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Take a step towards zero waste with these easy tips

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The typical Australian produces a staggering 2.7 tonnes of waste, every year.

This gloopy mess weighs about as much as a car and a caravan. Every single year. Every single Australian.

Getting started on a zero-waste journey is within everyone’s reach. There’s no special technology required. No change to government regulation or services. You can even continue to live a comfortable suburban life.

The key to success is taking your journey one step at a time–feeling good about the things that you’re doing, not guilty about the things that you aren’t.

Here are my three steps for getting started on a zero-waste journey.

Know your recycling

Can you make your curbside recycling work even harder? A typical Australian rubbish bin contains about 10% recyclable materials, that could have been put into their curbside recycling bin, except that they simply weren’t sorted correctly.

Many people will be surprised to know that you can recycle empty spray cans, like the type you use for olive oil or shaving cream. You can also recycle magazines, no need to remove the staples.

Many people are also surprised to learn that your recycling doesn’t need to be squeaky clean, just empty, scraped clean and dry.

Pizza boxes with a few crumbs and some melted cheese–straight into your recycling bin. Jam or peanut butter jars, scrape them clean–give them a quick rinse if you can–and pop them directly into your recycling bin.

Every time you put something into the bin, ask the question–should this be in my recycling bin? If you’re not sure, check the ACT Government’s Recyclopedia. It lists everything that can and can’t be recycled.

It’s all about soft vs hard plastics

But wait…there’s one more part to knowing your recycling, and it’s not about your curbside recycling bin–it’s about soft plastics.

Have you heard of Redcycle? They’re an Australian company who collect soft plastics as a material input for production in Australia to create park benches, children’s play equipment and more. There are hundreds of collection points around Australia, at Coles and Woolworths supermarkets.

Typically, soft plastics are 10% by weight in a household rubbish bin. Examples of soft plastics that can be recycled include bread bags, fruit bags, silver biscuit packets and even, ‘green’ bags that feel like fabric.

In total, really knowing your recycling could reduce your gloopy mess by 20%. You can do this simply by better sorting your curbside recycling and taking soft plastics to a Redcycle drop-off point. Totally doable!

Take organic waste out of your rubbish bin

Organic waste includes food waste from your kitchen and clippings from your garden.

It doesn’t belong in landfill, because it breaks down to create methane, a potent greenhouse gas–the stuff of cow farts. Organic waste is actually a valuable resource, that can be transformed into compost–food for plants.

Some local councils have a curbside organic waste collection service. Many of these services include the collection of both food and garden waste. In Canberra, we’ve got a garden waste collection service.

Here are four great option for taking food waste out of your bin to landfill.

Option 1: Share your waste

Crazy, right? Welcome to the world of technology. Share Waste is an Australian-develop app for connecting people who have kitchen waste, with people who want that waste for their compost or chickens.

There are more than 30,000 people in Australia, including more than 50 in Canberra, who have signed up to take kitchen scraps. This movement is huge. Check the Share Waste website to find a kitchen scraps drop-off point near you.

Not keen on using an app? Look into your local community garden. Most have a compost heap that will take kitchen scraps by arrangement.

Option 2: Bokashi bucket

Bokashi technology was developed in South Korea and is perfect for apartment living. The bucket fits neatly underneath your kitchen sink and they’ll take almost every type of kitchen food waste.

Each day you press down on top of the bucket to remove air and then sprinkle a little of the bokashi enzyme. You’ll produce a rich soil–perfect for balcony pot plants or for giving away to friends.

Option 3: Worm Farm

If you have small backyard space, consider a worm farm. Worm farms take most of your kitchen scraps. They love tea bags, coffee grounds, fruit and veg peelings, lawn clippings, straw, natural fibre cloth, pre-wet paper… but, you’ll need to leave out citrus peel, onion, meat and dairy.

And yes, you really do need to exclude these items… I am guilty of causing the death of a worm colony, as a result of my disregard for their dietary requirements.

Worms also need their food chopped up–peelings are perfect, broccoli stalks aren’t so good.

Option 4: Compost

Got a decent backyard space? Feeling lazy? Consider compost. Composts are amazing because they’ll take anything that once lived… yes, anything! Fruit, veg, hair, chicken bones and garden waste.

Typically, you’ll have two compost heaps going at any one time. One of the heaps will be taking new food scraps and the other heap will be maturing or supplying compost to the garden.

The key to successful composting is to layer–with both green and brown materials at a ratio of 2 green to 1 brown.

Typically, by keeping your organic waste out of the rubbish bin will reduce your waste to landfill by a massive 40%-that’s about 10% garden waste and 30% kitchen scraps.

You’ll also be part of the solution, enabling that organic waste to be transformed into new plants again, and again.

This article has been adapted from Mia’s Zero Waste Journey TEDxCanberra talk, recorded live at the TEDxCanberra Salon Event in July 2019.

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