Meet the Carter family. Parents Oberon and Lauren and their three daughters live on an 850-square-metre, flat, suburban block, 15 minutes outside of Hobart. Oberon works in conservation for the State Government four days a week while Lauren home-schools the girls and runs an online retail business. While all appears quite ordinary, there’s something a little extraordinary about this family.
For the past eight months, the Carters have not produced enough rubbish of their own to fill their wheelie bin! These days they don’t even keep a rubbish bin in their kitchen. There’s simply no need. They have created a home environment where everything has a use and purpose and where zero waste is their ongoing goal.
The Carters always considered themselves environmentally conscious and aware of sustainable living; however, their quest for a zero-waste lifestyle really started a few years ago when they took part in the Sustainable Living Tasmania sustainability challenge. The original aim was to reduce their electricity and water consumption, but when auditing the amount of household waste they produced, they realised that more was needed.
“That was confronting and eye-opening,” Oberon said, “when you actually count every single item of rubbish you produce, whether it’s recyclable or waste.
“So we decided we’d try not to put anything into the regular rubbish bin or recycling bin for two weeks. And we were able to do it. So that spurred us on and motivated us to continue and we realised it was doable without having to modify our lifestyle hugely.
“We only had to make a number of small changes in terms of where we shopped and what we could and couldn’t eat so that nothing had to be thrown into the rubbish bin.”
The Carters have no shortage of ideas when it comes to making small, practical and effective changes to reduce household waste. Instead of buying food in lots of plastic packaging at the supermarket, they shop at a whole foods store and buy things in bulk. They take their own reusable jars and use cloth bags. Rather than buying meat from the supermarket, which is wrapped in plastic, the Carters now buy meat from a local reputable butcher who places the meat directly into reusable containers.
They have a designated pet-poo worm farm composting system, which alleviates picking up pet-poo, placing it in a plastic bag and putting it in the rubbish bin. Oberon noted that “bagging and binning the poo is pretty gross, but feeding pet-poo to worms to make compost is much more satisfying.”
They have chickens to eat a lot of the food scraps and also have a designated compost bin for other food waste. They reuse eggshells in the garden, buy washing powders and soaps in compostable packaging and make their own toiletries and cleaning products.
The Carters are also conscious of the bigger picture. “It’s very important to think of the whole chain of the process,” said Oberon. “I’m very aware that lots of waste gets produced when the raw materials are dug out of the ground, when the products are made and when they’re transported and distributed. So there’s all this waste that happens before it gets to you. But again, there are things that you can do to address that. Buying locally is a really good way to reduce the carbon footprint, buying produce from farmers’ markets, and if you can, the best thing you can do is grow your own food. That’s as local as you can get, going out the back door, picking a salad and using eggs from your chickens for breakfast!”
The Carters are eager to help other families to know and understand the importance of living a zero-waste lifestyle, which has, at its core, care for the earth, care for people and a willingness to share the surplus.
“Many people take a long time to be convinced or motivated enough to make changes themselves or to feel like they can make a difference,” Oberon said.
“We know at times it is challenging but we want to help motivate people and to help them feel empowered to make a positive change. It’s also important that people know there is a community out there to support them.
“We can help guide them through the changes that they can make and try to continue to motivate people through that time to get to a point where they’re producing much less waste than they were before.
“We know that everyone is going to have their own boundaries about what they’re willing and not willing to do in terms of reducing their waste but I think that almost everyone can do something, even if it’s just saying, ‘No I don’t want a plastic straw’ when you go to a café or you might take your own coffee cup. Small things like that can make a big difference, especially if a lot of people do it,” said Oberon.
Oberon and Lauren have written an online resource for families: see www.zerowastefamilies.com
By Fiona Basile. Reproduced with permission from Madonna Magazine, a publication of Jesuit Communications Australia.