Bin so long: Adelaide woman puts rubbish out for first time in two years after epic effort to cut waste

‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’ ethos has long been part of Alice Clanachan’s life, but now she avoids creating waste in any form

An Adelaide woman has taken her rubbish bin out for the first time in two years, having taken concerted steps to reduce the amount of waste her household generates.

Alice Clanachan’s bin left her yard for the first time in 26 months on Tuesday – still with a little room at the top.

“I could have gone a bit longer, but it’s getting hot,” she said.

The “reduce, reuse, recycle” philosophy has been part of her life for more than a decade, but it has only been since the pandemic that Clanachan seriously committed to avoiding the creation of waste in any form.

“It’s been a long time and a long journey,” she said.

Alice Clanachan.
Alice Clanachan. Photograph: Supplied

“I think about all the share-houses I lived in and flatmates I had … this cohort of people who said ‘you taught me how to do this, you were so strict’.

“Now I try not to accumulate anything.”

The small bin of waste, representing two years in Clanachan’s life, mostly contained tradie rubbish – repairs from old pipes or drains.

Apart from that, there were some worn-out gardening gloves, rapid antigen tests, thermal paper receipts, vacuum cleaner dust, dental floss and broken ceramics.

Clanachan does not drive a car and uses her bicycle and public transport, making it harder for big weekly supermarket shops. She buys the majority of her produce from farmers markets and in bulk – bringing her own containers for grains and rice.

“I avoid pre-packaged foods, and save egg cartons for people with chickens,” she said. “The 2kg yogurt carton I buy I give to a friend who grows mushrooms.

“I feel I fail a bit when I put the recycling bin out. I would prefer them to have other lives and uses before they go to landfill.”

According to Planet Ark, around 2.44m tonnes of the 4.9m tonnes of materials sent to landfill each year are either recyclable or compostable.

Up to 18% of the material in council-provided waste bins is recyclable, while just over half could be composted at home or organic processing facilities.

Trudy Conroy avoided putting out her landfill bin for 78 weeks
‘I’ve learned a lot about what can be recycled’: Trudy Conroy avoided putting out her landfill bin for 78 weeks Photograph: Supplied

Fellow Adelaide resident Trudy Conroy thought she had broken a record after avoiding putting out her landfill bin for 78 weeks.

Now that Clanachan has pipped her title, she is determined to make her bin last for 100 this time.

“I only really got into it in the last two to three years,” she said. “I bought a compost bin … it went on for a while and then I thought, ‘I wonder if I can get to a year?’.

“I got to a year and thought, ‘how much longer can I go?’ You start getting quite stubborn.”

She is sure she would have made it another month if not for an old pillow that nobody wanted on pay it forward groups.

“It felt a bit weird putting it out, it had spiderwebs and duct tape on it,” she said. “But I’ve learned a lot about what can be recycled.”

An Adelaide landfill bin almost full.
Adelaide residents have shown it’s possible to keep landfill to a minimum over an extended period. Photograph: Supplied

The City of Adelaide provides residents with a kitchen caddy and compostable liner bags for organic items like egg shells, food scraps, clippings and coffee grounds. The green organics are turned into mulch and compost for local gardens.

Reuse and recycle hubs also allow e-waste including bread tags, batteries and light globes to be diverted from landfill and recycled or repurposed.

Conroy has a box on her front veranda collecting waste that can be passed on to processing facilities – from bubble wrap to toothbrush tubes.

“I go for long walks where I pass the dump,” she said. “Some of the stuff I see through the fence … so much doesn’t need to be in landfill and it upsets me.

“Once you start looking you think, ‘I’ve been throwing those things out for years’. I make the red bin my last resort.”

As for Clanachan’s advice?

“Whatever your living situation, there are ways to compost and reduce,” she said. “Ditch the supermarkets and find your local grocer. You can buy less packaging, but also have conversations with those you’re buying from and that’s very powerful.”


Caitlin Cassidy

The GuardianTramp

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