Reducing household waste

Reducing waste was one of the hardest projects we undertook in our quest to live more sustainably. With landfill sites around Australia close to full capacity and the prohibitive costs associated with transporting waste over even longer distances, we all need to take responsibility for the waste we produce.

This year, I was invited to answer questions about our waste reduction efforts on two occasions. In September the team at Climate Reality Australia reported the first interview at No Waste Living – Climate Reality Australia. I am sharing the transcript of the second interview by 1 Million Women below.

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What inspired you to live a no-waste life?

As we became better informed about climate change and the impact of methane emissions from landfill sites, we decided to reduce our household’s waste and carbon emissions. We quickly found out everything is interrelated and that we needed to assess and make changes to our consumption habits. It became a challenge to see just how far we could go. Over a few years, we eliminated all our household waste to landfill, reduced the content of our recycling bin by 80% and reduced our household’s carbon emissions by 90% from the average Australian per capita emissions.

What are the benefits from going no-waste?

The main benefit is knowing we have taken responsibility for our own actions and, if we can do it, so can most people in our circumstances. With an issue as huge and seemingly intractable as climate change, it’s easy to feel there is nothing we can do, yet this is far from true. We can all make a difference and we ‘add up’. Shopping and managing ‘stuff’ takes up a lot of time, so other benefits include having more time for others and for creative pursuits. By composting all our organic wastes, we have improved our garden soil. We also save money by buying food staples in bulk and avoiding processed, packaged foods. Eating mainly fresh, local and seasonal food also leads to better health.

What is the best tip you could give someone wanting to go zero-waste?

Aim to reduce waste rather than for ‘zero waste’ which could seem too daunting. Start with the easiest measures for you and your family and go slowly. Take note of what goes in your bins and aim to make small changes. You may want to start with green-cleaning, using a compost or bokashi bin, reducing take-home packaging by buying in bulk, or improving your knowledge of recycling correctly. Consolidate, keep moving forward and trying new ideas until you reach your goal. If you have a bad week, don’t worry, just start again the following week. Don’t give up. To reduce general consumption and shopping, limit exposure to advertising and think of alternative activities you and your family would enjoy.

What do you believe are the unique powers of women to live more sustainably?

To live more sustainably, people living in ‘rich’ countries like Australia, must consume and waste fewer resources… a lot less. Australian women have huge spending power and are expected to spend $27 billion on discretionary items in 2014. Women make the final decision for buying 91% of home purchases, 65% of the new cars, and 66% of computers. (Sources: Marketing to women: New ways of selling to her and Beyond Pink – Australian Marketing Institute). Women are also more often than not in control of household food choices and we know that, apart from discretionary spending, food production and transportation are one of the highest sources of waste and CO2 emissions.

Generally speaking, women also have ‘social power’ through good social skills and a predilection for being socially active and community builders. These social and networking skills can be employed to start conversations about the urgent need to act on climate change, making the link between sustainability and consumption choices, and encouraging others to take action. Women often have primary responsibility for small children, the care of the aged and disabled, and tend to be more altruistic and focused on others. This ‘care-factor’ can be harnessed and extended towards vulnerable populations, current and future generations. In Australia, women also have the power to vote and can make their voices heard by lobbying politicians on issues that matter to them.

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If you are interested in reducing household waste yet don’t want to attempt doing this on your own, initiating a ‘waste reduction’ support group with friends or neighbours could be a good place to start. Tracking your household’s progress and sharing successes and failures with others can ease the difficult path towards making behaviour changes.

How do you manage waste in your household?

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