Before you recycle, take time to record. Our plastic habit report for January 2019.

Before you recycle, take time to record. Our plastic habit report for January 2019.

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!


Are we just going in circles? Maybe not.

Are we just going in circles? Maybe not.

Have you ever heard of Lorraine Hansberry? No? Me neither, until earlier today.

I was listening to one of my current favourite narrators, Adjoa Andoh, read “The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter’s Memoir” by Aminatta Forna. The book is not what I was expecting when I clicked “buy”: admittedly, I purchased it not because of the author, but because of the narrator, and although it’s non-fiction, I’ve enjoyed it.

Aside from gaining a better understanding of Sierra Leone’s history from the perspective of the author,  today I learned that Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was the first black female author to have a play performed on Broadway. On March 11, 1959, her play “A Raisin in the Sun” appeared on stage, and at the time became that youngest American playwright (at 29) and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.

Forna included a quote from the book in “The Devil That Danced on the Water”, and it struck a chord with me.

“It isn’t a circle—it is simply a long line—as in geometry, you know, one that reaches into infinity. And because we cannot see the end—we also cannot see how it changes. And it is very odd that those who see the changes—who dream, who will not give up—are called idealists…and those who see only the circle we call them the “realists”!”

— Asagai to Beneatha, Act III. In Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun. With an introduction by Robert Nemiroff. NY: Vintage, 2004.

Asagai says this Beneatha after she loses faith in the idea of progress (in the context of the book). She says:

“And where does it end?
An end to misery! To stupidity! Don’t you see there isn’t any real progress, Asagai, there is only one large circle that we march in, around and around, each of us with our own little picture in front of us – our own little mirage that we think is the future.”

— Beneatha to Asagai, Act III. In Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun. With an introduction by Robert Nemiroff. NY: Vintage, 2004.

There are certainly days where I think that there’s no point. There is no point in talking about gender equality, or social justice, or trying to make racists see that we’re all just human, or in contemplating the world in which we live and trying to make it a little better through whatever means I have, because ultimately humans are stupid. We seem unable to learn lessons from our all-too-bloody history. In spite of our clever scientists and extraordinary body of learning, the masses – regardless of colour and often regardless of wealth and education – remain ignorant. As a species, we do seem to go around in circles, going down the path of peace and progress, then regressing into a period of war and regression.

But now, when that depressing cloud of negativity hovers, I can simply think of Asagai’s quote, and in particular, this:

“And because we cannot see the end—we also cannot see how it changes.”

I feel reassured that, although we can’t see the end, it’s still worth doing what seems to be the right thing for “people and planet”, even if on the surface, it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

Here’s to being an idealist.

And yes, I’ve now bought the play and look forward to reading it tonight in bed!

One of the good things about Trump’s trade tariffs (yes, really!)

One of the good things about Trump’s trade tariffs (yes, really!)

Although I swore off news for a month, I only lasted 14 days. The good news is that not much in the world has changed, and that I have more time, so I can easily make another attempt starting tomorrow. But that’s another story.

The featured item on the BCC’s website today was:

Trade tariffs: Chorus of condemnation intensifies
Massive US tariffs have come into force as condemnation of the Trump administration’s move intensifies.

I read the article and whilst shaking my head at Trump, it occurred to me that perhaps there is an upside to his import penalties. As a fan of transition and of the lovely Rob Hopkins, I am continually taking steps to live a more sustainable life. I am not perfect, it has to be said, but the journey of a lifetime starts with one step and all that, and one of my steps is to not only grow more of my own produce and to reduce my consumption, but also to do what I can to buy products produced or made locally, and failing that, to purchase products from local stores.

We buy vast quantities of “stuff” from US-owned online store like Amazon and E-bay. We use services provided by US companies, like hosting providers and domain companies and payment processors (like PayPal, for example). And with Trump’s tariffs in mind, my intention to buy “local” has been intensified.

Obviously what I contribute to the US economy is peanuts, but I think that I’ll take those peanuts and invest them nearer to home. It’s a bit of a pain, it has to be said – you must know what it’s like transferring 50 websites to a new server, for example. It’s also more expensive. It’s often significantly cheaper to purchase something in the US and have it shipped to Europe than it is to simply buy it in Austria where I live. And sadly, I have to say that it also means opting for poorer service in many cases: I can’t speak for everywhere, but the concept of good service hasn’t really arrived in my part of Austria as far as I can see – often I feel as if I have to apologise for purchasing something or asking for a drink.

But that’s okay. Perhaps I don’t need all the stuff I buy from the US. Perhaps I need to review the services that I use and see if I really need them. If I have to pay more, the upside is that if something goes wrong, I can just pop into the local store and sort it out. And as for poor service in Austria (yet another story and one of my pet irritations here in Innsbruck)… well, maybe I’ll create a course or a seminar. Whether I can live without the instant gratification of buying Kindle books or my beloved Audible remains to be seen.

As I said, it’s a journey and I can only take one step at a time.

Not just “not buying from the US”

Before anyone shakes a finger at me and asks “Why punish the US for their idiot president”, let me say that I plan to extend my grand plans to cover the globe.

I’ll have “circles” of “localness” – I’m usually based in Innsbruck, so for food I want to buy products within a 20km radius. For art and crafts, perhaps I’ll cast my net wider and extend it to 100km or 500km or only to products that are made in a certain radius but sold locally so that I don’t have to travel to far to buy them. I bought a new laptop and camera this year and a new phone in 2016 so I’m in good shape on that front for the next 5+ years, but if my laptop dies, I’ll have to extend my circle because computers have components made in loads of different places and I can’t work without one.

When I home in South Africa, the same would apply – circles.

I haven’t quite worked out the details, but in principle, “Made in Austria” followed by “Made in Neighbouring Countries” followed by “Made in Europe” will be my mantra. “Based in Austria” might also need to be on there, because international businesses with a local presence hire local people who contribute to the local economy and community, and that’s important, too, regardless of whether the company is owned locally or not.

My first step: tomorrow, a trip to Hall to the farmer’s market to see what local produce, beer and crafts are on offer.

And after that? well, I’ll keep you posted.