Family of seven put kerbside rubbish bin out just five times a year

kerbside rubbish

We might think that being greener at home means being more mindful.

But Bindi Chouhan and her family of seven, who generate less than five rubbish bins worth of waste per year, say that most sustainable things they do on a daily basis are mindless.

The fourth-generation Indian-Zimbabwean grew up in a micro village of extended family members, about 25 people, who lived in three houses next door to one another.

So the biggest shock Chouhan experienced upon moving to New Zealand with her parents and brother in 2003 was an introduction to convenience culture.

“There were a lot of adjustments we needed to make from living in a large family of more than twenty to being just four of us,” she said.

“My mum used to cook most of the meals back in Africa, and the biggest thing she needed to readjust was the meal size.

“We would be eating leftovers for days.”

In her eyes, there is a clear correlation between wealth and waste.

In Zimbabwe, the whole family ate a plant-based diet, primarily grown by Chouhan’s grandmother on the property.

“My parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins were always making use of everything.

“Nothing was ever just thrown out.”

Not having enough food, water, or power were real possibilities – so there was a staunch commitment to making the most of every resource.

If a tool broke, someone would find a way to fix it. If something was no longer useful, it got up or re-cycled.

“The irony is when you come into a first-world country, you think you’re progressing in life– but our habits started to go backwards.

“You start imbibing the things that everyone is doing around you (like using plastic bags and ordering takeaways) and without even realising, you start living a life that is against the principles that you grew up with.”

Now, Chouhan and her husband share a small cottage on a property in Titirangi, Auckland, that they built themselves.

Chouhan’s mum and dad live in the main house with her brother, sister-in-law and their baby. Her mother-in-law also comes to stay for about a week out of every month, as do family friends. The household is always in flux, but always at least a headcount of seven.

Chouhan started work as a sustainability travel coordinator, acting on behalf of Auckland Transport within school communities, as well as a yoga/breathwork teacher.

Yoga is about helping people with their mental garbage, she said, so helping them with their actual garbage felt like a natural extension.

The first goal she set for her household was to reduce their kerbside rubbish bin – from going out fortnightly, to once a month.

Then she brought home a worm farm. This was not well-received, but she persisted.

The family has restarted growing their own food, something Chouhan believes is the simplest way to live a more sustainable life.

Start with herbs and the vegetables you buy the most often, she suggests, and don’t do it alone. For renters, that might mean going in on a little benchtop or balcony garden with flatmates or sharing with neighbours.

Chouhan and her mum are experimental cooks. They like to take homegrown taro, curry leaves, spices and bitter gourd and figure out dishes: “This week we used broccoli leaves to make spicy rolls with chickpea flour.”

Leftovers went to Chouhan’s sister-in-law, who keeps them flush in lemons, limes and other fruits from her trees. Sharing and swapping produce and bulk buying keeps the grocery bills down.

Between the two houses, Chouhan estimates their weekly spend is about $100. That goes on lentils, grains and flour, the few veggies that aren’t in the garden, and cheese. Continue reading

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