Recycling and reusing

15 January 2008

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.