If I looked in your garbage and recycling bins what would I learn about you?

Would I learn that you buy too much food, cook too much and don’t eat leftovers?

Would I learn that you are an extreme composter from the lack of biodegradable contents?

Would I discover from the large number of receipts that you like to shop – a lot?

Perhaps you have accumulated lots of plastic bags because you have trouble remembering to bring your reusable ones.

Maybe I’d learn that you are an excellent recycler from the absence of recyclable materials in your garbage.

The point is, garbage can teach us a lot about a person’s life because it is evidence of culture and habits. Garbage reflects truth, for example, do you know someone who underestimates how many beers they have drank when the evidence is right there – eight empty bottles, not four as declared. Or maybe you overestimate how many home cooked meals you make during the week. A look in the bin might reveal more takeaway containers than you realised. This is because we like to describe our behaviour in ways that meet cultural expectations. But what I really want you to understand is that we can sort through our garbage and use the evidence to identify the most impactful ways to be less wasteful. If you discover your bin is largely full of food waste and organic matter, then that’s where you need to focus your energy. You could start by making a compost heap or worm farm and then move on to meal planning and buying less food.

So, if you sorted through the contents of your bin, what would you learn about yourself?

Would a wasteful habit stand out? If so, set yourself a goal and identify ways you can address it. Actions might be personal behaviour changes or it might be writing letters to companies and politicians. Do something to address the waste because that’s better than doing nothing.

Or maybe you have a lot to feel good about, in which case you should recognise this and celebrate with a happy dance – go on, you know you want to.

Now it’s time to spill the beans. What does your garbage reveal about you?

I’ve kicked things off in the comments below. I can’t wait to find out more about you!

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20 thoughts

  1. I’ll kick things off. My garbage reveals that I refuse as much as practicable, and compost and recycle diligently because of the lack of landfill garbage at the end of the week. Things that stand out are large plastic feed bags which reveal we have a dog, rabbit and chickens (these bags can be recycled through the RED Cycle program) and I probably allow my kids too many lollies and chocolates from the Milkbar on the way home from school. There’s also been an increase in the amount of recyclable food packaging, including plastic, entering our home since moving house because the extra workload has made it difficult to find time to get to stores where I can buy package free and/or make food from scratch. I’m even buying milk (Gippsland Jersey) at the moment because our dairy is not up and running. My goal is to get back into routine as soon as possible so that I don’t choose as many convenience items when under pressure. I’m also working on ways to free up my time which I will blog about soon. We don’t have to be perfect all the time to make a difference, perfection isn’t sustainable anyway.

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  2. Thanks for a great article Tammy. I was planning to do a garbage audit this week, so this is timely 🙂
    We’ve been working on reducing the waste we send to landfill and are pretty happy with the results (still some things to work on, but definitely a big improvement). Now I’m ready to tackle our soft plastic waste and see how I can reduce that, so a garbage audit will be very useful. I’m hoping I’ll be able identify products I can potentially buy from the bulk food store or things I can replace with ones that come with no/less plastic.

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    1. Just to clarify, we’ve been recycling our soft plastics through the Red Cycle program, but I’d really like to cut that down to a minimum. I don’t think we’ll be able to go completely plastic-free but I’m going to try to get as close as possible 🙂

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      1. That’s all you can do Kate, just try your best and be happy with that. I see too many people get too disappointed and feel like a failure because they haven’t achieved an extremely high goal they set for themselves. We’ve got to flip that and make sure people celebrate their successes – sounds like this is your approach 🙂

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  3. At first glance you might be impressed with the size of the family of 5’s landfill bin, which is a tiny benchtop bin lined with a bag leftover from rice/bread or cereal. You would know however, the 3 of the 4 females of the family are still using disposable monthly products and we are still buying our meet from the supermarket on non recyclable trays with absorption pads. You’d see we still haven’t worked out how to stop stores from handing us a receipt and that 2 of us have allergies and need medication in blister packs. On the upside you’d know we recycle everything we can including soft plastics to REDcycle (but our next goal is to decrease these bins as deep down we know recycling isn’t a long term solution). You could also tell our organic waste goes into the compost even though we don’t seem to produce very good compost😂 We do ok but there’s still room for improvement

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    1. Thanks for sharing so much! It sounds like you’re family is doing awesome and tackling issues in a measured way. I think all you can do with receipts at this stage is have friendly conversations and simply say “no thank” while you walk away without it. Afterall, it’s not your fault they don’t have a machine that doesn’t give you a choice. I don’t make good compost either but that’s mostly because a lot goes to the chickens.

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  4. Looking in our bins would show how busy life is with a new baby. More plastic than usual. More take-away than usual. Sporadic organically waste, depending on how preoccupied we are. But on the whole, there’s not much landfill in there. We are very proud when we forget to put the bins out and it doesn’t matter at all!
    Our waste would also indicate that my babe just started solids! Cloth nappies get washed but the bamboo liners can’t be flushed, so the plop is scraped off and the liner is binned. Next step – cloth liners. Gone are the water soluble days of breast milk poo!

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    1. Always different challenges at different times of our lives, isn’t there, you are doing so well though! I’m actually surprised by how much the move has disrupted my flow for waste free living. We still aren’t really producing waste, but the recycable packaging feels a bit unruly at the moment. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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  5. Our rubbish would show that we do a good job of composting, there is only small amounts of meat scraps (any tips on how to dispose of these Tammy?) We have barely any “rubbish” each week, some receipts, some plastic from food packaging and the odd bit of extra waste, barely filling up a 10th of our bin. The recycle bin shows that that this is where a major portion of our waste goes. It shows the boys like a beer, we sometimes get takeaway and we need to think more about some purchases that come packaged in way less wasteful items (like sporting equipment, shoes etc) It also shows our cardboard goes into the wood fire.

    Still lots more to improve on but we’re getting there and now our housemate has moved out, my boyfriend and I are confident our waste will reduce much further. This week I have bought jars from the op shop to start bulk buying more and organising my pantry more. I’ve also emailed a number of companies who were still sending us paper mail *sigh* and have invested in some beeswax wraps for the leftovers in the fridge that can’t go into Tupperware.

    Great post again Tammy, thank you!

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    1. Thanks Annelise. Our small amount of meat scraps goes to the dog and even to the chickens occasionally. Bones were getting placed in the compost too but they were disapearing which I suspect means a rat or something was getting in there. At this new place I’ll be making more of an effort to bury the bones and vermon proof my compost. Meat can be composted, it’s just not recommended because of the risk of attracking pests. Maybe you could freeze the scraps and give to someone with a dog.

      You are doing a wonderful job reducing waste! We might be in luck with another bulk store opening in South Gippsland later this year – Udder and Hoe are opening a second store in Loch. I’m very excited about that.

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      1. Ooh how exciting! That will be awesome to have another bulk store in the area. Thanks for the help with the meat scraps, I’ll definitely start doing that 🙂

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  6. Hi Tammy, our rubbish would show that I am a diligent composter who relies on a pod coffee machine (until I can justify the price tag of a new espresso machine), have a husband who likes a can of alcohol and red bull almost every day, use 1 nappy a night for my son, have an old dog and a puppy who is not quite toilet trained, chickens and fish. It would show that while I buy my meat in bulk direct from the farmers they package it in soft plastic (which goes to Redcycle along with the rest of my soft plastics). It would reflect that we only rarely have takeaway, make a lot of our own food from scratch and make a big effort to refuse plastic as much as possible. It would also show that we consume a LOT of dairy, especially milk!

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    1. Thanks Tash. Composting is so important, so its great that you are doing that so well. I keep buying my meat from the butcher in my containers but I want to do more to support sustainable farmers and produce our own meat. I think I am going to have to focus on producing our own meat and use cornstarch bags which biodegrade in home compost – if I find some. It can be hard to find a satisfying balance between different environmental and social concerns.

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  7. Our rubbish would show that we have jars & cans in our recycling, and very little in our landfill. We manage 1/4 bread bag worth of landfill per week for our family if 5, which is mostly contact lenses & dental floss. Our recyclables & plastic bag recycling to Redcycle needs work, but my commitment to sourcing package free items from bulk sources is beginning to crowd out non-zero waste purchases. Thanks for the inspiration Tammy.

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  8. Hi Tammy,

    Our landfill bin (only 2 of us) mainly consists of dental floss, meat absorption pads, meat scraps, chocolate and chip wrappers. We compost all of our other organic matter and I’m now trying to focus on reducing our recycling. I cook with coconut milk a fair bit (lactose intolerance), so those tins end up in the recycling along with other tins from chickpeas, tomatoes, kidney beans, wine bottles, toilet rolls and used up bits of paper. I have a small amount that I pop into the RedCycle bins every so often too (packets from my rolled oats – they’re too expensive to buy bulk).

    I’m so impressed with all of the big families who are reducing their waste! Well done!

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  9. My bins reveal that buying a bokashi bin has diverted all my organic matter back into the earth; that with a number of zero waste swaps I no longer buy a *heaps* of packaged food but I still buy packaged food for meats, milk, cheese and wine. I’ve ramped up my recycling of these packages, but want to do better to completely eliminate, though I don’t know if I’ll ever get there.

    Inside my house, I’ve consolidated what was a medium size kitchen tidy, a basket in my room and a small bin in the bathroom into just one bin – the small one. It’s got trash in it from the last few weeks and I’m not sure when it will need to go out.

    My recycling bin is full of single use water bottles, cans and beer bottles. Not ones I’ve drunk, but ones I’ve started picking up every time I walk between my my house and the local High St. I’m keeping a tally and it’s in the hundreds with very little effort.

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    1. Good on you for picking up all that recyclable stuff!! It sounds like you are being a very mindful consumer. I think this gradual approach to making changes is easiest to maintain over time. Thanks for sharing what is in your bins, it was interesting 🙂

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