15 January 2008

Recycling and reusing

This is the little tote in a pouch I've put in my bag to take whenever I go out now. The little blue pouch unzips to reveal a full sized shopping tote. With this in my bag all the time, I can easily pick up milk or cheese from the local area and not have to bring it home in a plastic bag.

In the past couple of years we been able to decrease the amount of rubbish we dispose of to a fraction of what we threw out before. It really hit me one day that when we “disposed” of something, even though it was considered rubbish, that wasn’t the end of it. Whatever we threw out still had a life and in many cases would outlive Hanno and I by hundreds of years. We now make sure we dispose of most of our rubbish in an eco-friendly way and, more importantly, we try not to bring home excessive packaging. I am hoping our three gifts challenge will further reduce the load we place on our local landfill tip.

We don’t throw out any wet garbage. There is a hierarchy of contenders for our kitchen scraps. At the top of our pecking order are the chooks. They get the choice scraps because they turn it into food. They get most table scraps, old milk, crushed egg shells, old bits of cake, old fruit or vegetables. They also get the outside leaves from lettuce, tomatoes with spots on them, cabbage and the celery tops. Any old bread is divided up between the chooks, the dogs and the fish – they all love home-baked bread. The worms get fruit and vegetables peelings, tea leaves, crushed egg shells, anything that had been too long in the fridge and eggs we find in the back yard that are not in a nest. The worms also get ripped up envelopes and old letters, cleaning cloths that have seen out their days.

I try to buy my dried foods like beans, flours, nuts etc in bulk. That gives me the option of taking my own containers and bags. Generally I use old flour bags – they’re strong and can be washed and reused many times. If I buy bulk bread flour, I sometimes get a 12.5 kilo bag and the worms take care of the bag and string closure for me.

Paper products like old telephone books, paper, newspaper etc can be composted. I stopped buying paper napkins and paper towels and use home made cotton squares. Most of our clothes are cotton, linen or wool, so when they finally wear out, they spend some time in the rag bag, and are then given to the worms.

Worms, chooks and compost don’t cope well with too many citrus peelings or onion skins, so I have a closed compost bin for them. It’s open on the bottom, closed at the top, so even though they take a long time to break down, they’re unseen and eventually do return themselves to the earth. Every so often I throw a handful of lime on them to hasten their decomposition.

At home we recycle glass jars for preserving, soft drink bottles (they’re as rare as hen’s teeth), newspapers – both the bought ones and the free ones. We put tin cans, beer and wine bottles and large pieces of cardboard in the municipal recycling bin that is collected every two weeks along with the regular garbage. We also have the option of have a green waste bin but we recycle all that at home.

I would love to be able to tell you that we have given up using cling wrap but I still have a roll in the draw. I do however, use it sparingly and only when I can’t find another method. I often cover food (like cheese) in the fridge with a clean moist cloth and cover other food with an upturned bowl.

I don’t wrap my lunch for work anymore and it’s worked very well over the past six months I’ve been taking small containers inside a larger one. If I fit all the boxes together, nothing moves and the food stays together. Here is an old photo of my lunch box. We often share food at work so it’s great to have the various containers to pass around.

If you’re just starting out on recycling and rethinking how you dispose of your rubbish in an environmentally sound way, take it one step at a time by concentrating on one area first – maybe the kitchen. Slowly work out ways of reusing and recycling that suit your circumstances and incorporate those ways into your regular routines. If you’re like me, you’ll have need to rethink at the supermarket too and try to bring home products that aren’t over-wrapped.

I hope you’ll all share your reusing and recycling ideas in the comments box so we can all benefit from the collective experience we have here, which I have to say I’ve been very impressed with and appreciate very much.


  1. Rhonda Jean,
    I want to tell you how very impressed I am with your dedication. It truly inspires me.


  2. Rhonda Jean,

    There are some communities in Southern Ontario that divide their garbage into wet and dry. So for example your used Kleenex and used paper napkins would be seperate from your printer paper. What they do with this, I'm not too certain, but I think it's recycled or composted or something along those lines.

    I would personally love to have a compost but I don't see my landlord allowing that anytime soon, winter aside. There is room on the property for one but whether the other tenants in the building would know how to use it properly is another story.

    In the meantime I will continue to recycle and use my cloth bags when shopping.

  3. Hi Rhonda,

    We have two worm farms, two chooks, and a compost bin in our suburban backyard. I try to cut back on packaging and find that less-processed food usually has less packaging anyway. I keep green shopping bags in my car and use them everywhere. I shred office paper for the chooks' bedding then compost it; a good way to avoid identity theft, I think!

    We still use plastic wrap for school lunches, although I give the kids little reusable plastic containers for snacks such as yogurt or dried fruit.

    My problem areas are things like the packaging kids' toys come in.

    We recycle our shower water straight out to the fruit trees using a hose connected to the external shower pipe (I hope this makes sense). We haven't any rain since before Christmas so this helps keep my precious babies alive!

    Can't think of anything else at the moment. I do my best but not everyone in the family is as committed as I am.


  4. Rhonda

    Could you please show me how your containers stack together with food already in them? I Love this Idea!!


    You are awesome! You think up the best ideas.

    P.s how strong are your handles on your bag?

  5. Very nice!! I just put all my cloth bags inside of the biggest cloth bag and carry it in my car. When we get to the store I just get my bags out of the trunk. We have one store here that will give you a .05¢ rebate off your groceries for bringing your own bgs. Another will give a .05¢ donation to you fave charity. They give you a poker chip for each bag you bring in and use. You drop the chips in containers that are right inside the exit door. The other 2 grocery stores don't seem to promote using cloth bags. And Walmart has cloth bags for sale at each register but that's about it.
    I can't wait to see what I can learn from you next...

  6. Hi Rhonda, I recycle everything here as well, I gave up cling wrap about 6 months agao and I havent missed it. My son starts school in a couple of weeks and I bought a little sandwich container for his lunch as well as these shower cap looking things from the supermarket, they cover the bowls of food and I wash them in the sink and hang on the line. You could make them out of plastic with elastic around the edges to suit the size of your bowls. Marlo

  7. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    I have just started recycling. The city where I live is going to limit us as of Feb. 1 to how much trash they will pick up each week. So I have my tubs in my larder for paper and the other for plastic and metal. The only thing I haven't figured out is what to do with food scraps. We can't have a compost nor any animals that will eat them. I have been using cloth bags at the store for a long time. I am finding this fun. An adventure.
    Great post.

  8. Hi Rhonda Jean :) This is an excellent post - thank you for sharing the specifics! I find myself quite often thinking through something you've shared and translating the idea into our life here. What a neat blessing! Love, Q

  9. I always enjoy your posts so much! This one gave me so much to think on... I have wanted to take cloth bags to the store for ages, but I always forget to. Tomorrow I need to shop, so I'm going to gather my bags tonight and put them in the car, that way I'll have them.

    I'm hoping to start a compost bin soon - we are first time homeowners and excited about doing what we can to go natural. The one thing that is bad is that we live outside the city limits in a metro area, and no one provides recycling services for us! I've begun saving all my glass jars and such for canning and storage, but all the plastic has to go in the trash. (Where we live, if you aren't inside a city limit, you cannot use the city's recycling facilities since you don't pay a city tax. Rubbish!)

    Thanks for always giving us encouragement!

  10. 1. What's a chook?

    2. I've read that putting newspapers and other printed materials into your composter introduces inks, dyes, and other chemicals that can be harmful.

    3. My bit? Cloth diapers for the kiddos and cloth menstrual pads for me (www.lunapads.com is one example).

  11. This is site about the current rubbish situation in Naples. This could soon be a more common site if we don't all reduce, re-use and recycle more and more. What exactly is in all of these rubbish bags ? More rubbish bags. Makes one think doesn't it. Karen


  12. Elizabeth: If you don't have room for compost/worms/chooks (which are chickens) you could consider a bokashi bin - apparently they're small enough to fit in a cupboard or on the bench in the kitchen. You add some grains that have been impregnated with something or other and all your food scraps ferment. I haven't tried it, but apparently they don't smell.

    When it gets full you bury it in the garden. Of course, if you don't have a garden, or one you can donate it to, it's not very helpful!

    You could also write to whoever collects rubbish in your area, and tell them how much you'd prefer to give them your rubbish separated.

  13. Rhonda Jean,
    What do you think about these trash bags, as a alternative to regular trash bags?


  14. I have been recycling clothing and other fabrics such as vintage sheets and tablecloths into "new" garments and totes, not just into rags-I love wondering around the "Wardrobe Refashion" blog for ideas on how to reuse and repurpose old garments and other fabrics. I guess I am a "refashionista" in my heart.

  15. A compost bin is on my wish/goal list for this year!

  16. Thanks to all of you for telling me about your recycling. It really does inspire me to know what others are doing.

    Renee, here is a link that shows the lunch box I have: http://www.lifesolutionsplus.com/fit-fresh-lunch-on-the-go-p-405.html

    midlife traveller, a chook is a chicken. the inks and dyes used nowadays are generally soy-based and not a problem in the compost.

    Thanks for the link, Karen

  17. Rhonda,

    Life solutions is a great resource.

    Thank you for sharing!


  18. Hi Rhonda Jean - I am working my way through your old posts as I have time - but I wanted to tell you that I have the same little blue tote. I found it in an opshop for 50c, and it has been used so many times! Function and form.

  19. Wow, I didn't realise that I did so much to reduce, reuse and recycle! My two sons (7/8) and I have two composts, one Boskie thing, 4 chooks, one worm farm and a vegie patch in a suburban yard in Australia. I knew I was consiencious but didn't realise how well we were doing. I am patting myself and the boys on the back!
    Great articles. I have learned heaps in the hour I have been here. Keep it up.

  20. There is so much cool information here in your article Rhonda, and among the comments.

    All my vegetable scraps become compost - just toss it on one edge of the garden and somewhat cover with a shovelful of dirt. The second compost is the slow pile for small branches, trimmings, leaves, weeds, newsprint, grubby cardboard egg cartons. Excessive grass from mowing becomes mulch or goes in the compost. I never thought of composting cardboard because the glue part worried me, but lots of people do it (learned this on blogs), so I'm kind of selectively composting some cardboard.

    I have some reuseable shopping bags, but only use them occasionally. I reuse the plastic store bags for trash and never buy trash bags. Some of these bags and the good egg cartons go back to a lady at the farmer's market. I keep many glass jars and some plactic to reuse. We have recycling for glass, all hard plastic, cardboard, paper, cans, aluminum, textile, and yard waste.

    I've always saved buttons and zippers from spent clothing, and occasionally turned a skirt-tail into a sleeveless top, or made a few rags. But, you've inspired me to go way beyond that. Usable items get passed on to others or donated.

    Oversized food containers and even waste bins and holey buckets have become flower pots. Soap ends and slivers can be fastened in an empty mesh onion bag and you have a scrubber w/soap included.

    When I was little, my Mom made me an underslip from a pillowslip. She carefully shelled walnuts and put the shell halves back together with a string inserted and they became Christmas ornaments. She would sometimes put two small holes in eggs and blow the innards out for scrambled eggs, then dry and decorate the shells for ornaments. My Dad would turn old barn wood into picture frames, and really could do about anything with wood. Family were the original "reuse & recycle" teachers, and now I visit here and at other blogs. Pretty cool.

    brenda from arkansas


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