Although there has been an emphasis on the importance of recycling and many more people are recycling these days, there is much room to grow in reducing the amount of waste we generate and also reusing materials before simply throwing them away.
In today’s developed society, over-consumption is the norm. With it comes an increase in the amount of rubbish generated.
With a little more effort and thought, we can all make changes to reduce the amount of waste we throw away. Although no change is easy at the time and these ideas may initially be inconvenient, they can soon become second nature. The results of these small changes, when made by many people, can change the future of our world.
1. Shopping Bags
Whenever you go shopping and bring your groceries home in single use plastic bags, you’ve just missed a great opportunity to do the environment a good turn by reducing waste.
The average reusable bag has a lifespan equivalent of more than 700 disposable plastic bags. One person using reusable bags over their lifetime would help relieve overfilled landfill sites and the environment of more than 22,000 plastic bags!
Plastic bags are made from petroleum products and natural gas, both non-renewable resources. Producing plastic bags requires fossil fuels to be burnt, trees to be cut down and, in some cases, the unfair labour practices to be used. While plastic is recyclable, the cost of recycling outweighs their value, so many recycling facilities do not accept them.
Instead of being recycled, they end up in landfill sites. These plastic bags take anywhere between 15 and 1,000 years to decompose, depending on the environment they are in. They do not biodegrade but break down through exposure to light. This photo degradation breaks the plastic down into tiny, toxic particles.
The ocean is a major recipient of much plastic waste. The Ocean Conservancy has found that every square mile of the ocean has 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it. It is estimated that one million birds, a hundred thousand turtles and countless other sea animals die annually from ingesting plastic. Once ingested, the plastic blocks the digestive tract and the animals starve to death. Other animals drown after becoming entangled in plastic waste.
Reusable shopping bags are commonly available for purchase in stores at the point of sale. They are usually made from a very durable yet inexpensive material because they are intended for multiple use. So get on the reusable bag bandwagon and do your part to help save the planet. Keep them in the boot of your car, so you always have them handy when you stop off at the shops.
2. Plastic water bottles
Unless there’s some kind of contamination crisis, plastic water bottles are an easy target for reducing waste. As children, many of us didn’t think twice about having a long, thirst quenching drink from the garden hose.
However, a perception has grown that the water flowing from our kitchen taps and garden hoses is dirty, full of chemicals and that the cleanest water comes from individually packaged bottles at the grocery store. Or maybe it’s simply a more convenient option to getting water from the tap whenever we are thirsty. But have you considered the environmental impact of all those single servings of water?
Producing plastic water bottles require millions of barrels of oil per year. Transporting these bottles releases thousands of tonnes of harmful carbon emissions into the atmosphere. As with the plastic shopping bags, these plastic water bottles can take up to a 1000 years to break down through photo degradation. If they are incinerated, they produce toxic fumes.
Not only does this convenient little bottle of water carry a hefty environmental cost but is 240 to 10,000 times more expensive than tap water. If you are choosing bottled water over tap water for health reasons, you should know that “spring water” is not even necessarily from a spring.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “An estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle—sometimes further treated, sometimes not.” Sometimes, it’s basically just municipal water that’s been filtered and bottled, then sold to the consumer with a huge margin.
The simple alternative to bottled water is to purchase a stainless steel thermos, and use it. If you don’t like the way your local tap water tastes, you can buy inexpensive carbon filters that will turn most tap water sparkling fresh at a fraction of bottled water’s cost.
3. Single-serve coffee cups
Speaking of carrying your own thermos with you, another way to reduce your plastic footprint is by bringing your own thermos for vendor coffee. Daily, many people opt to take their coffee away in a paper cup.
Disposable coffee cups might look like paper but they’re usually coated with polyethylene, a type of plastic resin,for durability and convenience.
Theoretically, these materials can be recycled, but most recycling facilities lack the infrastructure to do so. It is not difficult to picture the environmental consequence of this — billions of cups, millions of trees and tons of greenhouse gases (estimates vary) every year.
The Germany city of Hamburg has even passed a local law that forbids the usage of single-serve coffee pods.
Say no to Straws
Whether for home use or when ordering a drink at a bar or restaurant, plastic straws are often a single-use item that is simply not necessary. Plastic straws, developed in the 1960s, have always been an item of convenience.
Did you know that over 500 million straws are produced every single day. The vast majority of these straws end up yet again in our oceans, having a huge detrimental impact on the marine environment. You can make a difference by committing to ask for your drinks “strawless” when eating out or on the go. You can keep reusable straws at home to offer house guests who prefer or need to use a straw.
When you purchase groceries, make sure you are buying products and not packaging. Avoid purchasing products that use excessive packaging but rather buy products with minimal packaging. Of course, wherever possible, recycle packaging.
Buy large containers of items or bulk-buy products with a long shelf-life. Be aware of double-packaging – some “bulk packages” are just individually wrapped items packaged yet again and sold as a bulk item.
Choosing the concentrated or refillable form of products like juices and cleaning products, also helps reduce packaging waste.
So, remember to choose products that are returnable, reusable, or refillable over single-use items. Sustainability begins at home! We all need to stand up for the environment!