How to slay the trash monster without losing your soul
I learned to celebrate the wins and not punish ourselves if we produce household trash. I learned to keep a close eye on waste collection services and know where my trash is going. I’m learning to stop and pick up rubbish in the street, and the power of community to work on bigger clean up projects.
Celebrate the wins
Take a moment and enjoy the feeling of not needing to take the bins out. Thank everybody in your home for their efforts. It’s not about perfection, it’s about incremental improvements and chances are you’re doing great.
For fear of being disappointed, I tried not to pay close attention to the landfill we generated. At 7 months, I finally estimated our rate of waste creation. I worked out that we would fill one landfill bin every 8 months, and one recycling bin every 5 weeks. Previously, it would take 2 weeks to fill both bins. Our household has 3 people and one dog. One of us is slightly more obsessed with zero waste than the others… Guess who!? If we were to stop making incremental improvements, this is the rate we’d be at. I think that’s pretty great! I thought it would take much longer to get to this stage. Plus, a lot of the waste we were still creating was from products we bought before my zero waste rampage. I love not needing to take the bins out…
Be aware of waste collection
Observe waste collection services and be aware of what happens to waste after it leaves the home. At work, plastic bin liners are a clue that recycling might not be sent to the right bin. Ask questions. Seek answers.
We recently found out that our waste collection service has been cutting corners by dumping recycling into their landfill trucks. It’s not all the time, but it’s still really messed up. We’ve put pressure on body corporate who are in the process of rectifying everything. The service provider will now lose their very big contract (over 200 dwellings… that’s a lot of wasted recycling!). Until now, I’d never thought to check how our bins are being collected. I put my trust in the fact that recycling goes to a recycling plant. Every area is a little bit different, so we’ve learnt our lesson to be aware of what happens to our waste after it leaves our home. Another positive from this is that we are even more committed to reducing our recycling waste.
Pick it up
When the time is right for you, try to pick up 3 items of rubbish. This small and mighty habit can prevent those items being washed down the gutter and into a waterway.
I’m learning to stop and pick up rubbish. Honestly, when I do it I feel a bit weird. I don’t want to appear forthright, pious or alienating to passers by. So, I try to be discreet when I do it. Apart from the looks I get (which are completely in my own head), I also feel a little overwhelmed by the task of picking up rubbish. There’s so much of it and so much being created at a business level. To encourage incremental habit-building, I’m going to just pick up 3 items max (thank to Take 3 for the inspiration).
Organise a trash party
If there’s an area that really gets you down, volunteer to clean it up. Tell others about it and invite them to join. One hour of cleaning between a small group of people can result in massive improvements on the ecosystem and community.
At the start of Plastic Free July, I set the goal of cleaning up a small part of the Merri Creek for one hour every Sunday of the month. If anyone else came along, it was a bonus – and what a bonus it was! With the help of friends, we filled 7 landfill bins (120L each). This is a big achievement for me, but it’s just another day for the legends at Friends of Merri Creek who have been tirelessly cleaning the creek for a long time now.
I have so much respect for people who do this kind of thing regularly, even at a small scale. It’s hard work! One hour of picking up rubbish made my back sore. The walk to the car carrying loads of rubbish made my arms dead (Exercise? What’s that!?). We found some seriously gross items in the creek including a crack pipe and loads of syringes. In one instance, I travelled interstate to get there on time and when I finally arrived, it rained heavily – yet we still managed to stick to the weekly goal. I sound like I’m complaining but I have truly loved every minute of it. This whole experience has created new memories from old junk.