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Friday, 12 May 2017

What is your rubbish worth?

Thursday night is bins night in my neighborhood, but for the third or fourth time in a row, we aren't putting our bins out. Mostly we're forgetful and lazy, but more importantly we can get away with it because we generate minimal trash.

I'd love to say that we are super conscious of the rubbish we generate, but in reality we're just really good at turning trash into things we need.

I should start by saying that we don't dumpster dive in the FIRE household. I would love to give it a crack, but A. I'm the kind of person that needs to follow a recipe so random foods aren't going to get used, and B. Mr FIRE wouldn't stand for it. I'm restricted to stealing hard rubbish and bringing it home.

Side note - did you know that taking hard rubbish can actually be charged as theft? How ridiculous, these are items that people no longer want being taken to landfill and they've slapped criminal charges on helping yourself.

Moving on though, there are so very many things that we throw away each day that can easily be reused to replace things that we normally buy, here's a quick brain dump of Trash that replaces Purchases in my house.


Let's start with the easy stuff. So many of the food scraps that we throw away are edible. Ignoring for a moment that Australians throw away 20% of the food we buy because we forgot to eat it and let it get sad and moldy, we also throw away piles of perfectly good food because we just don't know what to do with them!

Step one - everything is food to someone. Food stuffs should never grace your garbage bin. Food has a hierarchy in my house, first Mr. FIRE and I eat the good stuff. Anything that we can't or won't eat is offered up to our cat (whenever we clean meat, she gets the scraps. She won't touch cheesy pasta scraps but is pretty keen on tomato soup). Anything that the humans or cat refuse (or would get sick from) is thrown to the hens for them to turn into eggs in a wonderful cycle. If it's not safe for them, then in goes in the compost bin.

However, some special foods get to escape this process. For example, the ends of spring onion and leek would go to the hens since no one else eats them. Except right now they are sitting in glasses of water in the window sill. I've never had any success with Leeks, but spring onions can regrow over and over again (until you forget to water them... oops)

Better than this though - food scraps can be immediately turned into food! Meat scraps and bones go in the slow cooker, covered in water for 12 hours (aka a work day) and magically become stock. Vegetables can do the same thing. The last time I cooked Silverside I pulled the meat out of the cooking water, threw in some potatoes and tomatoes and turned it into ah-mazing tomato soup.

500ml of stock costs $3, or you can make it for free with what you were planning on throwing in the rubbish bin. On days when the hens eat food scraps they eat significantly less of the proper fancy stuff I paid for. Our cat gets a day or two of 'free' food from the scraps that we don't throw away.

Never buy Tupperware again

I have to admit, the idea of having a cupboard full of gorgeous, tidy, matched food containers like these gives me a little happy shiver. I save so much money from taking lunches to work that having a tidy set of containers in all the shapes and sizes I need seems like the best idea in the world. But I don't want to pay for it. 

With all the butter, jam, flour and honey marching through my house I am inundated with plastic tubs and glass jars. I currently have 15 butter tubs, 20+ jam jars and an assorted mix of honey tubs. Or, seen another way, I have 15 lunch containers, 20+ single-serve soup containers, and an assorted mix of stock buckets, double serve soup containers and pasta sauce storage.

A 60 piece set of containers might only be worth $36, but taking a few seconds to wash out a jam jar is free. And I'm less upset when I lose the lids.

Paper and cardboard - probably the biggest saving

In our lovely modern world we go through a lot of paper. Bills still arrive in paper form in paper envelopes. Toilet paper rolls collect up quickly. Paper towels have the same cardboard center. In my neighbourhood we get a free community newsletter every fortnight. It piles up really quickly.

Thankfully we inherited a super powered shredder when we moved out. We shred all our bills, envelopes, old notes, toilet paper rolls, cardboard boxes... everything we can shove in the shredder gets shredded. My only downfall is glossy brochures. They can go in the recycling bin, but I can't use them because of that glossy coating. For everyone out there who prints flyers - I'm throwing them out without reading them, stop it with the gloss.

So what do I do with this mound of shredded paper? I use it to line the chicken pen and garden beds. The backyard garden beds where no one can see, I think the neighbours would be offended if my front garden was overflowing with paper. But by using all this shredded paper I save $14 a fortnight on buying straw to mulch the gardens and the chicken pen. If you have cage pets like rats, rabbits or guinea pigs you can substitute shredded paper for wood chips and save a crazy amount.

The end result?

We put out our bins once a month. Maybe. If we remember. Most Friday mornings I peek in the bin, decide it's too much effort to haul it to the street for the one tiny bag of trash in the bottom. When we do put the bins out they're maybe halfway full. We have never put out the green waste bin because we have nothing to put in it. The only things in the recycling bin are packing boxes and magazines with glossy print. 

Everything else cycles though our house until it falls apart. Every scrap of food is eaten by someone (even if it's the worms, it fertilizes the veggie garden), every sturdy container is saved, and every scrap of paper is put to use. 

I'd estimate we save a few hundred a year simply by not wasting what comes into our hands. We might not be as impressive as the Zero Waste Movement, but we're saving our budget and doing our bit for the environment at the same time. 


  1. Nice job on the trash. We're about once a month with our bins too, mainly recycle. It feels good not to throw much stuff away.

    That's a damn fine collection of containers you got there too!

    1. Just like Nan's biscuit container is full of sewing supplies, I have a tonne of butter containers that don't contain butter :D

      It did mean toast without butter once... mixed up the tubs and thought we had a spare. We did not

  2. I love the way you aim to never throw away food.

    This pleases a little place in my heart inside of me. I came from one of those households where my parents always told me that wasting food was slack/awful and an act of being ungrateful. (in not so many words, in my parents mother tongue (Arabic) there is a single word for all of this), and they reminded how lucky I was compared to other children around the world and in fact when they were children they didn't have the luxury of all the food that I got.

    I always assumed growing up that this is how every family functioned, to my complete shock and surprise as an adult this is not the norm at all. I see people throw food away with reckless abandon. This usually makes me cringe on the inside.

    This is another of those huge planetary advantages if we all practices a little more frugality.

    1. Food waste actively baffles me - especially amongst people who garden. Compost it or bury it, all food scraps should be going back into the great food cycle that is gardening.

      I have been known to take home big bags of prawn shells, ham skin, etc. after Christmas dinners. The hens absolutely love it, and I love saving on chicken food and knowing they're getting a good protein boost.


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