Bulk buying can help you fit into a smaller household footprint.
WHEN Wendy Branagan puts out her rubbish bin, she takes note of the date. “I mark it on the calendar so I can keep track. I can normally stretch it out to once every two months,” she says.
The Blackburn resident has been unwrapping herself from packaging waste for over a decade. She has established relationships with local shopkeepers who are happy for her to bring reusable bags and containers. “I found a container at the opshop that fits two loaves of bread perfectly, so I take that to the bakery every time,” she says.
Nevertheless, Ms Branagan acknowledges the “embarrassment factor” of bringing your own bags and rebutting supposed health concerns. “Sometimes, even after all these years, I have to really take a deep breath and do it anyway,” she says. “People are normally very encouraging.”
According to Sustainability Victoria’s ResourceSmart website, Australians use about 71 kilograms of plastic every year, on average. Our manufacturing industries may have declined, but our rubbish production is booming – per head, we rank second only to the USA.
Ms Branagan is motivated by the link between household waste and broader environmental concerns. “Packaging contributes to land clearing, mining and water use,” she says. “There’s a connection between the packaging we accept at home, the giant pool of plastic accumulating in the Pacific Ocean, and climate change.”
Among other waste-minimising habits, Ms Branagan always prepares a shopping list, doesn’t buy too much food at a time and tries to cook from scratch rather than using more highly packaged processed goods. For more tips, she recommends the Simple Savings website. “I’m amazed at how much money I save by shopping this way and not wasting food.”
Nick Ray, from the Ethical Consumer Group, says that while many people make an effort to minimise packaging, we tend to take a certain level of waste for granted, rather than change our habits.
And while he advocates recycling wherever possible, he notes that it’s still the third preference in the “reduce, reuse, recycle” hierarchy.
“There’s a myth that we can recycle plastic – it’s really a process of down-cycling,” he says. “Food-grade plastic isn’t recycled into food-grade plastic. So if we can avoid it in the first place, that’s something I’m keen to do.”
Mr Ray and his family are part of the Western Organic Collective. They purchase a box of veggies once a week directly from the wholesale market, and order dry goods, including flours, nuts, dried fruit and honey, every few months. “The collective buys in bulk and we take our own sealable containers along and divide it all,” he says.
The Ethical Consumer Group’s website has a list of commercial outlets where you can buy in bulk without packaging, as well as more information about how to start and run a buying collective.
More broadly, Mr Ray argues that we need to recognise the significance of our shopping habits in our overall household impact.
The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Consumption Atlas measures the greenhouse gas pollution, water use and land footprint of Australian households. “It turns out that food component is very high,” he says. “In Victoria, it’s about one quarter of household greenhouse gas emissions. And there’s another third behind the other products we buy.”