We are literally drowning in waste….and we all have to take personal responsibility to make as many changes as we can. By 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish…that is an incredible statistic. We are filling our earth with unnecessary rubbish, polluting our air, soil and waterways, and wreaking havoc on our environment. The great news, is that the power is in our hands to make a difference. Some of the biggest changes you can make are the smallest – things that can be easily implemented in your life to contribute to reducing our waste as a planet.
Here are some of the changes you can make in the war on waste
Refuse Single Use Coffee Cups and take your own!
If you think your takeaway coffee, beautifully posed for your Instagram post each morning, is being nicely recycled, because it is made of cardboard, or some other recyclable or biodegradable material, think again….. It is an urban myth perpetuated by caffeine loving Aussies, desperate for their morning cup. Takeaway coffee cups are sadly NOT recycled because they are lined on the inside with a plastic film, which renders them very hard to recycle. Most of these cups do not even get to the starting line in the recycling race wherever you toss them, because recycling streams are often contaminated by cups that are supposed to be compostable or biodegradable. However this does not usually occur without proper systems and processes in place.
Coffee cups are estimated to be the second-largest contributor to our rubbish waste after plastic bottles. In an ABC article, it is estimated Australians use 1 billion disposable coffee cups each year. Richard Fine, who founded biodegradable coffee cup manufacturer Biopak a decade ago, estimated up to 90 per cent of all disposable cups ended up in landfill, equating to around 60,000 kilograms of plastic waste per annum.
You will see more and more real recyclable cups out there, however they are costly and this means that many cafes and coffee shops will not use them. There are also disposable coffee cups that state they are recyclable, compostable or biodegradable, but in the ABC article, Mr Fine said these claims could be misleading for a number of reasons….
Like many issues, the problem is the lack of consistency – making it very hard to know what can be recycled, and where you can dispose of stuff to make sure it is recycled. Some local councils will recycle coffee cups but others will not, and they end up in landfill. When it comes to the composting cups, due to many people not actually composting at home and a decided lack of public composting options, even these cups end up in landfill, and the biodegradable cups have not been proven to actually work.
The best ways you can ensure your coffee does not do harm to the planet is to:
- Firstly look for fair trade coffee
- Followed by not taking your coffee away where possible and using a sit in cup – take 20 minutes to sit down and enjoy your coffee.
- If not possible to do that then always carry your own reusable coffee or tea cup – there are plenty of options.
- Keep spares in the car, at work and in your bag.
- If you MUST have the takeaway cup, refuse the lid; and look for cups that are made from renewable resources such as managed plantation paper board and separate the lid from the cup when disposing of the rubbish.
Planet Ark state that 50,000 disposable coffee cups are going into landfill in Australia every 30 minutes and recommends if you can not go without the disposable cup, separating the lids and putting ALL coffee cups in the waste bin for landfill. Otherwise they can contaminate tonnes of recyclable items, resulting in far more material ending up in landfill.
Refuse single use water bottles and take your own
1 Million Women report that 40% of all bottled water in the world, is actually just bottled tap water! That is quite shocking isn’t it!! And us Aussies are one of the biggest spenders, despite having some of the world’s best tap water. We are estimated to spend $385 million each year on bottled water – that is MADNESS.
There is absolutely no real reason to still be buying bottled water. Many years ago I would often do it, but once you know all the facts, the simple step of having a number of quality reusable water bottles at home, in your car, bag and at work, means you can easily take your own water wherever you go. Not only are plastic bottles the biggest polluter, there is a lot of CO2 pollution created in the processing of plastic bottles, filling them and then sending them to your local store. Most plastic bottles once they are tossed away, end up in landfill, where they do not break down for hundreds of years.
The best tips for refusing single use plastic bottles for your water are:
- Get a tap filter installed at home to improve your water – we have had one for years and it is amazing how fantastic the water tastes; or invest in a filter jug.
- Make sure you have plenty of refillable water bottles at home and take them whenever you go out. I keep a spare filled bottle in the car and refresh it every couple of days, as well as making sure we take them whenever we go anywhere, including the movies or bowling or wherever, so we have a nice fresh drink.
- When you dine out, ask for tap water to the table.
Refuse single use plastic bags and take your own
South Australia has really been ahead of the game when it comes to bottle and container recycling and green bags. So for us, it is really second nature to take our own bags to the shops (despite the return of supposedly green plastic bags in recent years which I really don’t get..). In more recent times I have also purchased a range of produce bags for fruit and vegetables – we have a range of reusable shopping and produce bags here. I always get comments from the checkout staff and grocers, who are delighted to see these reusable bags, and I take the opportunity to educate them. One of the worst things is when you see products like bananas on a foam tray, swaddled in cling wrap….
One of the issues with plastic bag recycling is the confusion around what can be recycled, and like many of the other products, this can vary. However those clingy plastic bags and other small plastic items can be recycled, but do not just chuck them in the main recycling as they can mess up the entire chain.
Here are some tips on reducing plastic bag waste
- Refuse plastic bags and take your own reusable shopping bags, produce bags and carry bags.
- Reuse the plastic bags you already have at home from prior use, take them back and ask for them to be used at the supermarket or grocers.
- Grow some of your own food at home to reduce the need for buying food in plastic or join a community garden or swap group.
- If you are able to, go to bulk stores with containers for things like rice, grains, legumes, honey and pasta.
- Recycle all of your plastic bags including those clingy soft ones but do not put them in the main recycling chain – check the REDcycle site here to see what, how and where to recycle them. You can take them to a range of stores and outlets.
- One thing we have been doing with small pieces of plastic like milk bottle lids, is to use an old milk carton, slice it and then store all the small things in there, and when done throw that into the recycling.
- Choose food and other products in the least amount of packaging as you can – bypass anything with multiple layers of packaging if possible.
There are lots of other tips such as composting your food waste, reducing waste through avoiding anything that you can such as plastic straws, cotton tips and rubbish bags, shopping at op shops and vintage stores for clothing and buying recycled, upcycled, and sustainable homewares and furniture.
Every step counts.