A Zero Waste Life
By Anita Vandyke
I was inspired to do my first bin audit after seeing a talk by aquanaut Dr. Sylvia Earle, one of the first women to explore the depths of our oceans. I had always considered space the final frontier, but her talk made me wonder why we always look toward Mars when we haven’t fully explored the 70 percent of our planet that is underwater.
When Dr. Earle explained how plastic pollution was choking our sea life and waterways, I knew I had to do something. She suggested not using disposable plastic bottles as a good first step. Simple, I thought. Even I can do that!
That night I opened Pandora’s box. Pulling plastic bottles from my smelly garbage bin, I also saw Styrofoam containers, food scraps, disposable coffee cups, napkins, plastic cutlery, plastic bags.
I started separating items into a recycling pile and then became confused—can you recycle cling wrap? I was literally a rocket scientist, but I couldn’t figure out which containers were recyclable.
Houston, we have a problem.
Doing a bin audit is powerful because it shows you the reality of your waste, and what habits you personally need to change. It’s an assessment of the “ins” and “outs” of your waste, an opportunity to analyze what comes into your home and understand where your waste goes. It’s your chance to assess where you are before implementing new changes to reduce what you send to landfill. Let’s begin!
How to perform a bin audit
1. Put on a pair of gloves and lay out the contents of your garbage bin on some newspaper. Ideally, you should do the bin audit before your garbage collection day to see the full extent of your household waste.
2. Categorize your items into similar materials—paper, plastic, food, glass, aluminum, unidentifiable. Unidentifiable items may include electrical goods and mixed packaging.
3. Find out what can and can’t be recycled in your area by googling your local neighborhood + “recycling.” Print this list out and put it above your bin as a reference for everyone in your house.
4. Examine your buying habits. Is your rubbish mainly food waste? Coffee cups or takeaway food packaging? What do you buy most frequently?
5. Note down the “frequent flyers” in your bin.
6. Brainstorm how you can make simple switches to replace your disposables with reusables. Most often, the key is to avoid creating waste in the first instance. By reducing your “ins,” you also reduce your “outs.”
In my book A Zero Waste Life, I introduce the concept of “Zero Waste Hacks.” Here are three hacks that you can use to replace plastic garbage bin liners.
Zero Waste Hacks
1. Reduced waste. Buy compostable garbage bags made from cornstarch, which are readily available in supermarkets. These cost slightly more than plastic liners, but you won’t need to buy as may because you’re about to start drastically reducing the materials you put into them.
2. Low waste. Line your bins with newspaper. Yes, that’s right—newspaper! If you compost most of your “wet” garbage, you’ll eliminate bin juices, and newspaper will suffice for your remaining “dry” garbage.
3. Zero waste. Remove your bins altogether and store your weekly garbage in a glass jar—the ultimate zero waste status symbol. Limiting yourself to a glass jar worth of garbage gives you a clear target and makes it easy to measure how far you’ve come.
ANITA VANDYKE, born in China, raised in Australia, and now splits her time between San Francisco, where she lives with her husband and young daughter, and Sydney, where she is finishing medical school. To learn more about her mission, visit www.anitavandyke.com and follow her Instagram @rocket_science.