Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and the Journey to Zero Waste
We are drowning in a literal sea of our own waste. In 2017 the earth will surpass 7.5 billion people. Each one of us generating more and more waste every year. It is taking an incredible toll on our planet.
With a little more thought, we can all help. By changing habits, we can drastically reduce the amount of trash we need throw away. Invest just a small amount of your time, learn about different ways of doing the things you take for granted today. Pretty soon, you will start to see the change and it will be dramatic.
We can all reduce, reuse, recycle to zero waste if we want to. This guide is your start and will show you some of the easier things you can do. Combine what you learn here with the other toolkit’s on the site and watch as the amount of waste you generate tumbles.
The Scale of the Problem
The Worldbank estimates, more than 1.3 billion tonnes of domestic waste is generated every year. On average, this is around 1.3kg per person, per day. The UK alone produces over 40 million tonnes of waste every year.
This is only the average. The richer the Country, the more waste there is per person.
What Does This Look Like?
When we asked average families to photograph plastic waste from a single week, the results were even more dramatic. A single family of 4 from Australia generated an incredible, 1.58 tennis courts of plastic waste every year.
We know that plastic waste is less than half of all domestic waste. This means that this family would probably throw away over 3 tennis courts worth of trash every year!
Did you know that domestic waste represents less than half of all waste? When we include industrial and commercial waste we need to quadruple the amount of waste actually being generated. Only now do we understand how much is really being wasted!
- Imagine if all of us (7.5 billion people), threw away this amount of garbage, how much we would have to dispose of?
- By surface area, it would be around 3 billion tennis courts in size!
- Or cover an area the size of Turkey (783,000 km²)!!
- What about if we arranged all the garbage out in a straight line 1m wide, then what?
- It would stretch around the world 19,000 times.
- Or even reach all the way past the planet Jupiter, which is 550 million km away!
It is difficult to comprehend just how much trash we generate every year. The only thing that is certain, is that our current practices are unsustainable. Now is the time for you to change your habits and reduce, reuse, recycle your way to zero waste.
Step1 and by far the easiest and most effective thing you can do is to make a decision to change the way you think about waste.
There is a lot to consider before you should consider putting anything in the trash. In the infographic below, you can see the thought process that you need to run through every time. When we start to think in a different way then we can truly make the change that we need.
Remember, the lower down we get the less waste we need to deal with.
Going zero waste is a lifestyle choice and can be difficult in today’s world when everything is wrapped and double wrapped in plastic. But choosing to do better than you do today is within the reach of everyone.
“The greatest amount of time wasted is not getting started now.”
What about if we change the way we think about cost? What if, instead, we valued other things above cost? While it is not always viable to buy the most expensive product on the shelf, here are ten good reasons why shouldn’t always buy the cheapest one in the shop;
- Better product performance – Quality products last longer and work better
- Better after sales service – More support, less frustration
- Improve your chance to re-sell or re-use – The cost of a product can be offset by re-selling
- Support the environment – High-quality manufacturers are more likely to be ethical, responsible manufacturers
- Reduce greenhouse emissions through reduced energy consumption – Offsetting energy usage for price often saves money in the long run
- Support product diversity – Smaller companies selling niche products are worth supporting. They are diversity and innovation
- Support local businesses – Keep your neighbour employed and help create a better community for yourself. We can also reduce transport costs and emissions too
- Pay more and buy less – Why use 100’s of disposable coffee cups a year? 1 quality cup will last for many years?
- Support human and animal welfare – This costs money. You need to decide if it is worth spending your money on
- Feel better – Be proud that you made the right decision
Read more about the benefits here – Why Pay More?
Swap & Borrow
It was not that long ago when borrowing or swapping was common practice. In today’s disposable society this habit is becoming, less and less. Whilst waste is becoming more and more.
All is not lost, though. There are many options today to reduce your waste by swapping or even borrowing what you need. These choices differ depending on where you live, but there are many and they are easy to find.
Below are a few idea’s to get you started.
- Family, friends & Neighbours – You will be amazed what you will find if you ask! Or why not use on-line resources such as neighborgoods.net or nextdoor.com to help you locate what you need.
- Book libraries – The old favourite. In existence for hundreds of years and still as relevant as ever, even in this digital age
- Toy Libraries – Available in many Countries. Check online for your nearest one
- Library of Things – From musical instruments to baking products. You can find almost anything at a local library of things. Check out the UK’s Library of Things or the Sharing Depot in Canada, for some idea’s
- Tool Library – Another popular place offering tools. Have a look at the Edinburgh and Calgary tool libraries and see if you can find one local to you.
- More Swaps – If you search, you will be amazed what you can find. Here are a few more groups that might surprise you!
- Buy Nothing Project – A global resource that helps people connect and give away things for free to people who need them
- Food Swaps – Apple for Eggs is a UK based food swap group
- Baby Things Swap Meets – Available all over the place. Check online for a local group.
- Regifting – Donate unwanted gifts to charities. Many companies offer this for charities and to make money.
- Swap Meets – Most local councils organise swap meets, like this one in the UK
- Materials for the Arts – This New York group collects old materials for re-use in the arts
- Food Donations – Many groups are now collecting food donations and reducing waste such as Move For Hunger in the US
There are hundreds of other ways you can swap, borrow and re-purpose your old stuff.
Be careful, reducing your waste may increase your happiness!
Buy 2nd Hand
There is nothing that cannot be bought second hand, even food. Here is my list of 10 of the best things you can buy second hand;
- Designer labels – Pay half or less for pre-worn but good condition goods. Take advantage of people’s desire to always have the latest things.
- Jewellery – Gold and diamonds often come from Countries with questionable labour standards. Buying second-hand bypasses these issues and saves you money
- Baby clothes – By definition these items are used for a short time so quite often are in excellent condition
- Furniture – Good quality furniture can be bought and repaired to be as new for very little money
- Cars – Did you know that the average car reduces in value by up to 30% just by driving out of the showroom
- Sports equipment – So many people try something once and give up. These as new goods can be snapped up at a fraction of the price
- Books and textbooks – When did you ever hear of a book wearing out?
- Musical instruments – Or a musical instrument?
- Tools – Good quality tools can be expensive but buying second hand can save you a lot of money
- Advice – Quite often free but why not learn from people with experience. Listen to them and make sure not to make the same mistakes again!
Where to Buy?
This list is probably endless but here are a few of the most obvious places to start looking;
- Global Stores
If you have your favourite place let us know and we can add to the list!
We have been led to believe that recycling is good. It is not – In fact, it is very difficult and wasteful – Wiki. Recycling is simply our reaction to our “throw away” society.
However, as a last resort, recycling can be useful as it reduces energy and resource consumption and avoids filling our landfills with trash.
Practically anything can be recycled but it depends on your local councils for what you can actually recycle. Below are some basic rules about recycling.
- Clean – Dirty plastics and paper will not be recycled. You can help by rinsing food off labels and out of jars and making sure everything is as clean as possible
- Separate – Remove bottles caps, peel your labels, disassemble as much as possible, especially if the product is made of different materials
- Know Your Stuff – Unfortunately, every council has a different method of collecting recyclables. What they collect also varies considerably. Make sure to check with your local council about their specific requirements.
If you are lucky enough to live in Taiwan, they recycle almost everything. However, everyone is expected to separate all the recyclables before carrying to the trucks by hand. A lot of work but results in the highest levels of recycling in the world, almost 60%.
Below is the recycling chart from the council which details everything that can be recycled.
Below is a useful infographic which details the different types of plastics and how to separate them.
Nothing to see here. Please move along…. You are now at Zero Waste!
For a more detailed look at the zero waste lifestyle, check out some of these publications below:
- The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Away Less – by Amy Korst
- Zero Waster’s Travel Companion – Complied by Zero Waste Bloggers Network and Edited by Inge Echterholter at Gruenish
- Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste – by Bea Johnson
- Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash – by Elizabeth Royte