Designing a system that fits your household is a matter of finding a spot for each material.
Collecting your grey water serves a few purposes and, although specialised systems can be installed, I simply fit a flattish bucket into my sink and gather shower/bath water (emptying my bath water has become a daily meditation - and opportunity to practice the habit of gratitude).
Before starting you’ll need the following items:
3 buckets with sealable lids - I used some black tubs that previously packaged a supplement, HTH chlorine buckets also work well,
A compost bin/cage - I built one using old pallet wood and some chicken mesh,
4 Boxes - cardboard or any kind you prefer,
2 large black containers/an off the shelf worm farm,
Signage - laminate some instruction signs (I used sticky notes and Sellotape but these fade and can spoil with moisture),
1 large water barrel/tank - basically any item that can store a 6 or 7 buckets of water.
Step One - Can the general waste bin
This is usually the smelliest spot of any household and therefore removing it will seriously improve the aroma of your space. This also frees up a lot of cupboard space for your range of waste bins.
To conserve space in my kitchen I repurposed my old general waste bin to temporarily store glass, plastic and tin. Once the bin has filled up I separate the contents into the separate boxes in the garage where space is at less of a premium. Back in the kitchen I keep separate buckets for paper, soft plastics and food waste and I’ve places these closest to the back door for ease of emptying.
The age old saying ‘fortune favours the bold prepared’ could not be more appropriate. In retrospect, I’ve learnt that a tidy kitchen is imperative to a smooth functioning ZW situation. Overloaded fridges and cluttered pantries are avoidable handicaps which spoil good food in front of your nose.
Step Two - Question which items you could avoid, prevention rather than cure
Before planning on how to manage various kinds of waste, first identify items that can be avoided altogether.
Reusable shopping bags - the way I became disciplined about this was to force myself to purchase a material bag in the grocery stall each time I forgot my bags.
Water bottles - one of the most common items in my recycling bin is 1.5L sparkling water bottles, (I need them bubbles). Realising this I decided to save up my Ebucks and invest in a soda stream. Nowadays there are plenty of decent glass/hard plastic (make sure that they are BPA free) water bottles and consciously using them is a great way to up your water intake.
Paper documents - Question if a document is really needed in its physical form. Could a digital version not suffice? Are you printing out another copy because your filing process is flawed? A system that I’ve found works well is to print only important items that I frequently use on thick (160gram) paper and in colour. I spend a short time ensuring that each page is appealingly laid out and contains the maximum amount of information. These cards form the agendas of most of my meetings and are complemented by supporting documents that I share via email/on my laptop.
Meat packaging - the manky-est waste item that I’ve struggled with is meat packaging. The polystyrene and plastic are too dirty to EcoBrick so first need to be cleaned. To conserve water I’ve taken to rinsing them in my grey water and hanging out to drip dry.
A great preventative suggestion from the ZW group was to rather take Tupperware along on your grocery trip and ask the butcher to pack (his best selection of) meat directly into your container - bonding with your butcher great way to catch deals that he reserves for you.
Single use plastics - Thankfully there are many alternatives available today which allow you to avoid single use plastics. Find these by joining Colleen Black’s group or by conducting your own search.
Step Three - Upcycle
Where recycling process transforms an item to fulfil a lesser role than its original, upcycling repurposes items into superior roles. EcoBricks are my favourite example of upcycling as bottles stuffed with soft plastics become insulating and low-cost building material. Other examples include glass jars as vases and pallet wood furniture. To find out more about the trend follow Jo Stogal’s work.
Step Four - Recycle the rest
Many schools have well established recycling stations which are open to the public. An easier option (though with a small monthly fee) would be to source a recycling company that collects in your neighbourhood (there are a range of companies, best search ones that service your area). Lastly keep a lookout for petrol stations with the colourful bins. I’ve found a spot along the beachfront and so reward my recycling run with some beach time.
Weird things - Woolworths and some Pick n Pay stores collect a wide range of items including florescent light bulbs and batteries
E-Waste collection points are starting to pop up in many cities and some companies offer collection services.
Rinsing out items of all food matter is a critical step that many skip - another good application of your grey water.
Step Five - Conquer food waste
Gardening is my happy place and so compost/fertile soil is an important commodity in my world. However even if you don't possess green fingers, effectively managing your food waste is the fastest way to eliminate garbage odours.
The Bokashi system is a wholesome approach in that it encompasses all types of food. I keep a small sealable tub in my kitchen and empty this out every other day into the main drum which I keep in the back garden. Upon each emptying one sprinkles a handful of the bokashi bran and quickly reseal the drum. If you’d like to harvest the liquid fertiliser its worth your while to get the Probio bin, otherwise any sealable mid-size container will do. The important bit is to keep the full bin air tight for at least 21 days for the little bokashis to work their magic. After this time dig the matter into your garden bed (cover with at least 20cm of compacted soil if you have dogs) or burry it in your compost pile.
I’m a proud vermiculturalist (or worm farmer for muggles) and find that the compost and worm wee (some people refer to it as worm tea, a yukkie mistake in the making…) has tremendous effects on my veggie and herb yield rates. It's a little finickier than bokashi as worms don't eat acidic food (tomato, unions and citrus) nor meat products, but to me it's worth the extra fuss. I made my farm by drilling a tap into an old rubber bin but there are a range of techniques to choose from.
I should note that if you have an active gag reflex I’d stick to the shop bought systems (available at Global Worming) as the other methods (mine especially) tend to invite a wide variety of sliming crawlers.
Step Six - Overcome Zero Waste Villains
Complacency ‘what difference will my small amount of waste really make?’
Laziness ‘I don't have time to deal’ it's the implementing part that takes a few moments, but once you’re in your rhythm you’ll find that the difference in time taken is negligible. [divide and conquer? tasks for each member of the household]. When you put your mind to it I bet there’s a way that you can carve a small amount of time here and there to set aside to love your world a little.
Ignorance ‘but I don't know where my closest recycling centre is?’ ‘my school/neighbourhood/company doesn't recycle’ There’s this amazing search engine. It's called GOOGLE!!
Step Seven - Build Community
Zero Waste champions are always generous with their knowledge and so joining an online/offline community is a great way to sharpen your habits and ease your process. If you don't have a garden donating your bokashi/worm wee to somebody who does will surely grant you access to a garden where you'll be able to see the fruits of your efforts.
What's your first step? Assess which of the steps you've started already, decide which one you’re ready to take next, then commit your A-game to make it happen.
Call to immediate action: pick up the nearest pen and paper and write down 3 actions you can take today towards your next step.