Reduce waste - reduce, reuse and recyle

16 July 2008
One of the questions I am often asked in emails is: "I am trying to reduce the amount of plastic I use but I can't seem to find a way to get rid of the plastic bin liner. Any ideas?" This is difficult to answer because it really depends on the type of rubbish you're putting into the bin.

A good way to deal with the problem of garbage is to reduce the amount of packaging you bring into your home. I won't buy anything that is over packaged now, and I try to find someone in the store to explain that I want the product but won't buy it because it's over packaged. The more people who do this the better, otherwise manufacturers don't know. I won't buy little packets of anything that are packaged in a bigger pack; I try to buy large containers to decant into smaller ones at home and long ago I gave up on those packs of biscuits (cookies) and chocolates that are individually wrapped, placed in a plastic tray, in a box, covered with cellophane. pfffffffft! My general strategy on packaging is to buy in bulk when I can, buy products stored in paper, cans or glass. If it's in plastic I always check what type of plastic it is and if it's recyclable in my area, I buy it.

Save old bottles and jars for your preserves and cordials. If you buy a larger pack of something like coffee or tea, use your old clean jars to store the product when it's opened.

Not every local area recycles every type of plastic. You need to check your own shire council or local authority to know what it is they recycle. If you're in Australia, click here to check your nearest recycle station. If you click here, you will see what types of paper, cardboard and plastic my local rubbish dump accepts. You should do a Google search for your own recycle station and rubbish dump. There you will find out exactly what they accept and you can monitor your shopping to buy only that type of packaging.

A great side benefits of making compost, keeping chickens and dogs and having a worm farm is that most food scraps and vegetable waste is used to feed them. All our garden waste is given to either the chooks, the worms or the compost. Food scraps go to the dogs, worms or chooks. Our paper products and plastics are recycled - we have a special bin supplied by our council that is collected every second week. Our recycle station also accepts old computers, mobile phones, printers etc and they have information of their website about how to correctly dispose of oil and batteries.

As you can see, we don't have a lot of rubbish and what we do have is dry waste so it goes straight into the bin, without a liner. If I have a lot of smaller items, I wrap them in newspaper and put them in the bin. You could do this with your moist waste if it's not too wet and you use a few sheets of paper. So that is the short answer to the question of plastic bin liners - you can either line the bin with newspaper, or wrap the waste in newspaper parcels.

But the overall answer is to reduce your waste. This is one of the important things you will do in your simple life and it's vital you work out your own strategy for dealing with your household waste. Start by checking out your local area websites so you know what they recycle, then look at your own garbage and work out what you are throwing out. Then make a plan to reduce, reuse and recycle. Everyone's plan will be different but this is an area that we can all share what works for us in the comments section. Please let us know what you do, because I am always looking to improve what I do and I am sure there are many others who are working on this same problem.


  1. I was talking to a neighbor who was complaining about how just the two of them created TWO bins of garbage every week! As we are out in a very rural area, you either have to take your trash to the transfer station or hire someone to pick it up. I follow your system - reuse everything and recycle everything possible. I only take a small bag every two weeks, so it costs me less than $6 a month. My rule of thumb is to use every bit of plastic, tin, etc. at least twice. And I won't accept styrofoam containers at restaurants, asking them to provide either foil or another reuseable container. I am in the process of crocheting a clothespin bag from plastic bags I have used to tatters. It can actually be fun to reuse!!!

    Susan in NY

  2. I try to find other uses for throw away items including packaging, its part of my 'shop at home' philosophy; I'm using the two layers of plastic inserts from a tin of biscuits to keep small stationery items tidy in my drawer. I use plastic pill pots (from my sister) for sorting my small change until I have enough to change at the bank.

    I think I'll start removing excess packaging at the till - after I've paid for the item of course - and tell the supermarket they can dispose of it, especially since our authorities are looking at charging for waste collection. Maybe if we all did that the supermarkets would put pressure on manufacturers to reduce packaging?

    Thanks for the tips on reducing waste still further Rhonda, you're a great inspiration!

  3. I too reuse and recycle where ever Ican, and my bin is often nearly empty on collection day...I'm always amazed to see the neighbour's bins which won't close, they're so full.

    I've made up some bags of vsrious sizes, in good stronge tulle...I bought a baby basket net from the op shop and cut it up....that I take when I do my bulk and fruit and veg need then to put these things in plastic bags. I can store the veggies in them in the fridge, and they wash and dry easily for next time. I saw the idea in an old Grass Roots magazine.

    I suggest to people who maybe live in a high rise, and can't compost, to wrap their kitchen scraps in newspaper, rather than putting it in plastic. At least that way the waste has a chance to break down in the landfill, rather than sitting in plastic going nowhere. Although I think if I lived in a high rise, I'd manage to have a little worm farm tucked away somewhere.

  4. This is one area, in which I am making progress. My main shopping is done at Costco, so there is less packaging. I do reuse glass jars, though I dont keep them all; as I dont have a need for so many.

  5. Nice one Rhonda!

    I remember a tip in a newspaper once, after a previous edition had discussed reusing the newspapers. A woman wrote in saying she folded a portion of her weekly newspapers in to an open box shape (easy to get instructions online) and put her food scraps for the compost bin in to there. Every couple of days she threw the whole thing in the compost. I understand however that there may be issues with newspaper ink and toxicity (which really would surprise me, to be honest) so it's worth getting to the bottom of that before doing this.

    When I did a home practical for uni recently ("The impact of an individual habitat") I was very surprised to find our food waste seemed to be a high percentage of all of our waste. However, as I told you, about 85%, by weight, is given to our animals or compost with the rest being fat or bones. And the reason for the high % of food waste is that we don't buy much packaging! I had to explain that in my report of course but I thought it looked quite bad at face-value.

    We don't have kerb-side recycling here but my husband drives it all to the dump (which has a collection station) once per fortnight. We store it in boxes behind the kitchen door until then. There is a smaller town than ours 1 hour from here, only 2500-4000 people there, and there dump has the same service. I'd encourage anyone without kerbside recycling to enquire about where the recycling collection points are in your shire. You may not have to be in a big city to have access to some kind of service.

  6. I forgot to mention too that there are degradable plastic bin liners available if people feel that they have no choice. I think they are Multix brand in Australia. Quite honestly, it's a wonder they are making non-degradable bin liners when they can make degradable version - it's ludicrous. I make a point of telling all of my friends because unless they specifically go looking for a new bin liner people seem to just pick up what they've always bought without looking at the other options amongst the array.

  7. We are very lucky here in this part of the uk and have regular collections for cardboard, paper, glass jars and bottles, tins, plastic bottles and garden waste. I save what I can for re-use such as preserve jars, the twine that holds together our veg box delivery is used in the garden - I did wonder if I could knit dishcloths from it! lol! Pill bottles are used for sequins and bead storage, yogurt pots for starting off seeds or as sink tidies to collect the tea bags (for the compost heap) Our rubbish bin is now only 1/4 filled and we could actually downsize to a smaller bin now!

  8. Good Morning Rhonda
    I find being organised with our recyling helps. Each of my 'children' has a recycle bin in their bedroom and when full they take it to the recyle station in the garage and sort. The compost bin is easily accessed from the kitchen but we have a small compost bin by the backdoor. No excuse for putting anything recylable in the waste bin.
    My family is also very well trained and will not put anything in the recyling if they think it could be reused.

    I really like the idea of making reusable veg/fruit bags for when I go to the supermarket.

    Have a happy day.


  9. I'm trying to reduce us to just two "large kitchen bag" size of trsh to be picked up each week. Which looks funny because we have a HUGE trash container.

    I really feel I've accomplished something when I have just one bag of trash and one bag of kitty litter (thrown our inside of the bag the new litter comes in).

    Since we live in the country, we don't have any recycling but we take our newspapers, plastic, aluminum, and some glass items into our old neighborhood "in town". Our neighbors are so happy to have us continue recycling that they don't mind putting it in with there pick up at all.

  10. I sort my recycling also. I have a large basket for paper and cardboard recycling, and bags for aluminum,
    glass,tin and plastic. I try to have only 1/2 bag of true refuse for the dumpster each week. I repurpose and reuse much of what comes into our home. I look at being thrifty as a challenge that is both fun and rewarding.

  11. Re: compostables

    When I buy market mushrooms and bakery bread, I get them in paper bags. These paper bags are great for transporting my compost - the whole thing goes straight in the compost bin. Unfortunately we don't receive enough junk mail nor do we buy newspapers so we can't use those for our compost :D

  12. We are down to 2 shopping bags of rubbish per week for a family of 5. We compost, worm farm, have poultry and recycle everything we can. Having no rubbish collection services takes the choice out of the situation but I would still do it anyway. I enjoy the challenge of reducing our negative output in the world.

  13. I have noticed that just lately that things are getting packaged in more packaging eg chewing gum now comes in cellophane around a box and then each piece of gum is individually wrapped. My son lives in Japan and he says that every thing is wrapped at least twice

  14. I reuse the mesh potato bags underneath strawberry plants, to deter the slugs and keeps th fruit off the soil. I also reuse compost bags or strong black bags as walkways inbetween my rows of veg to keep down the weeds.

    We dont have kerbside recycling here in Brittany France.

  15. We have underground containers here at the beginning and the end of the street for trash, and one for glass and one for paper. We use that, and we try to keep packaging we buy at a minimum. I use for cotton diapers for my son, but my daughter still has the disposable ones. I hope she will be potty trained soon, it will save 1 trashbag a week.
    I have this coffee I drink one of each day, it's really my treat that I enjoy so much. The only thing that really bothers me about it (and my husband, he tells me all the time!) is that it comes in two individually wrapped sachets (coffee and topping) and the sachets are in a paper box. I've been thinking about writing an email to the company who makes it, but haven't done it (yet).
    There was a piece in the paper that one-third of all the food produced here ends up in the trash. Sad, isn't it?
    Christine from the NL

  16. Yay! Yet more inspiration :D

    One thing I am going to do, next time we do a stock up shop, is buy a fridge jug, and instead of buying the regular plastic jugs of milk (although these can be recycled) I am going to get a reusable tin of dried milk from LIDL. It works out cheaper - it's over £2 here for 3 litres of milk, as opposed to £1.50 for 4 litres of made up dried milk.
    Another bonus is that it can be stored for stockpiling, and the tins used for storage!

  17. We have alternate week collections of main rubbish and recycling, although we dispose of so little these days we could get away with only putting ours out once a month - if it weren't for the maggots! Our main rubbish is only half full on collection day at most. That's not totally brilliant and I still need to look at reducing that further, and there are only me and hubby, plus the 3 cats (although they don't use much obviously).

    The media here in the UK kicked up a huge fuss a few months ago because peoples bins were only collected every fortnight and the bins were overflowing at that point, whilst in the alternate weeks their recycling is collected, which hardly had anything in it at all. It seems people generally don't want to take responsibility for their own waste and don't want to put the effort in because they're 'too busy'. Whilst people are in that mindset, we're fighting an uphill struggle.

    And don't even get me started on the food waste I see hanging out of the neighbours' bins once a fortnight. All they need is a compost bin and/or chook house and they'd be sorted!

    FiFi x

  18. Great tip! I never thought of this!

    Thanks for sharing!

  19. We reuse as much as we can. Tea leaves, veg waste etc is collected in a biodegradable bag, which we use two or three times before we 'bin' it, and then the waste goes in the compost bin at the lottie. Plastic drink bottles are used at the lottie over canes when we use nets ovver our veg.

    Paper and glass goes in the recycle bins, the only thing we are unable to recycle is cardboard.

    Cartons are reused for the freezer, jars and bottles for jam, preserves and elderflower cordial etc.

    Carrier bags are used for the rubbish that has to go into the bin and I also use them to line the waste bins in the sitting room, bedroom and bathroom.......

    On average we only thow away 2 small carrier bags of waste each week, and that has to be things that we really cannot reuse in any other way.

  20. Rhonda, people ask me that question all the time too! So I am forwarding your post to them.

  21. Hi Susan, I reeally like your idea about crocheting a clothespeg bag with old plastic bags. Well done!

    Rosie, make sure you tell them you consider the packaging a big waste of resouces.

    Good work, Belle!

    I like that newspaper box idea, Deborah.

    Hawthorn, that is how I buy and store my powdered milk.

  22. In regards to overpackaging it is best to complain to the manufacturer directly - shop assistants have no say in how items are packaged. Nor do they usually have any direct contact with the manufacturer.

    As an ex-shop assistant I was always amazed with the wastage due to packaging - most of the items that we sold came in individual plastic bags - these were items meant to be sold unpackaged. We were just supposed to throw out the bags, but we would save them for putting together grab bags full of remnants.

  23. I shop at a store here called 'Weigh and Pay' in Woodvale, Perth WA. It sells everything loose. You can take your containers in and they will let you fill them there or you can use their paper bags. They have tea, coffee, sugar, flour, spices, dried herbs, dried fruit, nuts, rice,lollies, bread flour, cake mixes, salts, dried legumes, soup mix, cereal...thousands of things. I feel virtuous just shopping there because I know I am cutting out the packaging. They also have a customer loyalty card when you spend $10 you get a stamp and for every $100 you get $10 off your next purchase. I think more of these stores would be brilliant and we need to pressure manufacturers (and govt) to look at reducing all packaging and to make it all in materials that our councils recycle.
    So there you go! If you live in Perth and haven't been there it's a terrific little shop and such a great concept.

  24. I've struggled with how to do away with plastic bags to line garbage bins, too. I decided to just go "naked" and rinse the bins after each emptying. While we do compost, we cannot put any cooked foods in our compost because of bears. The thing is, our municipal garbage collectors won't allow us to put loose waste in the curbside bins, and so I've had to use the big black garbage bags to line them. Still, we have managed to reduce our waste to one-half of one bin (our limit is two) and there are five people living in this house.



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