The Stuff Challenge – Week 1 Review

One week into The STUFF Challenge of monitoring the ins and outs of our household, and we’ve already learnt a lot!

The Ins – What we bought

  • Ini: With my brother’s wedding coming up I needed to invest in some new shoes (jandals or skate shoes didn’t seem quite appropriate). Thankfully I got them on sale and they will be functional as shoes for work in the end.
  • Joshua: New pens and a computer mouse were essential to replace lost or broken items.

The Outs – What we put in the waste


  • We turned a flowerpot into our compost heap and placed it in our garden. We’ve had no issues with ants so far and the sun is doing its bit to rot the food. We will need a bigger container though!
  • Avoiding unnecessary food waste will require a plan, so I’ve made up a meal plan for the next month, which should reduce our grocery bill and stop food from going to waste.
  • The fact that I need to go outside to dispose of food waste, actually makes me rethink portion sizes and finish what I’ve got on my plate. An advantage to my laziness?! 🙂
Our makeshift compost heap


  • Recycling is a very new concept in the UAE and is still very inefficient, so the best option is to  refuse and reduce any recyclables. Houses in Abu Dhabi get a black landfill bin and a green recycling bin, but most people don’t know/care about the differnce and frequently fill both with landfill items; waste collection companies have been known to put both contents in the same landfill truck; and I could not find any information online with regards to what exactly the waste management company can recycle and how/where they do this. I have contacted them for advice. Apartment buildings either don’t offer waste separation, or suffer the same problems as above.
  • Our bin’s contents: paper scraps, cardboard boxes and toilet rolls, plastic bottles and wrappers. Here are some ideas of how we might reduce these items in future:
    • Paper: Use laptops / tablets for note taking.
    • Cardboard packaging: Buying in bulk; but I have yet to find such options in Abu Dhabi. The search continues…
    • Plastic bottles & wrappers:  Juicing could replace juice bottles. Our milk carton consumption will be reduced, as I’ll be switching to home-made rice milk (healthier, cheaper, no packaging). Planning a weekly visit to the farmers’ market will avoid plastic bags and wrappers for fruit and veg. For other wrapped items we’ll need to invest some more time in exploring alternative products and refill options.
    • Tins & glass jars: Tinned items can be replaced by home-made alternatives (e.g. soup frozen in portion sizes). Glass jars can be replaced by finding bulk buy / refill options.
Our recycling box with all items of week 1


  • Saying “No thanks” to plastic bags and freebies you don’t need is not hard. Always come prepared with a reusable bag. Most shops have bag packers that will quickly wrap each item in its individual plastic bag –  if need be, unpack it and say “no thanks”. Don’t accept rubbish out of ‘courtesy’, which is a mistake I got into the habit of making. Same goes for flyers and freebies.
  • Our bin’s contents: cotton buds, wax strips, razor blades, plastic seals and wrapper. It’ll take some more time to search out alternative for some of these items. Joshua does use his straight blade razor, if he has the time and patience, and I’m looking at buying a safety razor to replace the plastic razor with its expensive, plastic-contained razor blades.
Our landfill box with all items of week 1

Eating Out 

We ate out a few times this week. While lounging at the dropzone’s cafe, or at the pub, you quickly forget that you may be creating waste when you order your food and your drinks. Here’s the waste we produced outside our household, and how we could avoid it in the future:

  • Plastic straws: When ordering drinks, ask for “no straw please”, or bring your own stainless steel straw if you prefer 🙂
  • Soda cans: Order drinks that are available on draft.
  • Takeaway coffee cup (paper cup + plastic lid + cardboard sleeve): Bring your travel cup.
  • Wooden toothpicks: These were stuck in our club sandwich quarters … Imagining the ‘lost in translation scenario’, if I would have told the lady at the till that I wanted the chef to make the sandwich without these, is somewhat amusing.

Key Lessons from Week 1 

I was very saddened to read about the current issues of recycling in the UAE, and am looking forward to doing some more research on this topic. There was no big surprise about our Ins and Outs, but I am amazed to see how easily we could reduce our Outs even further. Here are the key lessons from week 1:

  1. Make a plan – know what you really need to buy & think about where you might find alternatives that are unwrapped and sustainably sourced.
  2. Be prepared – have your reusable bags with you & be prepared to say “no thanks” to anything you don’t really need or want.
  3. Take your time – rushing or buying on impulse often results in bad choices; set aside time so you can ensure you buy everything on your shopping list; if you can’t find the product in a form that you like, leave yourself some time to explore other shops / options – once you discover suitable alternatives you’ll save time by knowing where to go in future; consider home-made alternatives – these may require some more time to make, instead of picking an item up in the shop, but they’ll probably be healthier / tastier and come come with less unnecessary ingredients and packaging.

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