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EcoRubric 11:10 16 Dec 2020

Experiment: life without a trash can. How Ukrainian style zero-waste works

Analyzing whether it's possible to practice zero-waste philosophy in Ukraine

Many Ukrainians are certain that there's no point in sorting waste since little gets to actual recycling; the bulk of garbage is still sent to landfill. Zero Waste movement, which originated in the early 2000s, offers a novel approach: generate less garbage. Zero waste philosophy doesn't accept incineration and landfills. Its supporters consider it necessary to close off the cycle: everything produced shouldn't end up in landfills. Everything must be either reused or recycled without loss of quality.

The movement's initiator is Californian Bea Johnson, who's consciously approaching the level of her family's waste to zero with her husband and two children. Bea says that a waste-free approach makes them feel happier, and makes life more exciting, full of impressions and experiences, not junk. She has her own blog, gives many lectures, but is best known as the author of her book, Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste, which has been translated into over twenty languages, including Ukrainian.

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Bea Johnson and her book

Many of Bea's followers around the planet adopted the environmental lifestyle of the active American. Not only consumers have listened to her ideas but also manufacturers and suppliers, reducing the amount of packaging or even abandoning it altogether. If you think in our reality, it's impossible to be stylish and minimalist, you're wrong. Positive stories of environmentally friendly Ukrainians convince us that with a conscious way of life, it's quite possible to reduce garbage to zero in a short time, without losing the quality of life.

Olha Tymoshchuk from Lviv has learned to live without a garbage can. She manages in such a manner that she has practically no waste left. Olha carefully sorts that small amount of "useful" garbage that accumulates and hands it over for recycling.

More so, with her example, she inspires relatives and even subordinates to follow.

"I didn't have the goal of gaudily living without a garbage bucket," Olha tells Rubryka. "Rather, it resulted from a gradual abandonment of all superfluity. And when I had very little garbage in my life, I stumbled upon zero-waste movement founder, Bea Johnson's idea of not having a trash can at all.

Was it difficult? It was very natural for me. Let's say I didn't strain, didn't force myself, but I often wondered if I really needed Snikers and if I could ask the salesperson not to give a plastic bag next time.

I think the basis should be love for yourself, first, giving yourself the best things you can afford!"

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"Where a garbage bucket used to be, now there's excellent wine lined up for the guests 🍷," Olha Tymoshchuk wrote on her Facebook page.

  • The first principle of a Zero-waste lifestyle: buy nothing that can become garbage.

Avoid everything disposable, from a disposable coffee cup to clothes that will last only a season. Olha Tymoshchuk's experience shows there are enough products for this lifestyle in Ukraine. You always have something to choose from. For example, in Lviv, there's an entire specialized store of products without packaging (Komirka). Olha buys vegetables and fruits at the market in her own fabric bags and brings containers for cheese. The key thing is to plan food purchases in advance, and it's important not only for a zero-waste lifestyle but also for a healthy diet and your wallet. 

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So that she doesn't get lost in shops, Olha always brings a list with her. With its help, she plans where and what to buy in advance. "And it isn't because, I have a lot of free time," she says, "but on the contrary, I prefer to spend more time cooking something tasty than buying food. Unfortunately, supermarkets often dictate what food we buy and in what packaging. So I gradually switched to shopping in my favorite shops, thus also supporting small businesses."

At first, explain to your relatives and guests what to bring to your home. "Share your position and explain what you have in mind," the environmental activist recommends. "It's important to be tolerant of their way of dealing with waste, but emphasize that they're guests at your home and you're the host. So pack their trash with them to go. How else? You haven't got a trash bucket now🙂

My friends know me, and so my position. Therefore, when giving gifts, they choose things that are environmentally friendly and even wrap them in gift paper that has already been used. It's fun for them, so I'm glad we're all happy to learn something from each other!"

All organics to the action!

"I had a long way of trying and making mistakes with organics. I buried it in the woods, took it to my parents, and brought it to the city composter. Now I chose the best option: to compost in a special bucket (Organico bucket from recycled plastic). From time to time, my friends take it to their country house."

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Bucket for composting

Of course, not everyone has relatives or colleagues with a cottage who'd be happy to pick up your organic waste. But you've got an alternative. First, many cities in Ukraine are now actively installing organic containers. Ask if you have one in your area, and if not, suggest installing one. When you're composting, it's worth asking relatives and acquaintances whether someone could take it away from you from time to time (to the village or bury it in the woods). Lastly, ready-made compost can be fed to flower beds in the yard of your own apartment building; the plants will be grateful to you for that. Be creative: nutshells burn perfectly in the furnace; you can drown banana peels in water and have a feed for houseplants in 3-4 days; coffee grounds are a good body scrub.

Sorting at home

In the building, where Olha Tymoshchuk lives, the cooperative opened a storage unit about a year ago where residents can put sorted plastic, glass, paper, tetra packs. A few months ago, they also installed a container for food waste, as it makes up about 60% of the trash, and it's important to compost it separately. The storage unit is filled every 2-3 weeks.

Since Olha Tymoshchuk remembers about garbage forming at the time of purchase, she doesn't even have much sorted raw materials. Initially, she stored them in special boxes. Over time, the number of packages due to careful selection has been steadily declining; now recyclables are stored until Olha takes them out in small paper bags left after gifts.

The fundamental idea, as Olha stresses, isn't about everyone sorting everything but about not creating waste in the first place. It's like eating beyond measure and then suffering. So may it be worth learning not to overeat?

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Glass, paper, plastic

How to travel the path from a full trash bucket every day, to taking out waste once every six months and later managing without it completely

Olha shares her experience with Rubryka:

  • Analyze what's your biggest "waste creator" at home. So, for instance, I found that in our office about 80% of the contents of trash buckets are disposable paper towels. So far we couldn't give them up (although we are searching for a solution!), but now, there's a separate box for them. Again, I give its contents to my parents, and they use it to light the fireplace.
  • When you find out where the garbage comes from, look for environmentally friendly alternatives! Think about what you can give up and consumption you can reduce. Conduct an audit at home and buy reusable items instead of disposable items. Be kind to yourself. Remember that living a zero-waste style should bring joy to you. You do best for yourself without leaving waste on the planet.
  • I had to collect transparent bags for three years until the Green Box started taking them. However, I still haven't found a place taking the foam (it emerges at home when buying large-format equipment), or completely worn-out shoes. I take it as a challenge!
  • I'm the executive at the IT company. My "propaganda" helps me to make others environmentally conscious: in our office, 40 people intend to sort fully, including organics. There are a few employees who sort carefully at home themselves; they help me with my ideas. Many people are interested, come to show and clarify something, write messages with questions. I didn't meet any resistance, perhaps because we primarily hire people who have values, that we wouldn't have to overcome.
  • For example, we have a bowl for organics on the sink all day, and we collect leftover food, coffee grounds, fruit peels. We also have a compost bucket, but now we don't use it, because very few people attend the office in quarantine.
  • At the office, we hand over raw materials (the service we have an agreement with comes to us to collect) and for that we receive money. The sums are small; I buy fruit for this money. People wonder: they've gathered so much and got so little fruit. But in fact, recycling doesn't belong to a highly profitable business. So, first, we don't harm nature, and only later think about the reward.
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Waste sorting at Olha Tymoshchuk's office

  • They say a waste-free life is impossible when having children because they generate a lot of garbage. But adult things have the same packaging and wrapping, don't they? So is there really a difference? I don't have children yet, so I can only theorize. Let's say, instead of buying sweets once a week, one can bake homemade cookies. In all seriousness, consider all the items in plastic packaging. They're usually not useful in their essence. High-calorie sweets, toxic toys. Is it what your children and you need?
  • Find a community that will support you. Together you can find solutions. What if you invent something original and become the solution yourself?

Zero Waste movement calls the 5R rule its basic principle: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. It manifests that zero-waste means social justice and fair distribution of resources. Minimum damage to the environment is another result of implementing this philosophy. Zero-waste fans are also motivated by the opportunity to take their lives into their own hands and manage their lives, instead of being controlled by marketing companies. Their methods won't influence you, and you won't become a slave to fleeting desires. And you can use imagination and inventiveness.

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Know-hows you can't read about in books

Olha Tymoschuk talks about her house and shares her secrets:

  • My universal home helpers are vinegar and soda. I wash mirrors, plumbing fixtures, and surfaces with a fragranced vinegar solution. The recipe is simple: pour vinegar on orange peels and let them soak for 2-3 days; throw them in compost, dissolve vinegar with water 1:1. I don't buy "chemicals" for cleaning, because I understand the destructive effects of these compounds on the earth and on human.
  • I either make toothpaste myself from simple ingredients, like kaolin, a little soda, a few drops of essential mint oil, or buy it in the glass. Now, there are national manufacturers. Since there's a problem with recycling toothpaste and cosmetic packaging, I couldn't hand all those tubes in Lviv. That's why I usually buy craft things.
  • Soon I intend to have 5 basic jars, each tightly closed and having its purpose, instead of keeping countless jars with various similar products (several types of beans, grains, nuts) in the kitchen. For example, I'll fill a Grains jar with corn grit. When it runs out, I'll buy bulgur. After that, oatmeal. So I'll have diversity, and nothing will become stale.
  • I collect soap remnants in one container, and when they accumulate, I boil a new soap from them.
  • I make wipers from old clothing that I wouldn't give to anyone, so I don't buy them in the store. Right now, I don't consider I do much, but I plan to learn more needlework to restore old things.

"Now I study minimalism a lot. Once the phrase struck me: first, you own things, and then they own you. So I make a list of all the things in the house that I really need for a happy (minimalist) life and plan to dedicate the next six months to having only essentials. I'd like to transfer all this experience to the mental area now, reduce the time in social media to a minimum, and find time for silence.

I'm sure it's hard to change habits. But it's important to start. Then it turns out that using this approach, all the difficulties lead to advantages over time: saving time, resources, money, and gaining new knowledge and new friends!"

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