Every month, a colleague from the Women’s Health editorial team faces a personal challenge. This time I got the chance and dedicated myself to a project of my heart: I fought against the mountains of garbage in everyday life for one month and paid attention to plastic packaging & Co. Whether it was easy for me to give up and what I learned from it, I will tell you here.
Gaby courageously faces the mountains of waste of everyday life.
Why should I reduce waste?
Unfortunately, we Germans are right up there with the garbage issue: Each of us produces an unbelievable 617 kilograms of garbage on average per year. This produces 16 million tons of packaging waste, of which only about one eighth is recycled – the rest ends up in the incinerator. In addition, about 10 million tons of waste ends up in the sea every year.
Which waste is particularly harmful?
Especially plastic is a danger. It degrades very slowly or not at all, collects everywhere, forms huge rubbish fields in the oceans. Many animals perish from it, or the particles remain in the organism of the sea animals and end up back on your plate, for example through a delicious fish dish. Not such an appetizing performance, is it? Time to do something about it!
What can I do to produce less waste?
You don’t have to form or join an organization to save the planet. (Although a little support can’t hurt.) You just start with yourself. These tips also helped me to prepare for my 4-week challenge.
To reduce waste, I got help from Shia Su from Bochum: all their residual waste from last year fits completely into a 1-litre jar. She wrote the book “Zero Waste” (Freya Verlag, for 15 Euro) about her almost waste-free life and on her blog Wastelandrebel.com Tips and tricks for waste avoidance. For me she has summarized improvement strategies for 10 areas of life:
1. save packaging waste when shopping
Saving garbage starts with planning the purchase, so always pack a jute bag instead of buying plastic bags in the store. Also at the bakery or at the cheese counter, have everything packed in bags and cans that you have brought with you.
Buying fruit from fresh traders or at the market saves packaging waste. © Humpback_Whale / Shutterstock.com
It’s also good to shop in unpackaged shops, at the market, at the Turkish or Asian store. This is where the least packaging waste is produced. You can also buy loose products or bulk packs (e.g. with a digital shopping list, like Wunderlist) and share them with others. This also minimizes the risk of food waste.
Tip: All things that are bought loose can be stored in a perfect way in wake-up jars, twist-off jars, ceramics, metal or porcelain. Also use existing plastic jars, but do not buy new ones! Also be flexible enough to ensure that if cucumbers are only shrink-wrapped, none will get into the salad. Always reuse leftovers.
Second capsule of coffee? No, thanks.
Loose tea and coffee with tea-egg and a pressed coffee machine replace filters. Other drinks always buy from reusable glass bottles from the region.
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3. use up, then buy more
Many things end up in the trash because they are not used up and forgotten. That’s why you should always make lists, use up everything and only buy new when something is empty. It is best to start immediately with an inventory at home.
4. know habits and be prepared
Salad to go in a jar – tasty and environmentally friendly. © vkuslandia / Shutterstock.com
If you know your habits, you can avoid any disposable product by taking precautions: with a thermo coffee cup instead of plastic or cardboard, instead of paper napkins to dry off or for your face, reusable water bottle, clean jute bag for bread, cloth nets for fruit, lunch box or alarm clock glasses for on the way and also cutlery or chopsticks for sushi restaurants, Christmas markets or fairs.
5. dental care 2.0
Toothbrushes need to be changed regularly, so bamboo toothbrushes are the best choice. Even dental floss is now compostable. And you can also brush your teeth without toothpaste: with powdered baking soda, healing earth, salt and stevia or xylitol. It is also possible to make mixtures of toothpowder. Fluoride should either be applied at the dentist or you simply use salt with fluoride.
6. DIY -Products for cleaning and washing
DIY -There are many products for skin and hair. © Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com
When washing up, the sponge ends up in the garbage every week, cotton rags and compostable dish brushes are the more ecological alternative. You can even make dishwashing detergent yourself: from olive oil soap, washing soda, water and essential oil. Washing soda also works in dishwashers, and rinse aid can be mixed from citric acid, alcohol and water.
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There’s so much more to the DIY -Universe: Washing hair is possible with rye flour, the conditioner replaces apple vinegar. Hairspray can be mixed from sugar and water. Instead of creams and lip balms, normal oils in various mixtures can be used. Sewn, washable cotton pads made of cotton can be reused when removing make-up. Chestnuts and ivy contain saponins. The mixture of both can be used as an environmentally friendly alternative to detergent.
You want to know how I fared during my challenge? Here are excerpts from my diary:
So I succeeded in the fight against waste
Tupperware, wake-up jars, metal tins and jute bags: I am well prepared. First I learn that not all rubbish is rubbish. Glass, metal and paper are usually recycled. Many plastic packaging also promises this, but here it depends on the mix of materials, the colours, the type of glue, the labels or whether the quantity is even worth it. This is quite complex and often difficult to understand. So for me the rule is: Avoid plastic waste in any case!
Many changes do not work right away: it makes no sense, for example, to throw away all plastic cans – that would only be additional waste. Waste avoidance is therefore a long process. Of course, I also have to use everything else, no matter how it is packed.
Avoid garbage directly when shopping
Cereal only comes out of the box? In unpacked shops you can put together your own cereal mix.
Shopping is indeed the biggest hurdle in my “less waste-producing challenge”: Of course I have a jute bag in every handbag now, but in a normal supermarket everything is simply packed. Okay, I still get a few apples and avocados (apart from the annoying sticker that fruit often has), but carrots or cucumbers are often only shrink-wrapped.
Luckily, I have a market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and on Tuesdays and Fridays, too, near the editorial office. Luckily I have the small unpacked shop “12 Monkeys” right around the corner. There I can fill pasta, oatmeal and muesli directly into my cans.
Also at the bakery I save bags from now on, as everything comes in a (freshly washed) jute bag. The first times the salesmen look at you strangely, but after two weeks nobody says anything at my regular baker. A problem remains however receipts. Even if I cancel them before, they are printed almost everywhere and end up in the garbage.
Stopping food wastage: less food ends up in the trash
With planning at dinner, produce less waste
Wanna get something on your hand? Not a chance. Order food from a delivery service? Cancelled. In principle, I can only cook and take food myself and have to plan accordingly well and precisely. Sure, fruit is always possible, but sometimes it has to be something more hearty. So I dug up my grandfather’s old handkerchiefs: Armed with them, I get a pretzel or a roll from the baker. If I want to eat it later, I have a tin with me. Unfortunately it is always a bit bulky.
Sustainable against office waste
Gaby (left) also paid attention to the rubbish in the office – with success.
In the office, it is particularly difficult to produce less waste, because I get a lot of mail there, and a lot of it is really packed. I take advantage of the occasion and register with agencies for purely electronic press releases. For other papers I still use the back as a piece of scrap paper. My boss should also take this to heart, as she throws a piece of paper into my almost empty wastebasket shortly before the end of the challenge.
Of course I fish it out immediately and put it on my waste paper pile. It has no place in the residual waste!
Conclusion: The Garbage Challenge is manageable!
Net and jute bags have long since become trend accessories anyway! In addition to cosmetics, smartphones and the like, there is certainly room for a Tupperware box or a screw-on glass. Folded up, the practical bags also fit perfectly into the handbag and are ready to hand for the next shopping trip. There are also alternatives for many other things in everyday life – so you hardly need to limit yourself.
Avoiding rubbish is sensible and can be mastered well with a little sporting spirit. Try’ just do it and start your personal “less garbage challenge”! The environment will thank you for it!