Saturday 27 February 2010
A UK study found that people throw away seven times their own body weight each year, except none of it ever goes away. Some of it builds up in landfills, creating methane that worsens climate change. Some of it washes into the sea and kills ocean life, or collects at the centre of currents, like the Texas-sized patch of floating rubbish in the Pacific. Almost all of it is unnecessary.
Of course, waste is hard to avoid – we all buy things from the store, and most of them have packaging or wrapping that must be disposed of. You can cut your rubbish fees and environmental damage, though, by turning your rubbish a new life as something else. For example:
Paper: This accounts for 33 percent of our rubbish, and all of it is unnecessary. Use it again by giving it to children to draw on, and when they are done with it, you can tear it up and mix it in your compost. Newspaper or cardboard can be spread over an area where you plan to plant to keep weeds away; just cut holes in it to plant seedlings, and weight it down with stones if necessary.
Food waste: Edible leftovers can be made into quiche, mixed with eggs and milk and baked as a pie. Overripe but not rotten fruit can be juiced, frozen or made into jam. Make a compost bin in your back garden or on your land, or buy worms and put them in a box with your raw food waste – vegetable trimmings, old fruit and so on. Raw or cooked food can be given to chickens or pigs.
Plastic containers: If they are small and transparent, make them into sprouting containers. An Indian restaurant near us gives out its food in clear tubs, and once the box is empty, I clean it and punch two holes on each side near the top. Then I fill them with 50 grams of mung beans, which over the next few days turns into 200 grams of nutritious sprout salad that I can eat for lunch. Since a 500g bag of mung beans costs 1.80 euros at the health food store, that is ten lunches for 18 cents each.
If they are large and transparent, turn them upside down and make them into coldframes for seedlings. You might want to raise them slightly so that just a crack of air can get underneath, enough for the plants to breathe but not enough to let frost in.
Bottles: The top of a plastic soda bottle – say, a two-litre Pepsi bottle -- can be cut off and used as a funnel, if you are changing your oil or pouring liquid into containers. The bottom can be turned upside-down and put over seedlings, as with the plastic boxes. You could cut the funnel off, turn it upside down and place it pointing into the bottom half, and create a rainwater collector. Or you can leave the bottle intact, punch a few holes in the bottom and stick it in the soil next to your vegetables, and pour water into it – the water will soak more slowly into the earth, go straight to the roots and not evaporate as quickly.
Ashes: Excellent for soil, and you can make washing liquid or soap out of it. I have not done this myself, but hope to try in the next few weeks.
Clothes: Old socks are ideal cleaning rags, pants with tears can be made into patches, and most old clothes can be stuffed into attics or walls for insulation.
Furniture: Can usually be repaired or re-used, or donated to people who can use it. When I lived in a college town, May 15 and August 15 were Scavenging Day, the day to upgrade one's belongings by digging through dumpsters -- Sorority Row had the best stock. Old refrigerators can become coldframes or sunken cold boxes, wooden furniture can become firewood, mattresses can be insulation. Use your imagination.
Of course, even better than not throwing things away is not buying them. More on that later.
Photo: Eight tubs of takeout food from last year, now four days of lunches.