Well I have completed two weeks of the audit experience and it has been interesting! Toting around my waste until I get home to stick it in a box to save it for later, trying not to change anything I do so I can fully account for the waste I create, and dealing with a non-waste reducer in my household all the while. The thing I really noticed is how much food packaging constantly rears its ugly head. It is absolutely the weakest link in our household. Working two full-time jobs (as a financial analyst and the shop) definitely makes it more difficult to grocery shop so I leave it up to my partner to get groceries and cook. With that comes some loss of control about what comes into the house. So, in other areas I reduce waste where else I can like takeaway cups, by substituting reusable mugs, or refusing freebies and items that come with excessive packaging if I go out to eat alone.
I started collecting February 13th in one box. I decided I didn’t want to lump my waste in with my partners so I could identify my personal areas of improvement so it became three boxes, one for each of us and one shared.
Let’s start unpacking!
My waste for two weeks consisted of some medical waste, a few receipts, some cardboard, two takeaways (a Beyond Meat burger is my easy way out when I forget to pack my lunch) and a Valentine’s gift from work:
All and all 100 grams was collected and 35 grams was trash so in a year that could potentially come to 2 pounds of trash if I don’t change anything. This isn’t the whole story though, food packaging comes next!
Our shared food packaging consisted of hard plastic, tin and glass containers, a couple chip bags, zipper packaging, foil lids, food stickers, a handful of receipts, a soft plastic bag, a tetra pack, a dozen pieces of cardboard, and plastic food wrapping. The non-food items are some of the cardboard/paper already mentioned and toilet paper rolls.
Luckily enough I can refill all my other non-food items in store!
The total collected was 2439 grams (glass is heavy!) with 150 grams of trash. Other items not collected include food that can’t be composted, tissues and cat litter. Sorry too stinky to keep around! My partner’s waste came to 533 grams with 63 grams of trash. If I assume half the shared waste plus my own I would produce 110 grams of waste every two weeks or 2,860 grams per year (just over 6 lbs) give or take.
Why spend the time doing a waste audit? Because it reveals critical information about areas that can be improved or even where you are doing well! I know I need to spend more time preparing meal lists instead of waiting until that last minute and grabbing what’s available. It will be so interesting to re-do this experience again next year (and hopefully I don’t miss the first two weeks again, ugh) and further, this is a huge improvement from the prior year!
Remember, we need to celebrate where we come from before we address where we are going.
Recycling in Sarnia
Waste diversion is important when evaluating a waste audit. The best course of action is reducing and reusing but sometimes that isn't be the case. I've identified how many grams of my waste is going to the landfill but let's review the recyclable items.
Cardboard and paper can be recycled as long as it is clean and has no plastic glitter, foil or lamination on it. For pizza boxes I compost the piece that has grease stain so it doesn't end up in the trash. You can also bring back egg cartons to the farmer's market for reuse.
Glass can be reused for bulk food or repurposed around the home. When the cupboards get full you can place them in the blue bin or bring clean, unchipped and smell-free containers to the shop for our take a jar, leave a jar program. Note that glass is cheaper to manufacture then recycle so be mindful when choosing glass if only considering recyclability rather then rate of recycling and what it gets recycled into.
Aluminum can be recycled and is at pretty high rates because it is cheaper then processing new materials. I have seen recycling rates anywhere from 40-66% and at 3x more then glass. There are issues drawn from them having BPA in their liners; however, many companies have reported removal of the compound from their cans. Remember to bring your empties back to The Beer Store to improve their chances of getting properly recycled rather then contaminated in Sarnia's current single stream recycling.
Plastic coded 1-7, ziplock bags, and soft stretchable plastic bags are recyclable; however, the recycling rate for these products are dismal. Higher quality PET #1 and HDPE #2 have much more hope then the rest. Make sure these items are clean!
You can find more info here for Sarnia but there is some conflicting information between the website, their Facebook page and the MyWaste app. I am working on getting the most accurate info but default to the MyWaste app as we have a new contract coming up July 1, 2019.
I see this so often in the zero waste community “people say since I’m not doing xyz I’m not an environmentalist” when by just making small progressive steps is the most impactful thing you can do because it is more the zero. Perhaps we should reshape the movement into “conscious waste” to remove the shame and stigma that perfectionists try to place on everyone that isn’t doing what they have defined as ‘enough’. Forget about everyone else. It is so much easier to criticize then take action, so let’s try and show people that a habitable planet is worth fighting for rather than condemning those who try with subjective opinions.