This article is designed to inform you of essential facts, prompt you to reassess certain behaviours and empower you to be part of the solution.
No more kicking the can down the road
Waste and our inability to properly deal with it is causing a continuously growing crisis around the world. It isn’t good enough to simple recycle the odd drinks bottle. Yes, we need system changes such as circular economies but industry is dragging its feet, governments are embroiled in vested interests, and neither can be depended on to make these changes in time to save humanity. It’s therefore down to us, in the meantime, to completely re-examine our relationship with waste.
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Recycling is not a perfect solution. It is an inconvenient truth that what goes in the recycling bin is not always recycled and much of it is exported to developing nations. Here, it can be mismanaged and not only ends up damaging natural habitats but causes serious health issues, through incineration, to people living nearby. Research has shown that people living in the vicinity of incinerators are exposed to an increase in dioxins in their body. This range of compounds has been linked to cancer and immune system damage, while mercury is known to disrupt the nervous system and affect brain development in children.
Of course, recycling is better than landfill, and therefore recycling itself should be viewed as a necessary last resort. But first:
Reduce and reuse. Too much recyclable material can overwhelm local systems forcing materials into landfill and incinerators. So always look to reduce the amount you throw away as a standard.
What are the local rules? It is a ridiculous state of affairs that what can be recycled often depends on a street by street basis. So always check your local authority first where they should have very clear guidelines.
Clean and crush. It is important to rinse and clean your recycling before collection to reduce the burden on the recycling facility. Also, crushing your recycling means less space is taken up, reducing a whole host of carbon emissions in the supply chain.
Don’t smash glass. Glass needs to be sorted by colour at the facility. If it is broken, it can’t be separated as easily and may not be able to be recycled.
Have a recycling bin in more than one room. Although the kitchen is the standard location, smaller bins throughout the house mean that a lot of recyclable materials are unnecessarily ending up in landfill. So, sort at the source with smaller bins.
Check your local clothes banks or charity shops for giving away unwanted clothes and items. Or maybe you can try and sell the item online first.
It is unfair that consumers and the general population are burdened by an ever increasing responsibility over household waste. From food packaging to single use plastic, it has become the issue of our time.
While governments drag their feet on bringing in stricter regulations, companies are free to produce as much unrecyclable and unnecessary packaging as they wish. Until this changes, we must take action where we can.
Return unwanted and unnecessary packaging back to the provider. If it is a single use plastic, chances are you are very close to the place you bought it from. So give it back to them to dispose of.
Highlight poor waste creation and disposal by companies and brands. The best way to do this is through social media. Every time you come across this issue, share a picture across your platforms and tag the brand in question. This raises the issue and puts the burden of responsibility onto the brand. It also changes their image across social media, which brands are quick to act on.
Contact your local government representative and raise the issues of waste and excess packaging. The more the powers that be hear about the issues, the more pressure they will feel to act upon it.
Boycott. If a brand is simply not acting responsibly then stop purchasing their products.
It may not seem it, especially in wet countries, but water resources are feeling the strain around the world. As the climate changes, water systems come under stress as unpredictable weather patterns disrupt supply. If our systems start running out of water more pressure is put on rivers which lead to them drying out and destroying entire ecosystems.
Outside water butts can capture rain water coming off your roof and down your gutters that can be used on lawns, gardens, cars and windows.
Showers use less water than baths. Reduce your baths to once a week and reduce your showers to five minutes.
Install cheap water saving devices around your home. These include toilet hippos, aerators, anti-leak devices and trigger garden taps. These will all save you money on your water bill.
Over a billion tonnes of food is thrown away every year. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), approximately one-third of the world’s food is lost or wasted. In the UK, this food waste amounts to £19 billion. In the US, the world leader in waste, it is a startling $161 billion (£121bn).
Much of this waste is thrown away by supermarkets when it passes its sell by date – even if the food is still perfectly edible and safe. Even the food in our home is thrown away to extraordinary levels.
Food that ends up in landfill releases methane into the atmosphere; a gas 20 times more potent than CO2. This gas cannot be captured, so it is vital that food waste does not go to landfill. In the US and elsewhere, food waste is the second largest component of landfill.
Many local authorities provide food waste collection services. If they don’t, contact them and ask why not.
You could also contact a commercial compost service or your local garden centre who may come and collect any food waste you have.
Composting at home can be done in a do it yourself bin, though you may want to keep it plant based only, to reduce smell and for health and hygiene reasons.
Electrical waste (WEEE)
Technology around the world has become a throw away commodity. 80-85% of the 20-50 million tonnes of WEEE goes to landfill – meaning only 15-20% of the total is recycled. Although some can be recycled, things like circuit boards and computer chips are so intricate that there’s no way of reusing the parts. They are therefore either burned or buried.
Contact your local authority or electrical store to find out more about discarding old electronic equipment in your area.
When looking for a new purchase, consider refurbished or reconditioned items. These items are brand new devices with single faulty parts that have been replaced. However, they are cheaper and work just as well as a new item.
This sort of purchasing saves you money and saves electronic devices needlessly ending up in landfill.
It sounds obvious, but the best way to reduce waste is to not create it.
Many items – particularly electrical – are designed not to be easily repaired at home in order to force consumers to purchase new replacement items. Some items are also designed not to last much beyond their warranty.
However, if you can repair an item, whether it’s a toaster or pair of jeans, then it is the responsible thing to do. You will save money and the Earth in a couple of stitches.
If you do have to replace an item then follow these simple rules to make sure you are getting the best item you can afford that is going to do a good job and save you money.
Buy the best item you can afford. If a product is cheap, it is probably cheaply made. It could break or reduce in quality quickly and you will soon need to buy a replacement. Not only does this create waste, but it costs you more in the long run.
What material is the item made from? Are they recyclable or, even better, recycled?
Does the brand you’re buying from have a repair service beyond the one year warranty? Many clothes brands offer lifetime repairs.
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