Friday, 28 November 2008

Guest Post: The Clean Bin Project

I can't remember how I first came across The Clean Bin Project. It might have been through Mrs Green's site over at MyZeroWaste, but when I first hopped over at the blog, I couldn't help being impressed.

I had felt utterly stunned that I had managed to do a Zero Waste Week back in March but over at the Clean Bin Project, blogger Jen had signed up to a much bigger event, a consumer free year no less. A year of buying nothing new! Well you can see where I got my inspiration for my Buy Nothing New month can't you.

So as I put my feet up and consider all that I haven't bought this month, it's over to Jen in Vancouver to tell us about her amazing project.

The Clean Bin Project

How it all began

I had never done even a single overnight bicycle trip, but last summer my boyfriend, Grant and I decided to bicycle to Mexico. Looking back, I realize that trip was the catalyst for the Clean Bin Project, our year of living consumer free and waste free.

Doing a 2 month, self supported cycle tour, carrying only the essentials with us, made us realize that we needed a lot less stuff to be happy than we had thought. When we got back home we figured that, after 5 years of collecting outdoor gear, clothing, and material goods, surely we had enough stuff. I mean, how many tents, CDs, kitchenware, and pairs of underwear does one person really need?

Inspired by Buy Nothing Day, and joined by our room-mate Rhyannon, we started the Clean Bin Project on July 1, 2008. The goal: to live a consumer-free, waste-free lifestyle for 365 days. (we added the waste-free bit because we classify packaging as “stuff” too, and we don't really want it in our household).

The rules

Basically, we only buy food and hygiene essentials. If we have to get something packaged, then it must be a recyclable package. We have three separate garbage bins as a competitive incentive to create the least amount of true, landfill garbage by the end of the year, and we're always checking up on each other.

We bring all our waste home to be properly recycled or composted in one of the 10 bins we have set up in our kitchen. That means even the lemon wedge in our restaurant water has to brought back to our compost.

The challenges

Have you ever noticed that when something is on your mind, it appears everywhere? If you're in the market for a new car, you start noticing what everyone else is driving; if you're looking for a romantic partner, it seems like there are happy couples on every corner; if you are trying to avoid sweets, sugary treats jump out from every shop window. It is the same with me and waste.

It pops out at me, glaringly obvious everywhere I go. People buying crap they don't need, single fruits wrapped in saran wrap, plastic shopping bags. After only 4 months, I have reached a point where I can't imagine ever buying meat on a styrofoam tray or coffee in a to-go cup.

As long as I avoid the mall, I'm not tempted to buy many things. However, this being Christmas craft fair season, I've been having some struggles to hold back in the face of original art work, pottery, and handmade clothing. I also feel a fashion crisis coming on as winter hits. Even though I have a full closet, I'm starting to have that “I have nothing to wear” feeling that Grant, and men in general, seem immune to. I'm far from a fashionista, but I like to buy clothes, sometimes new, sometimes secondhand, always a “good deal”. If nothing else, I have started to value my better quality clothing more. When I know I can't just buy a new sweater, the few that I have become much more important.

Alternative Gifts

Gift giving is another hard one. It's one thing to make yourself do without, but another to impose it on your loved ones. It definitely takes a little more time, but so far I've made finger paint (for kids), knitted things, baked things, canned things, sewn things, and bought organic veggie delivery. My favorite thing to give is an experience. Everyone already has so much “stuff”, we figure it's more fun to give something they can DO: theater tickets, a snowshoeing trip, swimming passes, a pedicure, a massage, or a trip to the art gallery.

A couple years ago we got my Dad a trip to fly a plane for father's day from TryThat. Pretty cool, and more memorable than whatever the heck we gave him the year before that.

Making progress

I'm surprised by how much extra time I have now that I'm not constantly researching or shopping for new things to buy (although I have seemed to replaced much of that time with researching where the heck I can get tofu without plastic or a shampoo bar with no wrapping).

So far, we haven't taken the garbage out in four months. Being public with our project helps me a lot. If I had just told myself not to buy any stuff, I'd be inclined to cheat, but because we've told practically everyone we know and because I'm writing a blog, I feel more pressure (and encouragement) to stay on track.

I've also been really inspired by all the other “garbloggers” out there who have been living plastic free, or reducing their weekly garbage or generally living greener. I was amazed when we first started that were so many people out there doing the same thing! So here's to everyone out there trying to reduce their impact in some way, and thanks to The Rubbish Diet for letting me shamelessly promote the Clean Bin Project.

Huge thanks to Jen for sharing her inspirational story with us. I can relate to her experience in more ways than one. To find out more about her project visit: and don't forget to check out the video documentary of the cycle trip, which can be found at Also do pop back next week, when I will be releasing the moths that have been trapped in my purse and counting up everything we didn't buy this month.

And if you're inspired to do something yourself, join in Buy Nothing Day this Saturday. For more details, click on the image below.


Katy said...

I recently started reading the Clean Bin Project, but it is great to get the full background in one go. I'll be following with even more interest now!

Jen said...

Dear Almost Mrs. Average,
Thanks so much for featuring us on your blog! keep up the inpiring personal challenges!

esther said...

wow, as we say in french; chapeau!! that's a great experience!

and: where the heck can one buy tofu without plastic? does that even exist?????

esther said...

does she make it herself??


Hi Katy - I love Jen's blog. I also love the idea that they've all got separate bins :-D

Hi Jen - It was a pleasure. You've got some fab thoughts going on over there. I just wish I could visit more often. :-D

His Esther - what a great word "chapeau". Do pop over and have a chat to Jen about the Tofu. I am sure she'll be glad to help :-D x

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