Super-recycling whiz

Think of the next generation, says Dunedin’s Ann Dennison, who is transforming her household into a plastic bag-free, low-waste zone – and inspiring others along the way.

Refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle, rot – this is Ann Dennison’s everyday mantra.

Her aversion to plastic bags is such that on the rare occasion one comes in her home, she finds the first excuse possible to send it out with something inside for someone else. 

Ann’s submission to the Dunedin City Council’s Waste Minimisation Strategy focused on eliminating plastic bags in the city. The council was very impressed with her success in reducing her household’s monthly rubbish output to less than a 150g potato-chip bag per month of plastic, cellophane and sticky tape, and they plan to use Ann’s knowledge to educate others in Dunedin.

“I don’t like the idea of killing off [marine life] simply because my plastic bags are too hard to put away,” says Ann. “There isn’t an ‘away’, I’ve come to realise. We’ve been so greedy, our generation and the generation before that. We’ve hogged the coal, the iron, all the different metals and things we want out of the soil until now, as with oil, there’s not that much left and they say it’s very hard to get out. So what do we expect our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s grandchildren to use?”

Ann makes compost and digs biodegradable waste into the soil, recycles glass, metal, plastic, paper and cardboard in the council bins, and returns cellophane and plastic envelopes back to the sender. She takes her own cotton and mesh bags and glass jars with her when shopping. As Ann explains, living a low-waste life is not as difficult as you might think, requiring only a change in attitude and some planning.

Ann’s tips

Choose to shop at supermarkets, greengrocers and bulk grocery stores where you can fill your own cotton or mesh bags and glass containers with baking ingredients, herbs and spices, oils, soy sauce, detergent and washing powder.

Buy fresh or canned food.

Choose unsliced loaves of bread at the supermarket and put them in your own cotton bags, with the price sticker on the outside.

Use leaf tea in a pot instead of tea bags: it’s more economical, tastes better and breaks down more easily in the compost.

Make your own peanut butter in the food processor using roasted nuts, olive or peanut oil and a little salt.

Use a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water to scrub the bath, basin, shower and the outside of the toilet. A weak solution of white vinegar and water, or a little detergent in hot water, works well on floors.

Baking soda or salt is a great abrasive agent with which to clean the inside of stained cups.

Clean sticky marks off books or label residue off jars using eucalyptus oil on cotton wool. Cotton, woollen and silk clothes can end their useful lives in the compost bin. 

In the bathroom, switch to old-fashioned bars of soap instead of body wash or liquid soap that comes in plastic bottles.

10 Buy shampoo in a bar, toothpaste in foaming tablets, and moisturiser and lip colour in little metal tins. All these are available from Lush.

11 Biodegradable toothbrushes and nail brushes are also available online and in selected stores.

12 Use coconut oil as a luxurious deodorant and body moisturiser.

13 Ask your pharmacist to put your next batch of prescription medicine into the same packet or bottle as last time, with a new label.

14 If you get takeaways, use your own biodegradable cup for all takeaway hot drinks.

15 When buying sushi, ask for it in a roll and get the person serving you to put it in your covered tin or plastic container.

16 When buying Indian or Chinese meals, ask someone to place food in your metal tiffin tins or similar stainless steel containers.

17 Use your own stainless steel water bottle.

18 Wrap homemade sandwiches and snacks in a clean cotton napkin, scarf or tea towel.

19 Preschools and schools often welcome donations of fabric, wool, plastic items and cardboard for children’s creative activities.

20 Op-shops are the ultimate recyclers, welcoming donations of furniture, kitchen equipment, books, toys, linen, bedding, clothing, wool and sewing materials. They are also a wonderful source of glass jars, cake tins, fabric and other items to assist you in becoming plastic-free.

21 Instead of buying paper to wrap gifts, use cheap bandannas (Canteen has beautiful ones) or tea towels. Practice the Japanese art of furoshiki

For more tips, check out www.myplasticfreelife.com and www.myzerowaste.com

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