Australia is among the world’s biggest producers of waste. Every year Australian households each dispose of a staggering 345 kilograms of food. So, how can we reduce the waste we produce?
I chatted with Sydney mother and Inner West Mum member Natalie Panzarino, who is committed to minimising her family’s environmental impact, about what she does to reduce the waste produced in her household. Natalie Panzarino is a co-founder of Got a Pen?, an organisation that collects and distributes stationery to children who don’t have the basic items needed for school. Her latest project is Pointy Pembleton, a crowdfunded children’s book, from which the profits will be donated to the rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of greyhounds.
What makes household waste minimisation so important to you? I ask Natalie. ‘Being a parent has made me concerned about the state of our planet and how we are leaving it for future generations,’ she says. ‘I want my kid’s kids to be able to enjoy a healthy planet. Every choice I make now impacts on future generations. I am responsible for that.’
Natalie says she has not always been environmentally conscious, and that her efforts to reduce household waste came in recent years. Natalie says: ‘I am a big follower of a “know better, do better” type of philosophy. There are always ways to improve ourselves. And I still have a way to go, I think!’
According to Natalie, there are many ways to minimise waste; it starts with being mindful. She says: ‘I think people need to comprehend the actual amount of rubbish that they produce. Every purchase you make, think about the waste. Do you need to have a bag or container? How will you dispose of it? Is there a better way? You may not think that your small effort matters, but with lots of people making a small effort we achieve great change.’
Image courtesy of Natalie Panzarino
Natalie’s efforts to keep her household’s waste to a minimum are simple yet effective. She takes her own water bottle, Keep Cups and a compact cutlery kit everywhere she goes. She has re-usable bags that scrunch up and fit in her handbag. If she is planning to buy takeaway food, she will bring her own containers from home. She refuses plastic straws. When shopping for groceries, instead of buying a bag of carrots, for example, she will buy them loose. She also looks for brands that are making more environmentally conscious choices. She purchases crackers and other snacks in bulk boxes, rather than individually wrapped. At home, Natalie has set up a worm farm. She’s now keen to expand on that. ‘I am always looking for new ways to reduce our family’s waste and to care for the environment,’ she says.
Natalie also tries to help others to consider the environment. ‘I think it’s important to encourage local businesses to make more waste-conscious choices. I also try to spread the word among friends and family. Maybe it is a bit obnoxious, but lately I have been giving people Keep Cups and beautiful re-usable bags as gifts!’
Image courtesy of Natalie Panzarino
Once you begin to make more conscious decisions, you will be surprised to find that you can minimise your waste without too much effort, says Natalie. ‘It’s a great motivating force, seeing the amount that goes in the wheelie bin each week get smaller and smaller. Remember that the process of recycling still produces waste and uses a lot of water. Recycling is better than binning, but reducing is better than recycling. Refuse, reduce, re-use, recycle (in that order!)’
Some simple ways to reduce your household waste
- Plan your weekly meals. Before going to the shops, check your pantry and fridge to avoid overbuying. When shopping, consider each purchase carefully. How and when will you be using that item? You’ll not only save money but you’ll save on waste too.
- Say no to plastic! Take your own bags or basket when you go shopping. For small purchases, keep a good-quality, foldable bag inside your handbag – and remember to use it! Make a conscious effort to remember your re-usable grocery bags when heading out to do the grocery shopping. Also keep some re-usable bags in your car for those spontaneous ‘top-up’ shopping trips.
- Carry your own water bottle with you.
- Purchase a Keep Cup (or other re-usable cup) and use it to save all those coffee cups from going to landfill! There are various options, including glass, and some cafes will even give a discount for bringing your own cup. And don’t forget an extra cup or two for those all-important babycinos!
- Buy fruit and vegetables and fresh produce loose.
- When buying meat, seafood or deli items, you can bring your own containers to avoid unnecessary plastic. The weight of the container will be deducted from the total.
- Pack lunches and leftovers in re-usable containers rather than using sandwich bags or cling wrap.
- If you do use sandwich or zip-lock bags, be sure to wash and re-use them.
- Where possible, buy items in bulk to reduce packaging. Choose products, such as dishwashing detergent, in concentrated form. Avoid products with excess packaging.
- Know what can be recycled! Don’t contaminate recycling with non-recyclable items. Deposit your soft plastics, such as cereal bags, at collection points.
- Avoid purchasing single-use, disposable items. Consider using cloth nappies, for example. There are many options available. Nappy library services will enable you to try various styles. There are also numerous cloth nappy communities on Facebook. Also avoid using baby wipes – choose damp cloths instead.
- Take your electronic waste and unwanted household chemicals to your local council’s e-waste drop-off collection point for recycling and safe disposal.
- If an item is broken, don’t just bin it! Take your item, including small electrical goods, timber furniture and bicycles, to The Bower Reuse and Repair Cafe in Marrickville and Parramatta, where you can receive free assistance to repair the item. The cafe operates weekly and occasionally even goes on the road to other locations. The Bower also offers a free collection and rehoming service for household furniture in good usable condition.
- Join buy, sell, swap and pay it forward groups in your local area. There are many active groups in the Inner West. Sell or pass on the items you no longer need. Before making new purchases, consider whether a good-quality second-hand item would suit.
- Check out your local library – some even have toy libraries.
- Create a compost bin or worm farm for your food scraps and scrap paper. Check with your local council about special offers on compost bins and worm farm set-ups. Inner West Council is offering attractive discounts for compost bins and worm farms through Compost Revolution.
- If your home is not suitable for either of these options, find out about worm farm and compost programs in your local community. Share Waste is an Inner West initiative encouraging urban composting. Using a free app, Share Waste helps to connect people who are composting with those who wish to compost but are unable to due to space restrictions, etc.
- Check your local council’s website for many more tips on reducing waste and recycling specific to your local area. For those living within the Inner West Council area, this is the link to the Waste and Recycling section of the council’s website. Also the City of Sydney’s Garbage Guru website allows you to enter an item to find out if it can be recycled and if not, how it is best handled.
- Let local businesses know that a product’s environmental impact influences your buying decisions.