Zero Waste

Don't be a dick


Don't be a dick

We know plastic bags are bad for the environment. We've known this for years. Nothing new here.

But... we still use them. We use them quite a lot. We use millions of them. Not every year, but everyday.

We have waited for our governments to do something about plastic bags. Some have added small fees, a few have taken real action and banned them altogether. Some companies have got bored of waiting for their governments and stopped giving them out themselves. But still, a vast number of people still say yes to the question, "Would you like a bag?"

My question is, "Is this acceptable?"

Lets just take a moment to think what the realistic longevity of a plastic bag being used actually is:

  • Fill it with groceries - 1 minute
  • Walk to our car/home - 1-15 minutes
  • Empty the bag once we get home - 1 minute

That's it.

This bag, that has potentially completed it's full carrying career after as little as 3 minutes, will now retire and remain on the planet for between 20-1000 years (no idea why this range is so large!?). While I'm all for working less, this is taking the piss a bit.

Well, maybe it's time to change our stance on baggers and baggees (just made those words up). Sure, we aren't perfect, sometimes you're distracted, the baggers seize the opportunity, put your stuff in the bag before you can refuse. But, these should be one offs. Accidental occurrences that make us feel guilty. When we are paying attention we should be saying "No Thanks". If we can remember our wallets to go to the shop, then, maybe, we can remember a reusable bag. If we forget the bag, then, perhaps, we need to go home and get it, or better yet, suck it up and carry things home. We are quite resourceful. We have pockets, arms, teeth. Shouldn't it be us that suffers due to our mistake not the planet?

And, maybe, we shouldn't be so polite around those that still take and hand out bags.

If you have a friend who repeatedly takes 3, 4, 5 bags at a time, double bagging just to be safe,

If you have a family member who says "It's OK, I'll reuse it" and adds it to their growing collection of used once bags in the cupboard,

If you have a colleague who takes a bag without a second thought, a bag filled with only one item, and then proceeds to carry the bag not by the handles but by holding the item itself, removing any use for the bag at all,

If you shop somewhere that's default is to put items in a bag without asking and doesn't offer any alternative to plastic,

Well, maybe, you need to tell them they're a dick.



What can nature teach us about our waste?


What can nature teach us about our waste?

If you have ever taken a walk in a forest, wood or fully natural ecosystem, then you may have noticed a significant difference between humans and the rest of the natural world.

We are the only ones who create waste.

No other animal or plant on the entire planet creates unusable, non-recyclable waste except for us. Take that forest you may have strolled through for example. Researchers have shown* that a healthy forest ecosystem recycles around 98% of all of its nutrients with only 2% leaving the forest each year through animals and water run off. 98% is an unbelievable level of self sufficiency. Especially when, if you look at the bigger picture, that 2% that escapes will only be used up by another ecosystem outside of the forest. So on a larger scale the natural world is in fact 100% sustainable. Well, that is until we arrived...

The average person in North America creates the following amounts of waste:

A day = 2kg (4.3lbs)

A week = 14kg (30lbs)

A year = 730kg (1,569lbs)

It's safe to say that we are a long way off the rest of the natural world. Even the most sustainable and environmentally conscious cities at present are only aiming to achieve about a third of what nature can.

Where nature recycles and reuses materials and nutrients again and again. We create waste that is on the most part unusable.  At its worst it is landfilled and takes hundreds, sometimes thousands of years to break down. At best it is recycled, requiring fossil fuels to transport and process, loses its quality and ultimately ends up on the landfill after a few uses. We are the odd ones out. It's a secret gang that us humans left a while back. While nature adopted a closed loop system we adopted a one way system.

Two examples of closed loop systems in nature. Copyright

The sad thing in all this is that we actually haven't been fully kicked out of this nature gang. Good old Mother Nature is a forgiving soul and is still trying to accommodate us despite our repeated abuse of her home. She is also secretly a bit OCD and likes to keep a clean place. So while we are operating on our one way system she repeatedly tries to tidy up after us and create a closed loop system. She still tries to process our waste in the same way she would with a leaf, or decomposing animal because that's what she does best. The only problem is she hasn't realised the nutrients we are adding aren't beneficial to any of us. That's why our plastic waste is now being discovered in our food chain and the chemicals we spray on our crops are starting to affect our health. Nature is simply breaking it all down and adding it back into the system. We're like the crappy guests at a diner party, when everyone else spends ages cooking organic, healthy food, turn up with a McDonalds.

So what does all this teach us? It teaches us that simply because we can't see the immediate result of our actions it doesn't mean they don't have consequences. It also teaches us that the solutions are really quite simple. All we need to do is stop adding toxic, unnatural items to the loop, and start using organic items that nature can process and use again and again without it damaging the larger ecosystem.

How can we achieve this? With each action you take simply ask yourself, "Will this benefit or damage our closed loop system?" If everyone starts to play their part and contribute to the system with healthy and beneficial actions we can start to create a much more vibrant system for all of us.


*Gaia's Garden - Toby Hemenway

10 easy ways to reduce your impact


We all would like to live a little greener, and we all like lists. Here are 10 easy ways to reduce your impact today and be a little more environmentally friendly tomorrow: 1. Buy a reusable coffee/tea mug. Reusable mugs are cheap, much nicer to drink out of, better for the planet. Treat yourself.

2. Put a brick in your toilet cistern. It's kind of mad that we use clean water to flush our toilets so lets try reduce the madness a few litres at a time.

3. Unplug electronics at night. Turn your computer off (don't just close it), unplug the wifi, turn as much off as you can. Most electricity is created by burning fossil fuels. The more you use the more pollution you are creating.

4. Buy reusable bulk produce bags and avoid using the plastic bags provided. We're all human so if you forget them use the paper mushroom bags from the grocery area instead.

5. Get a map of where you live. Draw a 5km circle around your house. Try to use public transport/walk/cycle/run to places in this area instead of using the car.

6. Avoid shopping at supermarkets. Due to their size they waste a lot of food. Stop supporting them with your money and shop at farmers markets and smaller, local grocery stores.

7. Buy local food where possible. Food that has travelled thousands of miles to get to you has a bigger impact on the planet than food from down the road (most of the time). You don't have to give up on things like bananas or coffee, that isn't available locally, but just choose the local apple over the New Zealand one (unless you live in New Zealand).

8. Take your own containers to the takeout store. I put off asking my local restaurant if I could do this for ages as I thought I was being difficult. When I finally asked them it was no problem at all.

9. Buy organic food. Non-organic food is sprayed with chemical pesticides. Those chemicals damage the ecosystem not to mention your health. If we support organic food we can help reduce this damage.

10. Don't do all the things on this list at once. Start small, maybe try one thing today and then if it goes well try another. We aren't going to change completely overnight but we can wake up with a slightly smaller footprint than when we went to bed.


Do you have anything to add? Share your suggestions in the comments below

How to reduce waste this Christmas


How to reduce waste this Christmas

I love Christmas. Probably more than a grown man should. It's a great time of the year that really demonstrates our community spirit in a positive light, even if that spirit is based around drinking spirits.

It's also one of the rare times of the year that people eat mostly seasonal food due to the traditions set when seasonal food was the only option.

However, one thing I have struggled with is the waste of Christmas. There is so much social pressure through work, friends and family to buy into the consumerism of it all that it can be hard to stick to values you might otherwise throughout the rest of the year.

Here are some ways to reduce this waste while also avoid being labelled a miserable, anti-Christmas Scrooge.

Let me know if you have any other suggestions in the comments below.

Reduce waste this Christmas

Wrapping Paper

Why is it a problem?

It's often not made from recycled paper and because of all the fancy, shiny stuff added to make it look snazzier, can't actually be recycled, and that's just the paper. The ribbon and bows etc, none of that gets recycled and is made from plastic so is going straight to the landfill.

What is the solution?

Obviously you could opt for not wrapping it at all, but that does somewhat ruin the surprise.  Instead use an old magazine or newspaper. The bonus of this is that if you and your friend have different political views you can even carefully select the pages to add subliminal propaganda to their present.

The office Secret Santa

Why is it a problem?

Is it just me or do you always get assigned the person in the office you know least about? It usually slides quite far down on your priority list and then the day before you panic and buy something in a rush. It can be fun and the gifts often cause some laughter but then what? So often the gifts are throw away items, wrapped in single use plastic, that cause a few minutes of joy but years of misery for the planet.

What is the solution?

As tempting as it is to stand defiantly with a raised Eco fist in the air while everyone around you swaps presents it's probably less damaging on your social status to simply buy ethically. Use the opportunity to give a gift to someone who actually needs it. If everyone at the office brought their gifts form a charity store then the impact is much smaller. The gift is used, the money goes to charity, and if the person has no use for it they can just return it to a charity shop afterwards.

Christmas Cards

Why is it a problem?

We send cards all over the country to show people we are thinking about them at Christmas which is an amazing display of love for friends and family. However, that card is often made of non-recycled paper and is covered in glitter and shiny bits and pieces so can't be recycled afterwards. It is also, like many Christmas traditions, a disposable, single use item. Once the card has been on display for a few weeks it is put in the recycling, but often not actually recycled. That's an unnecessary waste of energy and resources for a picture of a snowman and a few thoughtful words.

What is the solution?

If you absolutely have to buy cards make sure they are small, of recycled materials and can be recycled. It still uses a lot of energy to produce and recycle them though so why not make them yourself out of used cardboard. Alternatively, call someone and have a chat instead. It will mean far more to them than the card and leaves no impact.

Reduce waste this Christmas

Christmas Tree

Why is it a problem?

I always loved the Christmas tree at home it was a sign that Christmas had arrive. However, it does seem quite a strange tradition to decorate a dead tree in the corner of your room for a few weeks. Sure it smells and looks lovely but it really isn't the best for the environment. There are alternatives to the cut tree in plastic form, but then, why are we putting up a plastic tree in our house?  Not to mention the waste when all that plastic inevitably goes to the landfill.

What is the solution?

Source a potted tree that you can bring in for Christmas and move outside afterwards. Not only is this better for the environment it actually saves you money too.  However, why restrict yourself to keeping trees inside for only 1/12th of the year? Buy an indoor plant and just leave it in the house all year round.  You can still decorate the tree but just lay off the tinsel. That plastic, shiny shit isn't helping anyone.

Overall consumerism of it all

Why is it a problem?

The tradition of Christmas has long been diluted and morphed into what it is today. The main focus has become spending money. The media is obsessed with it and nearly every advertisement is focused on selling Christmas. We have fully bought into this and spend hundreds every year on gifts for those we love. While the giving and receiving of gifts is a magical thing, it has got way out of hand. No matter what the product, even ethically sourced ones, if you buy something new, then energy and resources are used. Mo' presents, Mo' problems.

What is the solution?

The hard line is to not buy into any of it, enjoy the festive time with family and friends, eat good food, drink, laugh, and drink some more. But it is hard to take such a drastic measure when everyone else around you has gifts to exchange. Instead just be mindful of the spending, go with quality over quantity. It is the perfect time to try to make something yourself, buy something second hand, or better yet gift someone to an experience. An experience has a reduced impact and is something that you can do with that person thereby strengthening the relationship. A memory lasts a lifetime...and so does plastic.

Not the most environmentally friendly house on the block

Over the top Christmas decorations

Why is it a problem?

If you have to ask you're probably at the wrong website.

What is the solution?

Disown your neighbours.

Finally, don't be too hard on yourself. Even if you only manage to do one thing that you didn't last year then you have still reduced your impact. If everyone does one small thing to reduce their impact then the world is moving in the right direction.

Do you have any suggestions for ways to reduce your waste at Christmas, I'd love to hear in the comments below.


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.