We’re always learning more about how our waste impacts our planet in a negative way, and if nothing is done, it will continue to do so.
Waste contributes to the pollution of our oceans and lakes, and it increases the greenhouse gas effect that causes global warming. It is no longer good enough to buy plastic and feel ok because you recycle it. It is time to refuse, reduce and reuse first.
What can you do to influence the producers out there that they have to change? I for one will be changing my shopping habits in 2018. And you can too.
The world uses half a million straws every day.
It is estimated that 4 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually. Only 1% of plastic bags are returned for recycling. Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags annually. That’s about 307 bags per person! All that waste can be eliminated by switching to reusable shopping bags.
Plastic carrier bags are used on average for 12 minutes, it takes at least 500 years for those bags to degrade in landfill.
Unfortunately, these bags don’t break down completely, instead they photo-degrade. This means that they become micro plastics that absorb and release toxins that continue to pollute the environment long after they have ‘degraded’.
In 2016 the worlds plastic production totalled around 335million metric tons, roughly half of this was destined for single use product.
Single use plastics often do not even make it to landfill, on average 30% of the 78million tons of plastic packaging produced annually is left to flow into our oceans – this is the equivalent to pouring 1 truck of plastic into the ocean every minute!
This is expected to increase by 2 per minute by 2030 and 4 per minute in 2050. This means that by the year 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish!
500 billion disposable cups are consumed every year. Americans alone throw away 25 billion styro foam coffee cups every year. Styrofoam cannot be completely recycled. Most of the Styrofoam disposed of today will still be present in landfills 500 years from now.
So how can you make a difference? There are 5 R’s of waste management that you can use to help cut down your carbon footprint and the negative impact on our planet.
The best and most effective way of eliminating waste in your life is refusing to create it in the first place. Put simply, it is about being conscious about what you consume and refusing what you don’t actually need.
It is sometimes easier said than done. Things like carrier bags, disposable coffee cups, cutlery and straws are the biggest culprits.
They are a part of our daily lives and we often receive and use them without thinking about it but these products are mostly made from plastic and after one use most end up in landfill or, through improper disposal, our oceans.
The more we accept all those things that will inevitably end up in landfills, the more demand we generate for those unsustainable things.
So what can you do? – Just say No
Refuse what you don’t need. Learn to say no! Say no to produce wrapped in plastic! Say no to freebies and bargains! Say no to disposables! Say not to participating in unsustainable practices!
You can easily cut your plastic consumption by refusing to accept certain types of plastic products. It’s only one straw, one carrier bag, you may think, but when everyone has the same idea it builds up, FAST!
The next time you are offered that plastic straw or plastic shopping bag for an item you can just as easily carry away without the bag, please just politely refuse it! The positive impact might seem small, but it will add up over time, especially if we all do our share and refuse unnecessary plastic.
I don’t use straws a lot for drinks, but I have recently purchased a metal straw for the times that I do require one. Its easy to clean, easy enough to carry around, and at least it’s one straw consumption stopped.
It also looks much nicer in my cocktails than its plastic counterparts. A re-usable coffee mug is another a brilliant way to cut down your plastic consumption and will keep your coffee hotter for much longer!
Some places even give you a discount for using them, another added bonus, saving the world and saving you money. Another way to refuse single use plastic is to eat in rather than take away at restaurants or, if you need food on the go take your own lunch box.
You’ll also be able to keep your food fresher for longer and save those left overs as a cheeky snack later in the day rather than throwing away and wasting the food.
Buying in big supermarkets often mean more packaging, even in the produce section. Shop at the farmer’s market or at small local stores with your own re-usable bag and refuse all that plastic.
Its not just plastic that you can refuse to use. Take out your phone and take pictures of flyers, posters or business cards. Accept the information, but not the physical item!
This way you have all the crucial information on you at all times. I mean I’d probably lose those cards anyway, but I am very careful not to lose my phone.
This is one of my favourite ways to help our environment. Simply reduce what you’re purchasing by being mindful about what you need and want. Be realistic about what you actually need.
Before making purchases, ask yourself if you really need this item. If you do, look at the quality. While price is a huge factor, try to find the best quality in your budget. Well made products will last longer, reducing the times you’ll need to repurchase.
“Reduce” in the context of zero waste might mean letting go of items in the house that you no longer need, and donating, selling or upcycling them. Then you can alleviate clutter and create space.
“Reducing” might also mean shopping with a purpose and focusing on necessary purchases as opposed to random splurges on things that you don’t really need.
Too often these items quickly make their way into the bin, the back of the cupboard, or come enveloped in layers of unsustainable packaging. Fast fashion, cheap electronic gadgets and processed foods come to mind.
All those things you are not using or do not really need had to be produced at one point. It’s a waste of resources to have them collect dust at your home. Donate, or sell them. This way, someone else can reuse your things instead of buying new products, using up more resources.
Reducing your consumption is all about the virtue of conservation and the notion of doing more with less.
It is one of the most important steps of confronting the plastic waste problem. When you initially reduce the amount of plastic you consume in the first place, the harms of that plastic, including greenhouse gas emissions, are lessened.
Furthermore, the remaining “R’s” become easier because there is less plastic to address down the line. Consumer product companies can also reduce the amount of plastic in their packaging and you can choose to support products that use less.
Reusing and repairing go hand in hand. When you’re deciding whether to toss something and buy a new one, ask yourself if you can find a way to reuse or repair it. This applies to clothing, furniture, and technology. If your phone or laptop is broken, instead of immediately purchasing a new one, seek repair options first.
Disposables are, well, disposable. Which means you have to buy them over and over. Which in turn means you keep spending money on things that you will throw away. You might as well throw away your money directly. At least that would have a better carbon footprint.
It simply means switching up disposable items for reusable and permanent alternatives. This means sourcing a reusable beverage container and carrying it with you when you are out and about. It means carrying reusable cutlery with you as a measure to avoid disposable cutlery.
A refillable glass bottle, or stainless steel water bottle is your ticket to parting ways with plastic bottles for good! Arm yourself with an assortment of reusable fabric bags for your produce and other unpackaged foods!
Jars, yes, jars! These will become your trusty allies, serving as your lunch box, drinking glass, tupperware, freezer bag, bulk food storage or plant pot. Performing any number of imaginable functions, you name it a jar is perfect!
Reusing also means selling or donating your used items so they go to loving homes instead of the landfill. Have a jumble sale, stick it on sites like ebay or freecycle, you can even ask your friends and family if they have a need for things you don’t.
Another thing you can do is re-purpose or upcycle old things you don’t need into something cool and useful.
Sometimes all you need is a lick of paint or some small additions or changes to make your trash into treasure!
This step doesn’t have to be expensive. Buy second hand, or make it yourself! Repair broken items. Repurpose old clothes, or household items and breathe new life into your wardrobe by participating in clothing swaps.
Reuse is probably the most fun of the 5 R’s. The only limit is your imagination and your creativity, get your friends and family involved too.
One of the easiest ways to reduce your waste is to recycle. After you have refused, reduced, and reused there shouldn’t be much left to recycle anyway. But with what there is, you should still make sure to separate your trash so that those resources can be reused instead of filling our landfills.
Many of us have been programmed to believe that recycling is the go-to solution for waste reduction. This is a misconception.
I got very smug when my recycling was full – look at me I am so good recycling my stuff, I’m saving the planet. I would stick tins and glass in the blue bin, and plastics in the red, and that was it. I never knew what happened to it after.
In reality this is still an expensive way to process the waste that can be reused. Glass jars and bottles could be kept and used in a zero waste store. Plastic can be upcycled to some extent but it never really goes away. It is better to refuse it.
Recycling infrastructure in its current state is quite limited and in many cases actually consists of “downcycling” – meaning that recyclable materials are made into low-quality, disposable goods that will ultimately end up in landfill.
Another problem is that recycling infrastructure cannot keep pace with the huge quantities of single-use disposables consumed and disposed of by humans at record speed.
Recyclable materials that are not successfully recycled into new products become landfilled, shipped to landfills in so called developing countries, or incinerated in Waste-to-Energy (WtE) programs.
It is also important to consider that the recycling process itself is highly energy intensive.
For these reasons recycling is treated by the Zero Waste movement as a last resort to be used only after steps 1 Refuse, 2 Reduce & 3 Reuse have been exhausted.
Finally, once you have exhausted all your other options, the last thing we can prevent from going to land fill is food waste. Look into composting and start throwing food scraps into the bin instead of the trash.
You’ll save lots of waste and make a healthy, nutritious soil for your plants. There are a few possibilities to compost your own household waste.
The first is an outdoor garden compost, which can take the form of a pile, a box, or unit that can be purchased, or built yourself.
What can you compost? It will depend on the composting system that you choose. For garden composting you will not be able to compost meat, fish, dairy, bread, pasta, processed foods, or citrus.
What can you compost? You can compost plant materials like veggie scraps, non-citrus fruit peels and seeds, nut shells, as well as egg shells, coffee grinds, loose tea, brown paper, hair (non-chemically processed), nail clippings (unpolished) and fireplace ashes.
Regardless of your chosen compost method, watch your household waste output shrink before your very eyes!
Are you feeling any lighter?
You have the potential to minimize your waste footprint should you choose. By following the 5 “R’s” of zero waste, you are 5 steps closer to a simpler and more sustainable lifestyle.
How about Koh Tao?
Here in Koh Tao the diving community has come together to say ‘No’ to single use plastics. For many of us living here, the ocean is our office and we want to keep it looking clean and healthy.
Many local businesses are involved in changing their attitudes towards waste production and management already and more and more are getting on board. The key is the education of the locals and visitors alike so that we can continue to keep our little island the beautiful paradise it is.
It has become common practice for most bars and restaurants to limit the use of straws with their drinks, some have phased them out altogether, offering metal or bamboo reusable straws instead.
The war on straws is by no means over, but here as a diving island community we are working hard to try and eliminate them all together.
Many places now do not provide single use packaging for take away food, instead you can pay deposit for a reusable container that you wash and return to receive your cash back.
Better still some places are even offering to keep your containers for you, for when your desperate for a curry but can’t bare to leave the comfort of your sofa they can bring the food to you. Yipee!
Nearly all supermarkets on the island have said ‘NO’ to plastic bags, cloth bags instead are on sale. Some stores are even hosting upcycling afternoons and evenings to make shopping bags from old t-shirts.
This ‘save the world’ ethos has even made it up to the big chain shop 7/11 who previously gave bags and straws for one single bottle of water!
Now Koh Tao has become the first place in Thailand with plastic free 7/11 stores. This is having a massive positive effect, not just in limiting the plastic waste the island produces, but also in the education for future generations.
It is your planet!
The photo of a sea horse with a cotton bud, went viral earlier this year. We are polluting our planet because we don’t think about where our waste goes.
Plastic is slowly killing our planet and the ocean is full of it. The wonderful documentary Blue Planet highlighted this, and many more followed.
Documentaries like Chasing Coral, Plastic Oceans and Years of Living Dangerously show how we are ruining our earth and oceans with waste. We put it in the bin and forget about it. It needs to stop.
And if I can do this, then so can you. It is your choice. Your planet. You decide.