My Waste Journey

Written by Melanie Hawkes (PDA WA Associate Director)

Melanie was commissioned to write an article for “Housing Choices Australia” Annual Report. They are happy for it to be shared on our website.

As a person with a disability, I create a fair bit of rubbish. Items such as gloves and incontinence products cannot be helped, and I am not going to start limiting the use of those. I like to focus on what I can control and reduce that as much as possible. Waste is a huge issue that you can no longer ignore, leave for someone else to deal with or put in the too-hard basket. I like to think that my actions can inspire others, that their actions will inspire others and, before you know it, thousands of people are doing it and it is having a positive impact on the environment. 

I started paying attention to my waste when I moved into a brand new home in 2015. I needed some art to cover the boring green fences that three of my windows face. Buying brand new, weather-resistant art was not appealing due to the cost. I thought about doing mosaics, but didn’t want to break any plates or buy special tools or materials. So I started collecting bottle tops. Family and friends also gave me theirs and I was able to use ones of all shapes, sizes, colours and materials from milk, juice, beer, wine, soft drink and even lids off beauty products. I now collect anything useful, like can ring-pulls, plastic straws, corks and the small coloured silicone things you find in bottles of tablets to prevent moisture. They do rust and fade in the weather, but I like the effect it has. And I can easily and cheaply replace them if I wanted.

Not long after I started my recycled art, I read about Plastic Free July. It challenged me to pick one plastic item to reduce for the month. I picked plastic bin liners for my kitchen bin and replaced it with newspaper! It forced me to focus on what I was putting in my bin. With newspaper as a bin liner, I couldn’t put wet, gross stuff in it or I’d be washing the bin every week. Who wants to do that? So I started keeping a container for scraps in the fridge. I was giving these scraps to friends with worm farms, compost or bokashi bins (or the odd stranger from the Share Waste site!), but lately I’ve been taking it to a local community garden or burying it in my back yard for the earthworms to take care of. Eggshells and tea leaves are great for the garden, so I always keep them in a separate container on my bench for my plants. I wish I lived in an area that has a FOGO (or three bin system) bin collection. It would be more convenient, but you cannot always trust that council will do the right thing with it. 

I have since done courses on living smart and reducing waste. That one act of lining my kitchen bin with newspaper has led to many other changes at home. I now: 

  • * Make my own toothpaste and apple cider vinegar and cleaning products 
  • * Use solid shampoo bars and bars of soap instead of liquid in the shower
  • * Have a dog pooh worm farm
  • * Take my reusable shopping bags (and have some on the back of my chair for when I forget)
  • * Use reusable straws at home and in my water bottles (got my dad to cut them to size)
  • * Take my own containers and buy in bulk where possible 
  • * Sort my rubbish and return recyclable items to specialist places (e.g. light globes and ink cartridges go to my local library)  
  • * Return my soft plastic to the supermarket for recycling
  • * Use rechargeable batteries 
  • * Refuse single-use plastic bags when buying fruit and vegetables 
  • * Use soap nuts instead of washing powder in my washing machine 
  • * Use metal pegs instead of plastic ones on my washing line 
  • * Buy tissues and toilet paper made from recycled paper or bamboo and not ones wrapped in plastic 
  • * Use reusable paper towels (and wash them when dirty) in my kitchen and bathroom 
  • * Take my lunch to work to avoid buying takeaway 
  • * Have a water filter at home and refill my water bottles so I don’t have to buy bottled water
  • * Make my own dog treats and dried fruit in my dehydrator
  • * Return eligible containers for 10c refund 
  • * Collect the cold water when waiting for the tap water to warm up 
  • * Get my dog to pick up rubbish while out walking.

There are probably many more things that I could be doing, and I plan to add to this list as often as possible. But it is what I can comfortably manage for now. If you would like to start, or do more, consider these points:

  • * Start small. Don’t go out and try to do everything at once.
  • * New habits take time, and you do not want to be disheartened along the way if you encounter setbacks. Build on each small success.
  • * Make it easy and convenient to succeed. I have a normal bin, a recycle bin and a bag for soft plastics in the kitchen(so it’s easy to sort the rubbish where it’s created). When the bag is full, I put it at my front door so I remember to take it back to the shops next time I go. 
  • * Be a conscientious shopper. Question every purchase you make. For example: do you really need it? Is there a more sustainable alternative (e.g. wet wipes vs cloth wipes that can be washed)? Can you easily make it yourself? Can you reuse the packaging (e.g. beetroot in a glass jar could be better than a tin)? Where can I buy it locally (e.g. a local farmers market vs a big chain supermarket)? Can I return the packaging and refill it? Can I make do with something else I have at home (e.g. you can make your own spray and wipe mix, and use it for everything in the kitchen, bathroom and even the toilet, instead of buying three different bottles)? Do I need it brand new or would second hand do?
  • * Decide on a reason for doing this. Don’t do it just because someone told you to. Make it a passion. Know that you are helping the environment. It will probably save you money too! 
  • * Educate yourself. Your local council can tell you how to sort your rubbish correctly, and there are many online resources. Ask plenty of questions until you are satisfied with the answer. There are no dumb questions, ever! 
  • * Join your local community garden and Buy Nothing Project group to find like-minded people who can support you in this journey. You can share your experience with others and learn so much. 

Looking after the environment is a shared responsibility. If we all do as much as we can, it will go a long way to ensuring a brighter future for everyone.

Good luck! 

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