Mad month, but in spite of everything, Martin and I have taken the first step to significantly reducing the waste that we produce, and particularly our plastic. For many people, talking about “measurement” is tedious, but it turns out that 20-odd years of managing projects and 15-odd years of living with a scientist makes measurement an essential first step in making change happen.

It also happens to be fascinating.

From 1st – 31st Jan, we didn’t recycle our plastic. Instead, we set aside a separate bag to collect the plastic and for the last month, my home office has been home to more than just me and my ideas: it’s been home to our growing plastic collection. We both decided that we needed to reduce our plastic usage, and perhaps even become a zero-waste home (I have an issue with this term but let’s tackle one thing at a time), we needed to know how much plastic we’re currently using. A month is just a snapshot, so we’ll be doing this all year to get a better picture of our plastic habit, but here’s our first month of collecting:

About our household

For anyone who doesn’t know us, we’re a couple with no children (and no plans to change this – useful for child-free couples wanting to compare and contrast). I work about 20-30% from home, Martin in an office. Typically we eat at home and one of us cooks each night. We don’t eat take-aways, we don’t eat ready-made meals, and we don’t drink many soft drinks. So relatively clean-living  (we won’t talk about the wine…).

The plastic that we kept throughout January is pretty much all the plastic that we generated at home BUT obviously we have both generated additional plastic at work. I confess to having discovered some lovely boiled sweets at work, each of which was individually wrapped, for example. Also, we had a rump steak from MPreis that was wrapped in plastic – I didn’t keep it because I couldn’t get it clean and although I am committed to the cause, rotting meat in my home office… No thanks. (Yes, meat. Another habit to break, but again, let’s stay focused).

Also, I was away for a long weekend for work, Martin has worked a number of long nights for a project that he’s working on, and we both try to fast for two days a week, which means no food and no plastic.

Plastic in January

So what did our plastic consumption in January tell us? First off, here’s a list of what was in our bag:

  • 2 x cashew nut packets
  • 1 x walnut packet
  • 2 x Toffifee trays plus plastic wrapping
  • 2 x medicine packets – headache tablets & antibiotics
  • 5 x dish washing tablet packs (really annoyed about this – have posted on Instagram)
  • 1 x salami packet
  • 6 x soy milk cartons (Tetra Pak with plastic screw tops – I don’t always know what to about about these containers)
  • 2 x cream / shower gel bottles
  • 1 x Parmesan cheese container
  • 2 x sour cream tubs
  • 1 x bulgur wheat packet
  • 1 x yoghurt tub lid
  • 1 x sweet packet (no idea where this came from)
  • 10 x mozzarella packets (Sunday night pizza!!)
  • 2 x chip packets
  • 1 x Tiroler Kola plastic bottle (a necessary hangover cure)
  • 1 x toilet roll packet
  • 3 x plastic packaging (from Amazon for books that I ordered)
  • 2 x sliced bread bags (toast bread, as it’s known in Austria for some reason) left over from Christmas
  • 10-12 plastic veggie packaging “things”
  • 1 x plastic packaging for a chicken
  • 2 x packages for fresh chives
  • 1 x toothpaste tube
  • 1 x razor blade container (Gillette)

Analysing our rubbish

There are a few things that I have already tried to address.

Usually we eat a lot of feta, but the brand that we buy comes in plastic. So since January 1st, I’ve been buying feta (the mild version) from one of my favourite places in Innsbruck, Frank’s Oliven, in Fruchthof. Aside from being delicious, the rather lovely Sabine and her team are always more than happy to put my purchases in Tupperware containers that I bring along. So there are no feta packages. Unfortunately Sabine explained that it wasn’t realistic for her to sell mozzarella in the same way that she sells feta – there isn’t a high enough demand.

The result is lots of packages of individually wrapped mozzarella balls in our plastic. We make pizza at home most Sundays, so what to do? In February my hope is that I can start making my own mozzarella but this may be a bit hit and miss initially as I need something called “rennet” and I am not terribly clued up about this yet.

The veggie packaging drives me crazy, and although I feel like we have a lot, I’ve made an especial effort to shop at the Markthalle (disappointing), and when I’ve shopped at Spar, Fruchthof, and MPreis instead, I’ve chosen to buy vegetables without packaging as far as possible. This led to some interesting meals, but also meant eating more seasonally, which can only be a good thing. The point is that we could have had a lot more veggie packaging, but we were able to cut down significantly by shopping with our eyes open.

What else is worth mentioning? The bulgur wheat packet was disappointing – it’s organic but packed in plastic, but from here on out, we’ll be buying from Greenroot Innsbruck, our only bulk-buy shop here for dry goods. We’re on the hunt for a solution to the toilet roll wrapping, and as soon as we’ve finished our dishwasher tablets, I’ll be making our own (no plastic etc.). The rest – I think that we can make a plan. One step at a time.

Next steps

We’ll be keeping our plastic in February and we’ll see if we can get better. Some things will take time. My shampoo bottles are plastic and they’ll run out eventually. In the meanwhile I am trying alternatives: shampoo is tough, though, because I do like the luxury of nice shampoo for my hair. Obviously I can just use soap, or Lush hard shampoo, but it’s not the same. But! Now that we know what the problem looks like, we can start making changes.

In the meanwhile

Over the next few months, I am going to be challenging our grocery stores in Innsbruck to create  plastic-free aisle, all through Peak to Deep. I launched this at the beginning of January, but haven’t had time to work on it – thank heavens for February!

Of course, I’ll be posting our February plastic at the end of the month, and with a bit of luck, the amount will be going right down.

That’s it. Feel free to share thoughts or connect. I firmly believe that we’re all water droplets and that we have incredible power to create ripples. Let’s ripple together!