Thursday 29 June 2017

Taking a cue from San Francisco

I have to admit that I can be a little bit of a hoarder. Once something comes into my possession, I am not very fast to get rid of it, and in the case of cute boxes or glass jars, I will often find some reason to keep them. For the longest time I used to consider this a weakness, but after watching several documentaries on how wasteful modern societies have become, it occurred to me that if we all embraced our inner hoarders just a little bit, it would not be such a terrible thing.

Towards the end of "Trashed", documentary that goes into great detail on how much trash is being produced as well as how it effects wildlife and our environment, there are some spotlights on how some businesses and people are tackling this problem. I was particularly impressed with San Francisco and their goal of becoming a zero waste city. If an entire city is able to significantly reduce the waste created, it should be fairly easy for one person, right?!

The ideas are pretty simple:
1. Prevent waste
2. Reduce and reuse first
3. Recycle and compost

The order is really important here, there is a temptation to think that if you recycle than it's ok to get lots and lots of stuff as long as the packaging is recyclable. The bigger picture is that recycling takes resources like man power and energy, if there is a way to use less packaged goods and single use items in the first place, that would be the best option. It can seem a little bit daunting, but there is no reason to get overwhelmed, take it one step at a time and see how far you can go.
I'm probably not going to blow anyone's mind by the following suggestions, but as the standard first steps I think they are still worth a mention:
1. Bring your own carrier bag when you go shopping, or always keep one in your bag just in case. There are so many available, from sturdy canvas totes to foldaway bags that could fit in your pocket.
2. Get a refillable water bottle and a travel coffee cup if you always get a brew on the go.
3. Your typical single use straws are not recyclable and often end up where they don't belong: like the ocean or an animals stomach. Swap for reusable straws made out of glass or stainless steel.
4. A bamboo cutlery set is perfect when you are travelling or for someone on the go who would normally end up using plastic forks and knives.
5. Whatever you are getting that comes in a plastic bottle, supersize it (provided you are able to use it up before the expiry date). Obviously if you can avoid all single use plastic that is ideal, but if you simply can't part with your favourite shampoo, washing up liquid or whatever else, getting the biggest bottle possible will help reducing the overall amount of packaging that you recycle.

Now that you are done with the basics, you might be looking around thinking what other small adjustment's result in waste reduction. Personally I think that kitchen is the place where a lot of trash is generated. Be it empty containers, produce that is past its prime or leftovers that never got eaten. If you notice that you are wasting a lot of food, it might be helpful to keep a journal for 1-2 weeks to see what is getting wasted and having it all written down could reveal the patterns that weren't obvious before. Are you simply buying too much food, or is it that you are using things in the wrong order? Some produce, like leafy greens, needs to be eaten quickly, while other things, root vegetables for example, have a longer shelf life. Tweaking the order of your meals, making friends with your freezer and being creative with leftovers should hopefully put an end to food ending up in the bin.

Reducing the amount of food packaging that goes into recycling (or even in general trash) can be a little bit trickier because it involves giving up some of the convenience, and sometimes changing where you shop. The easy steps would be to go for the loose fruit and veg instead of the prepackaged ones (and bringing your own bags to put them in) at the supermarket, the harder one will be to ditch all your pre-made convenience foods and sauces in favour of making your own and start shopping at bulk stores that allow you to fill up your own containers. Personally I'm not there yet with the convenience food, especially when it comes to things like fermented food.

When it comes to items in packaging I have a little checklist:
1. Can I easily make at home?
2. Can I recycle or reuse the container?
3. Is there a similar product that comes in a container that is recyclable?
4. Can I do without?

More often then not, empty food containers end up being used in the kitchen in some shape or form. I kept a selection of glass jars to use as storage for seeds, nuts and home made dips. Glass bottles end up being used for iced tea and infused waters (especially during the summer), and tall jars I use instead of a vase. I also ended up with a collection of glass pots from fancy desserts (we no longer buy those, but the pots come in very handy when I'm making dips, small side dishes or even for measuring during cooking). Before recycling a container I always take a second look at it to see if I could use it another way, and only get rid of it if I can not.

Some items from the kitchen can be useful elsewhere. I have some former cookie tins that became storage for my embroidery threads, and empty ferrero rocher containers that house  cotton wool and cotton buds.

The areas where I find myself struggling the most are the bathroom shelves and the beauty cabinet. Of course I have more than my share of beauty products as a blogger, and even though I have become more selective in terms of what products I accept, I was not re-using the packaging. There is definitely plenty of potential here. I'm currently using the empty May Lindstrom honey mud pot to store hair pins and bands. Terre Verdi OrangeCoffe mask is a perfect shape for a toothbrush holder. I left the labels on the jars just so you could see what producst they come from, but it all easily comes of if you don't want any writing on your glassware.

I definitely don't have it all figured out yet and there are lots of things that could be improved, but I have already seen a massive reduction in our general trash that can't be recycled. It has gone down from a bin that used to get full every few days to one that is filled once a week or less (I am talking about a tiny bin though, no bigger than your regular Sainsbury's bag, because we live in a small apartment), mainly filled with wrappers and paper containers that are unfortunately non-recyclable, because food soiled paper or cardboard (like pizza boxes etc.) are not recyclable. I'm working on having less take aways and pre-packaged food in general, especially those that come in non recyclable packaging.

If you are interested in finding out more about waste reduction or zero waste lifestyle, here are some of my favourite sources: Trash is for Tossers, Rogue gone Vogue and Eco Boost

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