Setting my landfill targets for the year ahead

By carrying these three items with me a save loads of waste. The water bottle and coffee cup should be obvious. The plastic bag is for food waste which is hard to get rid of on the go. This way I can bring it home and feed it to the worms.

By carrying these three items with me a save loads of waste. The water bottle and coffee cup should be obvious. The plastic bag is for food waste which is hard to get rid of on the go. This way I can bring it home and feed it to the worms.

My New Year’s resolution for 2015 is to reduce my waste to landfill. I realised as soon as I came up with this resolution that I didn’t really know what I meant by reduce because I had no idea how much waste I produce in the first place. So I have been spending January measuring and observing, and now I can set myself some targets. But before I do, here are some my ‘rubbish observations’.

– You can’t observe something without changing it. And so the mere act of being mindful of the waste that I generate is making me alter my behaviour, so my benchmark is already likely to be at a lower level than say my typical waste production was last year.

– I realised very quickly that I produce far more waste than what goes in my kitchen bin. The waste that I produce at home is relatively small compared to what I generate consuming food and drink at work, particularly on work trips. Even if those bits of food packaging are recyclable, that only happens if you actually recycle them, which is not always easy to do. At home, it is much easier to make sure that the materials are reused, or correctly recycled. From an ecological perspective, this makes sense: the more removed we are from our local ecosystems (as we are when on a work trip) the more waste we generate.

– somebody once asked my hairdresser if she could keep the hair that was cut from her head (the hair is usually thrown in the bin). Apparently hair cuttings are good for spreading around roses in the garden.

– What’s in and what’s out? I realise I need to determine the edges of this problem. Obviously, waste is produced at every stage in the production of most things we consume. What I want to focus on is the waste that I directly generate, be that at home, or at work. Nevertheless I am sure that in the process embodied waste will be something I at least think about.

– If you are prepared, you can easily reduce the amount of waste you generate on the road. Three things I now carry with me have almost entirely irradiated the waste I generate while on work trips: a reusable coffee cup (I have a KeepCup. A cool design and has the right balance of keeping your hands warm and your coffee warm); a collapsable reusable water bottle; and a plastic bag for putting food waste and other things that I can deal with when I get home.

– Funny numbers. Those numbers that tell you what a plastic is are actually called ‘Resin Identification Numbers’ – and I almost have them committed to heart.

– Does any of my waste go to landfill in any case? Looking into this a little (and I need to delve much deeper), my waste collected from home is taken to an incinerator where, once valuable elements are removed the waste stream, it is burnt and energy is recovered from the heat. That said this shouldn’t deter me, as this approach surely must be the last option once all other reduction and reuse options have been considered. Nevertheless I want to find out more – and I am hoping that finding out more will involve a visit to an incinerator.

– This exercise is already informing my shopping choices. I have ordered different food for a large meeting at work in order to reduce the packaging waste generated, and I brought home the waste from the meeting where I would have more time to sort the waste properly!

– That portion of chips and pitta I had on New Year’s Eve is probably the last of those I will be having this year unless I can think of something else to transport it in -though surely the pitta is a good enough vessel without the need for a polystyrene box.

– And finally, as the following numbers reveal, may landfill isn’t my biggest challenge, because, if you forget about the nappies, the weight of recycling I produce is X times more than the amount of waste for landfill I produce. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for recycling, but I could try to do a bit more reducing and reusing before resorting to the recycling bucket. Maybe that is something I should address later in the year.

The numbers

I weighed the waste that went into our three bins: kitchen, bathroom and garden. Since each waste stream is distinct, I kept them separate as I want to set a separate target for each. The kitchen waste is mainly packaging and wet waste that can’t be fed to our wormery or put in the compost. The main contents of the bathroom bin is the night-time disposable nappies that we use for our daughter (she is in washables during the day at home). The garden waste bin is mainly for packaging of stuff we buy for outside.

  • Kitchen – 1kg/month
  • Bathroom – 13.9kg/month
  • Garden – 0.25kg/month

Based on these numbers, clearly the single biggest difference I can make to our waste stream is to potty train our daughter, which is something we are doing. I should add in defence of this number that for most of her life she has been in washable nappies, and this weight is a fraction of what it would be were we using disposables all the time. Having looked at the kitchen waste stream, I feel this is something that could be reduced mainly by being more careful about what we buy. The garden waste stream is hard to say much about because it is winter, and we are not doing much out there.

And so, on the basis of what I have observed this month, I am setting myself the target of generating less than 1/2kg of waste/month. This includes all the waste we generate as a household, except the nappies, which fingers crossed, we are going to be able to phase out in the next few months altogether. It also includes all the waste that I generate through my day-to-day activities at work and when on holiday.

I’ll let you know in a month’s time how I am getting on!