February 2, 2014

Dumpster-diving & Other Less Obvious Green Resolutions. ~ Katie Wilkins


It’s the New Year again, and we already know that we should recycle recyclables, stop using our cars so much and take shorter showers.

If we see someone litter, there’s a chance we might curse at them in a fit of rage. We secretly judge the lady in front of us at the shop who’s choosing to use a plastic bag. And we judge ourselves when we look at the pile of apple products charging over there in the kitchen.

So, to continue our constant criticism of the ne’er-do-well’s (ourselves included) who sometimes aren’t as green as they should be, let’s add some extra-special green resolutions to our list.

1) Don’t go to the supermarket unless absolutely necessary.

This sounds drastic. Crazy perhaps.

But as I am beginning to realize, supermarkets are kind of the devil. They are big, fat, evil, moneymaking, waste-producing monsters. They are scarier than Hannibal Lecter or Scar from the Lion King. I kind of always knew this, but I recently lived with a couple of hippies who really proved it to me.

We had a big supermarket only hundred meters from our house. Late at night, faces buried in their black hooded coats, green bags in their hands, they would adventure down the road to go through the dumpsters. I was a skeptic at first because it sounds kind of gross and it’s also illegal, but they’d come home with so much food that I was pro-dumpster diving from then on. They’d return with perfectly fine, within the used by date, completely packaged breads, meats, cheeses and snacks that were literally put inside a plastic bag and thrown away an hour earlier.

This is disturbing for so many reasons. They were thrown away to make room for the newest stock even though they were still safe to eat, rather than donating to charity because of absurd “health and safety” laws, or reducing the price for quick sale.

From what I saw, every single day, this One supermarket in little old Melbourne throws away enough food to feed fill about 10 pantries for a week. On top of this, many of their products are imported from the opposite end of the world so that we can have every single imaginable product on earth.

They’re also putting small, sustainable, local stores out of business so that Pete and Marge from the Deli might have to sell-up. This is only a brief explanation of why I want to punch all the supermarkets in the face, but for now I am going to join four other friends in a pact not shop at them.

2) Refill your used shampoo and detergent bottles.

The bottles that are used for shampoos, detergents and other cleaning products are made from super thick and sturdy plastic that can be used again and again before it breaks. There are a bunch of places that you can take your bottles to refill with natural products which means that you usually get to buy organic for cheaper and reduce the amount of recycling you’re putting out each week. This is particularly useful if your housemates drink so much beer that you have to run around on trash night putting the overflowing bottles into your neighbors’ bins.

3) Say no to bottled water, take-away coffee cups and take-away food containers.

There’s a really great restaurant in Melbourne that only lets you take away if you bring your own containers. I think that’s bloody brilliant. I’ve bought Vietnamese soup take away and ended up with about seven thousand different containers for the broth, meat, vegetables, sauces, lemon, and mint, which are then all double bagged.

Buying a take away coffee cup is just plain naughty because it doesn’t take long to sit in and drink your coffee or bring your own cup with you. Don’t be naughty. Some places even have discounts if you bring your own cup. We love coffee. Let us love coffee without the waste.

And last but not least, I must remind you how lucky we are to have safe drinking water that comes out of our taps! It’s so great! Just for some shock-horror statistics to shock and horrify you like any good persuasive article should, I’d like to let you know that Americans spend an average of 11.8 billion dollars on bottled water each year, contributing to an average of 30 billion plastic bottles going into landfill. Yucky. Gross. The end.

4) Don’t always flush (What!).

This idea stems from living through an Australian drought for most of my younger years and understandably, may sound nuts due to our fear of all things “germy” and our obsession with cleaning products. I remember a friend of mine in high school had a sign on her toilet door that said, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” This might make some people feel uncomfortable, and may not be an option in a share house etc, but until we stop using perfectly good drinking water to flush, I think it’s not such a crazy way to save five to 11 liters of water each time we use the bathroom.

A little pee isn’t that scary.

5) Buy second hand almost-everything.

I have a friend who hasn’t bought a new piece of clothing for almost three years.

She is a legend of the human race. Treat this as a challenge. You can get pretty much anything you want without having to go to a store. Furniture, clothing, appliances, kitchenware, artwork, and even rescue pets (not that they should be treated as a commodity) can be found secondhand thanks to our good mate the Internet. If you’re building or renovating, try to find secondhand baths, sinks, wood, and stoves that people throw away because they want the fancy stuff.

We produce such a ridiculous amount of new things in the world when we already have perfectly good ones that are slightly less easy to locate, but cheaper and super eco-friendly. And you’ll feel really proud of yourself and be able to tell all your friends that you’re a true earthly warrior (with the risk of sounding pretentious, of course).

6) If you have the space, get some chickens.

This can be tricky if you live in the city. I just moved to a house with a paved backyard and sadly couldn’t bring my dear chickens Frieda and Lola with me. But so many people have the space. Chickens are amazing creatures for so many reasons. Firstly, they are kind of funny and you can give them silly names and talk to them via chirping and squawking. They are also great company during your morning coffee. Secondly, they are super easy to take care of. They pretty much just need you to throw them some scraps and let them scratch around in the garden and they are happy.

You’ll reduce your waste and give them a feast at the same time, plus they’ll provide you with organic fertilizer and eggs! If you have kids, this is even better because there’s pretty much nothing more exciting than collecting eggs from their cage (even for grown-ups).

7) Don’t buy so much food that it goes bad before you can eat it.

Buy a little, not a lot when it comes to fresh food. Spend a bit of extra time shopping each week to get fresh food that you know you’re going to eat, rather than stocking up on loads of groceries that end up going moldy in the fridge. The same goes for cooking: don’t cook so much food at a time unless you know you’re going to eat the leftovers. And if you do, give it to your dog, your chooks or start a compost.

8) Don’t throw away anything unless it is damaged beyond use.

Most things you throw away can be reused, and there are a lot of people who would love to reuse them for you. Have a garage sale and make some dollar-dollar bills! Or have a clothes-swap and make a pal super happy. If these ideas don’t appeal, most things can be taken to a thrift shop, which are becoming more and more popular, especially amongst the kids.

Even if it’s broken, you can take it to the tip shop and someone might buy it and fix it. Or an artist might want to create something beautiful with it. There are so many possibilities.

And of course, take your canvas bags when you go shopping.

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Assistant Editor: Judith Andersson / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: elephant journal archives 

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