Zero waste 'not so hard' for couple spreading the message
Imagine never having to put out the rubbish. That's the reality for Hannah Blumhardt and Liam Prince of Wellington.
The zero waste devotees, who have spent two-and-a-half years doing without rubbish, are about to take their message throughout the country.
Blumhardt and Prince have been giving presentations at schools and businesses throughout Wellington and are now planning The Rubbish Trip, which will see the couple touring the country to encourage others to follow suit.
Blumhardt, who says she was in tears this week seeing pictures of ocean rubbish piled up on Henderson Island in the middle of the Pacific, says it's not that hard. "A lot of people are heartened by hearing just how easy it can be."
"We do believe most people want to do something – they are concerned. Even if you don't have a goal of zero waste, everyone can do small things to reduce their waste footprint."
This couple doesn't create any rubbish that needs to be disposed of away from the property. They put out just one wheelie bin a year of paper for recycling, and one crate of glass every 18 months. Disposable plastic is banned from the house. With their vegan lifestyle they find it easy to put food scraps on the compost, which in turn feeds the garden.
How do they do it? It's a question of being organised, says Blumhardt. "You do need to be prepared before you go shopping, but we got into the swing of it in just a couple of months. We take our own bags and containers when we go shopping. We use Tupperware containers for takeaways – nobody has ever minded putting sushi in our container."
They take their own glass bottles to stores where they can be filled with beer on tap. "We bought the bottles the first time and now just get them refilled. It's a lot cheaper," says Blumhardt.
"We do try to limit our wine consumption so we don't end up with too many bottles, but we put the bottles to good use. We store emergency water supplies in old wine bottles and use them to store home-made stock and ginger beer."
Home baking, including baking their own bread, also means the couple doesn't have to worry about the plastic packaging that comes with store-bought biscuits and bread.
"We also tell people to avoid produce bags at the supermarket. Many people take their own bags for their groceries, but then go and pile up the bananas in a plastic produce bag. There's no need to do that."
The pair avoid plastic items, such as toothbrushes and dish mops. "We use bamboo toothbrushes and I am learning to knit so I can knit my own cotton dishcloths," says Blumhardt. "All of that rubbish on Henderson Island is land-sourced, and it included plastic toothbrushes."
Composting is a crucial part of the process. "Studies show that 30 to 40 per cent of rubbish in New Zealand is food waste, which produces methane, a greenhouse gas. People without a garden can use a bokashi bin, which contains the waste and makes good compost.
Because the couple is vegan, there is no meat disposal required, but astute buying and lean cuts can mean there is no waste for others living a zero waste lifestyle.
"It all comes down to the choices you make when you are shopping," says Blumhardt. "We tell people to think about the five Rs before they buy – refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot (compost). Recycling is quite far down the list as it is really only a partial solution. We reassess what we really need in our lives and we often don't even get past the first R - we decide we don't need the item after all."
The spin-offs from a zero waste lifestyle have been many. "It has just improved our lives so much. We are less focused on stuff and more focused on experiences and people. It's very much a sharing economy and we are so much more connected with the people around us."
Blumhardt and Prince have set up a Give-A-Little crowdfunding page to help cover the costs of The Rubbish Trip, which will see them talking throughout the country at presentations that are free of charge. "If we exceed our initial crowdfunding target, then 50 per cent of any extra we get will go straight to Para Kore, an amazing organisation that is supporting marae across New Zealand to transition towards zero waste."
The couple is now taking bookings for events.
Blumhardt says the first website they came across in 2015 when they first googled "living without a rubbish bin" was California resident Bea Johnson's blog Zero Waste Home. "She is generally considered to be the person who has spearheaded the development of the zero waste movement. Her blog is full of tips for living zero waste. She's also got a book Zero Waste Home. which is similarly full of tips and is available in most libraries in New Zealand. (She encourages people to borrow the book rather than buy a new one.)
"The other key inspiration for us was Matthew Luxon and Waveney Warth who began their initial year of living without a bin at the same time as Bea Johnson and her family (2008). They are still going with their waste-free lives too. Their site, Rubbishfree.co.nz is a great NZ-specific resource."