How to be a Garbologist – Top tips for beginners, and those well on their way

at home circular economy food waste garbologist Aug 07, 2023

Anyone can be a garbologist – and we need you to be!

If you’re just starting out, I wholeheartedly welcome you to the fun and games. If you’ve been cutting back on your waste already – halllloooooooo my fellow garbologist, rock on you good thing.

Cutting down on your waste can feel too hard, boring, overwhelming and generally lame. I get it. But you don't need to be an expert to take simple steps. 

Despite having studied and worked with the waste and recycling industry for years, and still using that expertise today helping businesses reduce waste and implement the ‘circular economy’ principles, in terms of reducing my own waste:

It’s all been an incremental journey of experimentation, working out solutions that work for me, my household, and my (sometimes unpredictable) routine - taking small steps, over time.

So anyone can start their own experiment, in their own life, at any time if they wish.

The term ‘Garbologist’ - I first encountered through my Gran. She knew I worked in waste prevention and was somewhat obsessed with the topic, she’d greet me on arrival with a jovial “How’s our garbologist going?”

My other Grandma also took a keen interest in my work, often asking “How’s the garbage Belinda, are you still getting plenty of it?”

I don’t know if Gran actually coined the term, and I can’t check as she’s now in the big RSL in the sky. But that’s not the point.

You’ll note in other blog posts, I have started to note down solutions and ideas that have worked for me, some will work for others, some won’t be applicable.

You’ll also note I started with what goes in my red landfill bin, unrecyclable waste. I still have a recycling bin with recyclable packaging that is alive and well (slowly, slowly cutting back on that now too).

Here are my top tips on the day to day being of a garbologist:


Start small, start somewhere, just start

Choose just one thing to cut back on, don’t try and do everything at once.

It may be a ‘simple swap’ – buying rechargeable batteries, replacing single use nail polish remover pads with reusable ones, buying a veggie box, even just once a month (great for cutting packaging) – and mine even takes the cardboard boxes and rubber bands back!

Sometimes taking a photo of the object, or pinning it to your fridge to keep you motivated helps me a lot. One small thing to focus on, let yourself fail, keep going til’ you nail it, and then choose the next thing.


It needs to suit you, your household, and your lifestyle

Different solutions will suit different people; there’s no point me suggesting to someone in remote Australia to order a veggie box. And there’s no point me entertaining the idea of keeping chickens in my inner-city courtyard (hello visions of Kramer’s ‘Little Jerry Seinfeld’).

When choosing from the myriad of items you can target, think about what’s going to be reasonable exercise for you. I’ve cut out cling wrap, baking paper, coffee cups, cotton wool, single use face wipes, but I still struggle with soft plastic packaging for haloumi, tofu, and tasty cheese, for example.


Preference avoidance, reuse, preloved, repairing, borrowing or sharing

These are your 'first responders' in your garbage fighting toolkit. Recycling needs to be a last resort. For example, clean bubble wrap is perfectly reusable, list it on Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree or Freecycle as moving supplies. I've also dropped this at framers (see below re: asking first).

Where to focus

There are some things like medicinal waste, dog poo, vacuum cleaner dust ….. where you may be able to cut back, but you’ll still create this type of waste, and recycling solutions just simply do not exist. That’s not up to the individual to solve, or feel bad about.

That’s where government, business, academics and industry experts like me are all working (very hard!) behind the scenes to create systemic change – starting right at the design and procurement phase.

So at home, I suggest starting with preventing food waste, and what I mean by this, is ensuring you eat up as much as you feasibly can from what you buy. Check out my other articles for more detail on the how to. The beauty of this is you’ll find that reducing food waste dovetails in nicely with reducing packaging, and saves you money.

Clothing is another good one, buying things that match your existing wardrobe, renting and leasing items, have things repaired, having a plan and not buying things ‘because they were on sale’ and I’ve found having my ‘tired and faded’ but otherwise wearable, black clothing redyed (you can do this using a professional, and I have done this myself at home to save money) so it looks fresh is a great way of not needing to purchase more.

As for your ‘stuff’ – question whether you need it at all, if you can rent or lease it via tool or toy library, purchase preloved (or even new from retailers who sell new items to the public direct from large retailers), borrow, and if you purchase new, ask about the warranty and repairability.


Ask first

You'll notice some of my solutions require working with your local nursery, framer, butcher, florist, dry cleaner etc. on a process that may not be their norm. Always ask first, and be reasonable and polite with your requests. 


Listen to experts and keep learning 

A garbologist is constantly learning! If you're really 'into it' outside your personal world, carefully consider where you take your advice from. 

More than ever, new solutions and thinking are evolving, and no-one is the holder of all knowledge. Listen to researchers, academics, peak bodies and people in industry who are working in that field, on their specific subject matter expertise. I consider myself a generalist inside a niche area; this week alone, I'll be keenly listening to experts on food waste avoidance, clothing and repair so I can keep up.


Top tips for well established garbologists

I know there are other people out there who’ve done the same as me, and are doing better than me. I just love you for that.

Handling the naysayer

It can be frustrating to hear that token family member or work colleague say:

“What’s the point – it all goes to the same place”

How you handle said human will depend on the situation – use your good judgement.

In my experience, the naysayer often comes from two distinct contexts:


1. They’re just picking an argument

In this situation, if you think you can still have a reasonable conversation with them, take a deep breath, and go ahead - even if you can’t change your mind- why?

Because another family member, colleague or BBQ attendee will be listening, overhear, and take what you say on

If you think it will become heated, it’s better to walk away or change the subject – enjoy your life 😊it’s short.

2. They’re genuinely, and generally, frustrated with the system

I feel for these people, I really do. Navigating the complexity of waste and recycling, as an ordinary member of the public must be a nightmare.

Sometimes, I’ll just point out then if that’s the case and you truly believe it, isn’t that the best reason to cut down on packaging, reuse things so we don’t create it in the first place?

Other times, I’ll point to avoiding food waste – this is something where most people can still improve, and the beauty is that you save money, and also time grocery shopping when you’re move savvy with your grocery routine.

You can also point out there are plenty of reuse and sharing schemes – coffee cup libraries, tool and toy libraries to use.

As I said, make decisions based on the person and the situation.

And don’t feel down – I assure you there are thousands of people out there, just like you who care and are making change.

You feel you've 'maxed out' on what you can do

That’s great – I’m personally not there yet, but I’d suggest that now is the time to get all your tips and tricks down on paper, if you’re not a natural writer (like me) in voice memos, or even take photographs.

People are so hungry for the ‘how to’ – and it’s personal, no one person has all the solutions, so share your learnings from a place of generosity, not judgement – making people feel bad never works, ever!


Wrap Up

I’m feeling sad to leave it there, I feel I’ve only scratched the surface! Stay tuned, as I try to empty my garbologist mind as extensively as I can whilst everyone’s chatting my favourite topic – waste avoidance 😊!

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