In New Zealand we discard 15.5 million tonnes of waste each year. That is 3,200kg for EVERY Kiwi EVERY year. If an average man weighs 75kg, that’s the weight of over 42 men being thrown in the bin… With those figures, it is no surprise there is a waste crisis on our planet today.
It is our responsibility, as individuals, to do something about it. Whilst it may feel like a never ending mountain to climb, every single little action each and every one of us takes, does make a difference. You never know who sees you doing your little bit, who you may influence to do their little bit, and then who they may influence – the butterfly effect in action!
Firstly remember you do not have to be perfect, you just have to do something. Do your best to reduce in the ways that make sense for your lifestyle. If we were all to do that, we'd make a considerable joint effort towards reducing our overall waste.
The best way to reduce our rubbish problem is to simply consume less. Much of what we buy we don’t really need. And since we are currently using up the resources that our grandchildren will need to live, it only makes sense to drastically cut back on what we buy today.
Think what you can reduce, what don’t you need? When you go to buy something – think do I really need this? Can I manage without? Can I borrow it? Will it be out of date in a few months’ time?
The next approach to reducing our rubbish is to reuse, repurpose, upcycle, giveaway or freecycle things that you no longer need. That could be re-using ziplock bags - if you have them already can you wash them out and use again? Re-purposing jam jars to store food in or as food containers to take to work? When you have a clear out what might someone else have a use for that you no longer do?
Anything that we can give a second or third life to will reduce the burden of rubbish upon the planet.
Lastly, we can recycle many things and use their raw materials in new ways. Glass, many plastics, aluminium cans, cardboard, paper, and even electronics can be taken apart, melted down and made into new things.
Recycling is really a last resort though. Even when things do get recycled, in the vast majority of cases, recycling only keeps the item out of the bin for one other cycle. At some point that item will still be rubbish that can’t or won’t (because it costs too much) be recycled again.
Take a look in your recycling bin and see what is in there. What items could you avoid putting in next time? What are the most common items? Have a think about how you could reduce their presence in your recycling bin.
Here are some ways that we can avoid creating the rubbish in the first place:
Practice FIFO (First In, First Out) – this a restaurant term, but it can also apply to the home. When unpacking groceries, shift the older foods to the front of the fridge, freezer or pantry and put new ones in the back. This makes you more likely to use products before they expire, and therefore reduce food waste.
Bulk stores – collect those jam jars and head to your local refillery. Not only does this save the plastic wrap so many foods come in from supermarkets, it also means you only buy what you need – again saving waste, and also saving you money.
BYO containers and cutlery – this could be your coffee cup, a container for your lunch or dinner take out, or your own ice cream spoon! So many places will happily accept your own container. Remember cafes and restaurants want to do their bit to help too. By not using their disposable containers or cutlery you are also saving them money and rubbish to clear.
Re-use your plastic bags – ideally we choose unwrapped produce whenever possible, but inevitably you will bring plastic bags into your home, it is almost impossible not to. Foods such as frozen produce, salad leaves and bread are often wrapped in plastic. You can re-use these bags, maybe to store something in once they are clean, as a rubbish bin or even a dog litter bag.
Ditch disposables in the kitchen – paper towels, plastic wrap, paper napkins, sandwich bags, baking paper, foil – the list goes on. Use up your stash and stop buying them. Try using a silicone baking sheet in place of tinfoil or parchment. Replace paper towels and napkins with cloths which can be used and thrown in the washing machine.
Say no to trends – it can be tempting to jump on every new trend in fashion, gadgets or games etc. Whatever your weakness, think about whether this is a trend or something you actually want. Ask yourself if you will want this item six months from now - or will it likely be something that will pass as fast as the fad did?
Use up the items you already have – if you have cupboards full of bottles and packages it can be tempting to begin a massive cull to help you ‘organise’. But before you throw it all out, take a look at what you actually have. Use up what you have, one bottle or packet at a time, before replacing it out of habit. This could be done with toiletries, makeup, food in your pantry, etc.
Buy second hand – if there is something you need (and can’t borrow or hire), before going to the shops to buy something shiny and new, check out TradeMe or Facebook market place and see what others have for sale. Not only is this reducing waste, it will also save your budget too. You'd be surprised how many people are selling things, especially electronics, that are as good as new, for a fraction of the price.
Choose paperless billing - paying bills can be fast, easy, and paper-free. Each time a new bill arrives in your mailbox go online and select paperless billing. If it’s a mailout – email the company and request to be taken off their mailing list. It might take you five minutes to do it, but that five minutes will save so much rubbish and trees.
Have a compost bin or worm farm – this is a great way to reduce your waste and feed your garden. If you don’t have a garden ask around your neighbours if anyone wants some free plant food – someone will be green fingered and very grateful. Worm farms are also a great option, don’t be put off by the worms – they eat the food scraps and are a very clean way to ‘compost’. Kids love to get involved in these too.
What can you do today to reduce your rubbish by just one piece?
Be better, not perfect.