Aiming for a trash-free life
Imagine a life with no trash.
It’s (almost) a reality for Abbie and Vinicius Caldas.
They’ve gotten their monthly household garbage down to about 2lbs — a single paper grocery bag.
The average Bermuda household produces around 60lbs per month.
“I feel like we are obsessed with stuff and consumption,” said Mrs Caldas, who works for environmental charity Greenrock. “We can all do our part. I know that sounds cheesy, but I can’t really do something big like design solar panels, but I can do little things.”
She was greatly inspired by the 2010 film The Clean Bin Project about one couple’s attempts to live trash-free.
There was no Christmas tree in the Caldas home this year; Mrs Caldas refused to give or accept physical gifts.
She takes a coffee mug and reusable sandwich container when she buys her lunch.
“I try to work on one thing until it becomes a habit and then move on to add something else,” she said.
“Sometimes a restaurant or cafe will shove my lunch into a disposable bag with napkins and plastic cutlery. I have taken it out and given that stuff back to them. Sometimes, they will crumple the napkins and bag up and throw them in the garbage, which isn’t the point at all. Sometimes, the hardest thing about this is not being rude.”
Her biggest challenge has been soaps and shampoos.
“You can’t really limit [the wrapping with] that,” she said. “Food packaging is tough but I am trying to do a few things. I eat very little meat [because of the styrofoam packaging]. It is important to understand what parts of your life you can change.”
She buys produce from the Farmer’s Market and local farms such as Windybank Farm in Smith’s because their packaging is negligible.
“Windybank will take back their egg containers,” she said. “They are great. I don’t buy food until the fridge is pretty much empty. Sometimes, I make my own bread. I like to try different things like making yoghurt. I would like to learn how to make my own toothpaste.”
She believes the change in lifestyle keeps her from buying needless items and therefore saves money. Mrs Caldas also believes there are health advantages, that plastic packaging may leach chemicals into food and beverages.
Stephen Sainsbury said it hadn’t been easy reducing trash with three young children in the house. Most children’s toys, for example, come with lots of plastic packaging.
“Children will throw tantrums in town because they want a yoghurt that comes in a plastic cup,” he said. “I have dealt with this issue, sometimes, by using plastic yoghurt cups to grow plant seedlings.”
Mr Sainsbury said his family of five produces about “one light bag” of trash per week. He has reduced his household waste greatly by patronising local farmers and also by growing his own food. He grows fruit-bearing trees such as citrus, loquats, figs, bay grapes and rose apples, on an acre of land in Devonshire.
Mr Sainsbury believes in permaculture, an ecological design practice about economic and efficiency.
“It is a mindset that leads you to a more efficient use of disposable materials,” he said.
“No-dig gardening” is part of that, he added.
“You put down a layer of cardboard, wool carpet or newspaper. Then you lay down layers of straw and compost and then you mulch it. Then, when you are ready to plant, you just stick in the plant. The bottom layer is a good way to get rid of stuff that has been sitting around that you would otherwise have thrown away.”
Artist Alicia Wanklyn has gotten her trash production down to less than 1lb per week. One of the ways that she reduces her consumption is by reusing and repurposing her garbage as art materials.
She won a public art competition organised by the Bermuda Society of Arts last month. She decorated a piano with flowers cut from plastic bottles.
“All the flowers on the piano were made from recycled plastic bottles donated by the community,” she said. “Each bottle made one or two flowers.”
San Francisco last year became the first major city in the United States to ban the sale of plastic water bottles in an effort to reduce waste.
Ms Wanklyn tries to reduce toxic waste by making her own cleaning products at home.
“I don’t use bleach, ever,” she said. “It is a man-made chemical that never biodegrades. I use baking soda and vinegar for chemical reaction. I use proper soap for washing myself and regular shampoo, but I am cautious which brands I buy.”
In her work life, she has taken the garbage bin out of her office to make herself more aware of any trash she produces.
She said the biggest mistake people make when trying to reduce their trash production is not preparing properly.
“If you are not prepared, then it is more likely that you will have to use a disposable item that is convenient,” she said.
“Not falling into the trap of convenience is the hardest thing. The biggest challenge is probably just the feeling of being overwhelmed when you start realising now much trash is produced and how wasteful society is.”
For more information see www.greenrock.org, trashfreeliving.blogspot.com or cleanbinproject.com.