Among all of the hot topics that are working their way into our psyches, 'waste-free living' has must be at the very top...
And for good reason. Following the ABC’s War On Waste series (with similar programs across the globe), it seems we are all collectively becoming more aware of what we’re consuming … And what we’re throwing away.
With the average Australian household throwing away $3,500 worth of food every year (that’s about a tonne), as we produce enough food each year to feed around 60 million people (over twice our population), we clearly need to make some shifts.
That’s why we were so delighted to receive A Family Guide to Waste-Free Living on our desks recently, which is packed full of ideas on how to minimise wastage in a way that is both family-friendly and realistic. Authors Lauren and Oberon Carter have kindly shared an extract from their book with us, to help spark some ideas on how to minimise wastage, including a (deliciously smelling) surface cleaner that has already replaced our trusty favourites.
A Family Guide to Waste-Free Living by Lauren and Oberon Carter, published by Plum, $34.99, photography by Lauren Oberon. Holding image: Trish Lee
What is waste-free living?
For us, waste-free living means bringing nothing into our home that we can’t consume, compost or repurpose. It means not contributing to landfill, or to giant floating islands of plastic that accumulate in the oceans. It means little to no recycling (more on that later). It means not being complacent about where our waste goes. It means thinking. Lots of thinking. And refusing stuff that we can’t put to good use. We want to take responsibility for everything we bring into our home and anything that leaves it. This means focusing both on what items we will refuse and reduce, as well as those items that we can make good use of that won’t create excessive waste, once used.
Instead of asking, ‘is it landfill?’, or ‘is it waste?’, we ask ‘is it compostable?’ Earth is losing soil at a rapid rate, so anything we can do to help build it up, such as composting and keeping carbon in the soil, helps. It is important that we take good care of our own land and live in a way that does not harm others. Minimising waste is part of that aim.
A commonly associated term is zero waste. Put simply, this is a philosophy for living that involves not producing or contributing to excess or needless waste, both in the home and elsewhere, such as in shops, factories or the workplace. Whilst the term has its origins in the industrial sector, the zero waste label was popularised by waste-free living proponent and writer Bea Johnson in her book – Zero Waste Home. Since then, many individuals and businesses have adopted the term, although interpretation has varied somewhat. In this book we consider zero waste and waste free to be interchangeable terms.
In the term zero waste, the word zero is a bit of a misnomer. Through the manufacture and production of most things in our waste-free home, there is inevitably waste. We visit the bulk food shop, where products may have been transported in large plastic bags which go on to be repurposed or recycled. There’sless packaging and we only purchase exactly what we need, but there’s still waste. Plus, there is waste in the transport we use to go to the shops, in our impact on the roads and paths we travel, in the light and heating of buildings and spaces. When household items break beyond repair and have outlived their usefulness, if they’re not compostable, they are recycled or sent to landfill. There’s still waste. Unless we’re growing every single thing ourselves and doing it in a highly efficient way, there will be waste. But does that mean we shouldn’t strive for zero?
Even amongst the most die-hard of zero-waste campaigners you will still find that ‘jar of waste’ which has been collected over time, containing waste items that just seem unavoidable. Plastic-coated paper parking tickets, plastic wrappers for medicines, Blu-Tack, broken plastic buttons and other miscellaneous things. You’ll be surprised at just how often you will be left with items that have no practical future use, beyond maybe a short-lived craft activity. These reflect some of the physical wastes that are accumulated, but even these do not portray the hidden wastes that are created to provide many of the goods and services we use. Remember that zero waste is an aspiration rather than an absolute reality. This will continue to be the case until our societies, including our governments and the populace, embrace waste-reduction actions in all aspects of life.
We’re not doing anything radically new here. Many of the concepts and recipes in our book are similar to those our grandmothers and great-grandmothers used in raising their families. In fact, a couple of the recipes we’ve shared here came directly from our grandmothers’ handy hints books. When we imagine the family who grew up in our home before we lived here, we wonder, did they fill the small pantry shelves with preserves, too?
What we’re embracing in these pages is a return to slower, simpler times. To making things by hand, growing our own, slow fashion, preserving, fermenting, mending, buying locally and supporting our local farmers. A gentle shift from the broad-scale industrialised agriculture and mass consumerism that fuel our economy and fill our homes, towards smaller, local, resilient economies and self-reliance.
We recognise that waste means different things to different people and each person’s own circumstances will determine what is practically achievable in terms of waste reduction. Reducing waste by a small amount every now and then can be easy, but reducing most, or all, household waste will require a change of habits and most likely a change of attitude. We prefer to think of the switch to waste-free living as a decision, rather than a journey. As such, waste-free living is achievable with just small shifts in preparation, motivation and perspective. And, of course, some encouragement and support is invaluable for everyone along the way.
We’d recommend not focusing too much on the zero. It can lead to feeling like you’re missing out on something. Focus on the things you do have access to, as this can help create and maintain a feeling of abundance. We prefer the term waste free for this reason. It evokes the idea of breaking free of the shackles of waste, so we can get on with the job of living!
Principles for waste-free living
- Be flexible in the way your needs can be met. Recognise that waste-free living does not require one-for-one substitutions for everything you currently consume.
- Grow what food you can and otherwise source local and organic.
- Create a new normal when shopping (e.g. carry reusable bags and containers).
- Talk with your local makers, growers and retailers to find waste-free solutions.
- Learn how things are made, to better understand their benefits and harmful impacts. If you must consume a wasteful item, consume less of it.
- Reconnect with nature and rediscover the mutually beneficial connections between humans and natural ecosystems.
Waste-free living doesn’t have to be about going without things you love. Here are some of the perks we enjoy and you can look forward to:
- An abundance of locally grown, fresh food.
- Delicious home-grown produce. Meals tend to be healthier. We’d say the way we value our food has changed and we’re definitely focused on the good stuff.
- The marvels of composting! Everything we use will one day provide a valuable resource for our garden, helping
to grow food to feed ourselves and nourish our community.
- A pantry full of food and devoid of advertising! When we unpack the shopping, our food is already in the jars or containers that we intend to keep it in for freshness, so we just pop it straight in the cupboard, fridge or on the bench. It saves time!
- The convenience of not having to put out your rubbish bin. No more late- night or dawn bin runs and one less thing to remember each week.
- We’re more mindful of what comes into our home. There’s no waste to deal with.
- Slowing down. We’re saving time and life’s getting simpler. It’s feeding into other areas of our lives where we’re thinking minimally and simply.
- Enjoying products that are designed to last. We appreciate things that are crafted with care and time.
- A lifestyle that supports nature conservation and a cleaner local environment.
- Our soils are improving! By focusing on what we can compost, we’re staying mindful of things that feed and nourish the soils, which in turn nourish the plants that nourish us. Which may lead us to the next frontier of waste … humanure!.
- Opportunities to support local business. Frequenting different shops (as opposed to buying all our food from one monolithic supermarket) means we’re engaging with our community more. We have conversations with people to find out more about where our food and other stuff comes from, which is a definite win. Shopping is friendlier and more enjoyable. It’s quicker, because once you hit your waste-free groove, there are fewer choices and fewer decisions to make. There is no advertising or excess packaging to deal with. Once you’ve got it sussed, you save time and shopping is generally more pleasant.
- Making financial savings. We thought shopping this way would be more expensive but, surprisingly, it’s not. We have managed to stick to our budget and feed ourselves well. We’ve found there are actually savings to be made on certain items we’ve always bought. And we’re not paying for packaging or advertising, which makes up part of the cost of most pre-packaged foods. Awesome.