Many people are now recycling conscientiously to keep recyclable waste out of landfill and the oceans. It may seem counter-intuitive to say you can live more sustainably if you reduce your waste by recycling less. In reality, this is an important step in managing your waste and your impact on the planet!
I was under the illusion that because I had stopped using plastic bags and tried to buy most items without plastic packaging that I was really reducing my waste. In my mind, recycling took care of the waste I was generating.
Time for a reality check
At my home, a large amount of recycling waste was being produced. I thought my own contribution to the pile of rubbish was fairly minimal. This changed when I decided out of curiosity to audit my own personal recycling for one month. I was faced with four large garbage bags full of plastic, soft plastics, cardboard and glass waste. (The majority of this waste comes from the supermarket as most food is over packaged and it can be difficult to buy food without the unnecessary packaging). This certainly shocked me out of my complacency in a very uncomfortable way!
Plastic not so fantastic!
Waste has to go somewhere. Plastic recycling causes carbon emissions and while plastic can be reused, it can never be eliminated. The majority of the plastic discarded worldwide is not recycled, so reducing the amount of plastic waste continues to be of major importance. Continuing to buy more plastic items, either single use plastic or more substantial and reusable items that will be used for many years, just adds to the mountains of plastic already in existence. Discarded plastic will remain on our planet, in one form or another for centuries. It pollutes our environment and impacts negatively on our health.
The most worrisome plastic waste is micro plastic waste produced as plastic breaks down. Much of this is floating around the ocean but micro plastics are also polluting the land. These minute particles find their way back to humans if we ingest seafood. Micro plastic waste is also floating around in the air on land and it is likely that every human being has breathed in or ingested these tiny toxic particles.
You will have seen the often used catchphrase “ recycle, reuse, reduce” I think this should always be the other way around – “reduce, reuse, recycle” so recycling is the last resort if you cant avoid generating recyclable waste.
The sheer volume of recycling is overwhelming the capacity to process
In Australia recycling facilities are not equipped to handle the amount of waste we produce. Most of our waste used to be shipped offshore to China which effectively solved our problem. China recently banned the importing of waste from other countries. We now have to face the problem of what we do with the mountains of waste being sent into the system.
Recycling is also problematic if people don’t know how to divide the different categories when disposing of their waste. If you place the wrong item in a waste disposal container, it may mean the whole container gets sent to landfill, due to automation and the difficulty in sorting at the point of recycling.
Recycling is a good starting point for environmental waste reduction
There is far more recycling waste than we know what to do with. There are some great innovations such as making street furniture out of recycled plastic. Recycled plastic bottles are also used in many plastic products. The Tom Bag is a great example of this. A reusable garbage bag which reduces single use plastic bags. Why would you create more waste just to put other waste into? Its a no brainer. Check it out!
Some plastics can be recycled to make clothing. All manner of items are made with recycled plastic such as containers, packaging and dog coats. I once bought some raised garden beds made out of recycled computer plastics. Recycled paper is another great product and re-purposing of items also has a place in reducing waste. There are uses we could put recycled plastic to such as part of the road base component in our roads, but in Australia, we don’t have the means to do so currently.
Worldwide a staggering amount of old plastic is never recycled. A Santa Barbara industrial ecologist Roland Geyer estimated that as of 2018 90.5% of plastic goes un-recycled worldwide. Demand for plastic is set to increase which will just cause further problems. We really need to be recycling more plastic to avoid creating more plastic or find better alternatives.
Innovation in plastic recycling is providing a great solution
Hopefully in the future the use for recycled materials will expand so we are continuing to re-purpose our waste and reduce our need to make products out of raw materials.
Companies are emerging who recycle plastic into useful products . Check out Replas a company manufacturing many recycled plastic products. The soft plastic material collected through the REDcycle Program can be recycled by Replas and turned into products designed for outdoor use within the community.
Obviously recycling is, and will continue to be an important component in our war on waste. However, it is in our best interests to have much less recycling to deal with. Finding ways to markedly reduce waste that needs to be recycled is a great thing to do.
Once you have become a savvy recycler, its time to move to the next level!
Global Recycling Day
The 18th of March is Global Recycling Day and a great time to reflect on what and how you are recycling. Its also a time to think about how to reduce waste you create so you have less recycling to worry about.
Many countries have moved in great part to Circular Economies or aspire to do so. Reducing the amount of new things you buy, reusing or re-purposing items no longer needed, and tapping into loan schemes such as toy libraries, donating items to charity shops or joining groups such as The Buy Nothing Project on Facebook will all keep trash out of the environment. It is a much more sustainable and low impact way to live and it makes you feel good!
Make Less Waste.
It sounds obvious, but this can be a hard habit to change.
Our society encourages rampant consumerism. It is just too easy, cheap and convenient to buy single use items to throw away. This is entrenched into our consciousness. If you haven’t already, I challenge you to audit your recycling for the next month! You will see exactly the scale of the recyclable waste you are actually producing. Millions of other people producing waste adds up to an incredible amount going into the system month by month. If we all work to reduce our waste it can only be a good thing.
How do you reduce waste so you have less recycling?
This takes commitment, but I think the effort is worth it. One of the most effective ways to reduce your recyclable waste is to hone in on the supermarket. Much of our single use plastic rubbish comes from this source and over time you can gradually reduce your reliance on using products which are over packaged.
Start by replacing single use items you use everyday with reusable alternatives. Balloons, straws and plastic drink stirrers commonly end up in our waterways and oceans and if ingested by animals or if animals become entangled it can be life threatening, and cause great suffering.
10 Common Single use plastics to avoid.
- Plastic shopping bags
- Single use plastic produce bags
- Fast food containers
- Plastic cutlery
- Plastic plates
- Plastic water bottles
- Take away coffee cups/other plastic take away beverage cups
- Plastic drink stirrers
I replaced single use plastics by using canvas shopping bags, vegetable produce bags, and trying to buy food without packaging – not always easy! Fruit and vegetables are commonly package in plastic to extend their shelf life.
- Try to buy your fruit and vegetables from farmers markets or greengrocers where they are unlikely to be wrapped or bagged in plastic
- Go to bulk stores to buy staples such a beans, flours, sugars, cereals etc
- Get bread from a baker or make your own. (Use fabric bread bags to take the bread home and you can also store in this)
- Use beeswax or vegetable wax food wraps rather than clingfilm, or get reusuable container or bowl covers for food storage
- Avoid buying canned goods if possible and buy produce in glass jars which you can reuse if you are meal prepping or to store nuts and seeds etc
- If you are buying products or food in plastic containers, try to look for recycled containers. There are a lot of companies moving to using recycled plastic in their packaging now.
- Use natural materials to store fresh vegetables in the fridge such as the Veggie Saver
- If you are really adventurous, you can try to make your own food from scratch. Things like hummus and yogurt all come in plastic containers. If you are able to make your own food, like these and gradually expand your prepping to include things like mayonnaise, plant milks, cook your own beans and pulses, you will avoid creating a lot of waste. It does take time and effort but you don’t have to do it all at once. Perhaps just try baking bread or cooking beans, or perhaps make your own hummus where you can choose to vary the flavours.
- Use bamboo toothbrushes and alternatives to tube toothpaste such as toothpaste tablets or powders.
Outside of the kitchen and supermarket, you can reduce waste and the need for that waste to be recycled by shopping for second hand goods, donating unwanted items to charity shops or giving to friends in need, you can sell or gift furniture or other household items so none of it has to end up in landfill.
We are still a throw away society
Many items could be repaired rather than thrown away and buying new. Most electrical items seem to have built in redundancy so don’t last as long as they did in the past. They are designed to replace rather than repair, but there are groups who can bypass this and help you to repair items so they last longer. They can also provide friendships and a sense of community.
Perhaps get together with friends to swap clothes you no longer wear. There are so many ways to reduce waste, and you can have fun finding new ones!
Whatever you end up doing, you will reduce the amount of waste you currently produce, and hopefully this will lead to less recycling! It may also work out cheaper which is a bonus.
Have fun and let me know how you go. Leave a comment about what works for you..