Do we live in a throw away society? Do you personally have a waste mentality? If so how can we ditch this habit?
Every year 23.6m tonnes of our stuff ends up in the bin. That’s five times the weight of an average adult every year or an astonishing 411kg of waste per person!
Less than half of all the waste we create is recycled: A meagre 44% is utilised for greater good. This means landfills are filling up fast and the opening up of new landfills is banned. Incinerators that burn rubbish are highly unpopular and produce carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming.
Why Waste is Really Rubbish
Waste is really rubbish. When we buy something we rarely think about when or how we will dispose of it. From clothes to ready meals, our consumer habits are focused on fulfilling that immediate desire: The impulse to buy.
Most of us will consider the cost and quality but very few will think about the moment we throw the product away.
However, the majority of this rubbish is either sent to landfill or burnt in energy from waste plants. This is not only a real waste of materials, water, energy and money but this behaviour also causes huge environmental problems from air quality to global warming as well as plastic pollution.
So, what is the solution to all this rubbish?
Seven Steps to Reducing Waste
- Choose good quality products that last.
- Use reusable containers rather than disposable.
- Reimagine and reuse your old stuff.
- Sell on or donate unwanted goods.
- Avoid products with excess packaging.
- Opt for natural materials such as wood over oil-based plastic.
- Recycle wherever possible.
- Avoid clutter and waste by simply buying less stuff.
The best way to avoid waste is to buy good quality products that are made to last. The better the quality, the longer the product will last. The longer something lasts, the less we need to buy and therefore the less rubbish we will create during our lifetime.
Guarantees and Warranties
Some companies design products to break after a short period of time. This practise is called designing in obsolescence, so the life time of the product is artificially short and therefore, sales are more frequent. Mobile phones are a great example of this as they last on average two and a half years with very little recycling involved at the end of life.
However, some leading brands have the opposite attitude and provide five-year guarantees or more. The premium white goods manufacturer, Miele offer ten-year warranties on some of its products. This is testament to a company's belief in the longevity of their product and is great for both us as the consumer and the environment.
Switching from disposable carrier bags to a bag for life is one of the great environmental successes in the last few years and all because of a 5p charge. But there are many other ways to reduce waste by using permanent products from water bottles to cutlery and simply avoiding the disposable options.
Bring Your Own Coffee Cup
An estimated 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away each year in the UK! Just 1 in 400 of the paper cups are recycled because the lining is made of plastic, which is more difficult to process.
Most independent and multi-national coffee shops are providing discounts if you bring your own coffee cup in. The discount is small at around 25p for a coffee that often costs over three pounds but just imagine what two billion cups look like!
Keeping your refill coffee cup in your bag if you are a regular visitor to coffee shops is the best way to remember it every morning. Not only will you save 25p but you will feel unbelievably virtuous and good about your choice.
Coffee is one of the many crops that is in serious danger from the impacts of climate change therefore, you are also helping to secure the future of one of your favourite hot beverages!
For other ways to help protect the planet with your choice of coffee please see the carbon footprint of your coffee.
Reusing products is a way of extending the lifetime of a product. For example, rechargeable batteries are a great alternative to disposable batteries, which are often dumped in landfill and leak toxic materials into our water courses. Using rechargeable batteries also saves money and means you are less likely to run out of batteries. Also, when rechargeable batteries reach the end of their life they can also be recycled. If an item can be repaired that will also, extend the life of the product and reduce the amount that goes to landfill.
Repurposing is also about creating an innovative new use for something. For example, an old, chipped kitchen bowl could become a planter in the garden, or even a small water pond for local wildlife. All that's needed is a little imagination. The internet and Pinterest provide wonderful ideas for creating new inspirations out of old discarded objects such as this feature in Good Housekeeping
Once you have decided an item is no longer wanted, please don't put it in the bin. If it is broken beyond repair, then it's time to recycle it. Otherwise, your rubbish maybe someone else's treasure. Charity shops are a convenient way to donate unwanted goods (no matter what the condition) but there are many internet sites that offer a way to pass on goods either for free or by selling them.
If you wish to be paid for your old belongings then car boot sales along with ebay, gumtree and numerous other listing websites allow you to reach a keen market and provide a tidy sum for your trouble.
Avoiding products with excess packaging is an excellent way to cut down on rubbish and particularly, plastic pollution. Packaging doesn't change the quality of the product inside and inevitably ends up in the bin and often is unnecessary.
Biscuits are a great example of this. Food companies often believe the more packaging around biscuits, the higher price point they can charge. However, often the 'simple' biscuits are made in the same factory from the same ingredients; just with a lower price tag, less rubbish created and a far lower environmental impact.
Recycling really means turning old into new. Recycling is breaking down the raw materials in a product instead of sending it to landfill and reusing them for a new product.
Recycling is a fantastic method of conserving energy and water. It also retains raw materials that are expensive to produce such as aluminium and steel and sometimes in limited supply for example rare elements used in mobile phones. So, for all these fantastic reasons, reduce, reuse, recycle.
Here is a great clip from Real World Visuals on recycling for West Sussex Council called Think Before You Throw.
Everyone benefits by recycling more. Not only does it lower carbon emissions, it is far better for the environment. It reduces the cost of disposal by avoiding the landfill tax, which is paid for through your council tax. The more savings councils can make on waste disposal the more income they have available for essential services. So not only is recycling good for the planet it also helps to increase funds available to look after children and the elderly as well as for libraries and fixing pot holes!
What Can I Recycle?
Nearly all councils offer kerbside recycling where plastic, cardboard, metal and paper (sometimes clothes and batteries) are collected regularly, along with food waste. Your local council website will tell you exactly what types of plastic they recycle as this will depend on which waste management contract they have in place.
There is even a children's website called Recycle Zone to educate and engage kids about the benefit of reducing and avoiding rubbish so they too can be planet savers.
Where is a Recycling Centre Near Me?
There are so many types of plastic and each council has different rules of what containers they can and cannot recycle. To find out where, what and how to recycle more in your local area Recycle Now offer a wonderful postcode or product search facility to avoid confusion or contamination.
Please do not put things in the recycling bin that do not belong. Even if you think they should be recycled. The wrong type of plastic tray, which cannot be recycled may result in the whole consignment being rejected. If your council are currently not recycling enough speak to your local councillor and MP and ask them to improve their waste management and recycling contracts.
Products made from simple, natural materials are better for the environment and easier to dispose of than man-made materials. Clothes, furniture, toys and flooring can all utilise natural fibres with less chemicals in. Therefore, they are better for the environment and our health.
Wood is Good
Renewable materials such as paper and cardboard are great alternatives to plastic; trees can be grown again and again creating wood as a natural product for timber and fibre. Whereas plastic is made from oil and takes hundreds of years to breakdown. Simply put wood is good.
The Circular Economy
As well as good quality products, those made from natural, renewable materials can easily be recycled into new products. This flow of materials back into new products is often referred to as the circular economy and is good for business and the planet. Creating products with the end of life in mind is the opposite of the linear economy, where resources are consumed once then wasted by ending up in landfill.
Finally, this may seem like common sense but buy less stuff and avoid clutter. In household surveys, the most common complaint is a lack of storage space in people's homes. If we buy less stuff it not only saves money and is good for the environment, but it creates less clutter around the home.
These steps to reducing waste will all help, but the biggest change you can make is ditching your own waste mentality. Start thinking about the decisions you make every day in a more environmentally friendly way and you'll be on your way to living a healthier, cleaner and more rewarding life in no time.
What other ways do you have for ditching a waste mentality and reducing waste?
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