Monday, 3 January 2011

No Impact Week: Considering my Rubbish Output

In case you are wondering about the title, this is not a post in sympathy with anyone who doesn't think well of my blog.  No, today, as part of the No Impact Week I am meant to be considering how much rubbish I produce, looking at what I threw away yesterday and asking if I have thrown away anything that I've used for less than ten minutes.

I am pleased to say that as a follower of the Rubbish Diet blog and an occasional reader of My Zero Waste, over the last few years I have been encouraged to think about how much packaging I bring home with my food shopping, to reduce it and to recycle as much of it as possible.  With the added assistance of both our children leaving home for university last Autumn we have often had only one or two kitchen bin bags full of rubbish per fortnight recently, leaving our large wheely bin well less than half full.  I appreciate there could be room for improvement, but it is a start.

Yesterday I threw a few items of plastic wrapping away, and the most avoidable was from the half baked bread rolls we had for lunch, but with the shops having been closed and not having great enthusiasm to rush to them as soon as they opened, it seemed a sensible way of managing our bread supply.  It is not something we rely on the rest of the year, but I shall keep one or two loaves of that kind to hand, in case I get snowed in again.  With a bit of luck I shall have time to make my own bread from time to time over the next few months.

I shall make a mental note to buy more nuts, seeds and dried fruit from Suma as their bags are now fully recyclable.  Perhaps that is why they are a little bit more expensive than Infinity Foods products, which I also like.  Both are fairly traded and are supplied by workers co-operatives.  This was one plastic wrapper that went to be recycled rather than add to our landfill problems.

Having a cold, I have been using tissues, so I guess some of them were used for less than 10 minutes before being thrown away.  When I don't have a cold I prefer to use handkerchiefs.

In a couple of weeks I shall be on my own for a bit, so that would be a good time to see how much rubbish I produce just by myself.  I'm hoping this year will be less hectic than the last few months have been, although I know I will need to spend some time helping to clear my aunt's house, but hopefully I shan't need to spend too much time phoning people on her behalf as it looks like she might be setting into the nursing home she moved into a month or so ago.  I think you do need to have time to think and plan if you are going to be able to avoid creating much rubbish.

There are some good suggestions on the No Impact Week pdf, such as take your own bags to the shops, something I am now in the habit of doing, although it took a year or two to get there.  I also buy porridge oats, which come in a paper bag and have given up shower gel because soap is just as good.

I try to reduce the amount of packaging I bring home with the shopping, but I believe that a sustainable life is about balance the needs of the planet with our own needs, so I can't see any merit in avoiding all packaging.  Were I to do this it would limit what I eat to fresh fruit and vegetables and nothing else - no, I believe there is a local shop that does sell some things loose, but they are largely stored uncovered and as a result are rather unappetising.  This is also an expensive shop, so not good for the budget to shop there often.

Another suggestion is to
"try out one of the many alternatives for soap, deodorant, and laundry detergent such as vinegar, baking soda, natural deodorant stones, shaving soap and soap nuts." 

Having tried soap nuts I may use them occasionally, but don't feel they are suitable for most washes.  As yet I haven't had time to experiment with making washing up liquid with them, either.I have found a natural deodorant I am happy with most of the time, which comes in a glass bottle, although it does have a plastic lid and roller ball.  If we want to be accepted in modern society we need to smell fresh, so natural products must perform well.

When I read the book, No Impact Man, it was obvious the author was taking things to extremes and did not always take the needs of his family into consideration, something he realised, at least to some extent, by the end of his year long experiment.

I like Thich Nhat Hanh's approach, which is that if we are to look after the planet, we must start with looking after ourselves, although I'm sure he doesn't mean us to be overly self-indulgent. Buddhism sees all living organisms as interconnected, so people are an integral part of the planet, just we are part of our environment and our environment and the living creatures in it are in some way part of us.  So I would say that keeping ourselves healthy and meeting our own needs in balance with the health of the planet is the best way forward..


  1. Hi Karin,

    Seems like you've got off to a good start!

    We use Soapnuts for our laundry, though they don't really do a thorough job, we add an essential oil to make it smell fresher! We also use Bio D products & although their plastic bottles can be recycled - it still bothers me.

    Not really sure how ethical Lush is, but we buy their deodorant & shampoo bars & they come without any packaging.

    Something we've realised today, is that we haven't thought about cat food - too busy thinking about what we eat, etc & so we have these awful foil/plastic pouches that can't be recycled, so now we're rethinking that one!

    We can all learn so much from Buddhism, living simply, being grateful for everything around us & living in harmony with nature. A great place to be!

    Look forward to sharing more this week,

    Kay :)

  2. Guess I need to figure out how to make a profile to comment- but, for now I am anonymous- just told my husband to at least eat the tuna in a can not pouch since the can is recyclable. Thought i would add this since we are also creating a ton of cat and dog waste. The trash for the week before this experiment usually consists of one bag household then the rest is cat and dog waste. There are ways to reduce throwing that away here, but not in the type of house we live in.
    I used to at least get organic food that were packaged in recycled materials- but my elderly cats did not like the food and it costs too much!

  3. Hi Kay, when I used soap nuts other members of my family complained. I think I will use them in the summer when I can hang my washing out to dry, and will definitely add a few drops of essential oils. I use Bio D washing up liquid and buy a 5 litre bottle from which I refill my smaller bottles, but as I'm fussy about my laundry liquid I prefer the smell of the Ecoleaf one from Suma and try to buy that in a 5 litre container, too. I like the smell so don't need to add essential oils. In the summer I use the 5 litre containers to collect rainwater, so some of them are reused before being recycled.

    I'm not sure what's in Lush products, so I don't buy them although I like the lack of packaging. Cat food can be tricky as they are such fussy eaters. You may not be able to change the food until you get a new cat. We have chickens, who eat a mixture of grain and seeds that comes in big paper bags and they help us out eating some of our scraps.

    I agree, Buddhism has many useful insights on how to live.

    Anonymous, how sustainably we can live does depend on all sorts of circumstances and where we live can stop us from living as sustainably as we would like to. I think the thing is to do what you can and be content with that. After all it is impossible for any of us to live with no impact at all.

  4. I've used Lush products, which claim to be sustainable and which are usually wrapped in no more than a paper bag. However, because I have access to plastic recycling facilities, I also use Body Shop products. It's a shame they discontinued their refills.

    I've come across recipes for homemade toiletries but haven't been brave enough to try them out.

  5. I think I'll have to investigate Lush's ingredients. I wasn't sure of some of them, but then again, I really like my Faith in Nature Shampoo and I already buy soap with minimum packaging, sometimes the bars are unwrapped and I know they are all natural and wholesome.

    I can recycle my plastic shampoo bottles here, too, but No Impact Man wants us to try to avoid creating even recyclable waste. He has a point, because energy and other resources are used in the recycling, but I say cut right back on unnecessary plastic, but that doesn't mean the occasional plastic bottle is useful. I also understand that it takes more resources to recycle plastic than glass, so I now buy a few Weleda products in glass bottles.

    In the No Impact Man book I believe Colin Beavin himslef says we each have to decide what works for us individually.

  6. I don't know who might read this comment at this point, but I've stumbled upon a wonderful system for skin and hair care. I actually started this because of terrible problems with eczema and hives, but it turns out it's fairly "green" too.

    For skin care, my system is to use as little soap or cleanser as possible. Of course I use soap for my hands after using the toilet and for the obvious smelly spots on my body, but the rest of my body just gets washed with water. I thought I would smell, but surprisingly I don't (according to my boyfriend) and my skin is much, much happier.

    Likewise, for shampoo I went totally "no poo" which is a system where you use a tiny bit of baking soda (I think y'all call it bicarb) to wash with, and then vinegar, lemon juice or citric acid (I use citric acid) to rinse. I've been using the system for 2 and a half years now and my hair actually looks WAY better, and it also helps in the hives and itching department. Plus, it's saved me a pile of money on shampoo, conditioner and other hair products. Who knew?

    When I need moisturizer (which is rare at this point) I just use some plain jojoba oil. It does come in a plastic bottle, but I buy big bottles on ebay so it's less waste and cheaper than getting little ones at the store.

  7. I like to clean my face at least once a day and I'm lucky not to have any serious skin problems. I use an organic cleanser which comes in a glass bottle, although it does have a plastic lid. The moisturiser is from the same company and comes in an aluminium tube.

    I don't think I'm brave enough to stop using shampoo, although I'm trying not to use it every day, especially if I'm just having a day at home. I find it's OK on the morning of the second day, but not so good by the evening. I might try your method one day when I'm not doing anything much. I think citric acid may have the least strong smell and be the less sticky option for rinsing, but it's not something I keep in the cupboard.

  8. Ha! The whole "no poo" thing is a tad bit "over the deep end", and I probably wouldn't have tried it purely for environmental reasons. I'd also be willing to bet that shampoo in England and Europe is "less bad" than shampoo in America, since I believe there are more stringent regulations about the kinds of chemicals that can be used. Virtually all American skin and personal care products are filled with phthalates, which are endocrine disrupting chemicals.

    One thing you can try if you're not prepared to go over the deep end on this stuff, is looking for shampoos and conditioners that don't contain silicone (any ingredient ending in cone, xane or zane.) From what I've read, the silicone is designed to coat the hair shaft to give it a smooth & silky look, but it also prevents the natrual oils from seeping in and distributing themselves along the length of the hair. The result is that your hair can look dirty much quicker so you have to wash it more often. I'm no chemist, but it makes sense to me.

    And you are correct about the citric acid, I tried the others and found it to be the best because it's odorless and not sticky at all... but you really don't want to get it in your eyes!

  9. Ouch, I bet it stings!

    I'm not sure if the widely available brands are made to a higher standard in the UK.

    I use natural toiletries and make-up. My favourite shampoo is and I use the matching conditioner. I use quite a few Weleda products and the occasional one from Dr Hauschka as they are quite expensive. I use some of their make-up as well as Lavera and Alva, but I don't wear make-up every day.


All relevant comments to this post are welcome, so feel free to have your say.