Rubbish Accounting.

One of our aims in the New Year was to keep better track of the impact of the changes we’ve made. The importance of this was highlighted when a friend remarked that they had the highest energy usage in their street. I was a bit taken aback that this seemed almost like a point of pride but it did prompt thought about how aware are we of what we use? I figured the best place to start is a feedback that has in fact presented itself without any effort for us. Historically, like most people we have a household bin which we line with a large plastic bag that contains the rubbish of the week. We said right at the beginning that we weren’t going to throw out all of the plastic that we already owned (since a whole lot more landfill doesn’t really benefit anyone) so we spent the first months just using up what we had. I always thought that we were pretty good with rubbish since we have chickens that eat most of the scraps, worms that eat things that the chickens wont or shouldn’t (tea and potato peelings being two big ones) along with the odd bucket of chopped up scraps as well as a compost bin. I should probably add that between the chickens and the worms, the compost bin spend a lot of time looking quite sad and most often is just a repository for the used chicken bedding. Even with all this we would fill one of those 20 litre bags at least each week and at times get closer to 2. This is still about ½ a standard wheely bin so I thought that was pretty good.

We noticed when we started avoiding plastic packaging we had a remarkable drop in the amount of rubbish that we collected. Within a number of weeks our rubbish production halved. This really surprised me because I didn’t think we bought that much plastic anyway but it has continued so the only explanation is really that half of our rubbish was simply needless packaging, which is quite scary. More recently though we have had to further reflect on how much rubbish we produced. This wasn’t intentional, it was just that our supply of large bags ran out and after our daughter kicked the nappy habit we didn’t even get the odd plastic bag containing wet nappies from the crèche. I think it is fair to say that we have become plastic bag scroungers. It was also amusing that Nikki reflected that when she first met my mother she thought she was slightly odd with her tendency to re-use and even at times wash and line-dry plastic bags, she recently realised that we have, by needs followed suit.

So we are now down to our few remaining standard plastic bags. As such we are now very aware of exactly how much rubbish we produce and I’m very pleased to say that this week we produced one standard supermarket worth of rubbish (and that included a disposable nappy from somebody else’s child). So for us this has been a real eye-opening experience and really brought home just how easy it is to be lulled into a feeling that you’re doing as much as you can. Six months ago if you had asked are we pretty good with the amount of rubbish we produce I would have said yes, whereas in hindsight maybe we weren’t so good. It’s also interesting to think how much further could one go?

Do we actually need bin liners? If we were to fill up our bins directly, wouldn’t the rubbish truck be able to handle this? There is no human contact at point of emptying, would it not take less time to degrade at the tip if there was no lining covering it, protecting it all from the elements? Should we be simply filling the bin, washing it out regularly and avoiding wrapping our rubbish in individual shrouds?

But how about others, how much rubbish do you create? What is it made up of? Could you reduce it?