Strange habits

I have a few strange habits:

  • I keep every rubber band that enters my house in a container in a kitchen drawer.
  • The frilly tulle bags from jewellery shops get tucked into a box in a draw.
  • I stack up old egg cartons on top of the fridge.
  • Glass jars get washed up and stowed in a box under the table.
  • A pretty box in the study stores used wrappings, packaging and ribbons.
  • What plastic bags and tubs cannot be avoided are washed up and stored.
  • I pile up plastic plant pots in an old plaster bucket under the house.
  • Bottles of old engine oil get dutifully stored under the house.
  • I bring home occasional piles of newspapers from work or bags of coffee grounds from my local cafe.

And yet, I’m not a hoarder. My home is small with little storage and I’m pretty strict about stuff. So why keep these things? Because they are still useful – to me or someone else – and needn’t be thrown away.

The rubber bands go to the market vendors who use the blighters to bundle their veg (with a few kept on hand because they’re always useful). The frilly tulle bags that still look brand new are taken back to the shop (eventually), saving the vendors money. The egg cartons get split between colleagues with chooks and the CWA shop (I tried using some as bio-degradable seedling pots this year, but it was a bit of a fail). The jars are re-used for storing dry goods and home-made preserves, with the excess passed on to a local charity for others to use. Rescued tissue paper and cellophane are kept to wrap another day, post-packs are recycled and ribbons re-used.

Those unavoidable plastics* are re-used to store fruit and veg in the fridge, and to freeze left-overs for future lunches (though I’m a little bit worried about the health implications of this). Pots are recycled (it’s best to sterilize them first, if you can) for the next lot of seedlings, now that I’m growing from seed, or passed on to gardening friends. The old engine oil goes to a guy who uses it for weather-proofing timber for his landscaping projects. Newspapers help light the fire, get shredded into the compost or added to mulch, while coffee grounds are deployed as slug and snail protection around pale green garden things.


This year’s seedlings shot up in recycled pots (but did less well in egg cartons), while an old olive tub gets used again for storing home-made hummus.

These things that would otherwise be thrown out as waste, added to the vast pile of landfill, are still useful. There is no need to throw them away. Each and every item that comes into my home came from somewhere, was made from something. Resources were consumed to make it and transport it to me, and living sustainably is all about conserving our resources as much as possible. Whether it’s the petroleum products in plastics or the plant nutrients in the coffee grounds, I feel I have a duty to make the most of the resources I consume and so I do my best to re-use and recycle.

What I really like, though, is the expression of pleasant surprise on the faces of shop-keepers and growers when I turn up with a bundle of tulle bags or rubber bands. I’m saving them money by my small acts, making a tiny contribution to reducing their operating costs and keeping my favourite businesses going. Now how’s that for sustainability?

Our little choices and small, simple acts can all add up and make a real difference.

The world is a beautiful place, but there’s work to do to keep it that way!

* Any tips on how to go about buying locally-grown olives or other deli goodies without bringing home another plastic tub? How to store leafy veggies in the fridge without plastic bags? I’m keen to de-plastic my existence!

4 Comments on “Strange habits

  1. i’m not sure about the plastic tubs, though i wonder if they’d let you reuse one from the same shop? at least long enough to get them home and put the contents into something preferable. here (NYC – we have mandatory recycling of some plastics, all steel, glass, paper/cardboard; half the reason i broke up w/ someone in 2005 was for refusing to recycle despite the laws), i think most such tubs are recyclable.

    for fruit and veg, they have cotton options.

    if they don’t ship overseas or you can’t find something that does, i’m happy to receive & reship. if you can sew a bit, you might be able to make some from cheesecloth.

    the bpa-free plastic containers sold at my grocery for food storage are a 5 on that chart, and i use them to eat from, as well. i want to use ceramic or glass, but it is just too heavy for my badly damaged hands. i use stainless steel water bottles and a stoneware mug, though i’m currently heating my tea water in a small plastic coffeemaker (the water runs into my mug that has an infuser in it, so it never sits in the plastic, at least). my rice cooker has a metal bowl and i steam vegetables in bamboo baskets on top of a wok.

    one good thing about this city is that most places in manhattan ask you if you want a bag, so it is very easy to decline or bring your own. it is probably the same in quite a bit of brooklyn. up here, not so much. and i couldn’t find our reusable bags last time i went out to do the shopping. i should gather up some of the mad amount of plastic shopping that resulted and take them to one of the shops that has a recycling bin for them.

    i just discovered to my horror that the majority of the mounds of medications i take every day come in bottles the city does not actually recycle, while i’ve been stripping them of my personal info and chucking them into the recycling bag for almost eight years. they’re 5s, it turns out. the city will only take 1 and 2, which some are. but the same location that will take shopping bags off of my hands has recently started a bin for 5s.

    • Thank you for this most excellent comment, Gabriel. It’s great, lots of good thoughts.

      The tubs are a problem. You can’t re-use them at the shop due to public health laws, and you can’t take your own containers for the same reason. I can use a few in the garden, but that still doesn’t stop them coming into my house. This needs further investigation!

      The plastic bags I’m getting better at avoiding, using fabric or paper where possible, or taking my old ones back to re-use. I have fabric carrier bags already (they’re well-supported here), but it’s the smaller bags used for beans and things that I haven’t completely eliminated. I’ve found a local company selling the little mesh ones though and will pick some up. I’m still using old plastic bags for storing veggies in the fridge and for the rubbish bin. I need to work out what to do to replace those eventually.

      I’m pleased you found a solution for your medication bottles!

      Welcome to the blog, I hope you’ll keep joining the conversation.

  2. Hi Toni, I love your passion and the way you take action to make changes in your life that fit with your sustainable philosophy. These issues have always concerned me too, and although I haven’t always had the conviction to follow through, we now regularly return the enviro carry bags (if we have forgotten to take our own with us) to the local bottle shop as well as reusing as much as we can and saying no to stuff we just don’t need. Don’t get me started on freebies! Anyway, keep up the good work in beautiful Tassie. Cheers, Helen

    • Hi Helen, such a lovely surprise to hear from you! We miss you in the office and hope all is well in WA. Thanks for the support and encouragement to keep on my virtual soap-box. It’s nice to know others are on the same journey.

      Best wishes,

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