The big weigh-in

Posted on: 4th February, 2019

Category: Trash Talk

Contributor: Allison Roberts

Allison Roberts of Exploding Tree is documenting her family’s self-imposed challenge to create zero rubbish for a whole year. If you would like to join Allison in her quest, or suggest some tips to help her achieve it, you will find her blog at www.explodingtree.com/cuttherubbish.

I don’t know about you but the last 12 months have flown by! Before I get to the weigh-in I wanted to share the unexpected joys (that took a bit of getting used to at first) from our 12 months of cutting-the-rubbish:

1. Fewer options – I have become so much happier not having to make decisions that involved millions of products every day, I only buy fruit and veg unwrapped – so in most shops that narrows things down, not to mention avoiding even having conversations about buying rubbish-y snacks and even healthy packaged snacks – the treat options when we’re out and about for our three-year-old are generally an ice cream cone, piece of fruit or veg (often a carrot) or some kind of croissant or bakery goody. Much easier for him to decide too.

2. Being less branded – I didn’t even think about the impact of the cut-the-rubbish would have on the presence of branded products in our home, until Halloween, when our wee boy was given a bunch of pre-wrapped treats – the very next day, in a shop he recognised Maltesers. I went home, unwrapped all his goodies and made a brand-free Halloween treat jar. I actually did my degree in media and consumerism so I’m not sure how this would have escaped me, but living without constant bits of advertising coming through the mail slot, being free from branded crisps and branded boxes on the shelves makes life seem a lot less cluttered, with less colour and words competing for attention.

3. Baking and popcorn – shall I say more? I am glad to be eating more homemade cakes, cookies and popcorn any time the mood takes me.

4. Saving cash and enjoying more time with family – oh yes, these two go hand in hand! I reckon we have saved an absolute whopper this year by making things from scratch and by choosing instead to learn together new ways of getting what we need. This has taken the whole family, extended family included, and has been a great source of conversation and bonding, I made Christmas pudding with my mother-in-law for the first time!

The main challenge along the way has been navigating saying ‘no thanks’ to rubbish and I now am comfortable doing so when I am the one making the choice at use/purchase but I have decided not to say ‘no thanks’ if it’s rubbish that has been already purchased and is either left at our house or brought as part of a gift. Though I have appreciated all the effort friends and family have made when coming to visit, I found Christmas wrapping paper especially depressing, such unnecessary high-gloss single use waste – next year I’ll make great effort to spread my request to have reused paper or fabric wrapped gifts for our son!

I don’t know about you but I feel that 2019 may just bring a colossal amount of change; the potential for the systems that govern us to face up to challenges, the drive towards simplicity, and rallying against mega-corporates. I hope to make time to start being more involved in this movement, more like all the students I’ve met over the year, from Rosscarbery students doing their ‘the truth about plastic film’ to students from Sacred Heart organising petitions to decrease plastics in their cafeteria.

So, time for the final weigh in; over the 12 months we have been working on cutting our rubbish we have produced 6.3 kg (3 medium bags) of waste, about two kgs of which is from my business. The majority of the waste from our family is the non-recyclable light plastic and foil packaging often coming in the post, from around butter, from gifts or food from friends and the little plastic film seals from yoghurt and a few broken coat hangers. Recycling tally is about 2 sq metres of cardboard, 120 glass bottles, 14 tetra-packs, about 40 small plastic containers, 12 tins and a small box of misc scrap metal and another of wood. We have six shopping bags of paper, most of which is high-gloss and recyclable but no good for starting fires. I think that over the year we’ve learnt enough to cut it back again next year, we have cut back what comes in the post, done a massive clearout of what was already in the house, so that impacted what was in the bin, and Twig opened in Spiller’s Lane halfway through the year, which helped massively – especially for snacks, baking, spices and grains.  

Overall I am happy with our efforts, especially when compared to the EPA statistic I mentioned last month, that ‘Household waste generated per person in Ireland in 2011 amounted to 367kg’.  When starting this project I thought we would have produced much less and feel we could indeed go further, especially with regards to recyclables, and intend to keep at it!

If you are keen to move towards your own zero-waste challenge, I would highly recommend hopping over to www.goingzerowaste.com and check out Kathryn’s current (January 2019) blog, ‘The 31 Day Zero Waste challenge’; my current favourite is day 21 ‘how to recycle’, which includes the fact ‘out of all the plastic ever created, only nine per cent has ever been recycled’. So that’s it from me, thank you for coming on the journey with me, it has been so invaluable to have to report in each month. We are all in this together and I think, as Clonakilty Fairtrade founder Jennifer Sleeman said, it is important to have fun, not to be to hard on ourselves or be too serious, we can do great things and find new sources of joy. Now over to you!

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