah? Possibly one of the most depressing films I've ever seen, it shows a really really ugly side to waste disposal (see exploitation, government corruption, mafia terror, illness, deaths and injury, illegal and dangerous working practices...)). This gave me a real motivation to continue with this.

The nitty gritty
From the grand scale to the minute... I started to see each little bit that contributed to the stuff I throw out. There was waste at every point of the day, decisions I had to make in all situations. I used hand dryers instead of paper towels, I tried using fresh tomatoes instead of canned, I had to make an effort to get to my local organic shop on time so I didn't end up in the palace of packaging - Tesco Metro. I chose loose cabbage over bagged up spinach, but then went to the farmer's market and bought lovely local organic strawberries in plastic containers, felt overwhelmed by the difficulty in getting everything right. I succumbed to buying weekend papers, and lamented the amount of stuff that came through my letterbox only to go straight in the recycling bin, unopened. I realised how often I threw stuff away without even being aware of it.

The plan
I realised that the way I tackle things best is bit by little bit, and that an all-out waste starvation diet was not going to help me change my behaviour in the long term. I read somewhere that if you do something for 30 days a habit will be formed. And once something is habitual you don't have to think about it anymore. I need to create waste-light habits, and one by one so I don't feel over-loaded and defeated.

So, the plan is this. Each month going forward I will tackle a different area of waste. My long-term aim will be to get to a place where I have a very very small amount of waste each month, all of which is recyclable - nothing to landfill. As I tackle each area one by one, hopefully my binbag will shrink and I'll move through the obvious stuff to the less obvious stuff, eliminating waste slowly but surely. And I want to invite you to join me in this challenge - either taking the same subjects as I do, or creating your own.

Join the challenge!
I just ate a little pot of fruit for lunch which came in a plastic pot with a plastic fork. I could easily have just bought a banana. And I ate a chocolate mousse, also in a plastic pot with a plastic lid. I could have bought instead a pudding from the canteen that comes in a china bowl. One thing I did do whilst doing the June challenge, was to eat lunch every day on a plate with proper cutlery - either from canteens or brought from home. It was so much nicer than eating with plastic forks from plastic containers, and I'm sure sitting down properly for lunch made me much more productive in the afternoon.

So for August I'll tackle food-on-the-go (as opposed to food shopping bought for home use, which is a big area I'll try and break down into smaller bits!), and hope you might decide to do so to! It would be great to share lunchbox recipes, tips for carrying coffee mugs and cutlery, or other ways to avoid accidentally picking up plastic/paper accompaniments to takeaway food. I'll post about how I'm doing and would be great to hear from others doing it too. Comment if you're up for it!


Kylli said...

I think what you write is very true. We are such a wasteful society nowadays and so much packaging is so wasteful.

I did see an episode of Oprah where an American family saved all their rubbish for a month, instead of throwing it out and they were apalled by how much they generated.

The little things I do are: Not use bags when I buy my veggies from the greengrocers, ie I just put them loose in the trolley and then bring them home in material bags.
Buy Yoghurt in big tubs and divy it up for the family in tuppenware which is used again. Also same for packing sandwiches, lunches. We never buy lunch, always take it so this is an easy habit to fall into.

Since coming back to Aus this year and seeing how much Dad recyles I checked what we were meant to put in the recyling bin and consequently put much more in. I am also lobbying for a compost bin although for some reason B is against the messiness of this!! But you can work on him when you get here too!!

I think the little by little approach is right, if everyone did a little we would reduce the waste so much.

I love how reading your blog keeps inspiring me and reminding me to be less wasteful and more environmental!!

LK said...

i'm very impressed you manage to pack lunches every day - especially with baby to look after. this is my aim, but I never quite manage to keep it going...

I'm really disappointed we don't have a compost bin - I have been in touch with the council about how I can compost in a block of flats, whether they are considering a collection etc. like some councils, but they haven't got back to me. I hate throwing away food waste knowing it is going to sit in landfill not being able to decompose, when it could be made into useful compost and be part of a big living cycle. I am going to have to try harder to sort this out I think...

thanks for the comment - so glad you find it inspiring. it is really inspiring for me to hear about other people doing little things and to get comments here!