Lets talk trash
Did you know that Cape Town has 6 landfills for rubbish, and 3 of them are already closed because they are already full? It’s expected that the rest will close in the next 10 years, unless we do something about it. And I’m guessing most of the rest of the country looks the same. In my post ‘The importance of home” I mentioned that we can reduce our waste production by quite a lot if we adjust some of the small and daily things in our lives. This post is dedicated to giving you tips and advise on how to do that. I have spent many hours researching and reading up on this topic, specifically in a South African context and have come across some good ideas. I certainly don’t know everything but I would like to share what I do know with you to save you some time and effort of researching it yourself.
I you are interested by the concept of Zero Waste, there is an amazing Community on Facebook, which you can join for even more ideas and information!
I think an important first step is to look at your rubbish and evaluate it. See the common areas that seem to produce a lot of rubbish and ask yourself how you could try reduce it. From what I have found there are three main culprits: Food scraps, food packaging and product packaging. They make up roughly 80-90% of the trash you are producing and there are so many easy ways to reduce them.
When you are cooking and eating more healthily, you’ll naturally make more food waste from things like peelings, cuttings from veggies or fruit you can’t necessarily eat and animal bones. You can’t really avoid this. One of the best ways of dealing with this kind of waste is by learning how to compost it. Organic food waste degrades naturally and is great for fertilizer. If you live in a house, with a garden you could have your own compost bin where you can put all your organic waste into, and over time, you’ll probably have a great fertilizer to use for your garden.
If you have a small space or live in a flat like me, you don’t have the option of composting your own stuff, but luckily there are ways around this problem. You could either find a friend or family member that does their own composting, and ask them if they would be okay with you dropping off your compost and add it to their heap. There are many farmers who use compost as a means for fertilizing their crops instead of using chemicals, and many of them would love it if you could give them your food scraps to add to their compost heap. You can generally find these kinds of people at farmer’s markets. In Cape Town, I know the Oranjezicht Farmer’s market does this, although they have moved location to the waterfront somewhere. So you could collect your food scraps in a container, keeping it in the freezer and once a week, just go drop it off at a friendly farmer. If you aren’t in Cape Town, do a search on the nearest farmers markets, not only can you buy great produce, but also compost your food scraps.
What we do in our home is my husband decided it would be a good idea to buy a worm farm, which we did. It stays in our flat (it NEVER smells, if that’s what you are worried about), and we just chop up our organic waste, pop it in the worm farm, and they do their thing, producing one of the best organic fertilizers available. We then use this fertilizer for our house plants, and give it to the neighbors.
In our home, this was the biggest culprit for waste production. I looked at our waste and found that most of it was plastic food packaging. Probably one of the most annoying thing was the plastic bags that pile up from buying fruit and veg at grocery shops. Are they really necessary? I think the most important thing here is a change in the way you shop and sometimes it will mean changing where and how.
One way to do this is buying from ‘bulk bins’ using reusable containers. Take a glass container, or fabric bag to fill up on items like lentils, oats, rice and whatever else you buy. These will need to be weighed, so if you bring a glass jar, before you put anything in it, ask for the tare weight. They need to weigh your empty jar, and you can write that amount on the jar, so each time you use it to weigh something, they will be able to just subtract the tare weight and charge you only for what’s inside. This can be confusing for someone who has never done that before, but all weigh stations at grocery stores should be able to do this, even if you need to talk to the manager. Sometimes one needs some patience for this.
The same applies to buying fruit and veggies. Try using fabric bags to buy items, or if the item is large enough and you’re only buying one or two, like a butternut, don’t use a bag. There is no need.
If the shops you go to don’t have bulk options with reusable containers, or they sell their fruit and vegetables in packaging, then consider changing the shops you go to. This may not always be an option if you live in a small town, but there might be options that you aren’t aware of yet. Shops like Food Lovers Market sell most of their items loosely, and they have many ‘bulk bin’ items to choose from as well as loose spices. Look around at what shops you have in your area, and pick ones that offer the possibility of reducing waste. Or better yet, find a local farmer’s market. Then you know exactly where your food comes from, you can buy pretty much everything package free if you bring your own bags and it will probably be food of great quality.
At the moment what we do is pay for a weekly fruit and veg box that gets delivered to us, with items brought from Epping Market. Sometimes the food comes in packaging, but most of the time it’s just loose. We can also order meat through them, which comes from local farmers. Again, this does come in packaging, but most of it is cardboard, which is easily recyclable or compostable. I am also in the process of sewing my own fabric bags top use at grocery stores for fresh produce instead of plastic bags. I am just using old sheets and scrap material to do so. If you can’t sew, you could ask a friend who can, or there are options out there for you to buy some. Who knows, maybe I’ll start selling them?
Included in this area of waste is take away items! If you can’t avoid buying take-away food, have a look at their food packaging and see if you’re able to recycle it. When it comes to straws, these cannot be recycled and are a huge problem in our oceans. Refuse plastic straws, or buy a glass or metal reusable straw. I love my take away cappuccinos, especially on a Sunday morning if I’m at church early, and so I have a reusable cup that I just ask them to use instead. People are quite accommodating if you ask. For things like lunch boxes, you can use glass, and metal instead of buying plastic or put loose items in fabric bags if there is no danger of them getting squished.
What you use on your body to clean, scrub, moisturise and your makeup as well as household cleaning products all come in packaging of some kind. Sometimes you have so many products for your face alone. If you add up the amount of containers you might use in a year, the numbers can be astounding. I was encouraged by the thought of only having one container that you refill each time you need more, instead of buying a completely new container each time.
After doing some research I found that it’s possible to make a lot of items yourself and they really don’t take a lot of time or money. I also realised that you don’t need many products for your skin, and you don’t need a cleaning product for every type of cleaning out there. Society only tells you that because they want your money. I have made my own toothpaste and my teeth are amazingly cleaner and whiter. I made my own deodorant and I might not sweat less but I certainly smell better without the harsh chemicals. I am also looking into making my own lotion and cleaning products. I will definitely share these ‘recipes’ with you so if you’d like to give them a try. What I love about this is by making your own products, you know exactly what goes into them, and they can still be as or even more effective than what you can buy. Also, it saves me money and I don’t end up with a lot of packages I don’t need.
Did you know that white vinegar makes for an excellent fabric softener? And you can use Bicarb for cleaning almost anything, from the toilet to the oven to your teeth. As I run out of things I will try to either make it myself or buy a more earth-friendly product.
If making your own products is not an option for you, or the ones you’ve tried didn’t work out then try finding products you can buy in recyclable containers like glass, tin, cardboard or even package free. In South Africa, Faithful to Nature is a great online store that do sell some of their products in recyclable containers. If shops like Nature’s warehouse is available to you, or any other kind of health shop, look around for affordable options. Lush is a great store that is passionate about waste free, earth friendly products. I don’t really intend on making my own soap and shampoo, and so I can buy shampoo in the form of a bar of soap, package free, and buy body soap in bulk, wrapped in paper.
As you can see, most of these things are small things you can do that have a big impact. I hope by reading this post, you have found some new ideas to try. Please note that I am not telling anyone to live in this way, I am merely suggesting more sustainable practices that you can decide to use or not. Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll try my best to answer you! And if you have any other suggestions, I would love to hear them.