The global waste situation is out of control and although there’s been a lot of media recently about ocean plastic, waste generally doesn’t get the same attention. Don’t get me wrong, getting the huge issue of ocean plastics into the general public’s consciousness is a great thing and reducing the amount of plastic we use contributes to the overall waste issue as well as stopping our seas becoming lethal places for their inhabitants. But globally we throw “away” over 2 billion tonnes of waste a year and that is expected to triple by 2100 to 11 million tonnes per day so the general topic needs attention too.
“Away” means the waste being sent to a landfill site, for incineration or to a recycling plant. Landfill sites destroy the ecosystem that was there before, they stink, they release methane, carbon dioxide and other toxic gases into the air and leach chemicals into soil and water leading to groundwater and river contamination. Incineration involves burning the organic substances in the waste to produce heat and the residual inorganic components and ash go to landfill. This process also produces carbon dioxide (although with less global warming impact than the methane produced if the equivalent waste was put into landfill) and other toxic by-products. And then there’s the whole recycling situation. In the UK, 46% of household waste is recycled but how much of that actually ends up going into a new product and not in a river somewhere or landfill? Recycling within a functioning system is one way of making the most of our precious resources but throwing things to the mythical land of “away” isn’t sustainable.
I’ve been working gradually over the past few years on sending less to “away”. Bea Johnson’s book Zero Waste Home introduced me to the possibility of living without producing waste and inspired me to start reducing our waste, rather than just making sure we recycled what we could. I’ve worked through obvious things, mostly in the kitchen, the bathroom and for while we’re out. A zero waste shop (the lovely Keep) has recently opened in the town where I live and it’s made a big difference to my waste as I can now get bulk food and lots of cleaning products packaging free. We have a big wheelie bin for landfill waste and we fill about a quarter of it in a fortnight at the moment so we’re not doing too badly but I’m now feeling a bit stuck with what we’ve got left.
I’ve found changing my mindset about dairy really helpful – going from reducing it to eliminating it. Having an “all or nothing” goal seems to change how I think about it and removes the excuses. So I’m going to apply the same thinking to waste and aim for zero waste, rejecting the idea of forgetting things as soon as they are thrown “away” and taking responsibility for everything that I use and consume. This feel pretty daunting. I feel like I’ve done quite a lot already and the remaining things feel hard, expensive and/or time consuming. But …. other people have done it so it must be possible!
Inspired by @use.it.up on Instagram, I’ve categorised things by how hard they seem and to try and catch everything, I’ve been through the bins (thankfully as we have a separate food waste bin it wasn’t too disgusting) and kept a track of everything that’s being thrown away for the past couple of weeks. There’s plenty of space too for things I’ve missed.
So here goes! I’m going to start with the easy things and move my way across. Maybe some things that I currently think are hard will surprise me and be easier than I think. All helpful suggestions very welcome.