We live close to the river the Rhine, and in January the water level in the Rhine was very high. I was just appalled by all the plastic waste left from the high water once it had gone down. This made me really think about our use of plastic, and how we can produce less waste.
I have been following the “zero-waste movement” for quite a while now, and every once in a while I would implement some zero-waste (less waste) solutions. However, after a while, I would always slip back into old habits. I did manage to buy (and use) re-usable straws and bring my own bags when I went shopping, I even buy fruit and vegetables at the market and bring my own bags. I have now realized that is not enough.
As I said I was appalled by the amount of waste left by the high water. Mostly bottle caps, styrofoam, and pieces of little plastic. I took some close up pictures, but this went on as far as the eye could see.
I realized that something had to change, in everyone’s waste habits, but especially in our own. Here is how I set up our less waste plan.
Where do we produce most waste?
Think about this for a while, which trash can do you have to empty most often? I came to the conclusion that we produce most of our trash in the kitchen. I think that is normal, it’s where we use most of the products we buy from the store.
What is in our trash can?
It’s time to get down and dirty. In order to reduce waste, you have to know what you are throwing away, and the best way to know if to go through your trash can. So I went outside and checked out big trash cans. Germany has a pretty great trash system, we have to separate all our trash into paper, plastic, glass, biological waste, and “other.”
Paper: our paper trashcan is picked up every month and the paper is then recycled. We have a sticker on our mailbox which states that we do not want unaddressed mail, so we try to keep our paper trash to a minimum. Of course, there is still some paper packaging and boxes. I have read that it is better to recycle paper than composting it if you want to read more about that you can check out this article from Earth911. Our paper trash can is never full when it is time to empty it, so, for now, that is not a priority.
Plastic: we have another trashcan for plastic that is picked up monthly. We are allowed to throw cans, plastic, polystyrene, aluminum, tinplate and “composite” materials like beverage cartons in this trash can. I hate to say it, but it almost always full on pick-up day. Please, don’t hate me now, I am trying to change!
Glass: we do not buy a lot of products in glass, we mostly buy fresh produce. We also don’t drink wine. And Germany has a great system on a lot of beverage bottles (both plastic and glass) called “Pfand”, this basically means you pay for the bottle when you buy the beverage and get the money back when you return it. Also, I am a glass container hoarder, so if we do buy something in a glass without “Pfand” on it, I clean the container and use it for something else. So I guess, this is not something I can improve on.
Biological waste: we don’t have one of these trashcans because we compost all our food scraps and garden waste at home.
Other (rest): this trash can includes any trash that does not fall into the above categories, old household objects, diapers, other personal hygiene products etc. We have already exchanged this trashcan for a smaller one (we went from 120 liters to 90 liters), it is picked up every two weeks and hardly ever full (unless I have been decluttering, haha). The only thing we really throw in this trash can is disposable diapers (never did get started with cloth diapering) and broken household items. If our 3 year old finally starts agreeing with me about going to the toilet instead of wearing diapers, this trash can will be almost empty.
Do you want to know more about the German trash system and how it works? Check out this article on How To Germany.
Our biggest problem is the plastic trash can, it is 240 Liters and is full every pickup day (so every month). This is the problem we will have to tackle first. So what’s in it? Well, how about I show you.
It’s mostly empty drink cartons, some meat/cheese packages, and some miscellaneous plastic. I dug around for a bit and realized it was actually about 75% empty drink cartons.
Now that we have found the root of our problem, the next blog post will be about how we are planning to actually tackle this problem.