Minimal waste challenge – three month update

Three months ago I set a goal to reduce the amount of waste that passes through our household. Some days are better than others, but overall we do make progress. In only a few short months we already managed to halve the amount of plastic we throw out, and our general waste has been reduced to 1/3 it was at the beginning of the year. We are nowhere near perfect, but every step we take is one in the right direction. So, what did we do to get here?

1. I have been using reusable water bottles for many years. Before I leave home, I fill my bottle with water and take it with me. When I get thirsty, I don’t have to buy bottled drinks. I have two sizes (650 ml + 250 ml), and I choose one based on what I’m going to do, and how easy it will be to refill my bottle. In addition I have a thermos flask and a travel mug for when I travel by train, so I can brew my own tea instead of overpaying for a cup of hot water at the train station.

2. I bought small produce bags many years ago, when they just appeared on the market. I did use them in the past, but when I moved two years ago to a neighbourhood with just a regular supermarket, there was no need for it anymore. Now I cycle a couple of minutes in another direction to a grocery store where they don’t pre-package everything in plastic. Also, they are fine with me bringing my own containers for bulk dry goods like rice, nuts, seeds, olives, oil, and dips. I wrote the tare weight on the lids, so I don’t have to go by the scale every time I come in.

3. When I go to the bakery for bread, I bring cotton bread bags. I just ask if they would be so kind to put the bread in my bags, and that has never been a problem. At home, I keep them in the freezer. And when the bag is empty, I shake out the crumbs and bring it with me to the bakery again.

4. Practically a no-brainer: we take cotton bags or a backpack when we go shopping. And if we forgot a bag, we carry our groceries.

So far I listed things that we already did most of the time. Now we just put a little more emphasis on it, so we won’t come home with plastic filled grocery bags. In addition to these four points, we also made a couple of real changes:

5. We switched to a cradle to cradle, co2 neutral toilet paper produced in The Netherlands. This means that no new resources are used to produce it, and the production cycle is circular. It also came with a fancy holder made from recycled materials, so our toilets look very stylish. Another benefit is, that the paper takes up little space and comes in bulk cardboard boxes. We estimated that one box will last us – a two person household – about nine months.

6. Matthijs switched from shampoo in a plastic bottle to a package free shampoo bar. I didn’t switch to a shampoo bar, because my curly hair is very specific about the type of shampoo I use. However, I have shampoo in a 900ml glass bottle that will probably last for two years.

7. I switched to a package free bar soap. Matthijs already did, but his dried out my skin. Now I have one that works fine for me. Also, I went from bath foam in a plastic bottle to bath bombs. However, I do not use them in one go. That is way too expensive. Instead, I cut them in smaller pieces.

8. We make our own food more often. Not that we didn’t do that before, but we started to make our favourite take-out cuisines ourselves. It’s not only cheaper, but saves a ton of plastic as well.

9. Matthijs started to bring his own cup for takeout coffee. This is a plastic cup, but I already bought it in 2010, and it was hanging around our cupboard not being used. I thought it would be more environmentally friendly to use this one instead of throwing it out and buying a new one made from glass or stainless steel.

10. When we want to drink coffee before we travel by train, we go to the train station a little bit earlier so we have time to sit down to enjoy our coffee. It makes travelling a little more enjoyable. And it saves space in our bags that we otherwise would use for our cups.

11. We don’t order as much online as we were used to. This saves a ton of cardboard and plastic waste. And I notice that I appreciate items more when I had to put a little more effort into acquiring them. So it made me more mindful of what comes into our house.

Writing this down, I realize this is on average one thing we changed every week. Which is quite a lot. But I still think we produce too much waste: one 20l bag of general waste and one 30l bag of plastic waste every other week. The plastic waste mainly comes down to Greek yogurt tubs, coconut yogurt containers, meat packaging. I know most of this waste would disappear if we went plant-based. However, that is not possible because of my intolerances to all plant-based protein sources. So how to reduce this type of waste is something we will be thinking about in the next couple of months. Also, I discovered that all gluten-free products come in plastic. This is probably because otherwise it could get contaminated. So instead of focusing on packaging without plastic, with these products I focus on single packaging – only plastic, not plastic hidden in cardboard.  And I need to start thinking about what types of food are easy to bring for lunch. At the moment I’m home quite a lot, but there probably will be a time when I have a job to go to, so it might be helpful to be prepared. And I think it would be nice for Matthijs to have a little more variety than the three options he gives himself. Once I figure that out, of course I will share the recipes.

I hope you find this short overview helpful. And if you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.

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