Gina Dempster meets two people who threw out the bin, then they went waste-free.
Living without a rubbish bin sounds like hard work, but not for the Rubbish Trip’s Liam Prince and Hannah Blumhardt.
They love their waste-free lifestyle so much they’ve become bin-free nomads. They get their kicks out of showing others their rubbish-free short-cuts.
This month they’re in Otago as part of their year-long Rubbish Trip, helping other people to free themselves from the piles of rubbish accumulating in their bins.
"Life without a bin is not a life of sacrifice and misery," says Hannah.
"We find that it’s made us more creative and we save money. We’d never consider living any other way: for us, it’s happiness."
Hannah and Liam say their rubbish-free lifestyle was more of an evolution than an overnight decision.
They had always recycled and taken their own coffee cups, but didn’t think of taking it further until Hannah did an online search for people who lived without a rubbish bin.
She found plenty of inspiration, including Kiwi couple Matthew Luxon and Waveney Warth who tackled their rubbish-free year back in 2008.
"Once you know, you can’t unknow," says Hannah.
"Once I knew that there were other people living without a rubbish bin, I knew that we could do it too."
When the couple went rubbish bin-free three years ago, they both had busy lives that included full-time work, full-time study and part-time work. By tackling things that created waste one at a time, they created new habits that fitted into their daily lives.
"For example, we learned how to make our own toothpaste, which only takes two to three minutes," says Liam.
"Once you know how, it becomes a part of life. Doing it is not more time-consuming; it’s changing habits and learning how to do things which takes time."
Hannah said they were amazed at how much money they saved by making their own things from scratch. She discovered that buying single serving packs of oats can be four to 10 times more expensive than buying them from bulk bins.
"It doesn’t take more time to put the oats in the pot. The more you do it [live without a bin], the more short-cuts you learn."
Finding that a rubbish-free life was easier and more rewarding than they had expected, Hannah and Liam were keen to share what they’d learned. They quickly found that social situations and dinner parties were not always the best places to start waste-free-living conversations. Instead they started holding free workshops as a safe place to share their waste free short-cuts.
"We cram as much as information into the workshops as possible," says Hannah. But there’s no pressure to go rubbish-bin-free overnight.
"People can start small and move out from there. You can be gung ho and change lots of things at once if you want to go for it, but a lot of people are busy and their lives don’t revolve around rubbish. You can pick and choose what you think is going to work for you in your life."
Liam and Hannah bring along home-made zero waste nibbles to their free workshops. They make them from scratch to show how easy it is to make commonly packaged foods such as dips, crackers, muesli bars, bliss balls and bread.
"People always say, ‘that must have taken you ages’, but it’s actually super-quick and super-easy," says Hannah.
The cost of supplying the food is covered by their shoe-string Rubbish Trip budget of $20 a day, which they crowd-source through their Give-a-Little page.
One easy way to cut back on rubbish is to find a way to compost food scraps.
"People often don’t think of it, as there’s so much focus on plastics, but organic waste can make up 30 to 50% of what’s in the bin," says Hannah.
Getting food scraps out of the rubbish bin also means you don’t have to line it with a plastic bag.
"If you’re composting food waste, there’s not really anything that’s going to be smelly or slimy in your rubbish bin," says Liam.
Just giving the bin a quick wash once you empty it is enough to keep it smelling fresh.
Disposables are also high on the easy-to-tackle list.
"The disposable culture that we’re living in is not sustainable," says Hannah.
We’re putting so much precious resource and material into something that is only used for a short time but never breaks down. It’s just not sustainable to put it in a big hole in the ground and imagine that it magically goes away.
Hannah and Liam recommend making up a "day bag" of reusable items to carry with you while you’re out and about. Their day bag contains shopping bags, smaller produce bags, a coffee cup, a container for food, cutlery and a water bottle.
"People are really surprised how much waste they can reduce just by doing this one simple thing," says Hannah.
"It’s so much easier when you only have one thing to remember and it’s all in one bag. We forgot stuff all the time until we consolidated it into one bag."
Liam says not making exceptions when you get caught out will also help you remember next time.
"Just find another way, carry it all in your arms if you have to. We had to go without coffee a few times because we forgot our cups: we pretty much never forget them now."
The couple say it costs a lot to manage landfills, and there are environmental risks from the leachate and methane they release. Old landfills don’t disappear, so there’s always the possibility of downstream pollution if they are not well-managed or they get caught up in a major event, such as an earthquake or serious storm. In February, Cyclone Fehi exposed part of an old rubbish dump closed 20 years ago on the West Coast, and blew massive amounts of plastic across the beach.
"There is no ‘away’ to put things into," says Hannah.
"They’re not gone, they’re still causing problems."
They both agree that our society is set up to be wasteful, but that individuals can make a difference by changing the things they have control over.
"What individuals do can spill over into businesses. As they get demand from more and more customers, then the business can aim to reduce their waste and talk to their suppliers, who can reduce their packaging," says Hannah.
"Sometimes people say that there’s no point me doing anything, but government and businesses are made up of people too."
- Gina Dempster is communications officer at Wanaka Wastebusters. Each week in this column, one of a panel of writers addresses issues of sustainability.
Hannah and Liam will be sharing all their short cuts to living without a bin at free Rubbish Trip workshops (at which you get to enjoy their zero-waste nibbles). All workshops are free, full details at http://therubbishtrip.co.nz/
Reducing our household rubbish: the zero-waste approach
• Alexandra, Wednesday April 117pm-9pm at Alexandra Community House
• Wanaka, Saturday April 142pm-4pm at St John rooms
• Queenstown, Tuesday April 176pm-8pm at Sherwood
• Dunedin, Monday April 235.30pm-7.30pm at Dunningham Suite, Dunedin City Library
• Dunedin, Thursday April 26noon-2pm at Union Common Room, University of Otago
• Milton, Thursday May 37pm-9pm at Milton Coronation Hall
• Taieri Mouth, Friday May 47pm-9pm at Leitch Memorial Hall (includes a rubbish-free potluck dinner)
Bare essentials: DIY zero waste body care
• Dunedin, Tuesday April 245.30pm-7pm at Dunningham Suite, Dunedin City Library
• Milton, Saturday May 52pm-3.30pm at Milton Coronation Hall
Zero waste my pantry! with the Rubbish Trip
• Milton, Saturday May 510.30am-noon at Milton Coronation Hall
For Liam and Hannah’s recipe go to http://therubbishtrip.co.nz/recipes-and-inventions/condiments-spreads-an...
Top tips for living without a bin
1. Make and take a day-bag filled with reusable items: coffee cup, shopping and produce bags, food container, cutlery, straw.
2. Swap items you commonly buy for low-waste items that do the same job, e.g., beeswax wrap, bamboo toothbrushes and pegs, cotton dish cloths.
3. Find a way to compost your food scraps: try bokashi buckets or a worm farm, or give them to a neighbour or community garden.
4. Try making a few packaged items from scratch at home, e.g., toiletries, cleaning products, non-dairy milk, crackers.
5. Shop at places that sell unpackaged food, e.g., farmers markets, bulk-bin stores.