By Rachelle Strauss
How much rubbish did you throw out last year? If you're anything like the average person, you threw away your own body weight in rubbish every seven weeks. But have you ever stopped to think where "away" is? Sorry to tell you it's not some magical place full of rainbows and fairies where everything is transformed into something lovely. No, "away" is a landfill site, an incinerator, or a ship to China. It might even be a turtle's mouth.
In the New Year why not make a resolution for the earth by resolving to get your waste to a svelte size zero? It's fun, challenging and, better still, it won't cost you anything. It might even save you money. In 2009, my family set ourselves to the challenge of accumulating no more than one trash can of landfill for the entire year. Here's the result.
After having our bin emptied live on breakfast television (what a claim to fame!) and our story spreading around the world we decided to see how low we could go. By the end of the following year, this was our contribution to landfill:
Don't let this overwhelm you. It took us 18 months of gradual reduction to get to that level. Putting your bin on a diet is like losing weight yourself, the odd pound every week soon adds up to significant change. Soon the only pounds you'll be gaining will be in your wallet while your trash can will be looking slim and sophisticated. If you're up for the challenge, here are 16 tips to get you started:
1. Take your own reusable bags to the store and say no to disposable plastic bags.
2. Make full use of your curbside collections; what could be simpler than rinsing and recycling at home?
3. Set up a collection point in your home for materials you can take to a local recycling bank.
4. Check your schedule and mark in your diary the times when you are traveling past a recycling bank - start taking your materials with you.
5. Instead of throwing away toys, books and clothes, find your nearest thrift store and do your bit for humanity as well as the environment.
6. Decluttering larger items? Join your local Freecycle group where you'll find people in your area who think your trash is treasure.
7. Become a secret spy - check any packaging you're thinking of buying for recycling information. If you can't recycle it easily look for alternatives and complain to the manufacturer.
8. Choose one disposable item you regularly use and swap for the reusable version (think disposable pens, kitchen towels, diapers and sanitary napkins).
9. Reduce paper waste by signing up for paperless billing (this often saves you money too) and stopping junk mail at the source.
10. Make something you usually buy in packaging such as bread, cakes or biscuits. It's better for you and cheaper, too.
11. Make friends with your local retailers. Ask your butcher, baker or deli to sell you things in your own reusable containers.
12. Start a compost heap or wormery, you'll be able to turn your fruit and vegetable peelings into something valuable for the garden.
13. Speaking of gardening, grow some of your own food. Even if you don't have a garden you can grow in window boxes or on the kitchen windowsill.
14. Banish the word "leftovers" from your vocabulary. From now on you have tomorrow's ingredients.
15. Make do and mend. We live in a disposable culture but the reward of knitting, sewing, crochet and woodwork is tremendous.
16. And now the philosophical part: learn to separate your wants from your needs.
Are you ready to resolve to give up waste in 2012? Tell me how you're going to start and I'll be your personal cheerleader.
ALSO CHECK OUT:
9 Ways to Avoid Food Waste
14 Ways to Shop, Cook and Eat More Sustainably
America's 10 Biggest Landfills
10 Fashionable Reusable Bags
Images: Paula Bailey; Anorak; VegPlotting
After reading an article about the effects of plastics on marine life, Rachelle Strauss and her husband (a.k.a. Mr. and Mrs. Green) vowed to live a life less wasteful and started the popular UK-based site My Zero Waste, which encourages its readers to make small changes in their homes, using less resources along the way.