What is considered waste?
- Unwanted or unusable material, substances or by-products. This might be single-use plastics, carbon dioxide or food scraps.
Australians produce about 1.9 tonnes of waste PER PERSON per year! (Clean Up Australia, 2009). Half of this end up in landfill or elsewhere to slowly rot away.
Where does our waste go?
- Into landfill, the deep ocean, space, or our immediate environment. There is no such place as "away" for your rubbish - it has to go somewhere! Watch the Story of Stuff to learn more:
Why is recycling still wasteful?
- Recyclable materials are often considered greener because they can be reused, therefore are not wasted. Unfortunately, this is not entirely true for a number of reasons. Firstly, most fibres have a short lifespan and can only be recycled a certain number of times before becoming no longer structurally viable. Secondly, recyclable items must end up at a recycling centre to undergo the process, so unless you use, sort and maintain your bins correctly, they will end up in landfill with everything else. Thirdly, the process of recycling uses an immense amount of energy, money and other resources, creating pollution and contributing to carbon emissions. On the other hand, this use of resources is far less than making items from new materials. Creating and maintaining recycling centres is a very resource-hungry process, not to mention transporting the products to centres by trucks run on fossil fuels. Contaminants such as harmful metals can survive the recycling process and end up in finished products that weren't contaminated before.
Despite all this, recycling still helps to reduce raw material consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation rates and landfill. There is a trade-off with the issues mentioned above and, because of this, reducing our consumption of resources in the first place is easily the best way to limit our environmental impact.
What can I put in the recycling bin?
- In Australia, we can generally recycle steel, aluminium, glass, green waste, paper/cardboard and some plastics (numbers 1-7 depending on where you live). You may not know that some supermarkets have bins specifically for recycling plastic bags and other soft plastics - we take ours to the Westfield Coles in Geelong about once a month, or when we need to. Check with your local council what you can and can't put in your recycling bins, as not all towns have the facilities to recycle every type of fibre.
What definitely doesn't go in the recycling bin?
- Plastic bags, nappies, ceramics, cookware and crockery, oven-proof glass, medical glass, light bulbs and broken drinking glass, syringes, polystyrene, hazardous and liquid waste.
Bottled water - an item to ditch forever
In Australia, we are lucky to have access to drinking water almost everywhere we go. Bottled water is often convenient and in abundance, especially at big sporting events, music festivals and convenience stores. Bottling water uses LOTS of energy - to create the plastic bottle and the label, to fill it, to transport it, to keep it refrigerated and stored, to package it in bulk, and finally to recycle or dispose of it. Furthermore, its expensive! The pictorial below demonstrates oil and water required to create one 1L bottle:
Reusable non-plastic drink bottles are the best way to replace the need for plastic bottled water. You can refil them an indefinite number of times, take them anywhere, and just five refills will earn back the energy equivalent of using one disposable bottle. If there's one item to ditch that will save you money, improve the environment and is insanely easy to do, bottled water is it!
Protecting the ocean
You might be surprised to know that the ocean is responsible for about 50% of the reabsorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide (trees generally do the rest of the work). This is known as the carbon cycle and is predominantly done by phytoplankton, small photosynthesising organisms, which convert carbon into organic matter in the sea. Carbon can be stored in the ocean for thousands of years, but this process is limited to healthy waters with good populations of lifeforms. Due to pollution and warming temperatures, parts of our oceans are dying and therefore losing their ability to do this, as well as reducing habitat for many species. Read more about the carbon cycle here.
What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and why does it exist?
- The GPGP is a collection of rubbish from all over the world that has collected in one large region of the ocean - the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone. Gyres, or spiralling currents of warm and cold temperature water, cause debris to collect in one area like this. While there are now multiple collections like the GPGP, it is the biggest. We can't measure its size as it is so variable in density, depth and movement, but it exceeds the size of some countries easily. Human's improper disposal of excessive amounts of waste is the reason it exists and continues to grow as our bad habits remain unchanged.
How can I reduce my impact on the ocean’s health?
- Limit consumption of animal products to reduce pollution from farm run-off, help to eliminate ocean dead zones, reduce carbon output and prevent overfishing
- Reduce your waste (especially plastic) to minimise rubbish flow into the sea, killing animals and disrupting foodchains
- Dispose of waste properly, or even go one further – clean it all up! Go to your local coastal area or waterway and spend some time with friends picking up rubbish that would otherwise end up in the sea. It doesn’t have to be ‘Clean Up Australia Day’ for you to give this a go!
- Encourage others to reduce meat and plastic consumption, and help to inform them about the importance of doing so
Australians waste about $8billion per year by throwing out food! The mind boggles at the thought of how many hungry mouths could be fed with our unwanted produce, and at the myriad of resources from producing that food that are wasted. In our society we completely engulfed in consumerism - we make too much, sell too much, buy too much, and throw out too much without batting an eyelid. There are several reasons why this is a bad thing. Firstly, as I mentioned, global poverty and starvation is an ongoing crisis in so many countries. While we have available the e to us choice of thousands of different foods every day, millions of others don't even have an option of one food source and we take this for granted. Secondly, the food we throw away takes with it the energy, water, time, and fossil fuels originally used up to create it. This highlights a really important issue that most of us face when dining out - ordering too much food and realising too late that you were never going to be able to eat it all. This is a great thing to think about when you next go out for a meal. Try ordering a smaller amount initially, then if you're definitely still hungry, order more! Thirdly, organic matter breakdown in landfill is not like composting and it doesn't just disappear without a trace. Methane, a gas that is 25 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping radiation in our atmosphere (global warming), is a product of anaerobic organic matter decomposition. Therefore, the more food going into our rubbish bins, the higher its greenhouse gas emissions,adding to those already created in the production process.
Check out more stunning facts on Australia's food waste here.
Tips on how to reduce food waste at home and out:
- Do smaller shops more regularly and buy only what you know you'll need. Try not to buy things because you 'might' use it one day, especially perishables
- Make shopping lists and stick to them!
- Use your freezer to store anything you don't want to consume right now - many foods can last three months or more frozen (less for meat)
- Use your scraps! I cannot stress this enough - food scraps can be so valuable. You can compost them, create a worm farm, feed them to chooks if you or a neighbour have some, or make stock
_ Get savvy about food storage. Learn here how to store things to ensure they last as long as possible
- When you're out, ask if you can take leftovers home. Some places are now more strict on this due to OH&S policy changes but you lose nothing by asking (always reuse the container they give you too!)
- Become a pro at using leftovers. The internet is an endless resource for recipes and ideas on what to do with them, especially if you're like me and get sick of eating the same meal five nights in a row
REducing other waste at home
Steps on how to reduce waste in your kitchen, laundry and bathroom right now:
1. Make a list of all the items in your house that come in non-reusable packaging
2. Identify all items that can be bought without packaging (see the list below for options you may not know exist)
3. Identify all items that you could make yourself (see list below for ideas)
4. Identify all items that you don’t actually need (this is a tricky but important one!)
5. Assess the items left and decide whether you are content to keep purchasing them or whether you need to seek an alternative
6. Now, get into action!
Save jars, reusable containers or buy new glass jars for plastic-free storage. Look up tried and tested recipes for homemade foods (such as bread and yoghurt), sauces, cleaning products and cosmetics. Look to your local council for information on what you can and can’t recycle in your area. Remember, you need only take on one or two changes at a time, it takes a while to transition to waste-free or reduced waste living!
General tips to maintain a low-waste lifestyle:
- Buy less! Habitually ask yourself, “do I really need this?”
- Start a compost bin, indoors or outdoors, or a worm farm
- Buy a reusable coffee cup and remember to take it with you!
- Freeze things that you aren't going to use within the week and label them
- Stop putting your fruit and veg in individual plastic bags - you're only going to put it into another bag to carry to the car! If you must use a bag, bring your own fabric produce bags or use the brown paper mushroom bags
- Clean out your fridge, freezer and pantry regularly! Set a reminder every month or so to do this - it should save you from finding those stale biscuits or mouldy yoghurt that you can't eat anymore
- Limit takeaway food purchases or, if you have to get it, bring your own container and cutlery set (see The Rogue Ginger's blog)
- Buy in bulk. Most staple foods are readily available in really big quantities from supermarkets, wholefoods stores and your local farmer's markets
- Share bulk items with your family, housemates or friends – if you don’t think you can eat a 5L tub of yoghurt before its used-by date, go halves!
- Avoid individually-packaged items or those unnecessarily wrapped in plastic
- Make more things yourself – a bowl of homemade popcorn can not only be healthier and more satisfying, it’s one less foil bag in landfill
- Keep fabric or 'green’ bags in your car and at home and ditch plastic bags completely
- Set yourself regular goals: you will have a clear idea of where you want to be at a specific point in the future, and can break things down into small tasks/changes to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Don't feel you have to change everything at once - you're more likely to stick to things if they're achievable for you.
List of most foods and other items you can buy packaging-free (depending on where you live):
All fresh fruit and vegetables
Dried legumes (peas, beans, lentils)
Grains/cereals (whole or floured)
Spices and dried herbs
Dates, goji berries and other dried fruits
Shampoo and conditioner
Dishwashing liquid and other cleaning products
Some beer and wine (growlers)
Consider trying to make your own:
Yoghurt and cheese (dairy or non-dairy)
Sauces, marinades and spreads
Pesto, dukkah and spice mix
Pizza bases and flat bread
Iced tea, juice, alcohol or kombucha
Stock (powder or liquid)
Check places like your local supermarket deli, fresh produce and pick-your-own sections for packaging-free items. You can often take your own containers to the deli – just make sure they tare it beforehand. Other delis, fruit and vegetable shops and bakeries should let you do this too. Wholefoods shops now exist in some towns and suburbs that offer either a section, or whole store, of bulk self-serve tubs. Bring your own containers, fabric bags and jars, or use paper bags provided and buy exactly how much or how little you need – links to some of these stores are listed below, I recommend you visit one of these ASAP, it will change your life!
excellent resources for waste-free and vegan living:
See here for a list of packaging-free stockists in Melbourne!