The last few days have been very festive indeed, hosting Christmas Poker, Potluck with the neighbours, Christmas with my sister’s family and an incredible day of crafting and cooking yesterday! All of these events have meant a lot of food preparation, smart storage and sorting out my waste streams. These aspects and how I deal with them is largely influenced by my first landfill waste grab and audit experience.

We went out to site to collect municipal solid waste which is made up of your regular household collection mixed with waste from public facilities in order to characterise what kind of things were being disposed. One of the striking things that still sticks to me this day (no, not the smell), was that there was so much salvageable food, things like pre-package bags of veggies like apples, potatoes and carrots that looked as if they just came off the shelf.

In particular, one garbage bag that I opened had leftover food from some kind of a party or event. There were the usual suspects of disposable cutlery and tableware, along with containers of potato salad, garden salad, a residual collection of cheese and cold meats from a platter. I wish I had taken a photo of these items, as if you put them on a plate, you’d probably be none the wiser that they’d made the journey from a bin, to a truck, to a transfer station before going to landfill. 

This has made me conscious about doing food planning before events, having some creative ideas for potential leftovers and setting up my waste management system (see Day 15 for more details). For Day 18, I’m going to discuss the clean-up after a few of this weekend’s activities including a quick waste audit, cool leftover ideas I used to prevent food wastage and identifying some areas that I can improve as a New Year’s resolution for 2020!

Confronting my rubbish bins

On Monday morning before friends came around for a crafting day, I decided to take a look at my bins to see how my waste management system fared from hosting Christmas Poker (9 people), Apartment Block Potluck (8 people) events and getting food preparation for events during the week of Christmas present crafting (12 people) and Katie’s PhD Defense (20 people).

Waste Audit

To do a waste audit, all you need is a tarp, some buckets and a reasonable set of scales. Typically, we split up waste into the generic streams of paper/cardboard, organics (food and green waste), hard plastic, container deposit scheme items (glass bottles, metal tins, plastic bottles) and general waste to landfill.

After weighing each of the divided streams, here’s the results from my weekend:

  • We produced 5kg of waste, this was broken down into the different categories.
  • Organics (food waste) making up 49% of the waste is pretty typical for composition compared to general statistics of Queensland household waste streams.  
  • You can see that only 1 of the streams will be heading towards landfill, accounting for 6% of material as general waste.
Classifying waste streams and identifying that only 6% of our waste will end up in landfill!

What are the benefits?

So, what do these numbers above really mean? Well, we can look at the elements that we have diverted from landfill and effectively see how much greenhouse gas emissions that we have saved.  If we had let this material go to landfill, it would gradually degrade and produce emissions steadily over an approximate period of 20 years.

Just how many emissions will occur? Well, we can estimate this using the IPCC model for the Australian context affectionally called ‘NGERS’ by wasties – the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting technical guidelines. This model aims to describe how this waste mixture would behave if it all went to landfill and how many emissions would be produced each yearly period.

From the chart below, you can see that we identified that methane gas production would be peaking in Year 18, at 8.1 kg CO2-equivalent units. For the different types of materials, it is clear that organic food waste scraps produces the largest contribution of methane relative to the total amount.

How our 5kg of waste would behave if it went to landfill!

The takeaway… If you’re going to implement some waste management practices in your household, tackling your food waste is the most effective stream as it is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions!

Where could I improve?

After completing this waste audit, my immediate thought is that my general waste stream to landfill could be tackled by diverting any eligible soft plastic items. I have used soft plastic recycling in the past, however I became a little bit sceptical of how effective this was when War on Waste in Season 1 put trackers on plastic bags that they put in a Woolies store and it showed that it ended up in landfill.

I had a lovely chat with my friend Christina yesterday and she highlighted that out of the options for soft plastic recycling that Redcycle is transparent about where the material is going and you can see the products that it is going to with Replas, as discussed in Day 15’s post. In an ideal world, I’d love to be able to remove our general waste bin from our kitchen by the end of 2020. At the very least if I can make a reduction, week to week, that would be amazing. I’m thinking of showing how I’m slowly doing this for some inspiration on the blog.  

Another region for improvement is minimising waste produced by events from food packaging by getting organised and making things up in advance. In particular, all of the metal tins that I had for creating dips could have avoided if I had set aside some time to cook the dried legumes and pulses I had sitting in my pantry. I have tried to take the approach this year of cooking or preserving things in advance of events, but sometimes I just run out of time and end up purchasing crackers or dips from the shops.  

Alternatives to purchasing pre-packaged food like buying dried pulses in bulk!

However, the important thing to remember is that we’re all human. By making small changes, you’re making a positive difference. It’s not realistic to think we can be perfect; we need a global community making the changes in their lifestyles that are affordable and practical. Do what you can, how you can and don’t have any shame around that! Amber Allen summarises this sentiment beautifully:

Tasty leftover meals and cheese platters!

To prevent more food waste from entering my waste management system, I kept my general food planning for lunches and dinners pretty loose for the week, as I knew instinctively that I tend to over-cater events. I also took the approach of making dips and purchasing cheese in bulk so that I could effectively create cheese and antipasto platters from leftovers!

Here’s some little snapshots and the stories behind how these items were created including:

  • Cheese platter , dips and Christmas bikkies that were left-over from the night before! I only added some crackers, fruit and side sauces to jazz it up! ( Photo a produced Photo b,c and d)
  • Lunch for the week featuring Lentil Rolls and salad leftover from Christmas Poker, cheese, crackers and nuts leftover from Potluck. (Photo e)
  • A killer breakfast idea I threw together yesterday with leftover olive sourdough chunks, salad, dips and a fried egg from my sister’s neighbours chooks! (Photo f)
  • Dinner party later in the week – pasta night using leftover pesto to make a quick ravioli treat! (Photo g)
  • Dips for later – I’m going to be dividing up any leftover dips into containers for the freezer, so that I can enjoy my hummus, baba ganoush and red capscium and bean dip for the next six months! (Photo h)

Share with Us!

Were you surprised today by what emissions were from the different waste streams and the potential savings for the environment? Have your own spin on leftovers after a Christmas party? Comment below to let us know!

Today’s feature image is of the cheese and antipasto platter that I put together for a Potluck primarily using leftovers. Hope it gives you some food for thought with your Christmas events!

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