16 September 2011

Take the packaging back

The friendly farmers' market vibe has emboldened us to try returning packaging to sellers. When the seller is also the grower and the packager, they are more likely to take their packaging back for reuse.

So far we have had success with returning egg cartons, red string bags from mandarins and cherry tomatoes, and plastic strawberry punnets. Tyson's parents also return tubs that home-made dog food comes in and glass bottles from super creamy milk.

Initial Time: It adds about 5 minutes to a shopping trip to locate sellers and return their packaging (although if we forget which grower we purchased from the previous week it can take longer as we wander around the markets matching strawberry punnets to stall displays). There is also a minimal time involved in washing some items.

Initial Cost: zero
Ongoing time or cost commitment: The ongoing time and cost is as per 'initial...' above.It feels like the biggest commitment is finding somewhere in our home to store egg cartons, strawberry punnets and string bags until our next market trip. 

Impact: By my estimates we are keeping about 30-40 metres of red string bag per year out of landfill. Egg cartons and strawberry punnets we would recycle through our council bin pickup, but we are looking at 30-40 of each in a year and there are all sort of costs (human time, truck fuel, excess or soiled 'recycling' that gets wasted, recycling infrastructure) that go with a city-wide recycling system. Taking it back to where it came from makes for a much simpler equation.

We have on our bench two strawberry punnets bought from our local growers' cooperative rather than the markets. I haven't yet put them in the recycling bin because I am considering whether to take them back to the shop. They might laugh at me, but I think the amount of packaging used in our culture is appalling and until we start challenging it nothing will change. What if everyone took their rubbish back to where it came from rather than putting it into a bin... whole parcels of plastic, staples and wire ties mailed back to toy manufacturers after a kids' birthday party...bags of confectionery wrappers, bread packets, cellophane from around toilet paper, and glossy cardboard boxes deposited at the checkout on your next visit to the supermarket... and my two strawberry punnets returning home to the growers market.

Several weeks ago I told Eva we were going shopping for gumboots because the ones she has were not high enough to withstand jumping in puddles. A little later when I was ready to leave she was at the door with her gumboots in hand and told me she was taking them back to the shop to get new ones. I thought: Yes! That is how it should be! Anyone producing 'disposable' items should be responsible for where those items go when they are ready for disposal.

03 September 2011

More about toilets

Its the season for rain here and we don't need our bath and shower water for the garden. I couldn't bear to let it just waste away down the drain so we have been collecting it for our toilets.


I would prefer to have these buckets on the floor, but we have a toddler in the house and the door to our ensuite can't really be shut firmly.

Using buckets in winter to flush our toilet is not new, but this year we have started also using them in the second toilet (where the door can be shut!). This is the toilet used for cleaning nappies. Its also the one used by guests. To explain the presence of buckets of water and encourage guests to also use our recycled water to flush, I put a notice inside the toilet door.

Initial Time: Ten minutes to prepare, print and post the notice to toilet guests.

Initial Cost: 
We bought two more $2 buckets.

Ongoing time or cost commitment: Catching the water takes no time, just two tubs in the shower. Redistributing it into buckets beside both toilets takes about 5 minutes a day. Refilling the toilet cistern with recycled water after flushing takes about an extra 30 seconds per toilet visit. Toilets flushed with recycled water get a bit gunky if not cleaned efficiently.

Impact:Over the last couple of months, with all our shower water going into the toilets, the amount of drinking water flushed down our toilets has been close to ZERO. Because we work from home, we are not out-sourcing much of our toilet use to a workplace, so the full impact of two adults and a toddler remains at our house. If we were not being careful about toilets I estimate we would flush toilets at our house about 20 times per day (in total, not each! what about you?) or about 180L of water. We flush sparingly, use half-flush and have reduced the size of our cisterns, but even so we were using about 50L a day which is now all recycled. That's over 18,000L a year. Come summer, though, we will need to find a way to catch washing machine water again to keep the garden going. And I have no idea how we are going to toilet train Eva to use this system!

We received a six-month water bill this week are were delighted to see our water usage had got below 300L a day (283L/day, to be precise!). I estimate that is about 1/3 showers, 1/3 washing machine and the rest kitchen and miscellaneous use (hand washing, Eva's play, etc). By comparison, the average Perth home uses over 750L a day - the highest water usage rate in Australia according to an article last week - and 43% goes on the garden.

The other impact of this action is getting our guests thinking about their water use. This may in fact by the more important impact. So far reactions have been mixed. Several have said nothing at all. One was heard making baffled noises and muttering 'cistern?' Another was inspired to try something similar at their place. Hardly anyone remembers to shut the door so Eva can't get to the buckets, so I am in the habit of casually checking the door over and over if guests are around. Several have decided to ignore the instructions and just pour water into the toilet bowl (which works to an extent but... you get more splash back, use  more water, and don't get as clean a flush) 

And at that point I have said too much about toilet flushing!