Reduce your waste

How to fit a month of waste into a jar


It's been a month since I attempted to reduce my waste and replace my rubbish bin with a 420ml jar. I wanted to share some of the things I learnt during that time. Before I go on, I realised quite early into this challenge that I needed to have some clauses to make it possible.

Clause 1: I did not initially think through the fact that before I started this challenge I already had lots of food, products, etc in my flat. I soon realised that the pre-jar me hadn't been purchasing these products with the aim of fitting the waste into a jar. After almost failing on day 1 due to pre-jar Josh's sins I allowed a clause in the deal. Anything purchased pre-jar went in a separate bin. Anything purchased post went in the jar.

Clause 2: Prior to what you might think from reading these rants I actually don't live alone. Up until now I had shared my bin like any normal human does with their partner. However while my partner was very supportive and got fully onboard with the challenge this jar was only for waste I created. If we shared something that came in plastic it would be cut in half and split into the bins. I realise this seems a bit weird but it's what happened so...

Apart from that everything else went in the jar. It started as only things that I would normally send to landfill would make it into the jar and recyclable plastic would just go in the recycling. But I found that once I had switched my mind to be anti plastic it was just as easy to avoid both forms altogether. Plus while doing a bit of research on plastics and waste I discovered that plastic degrades each time it is recycled and can often only be recycled once at best. So while we think we are recycling and reducing our waste that is often not the case. This article outlines how many times different materials can be recycled.

With this in mind, I found this challenge a little easier than I imagined it would be. I think we are often guilty of imagining the worst of a situation and allow that perceived hardship to stop us even giving something a go. There was even still a bit of space in the jar at the end of the month.

How to fit a month of waste into a jar

What went into the jar?

Here is a list of things I was unable to avoid or find alternative packaging for:

  • 2 pieces of small plastic that go around the top of jars to make them appear sealed. It was only when I got home I realised the jar had this on. I never noticed how many jars have this.
  • 1 energy bar wrapper - I went mountain biking and came close to bonking so had to eat it.
  • 2 crisp packet wrappers. Fair enough, I could have easily avoided these but I am a sucker for kettle chips so I make no apologies for eating them.
  • 1 hidden water filter wrapper. It came in a cardboard box but inside was a plastic bag. It is frustrating how much hidden plastic packaging there is.
  • 1 hidden tea wrapper. More hidden packaging that was inside an innocent looking cardboard tea box.
  • 1 plastic tofu wrapper. I couldn't find a way of buying tofu that didn't come in plastic. It is actually much easier to eat meat plastic free that things like tofu, tempeh etc.
  • 1 sourdough starter wrapper. This has caused endless joy since I activated the sourdough starter so was well worth the plastic. It has also helped me make lots of treats plastic free.
  • 1 plastic wrapper on a torch/flashlight. My camping torch broke and as much as I resisted buying a new one I ended up compromising and found one with minimal packaging.
  • 2 milk lids. I switched to glass milk bottles but even they came with plastic lids. I found bottled milk the only thing that avoided glass. All soy, almond, etc milks come in very hard to recycle packaging.

That was all of it. The whole month.

How to reduce your waste?

If you would like to reduce your waste here some rules I followed that made it possible:

  1. Never take a plastic bag from a store, ever! Always take a reusable bag of some sort with you where ever you go and if you happen to forget then get creative. Stuff pockets, use armpits, teeth, whatever you have to carry your purchases home. It was your mistake to forget the bag so you have to deal with the consequences not the planet!
  2. Never go anywhere without a reusable coffee/tea mug (unless you don't have a  coffee/tea problem like me). It isn't a fair trade in my opinion to have one small drink and leave a plastic lid as memory of that drink for hundreds of years.
  3. Try to keep bags you can use for bulk supplies on you whenever you go shopping.  Ideally the non plastic kind such as cotton, hemp, bamboo etc. But if you already have some ziploc style bags they will work too.
  4. Find stores nearby that sell in bulk. I have been able to find places nearby that sell everything from nuts, rice, pasta and porridge oats to washing detergent, soap, and even toothpaste. It all comes package free as long as you bring your own bag/container (point 3). If you forget your bags then instead of using the plastic bags provided I would just grab a paper mushroom bag from the grocery area and fill that instead. If you live in Vancouver then I highly recommend adding The Soap Dispensary to your shopping routine.
  5. Avoid processed and convenience food. I found, most of the time, if it's processed or convenient it will come in non recyclable packaging.
  6. Try not to buy fruit and vegetables that are wrapped in plastic. It is worrying how difficult this can be. A lot of supermarkets have opted with the philosophy that plastic makes it look safe/clean/new. The food came from the dirt so a little more isn't really going to hurt anyone.
  7. Generally supermarkets = waste so try to find a smaller independent store or market. Often they will buy their produce locally, from smaller farms who don't have the means or need to wrap everything in plastic. Farmers markets are your friend.
  8. Buy less stuff.

I am going to continue this challenge to see how long I can keep it going. Each month I will empty the jar and start again. It's been a great exercise in changing my shopping habits and opening my eyes to just how much plastic is out there. I had never realised just how many things come in some form of non recyclable packaging. Having the waste in a clear jar is also a great reminder that this waste is going to be here for many more years than I will be so it makes it a little harder to turn a blind eye. If fitting your waste into a jar is a bit extreme for you one thing I did before this was to make note of the date each time I had to empty the rubbish bin. I would then challenge myself to extend the number of days before I emptied it again. Just doing this simple exercise helped make me much more aware of how much waste I was creating.

If you have any advice on how you have cut down your waste I'd really appreciate you sharing it below to help both myself and anyone else interested reduce their impact. If you have any questions about specific ways I was able to find package free products then get in touch below too.

If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem


It seems we are all in agreement, Planet Earth could do with some improvements. A quick scan on anyone's social media feed will show that everyone has some opinion on it, global warming, deforestation, genetically modified food, famine, obesity, war, poverty, or even the shooting of a lion called Cecil. At least one of those ingredients is enough to bring out a passionate post from the calmest of souls. Yet what are we doing with this passion and these opinions, sharing a post on Facebook, signing an online petition, or maybe videoing ourselves with a bucket of ice? While all of these things are done with the best of intentions and can create change, they all have one common problem, they rely on someone else doing the work for us. Don't get me wrong, social media has become a powerful tool for bringing attention to atrocities happening across the world, petitions can create a change in policies and seemingly people dropping a bucket of ice on their head can raise a lot of money for charity. But what happens after we complete that quick, easy, convenient, online action? Most of us go back to living our lives the way we always had. We've done our bit, it's someone else's responsibility to sort that out now. I've donated, signed, shared, I'm contributing to change...That's all well and good except I'm not seeing change. All of those problems listed at the start of this post are still problems. Some are becoming worse. Our post sharing, petition signing attack on the things we disagree with doesn't seem to be working fast enough.

Now imagine a world where people saw a post on Facebook that showed how using plastic bottles is damaging the planet and instead of just liking it, maybe even sharing it, they actually decided then and there to never use a plastic water bottle again. I'm not talking about avoiding them until you forget to bring a refillable bottle, I'm talking NEVER AGAIN. And imagine that every post shared on social media that people liked or shared resulted in the same action, people changing their ways to match their beliefs. We can't rely on someone else to sort out our problems any longer as it's just not working. The attitude that "what's the point in me changing if no-one else will" isn't serving anyone. Even if you are the single sole person standing up for what you believe in isn't it still worth doing?

We need to wake up to the fact, if we aren't part of the solution we are part of the problem. If, for example, we disagree with the deforestation of the rainforest in Borneo and Sumatra that is putting Orangutans and many other animals, including us humans soon enough, on the endangered species list but still consume products that include palm oil sourced from that deforestation then we need to realise we are part of the problem. Just because we aren't the one cutting down the tree doesn't make us guilt free. The person responsible for cutting down the tree probably doesn't think he or she is to blame for the problem either, they are being paid by someone making the decision above them, they are just a logger. The person in the marketing department of the company selling the product probably doesn't think they are to blame either, they just promote the products the company makes. Even the owner of the company probably looks at the sales of the product and thinks that people still clearly want a product made in this way so they should still provide it. We are all partly responsible. If the product was made and we disagreed with it and never purchased it imagine how long that product would remain on sale for. 

It really isn't a big shift to change our habits. We don't need to all run off into the wilderness and set up self sufficient communes to make a change. We won't completely change our habits straight away but if we all start to make a conscious decision to not just go into auto pilot and simply ask ourselves "is this action I am about to take in line with the change I want to see?" I believe we could make a big change.

With this in mind I am taking on a series of month long challenges to try to shift my life to be more inline with the changes I want to see in the world. They aren't massive changes, but they are changes. Slowly but surely I aim to make small steps towards this goal and make these changes part of my everyday routine.

One thing I've learnt on this short journey I've been on is that committing to something in your head is one thing, if only you know about it it's easy to go back on it. However, voicing your intention to friends, family and even strangers brings with it peer pressure to see it through...

Instead of just liking and sharing things on social media Im trying to make a commitment to change my habits to fit in with my beliefs.

So here's my commitment: This month I am going to try to make all of my plastic waste for the month fit into a small glass jar. Both "recyclable" and single use plastic. Why a jar? Funnily enough a friend shared a post on Facebook about this lady who has fit all of her waste from 2 years into a small jar. I liked the post but then realised I needed to do more than just like the post. While I am not sure I currently have the ability to do exactly what she is doing I felt a good first step would be to try it for a month. I also like the fact that it is a glass jar so that each time I look at it I will be able to see the waste I have created. One big problem I see with our current waste system is we put our trash in a place that is usually hidden out of the way, under the sink, in the corner of the room, etc, then it gets dropped off at the dump that is also hidden away. Everything is kept out of sight, out of mind and leads us to a false sense of security to how much we are actually wasting. This will be a constant reminder.

For sometime I have disagreed and been angered by the damage our plastic obsession causes to our environment and our health yet I often still turn a blind eye and buy products wrapped in it? I can hardly complain about it if I am still reliant on it. It's quite a daunting challenge for me as recycled plastic packaging is unfortunately part of so many products that I use on a regular basis. It will take quite a bit of forward planning with shopping etc too which isn't my strong point.

If you agree with what I've said why not make a stand and commit to being part of the solution in one small way yourself. It doesn't need to be a month long thing, that format just appeals and works for me. It could be a small change or a big one, perhaps one day a week without using your car or a year of eating locally sourced food. Whatever it is post it in the comments below and/or on social media and announce it to the world. Sure, people may think it different to your regular updates and your post may not get as many likes as that nice picture of a sunset you just posted but at least you will be able to say you are being part of the solution and not the problem and you may even inspire someone you know to do the same.