We threaten the world with our love of consumption and a blindness to waste. Change has to occur on an individual level in parallel with larger-scale restructures. As always, there is a hypocrisy in complaining but not doing, and this holds true for both environmental and social criticism.
In late 2016, I was at a stage where I simply didn't care about how much waste I was generating, or where that waste was going. As that year drew to a close, I became disgusted with just how much packaging, plastic bottles, bags and tins I was producing due to the choices I was making.
Over the next year, I would make changes and setup systems in terms of food, drink, hygiene, household and travel that would impact how much waste would be created.
It's worth comparing rubbish from February 2017 (left) with January 2018 (right):
Every now and then I'll watch a video by someone in the "low waste community", where they have a 200 mL mason jar with their rubbish over five years. Although I am nowhere near that point, I certainly feel like I've made a solid dent in the amount of plastic and rubbish that I am choosing to create.
The most productive thought that I have had when implementing these systems is not to change too much at once. Tackle one or two things every thirty days or so, and then see if these advancements can be incorporated into daily life with relative ease.
Here are the changes that have worked for me since February 2017.
My criteria for "worked", when compared to more wasteful solutions, are:
• 80% or higher performance
• Similar or lower cost
• Less or zero end-user waste
I haven't bought any lunch at work, and significantly fewer dinners. Instead, I've been cooking meals using whole foods that have no packaging. Vegetables are bought from the markets, and everything else is bought from stores like Goodies and Grains and The Source. Coles and Woolworths have also had nuts, seeds, snacks etc in bulk without packaging at times. Lunches and dinners have been cooked in advanced, usually in lots of four to eight portions, and then frozen.
Recipes are usually improvised, but a modular approach creates a variety of meals by rotating the carbohydrates, proteins and flavours. This process saved lots of money and reduced waste significantly. A protein-rich legume or bean was soaked overnight, then combined with brown or white rice.
Cooked alongside various spices, chilli, onion, garlic or ginger, this makes for a wide variety of tasty, filling and easy-to-prepare meals that are nutritious, cheap and plant-based. Tastes good and works for me. The addition of vegetables such as spinach and tomatoes improves the taste and variety. Mushrooms are especially filling and work great in frozen meals.
My pantry has also changed throughout the year. The current incarnation is setup for this style of cooking. Shopping is done with mesh and ziplock bags that have been reused successfully many times. Ziplock bags are washed often. Mesh bags require less washing. I usually carry five ziplock bags and five mesh bags with me, just in case.
Cereals such as cacao-based clusters, bran flakes and oats have been perfectly nutritious and tasty - especially when combined with berries and nuts.
Food preservation via dehydration and pickling has also worked surprisingly well. Apples, bananas, tomatoes, onion, garlic, chilli, brown rice, white rice, various types of lentils, beans, chickpeas, boiler peas have all survived the de-and-re-hydration process. Pickling garlic, shallots, pickles, baby tomatoes using white vinegar and sugar has added a flavour to some dishes.
I've been pleasantly surprised at how well hydrated meals work.
Any paper or cardboard packaging is either burnt to ash and composted, or composted directly depending on composition and thickness.
I've started drinking only loose leaf tea, and whole bean coffee. Both can be purchased without any plastic or aluminium packaging from bulk retailers. I've also given up on bottled water, using 600 mL plastic bottles at home and 1200 mL metal bottles at work.
A keep cup made from recyclable rice bran is used for take away hot drinks. One my most used purchases I've made in recent months is a soda water 'machine'; the CO2 bottles are returned for recycling, and I reckon I've made more than the 60L worth promised from one refill.
I've also stopped drinking alcohol in 2018 (so far). This has been working for me, which is somewhat shocking considering my penchant for vodka.
I've experimented with a number of recipes for hair wash, hair rinse, body wash, hand soap, shaving and beard oil, mouth wash, toothpaste and deodorant. I've been using these recipes for at least six months. All ingredients can be bought in bulk, refillable, and without waste.
Hair wash: Combine 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup water, 10 drops tea tree oil
Hair rinse: Combine 1 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 cup water, 10 drops lemongrass oil
Body wash: Combine 1 cup castile soap, 1 cup water, 10 drops lavender oil
Hand soap: Combine 1/2 cup castile soap, 1/2 cup water
Shaving and beard oil: Combine 15 mL jojoba oil, 10 drops cedarwood oil, 10 drops vanilla oil, 10 drops black pepper oil
Mouth wash: Combine 1/2 cup water, 3 tsp baking soda, 5 drops spearmint oil
Toothpaste: Combine 25mL water, 6 tsp baking soda, 10 drops peppermint oil
Deodorante: Double boil 1/2 cup unrefined shea butter until molten. Combine with 3 tsp arrowroot powder, 4 tsp baking soda, 15 drops bergamot oil, 15 drops lavender oil
I've switched from using multi-use plastic disposable shavers to a heavy duty, double edge chrome razor, along with swapping out shaving foam for shaving and beard oil.
I've found shaving to be a much more enjoyable ritual with the chrome razor (a Merkur 34C). A single blade has lasted for eight months so far. Similarly, I've moved from plastic toothbrushes to wooden ones. Performance is similar, however the wood can be composted or recycled.
I've been using either home made recipes or bulk, zero-waste products for household cleaning.
Dishwashing detergent for light loads can be made by combining 500 mL water, 3 tsp citric acid and 3 tsp washing soda. Concentrated dishwashing detergent can be bought in bulk without waste (named "Encore"), whereby one cap will make up 1L of dishwashing detergent.
Laundry detergent for light loads can be made by combining 1/4 cup washing soda and 20 drops eucalyptus oil. Concentrated laundry detergent can be bought in bulk without waste.
I've developed an appreciation for hiking. To move through a beautiful landscape slowly and quietly is a rewarding experience. The lighter the pack, the better.
Although I've driven by car to some camping locations, I have also made a concerted effort to catch public transport to sections of the Heysen trail, the Nukan Kungan trail, the Walk the Yorke trail - covering maybe 12 or so nights in total. I would like to do more of this in 2018.
Hiking without food packaging waste is surprisingly easy and successful; dehydrated food works great, with or without a stove. Taste is retained, and especially with a stove that can simmer, texture is excellent and meals can be very filling. All ziplock bags were washed and reused.
Challenges and Improvements
The majority of my waste now comes from cat-related purchases or electronics-related purchases. I would like to find alternative ways of approaching both. My energy use could also be lower; for example, I ran a 10% electricity deficit over summer. I would like to improve on this as a net energy credit throughout the year, quarter by quarter.
My aims for 2018 are to improve recipes for hygiene and household, eliminate or at least reduce plastics, reduce water / gas / electricity usage, go hiking more and actually get some gardening skills.
Centimetre by centimetre, I'm trying. I know I can do better. But it's a start.