We had an awful lot of pledges about reducing waste on our pledge tree. Most focussed on plastics, but waste reduction strategies can be applied beneficially to waste of any kind.
Fundamentally, although we talk about throwing things ‘away’ there is no such place as ‘away’. All our rubbish ends up somewhere. When we landfill rubbish, materials of all different kinds are mixed together and valuable resources are lost at the same time as materials leaching into the environment in ways that degrade ecosystems and damage our climate.
When materials decompose in landfill the conditions tend to encourage methane emissions; although shorter lived than carbon dioxide, this is a particularly potent greenhouse gas. The Committee on Climate Change have advised that for the UK to achieve a net zero target on greenhouse gasses by mid century we must end the practice of land-filling food waste completely and work to reduce all the other waste streams headed to landfill too.
So, what to do?
Rethink: By changing the way we think about waste, and thinking about the waste our purchases and activities may produce upfront, we can take evasive action and avoid making so much waste in the first place. When purchasing try and think about how the product is packaged, how long it will last and how to dispose of it at the end of its useful life for you. Can you borrow rather than buy an item? How repairable/re-purposable is the item? Don’t be afraid to contact customer services and ask about these issues; if customers are factoring them into their purposing decisions then it makes sense for companies to factor them into their business model too; just beware the ‘greenwash’ as companies try to cash in on ‘ethical consumers’.
Refuse and Reduce: The best waste is the waste we never produce in the first place, so refusing an reducing are the top of the environmentally sound waste management hierarchy.
Refusing means saying no to freebies and junk you don’t really need or even want. I’m just starting an experiment with the mailing preference service for reducing junk mail. Next time you are offered a free ‘goody bag’ or sample pack try and think if you will actually use the contents and if it will save you sourcing similar items from elsewhere – if not, say no.
Reducing is about planning your purchases to avoid items you don’t need. Be wary of up-selling type offers, 3 for 2, BOGOF and discounts based on a minimum spend – are you being persuaded to purchase items you can’t or wont use? Trying to buy less, but at a more durable quality where you can afford to, can help reduce your overall consumption.
Reuse and Repurpose: Simple actions include carrying a re-usable water bottle and using refill points out and about to avoid plastic bottles, carrying a reusable cup if you like a take-out hot drink (you can even get collapsible ones), or just buying a silicone lid for a regular mug and carrying that and having a shopping bag with you to reuse any time you might need to pick up a few bits from the shop (it doesn’t have to be a fancy one, reusing a plastic carrier and recycling it once it is truly worn out may be the most planet friendly choice of all). As a matter of policy if I forget my cup I skip out on my coffee; recognising it’s actually a small treat not a necessity for which the planet should suffer avoidably is part of my personal ‘rethink’
The Honey Tree in Heaton is an excellent local resource for re-users. They can refill washing up liquid, laundry detergent and hand soap containers and sell a variety of loose dried goods that they will happily serve into your own tubs. They also stock milk in reusable glass bottles; just remember to return your empties!
Repurposing is about taking an item that can’t be used again for it’s original purpose and finding a new use for it. ‘Upcycling’ has become a relatively fashionable incarnation of this. In my house we have a number of tumblers that actually started life as 200g nutella jars! There are loads of more creative ideas out there. Repurposing is generally less energy intensive than recycling, but less good for closing the loop than reusing since the demand for the original and repurposed items rarely balance (we certainly don’t need to replace tumblers as fast as my husband can eat nutella…).
Recycle: A lot of our pledges were about recycling. Recycling is certainly better than landfill or incineration, but it’s not at the top of the waste reduction hierarchy, so do consider the other alternatives first. If recycling is the best option available then the following may help:
- Doorstep recycling is probably the lowest effort route: Newcastle City Council’s doorstep recycling scheme has produced an A to Z of what can go in their bins, available here. If you are unsure about recycling in Newcastle, or live in a different local authority area, it is really worth getting in touch with the team responsible for this at your council – they love a keen recycler and in my experience have always been happy to help. Councils do differ and it is important to follow local instructions as incorrect items increase processing costs and may result in recyclable materials being landfilled when loads are contaminated. Don’t “wish-cycle”, that is, add items that you hope or feel ought to be recyclable to the bin when they don’t appear on the official lists of suitable items.
- The large supermarkets in Heaton all host plastic bag recycling. This can accommodate more than just carrier bags – look out for the “recycle in larger stores” logo on soft plastics and drop off when you pop in. Avoid using the drop off points for other waste so that the recycling efforts of others aren’t undermined by contamination.
- Terracycle provides recycling for several waste streams for which doorstep recycling is unavailable. Some of these are chargeable, others are industry sponsored. You can search on their site by waste type and location for public drop off locations near you, become a private member of a scheme or, if you have a suitable premises, you might want to offer your address as a drop off point. Examples locally include a dental hygiene waste recycling scheme, for which the Dental Hospital is a drop off location; a crisp packet drop off at the Cumberland arms; and food pouch (of the type often seen for baby foods) recycling with a collection point at the Blue Reef Aquarium in Whitley Bay.
- H&M are offering collection points for textile recycling. Textiles that are fit for re-use can be donated to charity shops (lots on Shields Road), but if in your determination to reduce you really have worn it to destruction this is a good option. They often offer money off vouchers as a ‘thank you’ for particpating in the scheme, but be wary of being induced to buy what you otherwise wouldn’t (remember the aim is to reduce consumption) and try and choose any new purchases you do make preferentially from their more sustainable ‘conscious’ range if possible.
Rot: Since everything else starts with ‘R’ we choose ‘Rot’ as a short hand for composting by various means. If you’re rolling your eyes, just remember politicians choose to refer to reading writing and arithmetic as the ‘three Rs’….
One super easy solution if you are producing garden waste is to join the Brown bin garden waste scheme in Newcastle. It costs just £40 a year and provides convenient doorstep collection of your compostable garden waste. If that sounds expensive or you only have a small garden then perhaps you could team up with a neighbour and share a bin?
Alternatively you could compost at home. This has the advantage of being suitable for both food and garden waste, and depending on exactly how you choose to do it need not cost anything at all. I intend to write more about my own food waste handling solution in a future post, but if you are keen to get composting and don’t want an open heap take a look at https://getcomposting.com/ and search with your postcode for subsidised compost bins, wormeries and bokashi equipment (and water butts, but that’s a different post again).
Apologies for the length of this post; waste is a big topic, even without addressing plastic specifically! If you want to make a contribution to a future ‘tips tree’ post with ideas of your own please do get in touch 🙂