Australians generate more rubbish than almost any nation on earth - about a tonne per person each year. But the good news is you can eliminate a large proportion of your household waste very easily for next to nothing.
When building or renovating, visit building salvage yards and look for recycled building materials such as floorboards, decking and window frames. You can save money compared to buying new materials, and you may also find unusual vintage fittings that will give your home a unique touch of character.
If you are demolishing or have material to get rid of yourself, contact a building salvage yard and get them to come and take away the materials you don't want. It will save you the cost of taking them to the tip.
If your council provides a recycling bin as part of their kerbside rubbish collection, then simply use it to the full. You should be able to recycle all your paper, cardboard, glass bottles and jars, tin cans and a significant amount of plastic packaging. Look for the recycling numbers on different types of plastic and keep a list of items your council collection accepts on your fridge or somewhere handy.
Australians throw away something like a quarter of all the food they buy. Even if you are careful about not wasting food, there will still be the skins and peels and other inedible parts of fruit and vegetables to dispose of. If you throw these items away they end up in landfill, where they decompose and release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Compost them instead. Not only will they break down harmlessly without releasing methane, but the compost will turn into nutrient-rich fertiliser for your garden plants. (The reason compost doesn't produce methane and landfill does is that when you compost organic matter there is oxygen present. That allows worms, insects and all sorts of micro-organisms to live in the compost heap. It is these organisms that process the compost.)
You can compost all your fruit and vegetable scraps. You can also compost almost any organic material, such as bread, rice, meat, paper and even dust and hair cuttings. However, cooked food and in particular meat can attract rodents to your compost, so if you’re going to compost them you may want to line the bottom of the compost bin with something like chicken wire to keep vermin out. Alternatively you can buy indoor sealed composting systems, such as Bokashi bins, that will compost meat.
A compost bin costs about $70 from a nursery or hardware store. Alternatively, you can easily make your own compost pile. The basic principle is simple - simply build up a heap in a sunny corner of your garden, with layers of grass and plant cuttings alternating with kitchen food scraps. As you add more material to the heap, turn it once a week or so to allow the decomposing matter to aerate. Once the organic matter in the pile has turned into a dark brown earthy soil, you can use it as fertiliser.
Another easy - and free - way to reduce waste is to avoid acquiring packaging when you shop. Take reusable shopping bags to the supermarket; buy fresh fruit and vegetables instead of packaged meals and put them in your shopping trolley loose; and where practical opt for items with less packaging.
When you've finished with them you can take old clothes, toys, books, CDs, kitchenware, ornaments and even furniture to second hand stores such as St Vincent de Paul stores or the Salvation Army. Some second-hand stores may collect large pieces of furniture.
Buy reusable rather than disposable items. For instance, use handkerchiefs and napkins instead of disposable tissues and serviettes, cloth nappies rather than disposables, reusable razors rather than throwaway plastic ones. When you work out the long-term costs, it usually proves cheaper to buy reusable products.
Once you've followed these easy steps, you should find the amount of waste going into your normal weekly rubbish bin is reduced to something like one small bag a week. Other than that, you'll be left with the occasional hard-to-dispose of item, such as broken electronic equipment or appliances. Most councils offer a bulky goods collection service (and in many cases, waste collection companies now recover working parts and useful materials.)
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