Every year over 2 billion tons of solid waste is thrown away: food we didn’t like, cheap things we ordered online that stopped working or weren’t as we expected, the ridiculous amount of packaging that came with every single item we bought… enough material to go around the world 24 times.
And this magical 'away' place that it ends up in is usually a landfill site or the ocean. In landfill, this waste is unable to decompose properly due to oxygen-limited conditions. Instead it releases dangerous methane emissions (about 28 times more harmful than carbon dioxide) which contributes massively to climate change. In 2016, waste accounted for 5% of total global emissions.
What does that mean for us as individuals? When we purchase anything, we should be thinking about an item’s ‘lifecycle’ at that moment. When you no longer need the wrapper on that packet of chips, or that pair of sandshoes with holes in them, what will you do with them? Asking this question well before you find yourself in front of the bin will help you make more sustainable purchase decisions and help you prepare to dispose of the things you no longer need more thoughtfully.
Take more notice of what goes in your bin
For one week, take a conscious note of what you're throwing away and ask yourself the following questions:
- What do you regularly throw away?
- How often do you find you need to take out the bin?
- Are recyclables going into your waste bin?
- What about food waste?
Take control of your food waste
- Set up a compost. For maximum ease of use, make sure you have one inside in close reach of your kitchen bench, as well as one outside (if you can). There are different compost systems available, no matter whether you live in an apartment or on a farm!
- Make a meal plan for the week.
- Make a habit of asking who’s eating in your household before you cook. A lot of food gets wasted just because too much was made!
- Set yourself a ‘use it up’ challenge at the end of the week before buying more groceries for the week ahead. See what you can make with what's leftover and embrace your creative side in the kitchen!
Become a recycling master
- Make space for a recycling collection inside if you haven't already.
- Take some time to look up those items you’ve been ‘wish-cycling’ (you know the ones...) to make sure you are recycling correctly. Contamination of recycling is a major driver of recyclables going to landfill.
- Consider what purchasing swaps you could make to turn products and packaging that usually go to landfill into recyclables (i.e. switch products that usually come in plastic to products that come in only one of glass, cardboard or tin). Try switching just 3 things around your house to get started.
- Collect your glass jars from condiments, spreads and sauces and explore all the weird and wonderful ways you can reuse them.
- Start a ‘special recycling’ box for anything that can’t be put into your kerbside but can be recycled by bespoke providers - that’s everything from bread tags, to toothbrushes, some beauty containers, medicines, batteries, styrofoam, sandshoes and much more!
- Collect your soft-plastics for recycling (if you can do so at your local supermarket), but try to reduce the amount you need to collect over time.
Curb your consumption & seek out sustainable alternatives
- Make a list and stick to it when you go to the supermarket (meal planning helps this!).
- Unfollow social media accounts that urge you to buy things you don’t need, and follow eco-warriors with amazing sustainability tips instead!
- Make friends with your neighbours and contribute to communities that share and swap. Even just within your own circle of friends you might be able to find or borrow what you need without buying something new.
- Buy second-hand. Clothes, furniture, garden tools, books and much more can be found from op-shops and online marketplaces in near-new condition, usually for around half the price. 'Upcycling' (taking something old and making it new again) is all the rage at the moment so there's no shortage of inspiration online if you want to take an item and breathe new life into it!
- Do your research before you buy by checking materials/ ingredients labels and looking into the sustainability credentials of the business.