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Sustainable Life: Just rubbish?

Mia Swainson

One week = one shopping bag full of rubbish.

There are two adults and three children in the house. Our challenge has been set. Impossible! I hear you say. Well, here’s how we did it.

Recycling food scraps at home

We like to eat lots of fruit and vegetables, so our home produces a bucket of scraps every day. We split these scraps three ways.

The worm farm is our first beneficiary of food scraps. We have a black plastic farm, with three active layers of scraps for the worms to eat. The bottom two layers are just worm casings and liquid. These layers look like a moist soil and smelly brown water – a bit gross for humans, perfect for plants. Worm farms are great for any sized house and garden. They’re also portable, so you can take them with you if you’re renting. Worms can be fussy eaters, they don’t like scraps from citrus or onions. They love watermelon skin, peelings, tea bags and coffee grounds. Pick up a worm farm and the worms at your local hardware store.

Backyard chickens are next in line for our food scraps. They eat and dig over any food that we’ll give them. In return, they produce delicious, free range eggs. Chickens prefer grain based food, like rice, corn cobs, pasta and bread. Anything they don’t eat, they dig over and into the soil. Leftover food doesn’t feel like it’s wasted with the chooks around. To set up for chickens, you need a strong coup with space for sleeping and laying eggs as well as a water dispenser. If you plan to go away for a few nights, then a grain dispenser is also essential. There are chickens for sale on Gumtree and you could also try the Gibbs Farm Centre in Queanbeyan.

The compost takes everything else, including chicken bones that we don’t like to feed to our backyard chickens. We combine food waste with garden waste and a layer of paper/sticks in our tumbling compost bin. In the summer time, composting happens fast and it feels like scraps take just a month to turn into crumbling, rich soil.

Recycling food scraps at home can make a big difference to the planet. For most households, food scraps are 40 – 50% of their rubbish. That’s up to 30,000 tonnes of waste each year that could be saved from the Mugga Lane landfill. Food waste also contributes to global warming. When food breaks down inside a landfill it releases methane – a nasty greenhouse gas.

Food waste also contributes to global warming. When food breaks down inside a landfill it releases methane – a nasty greenhouse gas.

Recycle

Yes, yes, yes. We all recycle at home by putting the cans and old newspapers into our yellow topped recycling bin. Recycling is good. We should keep doing it and keep feeling good about it.

But wait, there’s more to recycling than the fortnightly bin collection service by the ACT Government. There’s now soft plastic recycling drop off points, run by Redcycle, at participating Coles and Woolworths supermarkets across Canberra. Soft plastics accepted by Redcycle include cling wrap, freezer bags and fresh produce bags.

Reduce and Re-use

After soft plastics were removed from our rubbish bin, there wasn’t much left. There’s packaging that’s been manufactured with two types of materials, like paracetamol packets that contain both plastic and foil. There’s also items at the end of their life, like used textas, old band-aids, worn out running shoes or badly ripped clothing.

Now that I can see my rubbish, reducing and re-using items is easier. Maybe I’ll take up quilting, to use up some more of the ripped clothing. I will also look at ways to buy items that are longer lasting.

An impossible challenge has been met. One week = one shopping bag full of rubbish for a family of five. Not just once, but for many weeks now.

Will you take up the challenge? If you make up excuses, I’ll have to tell you… it’s just rubbish.

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Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp). More about the Author

  • Kaye Sperling

    I’m constantly surprised by the amount of rubbish my neighbours put out week after week. I rarely have more than a shopping bag of rubbish (often less) and use my bin for the non-compostable weeds from the garden. Glad to hear you’ve joined the club. 😀

  • Kathryn Reed

    We have been doing this for a few months now, and it only gets easier. We also just made the move to lining our rubbish bins with news paper, as now that we compost all of our wet waste (food scraps) there didn’t seem to be a need to waste a plastic bag every week.
    We’ve also been trying to create less rubbish in the first place. We buy better quality cleaning cloths and then wash them when needed rather than throw them out, and we cover food with clean tea towels, rather than plastic wrap. One step at a time…

  • Virginia Cooke

    We do all of the above and put out our garbage bin once a month! The RedCycle plastics recycling is great but they need to promote it more. Regarding your comment about onion skins: I put these aside in a plastic bag and take them every so often to Paperworks Inc at Watson, where they use them to make paper.

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