Over a period of years now, my wife has been swapping out household items for their ‘eco-friendly’ alternatives. It started with pretty easy stuff: hand wash; dish washing liquid; and surface cleaner.
Slowly, and slightly more challenging, was her commitment in replacing her makeup and perfume. Researching what companies owned became important. Being certified cruelty free was an important factor.
Little by little, the things we used around the house changed. It certainly didn’t happen overnight. Recently however, we started buying bamboo toilet paper in bulk online. We’d reached a point where we were now asking questions like, “what else can we bulk buy?”
Bulk buying started with food. Sacks of rice and flour. Large cans of olive oil. All typically items that didn’t perish or had a long shelf life. It made sense most of all from a financial point of view – these are things we will use and won’t be wasted. We were saving money by forcing our dollar to buy more. The fact that we were reducing further package and plastic waste was a happy accident, but didn’t go unnoticed.
It reached a point where we were starting to step back and look at all of these things we’d changed in our buying habits and behaviours over the years:
- We’d stopped buying kitchen paper and instead use a packet of those cheap washable microfiber cloths from your popular snag selling hardware store;
- Same went for disposable scourers after discovering euroScrubby and their equivalents;
- QLD brought in their plastic shopping bag ban in July 2018, so almost no choice here but to reinforce habits we’d already tried to establish: making sure those reusable bags were in various places. The car boot, my backpack, my wife’s handbag, etc.;
- We stopped buying cling wrap. It’s plastic. We’d built up a good supply of quality reusable food containers;
- We’d worked around wrapping minor food things by using a combination of baking paper, aluminium foil and paper bags instead. The rationale being the foil and paper are easier to industrially recycle than plastic. We tried wax paper for a bit but I wasn’t convinced;
- We started keeping things we could store or find other uses for before trashing them; glass jars, plastic bottles, bottle tops and empty loo rolls as loose parts play for the kids; egg crates for sound potential sound proofing uses;
- All waste bin bags became plant based degradable bags;
- Our food shop became more and more planned. If the fridge was empty at the end of a fortnight it was a good thing: we didn’t waste any of the perishable stuff. Meals were planned and cooked in large batches, portioned off into containers and frozen;
- Where there was food scraps and leftovers, the majority went into our worm farm. We started yielding castings after about 4 months. My wife is the one with green fingers and I’m told this stuff is like gold for our garden;
- In an effort to mitigate plastic from bread (and to reduce how much of it we ate…) I resolved to learn how to bake my own bread. I was attracted by the skill and science involved, and can confidently say that the number of loaves we bought in 2019 was less than 20;
- All plastic food wrap and light plastic food containers, punnets, etc., now had a better recycling home than the council’s yellow bin: a special wheelie bin at Woolies; and
- Last and by no means at least, when our second son was born we committed to using cloth nappies. We did a bunch of sums and estimating, and stocked up in advance with various types and brands to try. Our son is 5 months old now and we’ve only use a couple of packs of disposables for when he was newborn and during travelling. Full credit to my wife for researching all of that stuff and it’s been fine (ask me again after he starts eating solids…). At around 0.35c/nappy we estimated over a 2.5 year period for our first son that we used over 3,000 nappies, spending over $2,500. The modern reusables upfront cost was around $750 and will last straight through (and will sell second hand if well cleaned and cared for). Research also considered the carbon footprint additional water and electricity used to wash the reusables remained small compared to the carbon footprint of factory produced nappies, which had to be packaged, transported, etc.
So there it was. Yeah we were chuffed; and on reflection we were also surprised as it felt like quite a lot of changes. Suddenly I felt challenged. What else?
For one month in October 2019, we decided to do a waste audit at home (that’s right kids, it’s fun!). Instead of putting everything straight into the yellow bin, we kept it all separated out so that I could measure it after a month. The idea was if we could examine the recycling afterwards, any changes we hadn’t considered would jump out at us:
|Taxonomy:||1 Month (KG)||1 Year (KG)|
|Plastic Bags||1.00||Filled 1x Yellow lid wheelie bin||12.00|
|Plastic Food Containers||2.30||27.60|
|15.8kg||189.60||kg per year|
|per month||per year|
|24 6oz coffee cups||24||288|
|27 litres milk||27||324|
|3 bottles of wine||3||36|
|2 bottles of water||2||24|
|12 toilet rolls||12||144|
Quick wins materialised:
- Nearly all of those tins were from cat food. We looked into changing what we were buying, so that it was in bulk and not tins. Some more research to make sure we didn’t mess up our cats nutritional needs;
- The cups were a bit embarrassing and also jumped out as a quick win. Two reusable cups now live in the car;
- Let’s face it, buying bottled water is a bad habit. WATER;
- Let’s look passed the fact that it was a relatively dry month, I would have expected to see a few more empty wine and beer bottles on other months. I guess drinking less is still a valid observation!;
- We figured the plastic meat trays could be mitigated by buying meat from the local butcher in paper. Few added bonuses of supporting local, and more likely to be buying better quality meat (let’s not get into the whole vegan/plant based diet thing right now…);
- The happy realisation that we generally don’t buy soft drinks, nearly at all, let alone in aluminium cans; and
- We looked into having glass bottled milk delivered but unfortunately our suburb isn’t serviced.
The majority of this was driven by my wife, even now to the point where she’s examining our bank and insurers interests. I became attracted by the data of the thing. I’m a surveyor; if it can be measured it can be controlled. And that’s just one uneventful month within the home of a family of four (and two cats). Naturally, I began to wonder how the lessons learned can be transferred to a commercial real estate portfolio.
The journey continues.
Notes, links, and resources:
- Brisbane City Council provide guidance here
- Bunnings worm farm $68
- Worm starter pack $50
- Slim compost caddy $15
- Bunnings microfibre cloths $11.50
- euroScrubby $6 each
- Modern cloth nappies – Nest Nappies in Paddington sell a wide range of cloth nappy brands and provide free workshops. Clean Cloth Nappies Down Under (CCNDU) provides resources for the science based cleaning of nappies; dispelling myths on soaking in putrid water, and providing important guidance, etc.
- Moonwish.com.au – broad range of everyday products eco-friendly equivalents, all in one place online
- ecostore.com.au – often have online discounts on bulk items, furthermore their plastic packaging is all plant based
- petbarn.com.au – sign up and take advantage of their Frequent Feeder Program to get 15% off each month’s bulk food purchase
- whogivesacrap.org – bulk buy recycled or bamboo loo rolls
- My wife substituted her Chanel and YSL perfumes for those available at Mecca. They omit microplastics, are vegan, cruelty free, and that applies to their whole supply chain.
Baking bread can be quite technical but that’s part of why it feels rewarding when you get it right. This basic white loaf recipe is my favourite one, from Women’s Weekly, Simply Bread, which we got from the library. Among all the little baking tricks you learn, the main skill to practice is the kneading. Plenty of YouTube videos show you how to do it. Once you do it 5-10 times you start to understand how it affects the quality of your bread. Once my loaf is cooled, I slice it and store in a tub in the freezer. Toast from frozen, or prepare a sandwich from frozen; you’ll find it keeps it’s fluffy shape by the time it’s defrosted for lunch. You’ve mitigated plastic, and are eating less processed food. Bulk sacks of bread flour are available in most supermarkets. I get about 8 or 9 very large loafs from a $26 10kg sack from Coles.
Information on how Brisbane recycles household waste illuminated how we need to think about plastic. It seems that most people assume nearly all plastic can go in the yellow bin, when the reality is it’s difficult to recycle, to the point where council have to have a process to remove it from the comingled recycling before processing the rest of the waste (“those nasty plastic bags and other soft plastics are real trouble-makers“). There are better ways to recycle your plastic, but easier still is reducing single use or removing it completely from use. All plastic food packaging, punnets, wrapping, etc. simply go into a separate bag instead of the yellow bin, and get deposited at a more appropriate bin when we do our food shop.
Craig MacDonald is Project & Technical Services Manager at Cromwell Property Group