Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: What You Can Do To Help

Everyone has heard the phrase "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" some time in their lives, usually fairly early on as the primer schools try to make their kids aware of various recycling programs (at least, that's how it started for me). We've all seen, heard, or read something about the rise of litter all over public parks and beaches, landfills filling up, birds choking on debris, turtles, dolphins and other animals getting caught up in discarded trash in the seas, and of course, the raft of refuse floating in the middle of the ocean somewhere.

The fact of the matter is, everyone needs to start thinking about this, or we are going to be over run by our own leavings in the not-so-far-away future (we're well on our way now). There has been an explosion in packaged goods and exports that has resulted in- you guessed it- an explosion of trash.


You may think to yourself "How can I possibly reduce my output into this world?" Well, it takes some time and clever thinking. First, you must think about what are you creating. I'll give you a hint: look in your trash bin. Are you using a lot of processed foods that come with brightly colored cardboard boxes and plastic inserts? Are you throwing away glass mayo and jam jars that could be recycling or reused? Are there plastic tubs, plastic baggies, newspapers, empty tins, plastic or Styrofoam meat trays, an excess of food scraps? Are you filling your bin so quickly that you have to take it out more than once a week?

Did you say yes to any of those things? If you did, then you need to think about reducing your output. If you are buying a lot of packaged, processed foods, look at how you can replace them with options that aren't so plastic wrapped. Buy fresh foods and veggies, and store them in reusable containers instead of plastic wrap or coated paper. Ask that your meats, fish, and cheeses be weighed in a reusable container to avoid unnecessary plastic and Styrofoam use. Carry your groceries in cloth totes. Grow a garden for your fruit and veggies, and use your edible food scraps for compost. Learn to make things from scratch (like condiments such as mayo, sauces, etc) so that you are not constantly buying the containers of such at the store and creating more waste.

I'm only here to get you started in the right direction. For other ideas, it is best if you Google "zero waste household". There are plenty of people out there with many great ideas on how to reduce your output. This blog, Zero Waste Home, is an excellent place to start.


Those of you living in Australia (or at least, Tasmania) know that the beginning of November means the end of plastic shopping bags and the beginning of an era where everyone takes their groceries home in reusable cloth bags (despite the fact that Coles supermarkets are a little "unclear on the concept", as instead of using free thin plastic bags, they now sell $0.15 cent heavy plastic bags... which makes no sense). While that may partially solve the plastic bag issue (only not really), what about all the other stuff?

Glass is easily recycled, but you can also use it for a number of uses around your home, especially jars that have lids intact.

-Use for rinsing kids paintbrushes
-Use with lids to sort and store odds and ends such as buttons, paperclips, or other small objects
-Cut a slot in a mayo jar lid and have your kids decorate the jar to create their very own coin banks
-Use small jars to make candle holders; just decorate and place a tea light inside
-Use baby food jars as hardware storage in your shed: screw the lids to a shelf and then just twist the jars onto the lids
-Create solar light projects with canning jars that have been chipped and can't be used for canning
-Store dried herbs, jerky, or roasted nuts in large jars with lids, or, even better, those Moccona coffee jars
-Store your homemade laundry detergent in a large lidded jar
-Use jars to make pickled onions, refrigerator pickles, or pickled eggs
-Use jam jars to create snail traps for your garden
-Use empty glass condiment bottles for your own homemade condiments, and empty glass drinks bottles to make your own kombucha or ginger beer

Paper and Cardboard
-Use newspapers and broken down cardboard boxes as a layer of mulch in your garden beds
-Use shredded paper in your worm farm or compost
-Use light cardboard as a base for creating templates for sewing projects or stencils
-Use shredded newspaper to make papier-mâché
-Use egg cartons as seed starting trays; just fill with soil and plant (or, give them to your chicken raising friends)
-Toilet paper tubes make great seed starters! Just fill with soil, plant the seed, and when the seedling is big enough, plant the whole thing in the ground, tube and all 

Due to the problem of BPA in the lining of the steel cans our food comes in, I wouldn't suggest reusing them for any cooking, storage or other food related purpose. I am personally on a mission to limit our need for tinned foods, so that we can ensure a safer, less toxic lifestyle. However, there are still some of those cans banging around, so lets see if we can't find some uses for them. I know from experience that cans can be used for a variety of DIY projects, if you are crafty and clever. If not, just toss them in your recycle bin.

-Decorate clean cans to make pencil holders for the kids
-Clean and reuse to store bolts, paperclips or other small items
-Make a Tin Can Rocket Stove
-Make a Tin Can Camping Stove
-Make a Tin Can Tin Man
-Use aluminum drinks cans to build a Soda Can Solar Heater

Plastic Containers
Plastic tubs are things I prefer to avoid as much as possible, but they do come in handy sometimes. Yogurt containers (both large and small), margarine/butter tubs, cream cheese or other "party dip" containers all have a use in the home:

-Use the liter size yogurt tubs as a container for freezing soups or broths
-Use single size yogurt cups with lids as paint cups for kids projects
-Use the small containers from your margarine or cream cheese to store your left overs, or to create single sized servings of frozen foods
-Use plastic ice cream tubs to store dried pasta, beans, or popcorn kernels
-Use larger containers for the kitchen compost
-Use plastic meat trays as water dishes for seed starting trays
-Cut plastic milk jugs in half (at the bottom of the handle), poke holes in the lid, invert the top into the bottom, and use as a self watering seed starting pot; add soil, seed, and water
-Use two liter clear plastic juice bottles as cloches; just cut the bottom off, remove the lid, and place over the plant; or, cut in half and use as a larger self watering plant

Food Scraps
I highly suggest get your household a compost bin, worm bin, or Bokashi bin. There are several advantages to this: You get rid of the smelly component of your trash bin by removing the decomposing items, reduce the likelihood of pests visiting your bins, and it helps to create a better garden for your home. There are many ways you can go about it:

Hot composting
To build a hot compost pile, you need an area that will allow for a roughly one meter square pile: anything larger compacts too much and interferes with decomposition, and anything smaller doesn't heat up. When assembling your materials, you need to consider the ratios. For a good pile you want about 25 parts brown (carbon-rich) material such as straw, dry leaves, or prunings off your trees, and 1 part green (nitrogen-rich) materials, such as lawn clippings, weeds, kitchen scraps, etc. Layer these materials and dampen each if they are dry; moisture is important to the process as well. You want your pile to be roughly one meter tall. Finish off with a layer of brown material, and leave it be. it should heat up within hours and be cooking along properly in a couple days. In two weeks, turn the pile, and in 6 weeks it should be ready to use. The advantage of using a hot composting method is that it kills off any pathogens that might have hitched a ride with your plant material.

Cold composting
The average household bin is a cold composter, in essence, a bin with an open bottom (giving worms from the soil free access to the scraps) and a lid to keep larger pests out. This is where all your veggie peelings go, as well as lawn clippings, old plants, etc. Because it is a cold method, and being added to continuously, it is in different stages of decomposition, which results in a slower breakdown of the materials and a less nutrient dense compost. It also means that you should not add diseased plants, as it will not kill the pathogens off, and that any seeds you add (such as the pumpkin pulp) will sprout later on.

Vermicomposting, or vermiculture, is the business of composting with worms. This method is good because you can have a bin inside your home where you have easy access to it, and you can provide pretty much all the materials (expect maybe the bin, depending on what style you want to go for). Worms can be fed all kinds of fruit and vegetable waste (but may have issues with onion and garlic skins), coffee grounds with the their filters, and tea bags. There is some debate about whether or not to add fatty material, meat or bones. Some say the worms need a protein source, so if you do go that route, make sure it's a very small amount, otherwise you could end up with a very smelly mess, and that would be bad. Worms also need a form of grit, which you can supply in the form of cornmeal, coffee grounds, or finely crushed eggshells. They also need bedding, which can be provided in the form of shredded paper or cardboard, peat moss or commercial worm bedding. You also want the right kind of worms: Eisenia foetida, otherwise known as tiger worms.

Bokashi Bins
Bokashi bins are the ultimate small space composting option. A Japanese invention, bokashi literally means "fermentation": it basically pickles your food waste. With the help of friendly bacteria laced through a bran mixture, it ferments all edible waste (cooked and uncooked, including dairy and meat) into a liquid compost. You layer food waste and the inoculated bran until the bin is full (it's advised you have two bins). When one bin is full you let it sit to finish it's job while you fill the second one. It is, however, more of an involved investment, as you need to order more of the inoculated bran to keep it going.

TIP: Got lots of eggshells? Dry them out and crush them into small fragments and use in your garden as a slug and snail repellent. Just sprinkle them around plants prone to gastropds, and the sharp fragments will make approaching the plant very uncomfortable for the invaders.
There are other composting methods, but these are the most basic concepts. You can research lasagne beds, sheet mulching, and other methods on your own. Remember: Google is your friend. :)


If you cannot find a use for things around your home, or you just don't have the time or space for a tin can tin man, then please try to put all your recyclables in the recycle bin your city council provides. If you have the option you might think about taking them to the recycling centers to get some pocket money from your collection (my brother does this with all the soda cans he collects). If you have a lot of jars, cardboard, newspaper etc, things that other people might find useful, then consider joining your local freecycle, Craigs List, Gumtree, or other classifieds advertiser to alert others that these supplies are in their local area. 

Here are some other things you should consider when discarding wisely:

-If you buy six pack drinks cans, then cut up the rings of the plastic loops to avoid birds or other animals getting caught in them; any milk bottle rings should be cut as well
-All batteries, car tires, motor oils, paints, paint strippers, pesticides and other toxic substances must be disposed of safely and properly. Please ask your city council how, when and where you need to dispose of these items
-When washing your car, use only biodegradable soaps, or no soap at all to avoid contamination of storm drain water... and please do not dispose of anything other than pure water down those drains!
-Mercury vapor and halogen type light bulbs must also be disposed of carefully to avoid contaminating the environment
-Televisions, laptops, phones and other electronics should be delivered to a business or organization that dismantles them for their components. Your local council should know who to call.
-Old vehicles, boats, motors and other objects can be sold for parts, projects or for scrap

Never think that you can't help the world and it's problems. If you start off being more conscious of your recycling and disposal habits, then your spouse will follow suit, and so will your kids. Talk to your relatives and neighbors about this subject, get your community involved in a local recycling program or litter pick up day. If we all go home and do this today, maybe together we can all make a difference.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to share your comments, questions and experiences.