Could you live for a year without creating any waste?
In today’s consumer society where everything comes wrapped 3 times in plastic (or so it seems), attempting to live rubbish-free may seem like a fool’s errand. Yet that’s exactly what New Zealanders Matthew Luxon and Waveney Warth did with their Rubbish Free Year project. Today they are 3 years in to their new ‘rubbish free’ lives. But how did it all begin?
Back in 2007 Matthew and Waveney were living in Toronto, Canada where a debate was raging about the best way to dispose of the city’s landfill waste, which at the time was being shipped across the border to Michigan (rather unsustainable, no?). Matthew and Waveney were shocked that the discussion focussed exclusively around options for dealing with waste, with no consideration of ways to reduce the waste created in the first place. So they put their thinking caps on.
When they returned home to Christchurch, New Zealand they set themselves the formidable challenge of living rubbish-free for a whole year. They allowed themselves the luxury of filling one city council rubbish bag of waste in the year from February 2008 to February 2009. No more. In fact, by the end of that year, they had filled only one supermarket bag of waste – an amazing feat considering most households throw out a dozen times that much in a single week.
Matthew and Waveney recorded their entire rubbish-free experience in a blog, which garnered so much interest that they’ve now turned it into a website. Today the site provides a searchable guide with tips and advice on living rubbish free and also incorporates an online store selling products they found helpful in reducing waste in their own lives. Profits from the online store fund the guide to waste-free living and Matthew devotes one day per week to managing the site.
What made their rubbish free year such a success? Matthew stresses the importance of research and preparation! “The first thing we did was set a date for our challenge to start, the second thing was to postpone the start by a month!” he says. The couple spent two months researching what were the greatest contributors to their household waste and setting up new systems for buying and storing their food – making cloth bags to avoid plastic when buying in bulk and collecting glass and tin containers for home storage. Then they collected everything they had in the house that may create waste during the year (such as band-aids and packaged medications) and hid them away. “As the year went on and we needed those items, we were then forced to go and find an alternative,” says Matthew.
Matthew admits the year wasn’t all smooth sailing. The most difficult challenge the couple faced was staying motivated in the face of the apparent enormity of the global waste problem. One simple fact keeps them going – for every garbage bag of waste they send to landfill, 70 more bags have been created upstream by the manufacturing process. This helps them remember that the impact their own rubbish free lives is making in the world is much larger than they can immediately see.
If the 70 bags of rubbish serves as a stick to keep them on the rubbish free path, it is the ocean that is their carrot. “We both really enjoy the ocean,” Matthew explains. “We swim, surf and sail in, on, and above it. Therefore, the biggest inspiration for me is trying to find ways of consuming that avoid plastic ending up in the ocean. The statistics are sobering, and we find it incredible that in the short time we’ve been mass producing plastic on this planet, we’ve already managed to populate every square kilometre of ocean with, on average, 22,000 pieces of plastic!” For this couple, keeping rubbish out of their bins each week means keeping rubbish out of their oceans. That means a natural environment that stays safe, clean, and beautiful for everyone to enjoy.
We all have the potential to live rubbish free. At the very least, we can take steps to reduce our waste footprint. Now 3 years into their rubbish free lives, Matthew and Waveney give the following advice to those of us who are only just dipping our toes in the waste reduction waters:
- Persevere. The first couple of months are the hardest. It will get easier.
- Get creative. Experiment. There are alternatives for everything, if you look hard enough or think outside the box.
- Move your rubbish bin so it’s not convenient to use. That way you’ll become more aware of how much you’re using it and what the biggest waste offenders are.
Want to learn more about Matthew and Waveney’s Rubbish Free Year? Watch a TV segment about them from TV3’s Campbell Live below. In the next post I’ll share some top tips for reducing household waste.