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The first steps in the transition to zero waste can be challenging, so we designed the rethink rubbish program to help people switch on some new sustainable life skills that make starting out a little easier. We believe transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle can start anywhere; going zero waste is a bit like weeding an overgrown garden, you just need to pick a spot and start weeding! I started my zero waste ‘weeding’ in my kitchen bin. Let’s start yours now.

Phase one is all about waste interrogation...
Before you can start to change it's important to better understand what needs to change. A lot of what we do in our daily lives is habitual, and what we do with our waste is no exception. Understanding your habits and how they connect to your waste helps highlight areas where you can make change. Start by getting up close and personal with your landfill waste, pay close attention to the types of rubbish in your bin and start to assess what you are throwing away.
 
Once you know what's in your bin you can check for alternative waste management options. 
Once we dig a little deeper into what our waste is, we can research and learn more about it which means we can add in some more options, like redcycling (for soft plastics), terracycle (for plastics such as health and beauty products, dental products and some other difficult items like office supplies) and unplug ‘n’ drop (for e-waste or electronic items), but for the first week or two, let's keep it simple and stick with our main three: landfill, recycling, and compost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wait, does this mean I need more rubbish bins?

Yes and no! You can continue to use your existing bin for landfill waste. Your compostable food waste can be collected in anything - I have a compost bin on my kitchen bench, but if it gets full half way through a big cook up I just use a plate or bowl that I take out to the compost bin when cleaning up. Recycling can always be collected in a bucket or box and then taken out to the recycling bin. You don't have to buy new things to deal with your waste differently, in fact, in a few months time, you may not need a landfill bin inside your home at all, so hang onto it knowing that you can repurpose it for recycling later on.

Phase one: operation observation

To start with, you may not know where to put anything other than your landfill bin, and that's ok, we’re about to find out. Before throwing anything out, pause, double check it, and google your options! 
 
 

Pause before ditching anything

The pause forces you to think before you act, it gives your brain a moment to fire up and think about whether an item actually belongs in the bin, or whether it's headed to the bin out of force of habit.
 

Food scraps are one of the easiest things to throw out because we 'make them' so frequently, not just when we cook, but also when we forget about leftovers in the back of the fridge! Not only are foodscraps completely compostable, but they are often what fills kitchen bins the fastest, they also produce the most bin stink. A liquidy mess or nasty stench can mean your kitchen bin gets taken out before it's full, which also means bin liners are being thrown out before they are full. (We'll come back to food waste and bin liners later!)

Pausing before purging gives you a moment to reflect on the waste before you toss it out. Are you throwing something in the bin that could be recycled or composted? Not sure? Double check!

 

Double check with your council

The rules for what can go into recycling and green waste bins differs from council to council, however many use the same recycling contractor (SOLO) and therefore accept the same types of waste. There are sometimes small differences from one area to the next, for example, some councils can recycle aerosol cans with the lids removed, others can not. Some allow food scraps in green waste bins and others won’t. It’s always worth checking.
 
What a council can or can't do with an item doesn't necessarily make the product itself unrecyclable, it just means it needs to be dealt with differently! Most councils publish a cheat sheet of some sort on their website - download a copy a keep it on your fridge for quick reference!
 

Still not sure? Keep searching!

A web search for is this thing recyclable? will almost always yield results, and often they’re surprising!

Researching your waste can be pretty quick and in the process you can check if an item is recyclable somewhere local to you or if it needs to be collected/disposed of in a specific way. If you have waste streams that can’t be recycled through your council it’s no big deal, just save up those items and deal with them all at once at less frequent intervals.

This is where an old bin or a couple of buckets/boxes come in handy, if you sort and store recyclables in your old bins as you make the waste it makes taking them to their respective recycling centres a million times easier. No one wants to sort through recycling that’s been laying around for a year, so sort it as you’ve googled what to do with it then you can store it til it’s time to deal with it!

Switching on your zero waste brain


You’ll know when your zero waste brain starts to switch on because you’ll suddenly feel pangs of garbage guilt. Becoming more conscious of the impact of our waste is crucial; for many of us more fortunate folk living in urban and suburban Australia, waste can be pretty invisible so remaining conscious takes practice. But all our rubbish ends up somewhere, and with global landfills overflowing it really is time for all of us to learn how to better manage our waste, and most importantly, how to minimise it in the first place.

How long should I naval gaze over my rubbish?


You’ll want to do this for at least a week or two and really take note of what is going into your landfill bin. Research the kinds of waste you make and look for patterns in what you see in your bin - recognising the patterns in your waste will help you connect it to particular products or behaviours.
 
For some people it helps to document this process and many people who do this are taking part in a 30 day challenge. Social media is often used to document lifestyle changes, posting updates of our journey is a great way of keeping us accountable, if you think that will help you, do it! If you think writing down notes will help, do it! Whatever helps you to really see your waste for what it is, and to acknowledge its connection to your lifestyle will be beneficial as you move through this process. This is your journey, and researching and documenting is part of making it your own.

Why am I doing this?

 
Part of this first phase is about reprogramming your brain, for most people that doesn’t happen overnight, sometimes slip ups happen, sometimes we get misinformation and make mistakes. But hey, good news, no one is asking you to be perfect! We’re only human, and each of us can only do so much. This first part of the process should help you to think not just about what you need to change, but about the kind of impact those changes will have.
 
Just quietly... 
Phase one isn't necessarily something that ends. If after 6 months you come across a piece of trash that you're not sure what to do with you’ll follow the same steps. These research and investigation steps don't lose their relevance over time, but as your waste-knowledge builds you might rely on them less frequently. Sometimes it’s good to get a reminder of why you’re even doing this, and looking back at the documentation of changes can provide just the kind of motivational boost that’s needed.