Don't be Rubbish

28/08/2019 4:00:49 PM | Simon Cook, Amanda Merrett, Heidi McKerrow
Was there a particular event or turning point that made your decide to priorities environmental care in your day to day life, how have you made this choice?
Amanda: Over the last couple of years there has been a growing awareness that my faith is not just vertical relationship between me and God. Rather, I’ve come to understand that my faith is shaped by four relationships – relationship with God, others, myself and creation. This means I believe that not only is creation care a mandate of God, the health of creation is intimately connected connection to my health and the health – or flourishing - of others.
I started to consider what my life would look like if I were as active about caring for the environment as I was active about caring for others, or myself. I’m not able to articulate a specific event that motivated me to prioritise environmental sustainability in my day to day live, however when friends around me started making simple changes I realised I could do that too.
Simon: I'm not sure if there was a specific moment, but it's been a gradual change since my early 20s. The more I've learned about the climate emergency we are now in, the more concerned I have become. I think it mostly started off as a preservation thing - it seemed right to try to do something about the world ending - but the realisation that stewardship is part of what humanity is called to do came much later.
What are some specific adjustments you’ve made in your lifestyle to reduce waste and environmental impact?
Amanda: I found the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” really helpful and started my journey of environmental care by considering what “Reduce, Reuse Recycle” looked like in one room of my house. After a bit of time I moved onto other rooms in my house. All the changes below were slow and took a few months – there was also a bit of trial and error!
There were three rooms in my house I decided to focus on: my bathroom, my kitchen and my bedroom.
In my bathroom I decided to go as close as I could to ‘zero plastic’. I replaced my shampoo and conditioner bottles with a shampoo bar, bought a stainless steel razor, I’ve have started using a natural deodorant which comes in a recyclable tin (and it works – I promise)! I swapped to a bamboo toothbrush (no complaints from the dentist). I’ve also stopped using body wash that comes in a plastic bottle and swapped to a soap bar.
In my kitchen I have started composting as a way to reduce the waste that goes into our bin. I purchased reusable grocery bags and invested in some reusable bees wax wraps to replace cling wrap. Whenever I’ve doing the grocery shopping I try my best to buy plastic free products (this has challenged some of my brand loyalty)!
In my bedroom I have tried my best to purchase second hand furniture and clothing. I’m regularly visiting op shops – and if I haven’t worn an item of clothing in six months I donate it to the op shop.
- Composting / worm farm. So easy, and creates useful compost for the garden!
- Consciously avoiding plastic packaged items (especially fresh produce)
- Avoiding purchasing 'new' whenever possible (we make good use of op shops and buy/swap/sell groups)
- Trying to ride/walk when I can, particularly for my daily commute.
- Reducing meat consumption. If eating red meat we try to steer away from beef and have lamb or kangaroo.
Heidi: I try to periodically pick something from our regular shop with plastic packaging and make a point of addressing why I’m buying this product and how I could change that. Some of these changes are slow (did you know you can buy moisturiser in a bar??) but others are easy, like buying carrots individually in a re-usable produce bag rather than pre-packaged in plastic and soda stream (oh how I love thee carbonated water). I find I have to make change slow and habitually, when I try and do too much at once I get overwhelmed and end up making poorer choices than before.
I’m also pretty big on owning our waste and not sending things to the opp-shop that really can’t be re-sold. I don’t want to make someone else responsible for our decisions. It forces me to make a collection and investigate all the different recycling options for electrical goods, fabric etc out there and do an honest stocktake of our impact.
Which adjustments have you found particularly challenging and why (or things you haven’t adjusted as yet because you expect them to be challenging)
Amanda: I have found sourcing ethical and sustainable make up products difficult.
Simon: Soft plastic packaging is particularly troublesome. Even actively trying to avoid items in plastic we still end up with a lot. So many items are difficult to source package free, or the convenience of shopping in a supermarket wins over purchasing from bulk food suppliers. For a time we were members of a food co-op which was amazing (both much cheaper and completely packaging free (well, I guess it was packaged to get to the co-op…), but when we moved to another area it wasn't very convenient to keep attending.
Heidi: Visiting the wholefoods store (which is embarrassingly close to our house) is far more difficult than it should be. I’ve also found it particularly difficult having young children. They adore cellophane craft and plastic beads and are too young to understand that long term impact of those kind of activities, often coming home from childcare with up to 20 creations that can’t be recycled. They also wear out shoes at a rate I previously didn’t know was possible and in my weaker moments I reach for the individually packaged mini rice crackers I know will buy a small amount of peace at a very high price.
One easy fix but embarrassingly difficult to make is the choice to eat the left overs for lunch when you really would rather get a vermicelli bowl from that place around the corner from work. First world problems right?
What are the easiest changes you’ve made?
Simon:  One of the easiest things I've done was purchasing a worm farm to handle food scraps. That plus reducing packaged items, it is surprising to see how little rubbish now goes in the landfill bin.
Reducing meat consumption has also not been that challenging, although there was a period of learning how to plan a meal without meat at the centre.
Amanda: The changes in my bathroom were relatively easy – all of those products were easy to find online or at the supermarket.
Heidi: Taking plastic out of the bathroom and the fresh produce shop is pretty straightforward. I love anything I can automate, such as a fresh food deliveries and boxes of toilet paper (online shopping is a working parents dream).
Also the mindset change that recycling isn’t the answer and isn’t enough, it has to be a last ditch effort after ‘reduce’ and ‘reuse’. While it’s been easy to make that mind shift, it does result in dealing with a significant amount of guilt that recycling previously alleviated.
What do you find most confronting about the impact a disposable lifestyle is having on society?
Heidi: That I need to make a choice to amplify my voice. In a social media climate where I’m being asked to sign a petition or contribute to a crowd funder left, right and centre I generally say no to everything, rather than yes to some things. I’ve realised that on this issue I need to find organisations/movements I trust and add my voice when they ask me to. While our personal decisions are significant in changing the way we interact with the system, systemic change is what will really turn this tide, that requires all of us to step up and that is what I find overwhelming.
Amanda: I think I am most overwhelmed by the ‘largeness’ of the problem. The way a large portion of humanity is living is not sustainable. Not only does it have a detrimental impact on creation, but it often impacts the poor disproportionately. If we don’t start making big changes - both at a personal and political level - to the way we consume food, use household products and energy, I fear the earth won’t recover and the marginalised will suffer at the hands of other’s excessive consumption.
Simon: I think the consumerist / disposable lifestyle has been normalised in our society and that takes a constant conscious effort to subvert. The "it's all fine" attitude that permeates is very comforting and the minimal visible symptoms that I see on a day to day basis mean that when I actually do think about the impending climate collapse it can be a bit overwhelming. Mostly the complete lack of real action by governments - both in this land and around the world - is dumbfounding.
Where can I get more information on the impact of waste and how to amplify my voice?
Heidi: I particularly like the No Time to Waste report produced earlier this year because it looks at the very personal impact waste is having on people. While there are many studies on environmental impacts of waste, which are also excellent, I think it’s helpful to be reminded that this is not a problem to be solved for the future but something that’s impacting communities right now. 
The research found that one person dies every 30 seconds from diseases caused by mismanaged waste, diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria, heart disease and cancer. That’s up to a million people every year.
In response to the No Time to Waste. report TEAR Australia has joined with international colleagues at TEARFund UK to run The Rubbish Campaign. TEAR are petitioning 4 multinationals to take responsibility for the waste they are producing, setting targets for transparent reporting, reduction, recycling and the restoration of local communities most impacted by this waste. Signed petitions will be presented at the company shareholders meetings in early 2020. I love this campaign because I believe that ultimately it is public pressure on large corporations that will result in the most immediate change, not legislative action.
Other helpful resources:
Jonathan Cornford (who had written for this blog previously)  has a number of great publications out, along with practical learning via Mannagum.
Changing Gears by Greg Foyster , an entertaining account of lifestyle change.
The Art of Frugal Hedonism by Adam Grubb and Annie Raser Rowland , is full of really great and useful tips.

« Back to blog list