Stop throwing your money in the garbage – ABCs War on Waste

Money, retire early, financial independence

How much money do you throw away? Literally.

I am here to tell you how our wasteful nature is costing us a real moola.

I am coming off just watching the excellent, ABC TV series “War on Waste”.

It was eye-opening, enlightening and saddening. The host did well to not just be in a constant state of outrage and shock. If you have not seen it yet, then I can highly recommend it. You can watch it on ABC iview anytime you want.

The saddest thing about the show was the sheer scale of the environmental impact our wasteful actions and unrealistic expectations actually have. It is beyond staggering. The kind of stuff that makes you reconsider your privileged status in this world.

The next saddest part about all of this is how much money it is costing us all! People buying crap they don’t use, food they they don’t eat and generally just leaving a ridiculous trail of waste in their wake.

Achieving financial independence has far reaching benefits for the world around you, as well as your own personal goals.

Food Wastage

The average household wastes over AUD$3,800* in food every year. That is $73 per week! And that is just the average, suggesting that there are households that throw away even more than this!

What a shameful waste. A visualisation of our destructive habits.

As is always the case in my blog posts, I want to know what that will cost over a 10 year time frame, as that is the kind of minimum time frame you should be thinking about investment.  Well, it comes to a total of $55,000! Enough to help me quit full-time work 6 months early.

I will also take this opportunity to note something that really annoys me. Right now I have the ability to control my own spending and ensure I am not wasteful with my food, but society’s preference for cosmetically beautiful fresh produce is costing me real money! Farmers throw away 20-40% of their food because they don’t meet supermarket-imposed cosmetic standards. If this were not the case, they could produce the same amount of food with 40% less resources and therefore sell it on cheaper to the supermarkets, thereby saving me money!

We are talking on a scale of millions of tonnes of food being thrown out just at the farms.

Alas I live in this country which is so good and so rich, that it has fostered this wasteful way of living. Just ponder that for a moment. While living in this super rich and privileged country, we have found ways to make ourselves poor, whether individually or as a society. Only from such a rich and privileged position can we have institutionalised food wastage on such an enormous scale.

As individuals, we can live our lives in disgustingly wasteful ways in complete, utter ignorance of how much harm we are causing, simply because it is convenient to us. Alternatively, maybe, just maybe we could give a shit just a little. Just a tiny little bit of care will stop people from doing crazy things like throwing 20% of their food in the garbage, pumping their house full of air-conditioning 24 hours a day or transporting an 80kg body back and forth 85km everyday in a small 1.5T diesel powered truck.

So to get you started, here are 4 effective ways to eliminate that food wastage from your life. Prove to yourself you do give a shit just a little and get that $55,000 back in your life over the next 10 years.**

  • Meal planning. Know what you are going to cook over the next week and buy the perishables only for that. You can follow a recipe, but I always say be flexible as well. There are so many obscure, single-use perishable ingredients required in small amounts for a recipe, that I will often skip or substitute so I am not wasting the rest of that perishable.
  • Shop with a list. This is much more important for perishables. I buy big on non perishables (like canned tomatoes, beans, rice, flour) that I know I am going to use eventually to save money when buying in bulk.
  • Control the number of portions you cook so you don’t make more than you can consume before the food goes bad. Alternatively, do as I do and cook in big portions to save time when making lunch. If I do make too much, then I make judicious use of my freezer.
  • Freeze food before it goes bad to save for later.

There was a nice piece on clothing in the War on Waste documentary as well, which followed some young fashion-addicted Aussies and their shocking purchasing habits.

It was particularly telling when it showed that some of the clothes that they bought they never actually wore! I thought that was ridiculous at the time but just the other day I learnt of a family member that has done the same thing!

This is crazy.

I have a pair of shorts I have now been using for a decade. They weren’t expensive by any stretch of the imagination (they were on special from Jay Jays if I remember correctly) but they are the shorts that just keep on chugging along.

I cannot remember the last time I had to go out and buy a new piece of clothing. As far as I am concerned, I already have far too much as it is. The last time I travelled to Europe (in 2014! so long ago now), I went 10 weeks with only the clothes that could fit into a carry-on backpack. If I could go 10 weeks with one small backpack of clothes, and all those clothes were still in good condition after that trip, then surely this gigantic closet I have at home is good for at least a decade.

A snapshot from the ‘War on Waste’ documentary highlighting our destructive culture of fast, disposable fashion.

This appalling obsession with fast fashion is again exposing how corrupt our extreme wealth has made us.

Apparently the average Aussie purchases 27kg of new clothing and textiles per year.

I also found this handy infographic that shows that the average Aussie single under the age of 35 spends $23 per week on clothing and footware. If this average Aussie can reduce that to no more than $5 per week (on average), they could save $14,000 over 10 years! Along the way they will be trashing the world they live in just a little less.

Coffee Cups

Coffee cups can’t be recycled in Australia! This was news to me as I am sure it is to a lot of you. They actually all end up in landfill! How saddening.

Now of course my first piece of advice is that you do not need that takeaway barista made coffee! Hedonic adaptation means you are no more satisfied with that coffee than I am with my instant.

If you really must insist on buying that ridiculous token of modern consumer opulence, then at least seek out a café that offers discounts for bringing a reusable cup.  There are plenty in Sydney including The Copper Mill café and Black Star Pastry that allow you to save 50c per hit. This could mean a saving of $5 per week for those addicted to 2 coffees per day.

That is another $4, 000 in 10 years.

Other Bits and Pieces

There are also other places we produce waste that you need to be absolutely brutal with. For example, I noticed I was producing a lot of plastic waste wrapping my sandwiches for work with cling wrap. Since realising this habit, I have changed to zip lock bags that I am washing and reusing. I am now also considering using single sandwich containers.

I am still conceiving ideas for reusing all the plastic containers that a lot of my food comes delivered in.

When sifting through my parents pantry the other day, I noticed something. It was another habit of the extremely frugal that completely escaped me as a child. This was completely normal to me, but I have not noticed it in many other houses I have visited over the years.

They have repurposed years of old coffee jars to hold their collection of spices! My mum has also used old jam jars to store her sewing supplies. Not only is this stuff everywhere, but this is the stuff that gives a home its character. Far from the overly clean and interior designed layouts of those obsessed with Williams Sonoma or Bed Bath N’ Table, this place has a real old school kool that just can’t be replicated by industry or your hipster friends, no matter how hard they try.


This post was more about our environment than about saving, but in a few small ways, it shows just how much we can reduce our impact on the world and save a truckload of cash in the process.

Reducing waste is a no-brainer.

Shuffling through waste

Pat the Shuffler

*This contradicts the $1,036 figure on . However, given the latter cites the former as a source, I am going with the former figure. If anyone can explain or reconcile this inconsistency I would be interested to know.

**I appreciate some of this is repeated a bit from an earlier post. Wastage is so important to wealth building and is something I really believe so it is worth reiterating.

10 Replies to “Stop throwing your money in the garbage – ABCs War on Waste”

  1. Op shopping is a fantastic way to combat fashion waste and is a great activity. I love op shopping! Similarly, I keep every glass jar that we get, be it the ones marinated olive comes in, marinated cheese or tomato sauce. I don’t keep plastic jars but I do wash them out and recycle them. I find the society today to be obsess with making their interiors magazine-worthy, which creates a whole heap of waste – throwing things out when things are not on trend only to start again is mind-boggling!

    1. My shopping is greatly reduced at the moment, but the next time I find I need a piece of clothing, the op shop is going to be my first port of call. Similarly If I find I need an item that perhaps can’t be found at an op shop, ill be checking out gumtrees. Society is obsessed, it all comes back to when did society start thinking that appearing wealthy was more important than actually being wealthy. I wrote about it at length here

  2. So many truths – I have a food hierachy in my house where first the humans eat, and if we don’t want it the cat eats it, and if she doesn’t the hens eat it and if it doesn’t fall into any of those mouths then the compost bin / worms eat it – which means that eventually that waste food goes into the veggie garden and becomes food again!

    Also – what are new clothes? I did a quiz on Buzzfeed that was giving privilege scores and one of the questions was ‘Have you bought new clothes in the last month’ – since I average about 5-6 pieces a year (replacing old worn things) I had to answer no.

    Almost every work shirt I own was a hand-me-down, or a freebie from the office.

    1. I am starting to wonder if I can set myself a no garbage for 1 week or one month challenge (i.e. nothing that goes into the red bin to be taken away). A compost bin would be essential in this challenge.

      I did think about work clothes when writing that piece, I realise that a lot of wear and tear is faced by clothing that is worn daily like that which is why I gave the extremely generous concession of $5 per week ($250 per year!). I on the other hand also get work clothes (PPE) so I spend almost nothing on clothing. I literally can’t remember the last time I spent money on clothes

  3. Pat, I just discovered your blog from a comment on Mr MM – I love this post! I am obsessed with reducing waste. I think it is obscene. If we could just see ourselves through the eyes of someone enduring famine in East Africa right now. Anyway, in the spirit of wasting nothing my girls and I have quit grocery shopping for two weeks, and are using up what we have. So far we are a week in and haven’t really noticed.. clearly there is a lot of food in our house!

  4. Hey Jo

    I’m glad you found me and you enjoyed this post! Reducing waste is about efficiency and a very little blogged about topic in the FI/RE scene.

    I am sure I have enough food to keep me going for a couple of weeks as well. Sometimes I go on self imposed no shopping weeks to work down the excessive groceries I have accumulated. Though I share an apartment with one other and my space to store groceries is very small, so it self regulates because I physically do not have enough space to over accumulate!

    I am genuinely finding it difficult to avoid soft plastic waste though. When your mind is aware of it, you realise it is absolutely everywhere. The only alternative would be to shop at those bulk food stores but they are extremely expensive. I’ll keep my mind running on that mouse wheel to come up with a solution.

  5. Hi Pat, I love this documentary so much and I have been preaching people around me a lot lately…Discovered your blog from Mr MM and bookmarked. We are also on our way to FI, Love to see your progress.

    1. Hi Connie

      Thanks so much 🙂 This documentary helped me to think even more carefully about my food usage and all the plastic in my life, refining things down even further!Glad to you are enjoying it.