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zero waste week

One week goes by pretty fast! Curious about the end results?

My direct bad waste:

  • some unknown plastic in box of strawberries
  • a broken glass, with paper wrapped around it
  • a cotton bud
  • frozen puff pastry wrapping (plastic and sheets inbetween)
  • aluminum foil from chocolate bar (perhaps filtered out in post-separation?)
  • wrapper from dishwasher tablet (unnecessary, because we also had those with disolvable wrappers available… oops!)

All in all not too bad I think. With a bit more care and planning, some of the waste could have been avoided. I guess that is all part of the learning process. A true zero waste week is definitely possible!

The most important thing this week was the challenge to go outside of my normal comfort zone, and try some alternatives. Also it creates awareness of where your waste comes from. With us, it is mostly food-related. So, we had to try some different ingredients than we would normally use, and try to create some things from scratch. We had home-made bread, pita, and pancakes! What is also interesting, is that often the food with non-recyclable waste is actually not healthy, such as potato chips and desserts. So zero wasting is actually better for your health too!

So what now? We will keep trying to minimize our bad waste, but a little less forcefully than during the zero waste week. This is also partly due to the fact that my pregnancy is making it more and more difficult to visit many different stores to get the less-packaged items. I definitely want to try some more recipes, like those for microwave chips and home-made vla. In the mean time, I will keep my eyes open for other challenges to try, to get closer to a more minimalist and environmentally-friendly lifestyle.

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We’re already halfway into the zero waste week. So far things haven’t been easy. Getting really to zero definitely is hard. Yesterday my husband made puff pastry with home-made mushroom ragout. The ragout was laughably easy to make. First melt the butter and add flour. Mix. Then add vegetable broth, and finally the cut-up mushrooms. Bake the puff pastry in small forms in the oven. Put the ragout in. Done!

But there was some waste. The puff pastry was wrapped in plastic, with sheets inbetween the pastry sheets. It definitely generated less waste then if we would have bought ready-made pastries and ready-made ragout. And it is great to also see how my husband is becoming more waste-aware! So I simply added part of the waste to my personal waste bag for this week.

Another tricky thing is that it is difficult to plan ahead when you’re pregnant. Sometimes I feel a bit faint, and I have to eat something, anything, right then. Of course it helps to carry something on you. Yesterday to work I brought an apple, a banana, and some nuts with sultanas. But I also already have been in a situation where I had to eat something, and all I saw  around me in the store where I was at that moment was wrapped in plastic. In the end I bought a chocolate bar. The paper outer wrapping is fine. I have no idea whether that aluminium foil is filtered out in post-separation though. So I added it to my waste bag.

Aside from the yummy new recipes for bread and ragout, I also discovered something else this week. I can refill my old Ecover containers for laundry detergent and fabric softener at one of the local eco stores. A nice surprise. They also had pure olive soap (wrapped in only some paper), that I had not been able to find elsewhere.

So what am I really missing? I miss potato chips: it always comes in this mix wrap of plastic and alimunium. And vla (a type of custard), especially because it seems to help with stomach acid, which is definitely a problem during the last stages of pregnancy. I have been looking for vla in PET or glass bottles, but so far, no luck. Perhaps at some point I could try to make these myself (recipes for chips in microwave and deep frying, recipe for vla (sorry, Dutch)).

Even though I will not be really 0 waste, it is still nice to try to make it as little as possible. It is probably a bit similar to becoming vegetarian. In the beginning I really had to make an effort, but as time goes on, you just know what you can and can’t do, what you like and dislike, and it becomes a habit that you no longer have to think (too much) about. And it is definitely a fun challenge to think about how you could still do certain things but then without the waste!

Before I started the Rubbish Diet Challenge, I did do some recycling, but I was a bit lazy, so sometimes glass pots or paper would end up in our waste bin. I also did not do any plastic recycling at all. Here is an overview of what is done in terms of recycling and waste in the Netherlands.

Plastic and glass with a deposit refund (statiegeld)
In the Netherlands it is mostly the bigger PET and glass beer bottles that have a deposit which you get back after you hand the bottles back in at the supermarket. Over 90% of these bottles get reused or recycled this way!

Paper
Paper is collected on the curbside once a month here. Old paper is recycled to make new paper, for example toilet paper, notebooks, and envelopes.

Glass
Near all supermarkets you can find containers for glass waste. You can leave the lids and paper labels on as they will separate it afterwards, but Milieu Centraal advises to already separate it correctly beforehand. Glass is great stuff, as it can be reused endlessly without loss of quality. In new glass pots and bottles, about 60% old glass is recycled.

Plastic
Since the beginning of 2010 you can hand in plastic separately in the Netherlands. There is a list of what you can and cannot put in the large orange containers which are to be found near every supermarket. The tricky thing is this: our plastic waste is transported to Germany to be processed. There they separate the plastics into PET (indicated with number 1), PE (numbers 2 and 4), and PP (5). If you look at the list, however, there is no mention at all of these different plastic materials. This means that our plastic waste may also contain PVC, PS and mixed plastics, which will simply be incinerated or dumped after they have arrived in Germany. According to official numbers obtained by Kassa in October 2010 (watch the episode online — Dutch), 20% of the plastic waste arrives in Germany is considered unusable for recycling. Of the other 80%, not everything will be recycled either, because of ‘impurities’ (rests of paper and foil on the plastic packaging?). Cleaned, molten old plastic can be resources for new plastic products.

Small chemical waste (KCA)
Every household has a red box for small chemical waste — the stuff that is too dangerous to put in your normal waste bin –, which you can then drop off when it is collected in the neighbourhood every now and then, or you can drop it off yourself any time at an ‘environmental point’ (Dutch: milieupunt).

Organic waste
Most people will have a green container at home for their organic waste (GFT – vegetable, fruit, and garden). Unfortunately, when you live in an apartment, there is no separate green waste collection. In my city, there is also no option to bring it somewhere yourself to hand it in separately. This waste will be turned into compost. Fun options here are to process this waste yourself: start your own compost heap, get a bokashi bin, and/or a wormery.

Grey waste
Even the residual waste is not all lost. At the factories that process this waste, still quite some post-separation takes place, to separate out plastics, metals, and cartons. For example, about 85% of metals is recycled by post-separation with magnets and magnetic eddy currents.

Bad waste
For the zero waste challenge, anything that is probably not recycled or reused I consider to be bad waste. This means that cans are okay, even though they do end up in our grey waste bin. As for plastics, I only accept 1:PET, 2/4:PE, 5:PP, and the biodegradable type, as the rest will probably end up as waste anyway. Of course as waste goes, glass, paper, and organic waste are very much preferable.

PS Another interesting move is to go plastic free. A lot of the things you can do to get there are actually the same as what you would want to do to reduce your waste! But let’s take it one challenge at a time…

One thing I did not think about: I have some food items that are open and therefore will have to be used, or will have to be thrown away. This in itself is not necessarily a problem, but the food items are wrapped in non-recyclable packaging. If I don’t use it, I have to throw away the food and the packaging. If I do use it, I have to only throw away the packaging, so the second seems like the less wasteful option. What are we talking about? Strawberries, cheese spread, and bell peppers.

The strawberries came in a plastic box (1:PET), which should be easy to recycle. But it also came with a layer of bubble wrap, which is made from low-density polyethylene (4:LDPE) which could be recycled, but unfortunately it is mixed with adhesives which cannot. The online Dutch ‘how to separate your waste’ advisor indicates that it can be put in the orange box for plastic recycling. Unfortunately our plastic recycling is not fool proof. I plan to write another post today about the Dutch recycling options, where I can address this in a bit more detail. On HowToDoThings there is a fun list of how you could reuse bubble wrap. It is only a small piece, so most of the listed ideas won’t work, but there is one thing I wil try this week: to roll it up as a soft cushion to support my mouse wrist. Yesterday my left hand started to hurt, so I already switched my mouse to the right hand. Let’s see if this helps a bit, and save this bubble wrap from the land fill, even though it may be only temporarily! But that wasn’t all. There was also a piece of plastified paper inside to indicate the brand of the strawberries. As it is a mixed material, it cannot be recycled. Crap. So there it is. My first waste, and I just got started! In my defence, I bought this days ago… :/

Then there is the cheese spread. This comes in some kind of plastic box mixed with aluminium. There is no ‘this can be recycled’ sign or ‘this is made from this kind of material’ sign anywhere, so again I’m screwed. If I only had not opened it last week! Here is a nice list of recycling/material symbols you can find on packaging in the Netherlands, by the way.

And finally the bell peppers, again bought last week. Normally I buy eco bell peppers that come in biodegradable plastic, but this time the only eco bell peppers in the supermarket looked like they would not last another day. So I went for the less eco option, with plastic packaging. The wrap does not indicate what type of plastic it is. According to the plastic waste advisor I can recycle it, but, as I will write about later, this does not mean it will not end up as waste… As for biodegradable plastic, advise from the Dutch centre for the environment is not to put it with the organic waste, but with the residual waste, where it will provide clean energy during incineration. Surprising, but true!

You could say this is not waste generated by what I do this week, but what I did before… I will just put this waste in my personal waste bag so I can track it, and try to not create any new waste this week.

So a tip if you are thinking about doing this challenge yourself: already prepare the week before so you are not bothered with left-over waste!

About a month ago a friend of mine started to email me about how she was trying to reduce her garbage. Although I try to be somewhat environmentally-conscious — I buy eco-friendly products, I have my own vegetable garden, and I am a lacto-ovo-pesca vegetarian –, I never thought about focusing on my garbage, so I was immediately inspired.

At the moment we are still a two-person household, but that is about to change soon, as a baby is coming. A baby means a lot of extra waste, but it also means that we should be extra careful about how we are leaving the earth behind for the next generation. While we get our apartment in order for baby’s arrival, this is also the perfect time to re-examine our habits.

After some searching on the internet, one site on reducing rubbish was particularly helpful. The Rubbish Diet even provides a nice challenge, stretched over multiple weeks, to gently ease the reader into the zero waste mindset and to prepare for the final goal: one week of no waste at all. In the mean time, I’ve been going through the first 7 weeks, reading up on the things you can do to reduce your waste and make some changes in our household. Without much effort we reduced our grey garbage from almost two bags to just half a bag a week. A huge effect just by paying more attention to recycling and what we buy from the store! But now I arrived at the final week of the challenge: zero waste week. While it scares the hell out of me, because it sounds so unattainable, after the last couple weeks of preparation I actually start believing that it is possible, for one week at least…

The most difficult part I think will be food. We eat and drink all day, and at the same time the supermarkets seem to try to do their utter best to give us as much packaging as they can. So we will have to be really careful with what we buy, and I will have to make some things from scratch, such as bread, honey mustard sauce, and pizza.

Disclaimer: the zero waste week will apply to my personal waste, and not to waste generated by my partner. After I informed him about what I was planning to do, he did pay more attention in the store to packaging, also for his own food, which was so sweet! But this challenge will be a personal one, even though of course I hope it will inspire him as well.

Then there is one other note: everything we use, perhaps everything we own, will eventually become waste. For this challenge I do not count waste that can be recycled (compostables, paper, glass, cans, and plastics 1, 2 and 5). Secondly, I do not count waste that will be the result of what I use now but won’t actually become waste until after a couple of months. For example: I will use my tooth brush, and also my tooth paste. Maybe someday I will find some good replacements for those, but I am not ready yet at the moment. Even still, there are already many items that would fall in this same category that I have replaced with more environmentally-friendly alternatives (cleaning supplies, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, etc).

Hereby I pledge, for the next week (starting tomorrow), I will not use / eat / do anything that will (directly) result in grey waste. During this week I will also blog about the challenges that came my way, and some strategies I use to avoid waste.