When we were organising our zero waste challenge, my friend and I agreed to just collect the trash we produced during the month. We wanted to see how much we could reduce, rather than trying to collate all the things that we bought before the challenge (although I will also talk about that later).
Before the challenge, I thought I was already pretty good at reducing my waste. But holding myself accountable has helped me to create many new and valuable habits. However, in the first week, I did start to feel pretty stressed. I was thinking of all the things I would have to implement, and I felt like I was carrying this great overwhelming responsibility. But once I took it easy, telling myself to focus only on a few urgent things at a time, I was able to work through the challenge better.
There were some funny moments too. I was at work and wanted to get food from the takeaway place next to us. But I didn’t have my own container with me. I work in a food truck, and the only container that wasn’t in use was a 2L bucket. So I used it, and joked around with the place next to us, saying that they should fill it up to the top. In the first day of the challenge, my friend sent an anguished video to me about how she had already used a teabag without a second thought. We called each other out, but in a happy way that you would for a game, rather than an exam. I think if we’d beaten each other down for our mistakes, it would no longer be productive. I think it’s important to keep lifting yourself and others up.
So here is my waste from 6 May-6 June, sorted into three categories–landfill, plastic landfill, and recyclables.
These are things that are destined for the landfill and will definitely not have a second life.
These objects are things that can be recycled, but often are not, which is basically all plastics. So I think it’s more correct to say that they’ll end up in the landfill.
Courier Post bag
Things that actually have a good chance of being recycled.
Envelopes and letters
I thought my biggest waste would be food packaging from takeaways, but I turned out alright at avoiding it. I made sure that my meals were planned perfectly, and that I had something in the fridge if I ever felt too tired to cook. This meant that most of the time, I didn’t have the chance to forget my container.
My biggest waste actually turned out to be my mail. This does make sense, because mail is geared towards getting one thing to a single individual. It takes a lot of resources to do that. Since I don’t order online much, and didn’t order anything during this challenge, my mail mostly came in paper envelopes. So it wasn’t the worst evil.
I did miss a lot of things. I missed snacks. All the best snacks are in packaging, more often than not in plastic. Buying meat was also definitely harder than it used to be. My local butcher has quite a small selection of things unpackaged, so I would plan my meals according to what they had. I’d go in hoping for a certain cut, and have to settle for something else. I could still make good meals out of what I found, and I can definitely keep living this way. But it emphasised how the variety of all those plastic wrapped meats in the supermarket sure is a convenience, and that’s why there’s still demand for them. However, some supermarkets are now accepting BYO containers, which means I can expand my diet. But going to the butcher for a month has also ingrained in me a fondness for supporting someone local.
There are some things that I bought before the challenge and I am yet to find a package-free solution to. Like my bottled soy sauce and my beloved Whittaker’s peanut butter chocolate. But the challenge has still helped in this regard, because it prompted me to find better solutions. I swapped my plastic packaged soy sauce for one in a glass bottle. And it has prompted me to reduce for other things.
By collecting my trash, I can also better see what’s left for me to improve. So here’s my list of things to work on.
Bring my own container and cutlery with me everywhere, with no remorse. If I never forget to bring them, then I will never be caught out. I also found that when ordering, it’s important to tell the person why I’m using my own container. Sometimes when I didn’t, they’d try to give me single-use cutlery. If I’m specific with my motivations, and tell them that I’m trying to reduce my single-use waste, then there’ll be less confusion.
Be pre-emptive with how I refuse. Some of the mail I received was from places in Wellington CBD, so I could’ve easily picked them up instead.
Keep trying to DIY what I can. Make sauerkraut!
Don’t settle. Keep heckling businesses and tell them that I don’t want their waste. Although I refused most of my receipts, some receipts had already been automatically printed by the time I said no. So a solution is to keep heckling businesses about making changes to their systems.
Keep reading, strive to be informed, tell the world. Another solution to reducing receipt paper is to keep informing others about its harmful content. I’m yet to craft a proper write-up, but I want to keep telling others about the harms of waste in a well-researched way.
Keep looking for new solutions, and keep trying out new solutions as well. I have some plastic-free toothpaste that I’m yet to use.
I have another goal that’s more for my future self. I use ShareWaste for my compost, since my little city apartment is too small for my own compost. Because of that, my composters have specific requirements for what they allow. My city apartment is indeed cozy and compact with the nicest landlord I have ever met. But one day, I still want to move somewhere with green space, with a compost that I can throw anything I want in it like failed banana bread. I still want a garden where I can grow my own food, with a variety of plants more extensive than my two windowsill herbs.
And this challenge has made think about that a little more. Having my own space close to the earth, and not getting caught up in the city forever, is another thing I don’t want to lose sight of.