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Refuse, reduce, reuse, repair & recycle

Published 13 Nov 2020 by Paul Young (Spatial Analyst)

Our resident recycling guru weighs in on his best rubbish zapping tips for National Recycling Week.

A couple of years back, I set myself the somewhat daunting challenge of seeing how long I could go before I needed to put out my rubbish wheelie bin.

I'd heard of people going for long periods without having to, so I wondered if I could do the same. Fortunately, I found it surprisingly easy, and the best part is that I'm not particularly special - just an average person willing to undertake some small changes to try to make a difference.

So far I've only put my rubbish bin out for collection once in both 2019 and 2020! Just to be clear though, I definitely still use both my recycling and green waste wheelie bins, as these are both a huge help in preventing the rubbish bin going out. Eventually, I'd like to get to a point where I don't need those bins either, so that's something to work towards.

Full disclosure – I live in the city and I'm a plant-based, middle aged male with no dependents at home. The only reason I mention these things is that everyone's life circumstances vary greatly, including the options and systems that exist around them. Plus, all manner of people have different needs in life, some of which can mean that more changes are required in order to make significant inroads to reducing waste. But no matter who or where you are, every little mindful thing you do counts towards a better world for all of us, now and into the future.

Being plant-based means that almost every bit of food scraps I produce (mostly the inedible parts of fruit and vegetables) can be composted, which is one of the main reasons the rubbish bin stays in the carport.

There are loads of options for composting at home, such as creating a pile if you’ve got lots of room such as a decent sized backyard, using a tumbler if you’ve got a little bit of room such as a courtyard (like me), or even a worm farm or bokashi bin if you’ve only got very little room, such as a balcony.

Composting is much easier than people often realise, and it's very satisfying to watch scraps turn into soil which can then be used as nutrient-rich fertiliser or potting mixture. Also, many councils permit people to place food scraps into their green waste wheelie bin if those other options are not possible for you. ShareWaste is an amazing community of households who accept food scraps from their local neighbourhood, so I recommend exploring this option too (the website has a searchable map of drop-off locations around the world).

Further to this, growing as much food as you can is a wonderful way to stay healthy and reduce unnecessary packaging. I don’t have much room in my courtyard though, so I at least try to prepare as much of the food I eat as possible, making meals and other consumables (such as oat milk) from scratch, which also helps keep packaging to a minimum. Having a herb garden at home is an easy win and is a gift that keeps on giving. I’ve included a few images of resident veggie patches at Bush Heritage reserves around Australia to show how you can grow produce just about anywhere!

It's always worth being mindful of our packaging choices, and the Rs (refuse, reduce, reuse, repair and recycle) are still as useful today as when they were conceived. Buying items in bulk is helpful where possible, especially from vendors that allow you to use either your own containers, or reusable containers they provide.

Replace plastic bags you use for fruit and vegetables with reusable mesh or string bags, and of course, always bring grocery bags from home. Any bag will do! Soft plastics can be hard to completely avoid though unfortunately, so I would recommend making use of the collection points provided by REDcycle at most supermarkets. Councils often have pretty comprehensive guides for how to dispose of products if you need to (for example, this product disposal guide by the City of Darebin).

While there have been setbacks in recycling systems in Australia of late, we're still very lucky with what we have available to us, and these crises provide us all with opportunities to discover what we can do better on both a small and large scale.

Some other handy hints include excluding single-use items, such as cotton tips, as well as sourcing biodegradable options for household items such as toothbrushes, and only using washable cleaning cloths.

Repairing clothes and household goods can extend their lives and keep them out of landfill. Repair cafes are an amazing resource for this. They're run by volunteers and are scattered across the country. I’ve taken many items of clothing to learn how to repair them (holes etc.) instead of discarding them, plus there’s usually folks who are good with electronics and other repairable stuff too (some things just need a broken wire to be soldered).

So wherever you may be on your recycling journey, good luck!

Bon Bon Reserve's vegetable garden. Photo by Kate Taylor Bon Bon Reserve's vegetable garden. Photo by Kate Taylor
Ethabuka Reserve's veggie garden. Photo by Hélène Aubault Ethabuka Reserve's veggie garden. Photo by Hélène Aubault
Naree Reserve's impressive herb garden. Photo by Sue Akers Naree Reserve's impressive herb garden. Photo by Sue Akers
The vegetable garden at Cravens Peak Reserve. Photo by Paul Foreman The vegetable garden at Cravens Peak Reserve. Photo by Paul Foreman
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