Working towards a zero-waste home – 2

As a starting point, we needed to understand how much waste we were actually throwing away, so we started to weigh our bins each week, separating general rubbish from recyclable materials. We did this for a couple of months and calculated that each month we were throwing away, on average, 20kg of recyclable material and 50kg of general waste – that’s 240kg of recyclable material a year and 600kg of general waste for a family of four (including two children under 2). The most shocking part of this is that those staggering figures are significantly below average!  British residents throw away 592kg of waste per person per year!

This was an interesting realization as it acted as a real motivator at home: simply put, we throw away our own body weight in rubbish every 6 to 7 weeks.

We took a closer look at the content of our bins and looked for the easiest fixes. Besides nappies, it was packaging from ready to eat meals and products bought online that were the most prevalent, so we started by focusing on those. Getting rid of ready to eat meals simply meant that we had to cook from scratch more, but getting rid of packaging when buying vegetables turned out to be difficult because of the lack of alternative options. In London, most vegetables are bought in supermarkets in a tray and plastic film; there are only few specialised vegetable shops or markets where all fruits and veggies can be bought loose. We even looked for specialized bulk markets where we could potentially buy other food items without packaging but again the options were very limited. There is one bulk retailer in the whole of London!

What came as the biggest barrier to reducing our waste was how time consuming it is. We have to travel further and to more places to find the products we need. The lack of alternative options only highlights the responsibility that retailers have in the transition to a more sustainable consumption. In the meantime we will keep exploring various solutions and I hope we will have significantly reduced our household waste by the time I write my next post!

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4 Comments

  1. In Paris, a start up called Edeni proposes a 6 weeks bootcamp to learn how to reach zero waste. Peope can meet once a week to try change their habits. They also have a blog to tell us about the impact of our actions (responsible tourism for example..)

    Edeni also proposes professional workshops for companies. Apparently, they are very successful.. Maybe something to developp in London?

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  2. Very cool subject, Nicolas. I especially like the leadership role you play as a parent and husband in this—a good example of responsible parenting.

    Food waste, fresh produce waste more specifically, was a topic I was considering for my dissertation for quite a while. I also considered a good starting point to be what was being thrown away, at the company-level and later at an industry-level by building relationships and trust with landfill managers to share data on fresh produce waste from the regional landfill. At the same time, I began to build relationships with food rescue organizations and foodbanks to better understand what was being diverted from the landfill, but still going toward human consumption. Dumped and donated fresh produce combined indicated what was not being sold at the industry-level (data not captured might be fresh produce waste going toward livestock feed). A parallel to your situation might be setting up a neighborhood or community refrigerator for uneaten food, which I have read about as happening in various places. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a food recovery hierarchy (https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-recovery-hierarchy) that might be helpful as a framework for understanding points of intervention. Within the category of composting, for your situation, if outdoor space is limited, you might consider under-the-sink vermi-composting systems (https://www.epa.gov/recycle/how-create-and-maintain-indoor-worm-composting-bin), using earthworms to recycle your organic waste while also creating a high-quality soil amendment for any plants you might have around the house or in the garden. Keep up the good work, my friend, I really admire your integration of pressing sustainability issues with good parenting skills.

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    1. Thanks James, your comments are always very encouraging, challenging and full of interesting suggestions. We do have a tiny garden, but I believe it is big enough to use some compost, so we will definitely look into the small composting system you suggested.
      I think the most interesting outcome I’ve learned so far in terms of leadership is the power of popularisation of data. The comparison of the rubbish we generate with our own body weight seemed to be an argument much more powerful than the raw data we had collected…

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